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So what exactly are adjustments Brad Stevens makes to free up Isaiah Thomas? 04.28.16 at 7:21 pm ET
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The single-most pivotal moment in this series has surrounded Isaiah Thomas. In Game 3, the Celtics started Evan Turner and had him run the point to free him off screens. 

In Game 5, Mike Budenholzer countered by double and triple-teaming him and frustrating Thomas so much that he called out his own teammates after the 110-83 beatdown. 

What will Brad Stevens do in Game 6?

“You just have to make the right basketball play,” Stevens said before Game 6, repeating some of what he said Wednesday in a conference call. “He’s going to have the ball a ton for us, he’s going to be off the ball on actions for us, he’s going to have to read when he should screen, he’s going to have to read when he gets the ball how he’s being played, and just make the right basketball play. There’s certainly things you can do to alleviate some of that.

“But I felt we attacked it really well at the start of the game. Certainly part of their scoring runs was some bad offense on our part in the latter parts of the game. I left thinking Isaiah made a lot of the right basketball plays. That’s his charge – he has to do that, and we’ll follow suit.

And if they run or “blitz” Thomas?

“The blitz is one thing, but they’ve stayed with Isaiah the whole series,” Stevens added. “He’s been through five games of the first four they were mostly back with Horford, and up with Millsap. They stay with the ball, and we know that they packed the paint against Isaiah in the first four games.

“The one tweak is when they blitz, now the ball is extended, and you have more room once you pass out of it to attack. We just have to make the right read, whether it’s catch and shoot or whether it’s catch and rip and drive. Somebody else gets in the paint and makes the right read, and that’s part of it. We have good players who can do that, I believe they can and Isaiah does too. But Isaiah can’t force. If they’re going to put two to the ball, that’s when you have to make the right basketball play.”

The Hawks’ biggest advantage is their bigs. To keep them from getting the ball is the biggest part of the strategy. 

“Our strategy as a team, and one of our greatest strengths – and it’s enhanced when Avery Bradley is available – is to be able to get into the ball and make it as tough as possible on perimeter players,” Stevens said. “Hopefully, the impact we have on the ball makes it harder to get to the rim. That’s been our philosophy all year. The bigs need to play great position for us. Other than Amir we don’t have a ton of shot blocking. We just have to be good in our position early.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Isaiah Thomas ‘thumbs up, ready to roll’ for Game 6, no lineup changes for Celtics at 6:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

With the season on the line, Isaiah Thomas is indeed ready to go for Game 6 against the Hawks. 

“He told me on Tuesday night after the game, he sent me a text late in the night that said he’s fine, I saw him again [Wednesday] before we met and in film and on the plane, and he felt fine,” Brad Stevens before Thursday’s Game 6 at the Garden. “No issues with swelling, per se, and today it was just as simple as a non-verbal thumbs up. So he’s fine. He’s good to go; he’s ready to roll.” 

The Celtics will start the same lineup they debuted in Game 3, going with Thomas, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson.

This is the second elimination game Stevens has faced as head coach of the Celtics, losing Game 4 to the Cavaliers last year in the four-game sweep. Stevens said this has a much different feel. 

“I think it’s so different, the series is so different, you’re playing a much-different team that plays much differently,” Stevens said. “Certainly, Cleveland did some things, defensively, that Atlanta is doing, but Atlanta just systematically, on both ends of the floor, is a just a totally separate entity to what Cleveland was at that time, or is now.

“And I think the biggest thing that you take away or, when the guys walk in, they came in, we went through our shootaround. Typical day. The focus is always pretty good. It was good again today. Just ready to compete and excited to play in this building.”

The Celtics did not have a full practice but Stevens is confident his team will be ready mentally and physically for the elimination game. 

“It’s obviously not the second night of a back-to-back, 48 hours later. Both teams traveled [Wednesday], we did a typical light film session and then went on our way,” Stevens said. “Came back together today and got ready for it. When you’re playing a team for the 10th time, the seventh time in the last few weeks, and so a lot like a back-to-back, or maybe not a back-to-back, but you know these guys, they know you. We gotta make small, potentially minor changes.

“At the end of the day, we just have to play better than we did the other day. That’s the thing. The best adjustment we can make: Keep our guy in front of us, challenge shots, and, on the other end, spray the ball around and make them. That’s the way it goes.”

 

 

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Can Celtics keep Hawks from running away with Game 6? 04.27.16 at 9:51 pm ET
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Feb 11, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer (right) and Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (left) watch from the sideline in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Atlanta 89-88. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (left) and Mike Budenholzer (right) are having quite the matchup in the first round. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

There’s been plenty of talk over the last three games about the coaching moves made by Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer. 

There was Stevens changing his lineup and inserting Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into the starting lineup with great results before Game 3. There was Stevens going with a small lineup that gave the Hawks fits, especially in the fourth quarter of both games in Boston and there were the two timeouts call by Budenholzer with 15 seconds left in regulation of Game 4. He proceeded to watch his point guard dribble out the clock without actually getting a shot up at the rim as the game went to overtime, where the Celtics dominated and tied the series. 

The advantage went back to Budenholzer on Tuesday as his decision to stay with a perimeter was rewarded when the Hawks connected on 14-of-35 shots from beyond the arc. Budenholzer also took a page out of Stevens’ book by going smaller and moving Paul Millsap to center for long stretches of the game. 

But Stevens said in a conference call Wednesday it’s important not to become overly obsessed with turning the game into a chess match. 

“I think that’s what you have to look at. I think that’s what you have to figure out. I think you always start with a mountain-load of information and your desire is to get to basketball in its simplest form,” Stevens said. 

“I’ve shared this quote before, my old boss at Butler used to quote Lincoln when he said, ‘I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.’ I think that that’s a coach’s job, is to try to make it as short, simple and sweet as possible and then let guys go out there and play a fast game with a clear mind, and that’s the bottom line, that’s my job and that’s what I’ll stay up thinking about doing. The goal will just be to go out and do our stuff as well as we can.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas’ call for more help from teammates: ‘You just have to make right basketball play’ at 5:26 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0) in Game 4. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens can certainly understand the frustration Isaiah Thomas was feeling during the Game 5 loss in Atlanta. 

For just the second time this season, he was held to single-digit scoring. He missed his first five shots and finished just 3-of-12. He faced double and triple-teams all night. Of course, to top it all off, he sprained his left ankle on his final basket of the night. 

After the game, Thomas was vocal about the fact that other teammates are going to have to step up when they’re putting so much emphasis on stopping him. 

On Wednesday, Stevens watched the film and answered some of Isaiah’s concerns from an Xs and Os standpoint. 

“I thought in retrospect, as you go back and watch the film, we handled it really well in those first 18 or 20 minutes,” Stevens said. “We had our opportunities and at the end of the day, you have to take advantage of as many of them as you can, realizing you are not going to play a perfect game. You got to continue to be aggressive passing out of it and guys have to continue to be aggressive driving and playing and making plays for others out of it.

“There are certain things we’ll look to do should they decide to stay with that. I think obviously they did a good job and their energy level was really good. They just executed what they wanted to do really, really well last night. I’m talking about Atlanta here. I think that Isaiah has been trapped before. He’s been trapped quite a bit. I thought yesterday his reads at the start of the game were really good.”

What hurt the Celtics was the same thing that has hurt them all season. When Isaiah Thomas hasn’t scored they’ve struggled to find a consistent second scoring option. Some nights it’s Jae Crowder, some nights Evan Turner and some nights Jared Sullinger. But none of those three require a full game plan to stop. Thomas does. 

“You just have to make the right basketball play and he’s got good teammates around him who have had great years,” Stevens continued. “We didn’t shoot it as well as we would have liked last night but I believe in each one of those guys, as does Isaiah.

When the Celtics weren’t struggling on offense, they were having trouble finding the open shooter on the perimeter again, especially in the third quarter, when Atlanta converted five of their 14 3-pointers on the night, scoring 42 points in the process. 

“I think transition was the biggest thing and then we had some positions where we probably over-rotated a few times in the half court,” Stevens said. 

The Celtics’ zone defense has had its moments when it’s been very effective in matching up against Atlanta’s sharp-shooters. Then there were times like last night where it failed them. Stevens, during his conference call Wednesday, made it sound like the zone is still a gimmick in the Celtics defensive playbook. 

“We don’t spend a lot of time on it. We practice it very, very little,” Stevens said. “Obviously, [Tuesday] night, they had a couple of baskets against it. The first one I felt like was handled [well] and got a shot you’d look for, which was a 10-foot contested floater. The second time we didn’t get to [Kent] Bazemore, but the other day it was great to us. Maybe it was Game 3 at home, where they went scoreless against it. Sometime it’s very productive, sometimes it’s not. But we’re not going to spend a lot of time on it since we don’t play it a lot.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas: ‘All signs point toward him being ready to go’ for Game 6 Thursday at 4:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during Game 4. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

There was some good news Wednesday in the wake of Tuesday’s meltdown in Atlanta. Isaiah Thomas and his turned left ankle will be able to play in Game 6 

“Every update I’ve gotten is positive. Isaiah seems really positive about it, feels good I’m sure they’ll take extra looks at it now that we’ve arrived home but the swelling wasn’t bad and he feels good,” Stevens said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call. “So all signs point toward him being ready to go tomorrow.”

Thomas turned the left ankle on a drive to the basket with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter Tuesday, with the Celtics trailing 93-62. 

Marcus Smart was at the scorer’s table waiting to come in for Thomas but not before the Celtics’ leading scorer came down awkwardly on the left foot and rolling the ankle. On the next possession down the court, Thomas grabbed Al Horford on a foul and hobbled directly to the Celtics locker room where he began treatment on the ankle.

The injury was diagnosed as a mild sprain and he did not return to the bench or the game. 

The news on Avery Bradley is that there really isn’t any, except that he did some jogging the other day and had the expected soreness after a significant right hamstring strain. 

 “There’s nothing new from my end that I’ve been told,” Stevens said. “I did not ask today but as I’ve said all along it would be extremely unlikely that he would be able to suit up in this series. The injury plus just what a hamstring injury can do moving forward is something that we just have to be very, very careful with, and Avery’s got to be very, very careful with.

“He feels better. As of two days ago or yesterday he had done a little bit more jogging, etc., but had experienced some soreness after that, which is not atypical for trying to come back from a hamstring injury. From everything I’ve been told, I’ve shared it with you the whole time.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Studs and Duds: Celtics, Isaiah Thomas (injured) come up empty, blown out in Game 5 04.26.16 at 10:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Evan Turner (11) is defended by Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) in the second quarter in game five of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Evan Turner is defended by Hawks forward Kent Bazemore in the second quarter of Tuesday’s Game 5. (Brett Davis/USA Today Sports)

A promising night turned into a disaster for the Celtics. 

Kent Bazemore keyed a 26-6 run in the first half to turn a 10-point Celtic lead into a 10-point Atlanta advantage. Then the Hawks caught fire in the third quarter, using an 18-1 run to blow Tuesday’s Game 5 wide open en route to a 110-83 rout of the Celtics at Philips Arena and a 3-2 series lead. 

Isaiah Thomas, the leading scorer in the NBA playoffs so far, had one of the worst nights in a Celtics uniform, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with just seven points on 3-of-12 shooting before leaving with what the team called a “mild” left ankle sprain with 10 minutes left in the game. 

With Paul Millsap in check at 10 points, Mike Scott came off the bench to lead Atlanta with 17. Bazemore and Jeff Teague had 16 for the Hawks, who went 14-of-36 from 3-point range. 

The Celtics started off nearly as cold in Game 5 as they did their last game in Atlanta. But unlike Game 2, they didn’t fall behind 21 in the first six minutes. They did open the game 2-for-10 but Marcus Smart continued his 3-point rhythm from Game 4, knocking down a pair of threes in the opening quarter. The two teams combined to miss 18 of their first 22 shots.

The Celtics used a three from Jae Crowder with 31.1 seconds left in the first quarter to reclaim the lead. Terry Rozier hit a circus bank shot on a drive to the basket to give Boston a 20-15 lead after one quarter. 

Al Horford (0-for-8) and Paul Millsap (0-for-4) combined to miss their first 12 shots of the game before a layup by Millsap with six minutes left in the second quarter. The Celtics built a 29-19 lead on the ice cold shooting of the Hawks, who began the game 6-for-34. 

Then the game turned suddenly and dramatically on a 26-6 Hawks run, sparked by Bazemore, who drilled three 3-pointers in the surge. Mike Scott gave Atlanta a 32-30 lead on a turnaround with 3:40 left in the second quarter. The Celtics quickly regained the lead but the Hawks answered with 16 of the next 18 points for a 45-35 lead. The Hawks were not threatened the rest of the way and led 47-39 at the half. 

Bazemore was 5-of-10 from the field and 4-of-7 from deep in the first half and single-handedly turned the momentum of the game for the Hawks. Atlanta was kept in the game by Boston relying too heavily on the three. They missed 14 of their 18 tries from beyond the arc. 

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Follow Celtics-Hawks Game 5 live at 7:14 pm ET
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Live Blog Celtics-Hawks Game 5 LIVE
 

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