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Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics topple division-leading Toronto

03.23.16 at 10:42 pm ET
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Mar 23, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas gets around Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo during Boston’s 91-79 win. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Sure, the Raptors were without All-Star guard Kyle Lowry and a couple other key contributors, but a win’s a win, right?

Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 23 points, and the Celtics outscored the Toronto 45-33 in the second half to cruise to a third consecutive win, 91-79, on Wednesday at TD Garden.

Evan Turner added 17 points and seven assists, Avery Bradley netted 16 points and Amir Johnson notched his second straight double-double (11 points, 14 rebounds).

Both teams struggled to build a big lead in the first half, but the Celtics distanced themselves behind a 10-4 run to the start the third quarter. In that frame, Turner caught fire, scoring 13 of his 17 points and pushing the Celtics to a nine-point lead before Marcus Smart fouled DeMar DeRozan (21 points) on a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds left in the quarter. 

Still, the Celtics kept their composure, closing Toronto out on a 12-5 run in the game’s final four minutes. The C’s also took care of the basketball, limiting themselves to just eight turnovers on the evening and outscoring the Raptors 48-36 in the paint.

The Celtics (42-30) remain tied with the Hawks for for fourth place in the East entering a five-game road trip out west.

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Even without Kyle Lowry, Raptors, Luis Scola present test for Celtics

03.23.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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The irony of the question was only apparent just before tipoff Wednesday night. 

Longtime Celtics beat writer Bill Doyle asked Brad Stevens what made the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so effective. DeRozan came in averaging 23.9 points per game while Lowry average stood at 21.9. 

“Really strong, physical, excellent athletes,” Stevens said. “Obviously, Lowry and DeRozan ability to hit really tough shots and get to the line at an elite rate. All those things combined is why they’re so difficult to defend. It’s easier said than done because they usually have a physical advantage on their position from a size standpoint and a strength standpoint. And then they don’t give up anything in athleticism and speed. So, it’s a really good duo but they’ve got other good players, too. It’s a heck of a team.”

Just before the start of the game, Lowry was scratched from the starting lineup as a precaution with a sore right elbow. He was dressed and available but expected to sit the game out. 

One player the Celtics wish would sit out, at least in the first quarter, is Luis Scola. The 36-year-old veteran from Argentina hit a pair of threes in the first six minutes. In the last two games against Boston, Scola has 30 points in the first quarter alone, including 17 last Friday in Toronto’s win. 

“He’s been really good in the first quarter of both of those games. I do think it’s one of those things where you have to go back and say, ‘OK, were we defending the right way? Why did he get his points? Are there things we can do different without overreacting and without saying, OK, those other two guys are critically important, too.’ Making sure you’re good on the glass is critically important and everything else.

“Scola is a good player. He’s been a good player for a long time. I think people and fans of international basketball knew it long before he came into the NBA. He’s given us fits the last two games, specifically in the first quarter.”

Even though Lowry sat out, the Raptors still have plenty to play for. They entered Wednesday’s game just 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East. The Celtics, at 41-30, are still in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the East, coming into play just .003 behind Miami. Problem is, the Celtics have lots of competition for that spot as they are tied with Charlotte and Atlanta. All three have 41-30 records. 

“It’s hard to be naive to it but I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I’ve got a general feel for where all the teams are. I don’t know the exact records. I don’t the exact tie-breakers and all that other stuff,” Stevens said. 

“We’ve said all year the East is deep and the East has been good and you’re going to have to play well through 82 games to get into the playoffs. Here we are.”

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Jae Crowder takes some steps, Kelly Olynyk showing off some D

03.23.16 at 7:26 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden on Mar. 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder continues to take some small steps on his way back from the high sprain of his right ankle that forced him to miss his sixth straight game Wednesday night against the Raptors.

“He shot [Tuesday] with [assistant coach] Jamie Young for a while,” Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Toronto. “He shot pregame today but from what I’ve been told, I don’t think there’s any movement shooting. I think it’s just spot shooting so no real update. He’s going to go on our trip. I don’t want to put a timeline on him but I don’t anticipate him playing early in the trip.”

Stevens was asked if he thinks Crowder’s uncertainly might leave the Celtics a bit shorthanded on the five-game trip out West.

“I don’t think so right now. Obviously, if we have more issues, we’ll address as we move forward.” 

The Celtics sent Coty Clarke and James Young on the trip out to Texas for games Wednesday and Friday. They are expected to join the Celtics when they begin their trip in Phoenix Saturday night. 

“I expect them to, yeah. I haven’t talked to Danny [Ainge] yet. They play on their trip and then they’re going to hop over and join us after that,” Stevens said. 

One of the keys to the Celtics keeping pace without Crowder is the continued play of Kelly Olynyk. On Monday, Olynyk scored 22 points off the bench against the Magic. But his defense also made an impact on Stevens. 

“I think he’s a position player. He’s a guy that can keep people in front of him,” Stevens said. “He actually switches better than people think. He’s got pretty good feet on the perimeter and he’s good in our pick-and-roll system. Kelly’s greatest strength on the defensive end is adding to the team defense.

“He’ s a guy that’s been here three years and a guy with that kind of size and understands the game and feels good about the game. The game has slowed down for him in some ways and that can have a good impact.”

As anyone knows who watches the Celtics, shot-blocking is not Olynyk’s expertise. He has just 31 blocks in 58 games this season. 

“It’s not fair to compare him to a 7-foot shot blocker because he’s not a shot blocker,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that has to use position, has to use his base, his feet and move and keep guys in front of him, and make the right play. He took the charge in Philly the other night with great positioning. The other day against Orlando, he had some great positioning plays. So, I think it’s a lot less about height. It’s a lot more about being in his stance and playing low and playing lower longer than the guy he’s playing against.”

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Isaiah Thomas: ‘We’re getting there’ as Celtics eye big test against Raptors, West Coast trip

03.22.16 at 12:35 pm ET
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Funny what a few made shots will do to a team’s confidence.

Isaiah Thomas, who has for the most part been immune to his team’s recent shooting struggles, scored 28 points Monday night in a 107-96 win over the Magic.

But while he was 9-for-18 from the field it was the shooting of his teammates that gave Thomas some reason for optimism.

Starters Evan Turner (7-for-11), Amir Johnson (5-for-6) and Avery Bradley (9-for-15) and backup Kelly Olynyk (7-for-12) had their shots fall for a second straight night. In Philadelphia, the Celtics made 10-of-24 from 3-point range as the thaw from the ice cold week began to take hold.

“Guys finally hitting shots,” a relieved Thomas said. “I mean that losing streak, we really weren’t shooting the ball as well. We weren’t defending but on top of that, we weren’t hitting shots. Everybody is starting to shoot with confidence and step into their shots and make plays and I think that’s making it easier for everybody else.”

The one guy still not hitting shots is Marcus Smart. Monday, he was 1-for-11 from the field and missed all five from 3-point range.

“[Sunday] he made some and had a pretty productive offensive day,” Stevens said of Smart’s 6-of-12 shooting on a 15-point night against Philadelphia. “[Monday] wasn’t his night. You have to continue to shoot the good ones. You have to continue to shoot the right ones. When you shoot the right ones it allows you to rebound because you’re in position. He had a couple today where he had nice drives off of movement. He drove the slots, drove openings and drove close-outs. He’s going to have to make the right play and continue to believe. We believe in him.”

One player the Celtics definitely believe in right now is Amir Johnson. The Celtics forward had his sixth double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) of the season Monday. They’re going to need him Wednesday as the Celtics look to salvage a win at home against Toronto before heading out West for five games.

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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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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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