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Brad Stevens: ‘There was a purpose, a good pride about us the whole day’

02.21.16 at 9:13 pm ET
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Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

That was more like for Brad Stevens.

After ripping his team following a lackluster loss to the Jazz Friday night in Salt Lake City, the Celtics coach watched as his team raced out to a 20-point first-quarter lead and eventually held on for a 121-101 win over the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night.

The only cause for real concern came when the Nuggets closed to within five points, 67-62, early in the third quarter. But the Celtics responded with hustle and determination from the likes of Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley, highlighted by a play in the fourth quarter that put the Celtics up 97-82 and essentially put the game away.

“I thought we were really good [most of the game],” Stevens told reporters after the game. “I thought the end of the second quarter and start of the third we weren’t but I thought for the most part, we played 38 minutes about locked in as we’ve played in a while. You could tell there was a purpose, a good pride about us the whole day with everybody that played.

“We got really lucky. They missed a couple of those layups and could’ve cut it to three. I watched them play the Bulls. They were down 16 in the fourth and won. I watched them play the Pacers, it was 15-down, 15-up, 15-down and they win the game. They’re a team that goes on runs. They’re a hard team to stop when they go on a run. They’ve got good athletes.

“For whatever reason, they played really small at our place late, and gave us fits. They went to that 35 minutes out of 48. We had to match that.”

Stevens was very happy with the patience of Isaiah Thomas who was double-teamed most of the first half, before finishing with a team-high 22 points.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Denver Nuggets, Evan Turner

Jared Sullinger: ‘We played our butts off. We were five guys connected’

02.21.16 at 8:27 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

With the Denver Nuggets looking to load up defensively and take away Isaiah Thomas, it was time for others in the Celtics offensive scheme to step up.

One of those who did exactly that in a 121-101 win over Denver Sunday night at the Pepsi Center was Jared Sullinger. The power forward came through with 16 points and 11 rebounds and was rolling off screens and hitting threes in the first half as the Celtics built a 26-point lead.

“I’m just blessed to have the ball bounce off the right way, I guess,” Sullinger told reporters afterward. What impressed Sullinger Sunday was how Thomas handled the early attention from Denver.

“I think he understands how his [points] will come when me, Amir [Johnson], Avery [Bradley], Jae [Crowder], when we make [adjustments], his is going to come because they’re going to have to adjust. He’s doing a great job of understanding when to go and when not to go. We just feed off of that.

“Just the way they were guarding and that’s just what the system spit out at the time. Our system is awesome because it just determines who’s going to score that night.”

And that system eventually gave Thomas his chances, finishing with 22 points and 12 assists. Overall, Sullinger said what meant the most to the Celtics was playing with a sense of urgency that wasn’t there in a loss in Utah Friday night.

“For sure. We played our butts off,” Sullinger said. “We were five guys connected. We got the rust off. We got the rust off and we’re looking to move forward.”

“Everybody needs a wake-up call. Even the best teams sometimes have wake-up calls. We understood what we have done the last couple of games and we stepped it up on defense.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger,

Studs and Duds: Evan Turner, Celtics strike gold in Denver

02.21.16 at 7:28 pm ET
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Evan Turner (11) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) Sunday night. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Evan Turner (11) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) Sunday night. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

There were rocky moments in the Mile High city but, in the end, the Celtics got the win they desperately needed out West. 

Facing a young and rebuilding Nuggets team, Isaiah Thomas (22 points, 12 assists) and Jared Sullinger (16 points, 11 rebounds) each posted double-doubles leading the Celtics to a 121-101 win at Pepsi Arena in Denver. Avery Bradley added 20 points for the Celtics, who finish up their three-game Western road swing with a game Monday night in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves

The Celtics (33-24)  took complete command of the game with a 26-5 spurt in the first quarter, as all seven starters scored. The Celtics‘ bench, which scored just 28 points Friday night in the loss in Utah, matched that total in the first half, led by Evan Turner‘s 13.  Turner nearly finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

With the Celtics’ lead up to a game-high 26, 51-25, Denver went on a 10-0 run. That was the beginning of Denver’s deliberate crawl back into the game. Twice the Celtics answered runs with key 3-pointers, once by Turner and another by Marcus Smart. 

The Nuggets (22-34) got the lead down to five, 67-62, and had a chance to trim it even more but Isaiah Thomas blocked a shot and then two possessions later converted a three-point play to build the lead up 10, 72-62. Thomas again took over with four minutes left in the third. He hit a reverse lay up and then converted a pull-up runner with 3:31, putting the Celtics up, 83-69. 

The Nuggets appeared ready to make another run late in the third. But two missed threes were followed up by a Jae Crowder three-point play to make it 91-75. Will “The Thrill” Barton nailed a three with 0.4 seconds left to make it 91-78 Boston heading into the fourth. 

The hustle was there all night for the Celtics, embodied by the trio of Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley. Smart dove for a loose ball in the Denver offensive end. He tipped it ahead to Turner. Turner raced it down from half-court, saving the ball from rolling out of bounds. He flipped ball back with his right hand to a waiting Avery Bradley and he went running 10 rows deep into the stands. Bradley’s uncontested basket with 10 minutes left put the Celtics up, 97-82. 

The Nuggets never got closer than 10 in the final seven minutes. The Celtics used a 16-6 run to build the lead back to 20, 117-97, before emptying the bench.

For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Evan Turner. He single-handedly energized the bench and the team, as indicated above. He finished with 17 points and five assists, featuring a brilliant individual play around Nikola Jokic in the second quarter. Runner-up:  Isaiah Thomas. It’s getting repetitive but the lefty scoring guard is carrying the Celtics right now. And he was the answer in big moments when the Celtics seemed in danger of blowing a 26-point first half lead. 

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Kenneth Faried. Zero points in 13 minutes for the Nuggets starting power forward. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas

Report: Jahlil Okafor was the unnamed target for Celtics on trade deadline day

02.20.16 at 1:56 am ET
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Jahlil Okafor (8) dribbles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

Jahlil Okafor (8) dribbles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

The unnamed star that would’ve surprised everyone is Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor.

According to the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, the Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge wanted the rookie big man.

Ainge told WEEI’s OM&F he was “very close” to acquiring a player at the Thursday trade deadline but that the other team backed out at the last moment.

Okafor is having an impressive statistical season for the wretched Sixers, who fell to 8-46 this season Friday night. The rookie out of Duke is averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 45 games this season.

There’s a good amount of irony in the report about the pursuit of Okafor.

One of his nicknames is “Little Sully” while Okafor, then 19 years old, was the same person who found trouble in a Boston nightclub after Philadelphia’s opening night loss to the Celtics.

Okafor is considered one of the best pure offensive options in the low post, especially rare for a young player who just turned 20. But his biggest liability is defense. 

Still, the Celtics apparently were all in on doing the deal for the rare low post offensive talent before the combination of Philadelphia team president Jerry Colangelo and general manager Sam Hinke pulled back. 

Read More: 2016 NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics, Jahlil Okafor, NBA

Studs and Duds: Celtics fall in Utah

02.20.16 at 1:07 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5). (Russ Isabella/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz guard Rodney Hood (5). (Russ Isabella/USA Today Sports)

It was a disappointing and defenseless start to the post All-Star break run for the Celtics.

Utah, which lost in Washington the night before, shot 54.4 percent from the floor and the Celtics were reduced to 3-point shooting in the fourth-quarter of a 111-93 loss Friday night in Salt Lake City.

The Celtics, who were playing their first game in nine days, suffered their worst loss since a 19-point defeat in Orlando on Nov. 29.

“You’re a pro. There shouldn’t be any rust. I think they hit us in the mouth. We reached and grabbed,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game.

“We were a step slow to everything.” Isaiah Thomas said. “We couldn’t get stops and we played right into their hands.”

The Celtics couldn’t make it all the way back from a 17-point third-quarter hole and fell in their first game back from the All-Star break.

Down 79-62, the Celtics went on a 14-4 run, cutting it to 83-76 on a Jared Sullinger hook shot with 10:41 left in the fourth quarter.

But the Jazz responded with a 15-5 run, capped by a Rudy Gobert dunk with 5:41 left that essentially put the game away. The Celtics, who had won five of six and 10 of 12 before the break, fell to 32-24.

They remain a game ahead of the 31-25 Hawks, who lost Friday night at home to Miami. The Jazz, tied for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff race, improved to 27-27 on the season.

The Celtics led just once in the game, by one point in the first half but trailed just 54-49 at the half. They made it a four-point game, 64-60, early in the third before Utah went on a 15-2 run.

“We weren’t very good on either end tonight,” Stevens said. “I don’t think we played the right way for 45 minutes. The halftime score was a joke. It shouldn’t have been five. It should’ve been 15. It’s going to be a long night.

“We weren’t very good all night. We were very lucky to be down five at halftime.”

For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Isaiah Thomas. The Celtics’ All-Star representative put up a team high 25 points, but on 7-of-19 shooting from the field.

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Amir Johnson. Continuing his slump from before the break, the big man scored just two points and picked up one rebound in 17 minutes.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Utah Jazz,

Celtics officially waive David Lee

02.19.16 at 5:48 pm ET
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The David Lee era is over in Boston.

The team announced Friday that they have waived the 32-year-old forward/center.

“We thank David for his contributions to our organization and wish him nothing but the best in the future,” said Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge in a statement released Friday afternoon.

Ainge indicated Thursday afternoon that he would sit down and talk about Lee’s future within the next two days and Friday’s transaction would indicate that the two sides were able to reach an amicable buyout agreement. Ainge indicated at the time that Kelly Olynyk’s shoulder injury, which will sideline him for at least two weeks, would not impact Lee’s future in Boston, leading to the assumption that Lee’s days were done in Boston.

The Celtics did not release details of the buyout of the final year of his six-year, $79.5 million contract. Lee was due to be paid $15.49 million this season. If he clears waivers, he becomes a free agent and can sign with any team.

Lee has appeared in 30 contests for the Celtics during the 2015-16 season and averaged 7.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 15.7 minutes per game over that span. Lee sat the bench the last 18 games with the Celtics and hadn’t played since Jan. 10 at Memphis. Lee recorded a season-high 14 points, to go along with one rebound and one assist, in 15 minutes on Nov. 18 against the Mavericks.

The 6-foot-9 big man was originally acquired by the Celtics last July 27 in a trade from Golden State for Gerald Wallace and Chris Babb. Lee has career averages of 14.4 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.3 assists over 725 regular season games.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, David Lee,

Danny Ainge on OM&F: ‘We were close’ on a ‘big deal’ at trade deadline

02.19.16 at 3:46 pm ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

While the NBA trade deadline amounted to just a lot of hot air for the Celtics, Danny Ainge says he nearly pulled the trigger on a blockbuster deal.

The Celtics‘ president of basketball operations said Friday on WEEI’s OM&F that he was ready to execute a big deal for a superstar but that the other team got cold feet at the last moment.

Ainge said there was a lot of discussion about their possession of Brooklyn’s likely lottery pick this June and said he and his staff made a significant offer for a big-name player from an undisclosed team.

“We were close to pulling off what I would classify a big deal,” Ainge said. “But it just didn’t happen. You’ve got to have two [teams] that want to do it. These deals are tough. They’re not easy. It was not a no-brainer for us. A lot of deliberation went on over the last couple of days and we felt it something we should do. But ultimately, the other team we were dealing with just did not want to do it, and I certainly understand why. It’s a tough call.”

Ainge said there was enough productive talks that occurred that could lead to something bigger this summer.

“I think that sometimes these can set the table if there are future conversations off ones that happen in this trade deadline,” Ainge said. “That does happen often. So much of it is going to depend on how good teams play down the stretch. Doing deals at trade deadline are tough. Most of the trade-deadline deals are book-keeping deals, cleaning house, sometimes with a player that doesn’t get along with a coach or team, or they’re preparing for summer, getting draft picks if your team isn’t going so well because of injuries or other things, not living up to expectations, but those are the kind of deals that are done mostly at trade deadline.

“I don’t think it’s a shock or coincidence that no blockbuster deals were done at trade deadline because you have only a third of the season left and it’s really even tough to maximize this last 27-game stretch we have with a new player and trying to implement those type of things and you’re taking one year away. That’s why more of the bigger deals are done in the offseason.”

The Celtics are 32-23 and in third place in the East behind the Cavaliers and Raptors. Ainge said he would’ve like to have added a piece to help the current roster but not at the asking price that was being demanded by several teams.

“There were no really close situations in taking on rentals, no,” Ainge added. “We weren’t selling any of our future assets. A rental for a small price is something that we would have considered. But certainly not a rental for the demanded price. Absolutely not, not even a thought or a close consideration.”

As for his purported adoration for Cleveland’s Kevin Love, Ainge said he laughs at many of the rumors that floated over the last two weeks.

“There’s a lot of misinformation out there and flat out false rumors and interest in certain players,” Ainge said. “I don’t know where the media has their sources because I believe sometimes it’s just completely made up. Kevin is a good player. There’s no question about it. He’s an All-Star. He’s a very good player on a very good team right now.”

Ainge would not mention the names Blake Griffin, Dwight Howard or Al Horford and insists that they were never really on the team’s radar at the Thursday’s deadline. To hear the entire interview on OM&F, click here.

Read More: 2016 NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge,
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