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Celtics notes pregame Friday: Brad Stevens starting to see what his team is like healthy

11.25.16 at 12:53 pm ET
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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins over the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nets to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously, we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

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Fast Break: Celtics find swagger, pull away from pesky Nets

11.23.16 at 10:00 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas dives on the floor for a loose ball during Wednesday's win over the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas dives on the floor for a loose ball during Wednesday’s win over the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

If you missed the Celtics’ 111-92 victory over the Nets on Wednesday night, take a break from your Thanksgiving meal Thursday and check out the highlights.

The C’s played their most entertaining game of the young season, demonstrating tremendous ball movement — leading to 26 assists — and coming up with a handful of dazzling plays in a dismantling of the Nets that capped a 3-0 road trip.

Isaiah Thomas led the way with 23 points and five assists. Avery Bradley had 22 points, seven rebounds and five steals. Al Horford amassed 17 points, five rebounds and eight assists. Jae Crowder added 15 points and five boards.

“Just [regained] our swagger,” Thomas told CSNNE’s Abby Chin in an on-court interview after the game. “We’re hitting first. Other than the Golden State game, we’re hitting first. We’re playing with that swagger where we’re not backing down from anybody and we’re bringing that energy and that grit and that toughness that Celtics basketball is about.”

Contributions came from everywhere. Jonas Jerebko (10 points) did his part to keep the Celtics in charge when the Nets were trying to make a run early in the fourth quarter. The Swede hit three shots in a row, including a corner trey. However, Brooklyn was able to close to within seven before Boston finally put it away. Bradley had a big bucket in the closing stretch when he drove baseline past Robin Lopez, who had switched out on him, missed a lay-in but then immediately jumped up from the other side of the rim and tapped in the rebound with one hand for a 13-point lead with 5:11 remaining, leading to a Nets timeout.

The Celtics looked like they were ready to deliver the knockout blow when they went on a 16-4 run to close out the third quarter and take a 79-66 lead. The spurt featured a nice play by Marcus Smart when he drove to the top of the lane, dribbled behind his back, then made a nifty pass to a cutting Tyler Zeller for a wide-open layup and one of his eight assists.

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Fast Break: Al Horford, Terry Rozier fuel Celtics’ comeback victory over Timberwolves

11.21.16 at 10:32 pm ET
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Celtics guard Terry Rozier goes to the basket during Monday's win over the Timberwolves. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Terry Rozier goes to the basket during Monday’s win over the Timberwolves. (Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

The Timberwolves entered Monday’s game ranked last in the league in second-half scoring. Luckily for Boston, that trend continued, as the Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter for a 99-93 road victory.

The Timberwolves ranked second in the league in first-half points (59.8) but last in points after the break (45.2). So, even though Minnesota led by 10 points at the half (52-42) and 13 points heading into the fourth quarter (81-68), there was reason to believe the C’s could make a run. And what a run it was — 19 consecutive points that started with a basket with one second remaining in the third after Boston had trailed by 15.

The Celtics, struggling for offensive consistency all night, finally got hot while the Timberwolves went ice cold, with the hosts failing to score a single point for almost seven minutes. Al Horford came up with a bucketful of big plays, including a block on Gorgui Dieng in front of the basket followed by a dunk at the other end.

Terry Rozier also provided a spark in the fourth, hitting a pair of 3’s, including one that tied the game at 81 with 6:52 left. Shortly thereafter, he came up with a steal on the defensive end that led to a breakaway one-handed dunk and a two-point Boston lead. When Horford hit a short jumper on Boston’s next possession it capped the 19-0 run and forced Minnesota to call its third timeout of the period and final one of the game.

While the C’s continued to attack, Minnesota continued to struggle to find the basket. The hosts scored just 12 points in the fourth (41 in the half). It marked the fifth time this season the Timberwolves squandered a lead of 14 points or more.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 29 points. Horford had 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Rozier finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-for-4 treys).

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Fast Break: Al Horford, Jae Crowder hit spot for Celtics in win over Pistons

11.19.16 at 10:17 pm ET
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Al Horford proved pivotal for the Celtics Saturday night (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford proved pivotal for the Celtics Saturday night. (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

One night after the Warriors humiliated them at the Garden, the Celtics looked confident and in sync and overcame 20 lead changes to hand the Pistons their first home loss of the season on Saturday night. 

And having both Jae Crowder and Al Horford back in the lineup sure didn’t hurt. 

It was Horford who punctuated the 94-92 win, notching the game-winner with 1.3 seconds remaining.  (For a complete recap, click here.)

Isaiah Thomas’ strong words about the team and coaching staff yesterday might have also inspired the Celtics to step up their game. Thomas himself led the team in scoring with 24 points and in assists with eight.  Crowder finished with nine points in 26 minutes.

The Celtics were up, 50-47, over the Pistons at halftime with help from Thomas’ 13 points and Horford’s 12. But the game took a sharp turn in the Pistons favor in the third quarter and Detroit led the Celtics 73-71 going into the fourth. But the Celtics battled back thanks in large part to Horford, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.. 

Marcus Morris had a night for the Pistons with 22 points, while Andre Drummond scored 17 with 14 rebounds. 

Despite the shaky-at-best second half, the Celtics finally look like they’re headed in the right direction as a cohesive team. 

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Full Court Press: Sounding the alarm, Isaiah Thomas calls out coaches, IT can’t keep bailing C’s out

11.19.16 at 9:57 am ET
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Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to get between Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been Isaiah Thomas or nothing this season for the Celtics. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The imagery was too rich. Moments after Friday’s 104-88 wipeout at the hands of the Warriors, fire alarms were going off all around TD Garden. Fire trucks had trouble getting down the side streets leading up to the Garden to turn off the annoying sounds that delayed Brad Stevens’ postgame explanation of the mess. 

Turns out, a grill on the fourth floor malfunctioned and overheated, setting off the 20-minute disruption. 

If only fixing the Celtics were that easy. But we’ll try. 

1. Shorten the bench. From early on in camp, the thought was that having a deep bench could strengthen rotations for Brad Stevens. It hasn’t worked that way. The bench is not producing enough and is getting constantly outdone by the opposing group of reserves. On Friday, three players on the bench had at least 23 minutes. Part of that was because of garbage time in the fourth and part of it was traveling to Detroit after the game for a back-to-back Saturday. A good three or four man rotation off the bench is the sweet spot for most NBA teams and the return of Jae Crowder and Al Horford should help that. 

2. Pray for health. The Celtics have been admittedly hard hit by injuries early in the season. Crowder (left ankle) and Horford (concussion) have missed most of the season while Marcus Smart dinged his left ankle Friday night. Crowder and Horford should return on the trip while the prognosis for Smart does not seem dire. When you’re missing two-thirds of your starting front court, there is going to be a problem.  The Celtics have been using this as a bit of crutch but it’s been a legitimate issue that has stunted their ability to improve early on. 

3. Bench Kelly Olynyk. He spaces the floor but at some point, when you’re 0-for-5 as a finesse big man and have grab three rebounds in 17 minutes, the message needs to be sent. The Celtics can’t afford his finesse game right now. They need bigs who will get dirty. Olynyk is heading back to the bench and he should probably stay there until the 7-footer shows the ability and determination to help on the inside. Stevens certainly sounds like he’s going to try and support Olynyk on board for as long as he needs him. “Kelly, I thought, has always done a lot of good things for us. There’s some tough match-ups out there [Friday] and I think that he’s had better games; he’d be the first to tell you. But he’s been a good player for us.”

4. Press more and create transition. This is a team with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Smart. When they’re on the court, they should limit their half-court exposure and use their quickness to their advantage. With Crowder and Horford out, Stevens tried going with Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller to match up big for big. That didn’t work. They went to Smart to guard much bigger bigs. Not a bad idea considering he’s the healthiest low-post defender. In half-court, trapping more couldn’t hurt. They desperately need to create turnovers and transition offense for easy baskets, a category they dominated last spring when they made a run to 48 wins. 

5. Get to the basket. The Celtics are taking 30 threes a game, making 10 of them. The instant gratification from that is great. Here’s the problem: They’re not drawing fouls on the opposition and, outside of Isaiah Thomas (9/9 Friday) they’re not getting to the free throw line. Thomas is fifth in the league getting to the line, averaging 10 free throws a game, making 9. The inside game of the Celtics is lacking and that takes some dirty work. Do the dirty work, get to the line and rebound. All of that happens when there’s more of an inside commitment. 

Attitude problem:

Isaiah Thomas finally had enough after Friday’s 104-88 embarrassment on national TV to would-be Celtic Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics were humiliated 31-9 in the third quarter, a period that featured an 18-0 run by the Warriors. The Celtics were an abysmal 2-of-17 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Al Horford or no Al Horford, Jae Crowder or no Jae Crowder, those numbers are appalling.

“We know we have two of our key players out and that’s no excuse but we were in the game for one half,” Thomas said. “Everybody seen that third quarter open it up. So if you take away that third quarter and play as close to 48 minutes as possible, we’d still be in the game. You can’t let a team like that go on a run like that and expect to come back.

And what’s more concerning is the lack of consistency the Celtics have shown over a 6-6 start to the season. Opposing teams aren’t just snubbing the Celtics like Durant, they’re rubbing their noses in it like Durant’s front court colleague Zaza Pachulia, who did a dance after a 17-footer that capped the 18-0 spurt. That shot made it 79-51. 

“Yeah. At that point, the game is turned around,” Thomas said. “I guess we we gave up. I mean, coaching staff as well. We started subbing, it was bad. Especially, I only played 27 minutes. We gave up.”

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Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon talk Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Warriors routing Celtics

11.18.16 at 11:45 pm ET
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The Celtics have a bad drought that costs them big time against Kevin Durant and the Warriors Friday night at TD Garden. WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have your recap of a 104-88 Warriors win over the Celtics.

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, Golden State Warriors, Josue Pavon, Kevin Durant

Fast Break: Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant lead Warriors in a blowout win over Celtics

11.18.16 at 10:28 pm ET
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Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) throws a no look pass past Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Stephen Curry and the Warriors toyed with the Celtics Friday night in a blowout win. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Warriors reminded the Celtics on Friday why they’re one of the best offensive teams in the league en route to a 104-88 blowout win over the Celtics at TD Garden. 

Klay Thompson scored a game-high 28 points, while Kevin Durant flirted with a triple-double (23 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) and silenced the boos from the Garden’s faithful.

Early on, boos rained down every time Durant touched the ball but that didn’t seem to phase him or his teammates by the second half when the Warriors took control of the game and handed the Celtics their sixth loss of the season. 

Isaiah Thomas scored a team-high 18 points and Avery Bradley finished with a double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) for the Celtics.

For a complete box score, click here

The Celtics closed out the first quarter with an 11-4 run, pulling them to within two points (29-27) before the Warriors found their offensive groove — finishing the half shooting 50 percent from the floor. The Celtics’ offensive rhythm came in spurts throughout the second quarter. Whenever the Warriors tried to pull away the Celtics responded with small scoring runs that kept the game close. 

The C’s were getting back defensively on the Warriors’ fast break but couldn’t put together a strong enough offense to give themselves a lead before the end of the half.  However, the Warriors did an excellent job of scoring off of the Celtics’ missed attempts in and outside of the paint. 

Although the Celtics weren’t too far behind at halftime (55-48), it sure felt like it in the second half when the Warriors went on a 24-3 run and grabbed a 28-point lead.

Golden State drained in five 3-pointers, while shooting 56.5 percent and forced five Celtics turnovers throughout the game-changing quarter.  The Warriors outscored the C’s 31-9 — giving them a 29-point lead, heading into the fourth quarter.

Adding to the misery, the short-handed Celtics lost their best bench player when Marcus Smart departed with a left ankle contusion in the third quarter. He had treatment on the sideline and then headed to the locker room and did not return. Brad Stevens said after the game that he would be re-evaluated with the team Saturday morning and would make the trip to Detroit. His status for Saturday night’s game against the Pistons is uncertain.

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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