Bruins hope they're back in first for good

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Bruins hope they're back in first for good

BOSTON -- The Bruins are back in their rightful place among the Eastern Conference teams.

After falling out of the No. 2 spot in the East for the first time since Nov. 30 when Ottawa won on Friday night, the Bruins reclaimed their place atop the Northeast Division with a 3-2 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden on Saturday.

The Bruins are ahead of Ottawa by a single point, but they also currently have the tie-breaker by virtue of their two games in hand on the Senators. The Senators gained no ground on Boston when they dropped a 3-1 decision to the lowly Maple Leafs on Saturday night, and are running out of chances to unseat the reigning Cup champs.

It appears the divisional title could come down to the final regular-season matchup between the Bruins and Senators in April, but Boston seems much more concerned with putting out a consistent all-around effort in each of their remaining 11 games.

I think we know that time is running out here, said coach Claude Julien."With 11 games left, its important that we bring that kind of an effort, that kind of a game, night in, night out right now.

"We all know, first of all, that we want to be part of the playoff scene. Second of all, we want to be in the best position possible. And thirdly, you want to make sure you play your best hockey once the playoffs start. You have to build toward that and weve got a lot of building to do.

The Bruins took an early lead for the first time in eight games against the Flyers on Saturday, they allowed less than three goals for only the second time in 11 games during the month of March as Tim Thomas finally got his game back on track. But the bottom line is still pretty similar: The Bruins and the Senators sit in the standings with the same number of points, and Boston needs to keep winning if it hopes to retain home ice in the postseason.

Its hard to envision a defending Stanley Cup champion completely collapsing under the weight of pressure to simply qualify for the postseason, but injuries and a lot of hockey over the last two years are taking their toll. Its up to the Bruins to completely ignore all those nagging issues and simply focus on taking care of the business at hand.

It was great. I think everyone was focused, said Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins' effort on Saturday. We put that road trip in the past and tried to learn from it. We have 11 games left. Weve got to make a statement for us as a team. I think we did that against the Flyers with a great effort overall. We found a way. Yes, it wasnt easy, but still we found a way.

Its never easy for the Bruins, but theyre finding a way to hang on to their playoff pole position despite a list of hockey clubs vying to take it away from them.

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

Celtics hold off Heat fourth-quarter rally for 112-108 win

BOSTON –  As the final 10 or so games for playoff-bound teams like the Boston Celtics were poked and prodded to see who would have the toughest go of things down the stretch, the Celtics were deemed to have the easiest go of things.

Somebody forgot to tell their foes because it seems every night the Celtics are in a down-to-the-wire battle that’s not decided until the final minute or so of play.

And Sunday’s game against the Miami Heat was no exception with the Celtics managing to outlast the Heat for a 112-108 win. 

A 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 102-101, which was soon followed by a pair of Isaiah Thomas free throws and a Thomas lay-up which made it a 106-101 game.

Miami's James Johnson scored four straight to make it a one-point game (106-105) with a minute to play. 

But Boston managed to maintain their lead for the remainder of the game as both teams exchanged free throws and defensive stops before the Heat simply ran out of time.

Boston (48-26) has now won four in a row and and eight of its last 10. 

In addition, Sunday's victory matched the team's win total from a year ago, with eight games to play. 

And maybe most important, Boston has now set itself up to at a minimum have home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a really strong shot at finishing with the top overall record in the East and with it, home court advantage throughout every round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

Both teams swapped one defensive stop for another, a free throw here with a few made baskets sprinkled in for good measure.

And with 4:50 to play, the score was tied at 99 following an Isaiah Thomas lay-up.

Boston went on a 7-2 run capped off by a driving lay-up by Thomas that made it 106-101.

But the Heat responded with a James Johnson dunk followed by a pair of free throws by Johnson which made it a 106-105 game with 1:23 to play.

Boston countered with – who else? – Isaiah Thomas whose driving lay-up which was set up by a Marcus Smart offensive rebound, gave the Celtics a 108-105 lead with 60 seconds to play when Miami called a time-out.

Thomas led all scorers with 30 points while Horford once again flirted with a triple-double, finishing with seven points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. 

This game being so close down the stretch wasn’t all that surprising when you consider it was a relatively close game most of the night.

Trailing 58-53 at the half, the Celtics knew that changes had to be made in order for them to regain control.

It didn’t take long to see that the Celtics’ plan of attack in the second half was to do just that … attack!

They were more aggressive offensively with their drives and ball movement.

Defensively, their close-outs were tighter, rotations more crisp.

Within minutes, the Celtics had the game tied up on an Amir Johnson basket and 3-pointer from Jae Crowder.

Boston began to get some separation behind a 9-2 run that gave them a 79-73 lead, and closed the quarter off by scoring six of the last eight points to lead 85-75 going into the fourth.

NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

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NCAA TOURNAMENT: Maye hits late jumper to lift North Carolina to Final Four

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels' second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday's showdown of college basketball's elite in the South Regional.

The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Phoenix in the national semifinal.

North Carolina took control with a 12-0 run within the final 5 minutes. Kentucky's freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk and his second with 7.2 seconds left tied it up at 73.

Theo Pinson brought the ball down, passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.

The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis' inbound pass went out of bounds on the far end.

Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year.