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Studs and Duds: Defenseless Celtics can’t stop Chris Paul; Paul Pierce injuries ankle, knee

03.29.16 at 12:48 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas battles for the ball with Clippers guard Chris Paul in the first quarter during the NBA game at the Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas battles for the ball with Clippers guard Chris Paul in the first quarter Monday. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

There was no dramatic comeback this time against the Clippers. Just a mismatch.

On Feb. 10 at TD Garden, the Celtics came back late in the fourth quarter to force overtime and win, 139-134. The Clippers repeated their offensive effort but the Celtics could not keep up Monday at Staples Center in a 114-90 Clippers’ win. 

Austin Rivers (16 points) and Jamaal Crawford (15) led a potent bench effort that dominated the Celtics all night. The Clippers’ bench scored a season-high 67 points and outscored Boston’s reserves, 67-37. Chris Paul had 13 points and 14 assists while DeAndre Jordan dominated the glass with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Paul also had three steals in his 26 minutes. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics in scoring for a 13th straight game, pouring in 24 points. 

In addition to seeing their four-game win streak come to an end, it was a costly loss for the Celtics in the Eastern Conference standings. The fifth-place Celtics fell to 43-31 and a half-game behind Miami (43-30) for fourth place in the East. They are now just a half-game ahead of sixth-place Charlotte (42-31) in the East. 

In what could’ve been his last game against his former team, Paul Pierce escaped what appeared to be a serious knee injury when he drove to the basket for a made a finger roll layup with 2:07 left in the second quarter. He landed awkwardly on his right knee, which bent underneath him.

Pierce laid on the court for several minutes as the Clippers training staff tended to him. He got up and made his way to the locker room under his own power. He was ruled out for the rest of the game with a right knee contusion and a sprained right ankle.

Pierce was having a very solid game at the time of his injury, scoring eight points on 4-of-6 shooting, with three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 11 minutes. Clippers coach Doc Rivers was furious that no foul was called on the play and Rivers’ son Austin picked up a technical foul for continuing the argument during the injury timeout. 

Thomas continued two impressive streaks. The diminutive guard has led the Celtics in scoring for 13 straight games, the best streak since Larry Bird accomplished it in 13 in a row in March 1988. In those 13 games, Thomas had also scored at least 20 points, the longest streak since Paul Pierce scored 20 or more in 16 straight games Feb. 4-March 16, 2006. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Clippers

Jae Crowder to return to practice Wednesday

03.28.16 at 3:14 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

The next step in the return of Jae Crowder will come Wednesday in Portland. 

Brad Stevens told reporters Monday in Los Angeles that the Celtics’ versatile swingman, who suffered a high ankle sprain of his right foot on March 11 against Houston, will practice at the University of Portland the day before the scheduled Thursday game against the Trail Blazers. 

Crowder returned to shooting drills on Wednesday before the game against the Raptors but was limited to shooting in place. 

Crowder also told reporters that his hope is to return to action on Thursday but Stevens said Wednesday’s practice and Crowder’s response to it will be the guideline the team uses to determine if he’s ready to play. 

Crowder started in Boston’s first 66 games, averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 rebounds, but will miss Monday’s game at Staples Center against Paul Pierce, Doc Rivers and the Clippers, marking the eighth straight game he’s been out. The Celtics have posted a 4-3 record in his absence. 

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Even with shots not falling, Marcus Smart still determined to ‘find a way to impact the game’

03.27.16 at 2:10 am ET
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Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket while guarded by Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket during last Monday’s game against the Magic. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

This might be just the second year in the NBA for 22-year-old Marcus Smart, but he’s been around long enough now to know that you don’t have to score to help your team win important games. 

Saturday night was such a night for the player who right know can’t buy a shot. 

Smart finished just 2-of-7 from the field and missed all five 3-point shots in Boston’s 102-99 win over the Suns in Phoenix. But he made several key hustle plays down the stretch, including one offensive rebound with four minutes left where he grabbed the ball, spun it around his back to keep it away from the defender and managed to get the Celtics another 24 seconds on the shot clock. 

Smart played 32 minutes off the bench, helping to take some of load off Avery Bradley (weak from an illness and a cross-country flight Saturday). He had eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and even a blocked shot. 

“My main focus is try to, even though my shot’s not falling still, find a way to impact the game,” Smart told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of things. If my shot’s not falling, I try to pick us up some other way, especially when we have guys that are knocking down shots.”

There’s been almost constant talk about Smart’s inability to score, and for good reason. In the last three games, all Celtics wins, he’s made just 4-of-26 from the field and has missed all 11 attempts from beyond the arc. But his offensive rebound and his defensive intensity are just two things he did that helped the Celtics win their fourth straight. 

“Those are the things that makes Marcus special,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Sometimes those go in a box score, sometimes they don’t but he does them every game. It’s why I don’t get too caught up in the box score stuff with him. He impacts winning and tonight was a good example of that.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Los Angeles Clippers, Marcus Smart

Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas saves Celtics from themselves, sparks win over Suns

03.27.16 at 12:39 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Three quarters was enough Saturday night. Barely.

Isaiah Thomas, who was traded from Phoenix at the trading deadline in Feb. 2015, scored 28 points while Evan Turner added 17 points and 11 rebounds as the Celtics barely held off the woeful Suns, 102-99, Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns (20-53) were led by rookie Devin Booker with 21 points. 

Avery Bradley finished with 15 points, including 13 in the first half. That was particularly impressive considering he just arrived in Phoenix on Saturday after staying back in Boston with a stomach illness that kept him out of action on Thursday and Friday.

“He felt pretty good,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard to come back and play like that. I think the hardest part of today is not necessarily how he felt on Thursday but the fact that he sat on a six-hour flight and then got off the plane and played. That’s not easy. He did a good job.”

The win was crucial for the Celtics in the standings. Not only was it their fourth straight after a four-game skid, it improved them to 43-30 and kept them just a half-game behind third-place Atlanta in the East. Boston pulled a half-game ahead of idle Miami for fourth place. Charlotte (42-31) is just a game back of Boston, and in sixth place. 

Saturday night appeared to be a walk in the park early, as the Celtics built a 58-41 halftime lead. Evan Turner had 15 of his 17 points in the first half and Bradley had 13 points in the first half as the Celtics led 55-34 at one point.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Devin Booker, Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas

James Young, Coty Clarke recalled from Maine, available in Phoenix

03.26.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing a 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/

Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing his first 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/

The Celtics have reinforcements as their five-game Western swing begins. 

Coty Clarke and James Young were recalled Saturday from the Maine Red Claws. Both are expected to be with the team in Phoenix as the Celtics take on the Suns.  The reinforcements will help the team deal with the continued absence of Jae Crowder, who is expected to miss his seventh straight game with a high sprain of his right ankle. Crowder is with the team out West and Brad Stevens said he’s still hopeful Crowder could be back playing before the end of the trip. 

On Friday night, in the Red Claws’ 120-113 victory over the Austin Spurs, Clarke scored 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 32 minutes of action. Clarke, who signed his second 10-day contract on March 18, has played in 42 games for Maine this season and is averaging 16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game.

Also on Friday night, Young finished with nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 29 minutes against Austin on March 25. He has appeared in 12 contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 28.0 minutes per game.

Both also played Wednesday night in the first game of the two-game trek through Texas, a 137-111 loss to Rio Grande. Clarke had 22 points and seven rebounds while Young scored 21 points and six rebounds. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Coty Clarke, James Young, Maine Red Claws

Introducing the official ‘Celtics are Wahlberg’ game

03.26.16 at 10:28 am ET
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Renaissance man Mark Wahlberg poses for a photo with Celtics fans during Wednesday's game. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Renaissance man Mark Wahlberg poses for a photo with Celtics fans during Wednesday’s game. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

When Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas found out Hollywood icon Mark Wahlberg was in the building on Wednesday night, he sent a message to the “Basketball Diaries” star at TD Garden.

“That was my first time ever seeing him,” said Thomas, “so once they showed him on the Jumbotron, I had to find out where he was. I hit the shot; I definitely had to point to him.”

Wahlberg pointed back.

“Yeah, he did,” added Thomas, “so we’ve got a little friendship brewing.”

Thus began the process of landing Thomas a role in “Patriots Day.”

“Something,” said Thomas. “I need something.”

Even better, the interaction between Boston’s best basketball player and the world’s greatest living actor gave birth to the “Celtics are Wahlberg” game on the WEEI Celtics Podcast, hosted by Sam Packard and Jared Weiss, featuring Ben Rohrbach (accepting five-star reviews now).

Basically, the gang broke down which Celtics player best matches various Wahlberg characters, and comedy ensued, including a potential “Truman Show 2” plot starring coach Brad Stevens.

Anyhow, you can now play along to “Celtics are Wahlberg” as you listen for the correct answers (and remember, please only vote for each Celtics player once throughout this important exercise):

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Marcus Smart ‘can’t buy a bucket’ in March

03.24.16 at 12:17 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

You can’t knock Marcus Smart for his effort. But when it comes to his shooting, it’s time to have a discussion.

Any Celtics fan knows that the defensive-minded guard plays all-out on every possession, and has through the entirety of his two-year career. Smart has not only maintained the aggressiveness he showed during his rookie season, he’s improved upon it.

“I’m more aggressive going to the rim, attacking, making plays,” Smart said of his improvements since he’s been in the NBA prior to Wednesday’s home victory over Toronto.

Fair self-evaluation, but everyone (including Smart) was hoping by now that the answer to that question would be a much-improved shooter.

Smart has shot over 50 percent from the field in just one game since the end of January (5-for-9 vs. Miami on Feb. 27), and is now experiencing his worst shooting month of the season. The former Oklahoma State product’s best month shooting the ball this season was actually January, but he was still only knocking down 37.4-percent of his field goals.

March has been far worse for Smart. Through the first 11 games he’s shooting a mere 28.6-percent, and that number has been trending downward of late. Subtract his two best shooting performances of the month (6-for-12 vs. Philly and 5-for-12 vs. Portland), and Smart has connected on a horrific 17-of-74 attempts from the field during nine other games so far in March.

Smart vows that he’s been working on his jumper, but the numbers just keep getting worse. In his last five games, Smart has shot 12.5-percent or worse three separate times — 1-for-10 vs. OKC, 1-for-11 vs Orlando, and then 1-for-8 in Wednesday’s showdown with the Raptors.

“I try to make sure I keep my body straight, my process straight up and down, and keeping my follow through,” Smart responded when asked about his shooting routine. “Just things like that, and practice those corner open shots because that’s a lot of the shots that I get. It’s weird because when I’m practicing those I’m knocking them down and in the game I can’t buy a bucket.”

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