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Impressive win over Pacers proves Celtics have a shot at grabbing No. 1 seed in the east 03.22.17 at 10:10 pm ET
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Mar 22, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) in the second half at TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Pacers 109-100. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday’s win over the Pacers was a group effort as all nine Celtics players contributed to the 109-100 victory (David Butler II/USA Today)

Don’t look now but the Celtics are now in stride to top the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

With 10 games left in the regular season, the C’s are trailing the champs by one game and are showing no signs of slowing down. In Wednesday night’s 109-100 win over the Pacers, all nine Celtics players played a role in taking care of home court for the second straight night. 

Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 5 assists), Avery Bradley (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Al Horford (15 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) all turned in typical stat lines but guys like Jae Crowder (15 points, game-high plus-16), Kelly Olynyk (11 points, 8 rebounds, plus-12) and Tyler Zeller (6 points, plus-8) came up big in the second half. They helped push the Celtics to a whopping 39-point third quarter that pushed Boston’s lead to 17 — their largest of the night.

Paul George (37 points) and Jeff Teague combined for 42 points to lead the Pacers but the Celtics’ intensity in the second half disallowed their opponent to regain their first-quarter lead. 

For a complete recap of Wednesday’s win, click here.

The Celtics offense tightened up in the second half, efficiently taking care of possessions and flawlessly rotating the ball for easy layups and open shots. It seemed like every player did their part in either rebounding, finding an open guy or making a defensive stop. 

The team’s second unit made their presence felt in the first half. The Pacers’ back court duo of Monta Ellis and Aaron Brooks found their outside touch but so did Marcus Smart — who drained two back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter — and Jaylen Brown took advantage of his size over 6-foot-3 Ellis. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Isaiah Thomas,
Silver lining of early season injuries sheds light on Brad Stevens’ approach to resting players late in season at 7:18 pm ET
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Mar 20, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) controls the ball while Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A healthy Avery Bradley has been getting back to form since his return from a sore Achilles. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If there’s one dividend from the early season injury bug that the Celtics are cashing in on now it’s rest.

Specifically, it’s the rest players like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and Jae Crowder were able to gain as the rest of the league was going through the grind. 

Every year, there’s intense debate as to what to do at the league level to discourage teams from resting their players at the end of the season as playoff-bound teams prep their star players for the postseason.

This was brought to a head on March 11 in San Antonio when, on a nationally televised game, the Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant was already sitting with his left knee injury. The Spurs rested Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge. 

What’s Stevens’ take?

“I understand the discussion and certainly we’re all sensitive to the fact that somebody is going to watch a game in TD Garden for the first time tonight,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Indiana. “That’s why I don’t know if this is fortunate or unfortunate, probably more unfortunate because you never want to have injuries, but we had a lot of injuries so we got rest because we had to get rest. 

“I do think in the last week of the season it is a little bit different. But I also understand as each team goes about it to try and best set themselves up for the postseason, the idea and opportunities to get rest. I’m hopeful, like everybody else, that the extra week in the season can appropriately handle some of those things but there are some really tough stretches in this and it is difficult. You just have to try to manage those as well as you can. 

“If some team chooses to rest their players then I understand it has to be a discussion but I understand why they do it.”

To mitigate some of the schedule grind to make it easier on players, the NBA shortened the preseason, adding a week to the schedule to spread out more games. Still, teams like the Celtics still faced a huge challenge.

“We knew going into the year, and I think this is probably what a lot of teams do, they look at the schedule,” Stevens said. “We knew December was going to be a monster and on Dec. 30 we were going to play six games in nine days and then we knew early February the West Coast trip coming back, All-Star break, Toronto, Detroit, back, West Coast trip again, you knew that was going to be really tough. You just kind of know that in advance and try to plan for it the best way you can. But again, some of our decisions were alleviated by the fact that we didn’t have guys available because of injuries. Again, I understand why teams do it but I understand the dilemma.”

Jae Crowder entered Wednesday’s game shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. He has taken 605 shots, 340 from long range. That figures to 56 percent of his overall shots from long range. 

“If they’re all open, whatever, right? And even if they’re lightly challenged, he’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Stevens said. “You look across the league at guys that do what he does, that’s pretty typical. I think that’s something that’s a great testament to him, that he can continue to be as consistent as he’s being, shooting that percentage and shooting as high of a percentage with that volume.” 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Indiana Pacers, Isaiah Thomas
Celtics get tough with Wizards to strengthen grip on second seed in Eastern Conference 03.20.17 at 10:25 pm ET
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Mar 20, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Washington Wizards guard John Wall (2) passes the ball past Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forced 18 Wizards turnovers (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

For a team that entered Monday night’s game as the fifth-worst rebounding team in the league, the Celtics rarely ever out-rebound their opponent. But when it came to facing the Wizards at home with playoff implications on the line, the C’s looked like a team that just simply wanted it more.

The Celtics not only out-rebounded their opponent, 54-39 but were very physical with the Wizards on defense and made it tough for them to find their offensive rhythm while the C’s cruised to 110-102 victory. For the first time in two years, the Celtics pulled down 20 offensive rebounds. The last time the C’s grabbed 20 or more boards in a winning effort was against the Bulls in the 2009 playoffs. 

With the win, the Celtics (45-26) now hold a 2.5 game advantage over the Wizards for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Sure, the return of Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 2 steals) certainly helped but it wasn’t just the Celtics leading scorer who made a huge impact for the Celtics. Avery Bradley had such an incredible first quarter that Brad Stevens kept him in for its entirety. He scored 11 points, grabbed four rebounds and dished out three assists in the first 12 minutes and finished with 20 points, 9 rebounds and four assists. 

Bradley Beal’s 19 points led the Wizards, John Wall finished with 16 and 8 assists but did most of his damage from the free-throw line — where he netted 8-of-9. 

For a complete recap of Monday’s win, click here.

Up front, Al Horford set the tone by creating stops while also making an effort in boxing guys out in the paint and guys like Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk followed suit. Led by Horford’s 16 points, 9 rebounds, the three big men finished with a combined 23 rebounds and four blocks.

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Brad Stevens says Isaiah Thomas is ‘good to go’ for return against Wizards at 6:34 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas dribbles as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas dribbles as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

After missing the last two games with a bruised right knee, Isaiah Thomas has been cleared to return against the Wizards. 

The Celtics All-Star point guard injured the knee in last Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves and missed Friday’s win in Brooklyn and Sunday’s loss in Philadelphia. 

“Yep,” was Brad Stevens one-word answer in the affirmative when asked if the guard would be back in the lineup against a Washington team that is 1.5 games behind the Celtics in the race for the No. 2 spot in the East. 

Stevens said Thomas received plenty of treatment for the bruised knee over the weekend, making the most of time away playing. 

“Feeling a lot better,” Stevens said. “I think all the treatment over the weekend, which he had a ton of, was all positive. He’s good to go.”

Thomas sounded a bit more cautious, admitting that he wasn’t at full strength yet, “but I’m good enough.” 

Then he added, “I can’t sit this one out. I know what’s at stake. I know it’s a big game for us.” 

Stevens added that he doesn’t anticipate a minutes restriction for Thomas, who leads the team in playing time at 34.1 minutes a game. 

“I don’t think so,” Stevens said. “I haven’t heard that from the training staff. Usually, the minutes restriction is as much to do [with] extended periods of time as anything else.”

Stevens was asked if he could tell Thomas was ready based on the team’s walkthrough Monday.

“Well, our walkthrough happened at about 4:45 [p.m.] and it was a WALK through so I think he looked great,” Stevens said. “But I have no idea how that translates to playing in a stance or running up and down the floor but I’ve been told he’s fine.”

On the importance of holding off Washington for the second seed in the East. 

“I think it’s about playing good basketball,” Stevens said. “That stuff sorts itself out. Obviously, you want to be as good of a seed as you can. There’s no question about that. Again, I’d like to have some healthy games here to play good basketball and see if we can’t figure ourselves out as we head into the next month, plus.” 

Monday’s game is the opener of a season-long six-game home stand. Entering Monday, the Wizards and Pacers (Wednesday) were the only team with a winning record of the six teams. Much has been made of the newly-created rivalry in the media between the Celtics and Wizards, featuring Isaiah Thomas and John Wall. A battle for playoff position only fuels it. 

“My focus is on playing good basketball,” Stevens said. “When I think of rivalries, I think of years upon years upon years in the making. Certainly, we have a great deal of respect for how good these guys are. And that’s that. But we’ve got to focus on trying to do our best to play as well as we can against them, which means a lot of the focus has to be on what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’re going to be doing the same on their end. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas
Rajon Rondo isn’t inviting Ray Allen to 2008 Celtics reunion trip at 2:37 pm ET
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Ray Allen played in two Finals with the Heat. (Soobum Im-USA Today Sports)

Ray Allen played in two Finals with the Heat. (Soobum Im-USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo is organizing a reunion for the 2008 Celtics. But Ray Allen isn’t invited. 

In an interview with The Undefeated, Rondo said he is planning a vacation with his former teammates to commemorate the championship run. But apparently, there was uniform opposition to Allen coming along. 

“I asked a couple of the guys. I got a no, a no head shake,” Rondo said. 

Allen, who the Celtics acquired in June 2007 for a first-round pick, was an integral part of the Big Three with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. But his relationship with the organization soured, leading the future Hall of Famer to ink a three-year contract with the rival Heat in July 2012. Allen won a championship in Miami the following year. 

Rondo said he felt betrayed when Allen went to the Heat. 

“The mindset we had. The guys on our team. You wouldn’t do anything like that,” he said. “It makes you question that series in the Finals … Who were you for? You didn’t bleed green. People think we had a messed-up relationship. It’s not the greatest. But it’s not just me. I called and reached out to a couple of other vets and asked them what they wanted to do with the situation. They told me to stick with what we got [without Allen].”

Pierce and Garnett have expressed similar sentiments about Allen in recent years. During a 2015 interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, Pierce said he was never close with the three-point shooter, citing Allen’s reclusive personality as a barrier to their relationship. In 2014, Garnett admitted he hadn’t spoken with Allen since they were teammates. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Celtics fill Jaylen Brown’s car with popcorn after argument with Marcus Smart 03.16.17 at 9:32 am ET
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Jaylen Brown didn't have a banner night Wednesday. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown didn’t have a banner night Wednesday. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

It wasn’t a banner night for Jaylen Brown. 

In the fourth quarter of the Celtics’ 117-104 win over the Timberwolves, the rookie forward was engaged in a heated spat with Marcus Smart on the sidelines. The argument appeared to stem from a play earlier in the period, when Brown prematurely drove to the hoop for a layup attempt instead of pitching the ball back to a wide-open Smart at the top of the perimeter. 

It only got worse for Brown after the game. His teammates filled his car with popcorn, drumming up an old NBA prank.  

But at least Brown seemed to have a sense of humor about the ordeal. He said on Instagram he needed the popcorn for a movie night, anyway. 

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Two years later, Rajon Rondo trade goes down as one of Danny Ainge’s greatest deals 03.13.17 at 4:47 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics finally traded Rajon Rondo in December 2014, his value was at a nadir. The mercurial point guard was in the final year of his contract and coming off a mysterious hand injury that took longer to heal than anticipated. With that in mind, Danny Ainge was lauded for extracting any value from the Mavericks in return for him. 

But as it turns out, the trade was a heist. 

The Mavericks’ package for Rondo centered around a 2016 first-round pick (Guerschon Yabusele), 2016 second-round selection (Demetrius Jackson) and a then-little-known forward named Jae Crowder. Though the picks received much of the attention at the time, Crowder has turned into perhaps the team’s best all-around players. This revelation is hardly breaking news, but it was especially on display Sunday, when Rondo spent the majority of the contest on the bench while the Celtics shellacked the Bulls. 

Despite only being 1.5 games out of the playoffs, the Bulls are preparing to rebuild. Maybe the most telling moment of their futile season came in late January, when Rondo called out his running mates, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. In an Instagram post, Rondo lambasted their leadership style after they had publicly called out some of their teammates. 

“My vets would never go to the media,” he wrote. “They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

Playing for his fourth team in three seasons, the 31-year-old Rondo is far from being the max contract player he once thought he was. That was obvious Sunday. He logged just 18 mins in the Celtics’ 100-80 victory, scoring two points with six assists, three rebounds and three steals. Even though Rondo is healthy, he hasn’t started a game since Nov. 30. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jae Crowder, Rajon Rondo
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