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Fast Break: Celtics can’t keep pace with Kawhi Leonard, Spurs 12.15.16 at 12:04 am ET
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Al Horford looks to pass as Danny Green attempts to defend during Wednesday's game in San Antonio. (Soobum Im/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford looks to pass as Danny Green attempts to defend during Wednesday’s game in San Antonio. (Soobum Im/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens can continue to preach patience, but his team looks as frustrated as its fans as it continues to plod along, losing to every good team it faces.

Wednesday night’s 108-101 loss to the Spurs comes as no surprise — especially with Isaiah Thomas still on the shelf. But at some point this team will need to turn a corner if it’s going to live up to preseason expectations.

“I’ve said the last couple of days that we’ve made progress,” Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “I didn’t think we played as well tonight as we did in Oklahoma City or maybe even at home against Toronto, but [the Spurs] had a lot to do with that. Every time that we got within striking distance, Kawhi Leonard made a huge play or they come up with a loose ball or an offensive rebound.

“They’re tremendous at maximizing every detail of the game. And hey, we’ve had our moments where we play really well, but we’re not as good as them at that.”

On the positive side for Boston, Avery Bradley continued his strong play of late, recording 25 points (10-of-16 shooting), 10 rebounds, six assists and three steals.

Jae Crowder scored 15 points, Al Horford netted 13, Terry Rozier chipped in with 12 in 25 minutes off the bench, and Marcus Smart had 11 points and six assists.

Leonard led the Spurs with 26 points, adding six assists. Pau Gasol had 17 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Tony Parker scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and also had seven assists.

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5 keys for Celtics to beat Spurs without Isaiah Thomas 12.14.16 at 7:46 pm ET
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Brad Stevens is looking for his first win over the Spurs (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

After back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Thunder, the Celtics’ schedule doesn’t get any easier as the C’s are in San Antonio to take on the second-best team in the league without their best player.

Without Isaiah Thomas (groin), the Celtics will face a tall task of pulling off an upset on national TV (ESPN) and prove how good they are without their All-Star guard.

Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, the Spurs haven’t lost a game at home since Nov. 29 — a surprising loss, not only because it was against the Magic but because the Spurs suffered only one loss at home last season (40-1) and already are 6-4 this year at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio actually plays better on the road (13-1) than at home, but that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that the Celtics will have their hands full on Wednesday.

The Celtics aren’t the only ones playing without a member of their starting unit — Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) will sit out against the Celtics — although San Antonio still has plenty of firepower behind the rest of its starting lineup and has guys who can produce off the bench.

If the Celtics are to pull off what would be their biggest win of the season, here are five things that would go a long way toward helping that happen.

1. Jae Crowder comes through with his season-best effort

Coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight straight games, Crowder needed just two games to find his offensive rhythm. The scrappy small forward followed up a 15-point, 6-of-11 performance in Brooklyn on Nov. 23 by scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 attempts against the Spurs at home.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Mike Petraglia, Ben Kichen talk concern for Isaiah Thomas’ groin, Celtics’ late-game issues 12.14.16 at 9:15 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Ben Kichen of the “Dale and Holley Show” discuss the latest news on the injury that has kept Isaiah Thomas off the court and how valuable it is for Marcus Smart to stay in control.

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.

Read More: Ben Kichen, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Isaiah Thomas ruled out for Spurs game 12.13.16 at 2:23 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas will miss his fourth straight game when he skips Wednesday night’s matchup vs. the Spurs in San Antonio. Thomas, dealing with a strained groin, did not travel on the team’s two-game road trip that started in Oklahoma City on Sunday night, but there was speculation that he might join the team in Texas if he was cleared to return.

Coach Brad Stevens told reporters that he is hoping Thomas will be back for Friday’s game at TD Garden against the Hornets.

“Isaiah is feeling a lot better,” Stevens said (via ESPNBoston.com’s Chris Forsberg). “Any pain is gone; still a little stiff.”

Thomas suffered the injury during a Dec. 5 game in Houston, although he finished that contest.

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.

Fast Break: Celtics end Russell Westbrook’s triple-double streak but fall to Thunder 12.11.16 at 9:38 pm ET
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Russell Westbrook drives on Terry Rozier during Sunday's game. (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

Russell Westbrook drives on Terry Rozier during Sunday’s game. (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics entered Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City having yet to beat a contending NBA team this season. They also started the day with the longest streak in the league of having not allowed a triple-double against them.

Both streaks remain intact.

Although Thunder star Russell Westbrook fell short of an eighth consecutive triple-double, the Celtics could not get a breakthrough win, as Oklahoma City closed the game on a 19-8 run to take a 99-96 victory.

Westbrook finished with 37 points (23 in the second half) and 12 rebounds but just six assists. He struggled from the line, hitting just 7-of-12 free throws. When he missed the second of two with 5.1 seconds left, the Celtics had a chance to force overtime. Marcus Smart dribbled up the court and pulled up for an open 3-pointer from the top, but his shot bounced off the left side of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

“That’s a frustrating loss, because we played really hard on the defensive end of the floor for most of the night,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said in his postgame press conference. “We screwed up a few coverages throughout the course of the night, but not many. So, hats off to them.”

Al Horford — who revealed before the game that he was “strongly considering” the Thunder during free agency this past summer, intrigued by the thought of reuniting with his former college coach, Billy Donovan — led the C’s with 19 points.

Avery Bradley netted 18 and shared time with Smart guarding Westbrook. Jae Crowder scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting (3-of-4 treys) before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Smart had 11 points and a game-high nine assists. Rookie Jaylen Brown scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, hitting 4-of-5 shots.

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Celtics’ plane receives bomb threat while flying to Oklahoma City 12.11.16 at 9:40 am ET
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According to multiple reports, the Celtics’ team plane received a bomb threat while in the air, flying to their game in Oklahoma City, Saturday afternoon. A team spokesman told ESPN that some staffers were informed of the threat while in the air, with the players asked to leave their bags behind to be inspected once on the tarmac. Nobody was hurt, with the players receiving their bags once at the team hotel. The incident was one of several hoaxes called into airports Saturday. Both the NBA and FBI will reportedly investigate the threat.

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.

Full Court Press: Isaiah Thomas hears all the ridiculous naysayers, recalls advice from Kobe Bryant 12.10.16 at 7:03 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas is trying to look on the bright side of things during his groin injury. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Most of the time, professional athletes block out the noise and nonsense. 

But ever so occasionally, sometimes the noise bleeds through. 

So when there was the theory put out early in Wednesday’s game against Orlando that the Celtics are somehow a better passing team without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup, the injured point guard fired back. And he drew on the advice he got once from Kobe Bryant. 

“They gotta write something. They say the stupidest things so they get the headlines and everybody can talk about it,” Thomas said Friday night before the Celtics hosted the Toronto Raptors. “I can’t control that. At this point, I laugh about it now. Because it’s like, if you really think that, OK, that’s fine. I know what I mean to my teammates, I know what I mean to this organization and to Brad Stevens.”

The Celtics started out with 11 assists on 13 baskets. They finished the game, a 30-point blowout win, with 29 assists on 43 baskets in Boston’s first game without Thomas. 

“The ball moved a little better without me. I guess so,” Thomas said before Friday’s game with an appropriate amount of cynicism. “‘They’re a better team without me. The ball moves better without me.’ I see it all.”

After getting his points across with a due amount of sarcasm, Thomas began to speak more from the heart. 

“That’s not true. So the chip on my shoulder that is what it is, I’m always going to have that and use that for motivation,” Thomas said. “But the numbers don’t lie. It is what it is. But people that say that they don’t even believe it. They go home at night, they’re not believing that. They’re just saying it to get a reaction. I’m trying my best not to react.”

Thomas is not only averaging 26 points, he handing out a team-leading 6.1 assists per game. 

“If it was anybody else we wouldn’t be talking about that,” Thomas continued. “I’m 5-9, that’s the only reason why they say that. I’m fine with that. I know what I bring to the table. My teammates know what I bring. As long as they are happy. I’m fine. I’m not going to react. I try not to. I try to think of what Kobe said: Be a lion. Just lock in and don’t worry about what others say.”

Sully’s return: Jared Sullinger is still waiting to make his return to the NBA after back surgery last spring. The Raptors signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal at the start of free agency in July. Sullinger was made available when the Celtics decided not to tender him in restricted free agency. But because of his offseason surgery, he hasn’t been able to get on the floor. But his coach has high hopes for him once he starts playing. 

“He gives us the same thing Al Horford gives the Celtics – a guy who can space the floor, a post-up threat, a passer, a player with a lot of intellect to play that position, experience,” Dwane Casey said. “He started 79 games for them last year, so he gives us that experience.”

When exactly that return happens is still up in the air.

“Not sure. There’s no definite timetable on it yet,” Casey said. “Someone said four to five weeks, and I don’t want to put a hard deadline on that. But it’s going to be up to him, his pain threshold, he’s been working his ass off, he’s been in the pool, he can barely put weight on it, but he’s trying to get back. He’s doing an excellent job with his conditioning, his weight is down. We’re not concerned as all.”

Sullinger has been traveling with the Raptors, including Friday night in Boston, where he got a chance to catch up with some former teammates. Was he disappointed not to play Friday night against the Celtics?

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