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Studs and Duds: Celtics rally falls short as Avery Bradley (hamstring) injured 04.16.16 at 9:52 pm ET
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Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) goes up for a rebound against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the first half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) goes up for a rebound against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the first half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics lost a playoff game and their best defensive player down the stretch of a rough Game 1 in Atlanta. 

Al Horford led three Hawks with at least 20 points, scoring 24 while grabbing 12 rebounds as Atlanta grabbed Game 1, 102-101, Saturday night at Philips Arena. 

Avery Bradley left the game midway through the fourth quarter grabbing his right leg in pain with a strained right hamstring. He did not return. His status for Game 2 Tuesday night is unknown. 

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 27 points, as Boston erased an 18-point first half hole to take a fourth quarter lead. But the Celtics faded after Bradley went down and fell down, 1-0, in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. 

Jae Crowder hit a three with 6.6 seconds left to bring Boston to within two, 100-98. But Jeff Teague hit two free throws with 5.2 seconds left to seal the win. Thomas hit a three with 0.4 left to make it 102-101. 

The Hawks came out on fire in the opening quarter, racing out to a 20-10 lead. The Celtics were settling for jump shots and the Hawks were taking advantage in transition, getting open looks at threes and midrange jumpers. 

With the Celtics concerned about how to contain Atlanta bigs Paul Millsap and Al Horford, the biggest factor in the opening quarter was the foul trouble the Celtics’ big men faced. Both Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger picked up two fouls apiece. 

The Hawks finished the first quarter on a 7-2 run to take a 30-19 lead. 

The Hawks built their lead up to 14, 39-25 before Marcus Smart drilled a three from the left wing with just under seven minutes left in the second quarter. 

The Celtics made just 11 of their first 49 shots from the floor, falling behind 48-30 with just under two minutes left in the first half.  Atlanta finished the second quarter on an 18-9 spurt to take a 51-34 lead at the half. The Celtics shot an abysmal 23.1 percent, connecting on just 12-of-51 shots in the first 24 minutes, including 2-for-16 from beyond the arc. 

Adding to the misery of the first half was an injury to the left index finger of Smart. He was replaced by R.J. Hunter with five minutes left in the second quarter. Smart returned midway through the third quarter. 

Almost predictably, the Celtics went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter to cut Atlanta’s lead to nine, 54-45. Brad Stevens made a change in the starting lineup to open the second half, replacing Amir Johnson with Evan Turner. 

The Celtics were trading baskets for the next five minutes before the Celtics got a three from Isaiah Thomas with 5:47 left in the third, cutting Atlanta’s lead to six, 62-56. 

Bradley’s layup with 4:57 left cut the lead down to five, 63-58 before Mike Scott drilled a three to put the lead back to eight, 66-58. Millsap then drove past Kelly Olynyk for a layup and a foul. The three-point play with 4:05 left in the third put the lead back to 11, 69-58. 

The Celtics’ frustration with a lack of calls going their way finally led to a technical on Brad Stevens with 2:52 left in the third quarter. It was Stevens’ first technical of the season and just his second with the Celtics in three seasons. With 46 seconds left in the quarter, Bradley hit a three that cut the lead back to five, 70-65. The Celtics finished the third quarter with 11 fast break points and 18 points in the paint, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 72-65 heading into the fourth. 

The Celtics used the 3-point play, conventional and beyond the arc, to continue their second-half surge. Bradley hit a mid-range jumper and Marcus Smart was fouled. Smart’s free throw made it a one-possession game at 80-77. With 7:49 left, Smart drilled a three to tie it and then Crowder connected from the left wing with 6:49 left to give Boston an 83-80 lead and cap a 9-0 Celtics run. 

But on the next possession, the entire tone of the game changed when Bradley pulled up lame with a right hamstring strain. He had to be helped off the court by trainer Ed Lacerte and teammate Tyler Zeller. He was almost immediately ruled out of the game by the team. 

Thomas drilled a three with 5:53 left to give the Celtics an 86-84 lead. It would be Boston’s last field goal until a Marcus Smart putback layup with 1:02 left, a drought of four minutes, 51 seconds.

The Hawks went to work. With 4:07 left, Teague converted a layup putting the Hawks up, 88-86. With 3:25 left, Horford’s layup on a pass from Teague made it 90-88 Hawks. Turner’s three to tie the game with 46 seconds left was off the mark. Isaiah Thomas missed a layup and Bazemore hit one of two free throws to make it, 99-93 with 25.7 seconds left.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in Atlanta before the series shifts back to Boston for Game 3 next Friday night at TD Garden.

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

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics,
Avery Bradley: ‘We have a chip on our shoulder. We feel like we can go a lot further than last year’ 04.15.16 at 4:17 pm ET
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Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM  –  The way Avery Bradley looks at it, this first round series against Atlanta is as a good time as any for redemption and respect for this new wave of Celtic pride. 

Bradley has been in the playoffs before with the Celtics. He was a key member of the team’s run to the Eastern finals in 2012. He was an observer off the bench as the team came within 12 minutes of a world championship in his rookie season of 2010. Last year, he was the elder statesman that many younger guns like Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas looked up to for leadership against Cleveland. 

Now, with last year’s four-game sweep a distant memory, it’s time to prove that this year’s 48-34 record was no fluke. As a matter of fact, the only what Bradley believes they can truly earn respect is with a series win over the Hawks, and that starts Saturday at Philips Arena. 

“I’m ready. This is what we prepare all year for, the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “[Saturday] we have a chance to go out there and show all the hard work that we’ve put in this year. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

How is the mindset different from last year at this time?

“It’s different. I feel like we have a little more experience. Last year, we got a little taste and it was kind of embarrassing, even though we were playing the No. 2 seed. This year, I feel like it’s a lot different. We have a chip on our shoulder and we feel like we can go a lot further than last year. I think it’s a lot different. We’re a lot more confident. Obviously, if you have that experience in something, everybody is going to be a lot more confidence. If they’re nervous of the crowd, the media, whatever it is. We’re a lot more comfortable. We’re just going to go out there and play basketball, just worry about basketball.

“We’ve been playing together, a lot of the guys, the core group of the guys have been playing together for three years, two years. I think can carry into the playoffs because when we’re going through adversity, we’re like a family. We can all sit each other down, look each other in the eyes and dig deep and go out there and play as hard as we can for one another. That’s the most important thing for us as a young team and the playoffs, because we need to stay together every single possession, even if somebody turns the ball over. We have to make sure we’re mature enough to stay positive.”

The “chip-on-the-shoulder” and “no respect” cards are two of the oldest in pro sports. It’s one the Celtics clearly are not afraid to play as their playoff season begins.

“We’re the underdog,” Isaiah Thomas said of starting the series on the road. “I watch NBA TV, I watch all the little things, they have Atlanta winning. Everybody has Atlanta winning. They all count us out. The pressure’s on Atlanta. We just have to go in there and execute and do what we’ve been doing all year and I think we give ourselves a good chance to win this series.”

And what about the chip on the shoulder? 

“We better. They always, for some reason they look past us. I guess that’s just the way it is and we like it like that,” Thomas added. 

“We’ve been able to embrace it and run with it, use it as motivation,” Jae Crowder said. “A lot of guys in our locker room have really embraced that and used that. I think it’s all about accepting it and moving on, and we have. And we feed off it.”

“With us being a underdog and kind of being disrespected by a lot of people, I think a lot of people fear us because of how hard we play,” added Jared Sullinger. “It showed in our last regular season game. That game was if we win, we don’t know where we’ll be at. If we lose, we wind up in the sixth spot, but we’re still in the playoffs. To have the mindset of knowing that was game 82 and it really didn’t matter the outcome of the game, if we were going to be in the playoffs or not. The mindset of us just going out there and letting everyone know this is the type of team we are, by coming back and winning — that’s big time. That’s who we are and what we do.”

Bradley is convinced that if the Celtics can bottle up the defensive effort of the second half against Miami and bring it with them to Atlanta to start the series, they’ll be in great shape. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens wants his Celtics to ‘play with a clear mind and be fresh’ for Hawks series at 3:49 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Brad Stevens saw enough from his players over the last three games to know what was different about them from the team that was closing in on a No. 3 seed in the East. 

In the final three games, two losses and a miracle comeback against the Heat in the second half, Stevens saw his team play out of sorts and out of rhythm. 

He fully realizes that the defense that Atlanta and Charlotte were playing had something to do with that, as did the 65 percent shooting of the Heat in the first half. 

But in going over film of the Hawks, he wants his team to be focused not just on making life tough on Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague but controlling what his team can control. 

“How hard you cut, how well you pass, how well you execute, all those little things,” Stevens said after Friday’s practice before leaving for Atlanta and Game 1 Saturday night. “Now, when you do those things really well that shot has a tendency to go in. That’s just how it works, right? But I think the bottom line is it requires a great deal of multiple efforts the whole game.

“You watch film, do what you need to go to get ready for a game obviously,” Stevens said. “We watched a little bit of film yesterday, too, but you’re going to have to do what you need to do to play well, and it’s a simple, fast-paced game first and foremost, and so I’m big in make the appropriate adjustments but play with a clear mind and be fresh.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Isaiah Thomas: ‘We feel like we can definitely make noise’ at 3:07 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Armed with an attitude and the confidence of a full All-Star season to back it up, Isaiah Thomas feels these Celtics are ready to make some noise against Atlanta in the playoffs starting Saturday night. 

“I learned a lot,” Thomas said following Friday’s final practice at the team’s facility in Waltham. “You’ve got to adjust to whatever the team’s doing. And be able to still contribute, even if they’re trying to take away your aggressiveness or your scoring ability or whatever the case may be. The best players figure it out. I know they’ll probably try to, not just contain me, but to try to slow me down. But you just gotta stay at it and continue to keep  your foot on the pedal.” 

Last year against Cleveland in the four-game sweep in the opening round, Thomas made just 18-of-54 shots from the field, averaging 17.5 points. He scored 20 points in three of the four games but was held to just five points in the Game 2 loss.

But Thomas believes it’s not just him but the entire team that is feeling better about themselves after a 48-34 season and the No. 5 seed in the East.

I think we got just a lot more confidence. We feel like we can definitely make noise,” Thomas added. “We think that the Eastern Conference is open for any team. We just gotta get a win and gain confidence off that win. I think we’re just a lot more confident and we feel like we’ve been here before, which we have.

“Just more confident. I think we just got a different feel about ourselves. Last year we kinda snuck into the playoffs, this year, I mean, teams knows about us a little bit. I think we’re the best team in the Eastern Conference. We want to make some noise. Like I said, we want to get that first win off our belt, then we want to win a playoff series and go from there. We’re not overlooking Atlanta. We know that they’re a great team. We gotta be locked in and just live in the moment. This is a big moment for us.”

Thomas and the Celtics will have fresh memories of the Hawks when they take the court Saturday night for Game 1. They fell apart in the fourth quarter after leading 87-75 and lost, 118-107. 

“We need to slow down a little bit. Slow down and just execute,” Thomas said. “They sped us up a little bit more than we wanted to. And they also pushed our catches where they were denying us. We just gotta get to our spots. We gotta do what we do and do that at a high level. I think that would be the big thing.”

That goes for his own game. 

“It’s something that I just tried to learn throughout the offseason as well, by watching a lot of film, and really learning how to impact the game without just scoring; learning how to use double-teams to my advantage to get the ball out quicker; having [help] on the backside any things like that,” Thomas said. “Just stay in attack mode, don’t let whatever they do try to slow me down.”

Thomas was again asked about his left wrist after practice Friday and whether it might be an issue in the series.

“No, I don’t want [any tests],” Thomas said. “I’ll be fine, I’ll be all right.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Celtics open playoffs Saturday night in Atlanta, home games April 22, 24 04.14.16 at 12:07 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) will be taking on the Hawks beginning Saturday night in the first round. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (4) and the Celtics will take on the Hawks beginning Saturday night in the first round. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Saturday night is all right for the Celtics.

The NBA announced its full first-round playoff schedule early Thursday morning, and the league has the No. 5 Celtics and the No. 4 Hawks opening their Eastern Conference series in Atlanta on Saturday night at 7 p.m. on ESPN. 

Game 2 will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. before the series shifts to Boston for Games 3 and 4 next Friday (April 22) at 8 p.m. and Sunday (April 24) at 6 p.m.

Game 5 would be Tuesday, April 26, in Atlanta. Game 6 is set for Thursday, April 28, in Boston. If the series goes the limit, Game 7 would be Saturday, April 30, in Atlanta.  

The Celtics and Hawks have met 11 times in the postseason, with Boston winning 10 of the 11 series. The only time the Hawks came out on top was in the 1958 NBA Finals, when the franchise was in St. Louis. 

The most recent meeting was in 2012, when Boston prevailed in six games.

The two teams have had their epic moments, most notably in 1988, when Larry Bird outdueled Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and in Game 7 in 2008, when the Celtics avoided a monumental upset as the No. 1 seed, on their way to a 17th NBA title. 

As for the defending NBA champion and record 73-game winners, the Warriors, they open the playoffs on Saturday afternoon in Oakland against the Rockets. The first of four games Saturday features the No. 7 seed Pacers traveling to Toronto to take on the No. 2 Raptors. 

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Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard talk Celtics epic comeback, what it means to face Hawks at 12:37 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard discuss how the Celtics were able to execute the greatest comeback in the NBA this season on the season’s final night. The Celtics trailed by 26 points to the Heat at one point in the first half before turning on the defensive jets in the second half, limiting the Heat to five points in the third quarter on 2-of-20 shooting. The defense continued in the fourth quarter, as the Heat managed just 21 points. The Celtics outscored Miami 60-26 in the second half to post a 98-88 win and finish with a 48-34 record. They finished in a four-way tie with the Heat, Hawks and Hornets and by virtue of that tie, they finish as the No. 5 seed and will open the playoffs in Atlanta this weekend. Games 3 and 4 will be back in Boston.

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Mike Petraglia
Avery Bradley on facing Hawks: ‘I think it’s good for us’ at 12:27 am ET
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Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Heat forward Luol Deng during Wednesday’s game. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

The guesswork is over. 

The No. 5 seed Celtics will be playing the No. 4 Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. 

“I think it’s good for us, for our sake we get to play them again especially how, our performance the last time,” Avery Bradley said. “We played them there in Atlanta, gives us a chance to go back and play the way we did [Wednesday].”

Well, at least in the second half Wednesday. 

The Celtics were a no-show for 24 minutes on Wednesday night before outscoring the Heat 25-5 in the third quarter and getting themselves back in the game with intense defense. 

The Hawks team they will be facing beat them three of four times in the regular season, including this past Saturday, when the Celtics couldn’t hold a late 87-75 lead. In that game, they were outscored 43-20 down the stretch and lost by 11, 118-107. 

“Well, obviously Atlanta’s really good,” Brad Stevens said. “Atlanta’s beaten us three out of four times and they’ve got some tough matchups. They’re a good basketball team. A really good basketball team.  And so we’ll have our hands full. We’re looking forward to competing against them, we’re looking forward to preparing for them.

“And so, as far as [Wednesday], we just had to decide that we were going to play differently, and we were going to get back to being ourselves a little bit.  That didn’t mean that we were going to make every shot, turn them over, or they were going to miss open shots, but it meant that we were going to, you know, compete at a different level than we were.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Brad Stevens
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