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Celtics halftime report: Isaiah Thomas amazes in horrible circumstances, but C’s can’t rebound, trail Bulls

04.16.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gets a hug from guard Avery Bradley (0) after hitting a shot against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) gets a hug from guard Avery Bradley (0) after hitting a shot against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Just a quick halftime update, with the Celtics trailing the Bulls 48-46 at halftime of Game 1 of their playoff series.

All eyes were on star guard Isaiah Thomas during warmups and introductions. Playing through grief after his younger sister, Chyna, was killed in a one-car crash on Saturday morning in Washington, Thomas came out on fire, scoring 13 points in the first quarter and 15 in the first half.

Unfortunately, his teammates haven’t picked up their end of the bargain, particularly on the boards, where they’ve been outrebounded 32-20 while allowing 16 offensive rebounds.

Al Horford nailed a 3-pointer at the first half buzzer to pull the Celtics within two.

The play of the second unit has been particularly galling, with Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk a combined 1-for-8.

Robin Lopez leads the eighth-seeded Bulls with 12 points and eight rebounds, including seven offensive.

The Celtics will need to clamp down on the second-chance opportunities or they’ll have surrendered homecourt advantage. Jae Crowder played only 10 minutes in the half because he has three fouls, and he should help provide some toughness on Bulls star Jimmy Butler in the second half.

But as with the start of the game, all eyes will be on Thomas, who is 5-for-10 from the floor, including 2-for-5 on 3-pointers.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Chyna, Isaiah Thomas

Brad Stevens on the status of Isaiah Thomas: ‘I think his intention is to play’

04.16.17 at 6:07 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Instead of talking X’s and O’s and his game plan for the Bulls in Game 1 of the playoffs, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spent time updating the media on the status of Isaiah Thomas. 

In the wake of the tragic passing of Thomas’ sister Chyna J. Thomas, Stevens couldn’t confirm if Thomas will play in the opening matchup of the Celtics’ seven-game series against the Bulls but did say Thomas’ initial intention is to take the floor.

“He went through our shootaround. He’s struggling,” Stevens said. “Obviously it’s tragic circumstances that he and his family are going through right now. Our thoughts are first and foremost with all of them. I think his intention is to play. We talked a little bit last night and then again today. As he goes through it and feels like he needs to not [play] then that’s whatever he wants. One of the things that I’ve learned having been through situations in the past is that there’s really no right or wrong answer — it’s whatever’s right for him. That’s what we’ve encouraged him. He’s really hurting. It’s a tough situation.”

Stevens said every member of the Celtics team has reached out to Thomas within the past 24 hours and spent time talking about Thomas’ character and what he means to the team. 

“Everybody reached out, it’s a close-knit team, he’s a big part of it” Stevens said. “Isaiah is a great teammate, Isaiah’s a great husband, he’s a great father. He is a great guy, great son and brother and I think ultimately we just all tried to do our part and let him know we’re thinking about him. Anything that we can all do to help; we do. We’re family and this particular situation with his family takes precedent over everything else going on and we’re here for him if he needs us.”

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Sister of Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dies in car crash

04.15.17 at 8:01 pm ET
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Chyna J. Thomas, the 22-year-old sister of Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas, was killed in a one-car crash early Saturday morning on Interstate-5 in Federal Way, Wash.

According to multiple reports, the accident occurred at approximately 5 a.m. Per Washington State Police, Thomas’ 1998 Toyota Camry drifted off and into a Jersey barrier. The barrier resided approximately 50 feet off the road

It was also reported that she was not wearing her seat belt.

For more on the tragedy, click here.

Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon break down what to expect from Celtics-Bulls in the first round

04.13.17 at 9:27 am ET
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The Celtics wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 112-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night in the regular season finale. They earned a first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls starting Sunday night. Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon preview.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Isaiah Thomas, Josue Pavon

Celtics clinch top seed in Eastern Conference with victory over Bucks in regular-season finale

04.12.17 at 11:58 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Say hello to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It took a while on Wednesday, but once the Celtics got rolling, the Milwaukee Bucks B team had no chance.

With the top seed in the conference improbably on the line and the Bucks resting most of their starters, the Celtics closed the game with a 25-6 run to win a 112-94 blowout and clinch home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.

High-flying reserve Gerald Green led the Celtics with 18 points, including a pair of thunderous dunks, and Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson scored 16 apiece.

The Celtics began the night needing either a win or a Cleveland loss to clinch the regular-season conference championship. While the Cavs lost against Toronto, the Celtics (53-29) chose not to back into anything, winning the game and the top seed going away.

“I think there’s a pride in being consistent, and I told the guys that,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought that they’d been really consistent throughout the whole year with the way that they’ve gone about their preparation and competed on a night-to-night basis. It’s not always easy throughout an 82-game schedule to be at your very best, but these guys are very consistent in their prep and the way they compete. So that’s a real positive but now – we’ll talk about what was accomplished later. We’ll focus on whenever we play this weekend, to get ready.”

The Celtics trailed by 11 after one and by as many as 13 in the second quarter before Isaiah Thomas (13 points, 8 assists) scored 10 points in a two-minute stretch to end the first half with the Celtics up 57-56.

The C’s then pulled away with their game-ending blitz, spearheaded by the defense of Marcus Smart and Green’s hot hand.

“I always expected to be the number one team coming out of the East,” said guard Avery Bradley, who injured a finger in the second half but returned to action. “I always expect for us to be better than what people think we’re going to be. The type of guys we have, the coaches, I know the amount of work we put in, the work our coaching staff puts in. I always have high expectations for this team.”

The C’s and Bulls split their four matchups during the regular season. The series marks a reunion with former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.

“It’s going to be cool, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere for both teams,” Bradley said. “It’s weird playing against him on the other side, but playoff time is when he really brings it. It should be a fun series.”

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, NBA playoffs

Will Isaiah Thomas be ready for his playing time to spike in playoffs?

04.12.17 at 9:27 pm ET
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Apr 6, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas could be in for a playing time increase come the playoffs. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

When Brad Stevens steps on the gas in the playoffs, will Isaiah Thomas be ready to fire up the Celtics engine?

For the Celtics to have any prayer of fulfilling the promise made by the Celtics point guard before Wednesday’s regular season finale, Thomas will have to be ready to answer the bell, even if it means playing more minutes than his team-leading 34 minutes-per game average. 

Thomas has put up MVP-caliber numbers, averaging 29.1 points per game, second in the league only to Russell Westbrook. He’s averaging 5.9 assists and an NBA-best 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. He’s done it all, leading the team in clutch shot-making and wrist-pointing, while leading his team to an unlikely perch atop the Eastern Conference. 

He was held scoreless in the first 14 minutes of playing time Wednesday before exploding for 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half. The Celtics didn’t look like themselves until Thomas took over the game. The question is: Will he be able to continue this in the playoffs?

Thomas entered Wednesday’s game ranked 27th in the NBA in minutes played. There are certainly others like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden who rank at the top of the league. But with Thomas, there is the unknown of playoff wear and tear. 

The Celtics, after all, are still looking for their first playoff series win with Thomas at the point. Two years ago, the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in the opening round. Last year, the Celtics won a pair of games but fell in six to the Hawks in the first round. Thomas was acquired at the trade deadline in February 2015 and the Celtics have been in the playoffs ever since. 

“I don’t know that it changed the attitude. I think that that’s something we were starting to find a stride about us right before the All-Star break that year,” coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday. “Isaiah was a huge addition from the standpoint of he brought something to the table that we needed badly and that complemented the rest of our players. I think that he fit in with his chip on his shoulder and his desire to prove people wrong and be great. But I don’t know that he changed it, per se. We were headed in the right direction and then this was a big part of it. He’s been a huge part of it, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a collective effort. All of our guys have that mindset.”

Now the mindset is getting deep in the playoffs and that could mean asking more from Thomas and others. 

“Nobody’s played more than 34 minutes a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah is on 75 games. Everybody else is less than that. We feel really good about our total minutes, our minutes per game and where we are heading into the playoffs, from a preparation standpoint and from a load standpoint thus far. 

“I said the other day that the silver lining of the injuries we went through was everybody sat. Avery missed almost two months, Al missed 15 games, Jae missed 10 games. We’ve had a good number of games missed due to that. And as a result, we feel like it’s more important to play right now and continue to play together.”

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Even on verge of No. 1 seed, Brad Stevens concedes ‘Cleveland is the team to beat… they deserve that’

04.12.17 at 7:00 pm ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics into the playoff charge. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The standings heading into the playoffs may have the Celtics at the top of the ladder in the Eastern Conference. 

But in his mind, Brad Stevens is keeping the defending champions on a pedestal for a purpose going into the playoffs. 

The Cavaliers lost three straight games after knocking off the Celtics last Wednesday at TD Garden. That opened the door for the Celtics to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over the rest-depleted Bucks Wednesday night. 

But Stevens knows full well that if he can keep that carrot in front of his team, they will have plenty of motivation to prove themselves worthy of the respect the Cavaliers have already earned. 

Asked before Wednesday’s regular season finale how he feels about the Cavaliers still regarded as the team to beat, he grinned quickly before confirming what many experts already feel. 

“No, they deserve that. Cleveland is the team to beat. There’s no question about that. They deserve that,” Stevens said. “They’ve been to back-to-back finals. So, until somebody knocks them off, as a defending champion, I think that’s a fair way to view things.” 

Clearly, the Cavaliers aren’t concerned about finishing second to the Celtics in the East. They are resting LeBron James at home against the Toronto Raptors in their regular season finale, a game that will be played simultaneous with Boston’s game against Milwaukee. 

Stevens also indicated before the game that it’s safe to say that – heading into the postseason – he will likely go with a rotation of nine regular players. But there’s a chance that the likes of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green or even Jordan Mickey could see time if the situation presents itself. 

“Yeah, I’d say that’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens said. “But again, everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen.  As we saw last year, match-ups you didn’t anticipate become match-ups that become important and you need to throw somebody else at so everybody’s got to be ready.”  

The first four off Stevens’ bench would be Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. 

Stevens confirmed that everyone would be “available” for the regular season finale. 

“We’re trying to win a game,” Stevens said of trying to capture win No. 53, a win that would clinch the No. 1 seed. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks
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