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Marcus Smart on his ill-fated 3-pointer: ‘I didn’t want to end the game without a shot’ 02.24.16 at 6:48 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Marcus Smart wasn’t going to apologize Wednesday for his last-second miss Monday night in Minnesota. 

With 5.3 seconds left in regulation, the Celtics were down just 124-122 and had clawed all the way back to within two points, after trailing by 14 just three minutes earlier. 

Smart, who was wide open in the backcourt, took an inbounds pass just before mid-court and dribbled up the right side. He was by himself until the timeline when Ricky Rubio cheated over and defended him. What Smart didn’t see because of Rubio was Isaiah Thomas all alone on the left wing.

Instead of passing to the better shooter, Smart took a 30-foot 3-pointer that fell short off the front rim and the Celtics lost. Should he have taken it closer to the basket? Should he have dished to the open Thomas? On Wednesday, following practice, Smart gave his explanation. 

“When I caught it, I caught it so deep, with the amount of time I had, I was getting it up the court and I was looking for somebody. But Rubio played in the middle. I really didn’t see [anybody] open. He really didn’t commit to me until the last [moment] as I was going up for the shot. And by that time, there wasn’t enough time to make another pass, in my eyes that I felt, to another teammate.”

It was perhaps a lucky stroke for Minnesota that Boston inbounded to Smart instead of finding Thomas to drive the length of the court. 

“I at least wanted to get a shot up. I didn’t want end the game without a shot. So, I thought I took the best shot that was available,” Smart added. 

Thomas, at 34.8 percent, is a better choice for a long-range shot than Smart, who is converting 28 percent of his chances from long distance this season. But as Smart himself explained Wednesday, sometimes time is not on your side. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart,
Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart dealing with shooting hand injuries 02.24.16 at 3:44 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas speaks Wednesday after Celtics practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Isaiah Thomas speaks Wednesday after Celtics practice. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

WALTHAM — The Celtics returned from their three-game Western swing banged up, but Brad Stevens is holding out hope that both Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart will be ready to go when they take the court Thursday night against the Bucks

Thomas was icing his left wrist during practice Wednesday and did not participate, while Smart had his right hand wrapped, protecting the thumb that was dinged up during the trip. 

“It was sore enough that we sat out today but we expect him to play tomorrow,” Stevens said of Thomas after Wednesday’s rather intense 90-minute practice. 

“We would not play him if it were a long-term concern. No way.”

Thomas fell on the wrist following a layup early in the game Sunday night in Denver and began shaking his left hand. Immediately thereafter, he drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing. 

“I fell on my wrist a few times so it kind of flared up on me. Just trying to rest it and get some treatment,” Thomas said. “They wanted me to sit out and rest it. It got swollen on me the other night. Just being cautious of it because I’ve had two procedures on it. Just trying to get the swelling out.” 

Thomas said he has no further tests planned on the wrist. 

Another member of the wounded included Amir Johnson, who practiced Wednesday despite getting several stitches in the middle of his forehead from a collision Monday night in Minnesota. Funny thing is, Johnson doesn’t even remember when it happened. 

“I have no idea when it happened or how,” Johnson recalled after practice. “I just remember blood dripping down from the cut.” 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart,
Avery Bradley: ‘We didn’t play hard enough, consistently’ 02.23.16 at 12:20 am ET
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Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) is fouled by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) in the fourth quarter Monday night. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) is fouled by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) in the fourth quarter Monday night. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics nearly pulled off a miracle Monday night in Minneapolis.

But when Marcus Smart’s potential game-winning three fell short at the final buzzer, the Celtics were left to wonder why they couldn’t beat a Timberwolves team that came in with a 17-39 record.

“I feel like we can learn a lot from this game. We didn’t play hard enough, consistently, throughout the whole game,” said Avery Bradley, who scored 22 points in the 124-122 loss. “That’s the real reason we lost. We gave ourselves a chance.”

Bradley gave the Celtics a real shot when his three with 6.2 seconds left drew the Celtics to within one, 123-122. But after a Zach LaVine free throw, Smart dribbled up the right side and instead of dishing to a wide open Isaiah Thomas, he decided to pull up for a three of his own that fell short off the front iron.

“The last play, or anything like that, that wasn’t the reason we lost the game,” Bradley told reporters afterward. “We just weren’t playing hard enough on a consistent basis.”

The Celtics went small late in an effort to spread the court and space out the Minnesota bigs, who the Celtics couldn’t handle all night. Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds while Gorgui Dieng added 17 points and 12 boards.

“They’re a young, athletic team as well. We let their young guys get going early, and it was hard to slow them down, to be honest,” Bradley said.

Towns served notice early that he was going to be a force, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the opening quarter.

“Yeah, we had no answer for him. We had no answer for him in any type of isolation I thought,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “That’s why we went zone for a couple of possessions, and actually played it pretty well. And then we just trapped everything late and played five guards and just tried to fly around. The problem with that was obviously rebounding.

“Towns had his way with us the whole night and obviously, their other guys did, too. Certainly, he stood out.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Karl-Anthony Towns
Report: Celtics among 3 teams interested in rebounding force Reggie Evans 02.22.16 at 11:41 pm ET
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Reggie Evans (30) has been a rebounding force in his NBA career. (Ed Szczepanski/USA Today Sports)

Reggie Evans (30) has been a rebounding force in his NBA career. (Ed Szczepanski/USA Today Sports)

Maybe getting pounded and outworked Monday night in Minnesota will force Danny Ainge to bring in some veteran help off the street.

According to Moke Hamilton of Bleacher Report, the Celtics are among a trio of teams that have expressed interest in 35-year-old veteran Reggie Evans. The Heat and Rockets have also inquired about Evans’ availability and potential desire.

The power forward, who hasn’t played this season, could fill a roster spot left open by the release of David Lee (now with the Dallas Mavericks).

Evans has averaged 7.1 rebounds over a career that has included stops in Seattle, Denver, Philadelphia, Toronto, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Sacramento.

Just last season in Sacramento, he played in 47 games and averaged 6.4 rebounds. But more to the point, according to Basketball-Reference.com, he hauled in a stunning 22.2 percent of all available rebounds, which would have placed him third in that category in the league.

Monday night, the Celtics were out-rebounded 51-38, including 15-10 on the offensive glass. That led to a 26-12 edge for Minnesota in second-chance points.

“I just thought we physically got handled, especially by [Karl-Anthony] Towns and [Gorgui] Dieng in the interior,” coach Brad Stevens said after the 124-122 loss in Minnesota. “They really hurt us in the interior and on the glass, and that’s been a little bit of an issue for us anyways throughout the year. Then the fouling is just kind of the icing on the cake.”

 

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Studs and Duds: Celtics clawed by Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns 02.22.16 at 10:42 pm ET
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Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl Anthony Towns (32) shoots against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) in the first quarter at Target Center. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl Anthony Towns (32) shoots against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) in the first quarter at Target Center. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics had their moments Monday night. But not nearly enough to overcome an inconsistent road effort against a young and talented lottery-bound team. 

Karl-Anthony Towns, the No. 1 overall pick last June, scored 28 points and hauled in 13 rebounds while Gorgui Dieng hit a key third quarter buzzer-beating 3-pointer as part of a double-double (17 points, 11 rebounds) to lead the Timberwolves past the Celtics, 124-122, Monday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

Jae Crowder led Boston with a career-high 27 while Avery Bradley hit for 19 points for the Celtics, who finished 1-2 on their road trip and fell to 33-25. 

Marcus Smart, who had an open Isaiah Thomas on his left, had a chance to win it at the buzzer but his contested pull-up three fell short. The Celtics finished the game on a 20-8 run, including an Avery Bradley three with six seconds left that cut the deficit to one, 123-122.

As well as the Celtics started a night earlier in Denver, Boston looked awful in the first 10 minutes of the game. Minnesota (18-39) started out shooting 11-of-14 from the field and out-rebounding the Celtics, 17-7. They built a 31-15 lead. 

Towns showed why he’s the franchise player in Minnesota in the opening quarter, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds. But the Celtics finished the quarter on an 8-0 to cut the deficit to 31-23 heading into the second quarter. Smart provided some key energy off the bench with three steals, including one a clear path with 1.4 seconds left in the quarter that help the Celtics close the gap. 

Bradley hit a three and Smart a runner as the Celtics opened the second quarter the way they ended the first, scoring the first nine points for a 17-0 run that gave them their first lead of the game, 32-31. As was the case 24 hours earlier in Denver, Boston’s bench was key, outscoring Minnesota 16-1 to start the game. After Boston took a 37-34 lead, Minnesota responded with an 18-4 run that had them scoring on eight straight possessions. 

Thomas missed his first seven shots before drilling a mid-range 15-footer with 1:48 left in the first half. The Celtics ended the first half on a 5-0 run to cut Minnesota’s lead to 59-53 at the break. The Wolves shot an improbable 61 percent on 25-of-41 shooting. 

Trailing 81-68 in the third quarter, Jae Crowder converted two consecutive three-point plays, one on a 3-pointer from the left wing and the other, a conventional one to cut the lead to 81-74 with just over three minutes left in the third. Crowder then drilled a straightaway jumper on the next possession. Crowder scored again on Boston’s next possession, part of his 16-point third-quarter that kept Boston close. But a killer 26-foot bank three from Dieng at the third quarter buzzer gave Minnesota a 93-84 lead heading into the fourth. 

Another play symbolized Boston’s frustration, trailing 111-100 with just over four minutes left, three Celtics were under the basket after a missed layup from Thomas. After a miss of a put-back by Evan Turner, three Celtics jumped up in the air and knocked the ball to the Wolves, who eventually built their lead back to 14. 

Former Celtics big man Kevin Garnett did not play for the Timberwolves due to a sore knee. He’s missed Minnesota’s last 12 games. 

After starting the post-All Star break portion of the schedule with three road games, the Celtics return home Thursday night against Milwaukee. 

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

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Karl-Anthony Towns did everything you would expect from an overall No. 1 NBA draft pick. He carried the Wolves in the opening quarter and the Celtics didn’t have an answer for him all night. Crowder was a runner-up, scoring a career-best 27 points and keeping the Celtics in the game in the third quarter. 

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Isaiah Thomas. It had to happen sometime. Thomas started the game missing his first seven attempts from the floor before hitting three in a row. He then missed his next three and could never get into an offensive rhythm all night. He finished 8-of-20 on the night.  

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Minnesota Timberwolves,
Brad Stevens: ‘There was a purpose, a good pride about us the whole day’ 02.21.16 at 9:13 pm ET
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Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

That was more like for Brad Stevens.

After ripping his team following a lackluster loss to the Jazz Friday night in Salt Lake City, the Celtics coach watched as his team raced out to a 20-point first-quarter lead and eventually held on for a 121-101 win over the Nuggets in Denver Sunday night.

The only cause for real concern came when the Nuggets closed to within five points, 67-62, early in the third quarter. But the Celtics responded with hustle and determination from the likes of Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley, highlighted by a play in the fourth quarter that put the Celtics up 97-82 and essentially put the game away.

“I thought we were really good [most of the game],” Stevens told reporters after the game. “I thought the end of the second quarter and start of the third we weren’t but I thought for the most part, we played 38 minutes about locked in as we’ve played in a while. You could tell there was a purpose, a good pride about us the whole day with everybody that played.

“We got really lucky. They missed a couple of those layups and could’ve cut it to three. I watched them play the Bulls. They were down 16 in the fourth and won. I watched them play the Pacers, it was 15-down, 15-up, 15-down and they win the game. They’re a team that goes on runs. They’re a hard team to stop when they go on a run. They’ve got good athletes.

“For whatever reason, they played really small at our place late, and gave us fits. They went to that 35 minutes out of 48. We had to match that.”

Stevens was very happy with the patience of Isaiah Thomas who was double-teamed most of the first half, before finishing with a team-high 22 points.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Denver Nuggets, Evan Turner
Jared Sullinger: ‘We played our butts off. We were five guys connected’ 02.21.16 at 8:27 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

With the Denver Nuggets looking to load up defensively and take away Isaiah Thomas, it was time for others in the Celtics offensive scheme to step up.

One of those who did exactly that in a 121-101 win over Denver Sunday night at the Pepsi Center was Jared Sullinger. The power forward came through with 16 points and 11 rebounds and was rolling off screens and hitting threes in the first half as the Celtics built a 26-point lead.

“I’m just blessed to have the ball bounce off the right way, I guess,” Sullinger told reporters afterward. What impressed Sullinger Sunday was how Thomas handled the early attention from Denver.

“I think he understands how his [points] will come when me, Amir [Johnson], Avery [Bradley], Jae [Crowder], when we make [adjustments], his is going to come because they’re going to have to adjust. He’s doing a great job of understanding when to go and when not to go. We just feed off of that.

“Just the way they were guarding and that’s just what the system spit out at the time. Our system is awesome because it just determines who’s going to score that night.”

And that system eventually gave Thomas his chances, finishing with 22 points and 12 assists. Overall, Sullinger said what meant the most to the Celtics was playing with a sense of urgency that wasn’t there in a loss in Utah Friday night.

“For sure. We played our butts off,” Sullinger said. “We were five guys connected. We got the rust off. We got the rust off and we’re looking to move forward.”

“Everybody needs a wake-up call. Even the best teams sometimes have wake-up calls. We understood what we have done the last couple of games and we stepped it up on defense.”

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