Can the Celtics compete with the best in the East?

Following Friday's loss, the Celtics are a combined 2-7 against the three other top teams in the East. AP Photo/Charles Krupa

After Friday’s NBA action, the Boston Celtics still sit comfortably in second place in the Eastern Conference standings, trailing only the Cleveland Cavaliers.

However, Friday’s 107-97 loss in Toronto dropped the Celtics to just 2-7 in games against the other top teams in the East (Cleveland, third-place Washington and fourth-place Toronto), guaranteeing them a losing record against those teams.

The loss in Toronto is slightly more concerning for Boston given the Raptors were without star point guard Kyle Lowry. It’s fair to wonder: Can the Celtics compete with the other top teams in the East come playoff time?

Defense is lagging against the best

With Friday’s defeat in Toronto, the Celtics wrapped up their season series with the Raptors, going 1-3 in those games. Boston allowed 107 points Friday and has now allowed at least 100 points in all nine of the games it has played against the three other top teams in the conference.

Four of the seven highest point totals allowed by the Celtics this season have come against the Raptors, Cavaliers or Wizards, with Boston allowing an average of 114.1 points per game in those contests, compared to 104.1 PPG against all other opponents.

A key: Isaiah Thomas' fourth quarters

Isaiah Thomas was 1-of-6 with four points in the fourth quarter Friday, his fewest points in a fourth quarter since also scoring four in a loss at Washington on Jan. 24.

Boston’s performance against the best teams in the East appears to be directly related to how Thomas performs in the fourth quarter. In the two wins the Celtics have against those teams, Thomas has averaged 19.5 fourth-quarter points. In the seven losses, he is averaging 6.8 fourth-quarter points and has failed to make more than two fourth-quarter field goals in any of the contests.

The road ahead

The Celtics have three remaining games against the three other top teams in the East, a pair of home games against the Cavaliers and a home matchup against Washington. Both of Boston's wins against the other three top teams in the conference were at home. As of Friday morning, ESPN's Basketball Power Index viewed the Celtics as a favorite in each of those games.