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Brad Stevens on Cleveland: ‘They’re the cream of the crop in the East for sure’ 03.05.16 at 2:44 am ET
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Celtics guard Avery Bradley (front) scores the winning basket against New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas (back) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Avery Bradley (front) scores the winning basket against New York Knicks forward Lance Thomas (back) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens is more than aware that his team will have its hands full Saturday night in Cleveland. 

After Avery Bradley hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer on Feb. 5, the Celtics walked away with a 104-103 victory. It was one of the signs that this Celtics team might just be legit. 

But this is a Cavaliers team that not only wants revenge but is trying to fend off No. 2 seed Toronto in the East, a Raptors team that’s just a 1.5 games back in the conference standings. The Celtics have a 5-game winning streak heading to Cleveland while the Cavaliers enter play with a 43-17 record. 

“[Saturday is] a new game; it’s its own separate entity,” Stevens said. “What happens – what happened the last time we were there and what happened in the last five games doesn’t factor in to how we play once the ball is tipped. And so the deal is we have to start better than we did last time when we played them; we were down 15 at the end of the first quarter, and hopefully don’t put ourselves in that position again.

“Obviously you’d like to have the same result but it’s very difficult; they’re the cream of the crop in the East for sure.”

After the Celtics held on Friday for a 105-104 win over the Knicks, giving them a 38-25 record, the biggest question in the locker room was how far could this Celtics team go in the spring? 

 “I think if we keep working hard, I think we got a chance in every game,” Tyler Zeller said. “Whether we execute at the end of the game will determine how far we can go, but I think as hard as we play and how well we are playing together we can go as far as we can as long as we execute.”

 Jae Crowder echoed the “sky is the limit” belief of Evan Turner, a belief Crowder said he’s had since preseason. 

“I think sky’s the limit, I said that in preseason,” Crowder said. “We are just taking it game by game right now, we’re not looking too far ahead. We’re just working on trying to get better with the little amount of games we have left before we enter postseason.”

Can the Celtics, still six games back in the loss column with only 19 games left, still think about catching the Raptors?

“Of course I think so,” Crowder said. “It’s just a matter of us locking in and not overlooking any opponent and taking care of our business day by day.”

“Anything can happen, anything especially with this team,” Isaiah Thomas added. “We’re going to try to, we’re going to play every game like its our last and try to get the highest seed possible.”

 How far does Thomas think this team can go?

 “I don’t know, I don’t know. We just really focused on the right now and focused on continuing to get better and let the cards fall where they may,” Thomas said. “We’re not a great team so that’s going to happen, but we got to limit those spots where played like we did tonight; where we weren’t talking, we weren’t engaged on both ends of the floor and it almost cost us the game. Luckily, we got back into it and snuck in a win, but if we want to be the best team we possibly can we got to limit those.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder
Evan Turner on potential for Celtics in playoffs: ‘Sky is the limit’ 03.05.16 at 12:24 am ET
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There are certain plays that define every game. 

Friday night, with the Celtics making a run back from a 100-92 hole with under four minutes left, Evan Turner made one of those plays.

Turner raced after a ball he tipped and then raced for it before it went out of bounds while the Knicks were standing and watching. Turner flipped it to Jared Sullinger, who in one motion turned and fired to a wide open Jae Crowder racing down the court for a layup with 92 seconds left. The Celtics were suddenly down just one, 100-99 and the crowd exploded.

“At first, Lance Thomas threw it, I tipped it. I saw it bounce and nobody go for it,” Turner said. “I was just trying to hurry up and save it. I saw Sully kind of even with Lopez. I was hoping from our team grabbed when I threw it. I just heard cheers, and I heard even more cheers as I turned around and Crowder laid it up. [Sullinger is] great at being aware of what’s going on downcourt and putting a great pass into the running man.”

It was at that moment where victory for the Celtics seemed inevitable.  

“And on the very next play, we get a stop and he’s dribbling up the court and just makes a 15-foot pull-up,” Brad Stevens said. “He does a lot for us and he’s really played well. Obviously, we don’t win the game without him.” 

The Celtics did win, 105-104, thanks to Avery Bradley’s layup with 17.7 seconds left and Carmelo Anthony’s miss at the buzzer.

“We came back from worse deficits,” Turner said. “Tonight, we were just down eight with 3:44 left. We were down 15 a few times with five minutes left.”

But the bigger picture is about what this win means going into Cleveland, a place they won the last time they were there (Feb. 5), on an Avery Bradley jumper at the buzzer. 

“We’re just riding a wave,” Turner said. “Once again, this is a great team win, great comeback win and obviously we’re a confident group right now and we know [Saturday] we have to come out and compete. Today’s over with. We just have to come out and compete, play our type of game and play confident.”

How far can these Celtics go this spring?

“I think we can go as far as … Sky is the limit. At the end of the day, we always give ourselves to play the right game and win,” Turner added. ” I think when it comes down to a four-game series and all of us are healthy, I think we can give a lot of teams a lot of problems. And when it comes down to it, you have to weather a storm versus adversity, playing versus great players, playing versus tough calls and everything like that. I think we can go as far as we possibly can.”

That confidence should come in handy Saturday night in Cleveland against LeBron James and a Cavaliers team looking for revenge.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Evan Turner, NBA
Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon break down thrilling win over Knicks, look ahead to Cavaliers 03.04.16 at 11:59 pm ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss how the Celtics were able to overcome a sluggish start and an inconsistent second half to beat the New York Knicks, 105-104, Friday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas had 32 points and Evan Turner chipped in with 21 off the bench while Avery Bradley hit the game-winning layup with 17 seconds remaining, extending Boston’s home court winning streak to 13 games, matching the 2008-09 team that also won 13 in a row at home.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Evan Turner, Josue Pavon
Brad Stevens: ‘We’re still inconsistent on both ends of the floor’ 03.04.16 at 9:05 pm ET
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Knicks center Robin Lopez (right) is fouled by Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) during the first half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Knicks center Robin Lopez (right) is fouled by Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) during the first half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Maybe Brad Stevens had a premonition. Or maybe he could just read the schedule over the next two days.

Before getting on a plane to take on the Cavaliers Saturday in Cleveland, the Celtics had a game to play against the Knicks. Whatever the reason, Stevens’ team came out flat in the first half against New York, a team that exactly the opposite record of the 37-25 Celtics. They allowed New York to shoot 52.3 percent in the first half while they shot just 42.2 percent. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 28 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field.

The Celtics trailed by as many as 11 in the first half and 58-53 at the break. The second half didn’t start much better. Five straight points for the Knicks, including a wide-open three for Porzingis and the Knicks led, 63-53.

Before the game, Stevens was asked about the areas of growth this season. Stevens cautioned that his team still had some maturing to do.

“I don’t know. I think we’ve gotten better execution-wise, gotten better offensively,” Stevens said, before adding, “We’re still inconsistent on both ends of the floor to the point where we need to be when it’s all said and done. I think the biggest thing is we’ve maintained a general optimism. There’s a positive vibe through thick and thin. The guys support one another. The greatest growth is in the day-to-day process of doing those things to build the trust when you need it most.”

The Celtics won a game on Wednesday night against the Blazers by 23 and the box showed the Celtics shot just 40.2 percent, making just 43 of 107 shots.

“I looked at the stats the other day and I was surprised we shot as poorly as we did from the field because I felt like we had a lot of good possessions,” Stevens said. “I think we’re having good possessions but I think we’re also getting some conversion points make it look a little bit better than it is. If you get a steal and you convert on the other end. You can play 2-on-1 or 1-on-0, that’s a heckuva of an offensive possession. That makes the numbers a little bit better than they are.”

Down 65-55, the Celtics went on a 14-2 run to take a 71-67 lead and the Garden crowd came to life almost instantly.

“There’s no question [home crowd has] been great for us the entire time I’ve been here,” Stevens said. “Obviously, the fans have embraced this group. It is a fun group. The way they play I laugh sometimes because we do some pretty haphazard things. Even I’m entertained over there sometimes and have no idea what’s going to happen.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, New York Knicks,
Brad Stevens: ‘We’ve made a big priority to give our guys as much rest as possible’ 03.04.16 at 7:37 pm ET
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Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) and Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) reach for a loose ball during the second half at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics center Tyler Zeller (44) and Portland Trail Blazers forward Maurice Harkless (4) reach for a loose ball during the second half at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens may just be three years removed from the college game but he has long known the value of resting his players later in the season. 

After Wednesday’s 23-point win over the red-hot Blazers, Stevens gave his team the day off on Thursday in advance of Friday’s home game against the Knicks. 

Some may have read that as a reward, similar to victory Mondays in the NFL. But Stevens said it was more about pacing his team and tapering his players for the stretch run ahead. 

“I think one of the things, I was never a huge practice guy late in the year,” Stevens said before Friday’s game against the Knicks. “I never practiced much more than an hour, an hour and 15 [minutes] once we got into late January, February, March. It’s about being as good as you can be with the time you have. Hey, we’ve made a big priority to give our guys as much rest as possible. We haven’t shot around in the morning. We did it once all year here at home and every other time we’ve come at 4 [p.m.] just so that you have an accumulation of rest. Is that right, wrong or indifferent? I don’t know. It’s something that we believe that again, fresh legs are important for these guys.”

There are always signs coaches look for when assigning more rest and freedom to the players. After the last several practices, many players have stayed and worked on shooting and other drills with the staff. 

“One of my former bosses used to say that the sign of a team that’s really invested is they’re staying and shooting afterwards, and I believe that,” Stevens said. “I think when you stay and shoot, when you put your work in, that’s a really good thing. When you have a lot of energy in that and you’re not just going through the motions, that’s a good sign.” 

There’s another good sign for Stevens’ Celtics as they head into the final 20 games. Thanks to a few injuries (Kelly Olynyk aside), the starting lineup and bench rotations have stayed pretty consistent, with Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller providing valuable minutes off the bench. 

“Yeah, there’s some good things with that. Hopefully, by now, these guys know we’re not going to be riding emotional rollercoasters,” Stevens said. “We’re just going to try to get better. We’re just going to try to move forward, regardless of outcome and regardless of result.

“We can talk about things that we’ve done from a corporate-knowledge standpoint, things that we’ve tried to do, different ways we’ve tried to guard Carmelo Anthony or [Kristaps] Porzingis or whatever the case may be. You can quickly refresh that and then tweak appropriately. At least you have that backing. It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to play well but it does make the time you have to spend together less. It makes the time on the court less. As you’re getting in preparation, the more time we can prepare with clear mind and fresh legs, the better to me.”

 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, New York Knicks,
Brad Stevens on catching Toronto: ‘We don’t talk about it a ton’ 03.04.16 at 6:55 pm ET
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The Celtics enter Friday as one of the hotter teams in the NBA. They’ve won five of seven out of the All-Star break and stand 37-25.

The problem is that the team they’re chasing in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference is just as hot. The Raptors, like the Celtics, head into action Friday with a 12-game home winning streak and they’re 41-19 on the year. That’s six games ahead in the loss column with just 20 games remaining.

The Celtics do have two games left with the Raptors, one in Toronto on March 18 and one at the Garden five days later. Still it’s a long shot for Boston to think it could catch the Raptors and beat them out for the division and the No. 2 seed when the Raptors have their sights set on catching Cleveland for the top spot in the East. They come into Friday’s game just two games behind the Cavaliers.

Does Stevens and his staff think about the standings?

“Not a ton. Obviously, we’ve got an idea, a general idea,” Stevens said before Friday’s game with the 25-37 Knicks. “But I don’t know specifically the amount of games separated by all the teams. I think the biggest thing is, from standpoint, we have 20 games left and 41 days left in the regular season and we’ve just got to try to get a little bit better every day. That’s about the extent of it. We don’t talk about it a ton. The players might but we certainly don’t as a staff.”

Then Stevens repeated his mantra of the last five weeks.

“Hey, we’re four games away from ninth. I don’t know. I think the biggest thing to do is stay in the moment and try to play as well as we can against the Knicks,” Stevens said. “I have no idea about all that stuff. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, how other teams are playing and everything else. I’m not good enough to worry about the other 29 teams.”

To Stevens’ point, the Wizards are currently 30-30 and in ninth place, on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Celtics are still just one game ahead of the Heat (35-26) in the loss column and three games clear of the fifth-seeded Hawks (33-28). 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Toronto Raptors,
R.J. Hunter sent packing for Maine 03.04.16 at 11:46 am ET
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R.J. Hunter

R.J. Hunter

R.J. Hunter is headed north for playing time and to work on his shot.

The rookie guard out of Georgia State was assigned Thursday to the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.

He hasn’t scored since Dec. 27 when he converted one of two free throws against the Knicks, going scoreless in the eight games he’s appeared. He’s missed his last 14 field goal attempts over his last 10 games since last making a shot against Charlotte on Dec. 23.

Hunter has seen action in just eight of Boston’s last 31 games, averaging just over three minutes a game when he gets on the court. Hunter has appeared in 28 games overall for the Celtics, averaging 2.4 points and nine minutes a contest.

The move north should help him get valuable playing time.

“I think we just use Maine as a great opportunity for all of our players to get better,” Brad Stevens said before Friday’s game when asked about Hunter. “The coaching up there with [head coach] Scott [Morrison] and his staff is outstanding. They spend a lot of time with those guys. They often do a lot of individual work on practice and game days with those guys. They do a lot of film breakdown and they’re running all of our stuff on both ends of the floor.

And so it’s basically an opportunity to play a game in our system just two hours north, and it makes a lot of sense. The one thing we’re trying to be cognizant of is they’re healthy. They’ve got a ton of guys. They just added a couple of guys. We probably won’t be sending up three at a time like we’ve done before. But it could be as many two depending on the health of our team here.”

Hunter has played in five contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 16.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals in 35.9 minutes per game over that span. He recorded a season-high 28 points, three rebounds, six assists and two steals in 38 minutes of action against the Texas Legends on Dec. 31, 2015.

The Celtics selected Hunter with the 28th overall pick in last year’s draft. On July 27, he signed his rookie scale contract with the Celtics. After averaging just 2.8 points per game over his first eight NBA games, Hunter showed some promise, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting off the bench against the Hawks on Nov. 24 before going into a rookie slump.

Read More: Boston Celtics, D-League, Maine Red Claws, R.J. Hunter
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