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Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas’ call for more help from teammates: ‘You just have to make right basketball play’ 04.27.16 at 5:26 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) in Game 4. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens can certainly understand the frustration Isaiah Thomas was feeling during the Game 5 loss in Atlanta. 

For just the second time this season, he was held to single-digit scoring. He missed his first five shots and finished just 3-of-12. He faced double and triple-teams all night. Of course, to top it all off, he sprained his left ankle on his final basket of the night. 

After the game, Thomas was vocal about the fact that other teammates are going to have to step up when they’re putting so much emphasis on stopping him. 

On Wednesday, Stevens watched the film and answered some of Isaiah’s concerns from an Xs and Os standpoint. 

“I thought in retrospect, as you go back and watch the film, we handled it really well in those first 18 or 20 minutes,” Stevens said. “We had our opportunities and at the end of the day, you have to take advantage of as many of them as you can, realizing you are not going to play a perfect game. You got to continue to be aggressive passing out of it and guys have to continue to be aggressive driving and playing and making plays for others out of it.

“There are certain things we’ll look to do should they decide to stay with that. I think obviously they did a good job and their energy level was really good. They just executed what they wanted to do really, really well last night. I’m talking about Atlanta here. I think that Isaiah has been trapped before. He’s been trapped quite a bit. I thought yesterday his reads at the start of the game were really good.”

What hurt the Celtics was the same thing that has hurt them all season. When Isaiah Thomas hasn’t scored they’ve struggled to find a consistent second scoring option. Some nights it’s Jae Crowder, some nights Evan Turner and some nights Jared Sullinger. But none of those three require a full game plan to stop. Thomas does. 

“You just have to make the right basketball play and he’s got good teammates around him who have had great years,” Stevens continued. “We didn’t shoot it as well as we would have liked last night but I believe in each one of those guys, as does Isaiah.

When the Celtics weren’t struggling on offense, they were having trouble finding the open shooter on the perimeter again, especially in the third quarter, when Atlanta converted five of their 14 3-pointers on the night, scoring 42 points in the process. 

“I think transition was the biggest thing and then we had some positions where we probably over-rotated a few times in the half court,” Stevens said. 

The Celtics’ zone defense has had its moments when it’s been very effective in matching up against Atlanta’s sharp-shooters. Then there were times like last night where it failed them. Stevens, during his conference call Wednesday, made it sound like the zone is still a gimmick in the Celtics defensive playbook. 

“We don’t spend a lot of time on it. We practice it very, very little,” Stevens said. “Obviously, [Tuesday] night, they had a couple of baskets against it. The first one I felt like was handled [well] and got a shot you’d look for, which was a 10-foot contested floater. The second time we didn’t get to [Kent] Bazemore, but the other day it was great to us. Maybe it was Game 3 at home, where they went scoreless against it. Sometime it’s very productive, sometimes it’s not. But we’re not going to spend a lot of time on it since we don’t play it a lot.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas: ‘All signs point toward him being ready to go’ for Game 6 Thursday 04.27.16 at 4:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during Game 4. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

There was some good news Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday’s meltdown in Atlanta. Isaiah Thomas and his turned left ankle will be able to play in Game 6 

“Every update I’ve gotten is positive. Isaiah seems really positive about it, feels good I’m sure they’ll take extra looks at it now that we’ve arrived home but the swelling wasn’t bad and he feels good,” Stevens said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call. “So all signs point toward him being ready to go tomorrow.”

Thomas turned the left ankle on a drive to the basket with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter Tuesday, with the Celtics trailing 93-62. 

Marcus Smart was at the scorer’s table waiting to come in for Thomas but not before the Celtics’ leading scorer came down awkwardly on the left foot and rolling the ankle. On the next possession down the court, Thomas grabbed Al Horford on a foul and hobbled directly to the Celtics locker room where he began treatment on the ankle.

The injury was diagnosed as a mild sprain and he did not return to the bench or the game. 

The news on Avery Bradley is that there really isn’t any, except that he did some jogging the other day and had the expected soreness after a significant right hamstring strain. 

 “There’s nothing new from my end that I’ve been told,” Stevens said. “I did not ask today but as I’ve said all along it would be extremely unlikely that he would be able to suit up in this series. The injury plus just what a hamstring injury can do moving forward is something that we just have to be very, very careful with, and Avery’s got to be very, very careful with.

“He feels better. As of two days ago or yesterday he had done a little bit more jogging, etc., but had experienced some soreness after that, which is not atypical for trying to come back from a hamstring injury. From everything I’ve been told, I’ve shared it with you the whole time.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Studs and Duds: Celtics, Isaiah Thomas (injured) come up empty, blown out in Game 5 04.26.16 at 10:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) is defended by Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) in the second quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Evan Turner is defended by Hawks forward Kent Bazemore in the second quarter of Tuesday’s Game 5. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

A promising night turned into a disaster for the Celtics. 

Kent Bazemore keyed a 26-6 run in the first half to turn a 10-point Celtic lead into a 10-point Atlanta advantage. Then the Hawks caught fire in the third quarter, using an 18-1 run to blow Tuesday’s Game 5 wide open en route to a 110-83 rout of the Celtics at Philips Arena and a 3-2 series lead. 

Isaiah Thomas, the leading scorer in the NBA playoffs so far, had one of the worst nights in a Celtics uniform, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting before leaving with what the team called a “mild” left ankle sprain with 10 minutes left in the game. 

With Paul Millsap in check at 10 points, Mike Scott came off the bench to lead Atlanta with 17. Bazemore and Jeff Teague had 16 for the Hawks, who went 14-of-36 from 3-point range. 

The Celtics started off nearly as cold in Game 5 as they did their last game in Atlanta. But unlike Game 2, they didn’t fall behind 21 in the first six minutes. They did open the game 2-for-10 but Marcus Smart continued his 3-point rhythm from Game 4, knocking down a pair of threes in the opening quarter. The two teams combined to miss 18 of their first 22 shots.

The Celtics used a three from Jae Crowder with 31.1 seconds left in the first quarter to reclaim the lead. Terry Rozier hit a circus bank shot on a drive to the basket to give Boston a 20-15 lead after one quarter. 

Al Horford (0-for-8) and Paul Millsap (0-for-4) combined to miss their first 12 shots of the game before a layup by Millsap with six minutes left in the second quarter. The Celtics built a 29-19 lead on the ice cold shooting of the Hawks, who began the game 6-for-34. 

Then the game turned suddenly and dramatically on a 26-6 Hawks run, sparked by Bazemore, who drilled three 3-pointers in the surge. Mike Scott gave Atlanta a 32-30 lead on a turnaround with 3:40 left in the second quarter. The Celtics quickly regained the lead but the Hawks answered with 16 of the next 18 points for a 45-35 lead. The Hawks were not threatened the rest of the way and led 47-39 at the half. 

Bazemore was 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-7 from deep in the first half and single-handedly turned the momentum of the game for the Hawks. Atlanta was kept in the game by Boston relying too heavily on the three. They missed 14 of their 18 tries from beyond the arc. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
As Celtics face Game 5 on road, Brad Stevens raves about fans, TD Garden atmosphere: ‘It was incredible’ 04.25.16 at 9:31 pm ET
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Celtics mascot Lucky runs with a banner during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics mascot Lucky runs with a banner during the second half of Sunday’s Game 4 against the Hawks at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If only the Celtics could bottle up the electric, deafening atmosphere from TD Garden and bring all the fans with them for Game 5, leaning on them like they did in the 104-95 overtime win Sunday.

“I think it’s less about where it is and more about how you play,” the always calm and cool Brad Stevens said Monday. “At the same time, I certainly haven’t been in many playoff environments like the last two games. It was incredible.”

There no doubt will be noise inside Philips Arena for the pivotal swing game in the series, but it won’t be nearly as intense as what the Hawks experienced in Games 3 and 4. 

As a matter of fact, when the series opened in Atlanta on April 16, there were hundreds of empty seats with neon yellow shirts on them. The Hawks attempted to hide the fact that Atlanta, a notoriously passive sports town, wasn’t fully behind its NBA team in the first round of the playoffs. 

The Hawks managed to hold serve at home with wins in the first two games. 

When the series shifted to Boston last Friday, the decibel level went through the roof. The Celtics responded with a 37-20 quarter right out of the chute. They held on for a 111-103 win. The crowd rewarded that with an even crazier atmosphere in Game 4, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and players Rob Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount showed up.

The Hawks might not have noticed the Patriotic impact, but they sure heard it. When Isaiah Thomas drained a 3 from the right baseline in in front of Belichick in the final minute of overtime, the Garden was literally shaking. 

“Oh yeah, they have a great crowd and they really fed off of it,” Kyle Korver said. “When your crowd’s screaming behind you, the basket seems bigger and there’s a lot more adrenaline, and they played really well here. Give them credit.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Who should be on Celtics’ radar in Game 5? Brad Stevens playing it cautious with Kelly Olynyk 04.25.16 at 3:59 pm ET
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Apr 24, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots the ball over Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hawks forward Paul Millsap shoots over Marcus Smart during the second half of Sunday’s Game 4. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Who will step up for Atlanta in Game 5?

That has to be the question Brad Stevens is asking himself and his staff as they prepare for a critical swing game in the first-round series. After going 1-for-10 and missing all seven from long range in Game 1, Kyle Korver hit on 5-of-7 from deep and 6-of-9 overall in Atlanta’s 89-72 win in Game 2. 

Paul Millsap went 1-for-12 in Game 2 and 3-for-9 in Game 3 before coming to life for 45 points on 19-of-31 shooting on Sunday. Korver was back down to 3-for-11 on Sunday while a dinged up Al Horford was 2-for-8 and Jeff Teague was 4-for-18, so there’s plenty to choose from. 

“Well, one of the things about great players in this league is, when they have a tough game the game before they usually come out with a great hunger and we saw that from Korver in Game 2. You saw that from Millsap in Game 4,” Stevens said Monday. “I think that that’s just kind of the way that this league goes. And even during the game, that was a really hard call with Millsap, because the one thing that you don’t want to do is get those other guys going.”

And that is the biggest factor Stevens has to weigh when considering how to use Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson in Game 5. 

“If you put too much emphasis on doubling the post or rotating or whatever the case may be, now [Kent] Bazemore gets a wide-open 3 in the corner or a layup on a cut, or Teague hits an open 3, Korver gets an open 3,” Stevens added. “Those are bad things as well. It’s a tough call in the heat of the moment, you just kind of go with what you’re feeling at that moment, go with what you’re seeing. Then go with any numbers that might back up your decision.”

Kelly Olynyk might play more in Game 5, or he might not. The Celtics 7-footer played just three minutes in the first half of Sunday’s game and missed the only shot he took, a misfire that was way right of its mark. Olynyk was available for the first time since Game 1 when he re-aggravated his reportedly separated right shoulder. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Kyle Korver
Brad Stevens on Marcus Smart for Game 5: ‘Don’t know how we could put him on the court much more’ 04.25.16 at 3:31 pm ET
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Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford (15). (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford in Sunday’s game. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics didn’t practice Monday, and Marcus Smart can be very happy about that. 

When he checked in for Jonas Jerebko with 9:20 left in the third quarter of Game 4 on Sunday, he probably didn’t think he would play the rest of the game. But that’s what he did. 

He played the final 28 minutes and 40 seconds of an epic, highly-charged and intense playoff game at TD Garden. His defense on Paul Millsap for the final 10 minutes was a big reason the Celtics were able to pull out a 104-95 win in overtime and tie the series at 2-2. 

But just because he held Millsap to four points in the final 10 minutes doesn’t mean Brad Stevens won’t put him back on Kyle Korver (whom he guarded initially) or Jeff Teague or anyone else. 

“I think obviously we’ll play him on a bunch of different guys the way we have all season,” Stevens said in a conference call Monday before heading off on a flight to Atlanta for Game 5 Tuesday. “We’re going to have to play the game as it goes.”

Evan Turner took the place of Smart in the starting lineup after Smart went 1-for-11 from the field and the Celtics needed the scoring. Sunday, Smart hit a pair of huge threes back-to-back to put the Celtics on top, 85-84, midway through the fourth. Smart played 41 of the 53 minutes Sunday and scored 20 points. 

“I don’t know how we could put him on the court much more,” Stevens said. “He played the last [nine] minutes of the third quarter, the whole fourth quarter and overtime. So, whether he starts or not, really to me is inconsequential. He’s going to play a lot and then we’ll figure out what match-ups we’ll need to hit during the game.

“That’s part of what the way I’m looking at it right now. Obviously, we’ve started decent each of the last two games. There’s going to be times where we need Marcus to guard Teague, Marcus to guard Korver, Marcus to guard Millsap, et cetera. We’ll play it by ear. We’ll see how it’s going with that. But, he’s going to play his typical lot of minutes.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
What exactly were Hawks thinking on last play of regulation? Isaiah Thomas doesn’t have a clue 04.25.16 at 1:45 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas shoots over Hawks guard Jeff Teague. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If you watched the final 15 seconds of regulation in stunned amazement Sunday, you were hardly alone. Even Isaiah Thomas, who was covering the player with the ball, did not quite know what the Hawks were doing in a 92-92 game. 

Instead of finding Paul Millsap, who had scored 45 points, point guard Jeff Teague received the ball and proceeded to dribble and dribble and dribble. He was going to isolate Thomas and pull up for the game-winner. He didn’t even really get a chance to do that as he lost his handle with three seconds left. 

The game went to overtime and the Celtics outscored Atlanta 12-3 in the extra period for a 104-95 win in Game 4, tying the series. Was it just great defense by Thomas and denying the driving lane? 

“Nah, don’t give me no props for that,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what they were doing. I think they were trying to isolate me. I felt like he took a little bit too long and I kind of knew what he was going to do once the clock hit three or four seconds. Most guards do a hesitation pull-up, and he tried it and lost the ball.” 

His coach gave him a little more credit than that.

“Well, they were sprinting to slip [Kyle] Korver off of a screen to try to give Teague an alley to drive and Isaiah did a good job of keeping him squared  up,” Brad Stevens said. “Didn’t give him an alley to drive, and then made a nice — I think Teague slipped or whatever, but he was forced way out. Isaiah did a really nice job in that position.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs Marcus Smart, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Jeff Teague
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