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Brad Stevens on badly needed win: ‘Guys played with good purpose’ 03.20.16 at 11:43 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It may not have looked great for all 48 minutes, but the Celtics responded at key moments Sunday night and their coach was paying close attention. 

Brad Stevens knew going into Philadelphia with a four-game losing skid, coming out lethargic like they did in Toronto 48 hours earlier was not an option. 

The Celtics did fall behind 9-4 early but ended the first quarter with a 24-7 run and never trailed the rest of the way. They held the Sixers to 32 percent shooting in the first half in taking a 55-44 lead at the half. They did allow Philly to score 35 points in the third quarter, as the Sixers took advantage of some porous transition and low post defense. But the Celtics recovered nicely to close out their 40th win of the season. 

“Except for the third quarter, we were really good,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought we were really locked in, defensively. But the in third quarter, we have up 35 points and we weren’t. And you could see that at the third when we were trading baskets instead of really locking down. Hey, our guys came out ready, came out focused.”

The win improved the Celtics to 40-30 on the season, matching their total from last year. And now, they’re just a half-game behind Miami (40-29) for fourth in the Eastern Conference. As a matter of fact, starting with third-place Atlanta (41-29), only 1.5 games separates third from sixth in the East. Charlotte enters Monday with a 39-30 mark. 

“We knew it was an important game to play well,” Stevens said. “We can’t always control the results but you can control your input into it. Guys played with good purpose.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Philadelphia 76ers,
Isaiah Thomas: ‘We got a little bit of confidence back’ 03.20.16 at 11:11 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) takes a shot during the fourth quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics won the game 120-105. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas takes a shot during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

The box score showed that Isaiah Thomas, with 26 points, was the top scorer Sunday night in Boston’s 120-105 win over the Sixers in Philadelphia. 

But the Celtics’ leading scorer knows full well he and the rest of the team needed a balanced effort Sunday night to get back on the winning track. And that’s exactly what they got. 

Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points and all five starters scored in double figures, totaling 98 of Boston’s 120 points on the night.

“He just brought his energy,” Thomas told reporters about Johnson after the game. “He’s running the floor, getting the offensive rebounds, put-backs. He was doing all the things we need him to do. He kind of started off with the energy to start the game. He held us together.”

Avery Bradley scored 20 while Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner each had 17 in helping the Celtics snap a four-game skid. 

Heck, the Celtics even shot well from 3-point range, going 10-for-24, led by Sullinger perfect night on both of his tries and Avery Bradley going 3-for-4 from deep. 

“For the most part, we got a little bit of confidence back and got close to Boston Celtics basketball as we’ve [been lately],” Thomas said. “Guys just stepped up. Guys made plays and made shots, and that’s what we need from everybody, from the first guy to the last guy. We need guys to make plays and make shots. When we do that, we’re tough to beat, especially when we get stops on the defensive end, we’re a pretty good team.”

Thomas also was able to get rewarded by going to the line, nailing all 10 of his free throws on the night. 

“Yeah, that’s more like it,” Thomas said. “Let’s keep it consistent.” Got the calls “Yeah, I was just playing my game, being aggressive. Refs called it in my favor today. So hopefully, it stays that way. I’m just glad we got the win.” 

The Celtics return home for games Monday (Orlando) and Wednesday (Toronto) before a five-game trip out west. 

“Just get back to the winning ways as quick as you can, gain confidence and gain momentum going into the playoffs,” Thomas added. “We’ve just got to lock in. These last [10] games, we’ve got to really focus in, especially before we hit this West Coast trip.”

Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas,
Jonas Jerebko expected back Monday night vs. Magic 03.20.16 at 9:30 pm ET
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Jonas Jerebko missed his third straight game Sunday night in Philadelphia. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Jonas Jerebko (here defending against the Pacers) missed his third straight game Sunday night in Philadelphia. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics should be getting back a front-court piece just in time to take on Evan Fournier, Aaron Gordon and the length of the Magic.

When the Celtics take the court Monday, Jonas Jerebko could be ready to return to his customary role on the bench after sitting out the last three games with a sore Achilles.

Brad Stevens indicated before Sunday night’s game in Philadelphia that the 28-year-old power forward was on track to return.

Jerebko is averaging 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 66 games this season. Before sitting out Wednesday against Oklahoma City, Jerebko had played in 66 of Boston’s first 67 games.

Already without Jae Crowder (right ankle sprain), Jerebko didn’t make the trip to Toronto, staying home in Boston to get treatment of a sore Achilles for the last three days.

“We left him at home to get treatment,” Stevens told reporters on Friday. “It’s not a long-term thing.”

Without Crowder and Jerebko, Stevens was stripped of two of his most versatile post players, and it showed early. Luis Scola went off for 17 points as the Raptors built a 19-point first-half lead, eventually losing 105-91. Sunday night, Amir Johnson picked up more of the front-court load with 18 points in a 120-105 win.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jonas Jerebko,
Studs and Duds: Celtics get healthy at hands of hapless Sixers 03.20.16 at 8:33 pm ET
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76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) drives toward the net as Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) defends during the second quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Sixers forward Nerlens Noel drives as Celtics forward Amir Johnson defends during the second quarter of Sunday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Nothing’s automatic in the NBA. But Sunday night was about the closest thing to it for a road team badly in need of a win. 

Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points while Isaiah Thomas scored 13 of his team-leading 26 points in the third quarter, as the Celtics ended their four-game losing skid with a 120-105 win over the historically inept 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Avery Bradley added 20 points and four steals for the Celtics, who matched their win total of last season and improved to 40-30 with 12 games left in the season. The 76ers (9-61), with precious little NBA talent at their disposal due to injury, lost for the 22nd time in 24 games. If they were to lose their last 11 games, they would match the 1972-73 Sixers for the worst record in NBA history. 

All of the above not withstanding not to say the Celtics didn’t have some moments where you wondered if they were going to let the Sixers hang around. 

The Sixers, who were led by a season-best 26 points off the bench from Carl Landry, opened the game impressively, shooting out to a 9-4 lead. But the Celtics quickly went into the paint and established some interior dominance, outscoring the Sixers, 24-7, to close out the first quarter and take a 28-16 lead. The 16 points allowed marked a season-best by the Celtics defense in any quarter, accomplished twice previously. 

But an 8-0 run by Philadelphia to open the second quarter capped a 10-0 spurt and drew the Sixers within four, 28-24. After the Sixers again closed to within four, 35-31, the Celtics scored the next 11 points and raced out to 46-31 lead. 

The Celtics maintained control of the game the rest of the half as they took a 55-44 lead to the locker room. Avery Bradley (15 points) and Amir Johnson (12) combined for 27 points after totaling 12 on Friday night. 

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Philadelphia 76ers
Brad Stevens: ‘For the most part, we looked hesitant’ 03.18.16 at 11:23 pm ET
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Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

The last thing a coach wants to see is hesitation from his team. 

That’s exactly what Brad Stevens has seen from his team in their last four games, all losses, including Friday’s 105-91 defeat at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. 

The Raptors, despite playing their fourth game in five nights, came out on fire, thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Luis Scola, and took a 30-14 lead after one. 

“Yeah, Scola had 13 against us last game in the first quarter and 17 tonight. He’s a Celtic-killer,” Stevens said. “I thought that actually we did a pretty good job. Obviously, there were a couple of shots. [DeMar] DeRozan’s not a high-volume 3-point shooter. Scola’s not a high-volume shooter but certainly he’s capable of shooting it and has shot it very well this year.”

“Sometimes those go down and you regroup and you kind of hang around while they’re making those shots, and sometimes they don’t. I think Scola’s bigger ways he hurt us were just with his cutting, his post scoring, his rebounding, his plays around the rim. I just think that’s where he’s hurt us both games.”

Still, a pair of 19-point deficits before halftime seemed inexcusable, given what was at stake for the Celtics and stretch the Raptors were in. The Celtics played their best quarter in the last week in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and drawing to within five, 79-74. 

“Ball was really moving,” Stevens said. “We were getting good looks. Defensively, we were aggressive. We were communicating. You could tell there was a connectivity with the way they were playing. I thought we started really poorly,” Stevens said. “I did think though, a couple of those shots were not high-percentage shots that they made. But at the end of the day, you gotta kind of score and keep up with that as that’s happening and not dig yourself that big of a hole. The best we’ve played in two weeks is the third quarter.

“We can build off that. I think it was more of a factor of being hesitant than it was about not coming out and playing or competing or any of that stuff. I think that, for the most part, we looked hesitant. We looked unsure of ourselves and that type of stuff.

“I just told them I’m glad we played the way we did in the third because we’re a good basketball team when we play really hard together and believe in each other. We’ve just got to do that. It’s a tough stretch we’re in. We knew it was a tough stretch. It continues on Sunday on the road at Philly. We’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win.”

The Celtics were again without Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko but Stevens knows he couldn’t use that as an excuse for lack of execution. 

“Everybody misses players, right? I think those players are really good players,” Stevens said. “If they were here tonight, they would’ve played but they weren’t. We need other guys to step up.

“I guess we got back in it in the third quarter and then we had a cluster of errors there that led to transition points and kind of got us back out of it. We played the best in the third quarter that we’ve played in two weeks, so that’s good. But we’ve got to sustain it longer period than one quarter. “

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Toronto Raptors,
Isaiah Thomas: ‘Things have got to change around here’ 03.18.16 at 11:01 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores as Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) attempt a block in the third quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores as Toronto Raptors center Bismack Biyombo (8) attempt a block in the third quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

After Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Thunder, Isaiah Thomas was embarrassed. 

He assumed that, after calling out his teammates for getting “punked” and looking “soft as tissue” in the 130-109 loss, the Celtics would come out Friday night in Toronto looking hungry against the Raptors, a team that played an overtime game in Indiana the night before and was playing its fourth game in five nights. 

Instead the Celtics were the ones who came out flat, falling down 30-14 after the first 12 minutes and looking shell-shocked and unprepared for Luis Scola.

When it was all said and done, Thomas witnessed his teammates commit 16 turnovers and self-destruct in a 105-91 defeat. Now, he wants something to change. 

“We keep losing so we’ve got to change something up,” Thomas told reporters after. “Coach [Stevens] said our third quarter, we played Celtic basketball. We got ourselves back in the game. We showed signs of playing like we know how but against a good team like the Raptors, you can’t play just one good quarter.”

The Celtics did indeed cut a 19-point deficit down to five twice, including at the end of the third on a three from rookie RJ Hunter. But six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth and Kyle Lowry (15 points in the fourth) ended any hope of a comeback win. 

“I feel like they’re soft turnovers. We’re just being real soft with the ball, not being in control of the possession. That’s the definition of how we’re playing. We’re not playing to the best of our abilities. We’re not playing like we know how. We’re playing like we’re second-guessing all our [decisions], whether it’s offensively or defensively.”

The Celtics are on their first four-game losing streak of the season. They’re 39-30 and suddenly in sixth place in the East. They have winnable games against Philadelphia and Orlando Sunday and Monday but then a game against the Raptors Wednesday at the Garden before heading out West. 

“I tried to tell the guys after the game, this is not on the coaches,” Thomas said. “This is not on anybody else. We’re the players. We go out there and play and we’ve got to figure it out. We had this little slump in January and we ended up figuring it out, too. 

“But there’s [13] games left, we don’t have that much more room for error, so things have got to change around here.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Toronto Raptors,
Studs and duds: Careless Celtics can’t overcome Kyle Lowry, Raptors, drop fourth straight 03.18.16 at 9:53 pm ET
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Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) dribbles past Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the second quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) dribbles past Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the second quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics had the heart but not the head Friday night.

Kyle Lowry went 5-of-8 from 3-point range and scored 32 points to lead the Raptors to a 105-91 win over the Celtics Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Celtics (39-30) faced a pair of 19-point first-half deficits and cut it down to five points twice in the third quarter before self-destructing in the fourth quarter. 

Boston committed six turnovers in the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter and Lowry scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to send the Celtics to their fourth straight loss, their longest skid of the season and their longest since losing four straight, Dec. 21-27, 2014. 

The Celtics were again led by Isaiah Thomas, who scored 20 points. The only other Boston player in double figures was Evan Turner (12 points), who replaced Marcus Smart in the lineup. 

Playing without Jae Crowder (missing his third straight game with a high ankle sprain) and Jonas Jerebko (missing his second straight with an Achilles injury), the Celtics had no answers for Luis Scola in the first quarter. The Raptors, playing their fourth game in five nights, took advantage of the front-court deficiency as Scola made 6-of-8 from the field and scored a remarkable 17 points in the first 12 minutes. 

The Celtics didn’t help themselves with seven turnovers in the opening quarter that led to 11 Toronto points. The Raptors led 30-14 after one. 

The Celtics appeared close to getting blown off the court by the Raptors in the second quarter, falling behind by as many as 19 points twice, 40-21 and 53-34. Stevens desperately searched his bench for any kind of answer, putting in R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey at one point. The Celtics took the best shot from Toronto and hung tough, making a bit of a run late in the second quarter, cutting the deficit down to 14, 55-41 at the half. 

The Celtics made a big run at the Raptors late in the third quarter, cutting the lead all the way down to five, 74-69, before Terrence Ross hit a corner three. That was followed by a runner from DeMar DeRozan.

Hunter hit a corner three with 0.4 left in the third that capped a 31-point quarter for the Celtics and again brought the C’s within five, 79-74, heading into the fourth. But the Celtics couldn’t take care of the ball when it mattered most, committing six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth, two of which led directly to 3-pointers from Lowry. 

The Raptors opened the fourth with six straight points and eventually raced out to a 93-76 lead. The Celtics fell to 0-44 when trailing by at least 19 points at any point in the three-year Brad Stevens era. 

The Celtics play in Philadelphia Sunday night at 6 p.m. before returning home for a game against the Magic at the Garden Monday night. 

For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors,
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