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Celtics defense shines in impressive win over Rockets

01.26.17 at 6:15 pm ET
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Jan 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) battle for the ball during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics defense forced 17 turnovers in their 120-109 win at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

In their most impressive win of the season, the Celtics outscored one of the best offenses in the league while containing Houston’s leading scorer in a 120-109 victory over the Rockets.

The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 38 points, Al Horford flirted with a double-double (23 points, 9 assists) and Jae Crowder (23 points, 10 rebounds) had a productive night but what stood out the most about the Celtics’ much needed win was their defense.

Harden, who entered last night’s game as the league’s second leading scorer, went cold in the third quarter (1-of-5) after Crowder — the team’s defensive anchor — cranked up his intensity and rattled the MVP candidate. Although Harden finished with a team-high 30 points, it took him 18 attempts to get there as he finished the night shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and committed seven of the team’s 17 turnovers.

More than half of Harden’s points came from the free-throw line — where he drained 16-of-19 attempts.

Throughout the Celtics’ three-game losing streak, the defense in the back court had been a turnstile for opposing guards like Bradley Beal, John Wall, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. All five guards finished with at least 28 points or more against the C’s while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. With Avery Bradley still out of the lineup, the stars were aligned for Harden to have a monster shooting night but that certainly wasn’t the case.

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who got the start over Marcus Smart in the backcourt, kept up with Harden in the first quarter before Smart and Crowder took turns pestering the veteran and forcing him to commit turnovers throughout the second half. For the first time in a while, the Celtics were a cohesive unit on the defensive end of the floor. It started with Crowder but was sustained with help from guys like Smart, Horford — who finished with a game-high plus-21 rating — and Jonas Jerebko in the front court. 

Jerebko, along with Brown, was another addition in the starting lineup against the Rockets in place of Amir Johnson and didn’t disappoint, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He finished with 7 rebounds and made the most of 23 minutes of playing time by clogging the lanes and providing plenty of help-defense in the post.

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Read More: Jae Crowder, James Harden,

Marcus Smart argues with Celtics coaches during embarrassing loss to Wizards

01.24.17 at 11:04 pm ET
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Bradley Beal led the Wizards to a big win over Marcus Smart and the Celtics on Tuesday night. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Bradley Beal (left) led the Wizards to a big win over Marcus Smart and the Celtics on Tuesday night. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

It took until the fourth quarter for a Celtics player to finally put up a fight during Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Wizards.

The problem is, Marcus Smart was fighting with his own coaches.

The emotional guard jawed with no fewer than four Celtics assistants during a late-game timeout before apparently being dismissed from the team huddle by head coach Brad Stevens. He then was escorted to the locker room by teammate Amir Johnson.

Smart missed the closing seconds of his team’s 123-108 humiliation to a Washington team that approached this game like it was the playoffs (game recap here). The Wizards dressed in all black before the game and then buried the Celtics in an avalanche of jumpers and dunks. Washington shot 57.8 percent from the field and had its way with a Celtics defense that has struggled all season.

But first, the Smart incident.

“He just wanted to go back in,” Stevens said in his postgame press conference, although it clearly was much more than that, as Smart was chewed out by one assistant after another before departing. “He had played 12 minutes or whatever, and so he wasn’t going to back in. He wanted to go back in. … He wanted to go back in badly.”

Smart also downplayed the incident to reporters.

“Coaches and players, they’re real passionate about the game, hate losing, having different opinions and things about certain things on the bench,” he said, adding: “Of course I wanted to go back in. Just like everybody else, to play it out. Give it everything they have, leave it on the court. We had different opinions on that.”

Added Smart: “As a competitor, a lot of frustration. You hate losing regardless. I think everybody on this team hates losing. Everybody on this team knows I hate losing, and how much I hate losing. So it was a lot of frustration.”

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Loss to Trail Blazers reminds Celtics how important Avery Bradley is

01.21.17 at 8:39 pm ET
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Jan 21, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) gets fouled by Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

When coach Brad Stevens broke the news that the Celtics were going to face the Trail Blazers without their best back court defender in Avery Bradley for the second straight game, you knew the C’s were going to have their hands full against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — one of best guard duos in the NBA.  

The Trail Blazers, losers of five of their last seven games, entered TD Garden hungry for a win and earned a 127-123 overtime win against the Celtics behind a combined 63 points from Lillard and McCollum.  

McCollum scored a team-high 35 points on 11-of-21 attempts and Lillard finished with 28 points on 9-of-21 shots. 

The absence of Bradley in the back court is felt against scoring guards. Isaiah Thomas’ shortcomings on defense isn’t new, but what is starting to become a trend in games when Bradley is out is Marcus Smart’s inability to keep up with his defensive assignments and they were magnified against Lillard and McCollum. 

However, Smart’s struggles haven’t only been against offensively gifted guards. 

The Celtics have now dropped two straight games against the Knicks and Trail Blazers, respectively, and in both games, both teams managed to capitalize on their back court’s offensive production. Derrick Rose of the Knicks had a 2011 MVP like performance against Smart on Wednesday. He finished with 30 points on 13-of-24 attempts all from inside the 3-point arc, including 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Rose danced with Smart all over the parquet floor and won the matchup that ultimately made the difference in the game’s outcome.

On Saturday, Smart spent most of his time on McCollum — who put on a shooting clinic by scoring a whopping 26 points — in the first half before switching over to Lillard. 

After Amir Johnson split a pair of free-throws that gave the Celtics a one-point lead (108-107), Smart committed a shooting foul on Lillard while trying to fight through a screen that resulted in Lillard making both attempts and giving the Blazers the lead with 1:16 left in the game. But one of the biggest defensive blunders by Smart came not when left McCollum open for an open shot that would have sealed the game, but when he committed an offensive foul on Lillard while trying to covert a put-back layup. 

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Read More: C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, Marcus Smart,

Evan Turner reflects on special friendship with Brad Stevens: ‘He put me in a position to be successful’

01.21.17 at 5:57 pm ET
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Evan Turner considers Boston a very special place. (Josue Pavon/WEEI.com)

While reminiscing on his time in Boston, former Celtic Evan Turner shared how much he misses the city and how him and Celtics coach Brad Stevens formed a strong friendship — one that he doesn’t take for granted.  

Turner, who played two seasons in Boston before signing four-year, $70 million deal with the Trail Blazers last summer, says while Stevens was a great coach to him and his teammates throughout his tenure in Boston, he’s also responsible for re-energizing his career.

“Obviously as a coach, he’s a was a great coach,” Turner said. “He helped me figure out myself and a lot of guys in the locker room’s career, re-energized it. I just always thought he was a great, classy person. A sincere individual. Never thought he was too big and he does a lot of great things but I really appreciate the friendship I was able to form with him and get to know what type of guy he is. Very special person, special coach. It makes a lot of sense why he’s had so much success throughout his career because he’s a good individual and his mentality stuff has definitely helped me learn how to be a pro and how to see bigger picture, point of views.

“He put me in a position to be successful,” Turner explained.

After coming off a season where they finished fifth in the Western Conference and reached the Western Conference semi-finals, the Trail Blazers (18-27) have gotten off to a rough start this year. They’re currently on a four-game losing streak and will look to bounce back from their loss against the lowly 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday. 

“Right now we’re struggling with consistency,” Turner explained. “Been in some close games, hasn’t been really going our way. Hopefully, it’ll change.”

Turner also recalled the chemistry he shared with his former teammates and how special it was to play for the Celtics — a storied franchise with a strong fan base. 

“We had a great team, we had great chemistry among our team,” Turner said. “I think that’s what I really recognized. Not saying we don’t here just in the locker room, the locker room feel was kind of rare. I definitely appreciate that the most. You know, playing at the garden was dope. Putting on a jersey was definitely dope. You don’t take it for granted, this isn’t like a normal franchise. Sell-outs and all that stuff. You don’t take that for granted. I definitely miss that.”

 

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Avery Bradley (Achilles) ruled out for Saturday’s game against Trail Blazers

01.20.17 at 2:08 pm ET
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The Celtics will have to again find a way to win without their second-highest scorer, as Avery Bradley will miss Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers, per reports.

Said coach Brad Stevens, “The Achilles is structurally fine, but he has a lot of soreness around it. That’s one of those things you have to be ultra-careful with.”

With Bradley’s absence on Saturday, he will have missed four out of five games with the injury. He was slated to play, and start, in Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks, but was a late scratch and missed the game.

He had played 33 minutes in Monday’s win over the Hornets, scoring five points. The 26-year-old is averaging 17.7 points per game in 34.9 minutes in 36 appearances, all starts.

Another pair of injured Celtics, Tyler Zeller (sinus infection) and James Young (ankle), both practiced on Friday.

Read More: Avery Bradley, James Young, Tyler Zeller,

Isaiah Thomas loses tiebreaker, so Celtics guard won’t start All-Star Game

01.19.17 at 9:57 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas feeds off doubters, which means he won’t be going hungry this All-Star season.

Starters were announced for the NBA All-Star Game on Thursday, and Thomas wasn’t among them. The Celtics guard, who currently ranks fourth in the NBA in scoring, lost a tiebreaker to Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan and will likely be a reserve when full rosters are announced.

In the voting of fans, players, and media, Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving was the runaway winner. Thomas actually won the media vote, but DeRozan prevailed among fans and players, leaving the two deadlocked. Because the fan vote counts for 50 percent of the total, it was the first tiebreaker, and DeRozan outpaced Thomas there by just over 40,000 votes, 796,122-755,102 to claim the starting nod.

Regardless, it’s been a monster first half for the diminutive star, who’s averaging 28.7 points per game, including a league-best 10.1 in the fourth quarter.

Thomas wasn’t the only star snubbed. In the Western Conference, MVP candidate Russell Westbrook will be a reserve, despite averaging a triple-double thus far (30.6 points, 10.6 rebounds, 10.4 assists). The starting guard slots in the West went to Golden State’s Steph Curry and Houston’s James Harden.

The other Eastern Conference starters are Cleveland’s LeBron James, Chicago’s Jimmy Butler, and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. In the West, Curry and Harden will be joined by San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard, Golden State’s Kevin Durant and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis.

Read More: All-Star rosters, Celtics, DeMar DeRozan, Greek Freak

Al Horford on Wednesday’s shooting struggles: ‘It just wasn’t going for me’

01.18.17 at 11:19 pm ET
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The Celtics didn’t bring Al Horford to Boston so he could blow everyone away with his perimeter shooting. But he’s proven at times to be more than adept with a jump shot.

Wednesday just wasn’t his night.

In the Celtics’ 117-106 loss to the Knicks at TD Garden, Horford looked lost from the perimeter, missing wide open looks. When he clanked a 3-point attempt with 4:31 left in the game and the Celtics down by 10, the Garden was not afraid to hammer him with some boos.

Horford can’t remember ever having a night this bad offensively — especially in a Celtics uniform.

“I struggled bad offensively,” Horford said. “I tried to do everything I could to help us, but it just wasn’t going for me.”

The bigman ultimately went 1-for-8 on the night from distance, 2-for-14 overall from the field.

“It was just bad, and I have to be better,” he lamented after the game.

Horford was aware of how bad his perimeter shooting was getting. Later in the game, he started to try and help more in the post and with both on- and off-ball screens.

The problem was, the looks he was getting were just too good to pass up. 

“One thing I noticed was I kept missing short,” Horford said. “And I try to remind myself that it was at the point that I didn’t have it, and that was tough. So I try to impact the game in other ways, whether it was setting screens, giving people shots, stuff like that. But that was definitely tough for me because they were good looks, I even felt good about a few of them, they just didn’t go in.

Horford has always been equipped with a short memory. He acknowledged that it wasn’t a permanent flaw, rather just a bad showing. He’s bought into Brad Stevens’ system since day one, and knows that when the TrailBlazers come to town on Saturday, it will be a clean slate.

“I think we just need to keep trusting and running our offense, making sure that we play with a little more energy and refocus,” Horford said. We have a big one on Saturday here at home and we’ll have a chance to redeem ourselves and be better.

“I’ll come in tomorrow, do some work. I’ll look at the film, see which way I can get better. It’s just one game, I’ll be fine.”

Read More: Al Horford,
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