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Surging Celtics notch 50th NBA win

© GETTY/AFP | Marcus Smart (L) of the Boston Celtics drives as Chasson Randle of the New York Knicks defends on April 2, 2017

NEW YORK (AFP) - 

The Boston Celtics hit the 50-win mark for the first time in six NBA seasons on Sunday with a wire-to-wire 110-94 victory over the New York Knicks.

"A couple of years ago I would have thought that would be something we would have to build for a while for," admitted coach Brad Stevens, now in his fourth year with the rebuilding Celtics.

"Obviously we have been lucky to strike on a couple of guys. Everyone has a like mind, trying to compete every night. We look forward to the playoffs, then we will look back to what we have accomplished this season."

Boston went 25-57 in Stevens' first season in charge in 2013-14.

Now the Celts are leading the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers -- led by superstar LeBron James -- atop the Eastern Conference.

The Cavaliers host the Celtics on Wednesday, with Boston aiming to even a season series that the Cavs currently lead 2-1.

As Cleveland struggled through March, the Celtics surged toward the post-season, which begins April 15. They are tied with the league-leading Golden State Warriors for the most wins -- 24 -- since January 25.

Al Horford has played a key role. The veteran center, acquired from the Atlanta Hawks, scored 14 points and grabbed seven rebounds against the Knicks on Sunday.

"I've been proud of the way that our guys have all gotten better as the year has gone by," Horford said. "I think it's a special thing. Not a lot of teams get to 50-plus wins in a season, and now we have to build on it."

The blowout meant Stevens could rest his starters in the fourth quarter, including late-game powerhouse Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas led the Celtics with 19 points and six assists in just 23 minutes on the floor.

"I think we're in pretty good shape from a legs standpoint," Stevens said. "There may be a point or two in the next 10 days where we sit guys a little more, but right now we're focused on playing good basketball."

© 2017 AFP