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5 things we learned as Celtics smash LeBron-less Cavs

04.12.15 at 5:39 pm ET
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Marcus Smart drives to the basket Sunday night against Cleveland. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

Marcus Smart drives to the basket Sunday night against Cleveland. (Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images)

These Celtics are getting hot at the right time.

Fighting for their playoff lives, the C’s have now won six of their last seven games following a 117-78 demolition of the Cavaliers in Sunday’s matinee at the TD Garden. Cleveland did help Boston’s cause considerably by resting four of their starters: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. But the Celts obviously earned this win in convincing fashion.

Isaiah Thomas was key for Boston with 17 points, but as you’ll see, the C’s got contributions from across the board. Iman Shumpert was the high-man for the Cavs with 15 points, but also carried a game-worst plus/minus of minus-36. A laughable 71 points worse than Marcus Smart’s plus-35.

For a full box score, click here.

SMOOTH SAILING

The severely shorthanded Cavs found a way to escape the first quarter with a 22-21 lead. Things changed rather quickly after that. The C’s won the second quarter by a score of 34-9, and never looked back. In fact, they only continued to extend their lead throughout the game, coming away with their largest margin of victory this season, 39 points.

“STEALING” A VICTORY

The Celtics literally stole this game away from the Cavaliers. Of Cleveland’s 24 turnovers, Boston came up with an absurd 20 total steals — just one shy of the franchise record of 21. Marcus Smart and Evan Turner led the defensive charge with four thefts each, while Jay Crowder provided three off the bench.

BALANCED ATTACK

Much like their contributions on defense, the Celtics were extremely well balanced on the offensive side of the ball. Thomas had a game-high 17 points off the Boston bench, and Turner was right behind him with 15 of his own. But all 12 C’s that played in the game scored at least four points, while seven of those players scored in double figures. Gerald Wallace was the only member of the green that was dressed but registered a DNP.

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5 things we learned as Celtics beat LeBron and Cavaliers

04.10.15 at 10:04 pm ET
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Evan Turner goes in a for a layup Friday night in Cleveland. (David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

Evan Turner goes in a for a layup Friday night in Cleveland. (David Liam Kyle/Getty Images)

The playoffs are getting closer and closer for the Celtics.

Marcus Smart scored 19 points while the Celtics held the Cavaliers to just 13 points in the final quarter in a 99-90 win in Cleveland Friday night.

With their third straight win, the Celtics improve to 37-42 and remain tied with the Brooklyn Nets for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Boston swept its three-game road swing, with wins in Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland. Boston is just two games behind Milwaukee for the No. 6 seed in the East, with three games remaining.

The Celtics and Cavaliers will play again on Sunday afternoon in Boston, where it’s again uncertain if or how much LeBron James will play.

The Celtics led the game by as many as 16 points early in the third quarter before LeBron James took over. The superstar, who played just 26 minutes, led a 37-point Cleveland third quarter that brought the Cavaliers all the way back to a tie game. James finished with 14 points and none in the fourth quarter as Cleveland rested all of their starters.

Isaiah Thomas (17 points), Avery Bradley (15), Tyler Zeller (13), and Brandon Bass (12) also scored in double figures. Evan Turner only scored two points, but notched a career-high 13 assists.

Playing without star point guard Kyrie Irving, who sat out with a sore left hip, the Cavs struggled to score points in their half court offense. Kevin Love led the team with 19 points while LeBron James added 14.

For a full box score, click here.

SMART LEADS FIRST QUARTER

On Thursday, Marcus Smart noted in the Boston Globe that his ankle has not been 100 percent this season and it has made it harder to be aggressive on offense. He also mentioned that his ankle was starting to feel better, which was evident tonight. Smart started the game by making his first four shots, including three triples from beyond the arc. He scored 11 points as the Celtics built an eleven-point lead after the first 12 minutes. Without Kyrie Irving the Cavaliers had a difficult time staying with the C’€™s backcourt, as Avery Bradley also added 9 points.

CELTICS DEFENSE SHINES IN FIRST HALF

The Celtics played excellent defense, holding the Cavs to only 40 points in the first half, as the Cavs only shot 37% from the field and turned the ball over ten times. The C’€™s did a great job of challenging the highflying Cavs especially in transition. Cleveland scored zero fast break points and only had 2 points off Celtics turnovers. The Celtics finished the half on an 8-2 run and lead by 14 at the half.

ISAIAH THOMAS: 6th MAN OF THE YEAR?

Before the game, Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens campaigned for Isaiah Thomas to be the league’€™s sixth man of the year, stating ‘€œ”I don’t know who else is even up for it. I don’t really pay attention. But I can’t imagine somebody impacting their team — whether he’s in Phoenix or here — more. I mean, there’s no question about that. Tonight, Thomas followed up his 34-point performance in Detroit by dropping 17 points on 4 of 12 shooting. Although he struggled with his shot, he added seven points from the charity stripe.

JARED SULLINGER GETS HIS MINUTES

Sullinger played 19 minutes, the most since returning from his foot injury. He made his first three-pointer, but only added a total of 5 points. Sullinger also grabbed 8 rebounds, but was generally ineffective in the fourth quarter, committing two costly turnovers on open looks. Stevens played him during important minutes down the stretch, as his low post defense will have a huge impact in a potential playoff series.

LEBRON PLAYS LIMITED MINUTES

Despite speculation before the game that he may sit this game out, LeBron James played 26 minutes and, for a brief stint, made his case for being the league’€™s MVP. James scored 14 points and dished 7 assists.5 of those assists came in the third quarter, where LeBron was an integral part in the Cavs comeback. The Celtics were lucky LeBron played limited minutes and it will be interesting to see if he even suits up for the re-match on Sunday.

 

LeBron James says he’ll play against Celtics

04.10.15 at 12:23 pm ET
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With the Cavaliers locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, there has been discussion about LeBron James sitting out one or more of the team’s remaining games in order to be rested for the playoffs — fueled by James saying Wednesday that he “probably would take one game or two games off before the postseason starts.”

However, that rest won’t come Friday in Cleveland against the Celtics.

James said Friday morning that he would play against the C’s in the opening game of a home-and-home that concludes Sunday in Boston, telling reporters in Cleveland that he “never had that in my mind” to skip the game. And if history is any indication, he might suit up for Sunday’s game as well.

In each of his last three seasons as a member of the Heat, James took off the final two regular-season games. If he stuck to that plan, he would play both games against the C’s and then miss Monday’s game against the Pistons and Wednesday’s finale against the Wizards.

James has missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. The Cavaliers have a 2-9 record in those games.

James’ backup, former Knick Iman Shumpert, is questionable for Friday’s game with a right quad contusion he suffered in Wednesday’s win over the Bucks.

The Celtics enter play Friday tied with the Nets for the seventh-best record in the East, one game ahead of the Heat and 1 1/2 games in front of the Pacers. The Celtics own the tiebreaker against the Nets, so based on the current standings they would play the Cavs in the opening round.

The Cavaliers have won 18 straight games at home.

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Irish Coffee: The case for Isaiah Thomas as Sixth Man of the Year

04.10.15 at 12:02 pm ET
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When I tried to make a case for Brad Stevens as the NBA’s Coach of the Year, I couldn’t talk myself into it, even though he most certainly belongs on the short list of candidates. But making an argument for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year is easier, because he deserves the award.

Thanks to his 34-point effort in Wednesday night’s victory against the Pistons, the Celtics improved to 16-11 since the trade deadline deal for Thomas, climbing to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. Prior to his arrival at the All-Star break, the C’s owned a 20-31 record and sat 10th in the East.

Conversely, the Suns started 29-25 with Thomas coming off the bench and owned the eighth seed in the brutal Western Conference at the All-Star break. Since the trade deadline, when Phoenix also swapped Goran Dragic for Brandon Knight, the Suns are 10-15 and have all but clinched 10th place in the West.

Plenty of factors have contributed to the Celtics rising and the Suns setting since the Thomas trade. Phoenix soon lost Knight to a season-ending heel injury, while the additions of Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome have also improved the C’s depth. But there’s no denying Thomas’ impact in both cities.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of evaluating how each Sixth Man of the Year candidate impacted two separate teams’ playoff chances, since none of the other top contenders swapped rosters this season, but we do have a season’s worth of statistics to compare a field I’ve whittled down to six — Thomas; usual suspects Lou Williams (Raptors), Jamal Crawford (Clippers) and Manu Ginobili (Spurs); reigning First Team All-Defensive wing Andre Iguodala (Warriors); and rookie forward Nikola Mirotic (Bulls).

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5 things we learned as Isaiah Thomas, Celtics motor past Pistons

04.08.15 at 9:46 pm ET
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Playing their final game against a lottery-bound team, the Celtics badly needed a win to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, and Isaiah Thomas — now recovered from the back injury that sidelined him for two weeks last month — carried them to a 113-103 victory against the host Detroit Pistons.

Thomas scored a season-high 34 points to go along with six assists, leading the C’s to their fourth win in five games. Combined with a loss by the Nets (36-42), the Celtics (36-42) assumed the seventh seed in the East with the head-to-head tiebreaker against Brooklyn.

The Indiana Pacers (35-43) and idle Miami Heat (35-43) remain a game back of the Celtics, who face a home-and-home series this weekend against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who clinched the second seed on Wednesday night and would currently host the C’s in a first-round playoff matchup.

Against Detroit, Jae Crowder (17 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Avery Bradley (11 points) all reached double figures, as 10 different Celtics reached double figures. For a complete box score, click here.

BIGS PROBLEM

From the outset, the Pistons’ frontcourt tandem of Greg Monroe (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (22 points, 14 rebounds) proved a problem for the undersized Celtics. In the opening 5:34, Monroe and Drummond each scored six points on four shots apiece — all in the paint — forcing Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call his first timeout. Detroit bruised its way to an early 14-8 advantage and made the C’s to rethink their lineup early. Monroe, of course, becomes an unrestricted free agent when the Celtics have money to spend this summer, although his inability to stretch the floor with a jump shot may not fit Stevens’ pace-and-space system.

BENCH MOB

Rather than match size with size, Stevens instead replaced Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller with Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, asking Monroe and Drummond to defend out to the 3-point line. As a result, the Celtics closed the first quarter on a 22-2 run and led 30-16 after one. Naturally, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas helped key the run, scoring or assisting on 13 of those 22 points. By game’s end, the Celtics benched outscored their counterparts, 73-31.

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Jo Jo White, Tommy Heinsohn named to Basketball Hall of Fame

04.07.15 at 7:59 am ET
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The Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2015 enshrinement class was announced on Monday and among the inductees will be Jo Jo White and Tommy Heinsohn.

Heinsohn was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1986 as a player, but now will become the fourth person to go in as both a player and a coach. He joins Bill Sharman, John Wooden and Lenny Wilkens as the other three people to do so. He coached the Celtics from 1969-78 and won two NBA Championships. He was the NBA’s Coach of the Year in 1973 and finished with a coaching record of 427-263 (.619).

White starred with the Celtics and was a seven-time All-Star and two-time NBA Champion. White was named the Finals MVP in 1976, and averaged 17.2 points, four rebounds, and 4.9 assists per game in 12 NBA seasons. He also won a gold medal with the U.S. Olympic team in 1968.

After the page jump are video highlights of the two. For more Celtics news, check out weei.com/celtics.

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Marcus Smart beats Raptors at buzzer in OT, putting Celtics in 8th place

04.04.15 at 10:40 pm ET
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The roller coaster rookie season of Marcus Smart continued Saturday night and provided the biggest high point of his young career.

The rookie out of Oklahoma State converted a layup as time expired in overtime to give the Celtics a critical 117-116 win over the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors in Toronto.

[Click here for the full box.]

The win improves the Celtics to 35-42 and put them a half-game ahead of Miami for eighth place in the East and just a half-game behind the Nets for seventh. The Heat which plays Indiana on Sunday night in the return of Pacers star Paul George, lost 99-98 at Detroit. The Nets were obliterated on the road, 131-99, in Atlanta Saturday night.

With only 2.6 seconds left and Boston trailing by one in overtime, Smart took a pass from a driving Isaiah Thomas and got behind the collapsing Toronto defense to score the winner.

Thomas scored 25 points, Tyler Zeller had 20 and Evan Turner added 18 points and 10 assists for the Celtics, who are off until Wednesday when they play in Detroit.

The Celtics appeared headed for a heart-breaking loss when Lou Williams hit a three with four seconds left, putting Toronto up, 116-115. The Celtics were able to overcome an amazing performance by DeMar DeRozan who scored 18 of his 38 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Williams finished with 27.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart, Toronto Raptors,
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