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Jae Crowder rips Celtics fans for cheering Utah’s Gordon Hayward before victory over Jazz 01.04.17 at 12:32 am ET
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Jae Crowder, in many ways, is the heart and soul of the Celtics. He’s the one who basically said, “Who needs him?” after Kevin Durant spurned the C’s this winter, and he was none too pleased with fans who cheered a rival on Tuesday night.

The C’s beat the Jazz, 115-104, but what got Crowder going was the reaction to Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, a potential free agent target this summer. Celtics fans cheered Hayward during introductions and Crowder took it as an insult.

“I heard the cheering before the game,” Crowder told reporters, including Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe. “I didn’t like that at all. I think that was a sign of disrespect to me from the fans. That sparked a little fire in me.”

Hayward led the Jazz with 23 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but was a minus-21 overall. Crowder, meanwhile, scored 21 points on 6-of-8 shooting, including 5-for-6 from 3-point range, and went for a plus-22. He kept up his diatribe on Twitter, in part, perhaps, because he and Hayward play the same position.

Give Crowder this much — he’s consistent. If someone does something that ticks him off, he’s not keeping his mouth shut about it.

That said, Hayward would be a valuable addition to the Celtics. The 6-foot-8 26-year-old is averaging over 22 points and 6 rebounds a game for the resurgent Jazz, who are 22-14 and ranked fifth in the Western Conference.

Read More: Celtics, Gordon Hayward, Jae Crowder, jazz
Win over Jazz reminded us it might be time to start finding out what Jaylen Brown is all about 01.03.17 at 10:03 pm ET
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Jaylen Brown (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown (Jerry Lai/USA Today Sports)

It was internet catnip. Just another list. This time the article attempted to identify the eight biggest busts from the 2016 NBA Draft, to date.

Sitting at No. 3? Jaylen Brown.

Such identifications start making some wonder. What if this player who was supposed to emerge into piece of the Celtics’ foundation was a miss.

Brown came into the Celtics’ tilt against the Jazz Tuesday night 24th among rookies in points per game (4.9), having also landed at 26th among the group for minutes per contest (13.4). Both classifications would certainly support the notion that things weren’t going as planned for the No. 3 overall pick.

But the reality is that Brown will ultimately be just fine. And proof of the promise came in the Celts’ 115-104 win over Utah, with the forward scoring 10 minutes in his 12 minutes. It was the first time since Dec. 11 he had totaled double-figures, and only third occasion since Nov. 11.

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

With the roster as currently constituted, the Celtics will continue to patience. But performances like Tuesday night make one wonder if the training wheels might be at least loosened a bit.

Clearly, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wants to prioritize those who he know can defend off the bench. That was once again made clear with Stevens’ comments prior to his latest win. And this might be a good reason while Brown hasn’t played more than 18 minutes in any of the last 12 games.

But it would also behoove the Celtics to find out if Brown is ready to add some offensive electricity. It’s not as if Brown hasn’t been efficient, having made 10 of his last 16 shots from the field over the past three games.

And while it might seem this isn’t a priority, especially considering the Celtics’ offensive output the best of any opponent against the Jazz this season, time is somewhat of the essence. The C’s simply have to start figuring out what they have — whether it’s for their future, or somebody else’s.

It’s ironic that Joe Johnson was in uniform for the opposition on this night considering he represents what could be a very real scenario for Brown and the Celtics. It was Johnson who was dealt to the Suns by the C’s after averaging 6.9 points in 48 games as a rookie.

That Johnson deal brought the Celtics Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk, and with them came a legitimate path to the Eastern Conference. At the time, it was worth it for the Celts. Now, with Brown as perhaps one of their best non-draft pick trade chips, they have to figure out if it’s worth it once again.

What do you think about Jaylen Brown?

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Brad Stevens on Celtics defense: ‘We don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better’ 01.03.17 at 7:15 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Before taking on the Jazz at TD Garden, coach Brad Stevens discussed how inconsistent the Celtics have been on the defensive end this season and why it’s important for him to make the proper adjustments going forward. 

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full on Tuesday, facing one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Jazz lead the league in fewest points allowed (94.5), are currently fourth in the Western Conference and riding high on a four-game winning streak. 

Stevens broke down stretches throughout the season where he’s seen his team defend poorly and why going to a ‘small-ball lineup’ against particular teams hurts them on the defensive end. 

“Sometimes when we go small, we’re really small so we’ve had to adjust that,” Stevens explained. “First seven games we were atrocious, defensively — which would actually be a compliment to how we were. And then the last seven [games] we haven’t guarded late, the middle 20 we were third in the league. So, we gotta be great, we gotta be great on that end if we wanna improve. Hopefully, we can be better at that as we head into this month and a half before the All-Star break because we don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better.”

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full in the low post, facing one of the league’s most impressive big men in Rudy Gobert. Utah’s defensive juggernaut is second in the league in blocks per game (2.60) behind Anthony Davis (2.62) and fifth in rebounding (12). 

Offensively, he leads the league in field goal percentage shooting at a 69 percent clip.

“He’s so big,” Stevens said about Gobert. “If he catches the ball on a roll and even if you’re there and he’s inside six [or] five feet of the basket, there’s a good chance you and the ball are both going into the basket together. He’s great at lobs. He’s gotten better, I think at finishing in traffic from what I’ve seen.

“He’s a good offensive rebounder. And then they have a bunch of guys that can really shoot the ball so he gets looks because you’re worried about the 3-point line. He’s a really good player and he’s having a great year.”

Another player who’s having a great season for the Jazz is their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 22.4 points a game while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert,
Why Danny Ainge’s deal for Isaiah Thomas was the biggest steal of his tenure 01.02.17 at 11:12 am ET
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Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will look to make another big trade sometime in the near future (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

No one knew it at the time but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the biggest steal of his tenure in Boston when he traded for Isaiah Thomas in the final minutes before the 2015 NBA trade deadline.

On February 19, 2015 — a day that was marked the busiest NBA trade deadline day in 25 years — the Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick.

For the Celtics, a team that was teetering between squeezing into the playoffs and entering a second consecutive draft lottery at the time, the deal pushed the ball forward in their rebuilding phase. It was clear Ainge wanted to see the Celtics blossom into a playoff team sooner rather than later, even if it meant a first-round sweep against the conference leading Cavaliers.

However, Ainge had his eyes on Thomas way before 2015’s trade deadline. He observed the young prospect before the 2011 NBA Draft and reached out to Thomas moments after free agency opened its doors in the summer of 2014.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said back in 2014.

Instead of inking a deal with the Celtics, a team with the crowded back court of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart at the time, Thomas signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Suns. It was a modest deal but Thomas was still trying to prove himself as a back up point guard at that time. Today, that’s a bargain to say the least as Thomas has reached new heights as one of the league’s elite scorers.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas,
Al Horford’s sister says Celtics need center because her brother is better suited to power forward 01.01.17 at 8:19 pm ET
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Anna Horford has the pulse of her brother’s team. The sister of Celtics forward Al Horford is pleading with Danny Ainge to prioritize getting some help on the inside instead of going after scoring, suggesting a center would be a better addition than Atlanta forward Paul Millsap, (or perphaps Indiana forward Paul George). Millsap has been rumored to be available, with the 6-foot-8, 10-year veteran averaging 17.4 points and eight rebounds per game. George is one of a multitude of stars from around the league the Celtics have reportedly shown interest in, with Pacers teammate Monta Ellis possibly being involved in a potential deal. George has one year left on his contract, with a player option for 2017-18.

She then clarified her tweet a bit …

Anna might ultimately get her wish when it’s all said and done, with DeMarcus Cousins, Nerlens Noel and even Anthony Davis being mentioned as potentially available via a trade. Horford might also have a change of heart, which already seems to have happened after seemingly urging the Celtics to go after an outside presence just a few weeks back.

Do you agree with Anna Horford?

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It’s time to start giving Isaiah Thomas the superstar status he deserves 12.30.16 at 11:26 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

OK, maybe it took the Celtics guard scoring 52 points in his team’s 117-114 win over the Heat Friday night to jump-start the conversation. And scoring a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter — coming two away from Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA mark, set in the Hall of Famer’s 100-point game — certainly should allow for another night in the spotlight.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Thomas said after the performance. “It’s crazy.” But for 2016, this was the Celtics’ David Ortiz. Thomas was the alpha dog. The guy who kept talks of competing beyond the regular season finale a reality.

Right now, as we sit here, there are three athletes who have established themselves as legitimate superstars during this calendar year. Tom Brady. Mookie Betts. Thomas. (You can make the case for Patrice Bergeron, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Brad Marchand, but each feel like they fall short of the others.)

But on virtually every day but the one he nets 52, Thomas is usually on the outskirts of such a conversation. Why?

Maybe it’s because some haven’t got past the fact this was a guy who was the very last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Or perhaps it is because Danny Ainge only needed journeyman guard Marcus Thornton and a pick in the 2015 draft to get him from the Phoenix two seasons ago.

Yet the real reason we still don’t want to immediately identify Thomas as a no-questions-asked foundation piece is something he brought up after getting doused with ice by his teammates in the Celtics’ locker room.

“I do,” said Thomas when asked if he felt there is a hesitation to lump him in with the league’s superstars. “The only reason say that is because I’m 5-9. That’s why they don’t about me like they do the other guys. But I’m fine with it.”

Once again, it’s easy to bring this up now. It was the first time a Celtic had scored 50 or more points since Paul Pierce netted half a century in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006. Only Larry Bird and Kevin McHale scored more points in a single game while wearing a Celtics uniform. And the nine three-pointers tied a club record, with Antoine Walker having managed the total twice.

“It just felt like I was out there by myself, like I was in the guy working on my game,” Thomas said. “I was just throwing up everything and it was going in. It was a special feeling.”

This, however, is bigger than just one night.

Thomas — who is now fifth in the NBA in scoring — has the skill and personality befitting those we hold above the rest. Last postseason, he was the one who called out his teammates after nobody could pry Atlanta’s triple-team away from him. Time and time again, it is the guard who has let the Celtics’ complementary players still win with their complementary skills. And Brad Stevens can be a good coach who wins in the NBA, because even the best coaches in this league need players who can score.

And all of this while paying him just more than $6 million this season and next before he finally is eligible for free agency after the 2017-18 season.

Thomas is keeper. That is one thing the Celtics should feel confident of heading into the new year.

“For me it feels normal,” he said. “When I score and I put the numbers up that I do, I give credit to my teammates and this organization for believing in me. It feels normal. Everything I’ve always done in my whole life I’ve worked that hard for it. It’s never felt like, ‘I’m 5-9.’ When I’m out there I feel like I’m 6-4. It’s just the same as everybody else. Tonight was different. But everything else, it feels somewhat normal.”

 

What was lesson Celtics learned after Isaiah Thomas’ 52-point night? They need to get him some help 12.30.16 at 9:56 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

What transpired against the Heat without Bradley — who missed his first game with an illness — was a familiar refrain. The Celtics needed scoring, so Isaiah Thomas scored. In this case, the production was in the form of 52 points and franchise-record nine three-pointers.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

Al Horford also offered his complementary output. But as has been the case for most of the last two seasons, the mish-mash of good-but-not great was good enough to beat a team like Miami, but not enough to get over the hump against the conference elite in Cleveland.

Thomas could do whatever he wanted against this collection of Heat. Try this strategy against any team with a record better than 10-24? Good luck.

Sure, Bradley and his 17.9 points a game would have helped. But without the guard, and even with Horford, this was a reminder of the pain that will ultimately be waiting in the postseason. The kind of pain that the Celtics became all-too-familiar with last April against the Hawks when Thomas finished off his season bemoaning triple-teams.

So, will this dynamic change before the Celtics really have to be judged against the best of the East?

It’s not like legitimate Top 3 guys can be added without some discomfort. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins (whose game would be a perfect fit), the uneasiness comes with both the player’s demeanor, and the cost to bring him in.

And really to reel in any available player similar to Cousin’s caliber, the Celtics be ready to give up that Brooklyn pick. It is one that is looking better and better every day thanks to both the college prospects who might be available and the Nets’ record. (Brooklyn owns the NBA’s worst record after Friday night’s loss.)

Perhaps Danny Ainge wants to ride this out. But the problem is if he does there really doesn’t seem to a lot of hope for internal solutions.

Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart. Gerald Green. Jonas Jerebko. Terry Rozier. To think that any of of this group is going to offer the kind of consistent production needed to change the conversation isn’t realistic.

Perhaps the best hope is Jaylen Brown, the rookie who once again showed flashes in his 15 minutes against the Heat. Brown finished with just six points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor, but with some increased confidence and playing time, he possesses the type of game of that can solve some problems.

Or maybe Brown becomes the kind of player teams will actually prioritize when looking to talk trade with the Celtics.

Isaiah (who, by the way, didn’t have a single assist) needs some help. Until then, the Celtics will have to live on the edge they’ve found themselves the last two nights.

What should the Celtics do?

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