C’s Turning Corner on Late-Game Execution, Winning 5 of Last 6

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BOSTON – Since turning the calendar over to 2022, the Boston Celtics seem to have begun turning a corner in their ability to close out games.

Boston entered the new year with a 17-19 record and has since won six of nine through the midway point of January, equaling its win total from the entire month of December. Such improvement has been made possible largely because of Boston’s recent tendency to come out on top in tightly-contested matchups.

During the 2021 portion of the season, the C’s were just 1-8 in games decided by five points or fewer. They’ve already tripled that win total through the first 17 days of 2022 with a mark of 3-2 in such contests.

Their most recent nail-biting victory on Jan. 15 against the first-place Chicago Bulls was one of their most impressive wins of the season, as they overcame a six-point deficit in the final 84 seconds before pulling off a 114-112 win at TD Garden.

“We had our share of close ones there that could’ve gone either way, honestly, as recent as the Chicago game,” Al Horford said following practice Tuesday afternoon. “At the end of the day, it’s just finding a way to win those games. We’ve been in that constant battle all year and I feel like our record reflects that. So I think that just being able to win those close games, it’s very important.”

Earlier in the season, Boston’s offense struggled to produce consistently late in games. But recently, the Celtics have been making smarter decisions on that end of the court, leading to more quality looks.

As a result, their shooting numbers have been rising steadily. Over the last 10 games, they have the best true shooting percentage in the entire NBA at 58.6 percent. More importantly, they’ve been shooting at a 61.1 percent clip in the fourth quarter during that same stretch.

“I just think for us to continue to understand what it takes to win, especially when it gets down to the fourth quarter, you need to be more locked in, you need to be able to execute better, things like that,” said Horford.

Despite their recent success, the C’s still find themselves ranked 10th in the Eastern Conference standings. But if you take a closer look at the standings, you’ll find that 10th place is not much worse off than first place, considering how Boston has won just four fewer games than the Bulls.

“I think if we are able to have a good stretch, we can be in a much better position than we are right now,” Horford stated. “I think the key for us, we have a great opportunity here at home, starting tomorrow against Charlotte to see how much ground we can gain, because I feel like [the Eastern Conference] is up for grabs.”

Wednesday night’s game should be another great matchup as it will pit the East’s second-best offense (Charlotte) against the conference’s second-best defense (Boston). Both teams have also won seven of their last 10 games.

Horford hopes that his team can ride the momentum from Monday’s epic comeback against the Pelicans, in which Boston erased an 18-point deficit, turning it into a 12-point victory.

“I just think we need to continue to find ways to win,” Horford said. “A lot of these games, we are in them and are fighting when things don't go our way. It's just continuing to really learn how to win and really learn how to pull these games out.”

If they continue to pull out such games, then the Celtics could be rising toward the top of the standings in no time.

“We have an opportunity to make up some ground,” Horford concluded. “We're not so far off (from the top). We are still in striking distance.”