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Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics wave Kobe Bryant goodbye, clinch playoff spot 04.03.16 at 11:59 pm ET
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Kobe Bryant shoots over Celtics forward Jae Crowder during first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Kobe Bryant shoots over Celtics forward Jae Crowder during the first half Sunday night at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Beating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and clinching a playoff spot proved to be a little more than mere formality for the Celtics on Sunday night. 

Isaiah Thomas scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half and Jae Crowder added 22 as the Celtics turned back the 16-win Lakers, 107-100, at Staples Center. In his final game ever against Boston, Bryant went out on a strong note. He scored 18 of his 34 points in the first half to keep the Lakers close. 

As for Thomas, who played in front of his friend and boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, he matched Paul Pierce’s 2005-06 mark of 16 straight games with at least 20 points. 

The Celtics improve to 45-32 and are tied with the Hawks for third in the East. 

Bryant, who finished 11-of-28 from the field, came out clearly with a point to prove in his final game ever against the Celtics. He made his first shot, a 12-foot left wing jumper over Crowder just 64 seconds into the game. He made just two of his six first-quarter shots from the floor but converted all six attempts at the line for 11 points. 

The Celtics, thanks in large part to red-hot shooting to start the game, built an early lead of nine points twice, including 29-20. The Celtics hit seven of their first 10 shots before cooling off to 59 percent by the end of the first quarter. Thomas and Amir Johnson each had eight points in the opening quarter as Boston led 31-26. After a layup by the Lakers just 12 seconds into the second quarter, a disgusted Brad Stevens called a timeout to regroup his troops.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Floyd Mayweather, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant
Avery Bradley (personal) not with team, Jae Crowder returns to starting lineup vs. Lakers 04.03.16 at 9:18 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

The Celtics will have to avoid a massive letdown without the services of Avery Bradley. 

Coach Brad Stevens confirmed before the game in Los Angeles that the best defensive player in the starting lineup will not be with the team due to personal reasons. 

Taking Bradley’s place in the starting lineup will be Evan Turner, getting a start for the eighth time in nine games. This start, however, will be at a different position than the previous seven, where he started for Jae Crowder. 

“Evan has started the better part of the last couple of weeks because Jae has only been here for one game, so I think that keeps him in that role and in that rhythm and then we’ll figure it out from there,” Brad Stevens told reporters before Sunday’s game. 

Crowder will be returning to the starting lineup after missing Friday’s game against the Warriors in Oakland. 

Stevens also explained why Turner has been such a versatile player over the course of the last three weeks. 

“The 2s and 3s do the exact same things for us, so it doesn’t have any impact as far as knowing what’s coming or understanding the plays or whatever the case may be,” Stevens added. “It’s a pretty seamless transition, because he’s going to guard all three spots, which he usually does.”

Turner has averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in his last seven starts. He scored 21 points in Friday’s shocker in Oakland, grabbed five rebounds, and had five assists. He scored 10 points during the final quarter, including a couple of key clutch jumpers. 

There will be others expected to step up their game, also. 

“Terry (Rozier) has played a lot more than he had earlier in the season and he and Marcus (Smart) have given us good things together especially with the ability to make physical plays, defend, rebound, those type of things that we need our guards to do to be the best team that we can be,” said Stevens. “It’s one of those things where we haven’t been a great rebounding team, so playing those guys together helps shore that up a little bit.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder
Isaiah Thomas changes shoes at half, sparks ‘one of funnest games’ in his career 04.02.16 at 3:12 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) and forward Draymond Green (23) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas shoots the basketball against Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) and forward Draymond Green (23) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

When things weren”t going well Friday night in Oakland, Isaiah Thomas didn’t look at his hands. He looked at his feet. 

After going 0-for-7 from the floor with five assists in the first half, Thomas decided to not take things into his own hands, he decided to change his shoes.

“I switched my shoes,” Thomas told ESPN’s J.A. Adande on the court after the Celtics stunned the NBA world with a 109-106 win over the 68-win Warriors at Oracle Arena. “Them other shoes didn’t have any buckets in them. I always know the All-Star Kobes will give me some type of buckets.” 

Of course, the irony there is that Thomas and the Celtics finish the road trip Sunday night in Los Angeles against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. 

With a new pair of shoes on his feet, he went out and torched the Warriors for 18 points in the third quarter and finished with a team-leading 22 points, giving him 15 straight games with at least 20 points, one shy of Paul Pierce’s mark in 2005-06 and extending his franchise record to 15 games as the team’s leading scorer. 

“This says a lot about this team,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “Hopefully, it gives us some confidence to end the season off the right way and play at a high level.”

The Celtics took the best shot from the Warriors down the stretch, leading by 10 points with six minutes left only to see the Warriors make a predictable run in the final two minutes. 

“That was one of the funnest games I’ve been a part of just because every time they hit us with something, we hit them right back,” Thomas said. “Usually, teams don’t do that. That’s when they usually go on their run. 

“For me, personally, I stayed aggressive, stayed the course. My teammates kept confidence in me and wanted me to be in attack mode. And then things started to open up. Different guys, every guy down the line, made a key play in this win.”

Perhaps most satisfying is how Thomas and the Celtics put Thursday’s 116-109 loss in Portland behind them. 

“Man, it was tough [Thursday] night. We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Thomas said of the loss against Portland. “We felt like we should’ve won. We end up losing. And then knowing that we had to play the defending champs, it wasn’t getting any easier. It says a lot about this team and knowing that we can turn the page as quick as needed.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Portland Trail Blazers,
Is Brad Stevens now the front-runner in NBA coach of the year race? 04.02.16 at 2:31 am ET
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Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It might be time to call Brad Stevens the front-runner in the race for NBA coach of the year. 

After all, his team, missing its most versatile defender on the court, was able to pull off something no other team in the NBA had been able to do since Jan. 27, 2015. 

In beating the Golden State Warriors Friday night, 109-106, without Jae Crowder, the Celtics ended Golden State’s regular season home win streak at 54 games and gave Stevens the signature win to date of his three-year tenure in Boston. The Celtics became the first team since San Antonio on Nov. 11, 2014 to beat the Warriors in regulation in a regular season game in Oakland. 

The Celtics, who improved to 44-32, withstood charge after charge down the stretch from the record-hungry Warriors, who fell to 68-8 on the season. They withstood Steph Curry going off for 21 of his 29 points in the third quarter. Stevens got Thomas involved in the offense early in the third quarter, as Thomas scored his first 18 points of the game in the period. Stevens diagramed play after play, including the game-clincher, an side inbounds from Marcus Smart to Thomas for a layup with 8.3 seconds left in the game. 

“It was a heck of a game,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “When Curry got going in the third quarter, the biggest moments of the game were us scoring consecutively when he scored because when he got going, that’s usually when they run away with a 10-0 run or a 12-0 run. We had to play. Guys had to play really well. We didn’t have a guy play poorly. That’s what it takes to beat a team like this. They’re outstanding.”

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Stevens had his team ready just 24 hours after a 116-109 grueling loss in Portland. 

“I think the biggest meaning is the idea that we can bounce back from a night like [Thursday] night where we expended a considerable amount of energy and came up short, flew here, got in late and came to compete again,” Stevens said. “I thought that probably the other biggest moment of the game was when we were struggling to score in the second quarter, they weren’t scoring a ton and kind of kept us in the game. We were fortunate to win but at the same time, we made a lot of plays to win the game.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Golden State Warriors, NBA
Studs and Duds: Celtics shock Warriors, end longest home winning streak in pro sports history 04.02.16 at 1:06 am ET
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Jared Sullinger shoots the basketball against Warriors guard Klay Thompson during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

Jared Sullinger shoots the basketball against Warriors guard Klay Thompson during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. (Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics pulled off the unthinkable Friday night in epic fashion.

Playing without Jae Crowder, Boston got 22 points from Isaiah Thomas, 21 points from Evan Turner and 20 points and 12 rebounds from Jared Sullinger to lead the Celtics to a 109-106 win over the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena, ending the longest home winning streak in major pro sports history.

Steph Curry got a clean look in the final seconds at a potential game-tying three. The shot rimmed out and the Celtics had their best win of the season and the signature win of the three-year Brad Stevens era.

The Warriors, who committed 22 turnovers, had won 54 straight regular season games at home and hadn’t lost on their home court since Jan. 27, 2015, when they fell in overtime to the Bulls. The Warriors last lost on their home court in Game 2 of the NBA finals last June to the Cavaliers. The win also avenges Boston’s heartbreaking double-overtime loss to the Warriors on Dec. 11 at TD Garden. 

It was just Golden State’s eighth loss of the season, dropping them to 68-8 on the season. They must win five of their final six games to break the record of the 1996 Chicago Bulls. 

The win improves the Celtics to 44-32 on the season and pull to within a half-game of the Hawks (45-32), who lost in overtime to the Cavaliers Friday night. 

The Warriors came out gunslinging. Their first three field goals were 3-pointers, racing out to leads of 6-0 and 9-4. But that gunslinging mentality also led to six turnovers in the first six minutes, five of which were committed by Steph Curry. 

Thanks to great defense from Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart, the Celtics were able to hold the combination of Curry and Klay Thompson scoreless until Curry’s 3 with 4.3 seconds left in the first quarter, a trey that gave the Warriors a 23-21 lead after the opening 12 minutes. The Warriors finished the first quarter with eight turnovers. 

The Celtics were killing themselves at the free throw line, missing six of their first 11 attempts. The Warriors took a 35-28 lead but the Celtics scored the next eight points to take a one-point lead, capped by an Evan Turner three with 3:01 left in the first half. Curry’s second three ended the Celtics’ run. The Warriors continued their remarkably sloppy play with the ball in the second quarter, committing five more turnovers and 13 for the first half. Avery Bradley’s three with 2.3 seconds left in the first half gave Boston a 45-43 lead heading to the locker room. 

Curry had just two field goals (both threes) and six points in the first half, while committing seven turnovers. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Golden State Warriors, Isaiah Turner
Jae Crowder (rest) to sit out against Warriors 04.01.16 at 8:07 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

As expected, Jae Crowder will not play tonight in Oakland as the Celtics try to stun the Warriors. 

The forward returned Thursday in Portland from an eight-game absence due to a high ankle sprain. In his first game back, he collected a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He will sit out against the 68-7 Warriors to rest his ankle and let the healing continue. 

Crowder had indicated Thursday morning in Portland that he likely would not be able to play in back-to-back games and that his preference would be to play the lower-tempo Blazers rather than the high-octane Warriors. 

In the first meeting with the Warriors on Dec. 11 at TD Garden, Crowder had 15 points and five rebounds in a team high 47 minutes, 47 seconds of action. The Celtics lost that game, 124-119, in double-overtime.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Jae Crowder,
Avery Bradley, Celtics look forward to challenge of 68-7 Warriors: ‘That’s what I play basketball for’ 04.01.16 at 2:08 am ET
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Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots over Celtics guard Avery Bradley during the first half at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Warriors guard Stephen Curry shoots over Celtics guard Avery Bradley during the first half of their game at TD Garden in December. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Even though they suffered an emotionally draining loss in Portland, the Celtics say they’re ready for the biggest challenge of the season Friday night in Oakland.

The 43-32 Celtics will be going up against the 68-7 Warriors, who are in the midst of an NBA-record 54-game home winning streak, including a perfect 36-0 this season.

“It’s fun. That’s what I play basketball for every single night — to go up against the best players,” Avery Bradley said after Thursday’s 116-109 loss in Portland.

The last time the Celtics and Warriors met, Golden State was on another amazing streak. Heading into their Dec. 11 meeting at TD Garden, the Warriors had won 23 straight to open the season. They extended the streak to 24 but barely, outlasting the Celtics, 124-119, in double overtime. Steph Curry scored 38 points while Draymond Green added 24 as the Warriors improved to 24-0.

That streak ended the next night in Milwaukee but the Celtics made their case that they were legit this season. 

Now, Isaiah Thomas takes one look at the Eastern Conference standings and sees more urgency. Thursday’s loss dropped Boston to sixth place, a game behind the Heat and the Hornets in the loss column.

“We’ve got to win,” Thomas said.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Isaiah Thomas
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