BOSTON – When it comes to getting big leads, let’s just say the Boston Celtics haven’t always handled such prosperity as well as they should.
So when they went ahead by as many as 27 points in the third quarter, you had to know that the Brooklyn Nets – yes, the team with the worst record in the NBA this season – would cut into the lead and make things mildly interesting.
The Nets (20-61) eventually got Boston’s lead down to single digits, but the Celtics went back to what worked in the first half – stingy defense and opportunistic offense – to fend off the Nets rally for a 114-105 win.
With the victory, the Celtics (52-39) will enter their regular season finale on Wednesday against Milwaukee with at least a share of first place in the East.
After Cleveland’s loss at Miami, Boston now has first place all to itself.
Leading the way for Boston was Isaiah Thomas who finished with a game-high 27 points. Boston also got strong games from Al Horford and Avery Bradley who had 19 and 18 points, respectively.
And Jae Crowder, delivering that do-it-all defense that should get him some all-NBA defensive team votes for sure, flirted with a triple double before finishing with 11 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn was led by Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez who had 26 and 25 points, respectively. Lopez became the Nets’ all-time leading scorer with his 23rd point of the game.
Boston, which led by as many as 27 points (69-42) in the third quarter, saw its lead down to as little as 10 points in the third which ended with the Celtics ahead 90-77.
The Nets, winners in four of their previous five games, had the Celtics lead down to single digits in the fourth (97-88) following a pair of free throws.
Brooklyn, one of the best in the NBA at getting to the free throw line in the month of April, had nearly tripled the Celtics’ free throw attempts (14 to 36) with just under six minutes to play and the score 99-92 in favor of Boston.
The game being so close down the wire was a striking contrast to what we saw in the first half which was dominated by the Celtics.
And while Boston’s scoring punch has been what has fueled their success most of this season, it was the Celtics’ defense that set the tone in the first half as they limited Brooklyn to just 27.3 percent shooting from the field and led 58-40.
The Nets gradually crept their way back into the game in the third quarter.
After falling behind 74-48, the Nets went on a 12-0 run before Avery Bradley snapped the scoring binge with a 3-pointer.
But the Nets weren’t done.
They continued to chip away at Boston’s lead, creating a sense of uneasiness among Celtics fans in attendance.
With 1:48 to play in the quarter, the Celtics’ lead was down to 83-73 with the Nets riding a 25-9 run.