Basketball: Cavs and Celtics neck-and-neck in top seed chase

Boston Celtics' guard Isaiah Thomas (right) looks to pass as Miami Heat's forward Luke Babbitt defends during the second half of their NBA game.
Boston Celtics' guard Isaiah Thomas (right) looks to pass as Miami Heat's forward Luke Babbitt defends during the second half of their NBA game.PHOTO: EPA

BOSTON • The Boston Celtics' reaction to pulling into a virtual tie for first place in the National Basketball Association's (NBA) Eastern Conference was a virtual shrug.

"I mean, it's nice. It's just a tie though. So it's not that cool," Isaiah Thomas said after his 30 points led Boston to a 112-108 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday.

"Just another game," team-mate Marcus Smart said.

Jae Crowder, who scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed six rebounds in the 14th win in the last 15 home games, including the last seven, said: "We hear it, but that wasn't our focus tonight.

"Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the NBA play-offs."

The win moved the Celtics (48-26) within four percentage points of the idle Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference.

And, while they were getting what coach Brad Stevens called "a recovery day" of rest yesterday, they can tune in their TVs and watch the Cavs play at San Antonio this morning (Singapore time).

If Cleveland lose to the Spurs, Boston will lead the conference.

Boston, 1-2 against Cleveland this season, get one more shot at the Cavs on April 5 in Boston.

The Celtics swept four games from the Heat, who came in with 24 wins in their last 31 games but lost for the third time in their last four games without injured Dion Waiters (15.8 points per game).

Thomas, the league's leading fourth-quarter scorer, had eight points in the final 4min 58sec after the Celtics, who rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit, blew a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and trailed by two with 4:13 remaining.

Key offensive rebounds by Al Horford and Smart were huge down the stretch as the Celtics ran their record to 4-0 on a six-game homestand.

A rare goaltending call on a free throw against Miami that stood up under review gave Boston a four-point lead with 20.6sec left.

The Heat (35-38), still in the mix to get as high as fifth in the Eastern conference, saw their lead over the Chicago Bulls for the eighth spot fall to a half-game.

"That's competition," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "It's a very good team down there.

"We got down by 10, but there are a lot of ebbs and flows in basketball games. They made big plays down the stretch."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 28, 2017, with the headline 'Cavs and Celtics neck-and-neck in top seed chase'. Print Edition | Subscribe