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Thomas, Celtics hold off Magic for 117-116 win
Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas drives against Orlando Magic guard Mario Hezonja, left, and forward Aaron Gordon, right, in the first quarter of an NBA game, Friday, March 31, 2017, in Boston (Saturday in Manila). | AP Photo/Elise Amendola
BOSTON — Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics passed a surprisingly tough test Friday night (Saturday in Manila) to keep their hold atop the Eastern Conference.
Thomas scored 35 points, Jae Crowder had 18 and the Celtics rallied to beat the Orlando Magic 117-116 to maintain their slim lead over Cleveland in the East.
The Cavaliers won easily against Philadelphia, staying within a half-game of Boston.
The Celtics faced multiple 13-point deficits, but Thomas helped them charge back and Al Horford put them up by a point with two free throws with 1:22 left. Orlando then missed three shots down the stretch, including a driving layup attempt by Elfrid Payton with two seconds remaining.
For Boston, it was easily the toughest of three victories against Orlando this season — the first two came by 30 points each.
"Any way we can get a win is what we're looking forward to," Thomas said. "They're a different team. ... They've been playing a lot better since the All-Star break."
Orlando opted not to call a timeout and set up a play before Payton's drive.
"We all knew that was going to be the plan," Magic coach Frank Vogel said. "I love that we attacked in a scramble situation like that and got to the rim."
Aaron Gordon scored 20 of his 32 points in the first half and had 16 rebounds, while Evan Fournier scored 20 points for the Magic. Payton dished out a career-high 15 assists and flirted with a triple-double, getting 12 points and nine rebounds.
Ross had 17 points and Jodie Meeks contributed 13 off the bench for Orlando, which has lost three in a row and eight of its last 11. The Magic have dropped 13 straight against the Celtics in Boston.
Boston fell behind by 13 with 1:50 to play in the first half, drawing boos from the home crowd. But the Celtics used a quarter-closing surge to pull within 64-57 at the break.
"I did tell them you're going to have nights like this," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "You're going to have nights where, man, it feels like it's tough to get going and the other team is rolling."