By MyFM's Jake Archer - Despite some tough breaks over the last week, the Celtics managed to stay the course and grab key wins over the Trailblazers on Friday night and Kings on Sunday. They are hanging tough and this is yet another example of the amazing coach that Brad Stevens is as he helps them navigate rough waters. Hopefully they keep pushing and remain ready for what is sure to be a difficult playoff run. This past weekend served as as a good test, especially on Friday night.
The Portland Trailblazers were one of the hottest teams in the NBA, having won 15 of their last 17. The Celtics would have a tall task as they went into what is a very tough enviornment to play in the Pacific northwest. In the first half, the game stayed pretty close. The Blazers took a 52-47 lead into the break and knew they had to step on the gas come the third quarter.
They sure did as they built up what would at one point become a 12-point lead. Portland was starting to make it look like their stars were just too much for a team like Boston that was playing without many of their best players. The C's were down 10 heading to the fourth, but as we've seen time and time again, they don't quit under any circumstances. They have certainly mounted bigger comebacks.
A rally came and Boston closed to the gap before finally taking an 85-84 lead on a Marcus Morris three with six and a half minutes to go. A bit later, Blazers star shooting guard CJ McCollum scored five straight points to take the lead back at 91-87. Boston's Al Horford hit a three to answer and keep it close for his team. The two teams locked up at 96 late and it was unclear who would blink first. When Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris combined for five straight points, we had our answer. The C's were pulling away and stealing another huge win.
McCollum knocked down a three to cut the lead to 103-100 with 28 seconds remaining but Terry Rozier would sink two free throws to ice it. The Celtics had swept the season series with a very good Portland team and grabbed another big confidence booster. Marcus Morris took the leadership role for Boston and poured in 30 points, which was just one off of his season high. Rozier, Tatum, Horford and Greg Monroe were also in double digits. Portland got 26 points each from McCollum and All Star point guard Damian Lillard. They also had Jusuf Nurkic and Al-Farouq Aminu in double figures. They were without Shabazz Napier, who was a late scratch with a toe injury.
On Sunday, the Celtics recieved a shot in the arm as guard Jaylen Brown finally returned to the lineup. He had been out since suffering a concussion on a scary fall March 8th in Minnesota. Brown was on a minutes restriction for the game against the Kings but got the start and scored 19 points in 25 minutes. They were without Marcus Morris however, as he sat out with a sprained right ankle.
The C's weren't exactly facing the best team in the league in Sacramento, but they couldn't afford to take a night off. After a little bit of a rough first half, Boston trailed 60-52. They found a way to get it together and take an 80-78 lead into the fourth behind some tight defense. That defense gave up only 18 points to the Kings in the third and then clamped down even more to allow only 15 in the fourth. Terry Rozier continued to step up in the absence of Kyrie Irving and scored a career-high 33 points with five rebounds and three assists in the 104-93 victory. The man they call "Scary Terry" hit eight threes in the game, just one shy of the Celtics franchise record held by Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker. Besides Rozier and Brown, Tatum and Horford also chipped in with double digit points.
Sacramento saw Buddy Hield lead them with 21 points off of the bench. Frank Mason III, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere and De'Aaron Fox all were in double figures as well. The Kings were without Zach Randolph for the second straight game due to a coach's decision. The loss dropped them to 24-50 on the season.
Boston improved to 50-23 and is now within 3.5 games of Toronto for first in the East. It was their first win in Sacramento since 2011 and swept the season series with the Kings. It was a physical game that saw the Celtics end up out-hustling the Kings and avoiding a letdown loss. The C's are currently up 43-35 in Phoenix with just over three minutes to go in the first half.