Just one day after the Toronto Raptors fought off a tough road test to clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics followed suit, nearly to a tee, on Thursday night. The Celtics clinched the second playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a 117-109 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on the road. Kyrie Irving came back after missing a game with knee soreness and scored 23 points with seven rebounds and eight assists, helping his team overcome the loss of Jaylen Brown. The young star hit the floor hard after a dunk, with the back of his head smacking off the hardwood, and did not return. He is expected to enter concussion protocol is out indefinitely. Elsewhere, Al Horford finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, as the Celtics remained two games behind the Raptors for the top spot in the East. They have three more losses than Toronto, but have won six of their past seven games. The Timberwolves trailed by as many as 18 on Thursday night, and could not capitalize on Nemanja Bjelica's career-high 30 points, as they continued to play without star Jimmy Butler. They will also be without him when they host the Golden State Warriors on Sunday. The Celtics, relieved to clinch early on, will also be at home on Sunday to battle the Indiana Pacers.
Duke, UNC Set Up Round 3 in ACC Tourney
The Duke Blue Devils and North Carolina Tar Heels split their season series, with both teams defending their home floors, so it's only fitting that a rubber matchup would take place on a neutral court. The two teams set up the third round of their season series by taking care of business in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament on Thursday. First, the Tar Heels overcame a 14-0 start for the Miami Hurricanes for an 82-65 win. Theo Pinson stepped up with 25 points and 11 rebounds, as head coach Roy Williams was forced to make a wholesale change early on, which ended up paying off. Pinson's totals were a career-high, as he now has consecutive double-doubles and six in his past 14 games. Chapel Hill had 17 points to lead the Hurricanes, who could not hang on, and were outscored by 16 in the second half. Meanwhile, the Duke Blue Devils were led by Marvin Bagley III's 33 points and 17 rebounds in an 88-70 rout of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Grayson Allen also got off to a hot start by hitting his first five three-pointers and finished with 23 points, as the Blue Devils shot 55 percent overall, including 47 percent from beyond the arc. The win for Duke was their 100th ACC Tournament victory, as they took out the team they beat in last season's title game. Bonzie Colson had 18 points and nine rebounds for the Fighting Irish, who are far from a lock-in for the NCAA Tournament. Friday night will be the 22nd time that Duke and UNC will play in the ACC Tournament, with Duke leading 13-8, including six victories in a row since the Tar Heels beat them in the 1998 Championship Game.
Predators Extend Franchise-Long Streak to Double Digits
After a back and forth race for most of the season in the Central Division, the Nashville Predators are now sitting comfortably in first place. They've gotten to that position with what is now a 10-game win streak after a 4-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night. Austin Watson had a short-handed goal late in the second period to put his team, which helped them match the season high win streak in the NHL this season, and extend what is a franchise-long win streak. Pekka Rinne was solid with 31 saves to improve to 18-1-1 in the past 20 games. Rickard Rakell was the only player that was able to beat him, as he did so twice in the third period for the Ducks' lone two goals. Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, and Viktor Arvidsson all score for Nashville, who snapped the Ducks' three-game win streak. The win also gives the Predators a three-game season series sweep over the Ducks, whom they eliminated in last season's Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will look to clinch the longest win streak in the NHL this season when they play host to the New Jersey Devils on Saturday night. The Ducks move on to another Central Division road contest on Friday night against the Dallas Stars.