LOS ANGELES: The Boston Celtics held off the Miami Heat 112-108 on Sunday (Tuesday in Manila) to pull into a virtual tie atop the NBA’s Eastern Conference with the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Celtics’ fourth straight victory gave them one more win than the Cavs — who fell to the Washington Wizards on Saturday. But they also have one more defeat, leaving them technically just a few percentage points behind Cleveland.
Knowing plenty can happen with just over two weeks left in the regular season, the Celtics weren’t getting too excited.
“I mean, it’s nice. It’s just a tie though. So it’s not that cool,” said Isaiah Thomas, who led the Celtics with 30 points.
“We hear it, but that wasn’t our focus tonight,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder, who scored a season-high 25 points and grabbed six rebounds. “Our focus was to come in, get another game, keep that momentum going before we start the playoffs.”
The Celtics have a day off on Monday, when Cleveland faces the dangerous San Antonio Spurs. The Celtics and Cavaliers will meet one more time in the regular season, on April 5 in Boston.
The defeat, and the Chicago Bulls’ 109-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, left Miami just a half-game ahead of Chicago for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
The Bucks are in a three-way tie for fifth place in the East with the Atlanta Hawks and Indiana Pacers.
The Pacers snapped a two-game losing streak with a 107-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, while the reeling Hawks endured a seventh straight defeat — 107-92 to the Brooklyn Nets.
Rockets silence Thunder
In Houston, the Rockets withstood Russell Westbrook’s 36th triple-double of the season to silence the Oklahoma City Thunder 137-125.
The contest featured two top MVP candidates in Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden.
Westbrook, who scored 39 points with 11 rebounds and 13 assists, is within sight of legendary Oscar Robertson’s 41 triple-doubles of the 1961-62 season.
But the Rockets’ superior depth was on display. Harden delivered 22 points with 12 assists, engineering an outstanding offensive effort by the Rockets that included 31 points from Lou Williams and 24 apiece from Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon.
Houston made 63.3 percent of their shots and 20 three-pointers and are third in the West compared to the Thunder’s sixth place.
“It’s important to have depth, and the fact that we have so many versatile guys or guys that can put the ball in the basket, that’s a big, big key,” Ariza said.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors won their seventh straight, pulling away in the fourth quarter for a 106-94 home win over the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Warriors took their record to 59-14 and pushed their lead over San Antonio atop the West to 2 1/2 games.
The Warriors led 83-81 going into the final period. Stephen Curry contributed two three-pointers to a 14-5 fourth-quarter run that saw the Warriors pull away.
Klay Thompson led the Warriors with a game-high 31 points. Curry added 21 and Andre Iguodala connected on seven of eight shots from the floor en route to 20 points.
Jazz playoff bound
The Utah Jazz didn’t play Sunday, but they clinched their first playoff berth since 2012 when the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Denver Nuggets 115-90.
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 31 points and 15 rebounds. Jrue Holiday and Jordan Crawford scored 13 points apiece for New Orleans, who are now four games behind Denver for the eighth and final spot in the West.