BOSTON – The Celtics may not be considered among the NBA's elite just yet, but they strengthened their case on Wednesday night with a thrilling 139-134 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.
Facing off against one of the league's best point guards in Chris Paul, Isaiah Thomas did more than just hold his ground. The All-Star point guard posted 36 points and 11 assists in the victory to outduel Paul (35 points, 13 assists) and send the Celtics into the All-Star break with 13 wins in their last 17 games.
Boston's recent stellar play is earning them plenty of respect around the NBA, as Doc Rivers joined Kings coach George Karl as a believer that the Celtics can compete with anyone in the Eastern Conference.
"They could make a run," Rivers said. "Listen, they're not scared of anybody. They've got a bunch of junkyard dogs who can play. You better be ready when you play them or you're going to lose to them."
The Celtics have firmly cemented themselves as the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference with their eighth straight home win after starting the year 9-10 at the TD Garden.
While Thomas set the tone for the Celtics in the win, the team got vital contributions up and down the roster throughout the night. Jared Sullinger posted 21 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder both made crucial hustle plays during Boston's fourth quarter and overtime rallies before fouling out. Evan Turner also wreaked havoc on the offensive end when given the opportunity as well down the stretch.
"That's who they are," Rivers said of Boston's persistence. "Playing hard is a skill. Everyone just can't do it. There's guys that are energy players and there's guys who don't play with energy. And the Celtics have a whole team full of energy players and talented energy players. So we knew that going into the game. And at the end of the day it won out for them."
The bounceback performance after a disappointing loss to the Bucks on Tuesday night has the Boston locker room feeling a pretty good vibe heading into an eight-day All-Star respite.
"We see it's happening," Crowder said. "It was big for us. We want to take this momentum and go to the second half with it. For sure, we didn't want to drop two going into the All-Star break. We just wanted to focus on this one and get this one, so we're gonna ride this momentum into the second half."
"We're at a solid area right now," Thomas added. "The scary thing about it is we know we can do better. We need this rest during the All-Star break to get away from each other and enjoy the time off and get back to it when we play Utah next week."
As the playoff push heats up in the next couple months, the Celtics can count on Rivers as one fan who will be watching closely from afar as the franchise continues to climb up the NBA hierarchy.
"I love these guys. I want them to do well," Rivers said. "Not tonight, but any other time I want them to do well."
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter@CelticsHub.
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