BOSTON — So, it will be the Cavs.
A Jae Crowder bucket with 0.8 seconds remaining Tuesday powered the Boston Celtics past the Toronto Raptors 95-93 at TD Garden in their final home game of the regular season.
The win — Boston’s fifth in a row — locked up the No. 7 seed for the Celtics, setting up a battle with LeBron James and the second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Evan Turner led all Celtics scorers with 14 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the win, while Brandon Bass added 13 points and nine boards and Tyler Zeller chipped in with 13 and eight.
NOT THEIR FINEST START
One could argue that the Celtics would be better off losing their final two games to better their chances of facing the Atlanta Hawks rather than the Cleveland Cavaliers in the opening round of the playoffs, and the first half Tuesday night certainly was not the their best.
Boston shot just 32 percent from the floor in the first quarter and struggled from beyond the arc throughout the first 24 minutes, making just three of their 13 3-point attempts.
This Luigi Datome Vine sums it up nicely:
The Celtics trailed by just seven at halftime, however, thanks in large part to the work Avery Bradley did in the second. Bradley failed score a point on 0-for-3 shooting in the first quarter but was much more productive in the next, sinking five of his eight shots to rack up 14 points in the frame.
Bradley suffered a left quad contusion in the opening minutes of the third, however, and did not return.
Marcus Smart put an exclamation point on the half by slamming home a tomahawk dunk in the final seconds.
The dunk was the result of another masterful out-of-timeouts call by coach Brad Stevens, though the Raptors’ nonexistent defense made things a whole lot easier for Smart.
THAT’S MORE LIKE IT
Smart came up with another high-flying slam during the third quarter, and he terrorized the Raptors — point guard Kyle Lowry, in particular — on the defensive end. Toronto went nearly six minutes without a field goal in the frame, and Boston led 73-70 entering the fourth.
The game remained tight for the duration. Raptors guard Lou Williams missed a 3-pointer with the score tied at 89 and less than a minute remaining, and Isaiah Thomas was denied at the rim at the other end. The Celtics retained possession after the ball was knocked out of bounds, though, and Turner canned a 17-footer off the inbounds to put the Celtics ahead by two.
Kyle Lowry responded for the Raptors at the other end, making a contested layup to knot the score back up at 91. Zeller then sank a layup of his own after a huge Turner rebound, but Lowry once again canceled it out with another bucket.
Then came the dagger. Crowder put the C’s ahead, and the Raptors came up empty on their final possession to seal the win for Boston.
BATTLE FOR SIXTH (MAN)
Two of the top candidates to win the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award showcased their stuff Tuesday in Thomas and Williams. The two finished with similar stat lines but took drastically different paths to get there.
Williams, for example, did almost all of his work at the line, sinking 10 of 11 foul shots but going just 3-for-13 from the floor to finish with 16 points for the Raptors. Thomas, on the other hand, didn’t attempt a single free throw. He wasn’t particularly efficient, either — he went 4-for-13 from the floor — but hit on three of his eight field-goal attempts to finish with 11 points and six assists.
Up next: The Celtics wrap up the regular season Wednesday night when they visit the Bucks in Milwaukee. There’s a chance we won’t see a full C’s squad for that game, though, as Stevens said he might choose to rest some of his players in preparation for the playoffs.