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Brett Brown genuinely amazed at what Isaiah Thomas ‘is doing to the NBA’

02.15.17 at 9:35 pm ET
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On a night when Isaiah Thomas tied John Havlicek for the most consecutive games of at least 20 points in Celtics history, Sixers coach Brett Brown gave the Celtics point guard praise worthy of his history-making night. 

“They really can score,” Brown began when asked about the Celtics offense. “They really, really can score. The last two times we’ve played them, with 30 seconds left, it was 100-100, and it was 102-100 the other game. We’re there at the end. The good news is I feel like we’re playing good basketball right now. The bad news is they are playing as good as basketball as I’ve seen them play in a while because I feel they are firing on all cylinders with just firepower.”

CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato tried to ask an ‘apart from Isaiah Thomas’ question, probing Brown’s thoughts on the rest of the Celtics roster, like the red-hot Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. But Brown couldn’t help himself. 

“Isaiah Thomas, what he is doing to the NBA and the volume and the volume of points he scores and what he does in fourth periods and what he does in back-to-back games,” Brown said. “You look at what he’s doing to the league right now, he’s an All-Star for a reason.” 

That reason is 29.8 points per game, second only to the 30.8 of Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. The Celtics lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 29 points per game. The Celtics have been closing out close games and Thomas is the numero uno reason. Throw on top of all of that 40 straight games of at least 20 points, and you have a historic performance for a legacy franchise. 

“I know you asked, ‘Apart from Isaiah,’ but you can’t help but talk about him and the firepower they have collectively when you talk about how you try to give yourself a chance to win,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to defend them, and they’re really hard to do that.” 

Then Brown took it to the next level. 

“I mean he’s so unassuming physically. You look at him and it’s not like you’re looking at LeBron or somebody that’s tall and all cut up,” Brown said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “He’s very sort of unassuming when you look at him on a court. And then all of sudden, you start studying him. His ability to control speeds.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, John Havlicek, LeBron James

Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown out through break, Brad Stevens makes Al Horford All-Star argument

02.15.17 at 7:50 pm ET
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Avery Bradley really wants to get back to playing.

But the Celtics want him 100 percent when the games really matter in April and May.

To that end, Bradley understands the Celtics being ultra-cautious with his sore right Achilles, which is just about fully healed.

That injury forced him to miss his 15th straight game Wednesday and will keep him out as well on Thursday night in Chicago. Bradley has played just once since Jan. 6.

“It’s frustrating,” Bradley said before Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. “I guess it’s just part of the game and part of being smart. I want to play and play through it but the team advised me that this is not the time to take that risk right now and something potentially happen to my Achilles or a different injury.”

Bradley and the team are not just protecting against the existing injury but trying to make sure he doesn’t compensate unconsciously and injure something else.

“It was just a decision to make together and we felt like it’s the best one,” Bradley continued. “It’s feeling really good.”

But Bradley admitted he hasn’t worked on the court much lately and getting back in basketball shape will be key.

“I really haven’t done much,” he said. “I’ve been doing more conditioning and strengthening, upper body and lower body, just making sure I’m strong enough for when I do return. Now, we’re getting the basketball stuff in, so I’m hoping over the All-Star [break], I can play some basketball and be ready for the first game.”

Brad Stevens sounded much more cautious when asked about Bradley and Jaylen Brown (hip).

“Both guys are out for the next two games with the hope of doing some practice when we return,” Stevens said.

After Thursday’s game in Chicago, the Celtics are off for eight days, resuming their schedule in Toronto on Feb. 24 against the Serge Ibaka-revitalized Raptors.

All-Star push: Brad Stevens suddenly has an open roster spot on his Eastern Conference squad Sunday in New Orleans. Kevin Love is out at least six weeks with impending knee surgery. Stevens has no say in Love’s replacement but he has a natural suggestion should anyone ask.

Al Horford may not be putting up huge numbers (14.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.0 APG) but they are first, second and second respectively on a team that is just two games out of first place in the East. Expectations have been as big as Horford’s four-year, $113 million contract. But according to his coach, he’s been a big part of why the Celtics have risen to the top in the East.

“I always base my decision on who is really impacting winning, and I think that’s why Al would be a good choice,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “I’m hopeful Al gets that call. It’s not our call. But there’s a lot of good players in this league. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody else. We certainly hope Al gets that call.”

If Stevens was being somewhat (understandably) understated in his praise of Horford, Sixers coach Brett Brown was not. He also said the Celtics have risen to the top but went even further in his praise of the man once coached by Brett Brown’s good friend Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. Brown and Budenholzer coached together under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. 

“You can’t even put a price tag on that. He was coached by a close friend of mine in Atlanta for a while,” Brown said of Horford’s days in Atlanta. “If you just go to the person, there’s a veteran class and there’s an elite mind, basketball mind, and then you can start talking about his actual game. So, what he does to a locker room, what he does from experience perspective and you take the unusual skill package in that he can bring you out and stretch the court.

“Even when you study the last time that we played here, Joel [Embiid] gets sucked in on a drive and they kick it to Al in the corner for a three, that’s an unusual match-up for a 7-foot-2 center. I think that Brad does a really good job, creative job on using Olynyk and Horford, especially, with how they can stretch the floor, and Amir [Johnson], letting Amir shoot corner threes. Kind of all over the place, off-the-court locker room stuff, I think it’s just a sensational acquisition and piece that they have made to legitimately look at them now as one of the elite teams in the East. It’s a wonderful building block, for sure.” 

The Celtics are 7-5 without Horford in the lineup this season.

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.

Read More: Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Kevin Love

What Serge Ibaka going to Toronto means for Celtics

02.14.17 at 11:55 am ET
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The first salvo has been fired as the NBA storms towards its trade deadline.

According to multiple reports, the Raptors have secured the services of forward Serge Ibaka thanks to a trade with Orlando.

The 27-year-old Ibaka had been one of the rumored targets of Danny Ainge and the Celtics, averaging 15.1 points and 6.8 rebounds per game for the Magic.

The Raptors have slipped to the No. 5 spot in the Eastern Conference, four games in back of the second-seed Celtics. The C’s currently reside two games in back of conference leader Cleveland, while sitting 2 1/2 games in front of Washington, and four ahead of Atlanta.

Ross was averaging 10.4 points, 2.6 rebounds and 22.4 minutes per game for the Raptors.

One of the factors in moving on from Ibaka for Orlando was the reality that the former first-round pick could walk at the end of the season as a free agent.

Ibaka has not played well in his two meetings against the Celtics this season, netting four and eight points. The Celtics play the Raptors one more time in the regular season, traveling to Toronto on Feb. 24.

Win in Dallas shows again Celtics know how to seal the deal late

02.13.17 at 10:57 pm ET
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Feb 13, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to control the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas battles for control of the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics once again had their finishing kick in high gear Monday in Dallas. 

Perhaps the most important quality the Celtics have shown over the course of this promising season is their ability to close out teams in the fourth. They did it again Monday as they scored 28 points in the final 12 minutes in a 111-98 win over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. No team in the NBA scores more in the final 12 minutes than Boston’s 29-point average. 

Something else they’ll need come playoff time is balance. They showed that Monday, also. Isaiah Thomas led six players in double figures with 29 points. They improved to 17-11 on the road, the best such record in the East. 

The Celtics finished off their 4-game West Coast swing with three straight victories after a loss in Sacramento. They come back home with a great deal of momentum, taking on the fast-improving 76ers Wednesday night at TD Garden.

“It’s hard to win a game,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. “We got outplayed the first night. But then the last three games we played pretty well.”

“We would’ve loved to go 4-0, but we bounced back,” Marcus Smart added. “That’s what good teams do, and we’re becoming a really great team.”

For a full recap and box score of Monday’s win over the Mavericks, click here.

The Celtics won their tenth game in 11 outings to improve to 36-19 and draw to within two games of first-place Cleveland (37-16) in the East. 

“We’re playing aggressively on offense,” Thomas said. “We have a good pace on offense and on defense we’re heading in the direction we want to be.”

Thomas had 29 points, his 39th straight game with at least 20 points. The Celtics got a dose of their own medicine as 5-foot-7 rookie Yogi Ferrell scored 20 points and put a scare into the Celtics in parts of the game. 

Early in the game, 5-foot-7 Isaiah Thomas was guarding 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki hit a couple of jumpers over him.

The Celtics then switched to Marcus Smart. The man who has “Dallas” tattooed on his forearm put on a show in his hometown early. 

The two teams were red hot to start the game from the perimeter. Thomas hit his first three shots from beyond the arc while Smart also hit an early three, making the Celtics 4-for-4 from deep. But the Mavericks connected on six of their first seven shots as they kept pace.

The Celtics finished the first quarter hitting 7-of-11 from 3-point range while Dallas was 4-for-6 from deep.

The game was a continuation of the coming out party for rookie Yogi Ferrell. He is the Mavericks’ answer to Isaiah Thomas. For a good part of the first half, he played like it. He hit his first five shots and scored 11 points in just nine minutes of action.

Deron Williams was ejected when he drove to the basket with just under 40 seconds left in the first half and was called for an offensive foul, drawn by Smart. Williams picked up two quick technicals and was tossed.  

Then with just 0.6 seconds remaining, Ferrell was whistled for a questionable foul on Isaiah Thomas, who was firing up a deep three. Thomas hit all three shots and finished off an 8-0 run to put the Celtics up, 61-50, at the half. Thomas led the Celtics at the break with 18 points while Smart added 17. Gerald Green had 10. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas

Win over Jazz should make you start wondering about bigger things for Celtics

02.12.17 at 9:08 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas is leading the Celtics to new heights. (Russell Isabella/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas is leading the Celtics to new heights. (Russell Isabella/USA Today Sports)

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Celtics — even without trading what could very well be the No. 1 pick in the draft — have entered the NBA’s elite.

The C’s are just 2 1/2 games out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and have now won nine of their last 10 games. During that run Brad Stevens’ club managed wins over the East’s No. 4 team (Toronto), and the third-, fourth-, and fifth-best teams (Houston, Utah, Clippers) in the Western Conference.

The latest reminder came Saturday night, when the Celtics picked apart one of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Jazz, on the way to a 112-104 win over Utah. (For a complete recap, click here.)

This time around the non-Isaiah Thomas scoring came from reserves Kelly Olynyk (19 points) and Gerald Green (16 points), with Al Horford doing his thing with 16 of his own. But what the win over the Jazz did was once again remind us what a good coach Stevens is.

The Celtics had already come away with a win over the Jazz at the Garden, so a very good Utah team had every opportunity to adjust when hosting the C’s this time around. But Stevens managed an offensive game-plan that exposed the Jazz’ usual lock-down defense.

For the night, the Celtics finished shoot 59 percent fro the field, keyed by Olynyk and Green going a combined 15-for-19. Sure, there is still the prevailing notion that the Celtics are a player away. (Watching Kevin Durant return to Oklahoma City Saturday should have gave C’s fans a quick jolt of what-might-have-been.) But, the way this team has found a way to make the most of what they have should at least make the Cavaliers nervous.

The Celtics should be favored in the remaining six games they have in February, leaving two contests that should be circled: March 1 at Cleveland and the March 8 road game against the Warriors. By the time those games roll around, Danny Ainge could very well have secured that one piece everybody is looking for.

It coast would seem to be clear if Celtics fans wanted to adjust expectations a bit.

What are realistic expectations for Celtics?

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Win in Portland shows Celtics’ true grit as Marcus Smart and Gerald Green spark rally

02.10.17 at 1:21 am ET
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Feb 9, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. (Jaime Valdez/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics had one of their toughest and most satisfying wins of the season Thursday in Portland. 

Trailing by 17 points with under three minutes left in the second quarter, the Celtics went on a 23-4 run to get back in the game, and then held off a rally by the Blazers late in a 120-111 win at the Moda Center in Portland. 

Gerald Green hit a three with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter to give the Celtics the lead for good. Boston improves to 34-19 while Portland falls to 23-31. 

With Avery Bradley (Achilles) and Jae Crowder (family illness) unavailable, Marcus Smart and Gerald Green stepped up while Isaiah Thomas was his standard unstoppable self, scoring a game-high 34 points. 

Smart had 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals while Gerald Green was 5-of-6 off the bench with 11 points, including a spectacular put-back dunk with 7:06 left in the game that put Boston up, 94-91.

“That’s a heck of a win, considering we didn’t have Avery and Jae out there. That was a hard-nosed, tough win. Down big but stuck with it. End of the first half was outstanding,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. 

Rookie Jaylen Brown also played a critical role in the win. He scored 14 points in the starting lineup, helping the Celtics avenge the 127-123 overtime loss to Portland on Jan. 21 at TD Garden. 

As for Smart?

“He was terrific. Marcus was good, he was really good,” Stevens said. “We were guarding at a much-better rate.”

The Celtics cut the 17-point hole down to six before half and continued their spurt to open the third quarter. Thomas was again remarkable in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of the team’s 43 points in the final 12 minutes as the Celtics outscored the Blazers, 43-35. The 43 points was a season-high for the Celtics in any quarter. 

The Trail Blazers big took early advantage of the soft middle. 

One night after coming up empty late against a Kings team without DeMarcus Cousins and watching their seven-game win streak end, the Celtics again looked a step slow against one of the best tandem guards – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum  – in the league. Lillard finished with 28 while McCollum had 20. 

McCollum made a sick hesitation dribble on Kelly Olynyk with 34 seconds left in the first quarter. He drove to the basket and drew the foul. 

Then McCollum, on the next Blazers possession, made a spectacular pass across the lane to Al-Farouq Aminu, who was fouled. He made both free throws and the Blazers led, 32-22, after 12 minutes. 

It was Aminu, who finished with 26 points, who had the great bounce pass midway through the second quarter, finding Lillard to grow the Blazers’ lead to 43-28. 

Former Celtics sixth man stud Evan Turner missed the game as he’s out 5-6 weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. 

For a full recap and box score of Thursday’s win over the Blazers, click here

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.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, NBA

Celtics Midseason Report

02.08.17 at 8:08 pm ET
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Feb 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts on the bench during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics will look to finish out the regular season as a top-tier team in the East and make a deep run in the playoffs (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

With 51 games through the regular season, the Celtics (33-18) have the second-best record in the East and will look to finish strong and make a deep run in the playoffs. WEEI.com’s Josue Pavon and Logan Mullen recap the highs and lows of the 2016-17 season, and make predictions for how far the C’s will go and what needs to happen for them to get there in this Celtics midsesaon report.

Biggest surprise

(Josue) Isaiah Thomas averaging 30 points per game

When the Celtics signed Al Horford over the summer, guys like Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley were destined to see a bump in their scoring average. However, Thomas becoming the NBA’s second-best scorer (29.9) isn’t what I had in mind.

According to basketball-reference.com, he’s averaging 43.2 points per 100 possessions this season and his fourth-quarter scoring has made him an MVP candidate behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden. Thomas is averaging a league-leading 10.7 points in the fourth quarter and is easily the biggest surprise of the season for the Celtics. 

(Logan) Fourth-quarter Isaiah Thomas

Even the biggest flag-waving Isaiah Thomas supporter probably wouldn’t have guessed that he could do what he has in the fourth quarter. But it’s a good thing he did, having bailed the Celtics out of numerous potential losses.
 
While a big season was absolutely on the docket, his fourth quarter performances alone blast everything else out of the water.
 
Biggest disappointment
 
(Josue) Team defense

After finishing last season as one of the best defensive teams, the Celtics entered the 2016-17 season with lofty expectations. Adding big man Al Horford certainly had a lot to do with those assumptions, however, the slippage falls on the entire roster.

Last year, the C’s were great defensively because it was a group effort and made the difference in narrow victories against last season’s top-notch teams. Although scoring is up across the league this year, it still doesn’t prove why there’s been such a dramatic drop off. It could be a combination of Amir Johnson having a down year compared to last season, Jae Crowder not being the same lock-down defender he was a season ago or the fact that the small-ball lineup – while it’s effective offensively – welcomes mismatches that favor their opponents.

One of the biggest differences between last season’s team and this year’s is their decline in forcing turnovers. The Celtics finished second in forced turnovers last season – averaging 16.3 per game. This year, they’ve dropped to 14th in that department.

(Logan) Marcus Smart’s offense 

The discussion has become an offseason staple: will Marcus Smart ever become an offensive threat? It has gotten better, but not much mind is required with the ball in Smart’s hands.
 
With defense as his calling card, it is not so much an issue that Smart struggles offensively, but his shot selection is what is most concerning. At times it seems he has trouble discerning whether he is hot or not, leading to wasted possessions with plenty of time on the shot clock. He’s shooting a rough 35.6 percent from the field on nine attempts.
 
He asserted constantly over the summer that he’s working on his offense, and while at times his playing validates that, on many occasions it hasn’t. He’s proven his value to the team countless times this season, but if only his offense could consistently stay at a high level he would be entering a whole new strata of NBA players.

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