CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Boston Celtics are keeping the pressure on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Isaiah Thomas scored 32 points Saturday night and the Celtics remained in contention for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 121-114 victory against the Charlotte Hornets.
Al Horford added 16 points, and Kelly Olynyk had 13 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the season as the Celtics swept the four-game series and pulled within a half-game of the Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers (51-28) have road games remaining against Atlanta and Miami before closing at home against Toronto. The Celtics (51-29) have two home games left, against Brooklyn and Milwaukee.
Thomas said the way the Celtics won – falling behind by seven points in the fourth quarter after leading by 19 early in the second half – could prove beneficial down the road.
“Coach even said in the huddle, ‘Don’t think there’s not going to be playoff games like that. Just figure out a way to win,’ ” said Thomas, who was a key in the comeback.
Thomas, who averaged 29.2 points in four games this season against the Hornets, scored on a drive and left-handed layup with 2:13 remaining to put Boston up for good at 111-109. He added two free throws and knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key coming off a screen to push the lead to six.
Thomas then passed up an open shot and dished to an open Avery Bradley, who buried a backbreaking 3-pointer to seal it.
Nicolas Batum tied a season high with 31 points and Kemba Walker added 23 for the Hornets, who were eliminated from playoff contention.
Celtics Coach Brad Stevens called it a “good-bad-good” night.
“When Batum gets rolling like that, he’s a hard guy to stop,” Stevens said.
“They made a ton of shots. They put us in a corner. That’s hard when you’ve had the lead and they take it all the way up to seven. To come back and win it, it shows a lot of resolve.”
Bradley was also big in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 points on three 3-pointers.
“We need Avery to make shots,” Stevens said. “We need Avery to be great.”
The Celtics built a 71-54 halftime lead by shooting 63 percent from the field, including 11 of 21 from beyond the 3-point arc. Thomas had 19 in the opening half, including four 3-pointers, as the Hornets continued to struggle with perimeter defense.
“We were good on both ends of the floor in the first half,” Thomas said.
NETS 107, BULLS 106: Chicago sustained a potentially costly loss in its bid for the playoffs when it fell at New York.
Spencer Dinwiddie made four free throws in the final 13.6 seconds for the Nets in their home finale. He scored 19 points, as did rookie Caris LeVert.
PACERS 127, MAGIC 112: Paul George scored 37 points, and Myles Turner added 23 points and 10 rebounds to help visiting Indiana move a step closer to a playoff berth.
The Pacers pulled a game ahead of Chicago for seventh place in the Eastern Conference and climbed back to .500 with their third straight victory.
HEAT 106, WIZARDS 103: Hassan Whiteside scored 30 points and James Johnson hit a layup with 11 seconds left for Miami at Washington.
BUCKS 90, 76ERS 82: Giannis Antetokounmpo had 20 points, 10 rebounds and six assists, and Milwaukee won at Philadelphia to clinch a playoff berth.
MAVERICKS: Retiring Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is expected to be an honorary Mavericks player for their home finale Tuesday night, wearing his football No. 9 while sitting on the bench.
TRAIL BLAZERS: Reserve guard Allen Crabbe was ruled out of the game against Utah with left foot soreness.