Celtics rally back from 26-point deficit to beat Heat, 98-88

Celtics rally back from 26-point deficit to beat Heat, 98-88

The Boston Celtics have played a it-ain’t-over-until-it’s-over brand of basketball all season, so why would the final game of the season be any different.

After trailing by as many as 26 points to the Miami Heat, the Celtics rallied for what seemed an improbable comeback that ended with a 98-88 Celtics win.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 21 points and six assists along with four rebounds while his backcourt mate, Avery Bradley, had 17 points on 8-for-12 shooting in addition to some solid defense on Heat all-star Dwyane Wade (17 points). Joe Johnson (19 points), Hassan Whiteside (19 points, nine rebounds) and Goran Dragic (18 points) also had big games for Heat who will be the No. 3 seed by virtue of winning the tie-breaker with fellow Southeast Division teams Atlanta and Charlotte.

The Celtics, also tied with Miami, Atlanta and Charlotte with a 48-34 record, will be the fifth seed and begin the playoffs at Atlanta this weekend.

The comeback began with a strong surge in the third quarter that saw Miami’s defense punctured at every turn by Boston speeding up the game.

And many of the good looks Miami got in the first half were no longer available in the second half as Boston’s perimeter defenders picked up the pressure and the Celtics’ big men played, well big.

Making it all that more impressive was it came on a night when the Celtics were celebrating championship teams from 1966, 1976 and 1986 who all played with their own brand of fight and grit – the ingredients on display Wednesday night by this most recent incarnation of Celtics.

Even with the victory, Boston still wasn’t able to secure home court.

They will begin the postseason this weekend at Atlanta.

And in a really cruel act by the Basketball gods, the Heat wind up with the No. 3 seed in the East by virtue of winning the tie-breaker with its fellow Southeast division foes Atlanta and Charlotte.

Had the Hawks won their season finale against Washington, the Celtics would have wound up as the fourth seed and with that, had home court advantage after having swept the season series with the Heat.

 

Celtics-Bulls preview: Gerald Green's shooting changing series' complexion

Celtics-Bulls preview: Gerald Green's shooting changing series' complexion

BOSTON – After dropping the first two games in this first round best-of-seven playoff series with Chicago, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew he had to make a change. 

He looked up and down his bench before eventually settling on Gerald Green whose presence has been pivotal to Boston’s resurgence in this series which is now tied at two games apiece after the Celtics opened with two losses at home. 

Green’s emergence as a key cog in Boston’s recent stretch of success plays into the narrative about this bench being full of players who, when given an opportunity to play, step up.

It is a trend they hope to continue tonight in Game 5 when the Celtics look to take their first lead in their series against the Bulls. Figuring out who to inject in the starting lineup, much like it has been to figure who should be in the rotation, has not been easy for Stevens. 

“That’s one of the challenges with our team,” Stevens said. “There was a lot of similar ability to impact the game, specifically off the bench.”

Injuries, illnesses and inconsistent play forced the Celtics to juggle its preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – most of this season. 

And as the Celtics evaluated what did not work in Games 1 and 2, both losses, they realized in this series they needed to insert at least one more shooter to help better space the floor. 

So the decision to go with Green was an easy one for Stevens even if it caught many by surprise. 

In his two games as a starter, Green has averaged 13.0 points and 4.0 rebounds while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 50 percent (6-for-12) from 3-point range. 

Just as telling was the fact that Boston had a plus/minus of +9 when the 31-year-old Green was on the floor. 

Not bad for a guy who spent most of the season near the end of the Celtics bench.

"He gives us more space, especially myself," Thomas said. "You have to respect him. Even if he's not making shots, you have to respect his shooting ability. That's only going to help us."

Said Stevens: “There were times when Gerald Green didn’t play much all year and there were times when we really leaned on him to help us win. Same with Terry (Rozier); same with Jaylen (Brown), on down the line.”

It speaks to the level of trust Stevens has in his players whose collective talents, more than their individual skills, were critical to Boston (53-29) finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference this season and with it home court advantage for as long as they are in the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

But home court has been no advantage for either team with the road team winning each of the first four games. 

“Wherever you play, you have to play well,” Stevens said.

Part of that improved play Stevens is looking for in Game 5 will center around the Celtics doing a better job defending without fouling. 

In Game 4, Bulls all-star Jimmy Butler took 23 free throws which was the third-most ever by a Celtics opponent in a playoff game. 

All those trips to the line forced Stevens to do a little perimeter defender juggling with his lineup. 

“I usually don’t overreact to fouls,” Stevens said. “But Avery (Bradley) got his third (personal foul) in the first (half) and how important it was going to be for him to defend (down the stretch), that was important. And when Isaiah got his fourth (personal foul in the third quarter). We do the best job we can containing those guys without fouling.”

They'll need to if they are to take their first lead in this series with a win tonight.

“We know it’s a big game for us," Thomas said. "We’ll be ready.”

Report: Rajon Rondo preparing to attempt to play in Game 5

Report: Rajon Rondo preparing to attempt to play in Game 5

Chicago Bulls guard Rajon Rondo is putting in the work in an attempt to play in Game 5 Wednesday, according to The Vertical's Shams Charania.

Rondo, who fractured his right thumb and wore a forearm cast during Game 4, was spotted at practice Tuesday dribbling and shooting in a much smaller thumb splint. There's a chance he'll play against his former team in the Boston Celtics. Here's what The Vertical wrote on Rondo.

Around Rondo and the Bulls, there’s belief that the four-time All-Star has a chance to return but a final determination has not been made, league sources said.

The guard originally received a two-week timetable from doctors on April 21. However, he has a history of making improbable returns from injuries. In 2011, he played through a dislocated elbow. In 2013, he played a few minutes after tearing his ACL.

The 31-year-old point guard averaged 7.8 points, 6.7 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 69 games this season. In two games this postseason, he has averaged 11.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 10 assists and has shot 42.3 percent from the field.

And the Bulls, who are tied with the Celtics 2-2 in the series after jumping out to a 2-0 lead, are desperate for his return. They've cycled players like Michael Carter-William, Jerian Grant and Isaiah Canaan in and out of Rondo's role in the Bulls starting lineup.