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Games like Celtics’ win over Knicks offer reminder Marcus Smart will always be haunted by Bill Simmons’ tweet

12.25.16 at 3:08 pm ET
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I’ve said this too many times to count: Marcus Smart will never make an NBA All-Star team.

This used to rile people up, and fill up the phone lines, with Celtics’ diehards hanging their hopes on Smart for the next foundation piece. After all, he was taken at No. 6 overall in the 2014 draft, and has shown enough to make it seem like a sustained run of excellence might be in there.

And then there was that tweet from Bill Simmons …


Smart is never going to come close to being Westbrook, and he also isn’t going to make an All-Star team. But, you know what? That’s OK. And that’s something anybody who watched the Celtics’ Christmas Day, 119-114 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden should agree with.

(Click here for a complete recap of the Celtics’ win.)

Smart did his usual thing in playing 28 minutes, managing a plus-18 while totaling 15 points and seven assists. This time, however, he added in the game’s pivotal shot, breaking a 112-112 tie with 48 seconds left with a 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down.

ESPN announcer Doug Collins immediately offered a great comparison when trying to describe Smart’s vibe: there’s a little Dennis Johnson in there, making you forget all the bad when the good counts the most.

The knocks on Smart haven’t really subsided, starting with his critics’ issues involving the guard’s shooting. This was a player who, last season, had the lowest 3-point percentage (25 percent) of any NBA player in history taking as many treys as he did. It hasn’t gotten much better this time around, with Smart shooting three’s at 27 percent with a field goal percentage right at his career average (35.7 percent).

Still, if you’ve watched the Celtics’ last few games it is easy to uncover the key plays Smart has made when the game has been on the line, and we’re not just talking jumpers. Rebounds. Taking offensive fouls. Steals.

Sunday only reaffirmed what the Celtics’ coaching staff, and chief decision-maker Danny Ainge, think of Smart. They love him. They think he will be part a key part of a winning team, which is exactly what the Celtics are right now, residing only behind the Cavaliers and Raptors in the Eastern Conference.

But the question is will be if Smart can be that complementary piece on a team that will be talented enough to overtake those Eastern Conference big wigs? Will the Celtics have to trade him to get that much-needed foundation piece? Or will the Celts end up being not quite good enough because they prioritize keeping Smart?

For now, the Celtics will see how good they can be with a top five of Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Smart, all of whom (along with Kelly Olynyk) finished in double-figures.

Threes like the one Smart hit against the Knicks are just a bonus. This is a player you should like. Just don’t expect too much.

Will Marcus Smart ever make an All-Star team?

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This was why Celtics should have been hoping for Russell Westbrook, not Kevin Durant

12.24.16 at 12:00 am ET
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Russell Westbrook torched the Celtics for 45 points Friday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Russell Westbrook torched the Celtics for 45 points Friday night (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Russell Westbrook. Kevin Durant. You can’t go wrong. Let’s get that out of the way.

But while so many lusted after the idea of Durant being wooed by Tom Brady and the Celtics in the Hamptons last summer, the eyes should have been on another prize, his Oklahoma City teammate.

This was a fact that Westbrook helped crystalize Friday night at TD Garden.

The Thunder made sure they didn’t get in the predicament the organization found themselves with Durant, locking up Westbrook to a three-year, $85 million extension that wouldn’t allow him to become a free agent until after the 2018-19 season. For Celtics’ fans it elicited another offseason sad trombone. Within a month, Durant and Westbrook had dashed the C’s dreams of reeling in one of the two to serve as the foundation for the team which would ultimately overtake LeBron James and the rest of the NBA.

But even with the prospect of getting one of the stars in green dashed, the debate regarding which one should have been prioritized lingered. The consensus was Durant would be the better acquisition. The consensus might be changing their mind.

Westbrook virtually singled-handedly beat the Celtics, 117-112, in their most recent meeting, notching his 14th triple-double of the season with 45 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds. And all of that after not making his first basket until four minutes into the second quarter.

(To read a complete recap of the Celtics’ loss to the Thunder, click here.)

The guard now has 133 points in his last four games, and finds himself leading the NBA in scoring at 31.8 points per game. Westbrook also averages the second-most assists per contest (10.8), currently serving as the active leader in career triple-doubles (51), totaling six more than LeBron.

Right now, he is simply the one guy you would take over everyone else with the game on the line, which the Celtics found out the hard way.

It’s not like Durant is having a bad season. He is averaging 25.9 points per game, playing a major role in Golden State’s 27-4 start. But all things considered — including what would be the perfect fit for these Celtics — Westbrook should have always headlined the C’s wish-list.

“We’ve got really good defenders on him and he made great plays,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Westbrook. “I don’t know what to say other than ‘Hats off to him’ for plays he made.”

Who would you rather have on the Celtics?

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas leads balanced Celtics attack in win over Pacers

12.22.16 at 9:33 pm ET
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Paul George is defended by Avery Bradley during Thursday's game in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

Paul George is defended by Avery Bradley during Thursday’s game in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

The Pacers wore their “Hoosiers” Hickory High throwback uniforms for Thursday’s game, but there was no Hollywood ending for the home team as Isaiah Thomas continued his fantastic play in leading the Celtics to a 109-102 win.

The Celtics dug out of an early nine-point hole with a 29-9 second quarter, built a 17-point lead in the third quarter, then held on behind Thomas’ clutch shooting to post their season-best fourth straight win — completing a 3-0 road trip in the process.

Thomas scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. He also dished out nine assists, helping Boston to have a balanced attack. The C’s had six players in double figures, including Avery Bradley (15 points), Jae Crowder (15), Marcus Smart (12), Amir Johnson (11) and Kelly Olynyk (11). Al Horford had eight points and 11 rebounds.

Thomas was coming off a career-high 44 points in Tuesday’s win over the Grizzlies.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Thomas told CSNNE’s Kyle Draper right after the game. “I’m in attack mode. I’m doing what my team needs me to do. Coach [Brad Stevens] and my teammates put me in position to be me. And that’s all it is.”

Jeff Teague led the Pacers with 31 points — shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 11-of-11 from the line — and eight assists. C.J. Miles and Paul George each scored 19, although George was held to six points in the second half. Thaddeus Young contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds.

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas scores career-high 44 as Celtics rally past Grizzlies in OT

12.20.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4), Al Horford and Jaw Crowder battle Memphis center Marc Gasol for a loose ball during Tuesday's game. (Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (from left), Al Horford and Jae Crowder battle Grizzlies center Marc Gasol for a loose ball during Tuesday’s game in Memphis. (Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics’ first truly impressive win of the season was a long time coming, but they made it a memorable one.

The C’s battled back from a 17-point deficit against a strong (and hot) Grizzlies team in Memphis and pulled out a 112-109 win in overtime behind a career-high 44 points from Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas hit 10-of-16 field goals (7-of-10 from behind the arc) and 17-of-17 free throws. He only had eight points in the first half but exploded for 29 in the second half and seven more in the extra session.

“I’m a killer,” he told CSNNE’s Kyle Draper right after the win. “I’m a killer. My team needed me to score. My team needed me to made plays. They got me open. Coach put me in position to be successful and I just took it from there.”

The win was the first for the C’s over a team with a winning percentage of at least .600 this season.

“It’s big, but it’s not just about that,” Thomas said. “It’s just about how we got the win. They were punking us in the first half and a little bit during the third quarter, and we just put our head down and said, ‘This is ours.’ And we took what we thought was ours. This might turn this season around for real.”

Al Horford also had a big game, recording 17 points and 14 rebounds, and he had a big basket late in overtime.

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NBA downgrades Isaiah Thomas flagrant-2 foul to flagrant-1

12.20.16 at 3:29 pm ET
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Dec 18, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (center) talks with NBA referee Tony Brothers during the second half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas pleads his case to official Tony Brothers as he receives an automatic ejection for an elbow to the face of Justise Winslow. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

The NBA agrees with Isaiah Thomas. His elbow of Justise Winslow late in the game Sunday night did not warrant the Flagrant-2 penalty he received that came with an automatic ejection from the game.

The league announced on Tuesday that they have officially downgraded his foul of Winslow to a Flagrant-1.

With three minutes remaining and the Celtics leading 97-85, Winslow went to close out defensively on Thomas beyond the 3-point arc on the right wing. As he was getting in his face, Thomas swung his arms with the ball above his head. His right elbow made contact with the right side of Winslow’s face, causing a gash and a blood to flow down his cheek.

The officials reviewed the play, and in combination with nasty-looking injury, decided that a flagrant-2 was in order. 

After the game, Winslow agreed with Thomas that there was no intent to injure on the play. 

But still, Thomas was ejected and the Heat closed to within four points, 97-93, before the Celtics pulled away in the closing minute for a 105-95 win.

“They did as they should,” Thomas told reporters of Tuesday’s news at a shootaround before the game in Memphis. “I didn’t do anything intentional. I did a regular basketball move.”

Additionally, Thomas will not be fined for the play from Sunday after Tuesday’s action by the league.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Fast Break: Celtics lose Isaiah Thomas to flagrant 2 ejection but hold off Heat

12.18.16 at 8:43 pm ET
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Al Horford backs down Josh McRoberts during Sunday's game in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford backs down Josh McRoberts during Sunday’s game in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

After one quarter, Sunday’s game in Miami looked like it was going to be an uneventful Celtics runaway against a struggling Heat team.

The C’s did manage to get the win, 105-95, but it turned out to be quite an interesting finish.

The Heat, who trailed by 18 points after the first quarter and by 22 later in the half, rallied to get within five points in the closing minutes before the C’s — who lost Isaiah Thomas to an ejection — closed the door.

With 3:02 remaining, Thomas was assessed a flagrant 2 foul — which comes with an ejection — when he was trying to clear space and caught Justise Winslow with his right elbow, giving the Heat forward a bloody cheek. Winslow missed both free throws, and those misses loomed large after the Heat quickly ran off three consecutive baskets — the last a 3-pointer by Goran Dragic — to get with five points at 97-92 with two minutes remaining.

After a missed 3-pointer by Al Horford, Tyler Johnson was fouled on the rebound and hit 1-of-2 to get the margin to four. The C’s responded by going right to Horford — this time in the post. He spun on Johnson and hit a reverse layup while being fouled, then hit the ensuing free throw.

After a missed 3-pointer by Heat guard Josh Richardson, Marcus Smart found Horford open for a 15-foot jumper and the center was true again, upping the lead to nine at 102-93 with 1:02 remaining.

Another Heat turnover — Miami’s 23rd of the night — essentially ended the home team’s hopes.

Thomas finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-of-5 treys). Avery Bradley also shot the ball well, hitting 9-of-17 from the field and finishing with 20 points. Horford contributed 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Jae Crowder had 15 points, six rebounds and five steals.

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Full Court Press: Brad Stevens comes to grips with mediocrity, effects of new CBA on Celtics

12.17.16 at 12:34 pm ET
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Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens is patiently waiting for his team to rise from mediocrity. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

Everyone knows injuries have impacted the Celtics to start this season of promise. 

But what Brad Stevens is trying to get across to his team is that the losses due to man-games missed has not been the biggest issue. The Celtics have simply been a mediocre team just under a third of the way through the year. 

And Stevens can’t blame it all on injuries. 

What does he think of the record so far?

“It’s 13-12,” Stevens said before Friday’s win over Charlotte that improved it to 14-12. The Celtics entered Friday’s action actually a half-game behind the 14-12 Knicks. 


“It is what it is. I thought this was going to… I thought we had a lot of tough, tough challenges, especially at the start of the season, ahead of us,” Stevens said. “There were a couple of things, obviously, that you can’t predict going into a new year, with regard to availability. But I said at the beginning of the year, we’re as close to second or third as we are 10th. Still are.”

Al Horford missed nine games with a concussion and one due to a paternity leave. Jae Crowder missed eight games with an ankle sprain. Thomas returned Friday after a four-game absence due to a sore groin. Marcus Smart missed three games with a bum ankle. 

“I don’t think we should use that as an excuse,” Stevens said. “I think at the end of the day, that’s part of the game. Certainly, we’ve missed some guys [who have] missed some games. My hope is that we can get a little bit of a steady play here and see how we look healthy.” 

 Avery Bradley took it a step further before Friday’s game.
“We know we need to get back to playing the right way,” Bradley said. “And pulling off some wins in a row is important for us. I would call it a must-win after losing three close ones. We always want to take care of home, and like you said it’s a team that’s in the East that we’re going to see again. These games really count for us. It really matters when it comes down to the end of the year as far as seeding in the playoffs.”

The Celtics and Hornets are very similar in their approach this season. They are two teams looking to take that next step after making a late-season run last season. The Celtics and Hornets finished tied with the Hawks and Heat with 48 wins.

“Yeah, there’s no question. It’s been that way for the last couple of years and I think it boils down to… we always talk about you’ve got to maintain an even keel and you’ve got to control what you can control, and that is playing as consistent as possible every single night. I thought we played some really good basketball against Toronto last week, some really good basketball against Oklahoma City, not as good against San Antonio. But I think we have to do what we are doing, better, to beat those teams.”

Charlotte is 14-12 and that’s good enough, despite a three-game skid, to be leading the Southeast Division. 

“I was talking to Brad before,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I hesitate to even look at standings at this stage of the game, because the schedule is such a big part of it. Some teams played a lot more games on the road, other teams have been out West already and we haven’t. I think until you play 40-45 games… obviously you don’t want to lose contact with everybody, but you just have to worry about your team and building a team game that’s balanced.”

New CBA and the Celtics: On Wednesday, the NBA announced that the league and the Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, pending ratification by players and team owners. 

In the statement, the league announced that “in order to give both sides enough time to review the terms of the agreement and vote to ratify, the parties have agreed to extend the mutual deadline to opt out of the existing CBA from Dec. 15, 2016, to Jan. 13, 2017.”  

Multiple reports indicate that the deal is for at least six years and the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps has a thorough explanation of some of the leaked details of the new pact, including what exactly is the new “designated player exception” (DPE).  

What does that mean for the Celtics? 

The new rule has the potential to impact free agents, like Blake Griffin, as well as potential trade targets like Paul George or the always-coveted but highly flammable DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings could still decide they would rather move on from the Boogie man, but now have the option to offer Cousins a longer, more lucrative extension this summer. In other words, the league is trying to provide incentives to teams like Sacramento and Indiana to hold onto their own free agents instead of just dumping them. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have to more closely weigh short-term goals versus long-term planning and how the Nets’ likely lottery pick is going to figure into all of this. Then there’s Kevin Durant. If Ainge thinks he can lure Durant to Boston and if Durant opts out in Golden State after one year, that could significantly change how Ainge views the marketplace and more importantly, Boston’s place in it. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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