Sunday, April 5, 2015

Celtics 117 - Raptors 116 (OT): C's reclaim the eighth seed on Smart's game winner

Comcast Sports Net New England

Toronto - The only advantage the Celtics had coming into Saturday is that they were 9-1 on back-to-backs in their last 10. Despite a tough loss on Friday night to the Bucks, Boston entered the Air Canada Centre a half-game behind the Miami Heat for the eighth seed on their current playoff push. After a back and forth fourth quarter between the Raptors and C's, they needed an extra five-minutes to decide a final outcome. The result was a game-winning layup that beat the buzzer from Marcus Smart to give the visitors a 117-116 victory.

Smart, who finished with 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists, hit a go-ahead three-ball late in the extra session. The rookie has not been afraid to take the big shots when his team has needed it most. Isaiah Thomas led six Celtics in double-figures with 25 points and 4 assists, while Tyler Zeller added 20 points and 9 rebounds. Evan Turner recorded a double-double with 18 points and a game-high 10 assists for the C's, who are now a half a game up over the Heat (who lost to the Pistons on Saturday also) as the eighth seed at 35-42 with five games remaining.

Toronto was coming off a lost to the seventh seed Brooklyn Nets (35-41) on a second night of a back-to-back. DeMar DeRozan finished with 38 points, and Lou Williams chipped in with 27 points. Tyler Hansbrough, who was giving the C's fits added 18 points, before fouling out late in overtime for the Raptors (45-32), who suffered their second straight loss.

The Celtics were up 114-113 with 32 seconds left in overtime on a Smart 3-pointer. After Williams and Terrance Ross each missed shots from downtown, Brandon Bass (11 points) grabbed the rebound only to get fouled. Bass only hit one-of-two from the charity stripe to push the C's lead 115-113 with 14 seconds remaining. Williams left wide open, hit a go-ahead 3 to put Toronto back up 116-115 with four seconds on the clock.

A botched play by Jared Sullinger coming out of the timeout forced coach Brad Stevens to call another 20-second timeout, leaving only 2.6 ticks left. This time coming out of the huddle, the ball was given to Isaiah Thomas as he drove to the basket and the Raptors defense collapsed, finding an open Marcus Smart ready to silence over 19,000 screaming fans with a simple kiss off the glass just in the nick of time. Game. Set. Match.

The good news is the Celtics have four-days off to celebrate this win, as it ranks up there as one of the season's best. Besides it being a must win to reclaim the eighth seed, it was an all around great game to witness. The C's are now 12-5 on the year in back-to-backs after shooting nearly 49-percent from the field on 26 assists. A much better job of sharing the ball on offense, which led to better shot opportunities. These two teams will meet again in nine-days at the TD Garden.

In the meantime the C's will enjoy some momentum and a 3-2 record for the week, before meeting the Pistons in Detroit on Wednesday night in the team's first nationally televised game on ESPN. Tip-off from the Palace of Auburn Hills is at 7:00 EST.

Game Notes:

Jared Sullinger continues to get his feet underneath him (no pun intended) as he played 13 minutes (as opposed to three against the Bucks) on Saturday, grabbed seven rebounds and drew a charge and no points on three-shot attempts.

Joel Pavón
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