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Ray Allen has contacted Celtics about a potential comeback 08.09.16 at 6:58 pm ET
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Jan 27, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Miami Heat shooting guard Ray Allen (34) warms up prior to a game against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.  Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Allen played five seasons (2007-2013) with the Celtics (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Former Celtics shooting star Ray Allen has been in contact with team officials about making a potential comeback in Boston.

In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Allen says he’s spoken with two of his former teams about making a possible return — the Celtics — where he won his first NBA championship — and the Bucks — the team that drafted him back in 1996.

“I would love going back to those places if it worked out,” Allen told the paper, “because both teams are good, too. It doesn’t necessarily have to be championship-or-bust for me to go back to the NBA.

“I want to be in a situation where I thought I could help, play a little bit and help where they have good young talent.”

Allen, who was a member of the Celtics’ new ‘Big 3’ alongside Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, helped lead the team to an NBA championship in 2008. He last played for the Celtics in 2012 before he turned down a two-year contract to stay in Boston and signed with the rival Miami Heat for less money — a move that some C’s fans deemed as unforgivable at the time.

Allen went on to win his second NBA title with the Heat in 2013 before losing to the Spurs in the finals the following year — which ended up being his last season in the NBA.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Ray Allen,
Celtics could use R.J. Hunter’s 3-point touch 08.04.16 at 9:04 am ET
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Dec 26, 2015; Auburn Hills, MI, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens talks to guard R.J. Hunter (28) during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

R.J. Hunter will be fighting for playing time from Celtics coach Brad Stevens. (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

Could 2016-17 be R.J. Hunter’s breakout season?

We’ve seen Hunter’s outside shot look very promising in exhibition and summer league games, but we’ve yet to see him put it together on a consistent level during the regular season.

The Celtics have been in dire need of a knockdown 3-point shooter since the departure four years ago of Ray Allen — a player who opponents constantly had to cover at the arc. Last season the Celtics finished with the third-worst 3-point shooting in the league (35 percent, better than only the Grizzlies and Lakers). Hunter’s outside touch certainly could help boost them into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference, but he’s going to have to earn a spot in Brad Stevens’ rotation first.

Hunter, 22, played in 36 regular-season games last season, shooting 30 percent from behind the arc in only 8.8 minutes a night. In a crowded backcourt, it was hard for Stevens to find playing time for the rookie — who was behind Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart and Evan Turner on the depth chart. But with Turner out of the picture (now playing for the Trail Blazers), his minutes will be up for grabs.

Hunter, coming off being a star in college at Georgia State, said last season’s transition to the pro game matured him.

“I’ve always played, so I had to kind of see the game from another angle,” Hunter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I have a better appreciation for team ball, for winning and for just being on the court. I remember at the end I just wanted to be on the court to be a part of a win. It was humbling.”

In the playoffs, Stevens turned to Hunter for offense after losing Bradley (hamstring) at the end of Game 1 — and eventually the entire series — and Hunter responded with abysmal performances. He shot 22 percent from the floor, including 20 percent from deep, and averaged a single point in 8.4 minutes. Making matters worse, Hunter couldn’t keep up with the Hawks on defense — he was late closing out on Kent Bazemore and caught behind screens in trying to cover Kyle Korver.

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Read More: R.J. Hunter,
Celtics should be eyeing these free agents 06.30.16 at 9:25 am ET
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Mar 10, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (15) shoots the ball against the Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. The Raptors beat the Hawks 104-96. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics reportedly will target Hawks forward Al Horford in free agency. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

Assuming the Celtics don’t land Kevin Durant, they’re going to need to shift their focus to signing other key free agents to improve their roster.

According to ESPN’s Marc Stein, the Celtics will target Al Horford when free agency officially begins July 1, and will be one of many teams, including the Lakers, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Nets and Wizards, interested in the nine-year pro. (A Thursday report indicated the Thunder also plan to make a push for him.)

If the Celtics don’t land Durant or Horford, what kind of players do they need?

“We need good players,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said last Friday as the team introduced five of its six draft picks in Waltham.

Brad Stevens was more specific.

“The biggest needs as we look at it are continuing to grow ourselves on the offensive end and what we decide to do with regard to protecting the rim,” the coach said.

There are a handful of players available who could help in scoring and rim protection, which could push the Celtics into contending with the champion Cavaliers.

However, the most talented players come with an expensive price tag. The Celtics will have to weigh their options and target the players who are worth the big bucks, while also looking to at second- and third-tier options who offer plenty of upside.

Here are four free agents the Celtics could sign this summer.

AL HORFORD
2015-16: 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks

Horford sits atop the list — his ability to stretch the floor on offense and defend opposing big men makes him a great fit in Boston. His leadership qualities will be beneficial for this young Celtics team — along with his experience. Horford, who turned 30 earlier this month, is also consistent — while his 15.2 points and 7.3 rebounds last season aren’t numbers that are going to amaze you, his dependability will make a big impact. He would give the Celtics their first consistent scoring big man since Kevin Garnett. And much like Garnett was for the Celtics, Horford is a great pick-and-roll guy who can knock down shots and score in the post. He is a max guy, but is one of the exceptional players of this free agency class who deserves a contract worth over $20 million annually. Placing an All-Star like Horford alongside Isaiah Thomas would bring this Celtics team to the second round of the playoffs, with potential to go beyond.  It would be a huge step toward contenting with the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference.

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Read More: Al Horford, Evan Turner, Ian Mahinmi, Nicolas Batum
Why Celtics should trade for 76ers C Nerlens Noel 05.27.16 at 11:35 pm ET
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Apr 12, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN;  Philadelphia 76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) takes a pass during shooting drills prior to playing Toronto Raptors at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Nerlens Noel could soon be on the move from the 76ers. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

As Danny Ainge and co. head toward next month’s NBA draft, there’s a potential move available that the Celtics may want to explore.

In an interview with ESPN South Jersey 97.3, ESPN’s Chad Ford said he believes there’s a very good chance the 76ers will trade either Jahlil Okafor or Nerlens Noel. 

“I think that there’s a very high likelihood, that whether it’s to move up in the draft or use them to grab a free agent in a sign and trade or just a trade, that you will not see the Nerlens Noel-Jahlil Okafor pairing at the start of next season,” Chad Ford said. “I think that they’ll gauge the interest of both players. I think that there might be a slight preference for Noel, to keep him around with the Sixers, and I think you might be right, there might be a slight, better value for Okafor out on the market, but I think everyone agrees that that combination of these two players doesn’t necessarily work.”

With the No. 1 pick, the Sixers have two forwards to choose from in Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram, leaving them with room to add a guard. According to Ford, the 76ers would jump at a chance to acquire the Celtics’ No. 3 pick, where they’d be able to add a rising star to their backcourt.

“If I was Philadelphia, it would be done tomorrow,” Chad Ford said. “I don’t know if Boston would do it, but for Philadelphia, 100 percent. That would allow them to actually I think bring in another guard, an elite guard, whether that’s Kris Dunn or Jamal Murray, and suddenly now you’ve got a very, very bright future. I think that’s an easy call for the Sixers if Boston would do it.”

Out of the two young studs, the Celtics should focus on pursing Noel. 

The Everett native is a young rim protector — the kind of big man the Celtics lack — who also can rebound and score around the rim. This past season Noel averaged 11.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocks. Tied with the Warriors and Clippers, the Celtics finished fourth in the NBA in defensive rating. Adding a player like Noel into the fold would turn the C’s into a defensive juggernaut without having to break the bank in trying to sign a free agent big man like Hassan Whiteside or Bismack Biyombo. 

Compared to Okafor, the asking price for Noel isn’t as steep, but of course he still will cost the Celtics their No. 3 pick in this year’s draft. However, if the Celtics were to package their No. 3 pick along with second-round picks and a prospect like Terry Rozier or James Young, that could be enough for them to acquire Noel, whereas a proposed deal for Okafor most likely would have to include one of their rotation guys like Marcus Smart or Kelly Olynyk.

Out of the two, Okafor certainly is a better scorer, but in Brad Stevens’ system, Noel would flourish. In a fast-break offense he can run the floor, set the pick-and-roll, and create second-chance opportunities for the Celtics on the glass.

At age 22, Noel still has plenty of room to grow and has the potential to become one of the best defending big men in the league. Sure, a move like this wouldn’t turn the Celtics into an instant championship-contending team, but it’s a great place to start. 

Read More: Nerlens Noel,
Studs and Duds: Celtics rally from 26 down, beat Heat in season finale 04.13.16 at 10:50 pm ET
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Apr 13, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the second half of a game against the Miami Heat at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the second half of Wednesday’s game at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

A comeback for the ages had it all — the ugly, the good and the bad.

For a third straight game, the Celtics fell behind by double digits with home-court advantage potentially on the line. This time it was a 26-point first-half deficit against the Heat, at home in front of members of Boston’s title teams from 1966, 1976 and 1986.

That all changed at halftime, as the Celtics used a 20-0 run to complete a historic comeback with a 98-88 win over Miami.

And now for the bad: A Hawks loss to the Wizards ensured the victorious C’s would still travel to Atlanta as the fifth seed in the first round of the playoffs. Had the Celtics lost to Miami, they would have visited the Heat as the No. 6 seed in the opening round, with a potential second-round series against the Raptors looming. Instead, a first-round win likely means another date with the Cavaliers.

Anyhow, back to the game at hand: Isaiah Thomas (21 points) led five Celtics in double figures, and Avery Bradley added 17 points. Joe Johnson and Hassan Whiteside each scored 19 points to lead the Heat.

After the Heat took a 62-38 lead into the half, the Celtics roared back in the third quarter, slicing the deficit to 67-65 entering the final frame. The C’s set a franchise record for fewest points allowed (5) in the third quarter. With 9:39 left in the fourth quarter, Kelly Olynyk’s three-point play gave the Celtics their first lead of the night — 72-69, and Jonas Jerebko’s ensuing 3-pointer completed a 39-7 Celtics run.

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Studs and Duds: Jeremy Lin, Hornets blow past Celtics 04.11.16 at 10:13 pm ET
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Hornets guard Jeremy Lin (7) scores two of his 25 points against the Celtics. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Hornets guard Jeremy Lin scores two of his 25 points against the Celtics. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

In a game with playoff implications for both teams on the line, the Hornets dominated the Celtics en route to a 114-100 win Monday night at TD Garden.

Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley each netted 17 points for the Celtics, and Kelly Olynyk scored 10 off the bench, but it wasn’t nearly enough to hang on.

Led by Bradley’s 11 first-quarter points, the Celtics grabbed a 28-24 lead at the end of the quarter — but it didn’t last long. Charlotte outscored the C’s 39-13 in the second quarter and used a 9-3 run at the start of the third to take a 28-point lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

Desperate to find his offensive rhythm, Thomas came out aggressive in the second half, scoring 10 points on five shots before his aggression boiled over at the 3:55 mark. Thomas earned a technical foul for tossing the ball at official Ben Taylor’s legs in reaction to an offensive foul call. Thomas never returned to the game. 

With the loss, the Celtics (47-34) now are tied with the Hornets fifth in the Eastern Conference. There are tiebreakers aplenty with all four teams seeded third through sixth capable of tying each other, but if the C’s take care of the Heat on Wednesday night, they will in all likelihood be hosting a playoff game this weekend.

For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on. 

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Jeremy Lin

On Asian-American appreciation night, Lin dominated the Celtics, especially in the second quarter, when he scored 19 of his 25 points. Bradley and Marcus Smart simply couldn’t stop his dribble penetration. Lin also picked up five steals, as the Celtics seemed to drive into the paint with reckless abandon.

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Studs and Duds: Tyler Zeller (26 points), Celtics cruise past Bucks 04.08.16 at 10:24 pm ET
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Apr 8, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) reacts during the first half of a game against the Milwaukee Bucks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart (36) celebrates during the first half of Friday’s game against the Bucks. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

There’s nothing like a blowout win at home for a team that’s fighting for a No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Behind a steady defense and a second-half offensive surge, the Celtics beat the Bucks 124-109 on Friday night at TD Garden. 

After Milwaukee’s quick start, the Celtics outscored the Bucks in the final three quarters and cruised to their 47th win of the season. Tyler Zeller’s 26 points match a career-high — he led five Celtics in double figures.

Isaiah Thomas did not lead the Celtics in scoring for the first time since Feb. 29 but he did reach the 20-point plateau for the 18th straight game with 20 points. Kelly Olynyk and Avery Bradley each finished with 16 and Jared Sullinger added 15. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 27 points led the Bucks, he also finished with 7 rebounds and 7 assists. Jabari Parker added 18 points and Miles Plumlee finished with 16. 

Led by Antetokoumpo’s 17 first-quarter points, the Bucks got off to a hot start and opened up an 11-point lead before the Celtics closed the quarter on an 11-5 run and pulled within five, 35-30. However, the Celtics found their offensive rhythm before halftime — scoring in transition off of missed attempts and 3 steals.

By halftime, the Celtics scored 14 fast break points and a 65-58 lead. Their momentum carried into the second half where they opened up a 27-point lead — their biggest of the night. They viciously attacked the Bucks — finishing with 70 points in the paint and 27 fast-break buckets. Led by Zeller’s career night, the Celtics bench tallied up 60 points.

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