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Tale of the Tape: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers 04.18.15 at 8:00 am ET
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So, Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman picked them to win their first-round series against the Cavaliers in six games, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge responded, “Well, he had some pretty good evidence,” and we all had a good laugh about the C’s 40-to-1 odds to win the series.

Truth is, the Celtics aren’t going to push this series beyond five games, right? … Right? … I mean, it’s not like Brad Stevens has a history of taking Cinderella to the big dance or anything … RIGHT? OK, I’m going to talk myself into this thing if I don’t look at some cold hard facts real soon, so let’s do this.

The Cavs weren’t really the Cavs until acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, adding the defense and 3-point shooting that helped LeBron James achieve legendary status in Miami. And the Celts weren’t really the Celts until acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, adding the scoring punch and lineup flexibility that helped Stevens achieve wizardry status. So, in the interest of fairness, any tale of the tape for these two teams should start with a completely arbitrary date between their current story arcs. Let’s say Feb. 3.

[Editor’s Note: Just kidding. Feb. 3 totally isn’t arbitrary. It’s the date that makes Boston look best agains Cleveland, because otherwise a tale of the tape between them would be like asking the late great Manute Bol to pose for a photo alongside Muggsy Bogues. And who would do such a thing?]

Here we go. All of the per-game and advanced statistics below were culled from NBA.com/stats.

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5 things we learned about Celtics playoff run after win over Bucks 04.15.15 at 10:26 pm ET
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Jonas Jerebko

Jonas Jerebko

The Celtics and Bucks met in Milwaukee on Wednesday for a meaningless season finale.

Many would have guessed as much at the start of the season, but for all the wrong reasons. Of course, the Bucks and C’s have already locked up the sixth and seventh seeds (respectively) in the Eastern Conference.

Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all rested, but Boston was still able to collect the win, 105-100. The C’s finished up their improbable regular season by collecting their 40th win.

They were led by Gigi Datome, obviously, who finished with a game-high 22 points (also a career-high) in his first career start. Jonas Jerebko (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (16) and Jared Sullinger (11) all chipped in with double figures off the bench.

For a complete box score, click here.

There really aren’t five things you need to know about this game, so we’ll go off script a bit. Here’s five things we’ve learned about the Celtics on this remarkable charge to the postseason.

ADDITION BY SUBTRACTION

This team was not playoff bound as it stood at the beginning of the season. Brad Stevens is an amazing coach, but he never would have been able to turn the C’s around until they cut ties with the players that were holding them back. Against popular opinion, those players were Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green — both of whom will play in the playoffs out West. But don’t forget that both their teams have been worse with them than without them, while Boston has only been improving.

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An oral history: How Brad Stevens’ Celtics earned a playoff date with LeBron James’ Cavaliers at 2:16 am ET
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JULY 9, 2014

In what seemed on the surface like a minor move, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent a $10.3 million trade exception — acquired for dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in 2013 — to the Cavaliers for Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton’€™s expiring contract and Cleveland’€™s 2016 first-round pick.

Ultimately, the trade transformed the NBA, allowing the Cavs to free up enough cap space to bring LeBron James back home. From a Boston perspective, the reward of a young center project and a couple more tradable assets was worth the risk of altering the Eastern Conference’€™s balance of power for the foreseeable future.

AUGUST 21, 2014

‘€œA lot of people might say that we can’€™t be this, we can’€™t be that,’€ Celtics guard Avery Bradley — fresh off signing an oft criticized four-year, $32 million contract extension — told a group of bewildered reporters from a basketball camp. ‘€œI feel like with the coach that we have, we can be anything that we want to be. We just have to listen to [Brad Stevens] and buy into what he’€™s trying to do, his plan for us. I feel like we have a chance to make the playoffs and make a lot of noise this year if we listen to Brad.”

AUGUST 27, 2014

During a tour through Asia, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo declared himself ‘€œin great shape’€ after his return from ACL surgery. ‘€œI want to win another championship,’€ he told Hoop China, before adding, ‘€œYou can’€™t have a great team every year.’€ When asked if sixth overall pick Marcus Smart could eventually start for the Celtics this season, Rondo replied, ‘€œNo. He’€™ll play a lot of minutes, but starting as a rookie at the guard position is probably impossible or one of the toughest things you can do.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 

Asked by one reporter at the C’€™s annual preseason charity golf outing to name his favorites in the East this season, Ainge listed the Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards.

‘€œYou left off the Celtics,’€ another media member countered.

‘€œI did. Yes, I did. Good observation,’€ said Ainge, pausing, and then adding, ‘€œbut I do believe the extraordinary is possible.’€

SEPTEMBER 29, 2014

Amid widespread speculation that Rondo had broken a bone in his left hand at a trampoline park, the Celtics point guard addressed those rumors at media day, assuring everyone the injury resulted from a slip in the shower. In his 12-minute session, Rondo professed his love for both Boston and Stevens, confirmed his desire for a max contract and conceded again, ‘€œI know this isn’€™t a championship team.’€

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

‘€œWe have one point guard healthy that has NBA experience, and that’€™s Phil Pressey,’€ Stevens said as training camp opened. ‘€œAnd that’€™s not a lot of it. I’€™m not as worried about [the point guard position] because I think people are going to put you in a box for your position, and I’€™m just not going to do that. I’€™m not going to worry about it. [Evan Turner‘€™s] a ball handler, he can make plays, he’€™s smart. And then I think that keeps our other guys in the positions that they’€™re most comfortable.’€

OCTOBER 2, 2014

Zeller drew rave reviews from his new teammates as the biggest surprise in camp. ‘€œHe just runs the floor,’€ Stevens said. ‘€œHe’€™s a very unselfish player, he’€™s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’€™s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”

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5 things we learned as Jae Crowder, Celtics bury Raptors late 04.14.15 at 10:18 pm ET
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Don’t tell the Celtics a game is meaningless; they won’t listen.

When his idle team clinched a playoff spot with a Brooklyn Nets loss on Monday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens texted his players asking them to keep their collective feet on the proverbial gas pedal, and they responded with a hard-fought, 95-93 win over the division champion Toronto Raptors — capped by Jae Crowder’s improbable fadeaway jumper in the final 2.5 seconds.

Evan Turner led the Celtics with 14 points, nine assists, and seven rebounds, while Avery Bradley (14 points), Brandon Bass (13), Tyler Zeller (12), and Isaiah Thomas (11) all scored in double figures. Kyle Lowry and Lou Williams each scored 16 points for the Raptors.

For a complete box score, click here.

With a fifth straight win, the Celtics improved to 39-42 and clinched the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play their final regular season game on Wednesday in Milwaukee before starting their first-round playoff series against the Cleveland Cavaliers either Saturday or Sunday in Cleveland.

AVERY BRADLEY HURT AFTER 14-POINT SECOND QUARTER

Bradley missed his first four shots of the game and did not score a point in the first quarter. Then, with eight minutes left in the half, something clicked for the veteran guard, as he hit five of his next seven shots. Bradley ended up scoring 14 points in the quarter and was the primary reason the Celtics were only down seven entering the locker room. As a team, the Celtics only shot 38 percent from the field in the first half, including a dreadful 23 percent from beyond the arc. But Bradley left the game early in the third quarter with a left quad contusion and did not return. Stevens said afterwards he will rest Bradley on Wednesday in anticipation of his starting two-guard being healthy for the playoffs.

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Isaiah Thomas: Making playoffs would mean ‘everything’ 04.13.15 at 8:49 am ET
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With the playoffs just a win away, Isaiah Thomas can sense a dream finally coming true.

Thomas has been a key spark to the Celtics improbable run to the postseason, and he was again Sunday. As the Celtics raced out to a 9-0 lead, a cakewalk seemed likely.

But the Cavaliers, playing without LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and JR Smith, actually made a 18-4 run and the Celtics were back on their heels. Enter Thomas. His energy and drive to the basket turned the Celtics back in the right direction and the Celtics outscored Cleveland, 34-9, in the second quarter. Game over.

“Just how locked in,” Thomas said of the second quarter. “What we’€™re trying to do is get to the playoffs so coach [Brad Stevens] said we were a very mature team, for 48 minutes. That’€™s a good thing.”

Thomas had a big impact with his 17 points off the bench Sunday. But he couldn’t control what happened in Indianapolis as the Pacers stayed alive with a win over Oklahoma City. So, Thomas had to wait another two days to celebrate his first playoff berth. If the Celtics can beat the Raptors Tuesday night at TD Garden, Thomas and the Celtics won’t have to worry about what the Pacers do against Washington.

“It’€™s everything,” said Thomas, who has toiled four years for the Kings and Suns. “In my NBA career I haven’€™t been to the playoffs so it’€™s something that I want to experience. I heard it’€™s fun, it’€™s exciting and it’€™s a new season. Once you make the playoffs, everybody’€™s 0-0 and it’€™s a new season so I’€™m excited about it, hopefully we do get it.

“We’€™ve just been trying to lock in and focus in on what we’€™re trying to do which is get to the playoffs. Staying in the moment, taking every day by day, game by game, and like I said, really focusing in on what we’€™re trying to do.”

Thomas is one of several Celtics who have fed off the mindset of Brad Stevens. The coach has drilled into his team the importance of not looking beyond the next game. It’s worked.

“He’€™s just laid back, you try to feed off of him as much as possible but he’€™s so even-keeled, you can’€™t really read his mind,” Thomas said. “He’€™s just always about staying in the moment, no matter what it is, good or bad, stay in the moment, don’€™t think about the future or the past, have a short memory. That’€™s one thing coach is very, very positive with.

“Your coach is your leader, basically. You look to him for advice, for confidence, things like that. He’€™s so even-keeled that he’€™s at the same [point], he’€™s never too high, never too low. That’€™s a great thing to have, everybody’€™s not like that.”

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Irish Coffee: The case for Isaiah Thomas as Sixth Man of the Year 04.10.15 at 12:02 pm ET
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When I tried to make a case for Brad Stevens as the NBA’s Coach of the Year, I couldn’t talk myself into it, even though he most certainly belongs on the short list of candidates. But making an argument for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year is easier, because he deserves the award.

Thanks to his 34-point effort in Wednesday night’s victory against the Pistons, the Celtics improved to 16-11 since the trade deadline deal for Thomas, climbing to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. Prior to his arrival at the All-Star break, the C’s owned a 20-31 record and sat 10th in the East.

Conversely, the Suns started 29-25 with Thomas coming off the bench and owned the eighth seed in the brutal Western Conference at the All-Star break. Since the trade deadline, when Phoenix also swapped Goran Dragic for Brandon Knight, the Suns are 10-15 and have all but clinched 10th place in the West.

Plenty of factors have contributed to the Celtics rising and the Suns setting since the Thomas trade. Phoenix soon lost Knight to a season-ending heel injury, while the additions of Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome have also improved the C’s depth. But there’s no denying Thomas’ impact in both cities.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of evaluating how each Sixth Man of the Year candidate impacted two separate teams’ playoff chances, since none of the other top contenders swapped rosters this season, but we do have a season’s worth of statistics to compare a field I’ve whittled down to six — Thomas; usual suspects Lou Williams (Raptors), Jamal Crawford (Clippers) and Manu Ginobili (Spurs); reigning First Team All-Defensive wing Andre Iguodala (Warriors); and rookie forward Nikola Mirotic (Bulls).

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5 things we learned as Isaiah Thomas, Celtics motor past Pistons 04.08.15 at 9:46 pm ET
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Playing their final game against a lottery-bound team, the Celtics badly needed a win to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, and Isaiah Thomas — now recovered from the back injury that sidelined him for two weeks last month — carried them to a 113-103 victory against the host Detroit Pistons.

Thomas scored a season-high 34 points to go along with six assists, leading the C’s to their fourth win in five games. Combined with a loss by the Nets (36-42), the Celtics (36-42) assumed the seventh seed in the East with the head-to-head tiebreaker against Brooklyn.

The Indiana Pacers (35-43) and idle Miami Heat (35-43) remain a game back of the Celtics, who face a home-and-home series this weekend against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who clinched the second seed on Wednesday night and would currently host the C’s in a first-round playoff matchup.

Against Detroit, Jae Crowder (17 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Avery Bradley (11 points) all reached double figures, as 10 different Celtics reached double figures. For a complete box score, click here.

BIGS PROBLEM

From the outset, the Pistons’ frontcourt tandem of Greg Monroe (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (22 points, 14 rebounds) proved a problem for the undersized Celtics. In the opening 5:34, Monroe and Drummond each scored six points on four shots apiece — all in the paint — forcing Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call his first timeout. Detroit bruised its way to an early 14-8 advantage and made the C’s to rethink their lineup early. Monroe, of course, becomes an unrestricted free agent when the Celtics have money to spend this summer, although his inability to stretch the floor with a jump shot may not fit Stevens’ pace-and-space system.

BENCH MOB

Rather than match size with size, Stevens instead replaced Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller with Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, asking Monroe and Drummond to defend out to the 3-point line. As a result, the Celtics closed the first quarter on a 22-2 run and led 30-16 after one. Naturally, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas helped key the run, scoring or assisting on 13 of those 22 points. By game’s end, the Celtics benched outscored their counterparts, 73-31.

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