BOSTON — Regular NBA games last 48 minutes, and no team is more grateful for that than the Celtics.
The C’s looked all but cooked Wednesday night at TD Garden, trailing by as many as 26 points in the first half to the Miami Heat.
But with members of Boston’s 1966, 1976 and 1986 championship teams urging them on from the sideline, the Celtics staged a comeback for the ages, outscoring Miami by 34 points in the second half to cap off their season with a 98-88 win.
Isaiah Thomas shook off a rough first half to finish with a game-high 21 points. Avery Bradley contributed 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting, while Evan Turner added 16 off the bench and Jae Crowder tallied 13.
Despite Boston’s incredible efforts, the C’s will enter the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 5 seed after the Atlanta Hawks lost to the Washington Wizards on Wednesday to earn the No. 4 seed.
Miami remains in the No. 3 seed and will take on the No. 6 seed Charlotte Hornets in the first round.
Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jared Sullinger
Remember that ugly second quarter against the Charlotte Hornets? Boston’s first quarter Wednesday was nearly as bad.
Miami stifled the Celtics from the jump, forcing them to settle for difficult outside shots. That strategy worked, as Boston shot just 21 percent (5 for 24) in the first quarter, with Thomas and Sullinger going a combined 1 for 10.
On the other end, Miami imposed its will, shooting 59 percent from the field and beating the Celtics to loose balls to tally 11 second-chance points. Goran Dragic scored 12 of the Heat’s 35 points in the frame.
The Heat reeled off a 21-2 run at one point and held a 22-point lead after one quarter.
MORE OF THE SAME
Things didn’t get much better for the Celtics in the second quarter.
Boston essentially played Miami to a stalemate in the frame, which isn’t ideal when you’re trailing by 20-plus points. Dwyane Wade and Joe Johnson played the roles of villains, with Wade pouring in 10 points in the quarter and Johnson adding six.
Boston just couldn’t get its offense going, as not a single Celtic had reached double figures by halftime.
BACK FROM THE DEAD
Whether it was TD Garden’s halftime tribute to three decades of Celtics championship teams or a Brad Stevens pep talk, the Celtics came out like a team possessed in the third quarter.
The C’s used swarming defense and a bevy of fast-break buckets to launch an epic 23-3 run that revived their chances. Boston trailed by 23 at halftime, but a Thomas 3-pointer at the four-minute mark cut that deficit to four and whipped the home crowd into a frenzy.
Incredibly, the Celtics held Miami to just five points in the entire quarter on 2-of-20 shooting.
GOING FOR THE KILL
The white-hot C’s kept on rolling to storm ahead in the fourth quarter.
Boston ripped off a 13-2 run to start the final frame, tying the game on an emphatic Turner dunk and taking its first lead of the night at the 9:39 mark on a Kelly Olynyk layup-and-the-foul that caused the Garden to erupt.
The C’s continued to pour it on, ballooning their lead to double digits thanks to a Bradley tip-in and several free throws. Thomas ended all chances of a Heat comeback by drilling a 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining that put Boston up 10.
PLAY OF THE NIGHT
Thomas helped lead the comeback charge with strong takes to the bucket like this drive in the third quarter:
Despite the thrilling win, the Celtics will enter the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East and take on the No. 4 seed Atlanta Hawks in the first round. The playoffs are scheduled to start this weekend, with game times to be determined.
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images