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Isaiah Thomas on emoji madness: ‘I didn’t mean to do that to y’all’ 02.23.17 at 1:06 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Speaking to reporters at Celtics practice Thursday, guard Isaiah Thomas laughed off the controversy surrounding his eyeball and hourglass emojis, which had Celtics fans trying to discern meaning with the trade deadline rapidly approaching.

Thomas explained to reporters (including the ProJo’s Scott Souza) that he wasn’t tweeting about the trade deadline, and only realized the uproar after the fact.

“I didn’t mean to do that to y’all,” he noted mischievously.

Thomas pointed up at the basketball offices, where the curtains were drawn, and wondered if Danny Ainge and Co. were hard at work making a trade. He joked that they were busy. But he also turned serious when asked about his current team.

“I will roll with the guys inside this locker room until something changes,” he told reporters.

Asked if the Celtics believed they could catch the Cavs for the top seed in the East, he was equally confident.

“That’s the plan,” he said.

Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters that zero players were held out of practice because the trade deadline. Rookie Jaylen Brown is expected to return when the team opens the second half in Toronto on Friday. Gerald Green missed practice with a heel injury, while Avery Bradley was a limited practice participant as he attempts to return from an Achilles injury.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Celtics rumors, Isaiah Thomas, NBA Trade Deadline
How Marcus Smart has made Avery Bradley expendable at the trade deadline 02.16.17 at 10:36 am ET
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Feb 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 116-108. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) late in the game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge watched this week as the Raptors made a big push to re-claim their position atop the Eastern Conference with Cleveland when they acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Magic.

But what the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations has also watch is the emergence of one of his own players into a legit force on the team that has pushed its way past Toronto in the East and sits just two games back of Cleveland in the East.

What Marcus Smart has done in the last two weeks has been eye-opening.

In Boston’s 11-1 run to second place in the East and first in the Atlantic Division, Smart is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 assists, four rebounds and an eye-popping 2.3 steals a game. Of course, that last number got a huge bump Wednesday night with eight swipes against the Sixers in a 116-108 win at TD Garden.

A 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio is considered good, and that’s exactly what Smart is averaging in the 12-game run, with 2.7 turnovers per game. But throw in his steals and it’s nearly 3-to-1. That’s sensational. Consider that the OPS-plus of basketball.

“I’ve been really trying to elevate my game especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive,” Smart said after Wednesday’s win. “I can honestly say this is the most comfortable I have been in a Celtic uniform. It feels good, not only for myself but to be able to contribute to this team in other ways. It’s definitely something I will continue to try and keep doing.”

If there was a singular play that defines Smart’s play over the last two weeks it was his jumping on Nik Stauskas when Stauskas lost his dribble 20 feet from the basket with three minutes left and the Celtics up, 106-101. He seized the opportunity to grab the ball, which he did for his seventh steal, and fed Jae Crowder for the game-sealing lay-up.

“I saw the ball and went after the ball,” Smart said. “He just happened to be in the way of it.”

“I thought Smart was fantastic. I thought Smart has really strung a bunch of games together here. Made big shots, made timely shots, but then defensively was terrific,” Brad Stevens said. “I think the last couple of weeks have been some of his best basketball. And we needed it. We’re down a couple of bodies and he is playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.

“I think the ankle sprain at the start of the year was kind of an unfortunate kick-off to the year; it set you back a little bit. And then in the last few weeks I just think, like, he’s really found a rhythm and a groove. And it started on the defensive end with guarding at a really high level. I think he’s guarding even better than he did at the start of the year and he’s been good. We need him to, again. We’re down Jaylen (Brown) and down Avery, you’ve got to have those perimeter defenders step up for you.”

With Isaiah Thomas setting all sorts of new franchise scoring marks (now averaging 29.8 points for the season), it would be easy to overlook Smart. But Smart’s efforts in the last week have been the backbone behind Thomas’ sensational season. With Smart locking opponents down defensively, Thomas has been freed up a bit to focus mainly on making sure the Celtics keep scoring at a frenetic pace.

Ainge has a decision to make. Does he want to make a deal in the days leading up to the Feb. 23 deadline to give the Celtics a better chance at making a run at Cleveland? What pieces on his current roster could help him make such a deal? Forgetting, for a moment, the first-round picks the Celtics have in their draft bank, there likely would have to be some legitimate talent swapping places.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
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
Avery Bradley (Achilles) ruled out for Saturday’s game against Trail Blazers 01.20.17 at 2:08 pm ET
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The Celtics will have to again find a way to win without their second-highest scorer, as Avery Bradley will miss Saturday’s game against the Trail Blazers, per reports.

Said coach Brad Stevens, “The Achilles is structurally fine, but he has a lot of soreness around it. That’s one of those things you have to be ultra-careful with.”

With Bradley’s absence on Saturday, he will have missed four out of five games with the injury. He was slated to play, and start, in Wednesday’s loss to the Knicks, but was a late scratch and missed the game.

He had played 33 minutes in Monday’s win over the Hornets, scoring five points. The 26-year-old is averaging 17.7 points per game in 34.9 minutes in 36 appearances, all starts.

Another pair of injured Celtics, Tyler Zeller (sinus infection) and James Young (ankle), both practiced on Friday.

Read More: Avery Bradley, James Young, Tyler Zeller,
Avery Bradley could end up ‘missing a little bit more time’ with achilles soreness 01.18.17 at 10:55 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

Mere minutes prior to tipoff in the Celtics’ 117-106 loss to the Knicks on Wednesday, they discovered they would be without guard Avery Bradley.

Bradley, initially scheduled to start, was scratched after some soreness in his right achilles tendon. He missed four games leading up to Monday’s matchup against the Hornets with the injury, but played 33 minutes in that game and five points in the win. However warmups on Wednesday proved to be too much.

“He was really sore, went through our walk-through and then came out to the court and did some stuff, and was more sore today than he has been,” said head coach Brad Stevens, noting that Bradley did treatment the whole game.

In the interest of caution, Wednesday may not be the only time Bradley misses.

“I can see him missing a little bit more time. I think maybe he came back a little too early, whatever the case may be. But he was more sore today. But nothing structurally bad. Just still a pulled achilles,” said Stevens.

It was also a surprise for teammates, as Al Horford didn’t even notice Bradley’s absence until warmups.

Said Horford, “Literally when we were out there in warmups I didn’t see Avery. I didn’t realize he wasn’t going to play.”

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Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley returns to the lineup against Hornets, no Tyler Zeller (sickness) 01.16.17 at 7:51 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

After missing four straight games with a right Achilles injury, Avery Bradley will return to the lineup on Monday night against the Hornets at TD Garden. 

Although the Celtics have gone 3-1 in Bradley’s absence, having their starting shooting guard certainly strengthens their lineup. Boston will face a hungry Hornets (20-20) team, one that has lost four straight games and is in danger of slipping below .500. 

However, don’t let their record fool you, said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who believes a full-strength Hornets team will be a challenging one. 

“They just haven’t been healthy a lot but when their starting five has been healthy, which they are, they’ve been excellent,” Brad Stevens said. “This is a good team. This is a team that’s going to go on streaks of winning games and you just hope it doesn’t start tonight.

“Our guys have a lot of respect for these guys because you clearly have to play well to beat them, there is no grey area in that regard. If you don’t play well, they’ll beat you because they don’t beat themselves.” 

So far, the C’s are 2-0 in their season series against the Hornets but in their last contest against Charlotte the Hornets were without their leading scorer — Kemba Walker. The Celtics will look to stretch their season series to 3-0 while the Hornets will fight not fall below .500 for the first time this season. 

Bradley, who said he felt “a little sore” Monday morning, says there will be no minute restriction in Monday’s game. The C’s will also have Kelly Olynyk back in action, while Tyler Zeller (illness) will remain on the injury list. Zeller, who hospitalized last week, is still experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness. 

“Basically I had a sinus infection, middle ear infection and inner ear issue that was making me dizzy, kind of all at the same time,” Zeller explained. “Just got hit with a lot of sickness, flu, whatever you want to call it, cold, stuff. Kind of at the same time, it all compounded. Last week got it all checked out. Got it cleared. It was what they thought it was. I just kind of had to wait for it to clear out. So (coming back) now, it’s kind of getting back into the flow of things. And hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later.”

 

Read More: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller,
Jordan Mickey gets his shot as Celtics MASH unit in full operation with Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, Jaylen Brown all out 01.11.17 at 7:05 pm ET
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Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 117-87. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) makes his first NBA start Wednesday against Washington. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are about to find out just how good their bench is.

Brad Stevens opened his Wednesday pre-game media briefing with a painful grin, acknowledging the injury bug that has hit his team this week.

“It’s a long one. James Young is out. Avery Bradley is out. Tyler Zeller is out,” Stevens began. “Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in the first half [Tuesday]. He’s out. And then Jaylen Brown twist his ankle, sprained his ankle, Monday in practice and then played, felt pretty good, but aggravated it and felt sore today and he’s out.

“So who do we have in? I’m 99 percent sure which I’m going to go. I think we’re going to go with Jordan Mickey, with Al [Horford].”

Mickey, the second-round pick in 2015 out of LSU, is making his first NBA start. In nine games this season, he’s averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in just over seven minutes a game off the bench. In 25 career games, he’s averaging 1.7 points. So, why Mickey for Johnson?

“Keeping the second unit where it is,” Stevens explained. “I like where Jordan is with regard to how he impact with that first unit, rolling to rim and rebounding and defending and those types of things.

“I think the biggest thing is being around him for a year and a half. It’s not just practice, it’s watching him play and do individual workouts. It’s the way he goes through walkthrough, it’s his focus and attention to detail and hey, we’re going to need everybody that’s available to help us tonight. So, I think anytime you get a chance, especially when you talk about how we play with the first group, he’s a good fit for that. Amir’s largely rolling [to the basket] for us. Amir is defending in pick-and-roll and defending from a rebounding angle and everything else. We’re going to need that out of Mick.”

And by the sounds of it, Wednesday might not be a cameo for Mickey, as Johnson’s ankle seems to be a significant injury.

“Sounds like Amir’s [ankle] was pretty swollen earlier [Wednesday]. I’d say that he’s doubtful for the weekend. And Jaylen, I have not heard, from a severity standpoint. But it wasn’t made out to be quite as bad as Amir’s but he’s sore today.”

As for Bradley, who’s missing his third game with a sore right Achilles, Stevens said the soreness is persisting.

“He worked out [Tuesday] and woke up [Wednesday] sore,” Stevens said. “That’s my medical evaluation.”

Will he Bradley be back Friday in Atlanta?

“I have no idea,” Stevens replied. “I have no idea what that means, how sore. I haven’t asked any questions after I got out [vs. Washington].”


Read More: Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown
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