|04.24.16 at 10:37 pm ET|
Brad Stevens figured he had nothing to lose.
Paul Millsap had 24 points at the half Sunday night. He came out and had baskets over, in order, Evan Turner, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder to open the second half. The Celtics defensive engine was leaking oil and fast. The C’s trailed 62-46 midway through the third. The Hawks stopped going to Millsap long enough for the Celtics to catch their breath and catch up by the end of the third quarter.
Boston trailed just 73-70 heading into the fourth. Millsap had 36, almost half of Atlanta’s points. Then Millsap turned it on again to start the fourth, scoring seven more points before Stevens had seen enough.
The Celtics coach turned to Marcus Smart and essentially said, “You’re up next. Go get ’em, Marcus.”
“To be honest I was a little surprised with the height and size advantage that he had,” Smart said of the half-foot height he was giving up to Millsap. “But just to really stop and make it hard for him, pressure him and really contest every shot that he took.”
It worked. Millsap scored just two more points, finishing with 45, and the Celtics pulled out a stunning 104-95 overtime win Sunday night to even the series heading back to Atlanta for Tuesday’s Game 5.
|04.24.16 at 8:59 pm ET|
Just as the crowd had grown weary of Marcus Smart’s inconsistency, he took Game 4 over on both sides of the ball, shutting down Paul Millsap on one end and scoring 11 straight fourth-quarter points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers, to give the Celtics their first lead of the second half.
When all was said and done, the Celtics tied the series at two games apiece with a 104-95 overtime win.
It wasn’t easy. Millsap totaled 45 points and 13 rebounds — 99 percent of which came before Celtics coach Brad Stevens switched Smart to the All-Star power forward — and the C’s required an Isaiah Thomas drive to tie the game at 92-92 with 15 seconds left and a horrible Jeff Teague end-of-regulation possession to force overtime.
Thomas iced the game in overtime, drilling a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Celtics a 102-95 lead in the final minute. The series goes back to Atlanta anew on Tuesday.
Thomas scored a team-high 28 points to go along with six assists and four rebounds. Smart added 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists off the bench. Evan Turner (17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Jonas Jerebko (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Jae Crowder (12 points) also reached double figures, somehow nullifying Millsap’s singular effort.
|04.24.16 at 5:23 pm ET|
|04.24.16 at 5:05 pm ET|
The Celtics came out with great emotion and energy in Game 3, and it paid off in a 37-20 lead after one quarter. Then that energy wore off a bit and Brad Stevens was concerned his team might run out of gas on lap one of the mile course.
Stevens also knows the Celtics are fortunate, perhaps, to not have lost Isaiah Thomas to a suspension after Thomas’ left palm struck Dennis Schroder in the face late in the first quarter.
Energy and discipline. It’s a combination the Celtics must master in Game 4, along with executing their offense with Isaiah Thomas likely playing his same off-guard role as Game 3.
“I think we have to play better, from an execution standpoint,” Stevens said. ” bviously our energy was really good, played really hard. We gotta bottle that up and do that again, that’s going to be imperative. And we’re going to have to match their speed and continue to find the right shot and hopefully knock them down.
I think that that’s been the critical part of the whole series and, in the game that we did, we gave ourselves a great chance to win. I think that, again, it goes back to what you can control and finding those great shots is most important from my standpoint, then playing with that same energy that we played with on Friday night.”
Kelly Olynyk will be back after a two-game absence with a right shoulder injury. But look for the Celtics and Stevens to stay small when possible, meaning Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and Tyler Zeller might find it tough to get on the court.
“I think kind of like what we did the other night, there’s a chance obviously with Kelly back that we would play two bigs together – and when I say bigs, I’m not really considering Jonas and Jae in that regard that have played the four mostly for us in this series,” Stevens added. “But it probably won’t be a ton. So it just limits the minutes that you can play all those different guys, whether it’s Amir, Jared, Kelly, Tyler and such.
“Obviously we certainly have confidence in playing those guys together. We’ve done that at different times throughout the year, but we’ll see how this game turns itself out. And judging by the first three games, obviously being with more switching groups and playing more small has been better so far. SO we’ll see. It’s a tough position for all those guys to be in just because of the way the series is going, but we’re going to need them all at one time or another to have success in this thing. So each of them’s in a different boat, and we’ll see.”
Stevens did admit he spoke to the team about not getting into any shenanigans that might lead to technicals or worse.
“Yeah. I think we talk about, all the time about not wanting to cross that line. And at the same time it’s going to be physical and competitive because you watch every playoff series, that’s what they are,” Stevens said. “You’re playing a team for the fifth time in two weeks. They’re used to us, we’re used to them. It’s prideful people on both sides of the floor, really good players. There’s gonna be some of that. But obviously you don’t want it to cross the line. That’s something that certainly we’ve addressed. And we’re not going to spend a ton of time on it, and I’m sure they aren’t either. We’ve got to focus on what we can do to play well.”
|04.24.16 at 4:49 pm ET|
Kelly Olynyk will be available in Game 4 after a two-game absence due to a re-aggravated right shoulder injury.
“I just found out that he was going to go when we walked through at 2:45,” Brad Stevens said in his pre-game press conference at 4:15. “We’ll play it by ear, see how the game is going and everything else. And see what direction we decide to go, but certainly it’s great that he’s available and certainly a chance that he plays for us.
“Obviously, that’ll be, ultimately, it’s going to be up to me because he hasn’t done anything in a few days and we walked through. Certainly I think that he could play minutes for us in the first half, could play some, but I’m not necessarily — he’s not necessarily going to be in it for sure. So we’ll wait and see. But he is available.”
As for Olynyk’s return impacting the rotation off the bench, Stevens said that will depend on how effective he and his shoulder are when he gets on the court. The big factor is Stevens’ choice in this series, especially Game 3, to play small with three and four guards on the floor at times.
“We’ll see. Obviously, we’ve had to play small quite a bit in this series to be effective,” Stevens said. “I think that we’ll continue to do that from the start with Jonas at the 4 and we’ll go from there.”
As for Avery Bradley, Stevens said the guard’s right hamstring continues to heal. But as far as a possible return in this series, even if it goes six or seven games, Stevens said that’s still not realistic at this point.
“I have no updates other than the fact that I’ve been told it’s been pretty consistent improvement,” Stevens said Sunday. “But I think our timeline remains the same. It would be extremely unlikely that he would play in this series.”
The Celtics will start the same starting five as they did in Game 3, meaning Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson.
|04.23.16 at 11:29 pm ET|
WALTHAM – What makes Brad Stevens a good head coach is that he knows a good thing when he sees it and he doesn’t try to outsmart himself.
So when the group of Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson helped the Celtics race out to a 37-20 lead after one quarter, Stevens indicated Saturday after practice that he’s likely to start that group again on Sunday in Game 4.
“I think the one thing you don’t want to do is outthink yourself,” Stevens said. “I thought we played well with that group and we’ll see ultimately what tomorrow brings, but it would be hard not to start that group tomorrow.”
Before Friday’s game, Stevens joked that the group had played just 33 possessions together the whole season but was a plus-20.
The other big change Friday was moving Thomas to the shooting guard from his point guard position, allowing him to fly around off screens and drive the lane more and kick the ball to open shooters.
“We’ll talk about it. But our focus needs to be on what we need to do better because again I think you can overanalyze what somebody else might do without really knowing,” Stevens said. “I think you have to read and adjust on the fly, and you have to have counters to each of your actions and those type of things. But hey they’re a really good defensive team. They’re a really good team overall, offensive team. That run in the fourth quarter by both teams where we were just making shots, I mean, that was high-level basketball. So we’re going to have to play really well to have a chance to win.
“There’s all kinds of things we need to do better on both ends of the ball. Defensively we made some errors that we need to correct. They did some actions that were really good. We need to do a better job on Korver obviously not letting him get going. And then those guards put so much pressure on you with their ability to drive downhill. Teague and Schroder are just, they’re as fast as any guard in the league.
|04.23.16 at 5:40 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Jae Crowder had seen enough of his shots not falling through the basket after going 1-for-11 from the field Friday night. Crowder has made exactly two shots in his last 20 attempts covering Games 2 and 3. He is is just 7-for-36 overall in the series, including 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
So, instead of going home to rest and savor his defense on Al Horford and Paul Millsap in a 111-103 Game 3 win, he went back to the Celtics training facility to shoot.
“I wanted to see the ball go through the basket, that’s all,” Crowder said Saturday. “I was here 45 minutes, me and my friend, I needed a rebounder. I’ve done it a few times.”
Then he had a question for the reporters on hand.
“How’d you find out last night and not the previous nights?”
Told that teammate Isaiah Thomas was the one dropping dimes, Crowder seemed at ease.
“Oh, Ok, I got here like 1, 1:30 [Saturday morning],” Crowder said. “The win was great. I was very happy with that, but I wanted to prepare myself for Game 4. It’s a big game for us, and I wanted to really step into my shots and be a force in my offensive game. I’m doing great on defense and guys are still applauding me on that, but I just want to lift our team up a little more in the offensive end. I just wanted to see the ball go through the hoop.”
“It’s a big reason why we’re here, that these guys have that kind of mindset and that kind of work ethic,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I think the general collective chip on our shoulder is pretty good. But I think individually each of these guys has a reason to have a chip on their shoulder. And Jae’s a worker, and always has been.”
Thomas said it’s just a matter of time before the shots start falling, and there’s no time like Game 4.
“We haven’t [seen him struggle like this]. But he’s so positive. We’re so positive with him,” Thomas said. “We’re confident in his ability to score the basketball and to help us like he has all year. Once he gets going, it’s going to be scary. He was in here last night [after the game] getting shots up. He’s hard on himself but at the same time, he’s taking the right shots. The basketball gods will help him out soon.”
Maybe the basketball gods will help with Crowder’s bad right ankle, and ankle Crowder says is still at only 70 percent.
“I don’t plan on changing it. I’m shooting the same way. I’m trying to play with the ankle and learn to adapt to it as much as possible, but that’s what helps me to come back in the gym and stay late,” Crowder said. “That will help me to adjust, but I’m not thinking about it. I’m going to let it fly. I’ve put a lot of work into it. I’m not worried. I’m shooting, working out, doing my same thing.
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