BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 17 points and the Boston Celtics moved closer to a playoff berth with a 117-78 rout of the Cleveland Cavaliers without LeBron James and three other starters Sunday.
The runaway was made possible by coach David Blatt’s decision to rest James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and J.R. Smith since the Cavaliers already had clinched the No. 2 postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Blatt said all four would play Monday night against Detroit.
The Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 34-9 in the second quarter to take a 55-31 lead and stayed ahead by between 18 and 41 points the rest of the way as their magic number for reaching the postseason dropped to one.
They would clinch a berth if Indiana loses to Oklahoma City on Sunday night. If the Celtics remain in seventh place in the East, they would face the Cavaliers in the first round.
Evan Turner added 15 points for Boston and Avery Bradley had 12.
Cleveland was led by Iman Shumpert with 15 points and Tristan Thompson and James Jones had 14 each.
The playoffs seemed extremely unlikely for the rebuilding Celtics when they were 16-20. But they are 22-12 since then after settling on a starting lineup and regular rotation after numerous personnel moves.
Boston had 20 steals, one shy of the club record, and won by its biggest margin of the season while Cleveland had its worst loss.
The win was the Celtics’ fourth straight and followed a 99-90 victory on Friday night that ended the Cavaliers’ 18-game home winning streak. Irving missed that game with a sore hip and James and Love did not play in the fourth quarter as Blatt decided to rest them.
On Sunday, Boston took advantage of Cleveland’s sloppy play and poor shooting. In the first half, the Cavaliers committed 12 turnovers (10 steals), and made only 29 percent of their shots (12 of 42).
The Celtics scored the first nine points of the game, but the Cavaliers tied it by getting the next nine.
With the game tied at 24, Boston pulled away again and this time Cleveland couldn’t catch up. The Celtics scored the next 12 points and extended the run to 23-3 to take a 47-27 lead with 4 minutes left in the second quarter.
With the score 67-47, Bradley hit an 18-footer to start a 15-3 run that put the Celtics on top 82-50 as Thomas ended it with a 3-pointer.
Cavaliers: Shumpert made his first start for Cleveland in 36 games since being obtained from New York. … Cleveland’s previous worst loss of the season was by 29 points, 127-98 to Atlanta on Dec. 17. James had 21 points, Love had 10 rebounds and Irving had six assists in that game.
Celtics: Boston had 29 assists to 18 for the Cavaliers. … The Celtics’ previous biggest win of the season was by 22 points, 106-84 against Sacramento on Dec. 31.
Celtics: Visit Toronto on Tuesday night.
Cavaliers: Host Detroit on Monday night.
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