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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
Celtics hope Kelly Olynyk can ‘up his activity’ next week 03.02.16 at 9:17 pm ET
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Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) has been Boston's best 3-point shooter this season. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Celtics center Kelly Olynyk has been Boston’s best 3-point shooter this season. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

The waiting game continues for Kelly Olynyk and the Celtics.

The 7-foot stretch forward/center who injured his right shoulder in the final game before the All-Star break against the Clippers is still in a holding pattern, as is the team, something coach Brad Stevens indicated before Wednesday’s game against the Blazers.

“Last that I’ve heard is we’ll be re-visiting that on Monday with a chance that he’ll up his activity Monday, whatever that means,” Stevens said.

Immediately after the trade deadline on Feb. 18, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge indicated that tests on Olynyk’s shoulder revealed no serious damage and no need for surgery.

He suggested Olynyk, diagnosed with a bruised shoulder, would be out a minimum of two weeks.

With Olynyk, who traveled with the team on their 3-game road swing, not returning to basketball activities yet, that estimate appears to be overly optimistic.

The timing was very unfortunate for Olynyk and the Celtics. Before injuring the shoulder in the first half of the Feb. 10 game at the Garden, Olynyk had become a key part of the Celtics offense, pulling the opposing big out from the post with his 3-point shooting. Olynyk was leading the C’s in 3-point field goal percentage, hitting 41.3 percent of his attempts.

But the flip side of that, of course, is that it forced the Celtics to find other options in their offense, something they’ve done well since returning home from the 1-2 trip through Utah, Denver and Minnesota. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, Kelly Olynyk
Celtics have Maine plans for Marcus Thornton as he returns to States 03.02.16 at 8:18 pm ET
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In his college days, Marcus Thornton (3) was an offensive force. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

In his college days, Marcus Thornton (3) was an offensive force. (Evan Habeeb/USA Today Sports)

The learning curve that started down under in Australia has turned back to Boston for Marcus Thornton. And now he’s waiting on the Celtics to add another stop on his hopeful path to the NBA. 

The 45th overall pick in last year’s draft by the Celtics is back in the states after his first professional season spent abroad with the Sydney Kings of the NBL in Australia.

The all-time leading scorer at William & Mary had his struggles this season, as did the team that won just six of its 28 games in league action. The guard shot just 37.7 percent from the field and only 28.1 percent from 3-point range. He did average a healthy 29 minutes a game and 12 points a contest in playing all 28 games.

With his season done, he returned home on Monday night to take in the game against the Jazz.

“He came over to the game the other night and sat in my office for a while and talked,” coach Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “It was a great learning experience for him. It was his first opportunity to compete as a professional. They have didn’t have the year he wanted to have or they wanted to have. But the good part about playing in Australia it gives him a chance now to pick up and join our D-League team. It’s a great opportunity for him and it’s a great opportunity for extended minutes standpoint for him. Also for us, for him to be in our system up in Maine.

“We can’t do any of that without calling somebody up or doing a contract. We haven’t had any discussions about the extra roster spot.”

Once they get the paperwork done, Stevens is very confident that Thornton could get some good work accomplished with the Red Claws.

“He’s a guy like many of our other young players that up there on our team that have some real strengths and some things that they really need to work on to be ready to play at this level,” Stevens said. “He’s got some ultimate bursts with the ball. He’s got the ability to score the ball off pick-and-rolls and off screening actions as we discussed this summer. It’s just a matter of finding more rhythm of doing that at the professional level.”

At William & Mary, he was one of only six players nationally to shoot 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line. He was also the first player in school history to be named Colonial Conference Player of the Year and was team MVP for three straight seasons.

Entering last year’s draft, Thornton graded out as one of the fastest players at NBA Draft Combine and was taken by the Celtics with the 15th pick of the second round. He played in the Summer League for Celtics, scoring a personal-best 21 points in game against the Heat. In eight games in the Summer League, he shot just 27 percent and averaged 5.1 points in 11 minutes per game.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Maine Red Claws, Marcus Thornton, NBL
Brad Stevens sees a lot of his team in surprising Blazers 03.02.16 at 6:48 pm ET
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Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum (3) and guard Damian Lillard (0) and guard Tim Frazier (10) talk after a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Troy Wayrynen/USA Today Sports)

Trail Blazers guards (from left) C.J. McCollum, Damian Lillard and Tim Frazier talk after a game against the Lakers. (Troy Wayrynen/USA Today Sports)

When LaMarcus Aldridge left for the Spurs before this season after nine strong seasons in Portland, many thought the Trail Blazers might be going through a bit of a rebuilding phase.

And when they started this season 23-26, even with the great efforts of Damian Lillard, those predictions seemed to be pretty much spot on. The Blazers were a good young team with lots of growing to do. But a funny thing happened, they got good almost overnight.

They’ve won 10 of 12 heading into Wednesday’s game and players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee have picked up the slack for Aldridge and complemented the likes of C.J. McCollum and Lillard quite nicely. At 24.9 years, they have the fifth-youngest roster in the NBA. Only Boston, Utah, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are younger.

And now, like the Celtics did last year at this time, they are starting to step up their game in time to make a serious playoff push.

“It’s not that big of a surprise,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “They’ve already got a guy in Lillard that is very accomplished at a young age in this league and a guy in McCollum that didn’t average a ton [of points] but sure put a lot of fear into people when he played. It’s not a shock what he’s doing. And what they’ve surrounded them are guys that are really athletic and all have a chip on their shoulder. Kind of sounds like a familiar tale to some of the things we’re dealing with here.

“Our guys work really hard. They’re young, they’re hungry to prove, and for whatever reason, some of them have been other places where it didn’t work quite as well or fit quite as well. And you see the same thing in Portland and all those guys are playing at their best level and that’s what has to happen when teams are going to maximize themselves. Coach Stotts and his staff have done a great job.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Portland Trail Blazers,
Brad Stevens on his Eastern Conference coach of month honor: ‘It means the team did well’ 03.02.16 at 6:31 pm ET
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Brad Stevens was his typical humble self before Wednesday’s game against Portland when asked what it was like to win the NBA’s Eastern Conference coach of the month honor for February.

Stevens led the Celtics to the best record in the Eastern Conference (9-3) in February, which included a 6-0 mark at TD Garden. The Celtics scored 100-plus points in 10 of 12 games and led the conference in scoring at 110.8 points. The Celtics recorded wins against the Cavaliers (on the road) and Heat (at home), and enters March third in the East at 36-25.

“It means the team did well,” Stevens said Wednesday. “That’s the ultimate, ‘How did your team do? What was your record this month?’ The guys on the court had a lot more to do with that. I’m glad we had a good month from a playing standpoint and hopefully we can build on it.”

Ironically, Stevens counterpart for the award in the West just happened to be across the hallway getting his team ready to try and continue a red-hot streak of their own. Terry Stotts brings his Blazers to town, winning 10 of 12, and standing 33-28 on the season.

Stevens was asked if Wednesday was some sort of showdown of top coaches?

“No,” Stevens replied swiftly. “I told one of their assistants when they walked out, laughing about that, if it’s between the coaches the Celtics are in trouble so hopefully, the players can pick me up.”

Stotts guided the Trail Blazers to a 9-2 record in February, which included wins over the Memphis Grizzlies, Golden State Warriors, Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers. Portland, behind Damian Lillard, ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring (110.6 points) and enjoyed the league’s second-best point differential (+8.0 points). Stotts’ Trail Blazers closed the month winning eight of their final nine games and enter March tied with the Dallas Mavericks’ for sixth place in the Western Conference.

Other nominees for Coach of the Month were Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, Golden State’s Steve Kerr, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Toronto’s Dwane Casey.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, NBA Coach of the Month, Portland Trail Blazers
Isaiah Thomas ‘can’t wait’ to go up against good friend Damian Lillard 03.01.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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WALTHAM — For those who missed out on Steph Curry at the Garden on Dec. 11 there’s a chance to see another NBA star that’s being placed in his same class.

Damian Lillard and the red-hot Trail Blazers come calling Wednesday night at TD Garden. They are moving up the standings in the Western Conference and the man who was one of the most notable snubs in recent All-Star history is leading the way, averaging 25.4 points and seven assists a game. Lillard, in his fourth season out of Weber State, made news in January when he was somehow left off the Western Conference All-Star squad.

“He’s definitely an All-Star. He should’ve been one,” Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas said after practice Tuesday. “But stuff happens. He’s probably been disappointed in a few things, and not just in his NBA career. He wasn’t even recruited by a bigger school. Whatever the circumstances might be, he’s a helluva a player. He knows he’s an All-Star. The league knows they messed up in that. He’s been playing well and been showing people, proving people wrong.

“I met him a few summers ago. We text every now and then. When I got the nod on the All-Star [team], he texted me, ‘Congratulations, you deserve it.’ He’s a Pacific Northwest guy since he’s in Portland now. He’s just a good dude. We know mutual people and we always text every now and then.”

Thomas (University of Washington) and Lillard (Weber State) know each other well from their roots in western college basketball and then in their Western Conference battles when Thomas was in Phoenix.

“It’s fun. I can’t wait,” Thomas said. “It’s what you play for, to play against the best guys in the world, go against the best guards. I’m all about competing. I know he will be ready and I will be, too. He’s an unbelievable shooter, and he can shoot off the dribble. A lot of people can’t shoot off the dribble. He makes tough shots look easy. And he’s just a guy that works. I know Dames. He’s a guy that continues to work. He uses everything as motivation, kind of like myself. He’s definitely similar to Steph Curry in his shooting ability and how effortless he can shoot from so far [out from basket].”

The Blazers beat up the Knicks Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, their third straight win to open a six-game Eastern swing. They have won 10 of 12 and are 33-28 on the season.
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Read More: Boston Celtics, Damian Lillard, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
Celtics approaching rarified (home) air of 2008 World Champs 03.01.16 at 3:28 pm ET
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Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) celebrates against the Utah Jazz during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) celebrates against the Utah Jazz during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — The Celtics are on some kind of roll at TD Garden. 

The team that started out under .500 (9-10) in their first 19 home games this season has suddenly found the magic touch. 

They have won 11 in a row on Causeway Street and if they finish this homestand with wins over the Blazers Wednesday and the Knicks on Friday, they will pass the mark of the 2007-08 Celtics. The group of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen won 12 straight in a row at home to start the season that ended in a title run.

“I don’t know if we can put ourselves in that conservation, man,” Jared Sullinger laughed when the comparison was mentioned Tuesday after practice. “You had Rondo, you had KG, you had Paul, you had Ray, Perk, Tony. You really can’t put yourself in that conversation. But it will say a lot about this team and all the maturing we did over the season. I thought we did a tremendous job of executing of late. 

“You can’t really compare the two. It’s two completely different teams,” Avery Bradley added. “We’re just trying to take care of home and take it one game at a time and make sure we’re continuing to get better and take care of the little things.”

What Bradley did acknowledge, and something he learned from former coach Doc Rivers, was the home court matters come playoff time in April and May. 

“That matters in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “We got a taste of it last year but home court advantage definitely matters. I learned that from Doc. That’s something we wanted to get every single year so that does matter.”

“For sure, for sure. Doc said that when I was here playing for him that one year,” Sullinger added. “Home court really does matter just because you’re in your normal routine. You’re at home. You’re not on the road. You don’t have to worry about little things. Home court advantage matters, and as long as you’re normal with your routine, everything will be fine.” 

“[Confidence] is pretty high. It’s pretty high. I think the biggest thing is we have a streak going now, eleven straight at home. We have two more home games until we hit the road. We’re just trying to close it out. Talking earlier before we started our homestand, we wanted to go 5-0, go 5-0 and protect home court and try to get many wins as possible.

“And what’s funny, I was talking to Jae [Crowder] earlier, we really haven’t been shooting the ball well in these past couple of games and we’re still able to pull out the win. That just shows how much we’re maturing as a basketball team, understanding that offense doesn’t dictate our defense. We’re doing a great job.” 

Then there’s the perspective of coach Brad Stevens, who entered last year’s playoffs as the No. 7 seed but without the benefit of home court. The Celtics were swept in four games by Cleveland so home court was moot. 

“I’ve never lived it,” Stevens said Tuesday. “I think you have to win on the road and at home in the playoffs. And you have to be able to well in either. You never know how those series play themselves out. Our focus isn’t on 21 games from now, it’s right now. Our next two games are at home so we’ll try to play as well as we can in those next two games.”

Read More: 2008 Boston Celtics, Avery Bradley, Brad Stevens, Doc Rivers
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