Boston finding its footing in the clutch

Boston's playoff hopes were bolstered by adding Isaiah Thomas in mid-February, as the team had posted a 6-5 record since his addition heading into Wednesday's game against the Grizzlies. Thomas' ability to create for himself and score late in games played a huge role in that uptick, as Boston leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring (28.2 points) since his arrival.

But the Celtics didn't have their diminutive hero in uniform against Memphis, and as the game came down to the wire there were questions on where Boston would turn for offense. Would the Celtics' lack of a creator doom them again in the clutch, where they have shot just 37.5 percent this season?

Boston answered that question by scoring 31 points in the final quarter, relying on a balanced attack instead of one or two guys playing the hero role. Tyler Zeller canned all six of his free throws and had eight points, Jae Crowder hit a pair of 3-pointers and Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko both chipped in five. The late-game heroics helped the Celtics pull out a 95-92 victory over the West's second-best team.

Technically, the Grizzlies are eighth in defensive rating and have stumbled badly as of late, allowing 102.1 points per 100 possessions in their past 10 games, a mark that would rank 13th in the NBA over the course of the season. At any rate, Memphis is a very good defensive team, and the Celtics shredded the Griz without their top offensive player.

Boston's fourth-quarter shot chart:

It's easy to question whether this is a one-game aberration or a sign of things to come. Count Brad Stevens among those who are skeptical.

"Lucky" may be a bit strong, but Memphis clearly outplayed the Celtics in many of the game's key areas. The Grizzlies outscored Boston 50-36 in the paint and had more second-chance and fast break points. The Grizzlies shot a higher percentage from the field (47.4 to 43.5) and 3-point land (41.7 to 29.6) and outrebounded the Celtics by five.

Yet Boston withstood blow after blow from Memphis, hanging in until getting the and-one alley-oop to Smart that helped seal the deal. The Celtics need Thomas back soon (though he's clearly not feeling great) and it will be tough to sustain these late-game performances without him.

Yet every success in the clutch breeds confidence for the next time the Celtics are put in that situation. Avery Bradley summed it up pretty well in his postgame comments to reporters:

"It shows that we're making strides and we're continuing to be a better team. Brad is getting us all together, having us believe in one another. We're like a family out here. We're a lot closer than we were and it shows on the court."

Photo credit: Elise Amendola, Associated Press Images