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Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas saves Celtics from themselves, sparks win over Suns 03.27.16 at 12:39 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Three quarters was enough Saturday night. Barely.

Isaiah Thomas, who was traded from Phoenix at the trading deadline in Feb. 2015, scored 28 points while Evan Turner added 17 points and 11 rebounds as the Celtics barely held off the woeful Suns, 102-99, Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns (20-53) were led by rookie Devin Booker with 21 points. 

Avery Bradley finished with 15 points, including 13 in the first half. That was particularly impressive considering he just arrived in Phoenix on Saturday after staying back in Boston with a stomach illness that kept him out of action on Thursday and Friday.

“He felt pretty good,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard to come back and play like that. I think the hardest part of today is not necessarily how he felt on Thursday but the fact that he sat on a six-hour flight and then got off the plane and played. That’s not easy. He did a good job.”

The win was crucial for the Celtics in the standings. Not only was it their fourth straight after a four-game skid, it improved them to 43-30 and kept them just a half-game behind third-place Atlanta in the East. Boston pulled a half-game ahead of idle Miami for fourth place. Charlotte (42-31) is just a game back of Boston, and in sixth place. 

Saturday night appeared to be a walk in the park early, as the Celtics built a 58-41 halftime lead. Evan Turner had 15 of his 17 points in the first half and Bradley had 13 points in the first half as the Celtics led 55-34 at one point.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Devin Booker, Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas
James Young, Coty Clarke recalled from Maine, available in Phoenix 03.26.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing a 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing his first 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The Celtics have reinforcements as their five-game Western swing begins. 

Coty Clarke and James Young were recalled Saturday from the Maine Red Claws. Both are expected to be with the team in Phoenix as the Celtics take on the Suns.  The reinforcements will help the team deal with the continued absence of Jae Crowder, who is expected to miss his seventh straight game with a high sprain of his right ankle. Crowder is with the team out West and Brad Stevens said he’s still hopeful Crowder could be back playing before the end of the trip. 

On Friday night, in the Red Claws’ 120-113 victory over the Austin Spurs, Clarke scored 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 32 minutes of action. Clarke, who signed his second 10-day contract on March 18, has played in 42 games for Maine this season and is averaging 16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game.

Also on Friday night, Young finished with nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 29 minutes against Austin on March 25. He has appeared in 12 contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 28.0 minutes per game.

Both also played Wednesday night in the first game of the two-game trek through Texas, a 137-111 loss to Rio Grande. Clarke had 22 points and seven rebounds while Young scored 21 points and six rebounds. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Coty Clarke, James Young, Maine Red Claws
Evan Turner gets pushed in back, doesn’t want to take it anymore 03.24.16 at 9:37 am ET
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Evan Turner is, for the most part, a pretty chill, laid-back guy on the Celtics. He can laugh, make a joke and have fun.

But on Wednesday, the Celtics swingman, who finished with 17 points in Boston’s 91-79 win over the Raptors, had a bad flashback to what can happen when you put yourself in a vulnerable position going up for a shot near the basket.

As the first quarter was winding down, he drove the lane and the Toronto defense collapsed on him in the form of big men Jason Thompson and Bismack Biyombo. He felt a push in the back near the basket and had a really bad flashback to his days at Ohio State.

In a game on Dec. 5, 2009, Turner went up for a dunk against Eastern Michigan and got nudged in the back as he was going up. He dunked the ball but lost his balance and fell on his upper back. He broke two vertebrae and sat out eight weeks.

What made Wednesday infuriating to Turner was that he told the referee crew, led by veteran Monty McCutcheon, and felt it fell on deaf ears.

“One, I got pushed in the back two or three times, and when I said it, I said it calmly. I’m the kind of guy I just kind of laughed about it. I made a move when I was going up [to the basket] when I was in college and I got pushed. I kind of got pushed the same way so when that occurred I was more worried about it. It was a crazy play.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Monty McCutcheon, NBA
Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard on Isaiah Thomas, Mark Wahlberg, Celtics win 03.24.16 at 12:06 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down the third straight win for the Celtics, a 91-79 win over the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas hit a pair of key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and pointed to movie icon and Celtics fan Mark Wahlberg after the second. Thomas finished with 23 points in the win, which improves Boston to 42-30 and clinches the C’s first winning season under coach Brad Stevens. The Raptors were playing without Kyle Lowry (elbow) and Patrick Patterson (ankle).

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Mark Wahlberg, Marky Mark
Brad Stevens on 1st winning season: ‘You don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games’ 03.23.16 at 11:39 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (C) reacts from the sidelines during the second half against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens reacts from the sidelines during the second half against the Raptors at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the man who has made a career out of playing it low key, Brad Stevens was in rare form Wednesday. 

After his team beat the shorthanded Raptors, 91-79, to lock up his first winning season in Boston and the first winning campaign of his NBA coaching career, Stevens brought some perspective to the table. 

“The one thing that I will say is, I’ve felt like — especially in the last year, 14 months, whatever it is — that we really — I feel like there’s real progress,” Stevens said. “And it’s been pretty consistent progress.  We’re certainly going to have our bad games and we’re certainly going to have games that are unique throughout an 82-game season, but there’s been good progress, there’s been good growth.  And that’s my biggest focus.” 

But then he repeated what he told Celtics TV reporter Abby Chin after the game. 

“It’s like I told Abby, you don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games. So we’ve got a long way to go.”

The Celtics have won three straight after a season-long four-game skid. They’re 42-30 and right in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and they beat a Raptors team that had their number in the first three games. 

“You’re focused on the next opponent, you’re trying to play your best against the next opponent, but certainly a team that’s beaten you three times, there’s a part of you that — a necessarily competitive side of you — that wants to play better. And our guys have some of that.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Toronto Raptors,
Even without Kyle Lowry, Raptors, Luis Scola present test for Celtics 03.23.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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The irony of the question was only apparent just before tipoff Wednesday night. 

Longtime Celtics beat writer Bill Doyle asked Brad Stevens what made the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so effective. DeRozan came in averaging 23.9 points per game while Lowry average stood at 21.9. 

“Really strong, physical, excellent athletes,” Stevens said. “Obviously, Lowry and DeRozan ability to hit really tough shots and get to the line at an elite rate. All those things combined is why they’re so difficult to defend. It’s easier said than done because they usually have a physical advantage on their position from a size standpoint and a strength standpoint. And then they don’t give up anything in athleticism and speed. So, it’s a really good duo but they’ve got other good players, too. It’s a heck of a team.”

Just before the start of the game, Lowry was scratched from the starting lineup as a precaution with a sore right elbow. He was dressed and available but expected to sit the game out. 

One player the Celtics wish would sit out, at least in the first quarter, is Luis Scola. The 36-year-old veteran from Argentina hit a pair of threes in the first six minutes. In the last two games against Boston, Scola has 30 points in the first quarter alone, including 17 last Friday in Toronto’s win. 

“He’s been really good in the first quarter of both of those games. I do think it’s one of those things where you have to go back and say, ‘OK, were we defending the right way? Why did he get his points? Are there things we can do different without overreacting and without saying, OK, those other two guys are critically important, too.’ Making sure you’re good on the glass is critically important and everything else.

“Scola is a good player. He’s been a good player for a long time. I think people and fans of international basketball knew it long before he came into the NBA. He’s given us fits the last two games, specifically in the first quarter.”

Even though Lowry sat out, the Raptors still have plenty to play for. They entered Wednesday’s game just 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East. The Celtics, at 41-30, are still in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the East, coming into play just .003 behind Miami. Problem is, the Celtics have lots of competition for that spot as they are tied with Charlotte and Atlanta. All three have 41-30 records. 

“It’s hard to be naive to it but I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I’ve got a general feel for where all the teams are. I don’t know the exact records. I don’t the exact tie-breakers and all that other stuff,” Stevens said. 

“We’ve said all year the East is deep and the East has been good and you’re going to have to play well through 82 games to get into the playoffs. Here we are.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, NBA
Jae Crowder takes some steps, Kelly Olynyk showing off some D 03.23.16 at 7:26 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden on Mar. 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder continues to take some small steps on his way back from the high sprain of his right ankle that forced him to miss his sixth straight game Wednesday night against the Raptors.

“He shot [Tuesday] with [assistant coach] Jamie Young for a while,” Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Toronto. “He shot pregame today but from what I’ve been told, I don’t think there’s any movement shooting. I think it’s just spot shooting so no real update. He’s going to go on our trip. I don’t want to put a timeline on him but I don’t anticipate him playing early in the trip.”

Stevens was asked if he thinks Crowder’s uncertainly might leave the Celtics a bit shorthanded on the five-game trip out West.

“I don’t think so right now. Obviously, if we have more issues, we’ll address as we move forward.” 

The Celtics sent Coty Clarke and James Young on the trip out to Texas for games Wednesday and Friday. They are expected to join the Celtics when they begin their trip in Phoenix Saturday night. 

“I expect them to, yeah. I haven’t talked to Danny [Ainge] yet. They play on their trip and then they’re going to hop over and join us after that,” Stevens said. 

One of the keys to the Celtics keeping pace without Crowder is the continued play of Kelly Olynyk. On Monday, Olynyk scored 22 points off the bench against the Magic. But his defense also made an impact on Stevens. 

“I think he’s a position player. He’s a guy that can keep people in front of him,” Stevens said. “He actually switches better than people think. He’s got pretty good feet on the perimeter and he’s good in our pick-and-roll system. Kelly’s greatest strength on the defensive end is adding to the team defense.

“He’ s a guy that’s been here three years and a guy with that kind of size and understands the game and feels good about the game. The game has slowed down for him in some ways and that can have a good impact.”

As anyone knows who watches the Celtics, shot-blocking is not Olynyk’s expertise. He has just 31 blocks in 58 games this season. 

“It’s not fair to compare him to a 7-foot shot blocker because he’s not a shot blocker,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that has to use position, has to use his base, his feet and move and keep guys in front of him, and make the right play. He took the charge in Philly the other night with great positioning. The other day against Orlando, he had some great positioning plays. So, I think it’s a lot less about height. It’s a lot more about being in his stance and playing low and playing lower longer than the guy he’s playing against.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
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