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Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard on Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, what’s ahead for Celtics

03.21.16 at 11:50 pm ET
By   |   Comments’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down the big performances of Isaiah Thomas (28 points) and Kelly Olynyk (22 points off the bench) in the Celtics’ 107-96 win over the Magic on Monday night at TD Garden. The win lifts the Celtics to 41-30 on the season, and keeps them in the hunt for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Next up, the division-leading Raptors, a team the Celtics haven’t beaten this season in three tries, on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

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Kelly Olynyk does away with shoulder brace, gets ‘back in rhythm’ with 22-point effort in win

03.21.16 at 11:46 pm ET
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In the previous three games with a black shoulder sleeve/brace protecting his injured right shoulder, Kelly Olynyk didn’t look like himself.

The best 3-point shooter on the team (41.3 percent) before his Feb. 10 injury against the Clippers could barely reach the rim with authority on his shot. And he knew it.

He made just one of ten from beyond the arc in losses against the Thunder and Raptors and a win over the Sixers Sunday night, including misses on all four tries in Philadelphia. He was just 5-of-22 overall (22.7 percent).

Something had to change so on Monday, before the game against the Magic, Olynyk decided to go without the brace and the impact was noticeable starting with shootaround, where he was getting more lift on his shot.

It paid off when he hit his first two shots from beyond the arc. He was in a rhythm and that propelled him to a 22-point night off the bench in Boston’s 107-96 win over the Magic at TD Garden.

“Yeah, just getting out there, back in the rhythm, back in motion, yeah, it was better range of motion without the shirt on, definitely. And just went out there and played confidently,” Olynyk said.

“If you miss six weeks of basketball, you’re going to be rusty when you get back,” coach Brad Stevens added. “Every game you play, every practice you have, you feel a little bit better. You don’t know when that’s really going to happen, especially with an upper-body injury where you haven’t been able to shoot much. But you knew it was going to come around at some point.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, NBA

Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas dazzles, Celtics shut down Magic

03.21.16 at 9:54 pm ET
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Mar 21, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) is guarded by Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas jumps over slam dunk runner-up Aaron Gordon during the C’s win over the Magic. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Maybe Isaiah Thomas was auditioning for a video game?

The 5-foot-9 guard was sensational en route to a 107-96 Celtics victory over the Magic on Monday night at the TD Garden.

Thomas finished with a game-high 28 points, adding seven assists and five rebounds. In addition to a number of highlight layups and assists, he attacked the basket and got to the free throw line, where he finished 11-of-12.

After both teams struggled to knock down open shots in a relatively ugly first half, the Celtics offense exploded for 35 points in the third quarter. Evan Turner dominated, scoring 11 of his 16 points and even knocking down his second 3-pointer of the game. After opening the season 11-for-69 (15.9 percent) on 3’s, Turner has made 6-of-11 since the All-Star break.

With Thomas and Turner on the bench to open the fourth, the Celtics struggled to score points, finishing with only 16 points in the frame. The Magic cut the deficit to just four with two minutes remaining, but Avery Bradley’s clutch shooting put the game out of reach. Thomas then sealed the game, stretching the C’s lead back to nine with a lay-in high off the glass with 37 seconds left.

In a tremendous sign for the Celtics, Kelly Olynyk played his best game since returning from his shoulder injury, scoring 22 points, including shooting 4-of-6 from 3. Amir Johnson continued to play well in Jae Crowder’s absence, finishing with a double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds).

Victor Oladipo led the Magic with 25 points in the loss, while Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and Andrew Nicholson also finished in double figures for Orlando (29-41).

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Brad Stevens says young Celtics bench stepping up: ‘They’ve all had their moments’

03.21.16 at 7:37 pm ET
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Tommy Heinsohn has lovingly called the back end of the Celtics bench a “D-League” group. While that’s more a clear reference to their youth and not necessarily their skill, the point is still there that it’s a unit that probably is not ready to step forward and produce at the NBA level for a team that fighting desperately for home court in the upcoming playoffs. 

But to Brad Stevens, the group led by Terry Rozier has been much more than just a group of throwaways. It’s been a group that’s been put in a position where they have no choice to step up with injuries to Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. 

Rozier, R.J. Hunter, James Young, Coty Clarke and Jordan Mickey have all come off the bench for the Celtics, and not just at the end of games where the decision is already determined. All five of those players have seen action in the first half of Boston’s last five games at one time or another. When the Celtics were getting roughed up by the Pacers, Thunder and Raptors, Stevens turned to the back end of the bench to provide a spark. Against the Pacers and Raptors, it helped the Celtics stay in the game well into the second half. 

“They’ve all had their moments. They’ve all had their opportunities. I told our team if Coty Clarke is open, we should probably throw it to him since he’s never missed a three in an NBA game,” Stevens joked, referring to Clarke’s three in Indiana. “But hey, James has had good moments, especially I thought he did a good job in the first half of the Oklahoma City game, come in and kind of stem the tide as we were going to the bench. R.J. hit some big shots against Toronto. Jordan is obviously, Jordan. He’s just in the position where we have the most depth. So, I think they’ve all had their moments.” 

Rozier is the one player who has seen the most playing time of the group because he’s a guard who can come in and provide some support in Boston’s weak rebounding game. 

“I think Terry has really added to us in the last couple of games because I feel like he’s been able to handle the ball, make plays for others and rebound. That’s a big deal for our team. Rebounding has not been our best strength this entire season.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Dwight Howard, James Young

Jonas Jerebko ‘cleared’ for return vs. Magic, Jae Crowder to travel on West Coast trip

03.21.16 at 6:43 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) shoots the ball against the Pacers. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) shoots the ball against the Pacers. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics will get a key part of their bench back when they take on the Magic at TD Garden. 

Brad Stevens confirmed before Monday’s game that that the 6-foot-10 power forward will be available off Boston’s bench after missing the last three games with a sore Achilles that forced him to stay back in Boston and receive extensive treatment. 

The Celtics missed him in losses to the more versatile Thunder on Wednesday and the Raptors on Friday. The Celtics were able to compensate against the 61-loss 76ers on Sunday. 

“Jonas is, from everything I’ve been told, cleared to play tonight,” Stevens said. 

Jerebko is averaging just 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 66 games this season but gives Stevens an important matchup tool against the longer front courts they face. 

As for Jae Crowder, the starting swingman is still undergoing treatment on the high sprain of his right ankle. He suffered the injury against the Rockets on March 11 and has missed the last four games after starting in Boston’s first 66 games. The team is sticking to the minimum prognosis of two weeks to heal enough to return to game action.

“Jae is progressing well,” Stevens said. “We think he’s about on the same timetable that I initially gave you. Obviously, he’s going to end up being two [weeks] this week. Minimum of two [weeks] but most likely that’s a very, very conservative estimate.”

“I haven’t even seen him. I just get told that he’s improved. We’ve been gone. He’s been here with our trainers so I get a daily update. I saw him today, real briefly, before he went back into his rehab. He said he’s feeling better. There’s a big difference between that and playing in a game.”

Stevens said he’s not going to get involved in trying to adjust the timetable, should Crowder push the team to rush him back to action. 

“I don’t even get into it. That’s our doctors and our trainers and our players,” Stevens said. “I think my best job is to stay away from getting in the middle of those conversations because I know he really wants to play. I know he wants to expedite that. But as a coach, I have to trust all those guys to make the right decision.”

The most encouraging news Monday was Stevens’ declaration that Crowder would be making the five-game trip out West, starting Saturday in Phoenix. 

“For sure, it’s a long trip. And it’s within that timeframe where he could play again so who knows when but certainly the plan is to take him on the trip.” 

Kelly Olynyk is another player trying to find his rhythm after suffering a right shoulder injury on Feb. 10. Olynyk missed 12 games before returning against the Pacers last Tuesday. He is still struggling to find his offensive rhythm, as indicated by his 0-for-4 performance from 3-point range (2-for-8 overall) Sunday night in Philadelphia. In three games back, Olynyk has made just five of 22 shots from the floor (22.7 percent) and just one of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. 

“You have to ask him,” Stevens said of Olynyk’s comfort level. “I’m not sure. That would be a question for him. I think he’s looking fine. I think his shot looks good. It’s just probably feel for him to see a few go down.” 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk

Brad Stevens on badly needed win: ‘Guys played with good purpose’

03.20.16 at 11:43 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It may not have looked great for all 48 minutes, but the Celtics responded at key moments Sunday night and their coach was paying close attention. 

Brad Stevens knew going into Philadelphia with a four-game losing skid, coming out lethargic like they did in Toronto 48 hours earlier was not an option. 

The Celtics did fall behind 9-4 early but ended the first quarter with a 24-7 run and never trailed the rest of the way. They held the Sixers to 32 percent shooting in the first half in taking a 55-44 lead at the half. They did allow Philly to score 35 points in the third quarter, as the Sixers took advantage of some porous transition and low post defense. But the Celtics recovered nicely to close out their 40th win of the season. 

“Except for the third quarter, we were really good,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought we were really locked in, defensively. But the in third quarter, we have up 35 points and we weren’t. And you could see that at the third when we were trading baskets instead of really locking down. Hey, our guys came out ready, came out focused.”

The win improved the Celtics to 40-30 on the season, matching their total from last year. And now, they’re just a half-game behind Miami (40-29) for fourth in the Eastern Conference. As a matter of fact, starting with third-place Atlanta (41-29), only 1.5 games separates third from sixth in the East. Charlotte enters Monday with a 39-30 mark. 

“We knew it was an important game to play well,” Stevens said. “We can’t always control the results but you can control your input into it. Guys played with good purpose.”

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Isaiah Thomas: ‘We got a little bit of confidence back’

03.20.16 at 11:11 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) takes a shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics won the game 120-105. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas takes a shot during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

The box score showed that Isaiah Thomas, with 26 points, was the top scorer Sunday night in Boston’s 120-105 win over the Sixers in Philadelphia. 

But the Celtics’ leading scorer knows full well he and the rest of the team needed a balanced effort Sunday night to get back on the winning track. And that’s exactly what they got. 

Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points and all five starters scored in double figures, totaling 98 of Boston’s 120 points on the night.

“He just brought his energy,” Thomas told reporters about Johnson after the game. “He’s running the floor, getting the offensive rebounds, put-backs. He was doing all the things we need him to do. He kind of started off with the energy to start the game. He held us together.”

Avery Bradley scored 20 while Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner each had 17 in helping the Celtics snap a four-game skid. 

Heck, the Celtics even shot well from 3-point range, going 10-for-24, led by Sullinger perfect night on both of his tries and Avery Bradley going 3-for-4 from deep. 

“For the most part, we got a little bit of confidence back and got close to Boston Celtics basketball as we’ve [been lately],” Thomas said. “Guys just stepped up. Guys made plays and made shots, and that’s what we need from everybody, from the first guy to the last guy. We need guys to make plays and make shots. When we do that, we’re tough to beat, especially when we get stops on the defensive end, we’re a pretty good team.”

Thomas also was able to get rewarded by going to the line, nailing all 10 of his free throws on the night. 

“Yeah, that’s more like it,” Thomas said. “Let’s keep it consistent.” Got the calls “Yeah, I was just playing my game, being aggressive. Refs called it in my favor today. So hopefully, it stays that way. I’m just glad we got the win.” 

The Celtics return home for games Monday (Orlando) and Wednesday (Toronto) before a five-game trip out west. 

“Just get back to the winning ways as quick as you can, gain confidence and gain momentum going into the playoffs,” Thomas added. “We’ve just got to lock in. These last [10] games, we’ve got to really focus in, especially before we hit this West Coast trip.”

Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas,
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