NEW YORK (AP) — The Boston Celtics are making a playoff push — and they came to the right place to keep things rolling Friday night.
Even if they had to sweat this one out a bit.
Isaiah Thomas scored 18 points, Jae Crowder added 17 points and nine rebounds, and five Celtics scored in double figures as Boston held off a late rally by the New York Knicks to win 96-92.
“This was a hard game,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “I knew it was going to be a hard game. We all knew it was going to be a hard game. I’m happy that we won. I thought we made a few too many mistakes late that we need to clean up.”
The Knicks (14-59), who have dropped six straight games and 13 of their last 15, tied the franchise record for losses in a season.
Brandon Bass scored 16 points, Evan Turner had 15 and Avery Bradley finished with 10 for the Celtics, who currently hold a half-game lead over the Brooklyn Nets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“First and foremost, it would be really fun to make the playoffs,” Thomas said. “I think everybody wants to do that and it would be very important, especially with this young group of guys. It would definitely build confidence going into next season.”
Andrea Bargnani tied a season high with 25 points for the Knicks, who also had five players in double figures.
“It’s a tough situation,” Bargnani said. “Everybody knows that. We can’t think about the record. We just have to keep our heads up and keep playing.”
Shane Larkin added 14 points for the Knicks. Langston Galloway and Cleanthony Early each finished with 12, while Jason Smith had 10.
The Celtics led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter, but Galloway’s 3-pointer with 25 seconds left cut the Knicks’ deficit to four, 92-88.
The Knicks got one point closer when Smith hit a 3-pointer with just over a second to go to pull the Knicks within 95-92
But, Bradley hit a clinching free throw with less than a second remaining for the final margin.
“Any win from here on out we need, so we didn’t care if it was pretty or good,” Crowder said. “We just wanted the win at the end of the day.”
The Celtics, who attempted 43 free throws to just 14 for the Knicks, took the lead for good in the first half. After Smith gave the Knicks a 24-21 lead on a short jumper with 11:02 remaining in the second quarter, Boston went on a 20-6 run. Bradley’s layup with 3:07 left in the half gave the Celtics their first 11-point lead, 41-30.
The Knicks pulled within 51-50 on Lance Thomas’ jumper with 7:55 left in the third quarter, but the Celtics never gave up the lead and got it back up to 11 in the fourth before holding on for the victory.
“We’re going to continue to play hard every night no matter what,” Smith said. “We’re right there on certain nights, but other nights we just don’t have it.”
The Knicks have failed to score at least 50 first-half points in each of their last eight games, including only 39 over the first 24 minutes against the Celtics. The last time New York reached the half-century mark in the first half was on March 14, when it scored 52 in a 125-94 loss to Golden State.
Celtics: Boston took the season series from the Knicks 3-1. It is the first time Boston has won the season series against the Knicks since going 4-0 during the 2010-11 season. … Boston leads the all-time series with the Knicks 281-176.
Knicks: Since moving to the current Madison Square Garden in 1968, the Knicks lead the Celtics 60-59 on their newest home floor. In all the Knicks’ home games, however, the Celtics have a 117-104 advantage. … Only 10 Knicks dressed for the game due to injuries to Carmelo Anthony (left knee surgery), Jose Calderon (strained left Achilles), Tim Hardaway Jr. (sprained right wrist), Alexey Schved (bruised ribs), and Travis Wear (sore lower back).
Celtics: Host Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
Knicks: At Chicago on Saturday.
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