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Studs and Duds: Marcus Smart, Celtics even series against Paul Millsap, Hawks

04.24.16 at 8:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas scores during the first half of Sunday’s Game 4. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

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.

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Follow Celtics-Hawks Game 4 LIVE

04.24.16 at 5:23 pm ET
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Live Blog Celtics-Hawks Game 4

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

Brad Stevens sticking with small ball in Game 4, wants team to ‘not cross line’ with emotions

04.24.16 at 5:05 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

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.”

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

Brad Stevens will ‘play it by ear’ with Kelly Olynyk in Game 4, Avery Bradley making ‘consistent’ progress

04.24.16 at 4:49 pm ET
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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. 


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

Brad Stevens on Game 4 lineup: ‘Would be hard not to start’ same group, Kelly Olynyk still ‘questionable-at-best’

04.23.16 at 11:29 pm ET
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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.

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

Jae Crowder heads back to gym after Game 3 to work on shot: ‘I wanted to see the ball go through the basket’

04.23.16 at 5:40 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) works for the ball against Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) in Game 3. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) works for the ball against Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) in Game 3. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

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

Thomas, Celtics working on not losing their cool in Game 4: ‘You’ve just got to be smart about whatever you do’

04.23.16 at 5:11 pm ET
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Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford (15). (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford (15). (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM – With so much on the line, now is not the time for false bravado or acting like a tough guy. Or flopping like one. 

The Celtics were reminded of this Saturday morning before they got together for film session and a light walkthrough at their practice facility in Waltham. 

The intensity level picked up Friday night during Game 3. When Jae Crowder was drilled by Jeff Teague in the first quarter and the officials deemed it to be a “common foul,” Crowder said the officials opened the door for chippy play to escalate. 

“I told them that hard foul on me by Teague set the tone, I feel like,” Crowder said Saturday. “If you’re going to call that a Flagrant 1, then we know how far we can go. That’s when they tried to change it and called Flagrant 1s and things like that. I told the ref, you set the tone, I hope you realize that, and that’s when it got chippy. It’s just part of it, and the refs have to realize that. That’s for the players. We realize that sets the tone.”

The tone produced three ‘Flagrant 1’ fouls in Game 3, all in the second half. The Hawks committed two, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder while Jared Sullinger was called for one in the third. That doesn’t include the double-technical that preceded the Thomas arm to the face of Schroder with 1:27 left in the first quarter. 

“Both teams are trying to win the game,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to be smart about whatever you do but knowing that it’s playoff basketball and things are going to happen and it is going to get a little chippy. You’ve got to hold your composure and do what it takes to win. I’m just out there fighting and trying to get my team wins.”

“We’ve reminded, we talk about that stuff and everything else,” Brad Stevens said after practice Saturday. “But I think, at the end of the day, there’s such a fine line between hard real good competition and crossing that line and you just gotta do your best to compete at that physical level necessary to have success. And, obviously, hey, they deemed that he had crossed the line by giving him a flagrant-1 and it is what is and now we move forward. We’ve got to focus our attention on the Hawks.

“When you’re playing a team for the fourth time and they’re all competitive guys on both sides of the ball, they’re all good players, they’re all tough guys. I trust that nothing like that would ever go over the line. But it’s hard for me to predict that but it’s not something that we talk about, it’s not something that they talk about. Obviously, it’s a competitive game and sometimes when there’s a competitive game with a scoreboard and a crowd and everything else, emotions get involved. But you hope that nothing like that ever happens that obviously isn’t good for the game.”

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