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Brad Stevens has his best game of the season, and picks up his first career playoff win 04.23.16 at 1:46 am 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)

While the TD Garden crowd was going bonkers with the Celtics up 37-20 after one quarter in Game 3 Friday night, coach Brad Stevens had a much different feel.

“I knew we would start with great energy because our guys were hurting a little bit from Tuesday but I was really worried that we would be – you know, I don’t know, for any of you that have ever run the mile, you run the first lap, breakneck speed, and then about the third lap, it just feels like you’re never going to make the last two laps.”

Stevens really had those concerns late in the third quarter. The Celtics opened the second half well enough, scoring the first seven points and racing out to a 64-45 lead. Then methodically, the Hawks charged back. With a 1:21 left, Dennis Schroder completed a three-point play that appeared to tie the game, 78-78. In actuality, it gave the Hawks the lead, 78-77, since Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer moments earlier was degraded to a standard 2-pointer after the quarter. Whatever the case, the Celtics were wearing down and the good vibes from Isaiah Thomas’ scorching start seemed to be diminishing somewhat.

But the Celtics caught a huge break when Atlanta couldn’t grab a rebound off an Evan Turner miss. Jonas Jerebko collected it and threw it up in the air and it came down through the hoop to put Boston on top, 79-78, heading into the fourth.

“I thought that we were starting to wear down, obviously, after we took that 19 point lead,” Stevens said. “But then Isaiah made huge play after huge play. But then everybody made plays to kind of keep it at bay after they tied it and then push it out at the end.

“I thought the basket at the end of the fourth quarter – or third quarter – was huge, by Jonas and starting the fourth quarter off with a couple of buckets was big too, just to kind of get ourselves right. Because it’s hard when (Kyle) Korver gets going like that, those guys get driving down hill – they’re a good team. It’s hard.”

Stevens had one of his better games of the season from an Xs and Os standpoint. Not only did starting Jerebko over Jared Sullinger pay off in extra energy down the stretch, starting Evan Turner over Marcus Smart gave the Stevens the chance to play Thomas more as the shooting guard. It also allowed Stevens to run Thomas off screens and create driving lanes with Thomas on the move, something he hinted at before the game

“Well, I mean, we’re playing, of our nine guys that played, four of them our point guards, because I included Evan in that. So, yeah. Yeah, I mean, and we’ll look at what was good, what was not good, and have to adjust some,” Stevens said.

As for Jerebko, it was evident from the start that he was going to provide a needed boost. His put-back slam dunk in the opening minute sent the crowd into a roar early and fired him up as well.

“He plays really, really, hard. He’s got versatility with regard to defensively,” Stevens said. “It’s really hard to switch onto (Jeff) Teague and (Dennis) Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you. And then his scoring is just a plus. You know, if he scores, he scores; if not, he’s still spacing for us. And so they have to honor that. And he had a big driving basket with his left hand in the fourth quarter, he had the big basket at the end of the third quarter, but then his defense was really great all night, I thought.”

And Stevens picked up his first playoff win in seven tries.

“Game Sunday. It’s great. It’s better than the alternative,” Stevens said. “But this team’s too good to do anything but focus on what’s next.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Isaiah Thomas: ‘I just want to follow in the footsteps of all the Celtics greats’ 04.23.16 at 1:18 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas sat on the elevated postgame podium listening with a smile as a reporter read off all the Celtics who have scored 40 or more points in a playoff game. His smile seemed to get bigger and bigger as he heard the names like Ray Allen, Larry Bird, John Havlicek, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Sam Jones, Jo Jo White, Reggie Lewis and Isaiah Thomas. 

Thomas scored a career-high 42 points on 12-of-24 shooting from the floor, including 5-0f-12 from 3-point range and 13-of-15 from the free throw line, in a 111-103 Celtics win over the Hawks in Game 3 of their series at TD Garden Friday night. And the Celtics needed every bit of Thomas’ greatness on this night to get a win that puts them back in the series. 

“I’m just glad we got the win first and foremost, but that makes me feel happy, just to be in the same category as those great players,” Thomas said. “I just want to follow in the footsteps of all the Celtics greats I know, that starts by winning then other than winning, winning championships. We are far from that, but I still want my name up there so I am happy about that.”

Coach Brad Stevens put Thomas in more of a shooting guard role, flying him off screens and pin downs that gave him better looks and more opportunities to get into the lane and do damage. 

“My coaches and my teammates, coach made adjustments and he just put me in a better position to be successful,” Thomas said. “First and foremost, I was just in attack mode, I was trying to do whatever it takes to win this game and my teammates kept feeding me and putting me in the right spots and the shots was falling, so that’s all I did. I got the easy part, my teammates helped me out a lot and coach does a great job adjusting.”

He was also inspired before the game from former NBA small men who played huge in the playoffs. Allen Iverson and Isiah Thomas both sent him texts of well wishes. 

“Allen Iverson just said keep fighting, they did what they were supposed to do in Atlanta, now its time for you guys to take advantage of being at home,” Thomas relayed. “Then Isiah Thomas just gave me a few tips I cant tell you guys about. He told me what he has seen and he helped me out a lot.”

 

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Allen Iverson, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard talk Isaiah Thomas’ historic 42-point effort in Game 3 win 04.23.16 at 12:45 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down how Isaiah Thomas rescued Celtics in Game 3 with a career-high 42 points, leading the Celtics to a 111-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at TD Garden. The 42 points were the most by any Celtic in a playoff game since Rajon Rondo scored 44 against the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals on May 30, 2012.

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder
Isaiah Thomas insists his hand to the face of Dennis Schroder was accidental: ‘It’s playoff basketball’ 04.23.16 at 12:35 am ET
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Did he mean it or not?

That’s the singular question that now has to be answered by the NBA after cameras and vines caught Isaiah Thomas – in the midst of his career-best 42-point night – swinging an elbow at Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder. 

In the second quarter of Friday’s 111-103 win over the Hawks in Game 3, and with tempers steadily on the rise throughout the first half, Thomas appeared to raise his left arm and swat Schroder in the head. 

After answering questions about his career-best performance when the Celtics desperately needed it, Thomas’ press conference ended with a simple question: Are you concerned about discipline from the NBA from the blow? 

“No, I’m not,” Thomas said. “I didn’t mean to hit him in the head. He got mad. He was talking. It’s playoff basketball. I’m not going to back down from anybody – and he knows that.”

The Hawks obviously had a different view of things. 

“I have seen it back in the locker room,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “My thoughts are the league will review it; the league does a good job on all things like this and they have high standards and all teams are aware of their emphasis during the playoffs. As far as an explanation, there wasn’t an explanation. There was a double technical and there was no review of the incident in the back court at the free throw line.”

Kyle Korver said Budenholzer took time before the playoffs to read to the team what might happen if you lose your cool in the playoffs and throw a punch.

“I heard that it happened,” Korver said. “I know Bud read us a really long memo before the playoffs started saying what would happen in you threw a punch. I haven’t seen the replay, I know Dennis said he got hit, but I’m sure we’ll hear and see a lot about it in the next couple days.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder
Kelly Olynyk ‘in a good amount of pain,’ will miss Game 3, Brad Stevens details adjustments without him 04.22.16 at 7:22 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk

The word on Kelly Olynyk does not sound promising for a return anytime soon, at least in this series. 

The forward missed his second straight game Friday after re-aggravating his separated right shoulder in Game 1 last Saturday night. 

“Feeling a little bit better,” Brad Stevens said before Friday’s Game 3. “From what I’ve been told, went through some shooting this morning. Didn’t feel great this afternoon when he got here. Did not go through our shootaround, walkthrough. I have not talked to Eddie since that. But because he didn’t go through and because he told me what he told me before, I just assumed, no. And that’s what I was told before.” 

Olynyk initially injured the shoulder on Feb. 10 against the Clippers and missed 12 games before returning in March. But he’s been less than 100 percent in his return. 

Stevens said Friday it’s not about Olynyk talking his way back into the lineup. It’s about giving the shoulder time to heal and Olynyk being comfortable playing with it. 

“They’ve been working around the clock with regard to extra [physical therapy], extra [stimulation], etcetera, etcetera for Kelly to get back. It’s ultimately Kelly’s call on that, based on how he feels,” Stevens said. “He’s been playing through a lot of pain. He got popped pretty good in the first and aggravated it in the first game. The one thing that I know based on how he’s been playing the last month, he would play if he could. I feel very strongly about that.

“I think any time you have an injury, you can make it worse. There’s no doubt about that. From what I’ve been told, from what I understand, he’s got some issues with it shifting and he’s in a pretty good amount of pain.” 

Olynyk’s ability to stretch the floor, play transition defense and space the Celtics offense in half-court has been sorely missed in the first two games. Stevens gave some interesting insight Friday as to how the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas might have to adjust. 

“With regard to Kelly’s shooting, we’re going to have to do some things that may be a little bit unique to generate the best looks, and the best looks may not be the traditional best looks,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to put Isaiah off the ball some. We’re going to have to drive, kick, drive, kick, drive, kick. We’re going to have to multiple attacks to paint instead of just one attack, especially because of all the attention they’re giving Isaiah at the rim. Isaiah is doing exactly what he did all during the regular season. He gets to the rim. He’s able to come off the pick-and-roll. He’s able to come off screens. He’s getting there. There’s just three or four guys there [waiting]. So, we’ve got to do a great job of staying spaced. Jonas will help that. Hopefully, we’re going to have to knock down some shots, and I believe that we will.” 

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Kelly Olynyk
Jonas Jerebko starts for Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner starts for Marcus Smart as Brad Stevens shakes it up 04.22.16 at 6:55 pm ET
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Brad Stevens stayed true to his word before Friday’s Game 3 with the Hawks at TD Garden.

Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger will start the game on the bench while Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko get the start.

“We’re going to start Turner for Smart and Jerebko for Sullinger,” Stevens announced just under two hours before tip. “We’ll go with Turner, Isaiah, Jae, Jerebko and Amir.”

“Obviously, there’s certain things from the starting group, as far as how we want to play, spacing-wise,” Stevens said in explaining the move. “Those types of things factor in. Obviously, Jerebko gives you spacing, gives you some defensive versatility on the two bigs. And then Turner has been, along with Isaiah, really able to get into the paint and do certain things, and consistently be able to attack throughout the first [two] games.

“That’s that. Sully and Smart are still going to play, still going to play big parts for us. I’ve said this before about the guards, you can just kind of throw a dart with those four guards, and Smart being the fourth one tonight. They’re all going to play 30-plus minutes for us on most nights.”

The lineup of Turner, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jerebko and Johnson haven’t exactly spent a lot of time together this season on the court.

“They’ve played a whole 33 possessions together. They’re plus-20. So, the sample size in an analytical viewpoint is not strong. But I think the one thing is you practice all year. You try different things. You’re going to have moments like this, certainly, especially with Avery out, with Kelly out where you’re going to have to do some of that. And you know what? There’s going to be groups off the bench that haven’t played much together, too.

“Any lineup with Terry and/or R.J. or both has not played very much for us. So, that’s the way it is. That’s why you practice all year and that’s why you play and find the synergy in practice. You believe in what supposed to do by doing it right and you go out and do it.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
What does Brad Stevens need to do to shed ‘frustrating’ 0-6 playoff collar? 04.21.16 at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Brad Stevens didn’t need a history lesson Thursday before practice but he got one anyway. 

The Celtics coach was reminded that he has yet to score a playoff victory in six tries over the last two seasons. While this certainly doesn’t rise to the 0-7 postseason mark of the Bengals’ Marvin Lewis in the NFL, it is a frustrating collar he’d like to shed Friday night at TD Garden. 

That, and he’d actually like to see his team get back in the series with the Hawks, which some observers say could change with one win. 

“Obviously, it’s frustrating but also, I look at last year as we were obviously playing a heck of a team that was playing at a really high level,” Stevens said, referring to last season’s 4-0 first-round sweep at the hands of the Cavs. “And we did a lot of good things [vs. Cleveland]. We played really well on the defensive end in that series in the half court. I think we’ve done that again in the first two games [vs. Hawks].”

So where DO the Celtics need to improve?

“Where we need to play a little bit better is in transition and in getting better offense,” Stevens said.”And so, that’s reality of the situation. We’re playing another really good team. I think when you look at Atlanta, especially since the All Star break, they’re playing as well as anybody. We have to be better to get a chance. But I don’t see our guys being overwhelmed by the collective number. I think we’re a lot more focused on 0-2 than last year’s 0-4. That really is inconsequential right now.”

If Stevens decides to make a change, he could go with the lineup he started at the beginning of the second half Tuesday (Thomas, Smart, Turner, Crowder, Johnson) or he could really mix it up by throwing in a pure shooter like Jonas Jerebko to take the place of Sullinger and move Turner to the shooting guard spot and bring Marcus Smart (1-for-11 Game 2) off the bench. All of this is with the understanding that Kelly Olynyk, who didn’t practice again Thursday, is “questionable at best” for Game 3. 

“Well obviously, it would affect it from the standpoint of rotations because I do think Kelly’s strength is something we need,” Stevens said, referring to Olynyk’s 41 percent range from deep when healthy. “So, we’re going to have to find that from other sources, obviously.” 

“I’m always ready. I don’t care if that’s starting or coming off the bench first or coming off the eighth man, ninth man — no matter what it is. I’m ready for whatever,” Jerebko said before Thursday’s practice. “We’ve kinda had every lineup so, like I said, we’re going to come out strong in front of our fans and we’re just going to come out strong [Friday].

“It’s not a problem for me. As an NBA player and as a professional, I have to be ready for everything. In this league, I’ve seen it all. I’ve started, I haven’t played, I played 25 minutes per game, 30 minutes per game. So I’ve seen it all and I’m ready for it. I try to always put the team first and be ready for whatever happens.”

Isaiah Thomas repeated Thursday what he said on Wednesday that the Hawks are packing the paint and it’s just a matter of knocking down shots. Smart has consistently shown that’s not his strength. He’s 6-for-21. Crowder is 6-for-25. Thomas is 12-for-36. Jerebko is only 4-for-12 but has the range of Olynyk and a 6-foot-10 frame to go with it. 

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