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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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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.”

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Jonas Jerebko expected back Monday night vs. Magic

03.20.16 at 9:30 pm ET
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Jonas Jerebko missed his third straight game Sunday night in Philadelphia. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Jonas Jerebko (here defending against the Pacers) missed his third straight game Sunday night in Philadelphia. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics should be getting back a front-court piece just in time to take on Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and the length of the Magic.

When the Celtics take the court Monday, Jonas Jerebko could be ready to return to his customary role on the bench after sitting out the last three games with a sore Achilles.

Brad Stevens indicated before Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia that the 28-year-old power forward was on track to return.

Jerebko is averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 66 games this season. Before sitting out Wednesday against Oklahoma City, Jerebko had played in 66 of Boston’s first 67 games.

Already without Jae Crowder (right ankle sprain), Jerebko didn’t make the trip to Toronto, staying home in Boston to get treatment of a sore Achilles for the last three days.

“We left him at home to get treatment,” Stevens told reporters on Friday. “It’s not a long-term thing.”

Without Crowder and Jerebko, Stevens was stripped of two of his most versatile post players, and it showed early. Luis Scola went off for 17 points as the Raptors built a 19-point first-half lead, eventually losing 105-91. Sunday night, Amir Johnson picked up more of the front-court load with 18 points in a 120-105 win.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jonas Jerebko,

Studs and Duds: Celtics get healthy at hands of hapless Sixers

03.20.16 at 8:33 pm ET
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76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) drives toward the net as Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) defends during the second quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Sixers forward Nerlens Noel drives as Celtics forward Amir Johnson defends during the second quarter of Sunday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Nothing’s automatic in the NBA. But Sunday night was about the closest thing to it for a road team badly in need of a win. 

Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points while Isaiah Thomas scored 13 of his team-leading 26 points in the third quarter, as the Celtics ended their four-game losing skid with a 120-105 win over the historically inept 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Avery Bradley added 20 points and four steals for the Celtics, who matched their win total of last season and improved to 40-30 with 12 games left in the season. The 76ers (9-61), with precious little NBA talent at their disposal due to injury, lost for the 22nd time in 24 games. If they were to lose their last 11 games, they would match the 1972-73 Sixers for the worst record in NBA history. 

All of the above not withstanding not to say the Celtics didn’t have some moments where you wondered if they were going to let the Sixers hang around. 

The Sixers, who were led by a season-best 26 points off the bench from Carl Landry, opened the game impressively, shooting out to a 9-4 lead. But the Celtics quickly went into the paint and established some interior dominance, outscoring the Sixers, 24-7, to close out the first quarter and take a 28-16 lead. The 16 points allowed marked a season-best by the Celtics defense in any quarter, accomplished twice previously. 

But an 8-0 run by Philadelphia to open the second quarter capped a 10-0 spurt and drew the Sixers within four, 28-24. After the Sixers again closed to within four, 35-31, the Celtics scored the next 11 points and raced out to 46-31 lead. 

The Celtics maintained control of the game the rest of the half as they took a 55-44 lead to the locker room. Avery Bradley (15 points) and Amir Johnson (12) combined for 27 points after totaling 12 on Friday night. 

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Philadelphia 76ers

Brad Stevens: ‘For the most part, we looked hesitant’

03.18.16 at 11:23 pm ET
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Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

The last thing a coach wants to see is hesitation from his team. 

That’s exactly what Brad Stevens has seen from his team in their last four games, all losses, including Friday’s 105-91 defeat at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. 

The Raptors, despite playing their fourth game in five nights, came out on fire, thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Luis Scola, and took a 30-14 lead after one. 

“Yeah, Scola had 13 against us last game in the first quarter and 17 tonight. He’s a Celtic-killer,” Stevens said. “I thought that actually we did a pretty good job. Obviously, there were a couple of shots. [DeMar] DeRozan’s not a high-volume 3-point shooter. Scola’s not a high-volume shooter but certainly he’s capable of shooting it and has shot it very well this year.”

“Sometimes those go down and you regroup and you kind of hang around while they’re making those shots, and sometimes they don’t. I think Scola’s bigger ways he hurt us were just with his cutting, his post scoring, his rebounding, his plays around the rim. I just think that’s where he’s hurt us both games.”

Still, a pair of 19-point deficits before halftime seemed inexcusable, given what was at stake for the Celtics and stretch the Raptors were in. The Celtics played their best quarter in the last week in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and drawing to within five, 79-74. 

“Ball was really moving,” Stevens said. “We were getting good looks. Defensively, we were aggressive. We were communicating. You could tell there was a connectivity with the way they were playing. I thought we started really poorly,” Stevens said. “I did think though, a couple of those shots were not high-percentage shots that they made. But at the end of the day, you gotta kind of score and keep up with that as that’s happening and not dig yourself that big of a hole. The best we’ve played in two weeks is the third quarter.

“We can build off that. I think it was more of a factor of being hesitant than it was about not coming out and playing or competing or any of that stuff. I think that, for the most part, we looked hesitant. We looked unsure of ourselves and that type of stuff.

“I just told them I’m glad we played the way we did in the third because we’re a good basketball team when we play really hard together and believe in each other. We’ve just got to do that. It’s a tough stretch we’re in. We knew it was a tough stretch. It continues on Sunday on the road at Philly. We’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win.”

The Celtics were again without Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko but Stevens knows he couldn’t use that as an excuse for lack of execution. 

“Everybody misses players, right? I think those players are really good players,” Stevens said. “If they were here tonight, they would’ve played but they weren’t. We need other guys to step up.

“I guess we got back in it in the third quarter and then we had a cluster of errors there that led to transition points and kind of got us back out of it. We played the best in the third quarter that we’ve played in two weeks, so that’s good. But we’ve got to sustain it longer period than one quarter. “

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