LOS ANGELES —Isaiah Thomas worked his fourth-quarter magic yet again on Wednesday as the Boston Celtics erased an 18-point third-quarter deficit en route to a 109-104 NBA victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Thomas scored 19 of his 44 points in the final period, including a go-ahead three-pointer with 48.1 seconds remaining.
He had scored nine straight points to give Boston their first lead of the contest, 95-94, with 4:39 to play.
The lead changed hands half a dozen times after that, until his three-pointer from the left wing lifted the Celtics to a 103-101 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.
The win over a Raptors team playing the second game of a back-to-back without injured All-Star DeMar DeRozan, gave Boston a 1 1/2-game lead over Toronto atop the Atlantic Division.
If they’re in front when the week ends on Sunday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens will coach the Eastern Conference team at the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans on February 19.
Meanwhile, the NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers put a disappointing January behind them on Wednesday, delivering an overwhelming offensive performance in a 125-97 triumph over the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Kyrie Irving passed for a career-high 14 assists and added 14 points, and superstar LeBron James added 27 points and 12 assists for a Cavs team that struggled to a 7-8 record in the first month of the year.
The team’s 37 total assists were a season high, and they scored their most points in a game since a December 7 home victory over the New York Knicks.
“Are we going to have 37 assists every night? No. We have to make shots still, but the way Kyrie was moving the ball, myself, got guys involved, guys felt good when the ball got to them and they just locked and loaded and shot,” James said. “We have to continue to do a great job and see what happens.”
James said at morning shoot-around he was focused on getting the current Cavs playing like a championship team, after calling on management to add a playmaker to fill a vacant roster spot.
The Cavaliers auditioned several free agents on Wednesday afternoon, although coach Tyronn Lue declined to comment on the chances any of them would be signed.
“We’re just continuing to look at ways to get better,” Lue said. “Just starting the process of looking and seeing what we can find. That’s it.”
Tristan Thompson scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Channing Frye scored 18 points starting in place of Kevin Love, who again sat out with a sore back.
While the Cavs lead the Eastern Conference at 33-15, they’re nowhere near as dominant as the Golden State Warriors are in the West.
The Warriors pushed their league-leading record to 42-7 with a 126-111 romp past the Charlotte Hornets.
Stephen Curry drained six three-pointers in the first quarter, setting the tone for a 39-point performance. He and teammate Klay Thompson combined for 17 three-pointers total as the Warriors set club records for threes in a quarter with nine in the first period and threes in a half, with 15 before the interval.
They totaled 21 from beyond the arc for the contest as they easily won a rematch of their narrow win over the Hornets at Charlotte last Wednesday.
Chicago forward Jimmy Butler scored 28 points to lead the Bulls to a 128-100 victory over the Thunder in Oklahoma City.
Butler connected on 11 of 17 shots from the field and added five assists and four rebounds as the Bulls opened a six-game road trip with a win.
Dwyane Wade added 18 points with seven assists and Robin Lopez scored 14 as Chicago connected on 60.5 percent of their shots from the field -- 68.4 percent in the second half.
Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 28 points, but for the second straight game had to do without a triple-double, finishing with eight assists and five rebounds.
The Miami Heat notched their ninth straight victory, Goran Dragic leading the way with a game-high 27 points in a 116-93 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
“We just got better,” Dragic said in explaining the sizzling form of a Heat team that despite the longest active winning streak in the league is still straggling at 20-30 for the season.
Tempers flared in the fourth quarter when Miami center Hassan Whiteside, trying to rise for a put-back basket after seizing an offensive rebound, was fouled by Taurean Prince.
Miami’s James Johnson raced over and shoved Prince and both were ejected. After rising slowly, Whiteside stayed in the game, finishing with 18 points.
“I think (Whiteside) responded great,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He gathered himself emotionally and controlled what he could control, which was to beat them on the court.”
It was the Celtics’ first win over Toronto in three games this season.
“You know what’s crazy is I thought we played better in the first two games,” said Stevens, who let his team know at half time that he thought they were under-performing.
“Honestly, Brad (coach Stevens) killed us at halftime,” Thomas said. “He yelled at us, that was probably the most mad I’ve seen him.”
Thomas responded with the kind of fourth-quarter fireworks that are becoming his trademark.
He leads the league in fourth-quarter scoring. He came into the contest averaging 10.3 fourth-quarter points per game.
“You gotta trap him, get the ball out of his hands,” Raptors All-Star Kyle Lowry said of Thomas. “He got three wide open looks in the fourth. That can’t happen.”
Lowry did all he could to hold off Thomas and the Celtics. He scored 12 of his 32 points in the final period en route to his fourth straight 30-point game.
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