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Isaiah Thomas shows improved playmaking skills 10.27.16 at 12:08 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

In his sixth NBA season, Isaiah Thomas is blossoming into an efficient playmaker — a facet of his game that will strengthen the Celtics  offense in the long run and help him finish strong in the fourth quarter.

Thomas made back-door passes to his bigs and bounce passes in transition and found his teammates open from the perimeter with ease during Wednesday night’s 122-117 win over the Nets. When he penetrated the paint and drew double teams, Al Horford — Thomas’ new favorite pick-and-roll partner — was a great target for Thomas in the post. 

In what turned out to be an ugly win for the Celtics, Thomas’ passing set the tone throughout the first half and helped the C’s finish with 38 assists on 48 baskets. Instead of being the focal point of his team’s offense — a role Thomas has become accustomed to in Boston — Thomas was the distributor and waited until the third quarter to strike. He scored 12 of his 25 points in the third. His offensive outburst helped extend the Cetlics’ lead to a 16-point advantage (97-81) before the final frame.

However, after the Celtics reserves squandered the lead in the fourth quarter, Thomas reverted to being the set-up guy when he needed to be the leading scorer that he is. He committed one of the ugliest turnovers of the night — a no-look pass that landed in an opponent’s hands and led to a Bojan Bogdanovic 3-pointer that pulled the Nets to within three (120-117).

Although the C’s were able to fend off the Nets in the final minute, Thomas understands that blowing double-digit leads in the fourth quarter is unacceptable, and he isn’t making excuses for the Celtics’ sloppy play.

“We want to be great, we want to be one of the top teams in the NBA, that can’t happen,” Thomas said. “There’s no excuse for it. If we want to be a top team like ‘they’ say we’re going to be, we have to do a better job of closing games out.”

If the Celtics are going to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Thomas cannot shy away from scoring in the fourth quarter. Setting up teammates like Avery Bradley (17 points) and Jae Crowder (21 points) certainly will pay dividends this season, but it’s important for Thomas to go into attack mode in the second half — much like he did in the third quarter.

Thomas finished with 25 points and nine assists in Wednesday’s win. Despite the late-game frustration, Thomas said it’s still a great feeling to get a win and to be back at TD Garden. 

“It feels great,” Thomas said. “We didn’t end it like we wanted to, but we definitely got the win and it feels good, to play in front of your fans and really get going and playing for something that counts.”

Read More: Isaiah Thomas,
Al Horford ‘happy to finally get out there’ in his Celtics debut 10.26.16 at 11:25 pm ET
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Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin (7) works the ball against Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford shows his defense on Jeremy Lin during Wednesday’s game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Al Horford era in Boston is officially underway.

In Wednesday’s season opener, the Celtics’ prized free agent had a modest yet serviceable outing in his Celtics debut, scoring 11 points in 27 minutes of work. He managed to grab five rebounds with six assists and four blocks as well.

“It’s a relief more than anything,” Horford said. “[I’m] happy to finally get out there, start the regular season, I was proud of our guys and how we handled everything.

“It felt great, it’s a really good feeling just to think of the rich history here. I really do appreciate being here, so for me it was a lot of fun.”

Well regarded around the league as a team-first player, Horford noticeably opened the floor for his teammates from the start. Though in large part his numbers were not staggering, the opportunities he facilitated for fellow Celtics made as big a difference as his own numbers, best validated by his plus-13 rating that was good for second on the team.

“For me, I’m about winning, I’ve always been about winning, I want to win and I want to do whatever I can. I want to make sure my teammates feel comfortable with me, that we play the right way, that’s my biggest emphasis. As long as we’re moving the ball, doing what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine,” Horford said.

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics,
Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon talk about Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Celtics holding on for win 10.26.16 at 11:18 pm ET
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The Celtics open with a win over the Nets at TD Garden. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot to work on afterward. WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have your report inside TD Garden.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown
Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas (25 points), Jae Crowder (21) open strong as C’s hold on for dear life in season opener 10.26.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball against Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin (7) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas drives the ball against Nets guard Jeremy Lin in the first quarter at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

And we’re off.

Facing a team predicted to be one of the worst in the league, the Celtics held off a late surge from the Nets in a 122-117 victory at TD Garden. 

Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley all found the form off the tip that has made them indispensable in their tenures with the team. Crowder was a knockdown shooter from the field, garnering 21 points with four boards, a pair of assists and steals and a block.

Already having a solid game through one half, Thomas was untouchable in the third, cruising to a 25-point performance while one assist shy of a double-double. Compared to Crowder and Thomas, Bradley’s first non-preseason game since leaving the postseason with an injury in April paled in comparison, as he put up 17 points with five assists and nine boards.

Al Horford had 11 points , five rebounds, six assists and four blocks in his Celtics debut. 

“The first 40 minutes I thought we really played with great presence and purpose. And the last few we didn’t. It’s a reminder of how quickly this thing can turn in this league,” coach Brad Stevens said.

It wasn’t smooth sailing throughout the game, however. Despite going up by double digits in the second quarter, the C’s allowed the Nets to get within five late in the period. This after a streaky first quarter that saw an eight-point lead to get whittled down to one. The Celtics then proceeded to allow the Nets to make a late 18-2 run to close to within three in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before the Celtics starters returned and closed it out.

“It was 110-87 and we started shooting bad shots and not guarding and throwing it to the other team. That’s how quickly it can change, we all know that. I was hopeful not to have to put [the starters] back in, but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have,” Stevens said.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder,
Reports: R.J. Hunter nearing deal with Bulls 10.26.16 at 7:39 pm ET
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R.J. Hunter

R.J. Hunter

The Celtics may not need to wait too long before they see R.J. Hunter as an opponent. According to The Vertical, Hunter is nearing a deal with the Chicago Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot — who will also face off against the Celtics on Thursday in Chicago.

Earlier in the day, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported that Hunter was “very close” to a deal.

Hunter was waived by the Celtics on Monday after being passed on for the final spot on the roster in favor of James Young. 

Described as a pure shooter when the Celtics took him in the first round, 28th overall out of Georgia State in the 2015 draft, the 23-year-old struggled to find his form with the C’s, shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from 3-point range.

Read More: R.J. Hunter,
Celtics Pregame Notes: On Opening Night, Celtics not looking to get ahead of themselves 10.26.16 at 6:25 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

With the start of the Celtics season set to begin Wednesday night against the Nets, it will also be the first regular season indication of what the 2016-17 Celtics — and all the hype, expectations and concerns surrounding them — have to offer.

Speaking prior to the game Celtics head coach Brad Stevens isn’t trying to get ahead of himself.

“I just hope we play well tonight. That’s the bottom line, there’s 82 of these,” Stevens said. “The last thing anybody is thinking in there is what happens down the road. We have to play well, and you look at this stuff, and I’ve said this before, we’re as close to second as tenth. So I understand [the pick to be contenders in the East], but I understand we better play well.”

The roster won’t necessarily have the look Wednesday that it will as soon as mid-November due to injuries to Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, but that notwithstanding, there will still be indications left and right of what the Celtics look like both offensively and defensively.

And with some new faces via both the draft and free agency, there’s new roles to be established and claimed in the early going.

“I’m anxious to see what we look like on both ends of the floor. We’re going to have some guys that haven’t played as much here that are going to have to contribute for us to have success, so I think that’s another thing I’m interested to see how that goes,” Stevens said.

“We’re going to have to play well, and that’s going to be a constant thing. The team that plays the best and the team that plays the most together and the hardest and everything else usually wins and we’ve got to really challenge ourselves to be the best version of ourselves in as many of the 48 minutes as possible.”

There will be a void off the bench, however, as Kelly Olynyk is still some time away from returning to game action, something the 7-footer didn’t see any of during the preseason with a right shoulder injury. He saw the surgeon that performed the surgery on Tuesday, and though him timetable has become more clear — which was as much detail as Stevens divulged — he is still a few weeks 

“He’s still probably a couple of weeks away, but he’s doing 5-on-5 and it’s just a matter of ramping it up so that the next day the fatigue is less and less. He will not participate in every 5-on-5 segment, but each day will be ramped up and increased a little bit more. Again, it’s more about the fatigue in his shoulder after the fact,” Stevens said.

Even still, Stevens has an idea of how many players he’s trying to utilize in his rotation, even though Olynyk and Smart won’t be available anytime soon.

“Not tonight, just simply because the fact that two of them that are probably in it, or at least have been mainstays in it, are out,” Stevens said when if he knew who the guys are that will be consistently in the rotation. “I think ideally you’d like to play in the 9-to-10 range. I’ve got an idea right now, but it’s based on a month of work and the exhibition games and everything else. But this is why these are such important games for the guys that get to play when others are out, because this establishes a trust of consistency, right, so that you can see them doing their job on every possession.”

Read More: Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, Marcus Smart,
Defensive versatility is everything to Brad Stevens, and Terry Rozier ready ‘to take care of business’ 10.26.16 at 11:54 am ET
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Terry Rozier

Terry Rozier

WALTHAM – How will the Celtics cope without Marcus Smart for the first two weeks of the season? 

Ask Brad Stevens that question and he’ll give the same answer that he has for everything involving his defense-based system. 

“I think we were third or fourth last year, so it was pretty good. The bottom line is we have to be more versatile defensively,” Stevens said Tuesday when Smart and the team announced that his left ankle would sideline him for at least two weeks.

“You have to be able to do more things. We have to be able to tweak on the fly, we have to be able to adjust if something is killing us and be able to play either big or small. I think it will be interesting to see what our best lineups are that separate themselves. But our idea is that we should have some versatility. But, again, I think defense is one of those things that you gotta go out there and do it. It’s not about talking about it. It’s not about the anticipation of how good we can be. That’s an everyday commitment and thus far we’ve done it at a pretty good level, but we’ll see.”

Smart’s injury also means significantly more opportunity for Terry Rozier to continue what he showed in Summer League and camp and preseason. 

“He comes off the bench and he’s not playing, so it’s a bigger opportunity for me,” Rozier said of Smart. “It’s a step up, something where I have to be ready when my number is called. Be ready to take care of business. I want to come in and play my part, whether it’s scoring some nights, or just getting starts. The main thing is I want to play hard and do that every night.”

In Rozier’s mind, the best preparation for an increased role has been facing Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley every day in practice. 

“I think IT said it best – when you play against those two every day in practice, when you get out there in a real game it’s looser,” Rozier said. “You’re not having guys all over you like it is in practice. That’s a big help, something you have to take advantage of when you get out on the court, because in practice you’re not getting that breathing room.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Terry Rozier,
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