BOSTON — Terry Rozier was ready for the question.

Surrounded by an unusual amount of reporters at his locker for a meaningless early April regular-season game, Rozier gamely answered question after question until finally, someone got around to asking the biggest one the Celtics will face for the rest of the year.

How far can you guys get without Kyrie Irving? Except Rozier cut the reporter off.

“How far can you guys get …?”

“Finals,” Rozier said.


“Everyone has to be on the same page,” Rozier said. “We just have to play and play hard.”

That sounds reductive, except for the Celtics, being on the same page and playing hard has worked so far. They won their 54th game on Friday, clinching a better record than 2016-17 despite getting 60 games plus five minutes from Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, their two best players. They claimed the second seed in the Eastern Conference and a considerably better regular-season record than LeBron James. They have the league’s best defense and several competent offensive lineups. There’s no reason to believe this team will fail to win games in the postseason.

“I feel for the guys at the end of the day, the guys impacted by the injury,” Coach Brad Stevens said before the Celtics beat Chicago 111-104. “I believe in the guys in the locker room, and my job is to coach the guys that are available.”

On Friday, the players who were available were extra limited – Jayson Tatum and Al Horford joined the Celtics’ injury brigade, resting against a Bulls team that could use a few losses to end the season.

The only regular starter in Boston’s lineup was Jaylen Brown.

But Brown – along with some help from unexpected sources – was enough. Against Chicago, he bullied smaller players in the post, and he exploited the Bulls’ porous defense for a career-high 32 points.

“The offense was run through me more because a lot of guys were out,” Brown said. “I just tried to be aggressive.”

If the Celtics have any hope for a deep postseason run it rests on the shoulders of Brown and Jayson Tatum. Performances like Friday’s are what could propel the Celtics into the second round. They need Brown and Tatum to play above their ages.

The Celtics have three regular-season games remaining, during which Stevens says he wants his playoff rotation to play at least once, if not twice. Then, this team will get its first true test. Being on the same page and playing really hard can earn you the No. 2 seed. It might not be enough to advance in the playoffs.

Brown hears all the people who doubt the Celtics.

“That’s been the story all year long,” Brown said. “People have been writing us off all year long. It’s nothing new. Playoff time – it’s time to do what we do. It’s simple.”


NUGGETS 134, CLIPPERS 115: Will Barton scored 31 points and Nikola Jokic added 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and Denver won in Los Angeles.

The Nuggets, who have won five straight, pulled into a tie with the Minnesota Timberwolves for eighth place in the Western Conference with two games to play. Both teams are 45-35.

The Nuggets finish up the regular season home schedule against Portland on Monday night before playing the Timberwolves in Minneapolis on Wednesday night.

Minnesota, which holds the tiebreaker over the Nuggets, hosts Memphis on Monday night.

The Clippers were eliminated from the playoff race. The Clippers suffered their fourth loss in five games, falling to 42-38, 21/2 games out of eighth place with two to play.

BUCKS 115, KNICKS 102: Eric Bledsoe had 22 points and 10 assists, and Milwaukee moved into a tie for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with a victory in New York.

Khris Middleton also scored 22 points for the Bucks, who joined Miami with a 43-37 record. The Heat were blown out by the Knicks at Madison Square Garden a night earlier but the Bucks avoided the same fate despite playing without All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo because of a sore right ankle.

NETS 124, BULLS 96: Quincy Acy helped Brooklyn set a franchise record with 24 3-pointers in a win in Chicago.

The Nets finished one 3-pointer shy of the NBA record set last season by Cleveland. Acy had career highs with six 3-pointers and 21 points, and Allen Crabbe added five from behind the arc and 20 points.

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