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Isaiah Thomas says Hawks not ‘a scary defensive team,’ C’s just need to ‘knock down shots’ 04.20.16 at 6:16 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

For Isaiah Thomas, the heartbeat of the Celtics dormant offense, the solution is simple. 

“If we start to knock down our shots, it’s going to make it easier for us to execute on the offensive end,” Thomas said in a conference call Wednesday. “But first two games we haven’t been able to shoot the ball. All the Hawks are doing is packing the paint, and we continue to attack the paint. Then all five guys are there anytime someone attacks it.”

When the Celtics shoot 3-for-23 like they did in the first quarter Tuesday, including 0-for-6 from deep, the Hawks can just do what they do, and that’s pack the paint.

“Especially when I’m in attack mode, trying to get into the paint. If guys continue to be confident, and knock down their shots, they’re going to open up lanes for guys to drive it. There won’t be any opportunity for them to block shots.”

And blocking shots is an Atlanta specialty. They rejected a franchise-playoff record 15 on Tuesday in Game 2, including several on Thomas when he tried in vain to create by driving to the basket. Al Horford had five and Paul Millsap added four. 

“They are quick to the ball. You see an opening, and once you get to the hole there’s two or three guys around you,” Thomas said. “Give them credit on that. But I haven’t thought of Atlanta as a scary defensive team where you have to second guess yourself on getting your shot blocked, like with a guy like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside – (players) like that. They’re good at it, and we just have to either finish it off to a big or a drive and kick. Either a pump fake or make the adjustment.”

Brad Stevens suggested changes are coming for Game 3. What might they be?

“I don’t know. I think he will make some kind of change, knowing Brad and watching tons of film,” Thomas said. “But we’ll see. Hopefully he can do a few things that will make this team start games better, and give us a better chance to win.”

Thomas is 12-for-36 in the first two games, including 5-for-16 from deep. He admitted that sometimes he and others might be forcing things when the shots don’t fall.

“That can be the case, but that wasn’t true in the last game,” Thomas said. “Offensively, we couldn’t make shots, and we dug ourselves a big hole in the first quarter. For whatever reason we keep doing that. If we can sustain a better start, that gives us a way better chance to start the game. We give ourselves no chance by getting down by 20 points early in the game.

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Facing uphill climb, Brad Stevens Isaiah Thomas insists Celtics have ‘resiliency’ to come back from 0-2 04.20.16 at 5:24 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens wouldn’t go as far as saying the Celtics have the Hawks right where they want them. After all, no team wants to be down 0-2 in a best-of-7 series, facing a virtual must-win on their home court in Game 3. 

But Stevens said Wednesday during a conference that he’s fully confident that his team, which didn’t practice Wednesday, will be mentally ready to go when Game 3 begins Friday night. 

“You know, with this group, we’ll re-convene [Thursday] and we’ll talk about where we stand and what we need to do in moving forward,” Stevens said. “I think we just have to have a backs-against-the-wall mentality because this team has been good and been resilient all year in that regard.”

That’s great because the Celtics are fighting some wicked odds, and some nasty recent history. This is the 13th time they’ve been in an 0-2 hole in a best-of-7 series and the fourth straight series they’ve faced this deficit, dating back to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Miami.

They’ve managed to overcome the 0-2 deficit exactly once, beating the Lakers, 4 games to 3, in the 1969 NBA finals. They nearly pulled it off against the Heat in 2012 when they were down 0-2, only to win the next three before losing Games 6 and 7. But they’re not worried about ancient history, just correcting the mistakes against Atlanta that has them in their current predicament. 

“I think our focus needs to be continue to play the right way on both ends of the court,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we need to start better, we need to play better. We need to do a lot of things better. But I’ve never questioned this group’s resiliency or willingness to stand up when times are tough and those type of things because they’ve been pretty good about that all year.”

Pretty good, like when they came from 26 down in the season finale to beat a Miami team that was mailing in their third quarter. Still, a great feat. Pretty good like when they were without their best big defender in Jae Crowder against Golden State on the road. They erased an early deficit and held off the Warriors during a rush in the fourth quarter and came up with the most scintillating win of the year. And they were pretty good when they erased a late deficit in Cleveland beat the Cavs on a last-second shot from Avery Bradley. 

Why is this team so good when the chips are down?

“I couldn’t pinpoint it,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It’s just the background that all these guys come from.We’ve always had a never back down mentality. This group of teammates has always been counted out. They’ve always had that chip on their shoulders to prove everybody wrong. That’s just another stepping stone in everybody’s story. We do have to climb uphill, but at the same time we have to take advantage of our home court.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens says Kelly Olynyk ‘questionable’ for Game 3, Avery Bradley hints at return 04.20.16 at 3:55 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk and his right shoulder remain a big question mark heading into Game 3 Friday night against Atlanta. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said during a conference call Wednesday that after meeting with head trainer Ed Lacerte, it’s questionable at this point whether the 7-footer would be able to dress up and play Friday. 

“I’d say it’d be questionable based on my conversations with Ed Lacerte today,” Stevens said. 

Olynyk re-injured the shoulder in Game 1 last Saturday and didn’t dress for Game 2 Tuesday night. Olynyk missed 12 games when he initially injured the shoulder on Feb. 10 against the Clippers at TD Garden. 

As for the injured backcourt duo of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, Stevens said Bradley had an MRI on Wednesday but hadn’t heard the results yet. Stevens repeated in his Wednesday conference call that Bradley would be out of games “this weekend” and “very likely” for the rest of the series. 

Bradley did tell Celtics TV broadcaster Mike Gorman that there’s a chance he could return by the end of the series. Gorman, appearing on the Celtics radio flagship station, repeated a conversation he had with Bradley on Tuesday. 

“I asked if he would play again,” Gorman said, “and he said he was hoping he could play next week. He said, ‘If we can extend this series, I’m hoping I can play again.'”

“He underwent his MRI. I have not gotten the answer about how that went,” Stevens said during the conference call. “I don’t know if they’ve looked at it yet, or not. Obviously, with Kelly kind of being questionable for Game 3 and Marcus [having] bruised ribs, as far as getting immediate results, that’s who I’ve talked to Eddie about. Avery is going to be out this weekend, and like I said, is very unlikely for the rest of the series.”

As for Marcus Smart, he took a knee from Kent Bazemore above the right hip and at the bottom of his rib cage in the first 30 seconds of Tuesday night’s game when Bazemore drove baseline.

The prognosis is good for Smart, so good that Stevens expects Smart to be able to participate in practice on Thursday in Waltham.  Stevens didn’t even mention Jae Crowder, who is still battling a sore right ankle from his high ankle sprain in March, or Isaiah Thomas and his dinged left wrist. 

“I feel bad for those guys because this is the time of the year where everybody wants to be healthy, everybody wants to play, everybody wants to get their crack at it,” Stevens added. “So, I feel bad for those guys. As far as for me, we’re going to do the very best with the guys that are available. We have a lot of good players in this room that have a done a lot of good things throughout the year. We’re going to need to play everybody that’s available to be playing at their best this weekend to give ourselves a chance in this.”

The Hawks didn’t escape the injury bug Tuesday as Dennis Schroder badly twisted his left ankle on a drive to the basket late in the fourth quarter. He had to be helped to the Hawks locker room. He was replaced by Kirk Hinrich, who would likely take his place on the Hawks bench if Schroder is severely limited or can’t go in Game 3. 

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens says changes will be made for Game 3: ‘We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate’ 04.19.16 at 10:40 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas attempts a shot against Hawks guard Kyle Korver in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty obvious from the start, the Celtics were not at the level of the Hawks on Tuesday night. The Celtics dropped an 89-72 decision that puts them in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to Boston on Friday. 

Now it’s up to coach Brad Stevens to figure out what to do about it.

Stevens started Marcus Smart in place of the injured Avery Bradley in Game 2, along with Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder. That group went 4-1 this season as a starting lineup, including a 106-93 win over Atlanta on Nov. 13 at TD Garden. 

That was the regular season. Tuesday night in Game 2, the C’s came out slow and never recovered. 

“I think that tonight had a different feel than even the other night,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought the other night, it was one of those nights we didn’t shoot it great but we had done some really good things. We had settled ourselves, defensively. Then, when we started making some shots, we felt pretty good about our chances.

“Here, it never felt like we were at their level. Hey, we’re going to have figure that out. We’re going to have to get to their level and play a lot better on Friday night.”

With Thomas, Crowder and Smart combining to go 6-for-34 from the field, Stevens turned to Evan Turner, who was one of four Celtics in double figures with 12 points. He did not start the game but did start the second half. 

“I’ll go back and look it, watch it without sound, watch it without emotion and figure out what looked right, what didn’t look right and see if we can’t bottle more of that up,” Stevens said. “Listen, we start down 24-7 and we look like we’re moving at a speed far less than them. It’s going to be a tough night. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or when we’re playing. We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens on Game 2 humiliation: ‘They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter’ 04.19.16 at 10:16 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver on Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

If Tuesday night showed anything to the Celtics, it’s that it only takes about six minutes to get blown out of a playoff game and never have a chance to recover. 

It just so happened those six minutes came at the very start of an 89-72 loss in Game 2 to the Hawks. How bad were the opening six minutes?

The Celtics were outscored 24-3. They allowed Kyle Korver to triple their point total with three 3-pointers. They were down double digits for the final 45 minutes of the game. They made just 3-of-23 shots from the field and missed all six 3-point attempts. They committed five turnovers. They wound up with seven points for the quarter, the fewest ever by an NBA team in the first quarter of any playoff game and the fewest in any quarter by any Celtics team in the illustrious history of the franchise. 

“They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter,” Stevens said matter-of-factly after. “That wasn’t just about shots by any means. I thought that was one team playing and one team not, to be quite candid. We’ll look at it, make the necessary changes and we’ll move forward. 

“As I told the team, we can’t get off to starts like that. The only part of the defensive effort that I was upset by was losing Korver a few times and then the transition defense. But other than that, we really guard. We just put too much pressure on ourselves to make shots later because every one of them mattered so much just to have a chance to get back in the game. You can’t start like that. Again, we’ll look at it, figure out what the right changes are to make and make them.”

Stevens, who rarely shows emotion, was screaming at R.J. Hunter for losing Korver on a back screen when Hunter came in for Smart, who left briefly with a hip bruise. Korver drilled one of his three first-quarter treys as Atlanta got rolling. 

This did not come as a surprise to Stevens, who knew Korver, after going 1-for-10 in Game 1 (0-for-7 from deep) would be on a mission Tuesday.  

“Korver is like one of the main things we talk about every time we walk in this building, every time we walk into the hotel, every time we land in Atlanta, we know that we have to be in his airspace or else we’re toast,” Stevens said. “And you knew coming off a 1-for-10 game, he was going to have the hunger to make shots and take shots early on so we talked about that.

“But it was just a matter of we lost him a few times and our transition D was bad, especially in that first quarter. We had some moments throughout the game where our transition D was bad, but that first quarter, they moving at one speed we weren’t at.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Studs and Duds: Historically bad start sets table for another Celtics playoff loss, 0-2 hole 04.19.16 at 9:27 pm ET
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Hawks center Al Horford (15) grabs a pass against against Marcus Smart (36) in the first quarter Tuesday at Philips Arena. (Jason Getz-USA Today Sports)

Hawks center Al Horford grabs a pass over Marcus Smart in the first quarter Tuesday at Philips Arena. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Talk about adding insult to injury. 

The Celtics were embarrassed Tuesday night in epic fashion, falling behind by 21 points in the first six minutes and never fully recovering in an 89-72 loss to the Hawks in Game 2 at Philips Arena. Atlanta leads the best-of-seven series 2-0 as it shifts to Boston for Game 3 on Friday night at TD Garden. 

Isaiah Thomas was ice cold at the start but finished strong and led Boston with 16 points while Amir Johnson added 14. The trio of Thomas (4-for-15), Marcus Smart (1-for-11) and Jae Crowder (1-for-8) combined to shoot just 6-for-34.

The Celtics were down by double digits for the final 44 minutes, 57 seconds, and finished just 5-for-28 from 3-point range as they desperately tried to get back in the game. 

Al Horford and Kyle Korver each scored 17 for the Hawks, who are two wins away from their first playoff series win over the Celtics since the 1958 NBA Finals, when the franchise was still in St. Louis. 

Already down Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics lost Smart briefly in the first 15 seconds when Kent Bazemore went up for a layup and kneed Smart in the right hip. 

Smart, who started in place of Bradley, would play just six minutes in the opening quarter before leaving with Dr. Brian McKeon. He was evaluated with a hip contusion and cleared to return. In his place, Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter struggled to help Thomas get the offense going. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Marcus Smart starts, Kelly Olynyk (shoulder) sits out Game 2 04.19.16 at 6:41 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Brad Stevens will have limited options as he approaches Game 2. 

Kelly Olynyk will sit out to rest his right shoulder, after re-aggravating the injury from February while Marcus Smart will start tonight in place of the injured Avery Bradley.

Stevens told reporters in his pregame press conference that his decision to start Smart over Evan Turner in place of Bradley was aimed at achieving balance. It should be noted that Turner has been one of the best bench players in the NBA this season, finishing fifth in “Sixth Man” voting in results made public by the league on Tuesday. 

Tuesday’s starting lineup of Smart, Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder spent just over 78 minutes on the court together this season at some point. This is the sixth time the quintet has started a game, but the first time since Nov. 20. In the stretch from Nov. 13-20, they posted a 4-1 record. Ironically, the first time this group started a game together, it was against Atlanta, in a 106-93 win at TD Garden on Nov. 13. 

Keeping Turner on that unit clearly played into Stevens’ decision. 

“The way that Evan plays with some of the guys that are going to be off of the bench is important,” Stevens said.

In the first two of eight games Jae Crowder missed with a sprained right ankle, Stevens went with Smart in the starting lineup before turning to the bigger Turner for his scoring to replace Crowder. Losing Bradley, it’s apparent that Stevens is going with Smart’s defense. 

“The bottom line is all four of those guards – and when I talk ‘all four of those guards, Isaiah (Thomas), Marcus, Jae and Evan – will all play 30-plus minutes,” Stevens said. “So we can start any three of them but they’re all going to play a lot.”

Look for Terry Rozier and R.J. Hunter to see increased playing time Tuesday if foul trouble arises. 

As for who will replace Olynyk’s minutes off the bench, Jonas Jerebko is one option but Stevens suggested Tyler Zeller could see a bigger role. 

“Tyler’s ability to bring an obvious energy with his rim-runs with his speed, and his ability to roll off of pick-and-rolls and create a paint threat are really important,” said Stevens. “Whether or not he touches the ball or not, just having that threat is really important.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Kelly Olynyk
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