No rest for Celtics, Heat (Dec 30, 2016)

BOSTON — After their valiant comeback in Cleveland came up just short Thursday night, the Boston Celtics return home to try to beat the lowly Miami Heat for the third time this season Friday night.

Both teams played road games Thursday, with the Celtics (19-14) almost coming all the way back from 20 points down before losing 124-118 to the champion Cavaliers. The Heat (10-23) dropped their third straight and eighth in their last 10, falling 91-82 at Charlotte.

The loss was only the second in the past eight games for the Celtics, who have been better on the road. Their victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday night raised their home record to just 7-6. The Heat are 5-11 on the road.

Boston fell into a big deficit at Cleveland before the Celtics’ bench sparked a fourth-quarter comeback. Still, coach Brad Stevens was not pleased with the Celtics’ defense earlier in the game.

“If they have 100 points after three quarters, you don’t have a real chance to beat them,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to play a lot better than that. Our guys did a great job in the comeback, but I was disappointed in the first three quarters.”

Isaiah Thomas again led the Celtics, this time with 31 points and nine assists, his 17th straight 20-point game — the longest current NBA streak. He has scored under 20 once this season, and he had 18 in that game.

Avery Bradley, who needed X-rays on his left hand and hurt both hands during the game, scored 23 points, but Al Horford had just six points and four rebounds and was a minus-18 in 29 minutes.

Bradley finished the game after the X-rays and said afterward he was fine.

In Miami’s loss at Charlotte, Heat guard Josh Richardson scored 20 points, two shy of his career high, while Tyler Johnson had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists off the bench.

“There were some good things when we weren’t turning the ball over,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team gave away possession 17 times. “So if that’s more in the 10- or 12-turnover range then you would like to see what the rest of the offense would have looked like.

“They are a very good, well-schooled, veteran experienced defensive team, so you’re not going to score 130 points against them. We wanted to make it a possession game going down the stretch, but the turnovers just made it too tough.”

Spoelstra used his 12th different starting lineup of the season in the loss.

“During the course of the game, particularly the first half, I really liked the efforts,” Spoelstra said. “You could see the energy, the multiple efforts on possessions, contesting shots, gang rebounding, things of that nature. We’re building habits.

“This group is learning how to win and what it takes. There’s some pain that’s going along with that. In the second half, for the most part we defended. There were some stretches where we didn’t, we had some breakdowns. You add that to the turnovers, a good experienced team makes you pay for that.”

Boston is looking for its sixth consecutive win over Miami. Two of those contests came this season in Florida — Thomas with 25 points and eight assists and Bradley scoring 18 in a 112-104 win Nov. 28, and Thomas scoring 23 and Bradley 20 in a 105-95 victory Dec. 17.

Heat guard Goran Dragic, who missed a Tuesday home loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder because of back spasms and then played 32 minutes and finished with five points and eight assists Thursday night, led the Heat in both games against Boston. He had 27 points and 17 assists in the first game and 31 points in the second. Hassan Whiteside pulled down 17 rebounds in both games.

The Heat, who are off to their worst start since 2007-08, found out Tuesday they would be without Josh McRoberts indefinitely because of a foot stress fracture.

The Celtics are 3-3 on the back end of back-to-backs, while the Heat are just 1-5.