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Fast Break: Celtics use balanced attack to turn away Heat 11.28.16 at 10:08 pm ET
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Jae Crowder gets a little too aggressive defending Heat forward Derrick Williams during the Celtics' victory Monday night. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder gets a little too aggressive defending Heat forward Derrick Williams during the Celtics’ victory Monday night. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Although the Heat are one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics had to be a little concerned when center Al Horford stayed in Boston for the birth of his second child. After all, one of the Heat’s strengths is Hassan Whiteside, who came in leading the league in rebounds (14.9) and second in blocks (2.5) per game.

It turns out the C’s had nothing to worry about.

Despite an off shooting night from Isaiah Thomas, Boston used a big second quarter to pull away early and kept a safe distance from Miami the rest of the way in a 112-104 victory, its fourth in five games and its fourth straight road win.

The C’s led by two points after one period, then outscored the hosts 27-12 in the second quarter. Miami stayed within striking distance the rest of the night but never was able to make a serious challenge for the lead.

“I never felt really good about getting a stop in the second half, which isn’t good, but we scored enough to win,” C’s coach Brad Stevens told reporters in his postgame press conference.

Thomas rallied to finish with 25 points on 7-of-23 shooting (just 2-of-10 treys) and 9-of-9 free throws. He also had eight assists.

Boston had six players in double figures. Jae Crowder had an efficient game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Avery Bradley scored 18 points. Kelly Olynyk netted 14 (more on his strong all-around effort below). Marcus Smart (12) and Tyler Zeller (10) were the other double-figure scorers.

Tempers flared in a chippy fourth quarter, with Smart (no surprise) in the middle of things. After Whiteside grabbed a rebound with 3:17 remaining and cleared some space as he prepared to finish, Smart raced in and knocked over Whiteside, earning a flagrant-1. Later, the Heat repeatedly intentionally fouled Smart (a 55 percent free throw shooter), and he took exception and pushed Goran Dragic, earning a technical foul.

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Celtics Podcast: Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon explain how Celtics turn a corner with Al Horford back 11.28.16 at 7:52 pm ET
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WEEI’s Mike Petraglia talks with WEEI colleague and blogger Josue Pavon about how the Celtics are looking better with Al Horford back on the court and the overall toughness of this team.

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: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Celtics podcast, Josue Pavon
Full Court Press: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, Bill Belichick and link 3 share, Isaiah Thomas ‘a tricky little dude’ and nasty David Lee 11.26.16 at 6:36 am ET
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Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Celtics at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Philadelphia, they “trust the process.” In Boston, where they are light years ahead in the NBA galaxy, it’s not the process but the system that matters.

And Brad Stevens has two mentors that have set the standard in two professional sports.

This past spring, Belichick was the guest of the Celtics and Stevens courtside at the end of the regular season and in the three home playoff games against Atlanta.

In the fall, Belichick invited Stevens to speak at his foundation’s event and said it was actually the 39-year-old Celtics coach who provided “a lot of insight” into coaching. Stevens said Belichick was very supportive and offered advice.

On Friday, one of the people Belichick respects the most in the coaching ranks, Gregg Popovich, was in town. The two have had lengthy conversations in the past about coaching and what it is to manage modern-day pro athletes. Belichick and Popovich are the two undisputed kings of coaching in their respective sports and Brad Stevens has a relationship with both.

Popovich has five rings and six NBA finals appearances with the Spurs, and Belichick has four rings and six Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots.

Now that Stevens — in his fourth NBA season — is the coach of a team with expectations to make a run into the NBA stratosphere that includes perennial power San Antonio, Friday provided a good chance for Stevens to measure up to what Popovich has built over the last 20 years in San Antonio. 

“I talk to him occasionally,” Stevens said before Friday’s matinee. “But I’ve said this before, he’s always been very kind, open and helpful whenever I’ve called or needed something. Couldn’t respect a coach or a person more.

“I just think they have a clear way of doing things with regard to every detail matters, every possession matters on both sides of the ball. They’ve always had an emphasis on skilled players, but sometimes those guys come in different positions. And they’re just outstanding at what they do.”

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.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Brad Stevens, Celtics get a harsh lesson from Spurs on the art of finishing 11.25.16 at 8:51 pm ET
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There was so much positive to take for the Celtics Friday in the first 46 minutes.

They hung neck and neck with the best road team in basketball and one of the great franchises in all of sports for the last two decades.

They jumped out to a 24-10 lead. They shutdown three of San Antonio’s best players for most of the game, forcing Gregg Popovich to turn to his bench in crunch time against Boston’s starters.

But then the Celtics realized what so many others have found out when playing the Spurs: If you don’t finish, you usually don’t win. And the Celtics lost 109-103 at TD Garden.

In the final two minutes Friday afternoon, the Celtics had the crowd on its feet as they closed an eight-point hole to just three with 90 seconds left. But with just 44 seconds left, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart miscommunicated and found themselves guarding space in the paint instead of Patty Mills. Mills drained the three and it was a six-point game again. Then the Celtics battled back again. They had the lead down to 107-103 with 35 seconds left. Instead of fouling, Brad Stevens decided to have his team play good defense. They did. One problem: They didn’t box out LaMarcus Aldridge, who got the offensive rebound and helped the Spurs kill the rest of the clock.

“Well we didn’t rebound a couple of big shots and then I thought obviously losing Mills in the corner was a big play,” Stevens said. “They’re a hard team to guard. I thought we missed a couple of opportunities on both ends.

“I think home, road, 20 years whatever its been they finish; its who they are, it’s what they do. They have excellent players, obviously and excellent system and style of play and got great play off their bench tonight. I thought their bench was the biggest difference in the game scoring 56 points total and when you combine that with the rebounding when you’re minus 9, which hopefully you can manage that and be a little bit closer even with the size difference. We have to play a little bit better to win that game against a really good team.

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.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, San Antonio Spurs,
Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon talk Celtics lessons learned in Black Friday loss to Spurs 11.25.16 at 4:33 pm ET
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What can the Celtics take from a close call against the Spurs Friday afternoon at TD Garden? Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have the positives from a Celtics loss.

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: Boston Celtics, Josue Pavon, Mike Petraglia, San Antonio Spurs
Fast Break: Kawhi Leonard, Spurs’ bench beat Celtics in matinee at TD Garden 11.25.16 at 3:37 pm ET
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Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket againstSpurs guard Manu Ginobili (20) during the first half Friday at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

For the first time this season, a Celtics team that was at full-strength faced one of the best teams in the league. 

Although the C’s have already played against teams like the Cavaliers and the Warriors, both games were played without Al Horford and Jae Crowder. After sweeping their three-game road trip, Horford, Crowder and the Celtics battled against the third-best team in the NBA — the San Antonio Spurs (13-3) — but were outplayed in the second half en route to a 109-103 loss at TD Garden.

Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer from the corner with one minute left pulled the Celtics to within three points before Spurs guard Patty Mills answered Thomas with a 3 of his own — making it a two-possession game (107-101). Out of a timeout, Horford’s dunk pulled the game to within four points but the Celtics surrendered a crucial offensive rebound to Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge — who was intentionally fouled and made both free-throws with 18.5 ticks left that pretty much sealed the game.

The backcourt duo of Isaiah Thomas (24 points, 8 assists) and Avery Bradley (19 points, 8 rebounds) led the Celtics and Jae Crowder had his best shooting night of the season — finishing with 18 points on 7-of-11 shots.

Leonard finished with a game-high 25 points to go with his 9 rebounds and 4 assists and Mills’ 19 points led the Spurs’ bench. San Antonio’s bench made a big difference in this one. They combined for a whopping 56 points. Former Celtic David Lee finished with a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Davis Bertans added 15 points, including 3-of-5 from deep. 

For a complete box score, click here

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.

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Celtics notes pregame Friday: Brad Stevens starting to see what his team is like healthy 11.25.16 at 12:53 pm ET
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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins over the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nets to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously, we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

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.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
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