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Why Al Horford taking just 5 shots in a game is ‘unacceptable’ 12.01.16 at 11:14 am ET
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After Wednesday’s loss to the Pistons, the first stat that jumped out at Brad Stevens when he looked at the white piece of paper with the box score on it was in the middle of the line for his $113 million man. 

The Celtics were able to get Horford just five shots in 31 minutes of play in his first game back from becoming a father for the second time. He wasn’t tired. He just didn’t get the ball. Why?

“That’s a good question, and that’s the first thing I saw when I looked at the stat sheet,” Stevens said following a 121-114 loss to the Detroit Pistons at TD Garden. “It’s not enough. I know that. So we need to do a better job of making sure that we help put him in position to be successful.”

Jae Crowder termed five shots for his fellow big as “unacceptable,” noting the team has to find better ways for Horford to get his shots. 

Horford had one most assist (4) than shots made (3). Horford’s a great passer for a big man but that’s not what they’re paying him for. 

“Yeah that has happened before,” Horford said. “I think that I probably could’ve got more shots but at the end of the day we needed to be better on the defensive end and we just didn’t get the job done on defense.”

The last time Horford playing a full game and took so few shots was last March 4 with the Hawks on the road against the Lakers. He was 2-for-5 in 26 minutes.  

The Celtics took a stunning 42 3-point field goal attempts on the night, including 10 from Crowder (2 made) eight apiece from Marcus Smart (2) and Avery Bradley (4). Horford sensed that Detroit, with its bigs like Andre Drummond, were intent on doubling him in the post and allowing the Celtics to fire away from deep.

“It was probably the way that they were playing us a little more,” Horford said. “They would double me a lot and forcing me to pass the ball out or on the pick and pops when we’ve been able to give me the ball up top their guards were even switching that tonight. I think it was just a mixture of that. As a team we just have to make sure that we move the ball. When we have high assists usually we have good nights.”

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Can the Celtics reel in Marcus Smart? Jae Crowder and Brad Stevens are working on it 11.29.16 at 8:15 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Jae Crowder could see and hear Miami coach Erik Spoestra trying an old trick Monday night to get under the skin of Marcus Smart. 

Crowder and everybody else familiar with Smart knows the third-year guard came out of Oklahoma State with a reputation for letting his intensity turn into anger and frustration, eventually leading to technical fouls or worse. 

“It’s funny because I was telling him [Monday] during the game, Spoelstra was saying, ‘He’s a hothead. He’s a hothead.’ So obviously that was part of the game plane to try to get under his skin a little bit,” Crowder said with a brotherly smile after practice Tuesday.

“A lot of teams know he wears his emotions on his sleeves so they’re going to do stuff like that. And you just have to be more cautious of it and know that it’s just a game they’re trying to play with him. I’m sure as the season goes on he’ll be more aware of it. And hopefully he gets better.”

Tired of getting hacked by Goran Dragic, Smart indeed took a technical foul when he complained about a double-foul with 2:26 left in the game. There’s clearly a fine line for Smart to walk and always has been since he came into the NBA in 2014. 

“I was begging for Spoelstra to get a technical foul because he was saying a lot of stuff. He was everywhere last night, but that’s one of the things he did say. When they went to intentional foul Marcus it was obvious that what they were trying to do was more than just foul. They were trying to get under his skin and play a little physical, and knowing he wanted to retaliate for the most part. So it’s just part of the scouting report on I guess Marcus that he wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

Crowder got his wish when Spoelstra was finally T’d up with 2:11 left as the Celtics pulled away for the 112-104 win. 

“It’s a very fine [line]. He as a person, as an individual, has to control it,” Crowder said. “We as teammates can keep being on him about it, but it’s about him and being able to control it. A lot of players and coaches in this league know he’s an emotional type of guy, so they’re going to try to do everything they can to get under his skin and in his head. But he has to want to put his pride aside and put his emotions aside for the team’s sake. And take care of business.”

Can Crowder see a maturity in Smart?

“Of course. He has not gone backwards in that regard,” Crowder said. “But he’s playing more minutes now than he was when he was a rookie. He’s playing a bigger role now, so we need him to be more locked in on that standpoint. You can’t just give away points at the free throw line on technicals and flagrants and stuff like that. So, we’ll keep pounding it in his head, and he keeps [telling] us he wants to change, so he’ll get better, hopefully.” 

Brad Stevens is also keeping a close eye on Smart’s on-court intensity. 

“I think toughness is such a critical component of a team and everybody brings their own levels of skill to the table and everything else but you have to have a competitiveness and an ability to figure out a way to win that possession,” Stevens said. “He’s able to do that on a lot of possessions.”

There’s an obvious irony to what happened Monday as it’s usually Smart and his intense defense that agitates and gets opposing players out of their game. 

“Well, he plays physical. For the most part, a lot of guys don’t like to play physical,” Crowder said. “They want an easy-flowing game and Marcus don’t play like that. That alone just gets under guys’ skin, just him playing physical and him being a presence on the basketball court with his body and his stature. A lot of players don’t like it. [Hassan] Whiteside is one of those guys who doesn’t like to play that physical. He likes to play physical as long as guys don’t play physical back with him. So, he didn’t like the foul Marcus laid on him late in the first quarter.”

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Celtics notes: Al Horford doesn’t ‘really read into’ criticism over paternal leave, Brad Stevens has his back 11.29.16 at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM — There were some who criticized Celtics star center Al Horford for taking a one-game leave of absence Monday to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, Alia. Horford clearly wasn’t bothered and had his priorities in line. 

“I don’t really read into anything. I don’t read Twitter and stuff, and the radio and all that,” Horford said after rejoining the team for practice Tuesday. “I just kind of focus on the court, on my job here, and then off the court on my family.

“Everybody has their opinion. I respect anything that anybody has to say. I care a lot about the group and our guys. For my family’s sake, it was important for me to be there for them. Just with our transition and everything. So that’s that. Now I can put that behind me and get focused again on [Wednesday] night.”

The Celtics, the team paying Horford $113 million over four seasons, made it clear Tuesday, the day after Horford missed Boston’s 112-104 win in Miami, that they had no such issues with the one-game leave. 

“I don’t know from a culture standpoint as much as it is just I think our greatest responsibilities are as sons, husbands, fathers. I think that’s your No. 1 job,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’re thrilled for the Horfords and we’re thrilled to have Al back at practice today and be ready to go tomorrow. Obviously, family is really really important.”

Horford and former Miss Universe (2003), Amelia Vega married in 2011 and had their first child, a son named Ean Horford Vega in Feb. 2015.

“It means a lot. My family’s very important to me,” Horford said. “For me. I’m in more of a unique situation because this is our first year hear and my wife, we all moved in the middle of the pregnancy. And just a lot going on. So I just felt like it was important for me to really be there, supporting her. And we have a son as well. So for her, it’s been a lot thrown at her these past few months. So I know that it meant a lot for me to be there with her, and knowing our schedule ahead and everything. So I’m just very happy that the Celtics really take the time and they consider us not only as players but as people. And people that have families.”

And how is baby Alia?  

“Everybody’s healthy. That was the most important thing,” Horford said. “And she’s been great so far. Her and my wife, today she got released so she’s home and resting. The guys were supportive. It was hard for me but I felt like it was the right thing for me to be next to my wife. And they supported me throughout. That’s always helpful. Just excited. Everybody was happy to have me back. And I’m happy to be back here, and we can put everything behind and get looking forward ahead to [Wednesday’s] game.”

Horford did watch Monday’s game, in which Tyler Zeller started in place of Horford.

“I was able to watch it and I was just very proud with our guys, how they responded,” Horford said. “I feel like in our short season already we haven’t been fully available, all of us, through all the games. It’s just impressive to see a guy like Isaiah not making any excuses. And the list goes on. Not only Isaiah. All the other guys, but everybody just making sure they go in and they put in the work. And they don’t make excuses.

“I’m looking forward for us to keep getting better as a group. The encouraging thing is that there’s a lot of room for growth with our group. Now we have some tough tests ahead, and I’m just looking forward to get it rolling. I waited long enough throughout the summer. Now that I’m here, now we can finally really get focused on that.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Full Court Press: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, Bill Belichick and link 3 share, Isaiah Thomas ‘a tricky little dude’ and nasty David Lee 11.26.16 at 6:36 am ET
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Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Celtics at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Philadelphia, they “trust the process.” In Boston, where they are light years ahead in the NBA galaxy, it’s not the process but the system that matters.

And Brad Stevens has two mentors that have set the standard in two professional sports.

This past spring, Belichick was the guest of the Celtics and Stevens courtside at the end of the regular season and in the three home playoff games against Atlanta.

In the fall, Belichick invited Stevens to speak at his foundation’s event and said it was actually the 39-year-old Celtics coach who provided “a lot of insight” into coaching. Stevens said Belichick was very supportive and offered advice.

On Friday, one of the people Belichick respects the most in the coaching ranks, Gregg Popovich, was in town. The two have had lengthy conversations in the past about coaching and what it is to manage modern-day pro athletes. Belichick and Popovich are the two undisputed kings of coaching in their respective sports and Brad Stevens has a relationship with both.

Popovich has five rings and six NBA finals appearances with the Spurs, and Belichick has four rings and six Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots.

Now that Stevens — in his fourth NBA season — is the coach of a team with expectations to make a run into the NBA stratosphere that includes perennial power San Antonio, Friday provided a good chance for Stevens to measure up to what Popovich has built over the last 20 years in San Antonio. 

“I talk to him occasionally,” Stevens said before Friday’s matinee. “But I’ve said this before, he’s always been very kind, open and helpful whenever I’ve called or needed something. Couldn’t respect a coach or a person more.

“I just think they have a clear way of doing things with regard to every detail matters, every possession matters on both sides of the ball. They’ve always had an emphasis on skilled players, but sometimes those guys come in different positions. And they’re just outstanding at what they do.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Brad Stevens, Celtics get a harsh lesson from Spurs on the art of finishing 11.25.16 at 8:51 pm ET
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There was so much positive to take for the Celtics Friday in the first 46 minutes.

They hung neck and neck with the best road team in basketball and one of the great franchises in all of sports for the last two decades.

They jumped out to a 24-10 lead. They shutdown three of San Antonio’s best players for most of the game, forcing Gregg Popovich to turn to his bench in crunch time against Boston’s starters.

But then the Celtics realized what so many others have found out when playing the Spurs: If you don’t finish, you usually don’t win. And the Celtics lost 109-103 at TD Garden.

In the final two minutes Friday afternoon, the Celtics had the crowd on its feet as they closed an eight-point hole to just three with 90 seconds left. But with just 44 seconds left, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart miscommunicated and found themselves guarding space in the paint instead of Patty Mills. Mills drained the three and it was a six-point game again. Then the Celtics battled back again. They had the lead down to 107-103 with 35 seconds left. Instead of fouling, Brad Stevens decided to have his team play good defense. They did. One problem: They didn’t box out LaMarcus Aldridge, who got the offensive rebound and helped the Spurs kill the rest of the clock.

“Well we didn’t rebound a couple of big shots and then I thought obviously losing Mills in the corner was a big play,” Stevens said. “They’re a hard team to guard. I thought we missed a couple of opportunities on both ends.

“I think home, road, 20 years whatever its been they finish; its who they are, it’s what they do. They have excellent players, obviously and excellent system and style of play and got great play off their bench tonight. I thought their bench was the biggest difference in the game scoring 56 points total and when you combine that with the rebounding when you’re minus 9, which hopefully you can manage that and be a little bit closer even with the size difference. We have to play a little bit better to win that game against a really good team.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Celtics notes pregame Friday: Brad Stevens starting to see what his team is like healthy 11.25.16 at 12:53 pm ET
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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins over the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nets to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously, we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Full Court Press: Sounding the alarm, Isaiah Thomas calls out coaches, IT can’t keep bailing C’s out 11.19.16 at 9:57 am ET
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Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to get between Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been Isaiah Thomas or nothing this season for the Celtics. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The imagery was too rich. Moments after Friday’s 104-88 wipeout at the hands of the Warriors, fire alarms were going off all around TD Garden. Fire trucks had trouble getting down the side streets leading up to the Garden to turn off the annoying sounds that delayed Brad Stevens’ postgame explanation of the mess. 

Turns out, a grill on the fourth floor malfunctioned and overheated, setting off the 20-minute disruption. 

If only fixing the Celtics were that easy. But we’ll try. 

1. Shorten the bench. From early on in camp, the thought was that having a deep bench could strengthen rotations for Brad Stevens. It hasn’t worked that way. The bench is not producing enough and is getting constantly outdone by the opposing group of reserves. On Friday, three players on the bench had at least 23 minutes. Part of that was because of garbage time in the fourth and part of it was traveling to Detroit after the game for a back-to-back Saturday. A good three or four man rotation off the bench is the sweet spot for most NBA teams and the return of Jae Crowder and Al Horford should help that. 

2. Pray for health. The Celtics have been admittedly hard hit by injuries early in the season. Crowder (left ankle) and Horford (concussion) have missed most of the season while Marcus Smart dinged his left ankle Friday night. Crowder and Horford should return on the trip while the prognosis for Smart does not seem dire. When you’re missing two-thirds of your starting front court, there is going to be a problem.  The Celtics have been using this as a bit of crutch but it’s been a legitimate issue that has stunted their ability to improve early on. 

3. Bench Kelly Olynyk. He spaces the floor but at some point, when you’re 0-for-5 as a finesse big man and have grab three rebounds in 17 minutes, the message needs to be sent. The Celtics can’t afford his finesse game right now. They need bigs who will get dirty. Olynyk is heading back to the bench and he should probably stay there until the 7-footer shows the ability and determination to help on the inside. Stevens certainly sounds like he’s going to try and support Olynyk on board for as long as he needs him. “Kelly, I thought, has always done a lot of good things for us. There’s some tough match-ups out there [Friday] and I think that he’s had better games; he’d be the first to tell you. But he’s been a good player for us.”

4. Press more and create transition. This is a team with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Smart. When they’re on the court, they should limit their half-court exposure and use their quickness to their advantage. With Crowder and Horford out, Stevens tried going with Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller to match up big for big. That didn’t work. They went to Smart to guard much bigger bigs. Not a bad idea considering he’s the healthiest low-post defender. In half-court, trapping more couldn’t hurt. They desperately need to create turnovers and transition offense for easy baskets, a category they dominated last spring when they made a run to 48 wins. 

5. Get to the basket. The Celtics are taking 30 threes a game, making 10 of them. The instant gratification from that is great. Here’s the problem: They’re not drawing fouls on the opposition and, outside of Isaiah Thomas (9/9 Friday) they’re not getting to the free throw line. Thomas is fifth in the league getting to the line, averaging 10 free throws a game, making 9. The inside game of the Celtics is lacking and that takes some dirty work. Do the dirty work, get to the line and rebound. All of that happens when there’s more of an inside commitment. 

Attitude problem:

Isaiah Thomas finally had enough after Friday’s 104-88 embarrassment on national TV to would-be Celtic Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics were humiliated 31-9 in the third quarter, a period that featured an 18-0 run by the Warriors. The Celtics were an abysmal 2-of-17 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Al Horford or no Al Horford, Jae Crowder or no Jae Crowder, those numbers are appalling.

“We know we have two of our key players out and that’s no excuse but we were in the game for one half,” Thomas said. “Everybody seen that third quarter open it up. So if you take away that third quarter and play as close to 48 minutes as possible, we’d still be in the game. You can’t let a team like that go on a run like that and expect to come back.

And what’s more concerning is the lack of consistency the Celtics have shown over a 6-6 start to the season. Opposing teams aren’t just snubbing the Celtics like Durant, they’re rubbing their noses in it like Durant’s front court colleague Zaza Pachulia, who did a dance after a 17-footer that capped the 18-0 spurt. That shot made it 79-51. 

“Yeah. At that point, the game is turned around,” Thomas said. “I guess we we gave up. I mean, coaching staff as well. We started subbing, it was bad. Especially, I only played 27 minutes. We gave up.”

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