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5 things we learned as Celtics’ rally falls short in ugly loss to Heat 03.25.15 at 10:28 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

No Dwyane Wade, no Hassan Whiteside and no Chris Andersen should have been no problem for the Celtics, but the hometown team with newfound playoff aspirations submitted one of its worst performances of the season Wednesday night.

The Heat dominated the first three quarters en route to a 93-86 victory that would have looked a lot worse if not for a furious fourth quarter comeback by Boston. Wade, Whiteside and Andersen all were inactive due to injuries, but their absences had little impact on the outcome, as Goran Dragic’s 22 points led five Miami scorers in double figures.

The Celtics cut the deficit to six points in the final two minutes, but ultimately fell short of an improbable comeback. Jae Crowder (16 points, 7 rebounds) led the C’s in scoring. Avery Bradley (12 points), Phil Pressey (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (10 points, 8 rebounds) also reached double figures.

A win would have pulled the Celtics (31-40) into a seventh-place tie with the Heat (33-38), but instead they remain as the eighth seed — holding the tiebreaker against the Pacers (31-40) and leading the Nets (30-40) and Hornets (30-40) by a half-game each. For a complete box score, click here.

ISAIAH THOMAS RETURNS

Thomas missed eight games with a bruised back after taking a hard fall the last time the Celtics played the Heat. He was still wincing in the locker room before the game, but felt “œgood enough”€ to return to game action. His performance failed to reflect his confidence, as he struggled through his 20 minutes and finished 2-for-7 from the field. Late in the second quarter he took a charge and landed directly on his injured tailbone. He got up groaning and looked to be in serious pain. He returned in the second half but was no more effective. Thomas finished with four points, zero assists and three turnovers.

CELTICS DIG DEEP HOLE

The Celtics played a terrible first half, especially on the defensive end. The Heat capitalized on a wide array of open looks, shooting an outrageously high 60 percent from the field. In addition to a number of easy layups, Miami punished the Celtics from beyond the arc, converting 7-of-12 3-pointers. To compound their problems, the Celtics also turned the ball over 13 times and entered the locker room trailing 57-40.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Miami Heat
Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller making believers of themselves, others 03.17.15 at 11:09 am ET
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With winning comes confidence. With confidence late in the season comes expectation. And these Celtics are talking and acting like a team that expects to make a run to the Eastern Conference playoffs with 16 games left in their season.

Avery Bradley is one of only three players left from the last Celtics team to make the playoffs just two seasons ago. He, Brandon Bass and Shav Randolph were all on the 2013 team that lost in six games to the Knicks.

When the Celtics were 20-33 this season and headed for another seemingly dead end to the season, could he picture his teammates making an improbable run to the postseason?

“For sure, I saw that we were improving every single game and I knew we would have a chance if we set our mind to it and started [believing] in our [potential] and that’€™s what we were doing. We never thought we didn’€™t have a chance to make the playoffs. Now we’€™re right there.”

Indeed, after Monday’s 108-89 blowout of the hapless Sixers, the Celtics are definitely in the mix. While technically ninth and on the outside looking in due to their 18-21 record in the East, they are tied with the Pacers and Heat for seventh in the East with a 30-36 record.

Monday, the Celtics came in focused, even in shootaround, determined not to let a game against the 15-51 Sixers stand in their way of their first five-game win streak under Brad Stevens. They outscored Philly 38-18 in the first quarter and it wasn’t a game after that.

“It’€™s hard, especially when you come in at halftime up by 20 and your coach might say, ‘€˜let’€™s go out there and continue to play hard,’€™ you get a little nervous,” Bradley said. “You start thinking once you get back out there on the floor and that’€™s one thing we didn’€™t do. Even though they were scoring we continued to execute our plays on both ends of the floor and it helped us continue to have a 20 point lead.”

When the Celtics, who shot 67 percent in the first quarter, looked inside, there was Tyler Zeller leading the way. He found his comfort zone and poured in a career-high 26 points.

“I don’€™t know, I mean the shots fell down,” Zeller said. “Jump shot felt really good and then they kept leaving me open so I just kept shooting it. Once again my teammates do a great job of getting me the ball on time and it makes it a lot easier.”

Road games against teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio can be intimidating for young teams in transition. But that’s not the way these Celtics are looking at Wednesday and Friday. It’s a chance to show how much fun they’re having chasing an improbable playoff spot.

“It’€™s a lot of fun,” Zeller said. “The whole year we’€™ve been changing, I think Danny’€™s done a great job putting together the team that we’€™ve got. We’€™ve been playing with different players every night and finally have a team where we’€™ve settled in, playing with the same players every night and it’€™s fun to go to battle that way. We do a great job of playing hard and playing together.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned as Celtics roll over 76ers 03.16.15 at 9:55 pm ET
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The hottest team in the NBA? Well, that might just be the Boston Celtics.

The C’s destroyed the lowly 76ers 108-89 on Monday night, wining their fifth straight game and moving into a tie with the Pacers and Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Celtics (30-36) would now be in the playoffs if they were to start tomorrow.

Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in an incredibly efficient 28 minutes. Avery Bradley also netted 20 points for the Celtics, who received double-digit scoring from all five starters as well as Jae Crowder and Gigi Datome off the bench. Massachusetts product Nerlens Noel was the leading scorer for Philadelphia with 18 points.

For a full box score, click here.

A FIRST FOR BRAD STEVENS

Stevens now has his first five-game winning streak as a head coach in the NBA — an impressive run, even if the latest victory came against Philly. Maybe even more impressive? The C’s have now won 14 of their last 20 games. No matter how you spin it, this stretch has proved Stevens can flat out coach. He just may sneak a team that has undergone several identity changes this season into the playoffs, so imagine the possibilities when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge provides Stevens with the roster that many expect in the future.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned as Celtics execute upset of Grizzlies 03.11.15 at 10:10 pm ET
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There was no more room for moral victories.

As was the case against the Golden State Warriors two weeks ago, the Celtics played inspired basketball against the Western Conference elite, only to lose their hold on the lead in the final minutes versus the Memphis Grizzlies.

Only this time the C’s made shot after shot in the waning moments to pull out a thrilling 95-92 victory they desperately needed to stay alive in the Eastern Conference playoff race. In the final 1:40, Jae Crowder made a game-tying 3-pointer, Marcus Smart converted an alley-oop-and-one to grab a one-point lead, Tyler Zeller pulled down a defensive rebound between Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph before converting a pair of free throws for a three-point advantage, and Avery Bradley sank a step-back jumper over the league’s 2013 Defensive Player of the Year to seal the deal. It was a remarkable combination of effort and execution.

The win keeps the Celtics (27-36) within striking distance of the Miami Heat (29-35) for the East’s eighth playoff seed with three games against the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers in four nights starting Friday. On Wednesday, Bradley led five Celtics in double figures with 17 points. Jae Crowder netted 16 points and Kelly Olynyk dropped 15 while Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller added 12 apiece.

For a complete box score, click here.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, NBA
Celtics rule out Avery Bradley for New Orleans with left elbow sprain 03.05.15 at 4:37 pm ET
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The Celtics backcourt just became a little less crowded.

The team announced on Twitter, prior to their trip to New Orleans Thursday, that Avery Bradley did not make the trip and would be out against the Pelicans Friday night when they open a three-game road trip.

Bradley will miss the contest with a sprained left elbow, suffered Wednesday night during the first quarter of their win over the Jazz. After briefly exiting to the locker room, he returned, donned a black arm sleeve and finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He played 36 minutes but still appeared to favor the left arm, as he did when he initially left late in the first quarter.

The Celtics announced Thursday afternoon on Twitter that Bradley did not travel to New Orleans with his team. The tweet included no word on whether he could potentially meet up with his teammates before the end of their three-game road trip.

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart combined to help the Celtics set a new franchise record for fewest turnovers (3) in a game and figure to make up the slack until Bradley returns. Thomas, as he did on Wednesday, has been coming off the bench to provide a scoring spark. It’s not clear if he will continue in that role or replace Bradley in the starting lineup. Smart started the 16th game of his rookie season on Wednesday.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, left elbow
5 things we learned as Celtics top Jazz on Tyler Zeller’s buzzer beater 03.04.15 at 10:12 pm ET
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It wasn’t a fun game to watch most of the way through, but it turned into a thriller late as the Celtics faced the Jazz Wednesday at the TD Garden.

Gordon Hayward hit a jumper over Tyler Zeller with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give Utah an 84-83 edge, but it was Tyler Zeller who would get the last laugh. Brad Stevens drew up a play to perfection and Marcus Smart hit Zeller under the hoop for what turned into the game-winner at the buzzer. The shot was reviewed, but the Garden erupted once at the refs announced the basket was good, and the C’s came away with a 85-84 win.

Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were the game’s two high scorers with 21 and 18 points respectively — both coming off the Boston bench. Avery Bradley was the Celtics‘ only starter to reach double figures with 13. Trey Burke and Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 16 points apiece. The Celtics are now 24-35 after the win, while the Jazz drop to 24-36 on the season.

For a full box score, click here.

Here are five things we learned in the win:

UGLY FIRST HALF

Yes, both teams did play in different cities the night before, but a score of 34-33 at halftime is not a common sight in the NBA. Typically a cold start will get better for both teams, but after the Jazz took a 19-18 lead into the second quarter, the teams combined for only 30 more points in the half — leaving the Celtics with a one-point edge at the break. Despite turning the ball over just once, the C’s managed their 34 points on 32.6 percent shooting (including 16.7 percent from downtown). The Jazz weren’t much better, shooting a mere 37.1 percent, but attempted 11 less shots than Boston (46-35).

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Zeller,
Playoffs are real possibility for red-hot Celtics 02.28.15 at 5:55 pm ET
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Don’t look now, but the Celtics are making a playoff push — and a strong one at that, having won seven of their last 10 games.

At the beginning of the season, if you had to pick the three best players on the Celtics, your answer probably would have been Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. As we now know, Rondo and Green were sent packing, and Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot.

Enter the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko — players who were on three separate rosters at the start of the season (none of which were the Celtics). Those players have been dominating games off the bench in Boston’s last two wins. We know the NBA has been trending toward “small ball” lineups, but this unit often takes things to a whole new level.

Thomas is undersized for his matchup every night at just 5-foot-9, but he plays far above his height in the sense that he is constantly comfortable battling in the paint. Crowder (typically a small forward) and Jerebko (a power forward) moved up to power forward and center, respectively, in the new “small ball” lineup. The other two positions are often filled by 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley and 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart. Like I said, a whole new level.

“Well, with a two-game sample size I would say it’s been good, but I don’t know that we can determine if it’s good long-term or not,” Brad Stevens said of his new lineup that he seemingly stumbled upon. “I think that the biggest thing for me has always been if you can find somebody with enough speed and skill that can guard above their size. Then you can create some havoc on the other side of the court, and that’s what Jae has done. Jae’s ability to guard the post has given us some options as we’ve been smaller here, and Jonas too. But we had to double Al [Jefferson] still and we had to do some of that stuff, but Jae did a great job on Al Jefferson. He did as good as anybody can.”

So what’s been the difference in the C’s recent success?

Isaiah Thomas,” Bradley said without hesitation when asked what sparked the change in the team. “Not only him, Jae Crowder, I can go down the list. Everyone’s just buying in to what Brad’s trying to do, and that’s team basketball.”

“That’s pretty nice,” Thomas replied to Bradley’s compliment. “It’s not me, though, it’s just this team. We’re playing hard, coach is putting us in a position to be successful and that’s the big key. We’re believing in each other.”

Come April, team basketball could be something that carries the C’s to the playoffs — something Bradley admitted has been a goal he’s thought about since the beginning of the season. Thomas concurred, admitting that Friday’s atmosphere felt much like a playoff game to him. Turns out Thomas might not have to wait as long as we thought to get his first taste of the postseason for real.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
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