(SportsNetwork.com) - The Boston Celtics try to cement their postseason status Friday night with a trip to Madison Square Garden to face their old rivals, the New York Knicks.
Boston is in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics are a half-game ahead of the Indiana Pacers, Charlotte Hornets and Brooklyn Nets. The C's are two behind the Miami Heat, who reside in seventh.
The Knicks are in first place ... in the race for the most ping-pong balls.
Boston is eighth, but has lost four of its last five, further illustrating how mediocre at best, the bottom portion of the Eastern Conference truly is.
On Wednesday, the Celtics fell at home to the Heat, 93-86, for their second consecutive setback at TD Bank Garden.
Jae Crowder posted 16 points and seven rebounds to lead Boston, which has dropped four of its last five contests on the heels of a five-game winning streak.
Isaiah Thomas returned to the Celtics lineup following an eight-game absence due to a bruised back, but scored just four points on a 2-of-7 effort from the floor.
"He was a little bit out of rhythm tonight. Hopefully that was rhythm and not how he's feeling," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas.
Boston began the fourth on an extended 21-7 run to trim a once 22-point second half deficit to 89-83 following Phil Pressey's layup with 1:59 left. Crowder and Marcus Smart, though, missed left wing triples for an opportunity to make it a one-possession game in the final 1:15.
The Celtics never got within less than five the rest of the way.
The Knicks have lost five in a row and own a 2 1/2-game lead in the race for the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft Lottery.
New York has dropped three straight at MSG, including both games of this homestand, which ends Friday. After a 21-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, the Los Angeles Clippers came to town and left with a 111-80 victory on Wednesday.
Cleanthony Early's career-best 18 points provided the lone bright spot for the Knicks. Early returned to the Knicks' lineup after missing five straight games with a sprained ankle, but teammate Alexey Shved (ribs) sat out for a second consecutive game
"We didn't execute the way we wanted to. We didn't defend the way we wanted to," Early said.
Lance Thomas finished with 14 points in defeat. Ricky Ledo chipped in 12, followed by 11 from Langston Galloway.
The Clippers put this mismatch away quickly, building a 28-17 lead after one quarter and overwhelming New York over the final six minutes of the first half to open up a commanding 63-33 advantage at halftime.
The Celtics won the last two encounters and three of their last four in New York City.