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Marcus Smart: ‘I will return Wednesday’ 10.31.16 at 2:31 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics bench, which has struggled at times in the early portion of this season, is about to get a boost.

Point guard Marcus Smart, who has missed the season’s first three games with a sprained left ankle, said he’ll be back in uniform for Wednesday’s rematch with the Bulls at TD Garden.

“I will return Wednesday,” he stated after practicing with the team Monday.

Coach Brad Stevens was a little less definitive but also optimistic that Smart will get his season started this week.

“He’s one of our returning most-contributive players, so that’s a big addition to our team,” Stevens said. “He looked good today. We’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days. But every indication is that he’ll be available.”

Stevens said he’ll consult with trainers to determine if he should limit Smart’s minutes, but Smart said he won’t make any adjustments in an attempt to ease his way back.

“You go right back to what you know,” Smart said. “You can’t try to baby it.”

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Celtics, Avery Bradley hit stride in solid win over Hornets 10.29.16 at 10:07 pm ET
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Brad Stevens saw his team fix some things in earning their second win of the season. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens saw his team fix some things in earning its second win of the season. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics finally found a groove in their 104-98 win over the Hornets, their second win of the season. 

After two lackluster games, the third time was the charm for the Celtics this season. They came out of the gate strong in the first quarter grabbing the lead early with 3-point shots. Their first 15 points were all from 3-pointers. 

The Celtics pulled ahead with a 28-19 lead after the first quarter, but leveled off with a stagnant bench and the Hornets closed the Celtics’ lead gap to 44-41 at halftime. 

The Celtics defense overall was stronger than in the past two games. Rebounding was key in this one, with Bradley coming through with a career-high 11 boards, while Jae Crowder grabbed nine. 

“I thought we were locked in,” coach Brad Stevens said in his post game press conference. “I thought our guys were really locked in. … They just played with poise, chipped at it.”

The team looked generally in sync offensively as the bench woke up in the second half and they returned to shooting with confidence. Crowder made two 3’s in the third while Al Horford and Isaiah Thomas each sunk one. 

The Celtics lost the lead in the third and ended the quarter behind 72-71 before regaining it quickly in the fourth on another Bradley 3-pointer and went on to go on a 22-5 run in that final quarter. 

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Watch Bulls star Dwyane Wade celebrate clinching 3-pointer over Celtics with throat slash 10.28.16 at 1:02 am ET
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Bulls star Dwyane Wade, in his debut with his hometown team after more than a decade in Miami, drilled the game-clinching 3-pointer to beat the Celtics on Thursday night, and then celebrated by making a throat-slash gesture.

The NBA fined Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant $25,000 for the motion in 2013. The NFL banned it in 1999.

Will Wade be hearing from Adam Silver’s office? You be the judge.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Dwyane Wade throat slash,
Fast Break: Celtics dominated on glass in loss to Bulls 10.27.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas drives on Michael Carter-Williams during Thursday's game. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas drives on Michael Carter-Williams during Thursday’s game. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics might be a trendy pick to reach the Eastern Conference finals this season, but right now they don’t look anything like a team ready to make a breakthrough.

One night after an uninspiring victory over the lowly Nets, the Celtics were dominated on the boards by the Bulls en route to a 105-99 loss.

Chicago held a 55-36 advantage on the glass, taking advantage of the second-chance opportunities to get 16 more shots than the visitors. That allowed the Bulls to win despite shooting 39 percent to Boston’s 50 percent.

“That’s is the No. 1 thing,” coach Brad Stevens said of the rebounding woes in his postgame press conference. “That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about. We’ve got to get better at it.”

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting, although he was uncharacteristically unreliable from the free throw line, making just 2-of-6.

Jimmy Butler scored 24 points and Dwyane Wade, displaying his newfound 3-point range, hit 4-of-6 from behind the arc — including a crushing trey with 26 seconds remaining to make it a five-point game — and finished with 22 points. Taj Gibson added 18 points and 10 rebounds.

The C’s did not have the same energy as in their opener — falling behind by 15 points in the opening quarter — but they clawed back and didn’t back down in what was a physical and at times emotional game. Tempers flared late in the second quarter when Jae Crowder collided with Butler, who drew a charge. Butler appeared to trip Crowder while on the ground, and Crowder responded by putting the ball on the chest of his former Marquette teammate. The skirmish quickly drew a crowd, and Thomas and Rajon Rondo were given technical fouls after exchanging shoves.

Al Horford battled foul trouble but still managed to contribute 11 points, seven rebounds and five assists. Rookie Jaylen Brown impressed, hitting 4-of-7 shots, although he had a costly turnover on an up-and-down in the final minute. Tyler Zeller was given some extra minutes — Stevens said he matched up well against Robin Lopez — and he finished with six points, five rebounds and a pair of blocks.

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Photos: Celtics hold on, beat Nets in season opener 10.27.16 at 8:47 am ET
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Coming off a 48-win season, the Boston Celtics looked shaky in their season opener but pulled off the win, defeating the Brooklyn Nets 122-117. Check out photos from the game here.

Visit the Green Street blog for more coverage.

Avery Bradley had 17 points and 9 rebounds in the Celtics' season-opening win. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley had 17 points and 9 rebounds in the Celtics’ season-opening win. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas says ‘no excuse’ for sloppy end to opening win 10.27.16 at 1:36 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas knows the Celtics got away with one Wednesday night. 

The Celtics beat the rebuilding Nets, 122-117, in a game that never should have been that close. Thomas led the Celtics with 25 points and came out with the rest of the starters at the end of the third quarter and the Celtics in cruise control, leading 97-81.

Terry Rozier was running the offense with Avery Bradley the only starter remaining in the game. The lineup featured Rozier, Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Tyler Zeller and Jonas Jerebko.

“I thought that it would be, obviously, a great opportunity to play the right way and figure out a way to keep them at bay as they come hard-charging,” Brad Stevens said of his substitutions. “It’s hard to play with a team that’s got nothing to lose, that’s flying at you and everything else. Wasn’t to be. Probably will be … less, less likely to leave them in that long if we’re in a similar scenario. Hopefully we learn from it and we’re not.”

Thomas was a big reason the Celtics had 36 assists on 48 baskets, the most assists by an NBA team in a season opener since 2001.

“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.”

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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.”

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