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Loss to Trail Blazers reminds Celtics how important Avery Bradley is 01.21.17 at 8:39 pm ET
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Jan 21, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) gets fouled by Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Damian Lillard scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

When coach Brad Stevens broke the news that the Celtics were going to face the Trail Blazers without their best back court defender in Avery Bradley for the second straight game, you knew the C’s were going to have their hands full against Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum — one of best guard duos in the NBA.  

The Trail Blazers, losers of five of their last seven games, entered TD Garden hungry for a win and earned a 127-123 overtime win against the Celtics behind a combined 63 points from Lillard and McCollum.  

McCollum scored a team-high 35 points on 11-of-21 attempts and Lillard finished with 28 points on 9-of-21 shots. 

The absence of Bradley in the back court is felt against scoring guards. Isaiah Thomas’ shortcomings on defense isn’t new, but what is starting to become a trend in games when Bradley is out is Marcus Smart’s inability to keep up with his defensive assignments and they were magnified against Lillard and McCollum. 

However, Smart’s struggles haven’t only been against offensively gifted guards. 

The Celtics have now dropped two straight games against the Knicks and Trail Blazers, respectively, and in both games, both teams managed to capitalize on their back court’s offensive production. Derrick Rose of the Knicks had a 2011 MVP like performance against Smart on Wednesday. He finished with 30 points on 13-of-24 attempts all from inside the 3-point arc, including 4-of-4 from the charity stripe. Rose danced with Smart all over the parquet floor and won the matchup that ultimately made the difference in the game’s outcome.

On Saturday, Smart spent most of his time on McCollum — who put on a shooting clinic by scoring a whopping 26 points — in the first half before switching over to Lillard. 

After Amir Johnson split a pair of free-throws that gave the Celtics a one-point lead (108-107), Smart committed a shooting foul on Lillard while trying to fight through a screen that resulted in Lillard making both attempts and giving the Blazers the lead with 1:16 left in the game. But one of the biggest defensive blunders by Smart came not when left McCollum open for an open shot that would have sealed the game, but when he committed an offensive foul on Lillard while trying to covert a put-back layup. 

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Read More: C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard, Marcus Smart,
Evan Turner reflects on special friendship with Brad Stevens: ‘He put me in a position to be successful’ 01.21.17 at 5:57 pm ET
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Evan Turner considers Boston a very special place. (Josue Pavon/WEEI.com)

While reminiscing on his time in Boston, former Celtic Evan Turner shared how much he misses the city and how him and Celtics coach Brad Stevens formed a strong friendship — one that he doesn’t take for granted.  

Turner, who played two seasons in Boston before signing four-year, $70 million deal with the Trail Blazers last summer, says while Stevens was a great coach to him and his teammates throughout his tenure in Boston, he’s also responsible for re-energizing his career.

“Obviously as a coach, he’s a was a great coach,” Turner said. “He helped me figure out myself and a lot of guys in the locker room’s career, re-energized it. I just always thought he was a great, classy person. A sincere individual. Never thought he was too big and he does a lot of great things but I really appreciate the friendship I was able to form with him and get to know what type of guy he is. Very special person, special coach. It makes a lot of sense why he’s had so much success throughout his career because he’s a good individual and his mentality stuff has definitely helped me learn how to be a pro and how to see bigger picture, point of views.

“He put me in a position to be successful,” Turner explained.

After coming off a season where they finished fifth in the Western Conference and reached the Western Conference semi-finals, the Trail Blazers (18-27) have gotten off to a rough start this year. They’re currently on a four-game losing streak and will look to bounce back from their loss against the lowly 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday. 

“Right now we’re struggling with consistency,” Turner explained. “Been in some close games, hasn’t been really going our way. Hopefully, it’ll change.”

Turner also recalled the chemistry he shared with his former teammates and how special it was to play for the Celtics — a storied franchise with a strong fan base. 

“We had a great team, we had great chemistry among our team,” Turner said. “I think that’s what I really recognized. Not saying we don’t here just in the locker room, the locker room feel was kind of rare. I definitely appreciate that the most. You know, playing at the garden was dope. Putting on a jersey was definitely dope. You don’t take it for granted, this isn’t like a normal franchise. Sell-outs and all that stuff. You don’t take that for granted. I definitely miss that.”

 

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Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley returns to the lineup against Hornets, no Tyler Zeller (sickness) 01.16.17 at 7:51 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

After missing four straight games with a right Achilles injury, Avery Bradley will return to the lineup on Monday night against the Hornets at TD Garden. 

Although the Celtics have gone 3-1 in Bradley’s absence, having their starting shooting guard certainly strengthens their lineup. Boston will face a hungry Hornets (20-20) team, one that has lost four straight games and is in danger of slipping below .500. 

However, don’t let their record fool you, said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who believes a full-strength Hornets team will be a challenging one. 

“They just haven’t been healthy a lot but when their starting five has been healthy, which they are, they’ve been excellent,” Brad Stevens said. “This is a good team. This is a team that’s going to go on streaks of winning games and you just hope it doesn’t start tonight.

“Our guys have a lot of respect for these guys because you clearly have to play well to beat them, there is no grey area in that regard. If you don’t play well, they’ll beat you because they don’t beat themselves.” 

So far, the C’s are 2-0 in their season series against the Hornets but in their last contest against Charlotte the Hornets were without their leading scorer — Kemba Walker. The Celtics will look to stretch their season series to 3-0 while the Hornets will fight not fall below .500 for the first time this season. 

Bradley, who said he felt “a little sore” Monday morning, says there will be no minute restriction in Monday’s game. The C’s will also have Kelly Olynyk back in action, while Tyler Zeller (illness) will remain on the injury list. Zeller, who hospitalized last week, is still experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness. 

“Basically I had a sinus infection, middle ear infection and inner ear issue that was making me dizzy, kind of all at the same time,” Zeller explained. “Just got hit with a lot of sickness, flu, whatever you want to call it, cold, stuff. Kind of at the same time, it all compounded. Last week got it all checked out. Got it cleared. It was what they thought it was. I just kind of had to wait for it to clear out. So (coming back) now, it’s kind of getting back into the flow of things. And hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later.”

 

Read More: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller,
Outside shooting carries Celtics in win over Pelicans 01.07.17 at 10:14 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics continue to live by the 3. 

It’s been their m.o. lately and made a difference in their 117-108 victory over the Pelicans. The C’s have now won four consecutive games, including 10 of their last 12.

Luckily for the Celtics, they have been living well from deep. Throughout their last four games, the C’s have shot 51 percent on 71-of-139 attempts from outside. 

Fresh off their win against the Sixers — where they drained 19 3-pointers, a new franchise record — the C’s continued their streak of hot outside shooting against the Pelicans. Boston flirted with the franchise’s 3-point record while shooting 50 percent from the floor on 18-of-36 attempts from deep.

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart were on fire — they combined for 11-of-18 from 3.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 13-point first-quarter, the Pelicans grabbed a 10-point, first-half lead before the Celtics found their offensive momentum. The Pelicans big man finished with a monster double-double (36 points, 15 rebounds) but his big-time performance was no match against Celtics’ outside touch combined with a 38-point night by Thomas, who has stretched his streak of scoring 20-plus points to 12 consecutive games — the longest streak in the league. 

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

The Celtics caught fire after halftime — they knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc and grabbed a 14-point lead (75-61) midway through the third quarter. They outscored New Orleans, 36-20, in the third quarter and began the final frame with a 20-point lead (93-73). The C’s knocked down 9-of-18 from downtown in the second half. 

Smart, who got the start over Avery Bradley (sprained Achilles), put together his best shooting night of the season. Smart knocked in a season-high 5-of-7 from outside and finished with 22 points to go with his 6 assists, 5 rebounds and three steals. He was locked in on both ends of the floor and triggered excellent ball movement throughout his teammates on the offensive end. 

However, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Celtics will perform when the 3-pointers aren’t falling. The C’s are shooting 36.5 percent from outside this season — good enough for ninth in the league — yet, there isn’t one player in the team’s rotation who is afraid to attempt a 3-pointer, even Amir Johnson will rarely pass up an open 3.

They may find out how tough it is to win a game without making 17 or 18 3-pointers, like they’ve done the past four games, in Toronto when they take on the eastern conference’s second-best team in the Raptors (24-11) on Tuesday night.

Read More: Anthony Davis, Isaiah Thomas,
Brad Stevens on Celtics defense: ‘We don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better’ 01.03.17 at 7:15 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Before taking on the Jazz at TD Garden, coach Brad Stevens discussed how inconsistent the Celtics have been on the defensive end this season and why it’s important for him to make the proper adjustments going forward. 

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full on Tuesday, facing one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Jazz lead the league in fewest points allowed (94.5), are currently fourth in the Western Conference and riding high on a four-game winning streak. 

Stevens broke down stretches throughout the season where he’s seen his team defend poorly and why going to a ‘small-ball lineup’ against particular teams hurts them on the defensive end. 

“Sometimes when we go small, we’re really small so we’ve had to adjust that,” Stevens explained. “First seven games we were atrocious, defensively — which would actually be a compliment to how we were. And then the last seven [games] we haven’t guarded late, the middle 20 we were third in the league. So, we gotta be great, we gotta be great on that end if we wanna improve. Hopefully, we can be better at that as we head into this month and a half before the All-Star break because we don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better.”

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full in the low post, facing one of the league’s most impressive big men in Rudy Gobert. Utah’s defensive juggernaut is second in the league in blocks per game (2.60) behind Anthony Davis (2.62) and fifth in rebounding (12). 

Offensively, he leads the league in field goal percentage shooting at a 69 percent clip.

“He’s so big,” Stevens said about Gobert. “If he catches the ball on a roll and even if you’re there and he’s inside six [or] five feet of the basket, there’s a good chance you and the ball are both going into the basket together. He’s great at lobs. He’s gotten better, I think at finishing in traffic from what I’ve seen.

“He’s a good offensive rebounder. And then they have a bunch of guys that can really shoot the ball so he gets looks because you’re worried about the 3-point line. He’s a really good player and he’s having a great year.”

Another player who’s having a great season for the Jazz is their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 22.4 points a game while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert,
Why Danny Ainge’s deal for Isaiah Thomas was the biggest steal of his tenure 01.02.17 at 11:12 am ET
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Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will look to make another big trade sometime in the near future (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

No one knew it at the time but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the biggest steal of his tenure in Boston when he traded for Isaiah Thomas in the final minutes before the 2015 NBA trade deadline.

On February 19, 2015 — a day that was marked the busiest NBA trade deadline day in 25 years — the Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick.

For the Celtics, a team that was teetering between squeezing into the playoffs and entering a second consecutive draft lottery at the time, the deal pushed the ball forward in their rebuilding phase. It was clear Ainge wanted to see the Celtics blossom into a playoff team sooner rather than later, even if it meant a first-round sweep against the conference leading Cavaliers.

However, Ainge had his eyes on Thomas way before 2015’s trade deadline. He observed the young prospect before the 2011 NBA Draft and reached out to Thomas moments after free agency opened its doors in the summer of 2014.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said back in 2014.

Instead of inking a deal with the Celtics, a team with the crowded back court of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart at the time, Thomas signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Suns. It was a modest deal but Thomas was still trying to prove himself as a back up point guard at that time. Today, that’s a bargain to say the least as Thomas has reached new heights as one of the league’s elite scorers.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas,
5 keys for Celtics to beat Spurs without Isaiah Thomas 12.14.16 at 7:46 pm ET
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Brad Stevens is looking for his first win over the Spurs (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

After back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Thunder, the Celtics’ schedule doesn’t get any easier as the C’s are in San Antonio to take on the second-best team in the league without their best player.

Without Isaiah Thomas (groin), the Celtics will face a tall task of pulling off an upset on national TV (ESPN) and prove how good they are without their All-Star guard.

Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, the Spurs haven’t lost a game at home since Nov. 29 — a surprising loss, not only because it was against the Magic but because the Spurs suffered only one loss at home last season (40-1) and already are 6-4 this year at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio actually plays better on the road (13-1) than at home, but that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that the Celtics will have their hands full on Wednesday.

The Celtics aren’t the only ones playing without a member of their starting unit — Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) will sit out against the Celtics — although San Antonio still has plenty of firepower behind the rest of its starting lineup and has guys who can produce off the bench.

If the Celtics are to pull off what would be their biggest win of the season, here are five things that would go a long way toward helping that happen.

1. Jae Crowder comes through with his season-best effort

Coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight straight games, Crowder needed just two games to find his offensive rhythm. The scrappy small forward followed up a 15-point, 6-of-11 performance in Brooklyn on Nov. 23 by scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 attempts against the Spurs at home.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
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