FIERY CELTICS COOL OFF HEAT

For­mer champs flex mus­cles again in East­ern Con­fer­ence

New Straits Times - - Sport -

THE Bos­ton Celtics held off the Mi­ami Heat 112108 on Sun­day to pull into a vir­tual tie atop the NBA’s East­ern Con­fer­ence with the reign­ing cham­pion Cleve­land Cava­liers.

The Celtics’ fourth straight vic­tory gave them one more win than the Cavs — who fell to the Wash­ing­ton Wizards on Satur­day. But they also have one more de­feat, leav­ing them tech­ni­cally just a few per­cent­age points be­hind Cleve­land.

Know­ing plenty can hap­pen with just over two weeks left in the reg­u­lar sea­son, the Celtics weren’t get­ting too ex­cited.

“I mean, it’s nice. It’s just a tie though. So it’s not that cool,” said Isa­iah Thomas, who led the Celtics with 30 points.

“We hear it, but that wasn’t our fo­cus tonight,” said Bos­ton’s Jae Crow­der, who scored a sea­son­high 25 points and grabbed six re­bounds. “Our fo­cus was to come in, get an­other game, keep that mo­men­tum go­ing be­fore we start the play­offs.”

The Celtics had a day off yes­ter­day, when Cleve­land faced the dan­ger­ous San An­to­nio Spurs. The Celtics and Cava­liers will meet one more time in the reg­u­lar sea­son, on April 5 in Bos­ton.

The de­feat, and the Chicago Bulls’ 109-94 vic­tory over the Mil­wau­kee Bucks, left Mi­ami just a half-game ahead of Chicago for the eighth and fi­nal play­off spot in the East.

The Bucks are in a three-way tie for fifth place in the East with the At­lanta Hawks and In­di­ana Pac­ers.

The Pac­ers snapped a two-game los­ing streak with a 107-94 vic­tory over the Philadel­phia 76ers, while the reel­ing Hawks en­dured a sev­enth straight de­feat – 107-92 to the Brook­lyn Nets.

In Hous­ton, the Rock­ets with­stood Rus­sell West­brook’s 36th triple-dou­ble of the sea­son to si­lence the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der 137-125.

The con­test fea­tured two top MVP can­di­dates in West­brook and Hous­ton’s James Har­den.

West­brook, who scored 39 points with 11 re­bounds and 13 as­sists, is within sight of le­gendary Os­car Robert­son’s 41 triple-dou­bles of the 1961-62 sea­son.

But the Rock­ets’ su­pe­rior depth was on dis­play. Har­den de­liv­ered 22 points with 12 as­sists, engi­neer­ing an out­stand­ing of­fen­sive ef­fort by the Rock­ets that in­cluded 31 points from Lou Wil­liams and 24 apiece from Trevor Ariza and Eric Gor­don.

Hous­ton made 63.3 per­cent of their shots and 20 three-point­ers and are third in the West com­pared to the Thun­der’s sixth place.

“It’s im­por­tant to have depth, and the fact that we have so many ver­sa­tile guys or guys that can put the ball in the bas­ket, that’s a big, big key,” Ariza said.

Mean­while, the Golden State War­riors won their sev­enth straight, pulling away in the fourth quar­ter for a 106-94 home win over the Memphis Griz­zlies.

The War­riors took their record to 59-14 and pushed their lead over San An­to­nio atop the West to 2 1/2 games.

The War­riors led 83-81 go­ing into the fi­nal pe­riod. Stephen Curry con­trib­uted two three-point­ers to a 14-5 fourth-quar­ter run that saw the War­riors pull away.

Klay Thomp­son led the War­riors with a game-high 31 points. Curry added 21 and An­dre Iguo­dala con­nected on seven of eight shots from the floor en route to 20 points.

The Utah Jazz didn’t play Sun­day, but they clinched their first play­off berth since 2012 when the New Or­leans Pel­i­cans de­feated the Denver Nuggets 115-90.

An­thony Davis led the Pel­i­cans with 31 points and 15 re­bounds. Jrue Hol­i­day and Jor­dan Crawford scored 13 points apiece for New Or­leans, who are now four games be­hind Denver for the eighth and fi­nal spot in the West.

EPA PIC

Bos­ton Celtics’ Isa­iah Thomas (left) goes for the bas­ket in their NBA game against Mi­ami Heat at TD Gar­den on Sun­day.

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