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Isaiah Thomas (41 points) wraps up one of the highest-scoring months in Celtics history with another incredible 4th quarter in win over Pistons 01.31.17 at 4:35 pm ET
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Jan 30, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) is congratulated after making a three point basket during the second half of the Boston Celtics 113-109 win over the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas scored the last 11 points for the Celtics in Celtics’ 113-109 win over Pistons (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY)

Topping off one of the best scoring months in franchise history, Isaiah Thomas’ 24-point fourth quarter performance against the Pistons was an emphatic exclamation point to an amazing month of January. 

The two-time All-Star scored a game-high 41 points in a 113-109 Celtics win over the Pistons at TD Garden, leading his team to their fourth straight victory and ultimately guiding them to a one-game lead ahead of the Raptors (29-19) for second place in the Eastern Conference.

His 41 points on Monday pushed his average up to 32.9 points per game for the month of January — the fourth-highest scoring month in Celtics history behind Larry Bird (twice) and Paul Pierce. 

“That doesn’t even seem real,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t sound real. So many great players who did it before me, to have my name up there with those legends is unbelievable. I’m going to just keep going, keep trying to catch those guys, and keep winning.”

The Celtics (30-18) win also sets the stage for Wednesday night’s big showdown between the two best teams in the Atlantic Division. The Raptors have had the Celtics’ number throughout the season — beating them twice over the last two months. But if Thomas can continue this amazing streak of excellence that he’s on, it could be enough for the Celtics to pull out a win against DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and company. 

Along with averaging 32.9 points in January, Thomas also set a season-high average of 6.9 assists per game. Jae Crowder, one of many of Thomas’ beneficiaries in the starting lineup, is also finishing his best month of the season — averaging 16.3 points while shooting 50.3 percent from the floor, including 46.6 percent from behind the arc.

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Win over Magic reminded us of Jaylen Brown’s potential 01.27.17 at 10:35 pm ET
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Jaylen Brown (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown put together a strong performance against the Magic at TD Garden (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Not many people had high expectations for the league’s No. 3 pick Jaylen Brown this season.

In fact, the Celtics were criticized for their selection by most critics when the So. Cal product’s name was announced in last summer’s NBA Draft. 

But if there’s one thing that we can take away from the Celtics’ 128-98 lopsided win over the Magic, it was that Brown has the potential to blossom into a viable scoring option for the Celtics, sooner rather than later. 

For the second straight night, Brown started in the backcourt in place of the injured Avery Bradley (right Achilles) and finished with a season-high 20 points to go with his eight rebounds. Sure, this was against the Magic (18-29) — third-worst team in the Eastern Conference — but the rookie still gave you a glimpse of how valuable he could be in less than three months from now when Brad Stevens will be competing to win his first NBA playoff series. 

Whether it was because he started in place of Avery Bradley for the second consecutive night or the fact that he was left out off the roster of the BBVA Compass Rising Star Challenge at All-Star Weekend, Brown played with a chip on his shoulder. He played with a sense of urgency. After scoring nine of his 13 first-half points in the game’s opening seven minutes, Brown was dialed in. 

The third overall pick was active on defense, crashing the glass for boards and was assertive on offense. Doing what he does best when the ball is in his hands, Brown took his defender to the hoop. Sometimes he finished, sometimes he kicked it out, other times he earned trips to the free-throw line but what was promising was his knack for wanting to make plays. 

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Celtics defense shines in impressive win over Rockets 01.26.17 at 6:15 pm ET
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Jan 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) battle for the ball during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics defense forced 17 turnovers in their 120-109 win at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

In their most impressive win of the season, the Celtics outscored one of the best offenses in the league while containing Houston’s leading scorer in a 120-109 victory over the Rockets.

The Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 38 points, Al Horford flirted with a double-double (23 points, 9 assists) and Jae Crowder (23 points, 10 rebounds) had a productive night but what stood out the most about the Celtics’ much needed win was their defense.

Harden, who entered last night’s game as the league’s second leading scorer, went cold in the third quarter (1-of-5) after Crowder — the team’s defensive anchor — cranked up his intensity and rattled the MVP candidate. Although Harden finished with a team-high 30 points, it took him 18 attempts to get there as he finished the night shooting 33.3 percent from the floor and committed seven of the team’s 17 turnovers.

More than half of Harden’s points came from the free-throw line — where he drained 16-of-19 attempts.

Throughout the Celtics’ three-game losing streak, the defense in the back court had been a turnstile for opposing guards like Bradley Beal, John Wall, C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Derrick Rose. All five guards finished with at least 28 points or more against the C’s while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. With Avery Bradley still out of the lineup, the stars were aligned for Harden to have a monster shooting night but that certainly wasn’t the case.

Celtics rookie Jaylen Brown, who got the start over Marcus Smart in the backcourt, kept up with Harden in the first quarter before Smart and Crowder took turns pestering the veteran and forcing him to commit turnovers throughout the second half. For the first time in a while, the Celtics were a cohesive unit on the defensive end of the floor. It started with Crowder but was sustained with help from guys like Smart, Horford — who finished with a game-high plus-21 rating — and Jonas Jerebko in the front court. 

Jerebko, along with Brown, was another addition in the starting lineup against the Rockets in place of Amir Johnson and didn’t disappoint, especially on the defensive end of the floor. He finished with 7 rebounds and made the most of 23 minutes of playing time by clogging the lanes and providing plenty of help-defense in the post.

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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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IMG_20170121_160230

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,
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