Celtics hang on, beat Bobcats, 102-95

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Celtics hang on, beat Bobcats, 102-95

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Grind it out. Make it ugly. Deliver the kind of basketball that if Dr. James Naismith were around now, he'd probably tweet about how unattractive the C's brand of basketball is and end his message with an 'smh' tag-out.

None of that matters to this team.

Boston is concerned about two things now - winning as many games as possible and finishing atop the Atlantic Division.

They took a major step on both of those fronts with Monday's 102-95 win over Charlotte.

The victory was the Celtics' fourth in their last five games.

Just as important, beating the Bobcats puts the C's (27-22) in a tie atop the Atlantic Division with idle Philadelphia.

On paper, this was a game that the Celtics should have won easily.

But with this team, this year, with all their injuries, there's no such thing as a gimme win - even if its against a Charlotte team that's currently on track to have the lowest winning percentage in NBA history.

Not surprisingly, the C's found themselves in a down-to-the-wire battle that should have never come to that.

A pair of free throws by former UConn star Kemba Walker cut Boston's lead to 93-89 with 2:41 to play. Kevin Garnett missed a short jumper in the lane, but Brandon Bass grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2: 25 to play. He made both, making it a two-possession game.

The Bobcats continued to scrap, but a lay-up by Pierce with 1:47 to play and soon after a jumper by Kevin Garnett, put an end to Charlotte's last gasp at rallying for the win.

Although the game had a relatively close finish, Charlotte played from behind for all but a couple minutes in the first quarter.

Pierce was a big part of the Bobcats' struggles, leading all scorers with 34 points. His ability to get into the lane on driving lay-ups and when that didn't work, draw fouls, was instrumental in the Celtics getting what amounts to one of their biggest wins of the year.

Not because of the opponent, or the margin of victory, but the impact that the win has on their potential playoff seeding.

Finishing atop the Atlantic will guarantee the C's open the playoffs with home court advantage.

Short of that, Boston's likely looking at a sixth or seventh seeding - something they clearly want no part of.

In the first quarter, Boston played with the kind of defensive intensity and offensive balance that you would expect in a game of this magnitude.

After the Bobcats tied the game at 13, the Celtics closed out the quarter with a 20-2 run to lead, 33-15. It was the third time in the last four games that Boston racked up 30 or more points in the fourth quarter.

With a chance to get a share of first place in the Atlantic Division at stake, against the league's worst team, it was the kind of start you would expect.

But the Celtics, far too often their own biggest enemy, allowed the Bobcats to open the second quarter with a 10-0 run to make it a single digit game again.

Charlotte was back in the game, and had what you hate to give teams with horrific records - confidence.

The Bobcats continued to chip away at Boston's lead, with the C's going into the half clinging to a mere two-point lead.

After a disappointing second quarter, the Celtics knew they had to re-establish control in the third.

The C's did just that with a 9-2 run to open the quarter, which included four points from Paul Pierce.

His contributions during that spurt were consistent with his role as the team's catalyst of late.

After scoring 17 points at the half, Pierce had another 10 in the third quarter which were much-needed as the Celtics took an 82-75 lead into the fourth.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Sixers

WATCH: Celtics vs. Sixers

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Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
 
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
 
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
 
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
 
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
 
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
 
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”