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Avery Bradley, Al Horford and how the Celtics made the Bulls crumble in Game 5 04.27.17 at 2:15 am ET
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What was most impressive about Boston’s 108-97 win over the Bulls in Game 5? Was it Avery Bradley coming out on fire and playing a great defensive game? Al Horford dominating in the 4th or the Celtics generating 23 points off 16 Chicago turnovers? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss from TD Garden.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Celtics 108, Bulls 97: C’s roar to Game 5 victory, push Bulls to brink of elimination 04.26.17 at 11:08 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) lays the ball over the reach of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the first half in Game 5 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) lays the ball over the reach of Bulls guard Dwyane Wade (3) during the first half in Game 5 of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the first time in three trips to the playoffs, it’s not all about Isaiah.

The Celtics on Wednesday took a 3-2 lead over the Bulls with a 108-97 victory in Game 5, their third straight win after dropping the first two games at home, and they did it without a banner night from All-Star Isaiah Thomas.

Though Thomas had his moments, particularly during the game-clinching run in the fourth quarter, this one was about the supporting cast.

Avery Bradley scored 24 points with six assists. Big man Al Horford, a weapon all night in the pick and roll, chipped in 21 points, 7 rebounds, and nine assists, filling the stat line in all the ways the Celtics envisioned when they signed him over the summer.

The second unit contributed, whether it was monster dunks from Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko, 14 points and some clever finishes from a fired-up Kelly Olynyk, or another energetic performance from Marcus Smart (8 points, 8 assists).

That said, this one was still a game until midway through the fourth quarter. Despite playing without injured point guard Rajon Rondo, who was unable to go just days after breaking his thumb in Game 2, the Bulls hung tough and actually entered the fourth quarter with a one-point lead following Jimmy Butler’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third.

But Thomas and Horford took over in the fourth, spearheading a 25-8 run to open the quarter as the Celtics pulled away. After scoring just seven points in the first half on 1-of-6 shooting, Thomas came alive in the second half and finished with 24 points, including a number of the fearless drives that are his trademark. Though he shot just 1-for-10 on 3-pointers, he went 11-for-11 from the free throw line; as a team, the Celtics went 23-for-23.

On the other side, aging star Dwyane Wade did his best to keep the Bulls in the game, nearly notching a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists.

The Celtics had too much, however. They can close out the Bulls in Game 6 on Friday in Chicago. There’s a chance Rondo plays in that one, but the way the Celtics have played the last three games, particularly their second unit, it might not matter.

Read More: Al Horford, Bulls, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Al Horford says Gerald Green is biggest reason Celtics won in Chicago. Will it continue? at 8:24 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

After facing a 2-0 hole in the best-of-7 series, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew a change had to be made to the starting lineup. 

Stevens’ decision to start Gerald Green over Amir Johnson was a surprising one, to say the least, but certainly made a difference in Chicago — where the Celtics won two straight against the Bulls to tie the series, 2-2. It was a move that Al Horford says is the biggest reason why the C’s topped the Bulls twice on their own floor.

“For us, the lineup change is what helped us [the most], I think,” Horford said. “Being able to add Gerald to the starting lineup, I felt like that gave us better spacing.”

Green certainly made his presence felt in Chicago, especially in Game 4 when he scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half and finished with 7 rebounds in the crucial momentum-changing win. Now as the series swings back to Boston for Game 5, Horford is confident the Celtics can top the Bulls at home for what would be their first home victory of the series. 

“We’re gonna do what we do, that’s just playoff basketball after you play a certain amount of games,” Horford explained. “This is the ninth time we’ve played this team this year. I think it’s just a matter of keep seeing the same guys, keep running the same plays over and over and over. For us it’s just to make sure we go out and handle our business.”

Aside from Green’s Game 4 scoring outburst, Isaiah Thomas’ attitude, along with his 33-point performance of course, and his smile, certainly stood out on Sunday. It was the first time in the series we’ve seen that side of Thomas, since the untimely passing of his young sister, Chyna Thomas. 

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, NBA
Big blowout win in Game 3 shows there’s life in Celtics after all 04.21.17 at 9:22 pm ET
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Apr 21, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over defender Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first quarter in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas shoots over defender Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first quarter in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at United Center. (Caylor Arnold/USA Today Sports)

There is life in the Celtics after all. 

Thanks to a red-hot Jae Crowder early, an energized Isaiah Thomas in the third quarter and brilliant 3-point shooting, the Celtics managed to turn the tables and rout the Bulls, 104-87, Friday night in a must-have Game 3 at Chicago’s United Center.

The Bulls still lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Sunday night in Chicago before the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 Wednesday in Boston. 

The Celtics connected on an amazing 17-of-37 shots from 3-point range (.459) as eight different Celtics hit at least one shot from long range. Al Horford led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds while Crowder and Thomas each had 16. 

Avery Bradley chipped in 15 points and great defense for most of the night on Jimmy Butler, who missed nine of his first 10 shots. 

“Avery had a great game tonight,” Brad Stevens said after his first-ever road playoff win in six tries. “I couldn’t take him out of the game. He played the first 18 mins of the second half.”

The Celtics absolutely needed to take advantage of the fractured right thumb that will likely sideline Rajon Rondo for the rest of the series. And early on, they did. With Rondo out wearing a split on his right arm and a unique short-sleeve burgundy suit with white sneakers on the bench, the Celtics clearly looked more energized to start the game – and definitely more confident. 

“I thought our poise was 10-times better tonight,” Stevens said. 

The Celtics did the bulk of their damage from 3-point range. They converted five of their first seven tries from deep and finished the first 12 minutes making 7-of-11 from deep. 

Horford was a monster on both sides of the floor. He had two steals, a block and converted both shots from beyond the arc. 

Gerald Green, in the lineup at the ‘4’ position for Amir Johnson, moved Horford to the center position and provided some early spark with drives to the paint. 

The Celtics jumped out to a 14-4 lead with an 11-0 run. Then, after the Bulls responded with six straight, the Celtics went on a 13-0 run sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from the red-hot Jae Crowder. The Celtics led 33-15 after one. 

The lead ballooned to 37-17 in the opening minute of the second quarter as Jimmy Butler was on the bench. But the Bulls’ bench got hot and responded with an 11-0 run that energized the late-arriving Bulls crowd at the United Center. 

(For the full box score and details, click here). 

In desperate need of better play from Avery Bradley, the Celtics got it in the first half. The guard connected on his first four shots, including three threes, scoring 11 points as the Celtics stabilized things midway through the second with a 42-32 lead. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck on OM&F: ‘I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today’ 04.12.17 at 12:06 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (see complete recap here) and was asked about the differing opinions over Al Horford’s impact this season.

Horford isn’t posting superstar numbers (14 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5 assists), but with the Celtics sitting on 52 wins with a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night against the Bucks, his contributions have been debated.

Put Grousbeck squarely in the camp of “no regrets” over signing the center to a four-year, $113 million contract last summer.

“I’m very happy with the signing and we have to be responsible for the contract,” Grousbeck said. “I’d love to see him step up and lead us all the way. Adding him last year put us better in the mix for another major free agent last year, obviously, puts us in the mix for a free agent this summer if we want to go that route, makes us a destination. I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today.”

So what do fans and media miss on nights when Horford doesn’t score a ton?

“I think when you go to the next level of analytics with Al, you see that Isaiah [Thomas] shoots noticeably better when he’s on the court,” Grousbeck said. “A lot of Isaiah’s points come from Al’s assists and Al’s screens. He’s one of the two leading big men in the league in assists at five a game, which is pretty high for a starting center. His screens are effective. He clears room for Isaiah to drive to the hoop, he sees him effectively along the perimeter. Isaiah and Al are linked. Isaiah shoots 55 percent when Al’s on the floor and 50 percent when he’s not. That’s a big difference when you take as many shots as Isaiah takes. That’s a meaningful difference in a game.”

Grousbeck suspects we’ll see a more assertive Horford in the postseason.

“I think playoffs will logically be his time,” he said. “When everything tightens up, you need that big man passing and setting screens and then bringing his offense. His balance is one of the reasons we are where we are.”

Read More: Al Horford, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA playoffs
Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown out through break, Brad Stevens makes Al Horford All-Star argument 02.15.17 at 7:50 pm ET
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Avery Bradley really wants to get back to playing.

But the Celtics want him 100 percent when the games really matter in April and May.

To that end, Bradley understands the Celtics being ultra-cautious with his sore right Achilles, which is just about fully healed.

That injury forced him to miss his 15th straight game Wednesday and will keep him out as well on Thursday night in Chicago. Bradley has played just once since Jan. 6.

“It’s frustrating,” Bradley said before Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. “I guess it’s just part of the game and part of being smart. I want to play and play through it but the team advised me that this is not the time to take that risk right now and something potentially happen to my Achilles or a different injury.”

Bradley and the team are not just protecting against the existing injury but trying to make sure he doesn’t compensate unconsciously and injure something else.

“It was just a decision to make together and we felt like it’s the best one,” Bradley continued. “It’s feeling really good.”

But Bradley admitted he hasn’t worked on the court much lately and getting back in basketball shape will be key.

“I really haven’t done much,” he said. “I’ve been doing more conditioning and strengthening, upper body and lower body, just making sure I’m strong enough for when I do return. Now, we’re getting the basketball stuff in, so I’m hoping over the All-Star [break], I can play some basketball and be ready for the first game.”

Brad Stevens sounded much more cautious when asked about Bradley and Jaylen Brown (hip).

“Both guys are out for the next two games with the hope of doing some practice when we return,” Stevens said.

After Thursday’s game in Chicago, the Celtics are off for eight days, resuming their schedule in Toronto on Feb. 24 against the Serge Ibaka-revitalized Raptors.

All-Star push: Brad Stevens suddenly has an open roster spot on his Eastern Conference squad Sunday in New Orleans. Kevin Love is out at least six weeks with impending knee surgery. Stevens has no say in Love’s replacement but he has a natural suggestion should anyone ask.

Al Horford may not be putting up huge numbers (14.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.0 APG) but they are first, second and second respectively on a team that is just two games out of first place in the East. Expectations have been as big as Horford’s four-year, $113 million contract. But according to his coach, he’s been a big part of why the Celtics have risen to the top in the East.

“I always base my decision on who is really impacting winning, and I think that’s why Al would be a good choice,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “I’m hopeful Al gets that call. It’s not our call. But there’s a lot of good players in this league. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody else. We certainly hope Al gets that call.”

If Stevens was being somewhat (understandably) understated in his praise of Horford, Sixers coach Brett Brown was not. He also said the Celtics have risen to the top but went even further in his praise of the man once coached by Brett Brown’s good friend Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. Brown and Budenholzer coached together under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. 

“You can’t even put a price tag on that. He was coached by a close friend of mine in Atlanta for a while,” Brown said of Horford’s days in Atlanta. “If you just go to the person, there’s a veteran class and there’s an elite mind, basketball mind, and then you can start talking about his actual game. So, what he does to a locker room, what he does from experience perspective and you take the unusual skill package in that he can bring you out and stretch the court.

“Even when you study the last time that we played here, Joel [Embiid] gets sucked in on a drive and they kick it to Al in the corner for a three, that’s an unusual match-up for a 7-foot-2 center. I think that Brad does a really good job, creative job on using Olynyk and Horford, especially, with how they can stretch the floor, and Amir [Johnson], letting Amir shoot corner threes. Kind of all over the place, off-the-court locker room stuff, I think it’s just a sensational acquisition and piece that they have made to legitimately look at them now as one of the elite teams in the East. It’s a wonderful building block, for sure.” 

The Celtics are 7-5 without Horford in the lineup this season.

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Read More: Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Kevin Love
Al Horford on Wednesday’s shooting struggles: ‘It just wasn’t going for me’ 01.18.17 at 11:19 pm ET
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The Celtics didn’t bring Al Horford to Boston so he could blow everyone away with his perimeter shooting. But he’s proven at times to be more than adept with a jump shot.

Wednesday just wasn’t his night.

In the Celtics’ 117-106 loss to the Knicks at TD Garden, Horford looked lost from the perimeter, missing wide open looks. When he clanked a 3-point attempt with 4:31 left in the game and the Celtics down by 10, the Garden was not afraid to hammer him with some boos.

Horford can’t remember ever having a night this bad offensively — especially in a Celtics uniform.

“I struggled bad offensively,” Horford said. “I tried to do everything I could to help us, but it just wasn’t going for me.”

The bigman ultimately went 1-for-8 on the night from distance, 2-for-14 overall from the field.

“It was just bad, and I have to be better,” he lamented after the game.

Horford was aware of how bad his perimeter shooting was getting. Later in the game, he started to try and help more in the post and with both on- and off-ball screens.

The problem was, the looks he was getting were just too good to pass up. 

“One thing I noticed was I kept missing short,” Horford said. “And I try to remind myself that it was at the point that I didn’t have it, and that was tough. So I try to impact the game in other ways, whether it was setting screens, giving people shots, stuff like that. But that was definitely tough for me because they were good looks, I even felt good about a few of them, they just didn’t go in.

Horford has always been equipped with a short memory. He acknowledged that it wasn’t a permanent flaw, rather just a bad showing. He’s bought into Brad Stevens’ system since day one, and knows that when the TrailBlazers come to town on Saturday, it will be a clean slate.

“I think we just need to keep trusting and running our offense, making sure that we play with a little more energy and refocus,” Horford said. We have a big one on Saturday here at home and we’ll have a chance to redeem ourselves and be better.

“I’ll come in tomorrow, do some work. I’ll look at the film, see which way I can get better. It’s just one game, I’ll be fine.”

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