Thomas shows Bruins the way back

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Thomas shows Bruins the way back

Tim Thomas needed a change after getting going through one of the worst stretches of his NHL career in March.

In truth the Bruins needed plenty of changes headed into Saturday afternoons tilt against the Philadelphia Flyers, and chief among them was Thomas turning his game around. The 37-year-old was playing in his 12th straight game while attempting to snap his teams four game losing streak, so the chances for an energetic performance between the pipes seemed remote.

The 4.06 goals against average and .846 save percentage in his first nine appearances in the month of March were difficult to comprehend when placed next to Thomas name and normally pristine statistics.

But Thomas performances against the Flyers have always been good throughout his career, and the goalie opted to change out his pads and stick after hitting rock-bottom giving up six goals against the Florida Panthers earlier in the week. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner said there were concrete reasons behind changing out his equipment rather than simple superstition, but whatever the reason it worked in a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden.

I think the win was very important, we needed that immensely. We needed to show up and have a good game at home. Things havent been going our way. Thats a polite way of saying it lately, said Thomas. To battle out tonight and come up with a good, solid strong game at home and pull out with two points, is hopefully very big for us moving down the road.

Claude Julien was reluctant to single out anyone in a solid team victory for the Bruins, but he did acknowledge that his All-Star goaltender finally appears to be on the right track.

Tim was no different than everybody else. He really did a great job. I thought he was tracking the puck well, he was making the saves he had to, and like I said, both goals were tip-ins, so certainly not his fault, said Julien. To a man, today, we were better. We did a better job in front of him, which allowed him to be better, and like I said, he made the save when he had to, to win us the game against the guy whos pretty good, normally, in the shootout. So, right now, we have to look at the positive and work like that.

Thomas had been arguably the NHLs worst goaltender during the month of March, but he turned it around for one day with 27 saves against the Flyers in an encouraging sign that hes turning the corner. While the Bruins scored a couple of goals early in the game to really seize control of the momentum, the victory was much more about a stouter defensive performance and a revitalized goaltender.

Recently Thomas had struggled to lock things down when it was time to make the key save in the game, but it was back to vintage Conn Smythe Thomas against the Flyers. With the Bruins sitting on a 1-0 lead early in the first period and the hockey club still in a very fragile place, it was Thomas that shrugged away a Jaromir Jagr breakaway chance when the Czech Republic living legend had just jumped out of the penalty box. The stop was a momentum-turning stop and the Bruins followed up with Tyler Seguins 25th goal of the season to give Boston a lead they needed every bit of as the game unfolded.

I am not trusting the bounces right now. Thats natural I think, said Thomas. But the breakaway save on Jagr, it did help to boost my confidence more than it already was.

The only shots to beat Thomas Saturday afternoon were a pair of tipped pucks from Philadelphia attackers pacing the price in front of the net, and neither score could be blamed on the goaltender. But he was again on top of his game at the end of the third period when the Flyers launched 12 shots on net in a furious attempt to land two points in regulation, and Thomas was able to turn away a Claude Giroux bid in the final seconds prior to overtime.

Best of all was Thomas adjustment in the shootout that allowed him to improve to 6-0 this season. He played deeper in his net while being beaten by Claude Giroux and Matt Read during the first two shooters in the extra session, and then changed on the fly for Daniel Briere.

Thomas jumped way out of the crease to challenge Briere, threw off his momentum and secured the two points when he made the only stop of the shootout. Thats the kind of gambling adjustment Thomas can make when the old confidence is flowing through his body, and it appears that its coming back.

My plan going into the shootout was to go out and play the other guys like Jagr on the breakaway. But that didnt work, but it was great to see our guys keep going in, said Thomas. After the second one, I kind of changed up what I do and I came way out to Danny Briere, I think I went all the way out to the hash marks to try and give him a different look and try to make him think what the heck hes doing.

This wasnt the Thomas questioning himself and what was going on around him that had no answers following the teams fourth straight loss to Florida. Instead this was a Thomas that had figured a few things out and now has a plan of attack with different equipment and a composite stick. The Bruins have 11 games remaining on their schedule and Thomas is likely to play nearly all of them with Boston in the middle of a battle to retain their No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference.

The prospect looks a lot brighter for Thomas coming off a winning performance against Flyers thats given everybody on the roster a moment to breathe. Perhaps thats all goaltender and team needed to get things cranking again in the right direction.

C's edge out Sixers 107-106

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C's edge out Sixers 107-106

The Boston Celtics had another one of those nights when the defense took a lot longer to get on track than anyone with the Celtics could have felt comfortable about.

But they made just enough plays down the stretch to squeak out a 107-106 win.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 37 points to go with seven assists.

Philadelphia's Dario Saric, who finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds off the bench, missed a 3-pointer that was defended tightly by Jonas Jerebko, that was rebounded by Marcus Smart.

With 8.6 seconds to play, Smart made both free throws to make it a two-possession game.

Philadelphia's Ersan Ilyasova hit a 3-pointer with 2.8 seconds to play, which led to Boston's Brad Stevens immediately calling a time-out.

Coming out of the time-out, Boston's Jae Crowder in-bounded the ball to Al Horford who was fouled with 1.7 seconds to play.

Horford made both free throws to seal the victory. With a four-point lead, Ilyasova hit yet another 3-pointer as the final horn expired.

Down the stretch, the Celtics were led by Thomas who scored 12 of their last 17 points.

After leading 90-88, Thomas scored eight straight to put Boston ahead 98-91.

But the Sixers were getting a career night from Saric whose scoop shot with 34.6 seconds to play tied the game at 100.

Following a Celtics time-out, Thomas continued his dominant fourth quarter with a blow by lay-up past Saric.

The Sixers, down 102-100, called a time-out with 30 seconds.

Philadelphia had three shots at the rim following the time-out, but the ball eventually wound up in the hands of Avery Bradley who was fouled with 16.3 seconds to play.

Bradley,who had 20 points and nine rebounds, made the second of the two free throws that put Boston ahead by three points.

After being tied at 74 through three quarters, the Celtics opened the fourth with an 8-2 run highlighted by an Al Horford 3-pointer that made it an 82-76 game.

The Sixers called a time-out with 10:22 to play, well aware that the game’s fleeting momentum was squarely in Boston’s favor.

Philadelphia didn’t fall too far behind, but the Celtics’ control of the game seemed to continue to grow.

Boston got back into the game with timely stops, big blocks (Jaylen Brown) and a bunch of multiple effort plays which collectively were in stark contrast to how things went in the first half.

Philadelphia has been among the worst teams in the NBA this season, and were playing without their best player Joel Embiid who does not play in the second night of back-to-back games (Philadelphia played Orlando on Friday night).

So without their best interior force offensively, the Sixers relied heavily on their 3-point shooting.

It was a good strategy that the Celtics had no answer for in the first half which was one in which Boston spent primarily playing catch-up.

The Sixers, who came into the game ranked ninth in the NBA in 3-point shooting (36.1 percent) and seventh in 3-pointers made (10.6), were a blistering 9-for-18 on 3s in the first half.

Meanwhile, Boston’s offense never seemed to get into any kind of flow or rhythm which was a key to the Celtics going into the half trailing 53-45 after having fallen behind by as many as 11 points.

At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

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At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

The Celtics are getting more than they bargained for against the Philadelphia 76ers who are once again, record-wise, among the worst teams in the NBA.

They didn’t look like it in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing the Sixers 53-45.

Boston came into the game having won its last four road games. And they did so by playing solid defense, something that has been noticeably absent in the first half.

Philadelphia came into the game as one of the NBA’s better 3-point shooting teams and has lived up to the lofty ranking.

In the first half Philadelphia made nine of its 18 three-point attempts while the Celtics are way, way, way at the other end of the 3-point shooting spectrum while missing eight of their 11 3s with Isaiah Thomas making a pair with the lone other made 3-pointer coming from Marcus Smart.

The defense struggled, the offense never had any kind of flow and not surprisingly, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the first half.

Here are the first half stars from Saturday’s game.

STARS

Sergio Rodriguez: His playmaking was solid as usual, but it was Rodriguez getting it going with his jumper that really produced surprisingly strong results for the Sixers. He had 11 points, four assists and a steal in the first half.

Isaiah Thomas: Playing his game which is shooting and attacking the rim, Thomas was Boston’s lone double-digit scorer in the first half with 15 points which is tops among all players.

STUDS

Dario Saric: It was a solid first half as Saric contributed both on the boards and the scoreboard. He had 10 points in the first half along with five rebounds.

Gerald Henderson: Henderson had one of those high efficiency-type games with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics 3-point shooting: It was a miserable first half for a team that has been among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made and taken this season. At the half, Boston has shot 2-for-10 on 3's.

Celtics defense: Boston has shown little to no signs of providing the kind of push-back they’ll need in order to leave Philly with a win. In addition to allowing Philadelphia to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, Boston also allowed the Sixers to knock down nine 3's.