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Thomas Scores 32, Celtics Beat Pelicans 104-97

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics took another step forward in their fight for home-court advantage in the playoffs Wednesday night.

However, they almost lost to a decimated New Orleans Pelicans team despite leading by 14 points late in the third quarter.

Avery Bradley hit a jumper to snap a 93-93 tie, and Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points as the Celtics fought off the pesky Pelicans 104-97.

The win moved the Celtics (46-32) into a virtual tie with the idle Atlanta Hawks (46-32) for third place in the Eastern Conference. The Heat (45-32) are a half-game back in fifth, and the Charlotte Hornets (45-33) are a half-game behind Miami in sixth.

The Celtics have four games left, three at home and one at Atlanta.

Boston, playing for the first time since clinching a playoff berth on Sunday, won its third straight but had to scratch and claw to beat a team that was missing over 100 points per game among its top players.

Jae Crowder followed a Marcus Smart missed 3-pointer -- Boston's 33rd trey attempt of the game, to make it 97-93. Two Thomas free throws extended the lead to six with 1:23 left. New Orleans scored and almost scored again, but Amir Johnson blocked a Luke Babbitt layup and Bradley nailed a trey.

The Celtics finished 10-for-34 from 3-point range against a team that dressed the NBA-minimum eight players.

Thomas continued his torrid second half of the season, adding eight assists and four rebounds. Crowder scored 14 points, Bradley 13 and Smart 11.

Toney Douglas led the Pelicans (29-49) with 19 points and added

seven rebounds and three assists. Babbitt had 16 points and eight boards, Jordan Hamilton 14 points and Alexis Ajinka 10 points and eight rebounds.

New Orleans was 9-for-24 from 3-point range.

Because of their slew of injuries, the Pelicans didn't start a player averaging more than 7.6 points per game. They were coming off a loss at lowly Philadelphia, but had won two of their last three games -- and played a disciplined style that wouldn't let the Celtics get too far ahead in the first half.

However, the Celtics, who went just 4-for-17 from 3-point range in the first 24 minutes, finished the half with a 13-6 run and led by eight at the break. They then scored the first eight points of the second half, six of them on back-to-back 3-pointers by Crowder.

The Pelicans kept fighting and used an 8-0 run to cut their deficit to three. The Celtics, led by Thomas, then reeled off 11 straight in a span of just 1:12 and broke it open -- briefly. New Orleans scored the last 11 points of the quarter, Boston failing to score over the final 3:37.

When Babbitt hit a trey 26 seconds into the fourth, the game was tied. Babbitt's second 3-pointer of the quarter tied the game at 79 with 9:46 remaining.

NOTES: Boston F/G Evan Turner, who sustained an eye abrasion Sunday during the final game of a 3-2 road trip, was out Wednesday but may return for Friday night's game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Turner, who may or may not return wearing goggles, has been a key cog in this team's run and scored 38 points in the previous two games. ... Celtics G Avery Bradley returned after missing Sunday's game for personal reasons. ... The injury-ravaged Pelicans, missing over 100 points per game with their injury list (topped by big man Anthony Davis, 24.3 per game) dressed only eight players, and no starter was averaging more than 7.6 points per game. Asked before the game if he was getting anyone back, coach Alvin Gentry laughed and said, "No, but if you want to dress out, I'll give you a uniform and you'll probably get 15 minutes."

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