Celtics could tie for East lead with win over Heat (Mar 26, 2017)

BY AP • March 26, 2017

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics won Saturday night and they didn't even play.

While Boston was getting ready for its Sunday night game against the rejuvenated Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost at home to the Washington Wizards. That left the Celtics just a half-game behind the defending champions for the Eastern Conference lead.

They can draw even with their fourth straight victory over the Heat on Sunday at TD Garden.

But this is a different Miami team than the one the Celtics faced earlier this season.

Back on Dec. 30, the third time the teams played, Isaiah Thomas scored 52 points and the Celtics posted a 117-114 victory over the Heat in Boston.

That loss dropped the woeful Heat to 10-24 and the world was feeling sorry for Erik Spoelstra's team.

But since then, the Heat have gone 25-13 and currently sit in the final playoff spot, just two games out of fifth place.

They have lost two of their last three but are 7-3 in their last 10 and 24-7 since sinking to a season-worst 11-30.

The Heat just went 3-2 on a five-game homestand, losing the finale to the Toronto Raptors, and now play the next three on the road.

The 1-2 record in the last three games came with starting guard Dion Waiters out with an ankle injury. Waiters had been on fire in the team's resurgence and his absence has been notable. Miami is 9-20 this season without him.

Waiters was progressing but still in a boot, and Hassan Whiteside was battling a hand laceration when he played Thursday. Whiteside also injured an ankle (he was walking without a limp at a Friday night public appearance, according to the Miami Herald).

On top of that, Goran Dragic, another leader of the Miami charge, was in a shooting slump, going 24 of 71 from the floor in his last four games and 5 of 18 from 3-point range.

"I need to get better first," Dragic said Thursday. "(Thursday) was not a good game for me. I'm not worried about (the shooting slump). I had some good open shots that I usually make and the bounce didn't want to go in.

"I'm not going to worry about that as long as my head is clear and I know my teammates trust me. So I'll be back.

"For me, personally, I am that kind of a guy who has a bad game and I'm always thinking too much."

The Celtics have won 13 of their last 14 homes games and taken five of their last six games overall. They are 3-0 in the first three games of a six-game homestand.

Boston also leads Washington by two games for the No. 2 spot.

The Celtics had 70 points dropped on them by Phoenix 20-year-old Devin Booker but cruised to a 130-120 victory over the Suns on Friday night.

"I wasn't really happy with the second half," said Al Horford, who had another strong game with the Celtics and has looked more like the real Al Horford the past six games. "I feel like we let our foot off the pedal a little bit there for whatever reason and just kind of kept them around.

"I know that they never got past a certain point, but we just kept them around. It was tough. I wish we handled our business a little bit better, but the good thing is at least we were able to hold them off and got the win."

Thomas scored 25 and 23 points and totaled 14 assists in the first two wins over Miami but was 4 of 21 from 3-point range in the games. He then went 9 of 13 in a 52-point performance with zero assists.

Thomas scored a club-record 29 points in the fourth quarter of the game, coach Brad Stevens saying, "It's remarkable. That was an unbelievably willful performance -- and we needed it."