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What does Brad Stevens need to do to shed ‘frustrating’ 0-6 playoff collar?

04.21.16 at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Brad Stevens didn’t need a history lesson Thursday before practice but he got one anyway. 

The Celtics coach was reminded that he has yet to score a playoff victory in six tries over the last two seasons. While this certainly doesn’t rise to the 0-7 postseason mark of the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis in the NFL, it is a frustrating collar he’d like to shed Friday night at TD Garden. 

That, and he’d actually like to see his team get back in the series with the Hawks, which some observers say could change with one win. 

“Obviously, it’s frustrating but also, I look at last year as we were obviously playing a heck of a team that was playing at a really high level,” Stevens said, referring to last season’s 4-0 first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavs. “And we did a lot of good things [vs. Cleveland]. We played really well on the defensive end in that series in the half court. I think we’ve done that again in the first two games [vs. Hawks].”

So where DO the Celtics need to improve?

“Where we need to play a little bit better is in transition and in getting better offense,” Stevens said.”And so, that’s reality of the situation. We’re playing another really good team. I think when you look at Atlanta, especially since the All Star break, they’re playing as well as anybody. We have to be better to get a chance. But I don’t see our guys being overwhelmed by the collective number. I think we’re a lot more focused on 0-2 than last year’s 0-4. That really is inconsequential right now.”

If Stevens decides to make a change, he could go with the lineup he started at the beginning of the second half Tuesday (Thomas, Smart, Turner, Crowder, Johnson) or he could really mix it up by throwing in a pure shooter like Jonas Jerebko to take the place of Sullinger and move Turner to the shooting guard spot and bring Marcus Smart (1-for-11 Game 2) off the bench. All of this is with the understanding that Kelly Olynyk, who didn’t practice again Thursday, is “questionable at best” for Game 3. 

“Well obviously, it would affect it from the standpoint of rotations because I do think Kelly’s strength is something we need,” Stevens said, referring to Olynyk’s 41 percent range from deep when healthy. “So, we’re going to have to find that from other sources, obviously.” 

“I’m always ready. I don’t care if that’s starting or coming off the bench first or coming off the eighth man, ninth man — no matter what it is. I’m ready for whatever,” Jerebko said before Thursday’s practice. “We’ve kinda had every lineup so, like I said, we’re going to come out strong in front of our fans and we’re just going to come out strong [Friday].

“It’s not a problem for me. As an NBA player and as a professional, I have to be ready for everything. In this league, I’ve seen it all. I’ve started, I haven’t played, I played 25 minutes per game, 30 minutes per game. So I’ve seen it all and I’m ready for it. I try to always put the team first and be ready for whatever happens.”

Isaiah Thomas repeated Thursday what he said on Wednesday that the Hawks are packing the paint and it’s just a matter of knocking down shots. Smart has consistently shown that’s not his strength. He’s 6-for-21. Crowder is 6-for-25. Thomas is 12-for-36. Jerebko is only 4-for-12 but has the range of Olynyk and a 6-foot-10 frame to go with it. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Cincinnati Bengals

Avery Bradley will heal fully, ‘possibly’ available in Round 2, Brad Stevens considering lineup change

04.21.16 at 2:12 pm ET
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Avery Bradley drives to the basket against Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in Game 1. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley drives to the basket against Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) in Game 1. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM  –  The tale of these Celtics could be told by the end of Game 3. And Brad Stevens knows it. 

Without Kelly Olynyk (right shoulder) and Avery Bradley (right hamstring), the Celtics held a media session Thursday at their practice facility, then held a team meeting and then a relatively light practice. Before heading off to their bunker before practice, the Celtics coach broke down what’s at stake in the hours leading up to Friday night’s virtual do-or-die game. 

 

“From a physical standpoint I think we need to have a solid day but we’re not going to be out here very long,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be more about what changes we need to make, what we need to do to be a little bit more successful, how we need to play, those types of things. But hey, it’s we’re deep into the season. We’ve got to do what we do better, like I said [Wednesday], and go from there.

“Kelly will be, like I said [Wednesday], questionable probably at best for the game. And then Avery obviously won’t be playing, so the guys that are out here are the guys that we’ll prepare with.”

Bradley did have his MRI and Stevens indicated that surgery will not be needed, just time to heal. 

“Nothing that we didn’t think. So I think big picture, long term, he’s going to be able to heal fully,” Stevens said. “It will all be good and everything else. It just takes time with hamstrings. And so like I said earlier he’s definitely out this weekend, and then I would say he’s very unlikely to play in this series again. The hamstring’s one of those things where you can walk down the hallway and look like a million bucks, but when you start playing 32 minutes and have to change speeds and change directions and those type of things, that’s a different story.”

As for the likelihood Bradley would be available for the next round?

“That would be something that we haven’t discussed a whole lot just because they’ve talked about toward the end of this series he should be to the point where he’s able to do a little bit more from a practice standpoint and those type of things,” Stevens said. “So, I would say that it’s still unlikely early in that situation, but possibly in the days that go on after that.”

Stevens indicated another lineup change is in store for Game 3. Stevens had his regular group of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson for Game 1. Then Marcus Smart replaced Bradley in Game 2. Evan Turner replaced Sullinger to start the second half Tuesday night. That could be sign of things to come but Stevens said he hadn’t made up his mind yet.  

“In Game 1 it wasn’t as much execution as shot-making,” Stevens said. “And then in Game 2, I thought Game 2 was a much different game overall. So from my standpoint, we look at Game 1, we look at Game 2, we look at the things we can do well, and we need to do them as well as we can for those 48 minutes that are coming up. But I think at the end of the day, we’ve defended how we’ve wanted to more often than not.

“And offensively we’ve got to be better. Especially, again, you can’t dig yourself that big of a hole early because then that puts pressure on you to make the next one and the next one and the next one. We’re going to have to have guys that are not only in the right spots and executing the right ways, but also then finishing plays. And these guys have responded to that all year. So we’ve had our down moments. We’ve had our down quarters in games. And we’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

Isaiah Thomas says Hawks not ‘a scary defensive team,’ C’s just need to ‘knock down shots’

04.20.16 at 6:16 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

For Isaiah Thomas, the heartbeat of the Celtics dormant offense, the solution is simple. 

“If we start to knock down our shots, it’s going to make it easier for us to execute on the offensive end,” Thomas said in a conference call Wednesday. “But first two games we haven’t been able to shoot the ball. All the Hawks are doing is packing the paint, and we continue to attack the paint. Then all five guys are there anytime someone attacks it.”

When the Celtics shoot 3-for-23 like they did in the first quarter Tuesday, including 0-for-6 from deep, the Hawks can just do what they do, and that’s pack the paint.

“Especially when I’m in attack mode, trying to get into the paint. If guys continue to be confident, and knock down their shots, they’re going to open up lanes for guys to drive it. There won’t be any opportunity for them to block shots.”

And blocking shots is an Atlanta specialty. They rejected a franchise-playoff record 15 on Tuesday in Game 2, including several on Thomas when he tried in vain to create by driving to the basket. Al Horford had five and Paul Millsap added four. 

“They are quick to the ball. You see an opening, and once you get to the hole there’s two or three guys around you,” Thomas said. “Give them credit on that. But I haven’t thought of Atlanta as a scary defensive team where you have to second guess yourself on getting your shot blocked, like with a guy like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside – (players) like that. They’re good at it, and we just have to either finish it off to a big or a drive and kick. Either a pump fake or make the adjustment.”

Brad Stevens suggested changes are coming for Game 3. What might they be?

“I don’t know. I think he will make some kind of change, knowing Brad and watching tons of film,” Thomas said. “But we’ll see. Hopefully he can do a few things that will make this team start games better, and give us a better chance to win.”

Thomas is 12-for-36 in the first two games, including 5-for-16 from deep. He admitted that sometimes he and others might be forcing things when the shots don’t fall.

“That can be the case, but that wasn’t true in the last game,” Thomas said. “Offensively, we couldn’t make shots, and we dug ourselves a big hole in the first quarter. For whatever reason we keep doing that. If we can sustain a better start, that gives us a way better chance to start the game. We give ourselves no chance by getting down by 20 points early in the game.

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas

Facing uphill climb, Brad Stevens Isaiah Thomas insists Celtics have ‘resiliency’ to come back from 0-2

04.20.16 at 5:24 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens wouldn’t go as far as saying the Celtics have the Hawks right where they want them. After all, no team wants to be down 0-2 in a best-of-7 series, facing a virtual must-win on their home court in Game 3. 

But Stevens said Wednesday during a conference that he’s fully confident that his team, which didn’t practice Wednesday, will be mentally ready to go when Game 3 begins Friday night. 

“You know, with this group, we’ll re-convene [Thursday] and we’ll talk about where we stand and what we need to do in moving forward,” Stevens said. “I think we just have to have a backs-against-the-wall mentality because this team has been good and been resilient all year in that regard.”

That’s great because the Celtics are fighting some wicked odds, and some nasty recent history. This is the 13th time they’ve been in an 0-2 hole in a best-of-7 series and the fourth straight series they’ve faced this deficit, dating back to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Miami.

They’ve managed to overcome the 0-2 deficit exactly once, beating the Lakers, 4 games to 3, in the 1969 NBA finals. They nearly pulled it off against the Heat in 2012 when they were down 0-2, only to win the next three before losing Games 6 and 7. But they’re not worried about ancient history, just correcting the mistakes against Atlanta that has them in their current predicament. 

“I think our focus needs to be continue to play the right way on both ends of the court,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we need to start better, we need to play better. We need to do a lot of things better. But I’ve never questioned this group’s resiliency or willingness to stand up when times are tough and those type of things because they’ve been pretty good about that all year.”

Pretty good, like when they came from 26 down in the season finale to beat a Miami team that was mailing in their third quarter. Still, a great feat. Pretty good like when they were without their best big defender in Jae Crowder against Golden State on the road. They erased an early deficit and held off the Warriors during a rush in the fourth quarter and came up with the most scintillating win of the year. And they were pretty good when they erased a late deficit in Cleveland beat the Cavs on a last-second shot from Avery Bradley. 

Why is this team so good when the chips are down?

“I couldn’t pinpoint it,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It’s just the background that all these guys come from.We’ve always had a never back down mentality. This group of teammates has always been counted out. They’ve always had that chip on their shoulders to prove everybody wrong. That’s just another stepping stone in everybody’s story. We do have to climb uphill, but at the same time we have to take advantage of our home court.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens says Kelly Olynyk ‘questionable’ for Game 3, Avery Bradley hints at return

04.20.16 at 3:55 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk and his right shoulder remain a big question mark heading into Game 3 Friday night against Atlanta. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said during a conference call Wednesday that after meeting with head trainer Ed Lacerte, it’s questionable at this point whether the 7-footer would be able to dress up and play Friday. 

“I’d say it’d be questionable based on my conversations with Ed Lacerte today,” Stevens said. 

Olynyk re-injured the shoulder in Game 1 last Saturday and didn’t dress for Game 2 Tuesday night. Olynyk missed 12 games when he initially injured the shoulder on Feb. 10 against the Clippers at TD Garden. 

As for the injured backcourt duo of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, Stevens said Bradley had an MRI on Wednesday but hadn’t heard the results yet. Stevens repeated in his Wednesday conference call that Bradley would be out of games “this weekend” and “very likely” for the rest of the series. 

Bradley did tell Celtics TV broadcaster Mike Gorman that there’s a chance he could return by the end of the series. Gorman, appearing on the Celtics radio flagship station, repeated a conversation he had with Bradley on Tuesday. 

“I asked if he would play again,” Gorman said, “and he said he was hoping he could play next week. He said, ‘If we can extend this series, I’m hoping I can play again.'”

“He underwent his MRI. I have not gotten the answer about how that went,” Stevens said during the conference call. “I don’t know if they’ve looked at it yet, or not. Obviously, with Kelly kind of being questionable for Game 3 and Marcus [having] bruised ribs, as far as getting immediate results, that’s who I’ve talked to Eddie about. Avery is going to be out this weekend, and like I said, is very unlikely for the rest of the series.”

As for Marcus Smart, he took a knee from Kent Bazemore above the right hip and at the bottom of his rib cage in the first 30 seconds of Tuesday night’s game when Bazemore drove baseline.

The prognosis is good for Smart, so good that Stevens expects Smart to be able to participate in practice on Thursday in Waltham.  Stevens didn’t even mention Jae Crowder, who is still battling a sore right ankle from his high ankle sprain in March, or Isaiah Thomas and his dinged left wrist. 

“I feel bad for those guys because this is the time of the year where everybody wants to be healthy, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to get their crack at it,” Stevens added. “So, I feel bad for those guys. As far as for me, we’re going to do the very best with the guys that are available. We have a lot of good players in this room that have a done a lot of good things throughout the year. We’re going to need to play everybody that’s available to be playing at their best this weekend to give ourselves a chance in this.”

The Hawks didn’t escape the injury bug Tuesday as Dennis Schroder badly twisted his left ankle on a drive to the basket late in the fourth quarter. He had to be helped to the Hawks locker room. He was replaced by Kirk Hinrich, who would likely take his place on the Hawks bench if Schroder is severely limited or can’t go in Game 3. 

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics

Poll: What changes will Brad Stevens make for Game 3?

04.19.16 at 10:57 pm ET
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Something has to change for the Celtics. They’ve been embarrassed in the first half of their last four games, including the first half of the first two games against the Hawks. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder don’t look like themselves. Jared Sullinger has been ineffective. The question for Brad Stevens is where to begin?

What should Brad Stevens do to change things up for Game 3?

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics,

Brad Stevens says changes will be made for Game 3: ‘We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate’

04.19.16 at 10:40 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas attempts a shot against Hawks guard Kyle Korver in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty obvious from the start, the Celtics were not at the level of the Hawks on Tuesday night. The Celtics dropped an 89-72 decision that puts them in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to Boston on Friday. 

Now it’s up to coach Brad Stevens to figure out what to do about it.

Stevens started Marcus Smart in place of the injured Avery Bradley in Game 2, along with Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder. That group went 4-1 this season as a starting lineup, including a 106-93 win over Atlanta on Nov. 13 at TD Garden. 

That was the regular season. Tuesday night in Game 2, the C’s came out slow and never recovered. 

“I think that tonight had a different feel than even the other night,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought the other night, it was one of those nights we didn’t shoot it great but we had done some really good things. We had settled ourselves, defensively. Then, when we started making some shots, we felt pretty good about our chances.

“Here, it never felt like we were at their level. Hey, we’re going to have figure that out. We’re going to have to get to their level and play a lot better on Friday night.”

With Thomas, Crowder and Smart combining to go 6-for-34 from the field, Stevens turned to Evan Turner, who was one of four Celtics in double figures with 12 points. He did not start the game but did start the second half. 

“I’ll go back and look it, watch it without sound, watch it without emotion and figure out what looked right, what didn’t look right and see if we can’t bottle more of that up,” Stevens said. “Listen, we start down 24-7 and we look like we’re moving at a speed far less than them. It’s going to be a tough night. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or when we’re playing. We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
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