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Celtics show grit in pulling out OT win over Bucks after letting big lead slip away 01.28.17 at 11:36 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk puts home a reverse dunk during Saturday's victory over the Bucks. (Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports)

Kelly Olynyk puts home a reverse dunk during Saturday’s victory over the Bucks. (Benny Sieu/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics looked poised to run away with Saturday night’s game early. It didn’t happen, as the Bucks clawed back in the second half.

Then in overtime the C’s scored the first six points and appeared ready to break the Bucks. Again, no such luck.

This one was going to take some heart and some defense, and the Celtics managed to come up with both, taking a 112-108 victory in Milwaukee that moved Boston into a tie for the Atlantic Division lead with the Raptors at 29-18.

Playing without starters Al Horford (groin) and Avery Bradley (Achilles) — and playing in Wisconsin one night after routing the Magic in Boston — the Celtics found a way to pull out the win after squandering a 16-point lead.

“Coming here without Al and without Avery — they’re on the second night of a back-to-back, too, that’s just the way the scheduled worked itself out,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “As we said when we got beat a couple of times when teams were coming off back-to-back and we had rest, some of that stuff’s unpredictable. You just play as hard as you can and as well as you can. Hopefully things work out for you. I thought we played pretty darn well, to be honest. Defensively in the overtime I thought we were excellent.”

One night after scoring 39 in the opening quarter against the Magic, the Celtics tallied 42 in the opening 12 minutes against the Bucks. They shot 63 percent, capping the period with a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Gerald Green. The lead was 15 after one and peaked at 16 in the second quarter.

For a team that struggled in the first quarter earlier this season, it’s quite a turnaround for the C’s.

“How we started the game really dictated the whole game for sure,” Jae Crowder told CSNNE’s Abby Chin after scoring 20 points. “We put those guys on their heels. We showed how to execute down the stretch because we started off the game so well. It got us the win tonight.”

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Marcus Smart argues with Celtics coaches during embarrassing loss to Wizards 01.24.17 at 11:04 pm ET
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Bradley Beal led the Wizards to a big win over Marcus Smart and the Celtics on Tuesday night. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Bradley Beal (left) led the Wizards to a big win over Marcus Smart and the Celtics on Tuesday night. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

It took until the fourth quarter for a Celtics player to finally put up a fight during Tuesday’s embarrassing loss to the Wizards.

The problem is, Marcus Smart was fighting with his own coaches.

The emotional guard jawed with no fewer than four Celtics assistants during a late-game timeout before apparently being dismissed from the team huddle by head coach Brad Stevens. He then was escorted to the locker room by teammate Amir Johnson.

Smart missed the closing seconds of his team’s 123-108 humiliation to a Washington team that approached this game like it was the playoffs (game recap here). The Wizards dressed in all black before the game and then buried the Celtics in an avalanche of jumpers and dunks. Washington shot 57.8 percent from the field and had its way with a Celtics defense that has struggled all season.

But first, the Smart incident.

“He just wanted to go back in,” Stevens said in his postgame press conference, although it clearly was much more than that, as Smart was chewed out by one assistant after another before departing. “He had played 12 minutes or whatever, and so he wasn’t going to back in. He wanted to go back in. … He wanted to go back in badly.”

Smart also downplayed the incident to reporters.

“Coaches and players, they’re real passionate about the game, hate losing, having different opinions and things about certain things on the bench,” he said, adding: “Of course I wanted to go back in. Just like everybody else, to play it out. Give it everything they have, leave it on the court. We had different opinions on that.”

Added Smart: “As a competitor, a lot of frustration. You hate losing regardless. I think everybody on this team hates losing. Everybody on this team knows I hate losing, and how much I hate losing. So it was a lot of frustration.”

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Kelly Olynyk silences critics with big night in win over Hawks 01.13.17 at 10:59 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk helped the Celtics knock off the Hawks on Friday in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Kelly Olynyk helped the Celtics knock off the Hawks on Friday in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Take that, Kelly Olynyk haters.

The Celtics forward — a lightning rod for criticism in Boston this season — stole some of the spotlight in Al Horford’s return to Atlanta on Friday night, helping the Celtics to a 103-101 win over the Hawks (click here for the game recap).

Olynyk, who often seems to play smaller than his 7-foot stature, was at his best Friday, scoring a season-high 26 points in 31 minutes. He hit 9-of-11 shots, including 4-of-5 3-pointers. He hit all four of his free throws. He grabbed eight rebounds — double his season average — and dished out three assists.

His contributions likely won’t make the highlight reel — especially after Isaiah Thomas once again took over down the stretch, culminating with a game-winning pull-up jumper with 2.4 seconds remaining — but there’s no doubting Olynyk’s value.

“Kelly had a great game,” Horford told CSNNE’s Abby Chin after the C’s survived a late Hawks surge. “He was very solid.”

This is why coach Brad Stevens continues to give minutes to the 25-year-old, who at times looks overmatched but other times does many of the little things that go overlooked. Point in case: On the final play of Friday’s win, Olynyk raced over to the corner and helped force a difficult jumper from Paul Millsap that was off the mark as time expired.

“For the most part Kelly was an effective offensive player throughout the entire night, and a really helpful defender,” Stevens said in his postgame press conference.

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Celtics still can’t catch Cavaliers 12.29.16 at 11:20 pm ET
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LeBron James drives during Thursday's game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James drives during Thursday’s game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

At Thursday’s team shootaround, hours before the Celtics took on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, Brad Stevens was asked about the C’s using the game as a measuring stick, and he downplayed the significance.

“We’ve played these guys,” Stevens said (via MassLive.com). “We know how good they are. They’re the class of the East. Regardless of how we play tonight and regardless of result, these guys are still the champions last year and they are still well ahead of all of us. We’re chasing them. We’ve got to play better over the course of a long, long stretch to start talking about measuring anything against this level, in my opinion.”

Good choice of words.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Celtics were unable to deliver when faced with a chance to make a statement against one of the league’s elite, rallying in the fourth quarter to cut a 20-point deficit to one but ultimately dropping a 124-118 decision in Cleveland.

They’ll take away some positives — the C’s took control in the fourth quarter and had a chance to take the lead with eight seconds remaining but Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer clanged off the back of the rim, and Al Horford’s block of a LeBron James layup attempt in the first half undoubtedly will become a regular clip on the TD Garden video board the rest of the season  — but they continue to show that they are not yet ready to take that next step.

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas leads balanced Celtics attack in win over Pacers 12.22.16 at 9:33 pm ET
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Paul George is defended by Avery Bradley during Thursday's game in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

Paul George is defended by Avery Bradley during Thursday’s game in Indianapolis. (Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports)

The Pacers wore their “Hoosiers” Hickory High throwback uniforms for Thursday’s game, but there was no Hollywood ending for the home team as Isaiah Thomas continued his fantastic play in leading the Celtics to a 109-102 win.

The Celtics dug out of an early nine-point hole with a 29-9 second quarter, built a 17-point lead in the third quarter, then held on behind Thomas’ clutch shooting to post their season-best fourth straight win — completing a 3-0 road trip in the process.

Thomas scored 14 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. He also dished out nine assists, helping Boston to have a balanced attack. The C’s had six players in double figures, including Avery Bradley (15 points), Jae Crowder (15), Marcus Smart (12), Amir Johnson (11) and Kelly Olynyk (11). Al Horford had eight points and 11 rebounds.

Thomas was coming off a career-high 44 points in Tuesday’s win over the Grizzlies.

“I’m just taking what the defense gives me,” Thomas told CSNNE’s Kyle Draper right after the game. “I’m in attack mode. I’m doing what my team needs me to do. Coach [Brad Stevens] and my teammates put me in position to be me. And that’s all it is.”

Jeff Teague led the Pacers with 31 points — shooting 9-of-15 from the field and 11-of-11 from the line — and eight assists. C.J. Miles and Paul George each scored 19, although George was held to six points in the second half. Thaddeus Young contributed 15 points and 11 rebounds.

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas scores career-high 44 as Celtics rally past Grizzlies in OT 12.20.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4), Al Horford and Jaw Crowder battle Memphis center Marc Gasol for a loose ball during Tuesday's game. (Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (from left), Al Horford and Jae Crowder battle Grizzlies center Marc Gasol for a loose ball during Tuesday’s game in Memphis. (Nelson Chenault/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics’ first truly impressive win of the season was a long time coming, but they made it a memorable one.

The C’s battled back from a 17-point deficit against a strong (and hot) Grizzlies team in Memphis and pulled out a 112-109 win in overtime behind a career-high 44 points from Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas hit 10-of-16 field goals (7-of-10 from behind the arc) and 17-of-17 free throws. He only had eight points in the first half but exploded for 29 in the second half and seven more in the extra session.

“I’m a killer,” he told CSNNE’s Kyle Draper right after the win. “I’m a killer. My team needed me to score. My team needed me to made plays. They got me open. Coach put me in position to be successful and I just took it from there.”

The win was the first for the C’s over a team with a winning percentage of at least .600 this season.

“It’s big, but it’s not just about that,” Thomas said. “It’s just about how we got the win. They were punking us in the first half and a little bit during the third quarter, and we just put our head down and said, ‘This is ours.’ And we took what we thought was ours. This might turn this season around for real.”

Al Horford also had a big game, recording 17 points and 14 rebounds, and he had a big basket late in overtime.

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Fast Break: Celtics lose Isaiah Thomas to flagrant 2 ejection but hold off Heat 12.18.16 at 8:43 pm ET
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Al Horford backs down Josh McRoberts during Sunday's game in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford backs down Josh McRoberts during Sunday’s game in Miami. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

After one quarter, Sunday’s game in Miami looked like it was going to be an uneventful Celtics runaway against a struggling Heat team.

The C’s did manage to get the win, 105-95, but it turned out to be quite an interesting finish.

The Heat, who trailed by 18 points after the first quarter and by 22 later in the half, rallied to get within five points in the closing minutes before the C’s — who lost Isaiah Thomas to an ejection — closed the door.

With 3:02 remaining, Thomas was assessed a flagrant 2 foul — which comes with an ejection — when he was trying to clear space and caught Justise Winslow with his right elbow, giving the Heat forward a bloody cheek. Winslow missed both free throws, and those misses loomed large after the Heat quickly ran off three consecutive baskets — the last a 3-pointer by Goran Dragic — to get with five points at 97-92 with two minutes remaining.

After a missed 3-pointer by Al Horford, Tyler Johnson was fouled on the rebound and hit 1-of-2 to get the margin to four. The C’s responded by going right to Horford — this time in the post. He spun on Johnson and hit a reverse layup while being fouled, then hit the ensuing free throw.

After a missed 3-pointer by Heat guard Josh Richardson, Marcus Smart found Horford open for a 15-foot jumper and the center was true again, upping the lead to nine at 102-93 with 1:02 remaining.

Another Heat turnover — Miami’s 23rd of the night — essentially ended the home team’s hopes.

Thomas finished with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting (3-of-5 treys). Avery Bradley also shot the ball well, hitting 9-of-17 from the field and finishing with 20 points. Horford contributed 17 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Jae Crowder had 15 points, six rebounds and five steals.

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