|Studs and Duds: Celtics get healthy at hands of hapless Sixers||03.20.16 at 8:33 pm ET|
Nothing’s automatic in the NBA. But Sunday night was about the closest thing to it for a road team badly in need of a win.
Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points while Isaiah Thomas scored 13 of his team-leading 26 points in the third quarter, as the Celtics ended their four-game losing skid with a 120-105 win over the historically inept 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Avery Bradley added 20 points and four steals for the Celtics, who matched their win total of last season and improved to 40-30 with 12 games left in the season. The 76ers (9-61), with precious little NBA talent at their disposal due to injury, lost for the 22nd time in 24 games. If they were to lose their last 11 games, they would match the 1972-73 Sixers for the worst record in NBA history.
All of the above not withstanding not to say the Celtics didn’t have some moments where you wondered if they were going to let the Sixers hang around.
The Sixers, who were led by a season-best 26 points off the bench from Carl Landry, opened the game impressively, shooting out to a 9-4 lead. But the Celtics quickly went into the paint and established some interior dominance, outscoring the Sixers, 24-7, to close out the first quarter and take a 28-16 lead. The 16 points allowed marked a season-best by the Celtics defense in any quarter, accomplished twice previously.
But an 8-0 run by Philadelphia to open the second quarter capped a 10-0 spurt and drew the Sixers within four, 28-24. After the Sixers again closed to within four, 35-31, the Celtics scored the next 11 points and raced out to 46-31 lead.
The Celtics maintained control of the game the rest of the half as they took a 55-44 lead to the locker room. Avery Bradley (15 points) and Amir Johnson (12) combined for 27 points after totaling 12 on Friday night.
|Brad Stevens: ‘For the most part, we looked hesitant’||03.18.16 at 11:23 pm ET|
The last thing a coach wants to see is hesitation from his team.
That’s exactly what Brad Stevens has seen from his team in their last four games, all losses, including Friday’s 105-91 defeat at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors.
The Raptors, despite playing their fourth game in five nights, came out on fire, thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Luis Scola, and took a 30-14 lead after one.
“Yeah, Scola had 13 against us last game in the first quarter and 17 tonight. He’s a Celtic-killer,” Stevens said. “I thought that actually we did a pretty good job. Obviously, there were a couple of shots. [DeMar] DeRozan’s not a high-volume 3-point shooter. Scola’s not a high-volume shooter but certainly he’s capable of shooting it and has shot it very well this year.”
“Sometimes those go down and you regroup and you kind of hang around while they’re making those shots, and sometimes they don’t. I think Scola’s bigger ways he hurt us were just with his cutting, his post scoring, his rebounding, his plays around the rim. I just think that’s where he’s hurt us both games.”
Still, a pair of 19-point deficits before halftime seemed inexcusable, given what was at stake for the Celtics and stretch the Raptors were in. The Celtics played their best quarter in the last week in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and drawing to within five, 79-74.
“Ball was really moving,” Stevens said. “We were getting good looks. Defensively, we were aggressive. We were communicating. You could tell there was a connectivity with the way they were playing. I thought we started really poorly,” Stevens said. “I did think though, a couple of those shots were not high-percentage shots that they made. But at the end of the day, you gotta kind of score and keep up with that as that’s happening and not dig yourself that big of a hole. The best we’ve played in two weeks is the third quarter.
“We can build off that. I think it was more of a factor of being hesitant than it was about not coming out and playing or competing or any of that stuff. I think that, for the most part, we looked hesitant. We looked unsure of ourselves and that type of stuff.
“I just told them I’m glad we played the way we did in the third because we’re a good basketball team when we play really hard together and believe in each other. We’ve just got to do that. It’s a tough stretch we’re in. We knew it was a tough stretch. It continues on Sunday on the road at Philly. We’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win.”
The Celtics were again without Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko but Stevens knows he couldn’t use that as an excuse for lack of execution.
“Everybody misses players, right? I think those players are really good players,” Stevens said. “If they were here tonight, they would’ve played but they weren’t. We need other guys to step up.
“I guess we got back in it in the third quarter and then we had a cluster of errors there that led to transition points and kind of got us back out of it. We played the best in the third quarter that we’ve played in two weeks, so that’s good. But we’ve got to sustain it longer period than one quarter. “
|Isaiah Thomas: ‘Things have got to change around here’||at 11:01 pm ET|
After Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Thunder, Isaiah Thomas was embarrassed.
He assumed that, after calling out his teammates for getting “punked” and looking “soft as tissue” in the 130-109 loss, the Celtics would come out Friday night in Toronto looking hungry against the Raptors, a team that played an overtime game in Indiana the night before and was playing its fourth game in five nights.
Instead the Celtics were the ones who came out flat, falling down 30-14 after the first 12 minutes and looking shell-shocked and unprepared for Luis Scola.
When it was all said and done, Thomas witnessed his teammates commit 16 turnovers and self-destruct in a 105-91 defeat. Now, he wants something to change.
“We keep losing so we’ve got to change something up,” Thomas told reporters after. “Coach [Stevens] said our third quarter, we played Celtic basketball. We got ourselves back in the game. We showed signs of playing like we know how but against a good team like the Raptors, you can’t play just one good quarter.”
The Celtics did indeed cut a 19-point deficit down to five twice, including at the end of the third on a three from rookie RJ Hunter. But six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth and Kyle Lowry (15 points in the fourth) ended any hope of a comeback win.
“I feel like they’re soft turnovers. We’re just being real soft with the ball, not being in control of the possession. That’s the definition of how we’re playing. We’re not playing to the best of our abilities. We’re not playing like we know how. We’re playing like we’re second-guessing all our [decisions], whether it’s offensively or defensively.”
The Celtics are on their first four-game losing streak of the season. They’re 39-30 and suddenly in sixth place in the East. They have winnable games against Philadelphia and Orlando Sunday and Monday but then a game against the Raptors Wednesday at the Garden before heading out West.
“I tried to tell the guys after the game, this is not on the coaches,” Thomas said. “This is not on anybody else. We’re the players. We go out there and play and we’ve got to figure it out. We had this little slump in January and we ended up figuring it out, too.
“But there’s  games left, we don’t have that much more room for error, so things have got to change around here.”
|Studs and duds: Careless Celtics can’t overcome Kyle Lowry, Raptors, drop fourth straight||at 9:53 pm ET|
The Celtics had the heart but not the head Friday night.
Kyle Lowry went 5-of-8 from 3-point range and scored 32 points to lead the Raptors to a 105-91 win over the Celtics Friday night at the Air Canada Centre. The Celtics (39-30) faced a pair of 19-point first-half deficits and cut it down to five points twice in the third quarter before self-destructing in the fourth quarter.
Boston committed six turnovers in the opening five minutes of the fourth quarter and Lowry scored 15 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter to send the Celtics to their fourth straight loss, their longest skid of the season and their longest since losing four straight, Dec. 21-27, 2014.
The Celtics were again led by Isaiah Thomas, who scored 20 points. The only other Boston player in double figures was Evan Turner (12 points), who replaced Marcus Smart in the lineup.
Playing without Jae Crowder (missing his third straight game with a high ankle sprain) and Jonas Jerebko (missing his second straight with an Achilles injury), the Celtics had no answers for Luis Scola in the first quarter. The Raptors, playing their fourth game in five nights, took advantage of the front-court deficiency as Scola made 6-of-8 from the field and scored a remarkable 17 points in the first 12 minutes.
The Celtics didn’t help themselves with seven turnovers in the opening quarter that led to 11 Toronto points. The Raptors led 30-14 after one.
The Celtics appeared close to getting blown off the court by the Raptors in the second quarter, falling behind by as many as 19 points twice, 40-21 and 53-34. Stevens desperately searched his bench for any kind of answer, putting in R.J. Hunter, Terry Rozier and Jordan Mickey at one point. The Celtics took the best shot from Toronto and hung tough, making a bit of a run late in the second quarter, cutting the deficit down to 14, 55-41 at the half.
The Celtics made a big run at the Raptors late in the third quarter, cutting the lead all the way down to five, 74-69, before Terrence Ross hit a corner three. That was followed by a runner from DeMar DeRozan.
Hunter hit a corner three with 0.4 left in the third that capped a 31-point quarter for the Celtics and again brought the C’s within five, 79-74, heading into the fourth. But the Celtics couldn’t take care of the ball when it mattered most, committing six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth, two of which led directly to 3-pointers from Lowry.
The Raptors opened the fourth with six straight points and eventually raced out to a 93-76 lead. The Celtics fell to 0-44 when trailing by at least 19 points at any point in the three-year Brad Stevens era.
The Celtics play in Philadelphia Sunday night at 6 p.m. before returning home for a game against the Magic at the Garden Monday night.
For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.
|Jonas Jerebko out 2nd straight game with Achilles injury that is ‘not a long term thing’||at 8:40 pm ET|
The injury bug has picked a bad time to hit the Celtics.
Already without Jae Crowder due to a high sprain of his right ankle, forward Jonas Jerebko didn’t even make the trip to Toronto, staying home in Boston to get treatment of a sore Achilles.
After not playing in Boston’s 130-109 loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Jerebko remaining in Boston to get treatment. Stevens told reporters in Toronto before Friday’s game that he would miss Friday’s game and Sunday’s game in Philadelphia.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters that Jerebko was not with the team in Toronto.
“We left him at home to get treatment,” Stevens said. “It’s not a long-term thing.”
Without Crowder and Jerebko, Stevens was stripped of two of his most versatile post players, and it showed early. Luis Scola went off for 17 points as the Raptors built a 19-point first-half lead.
Jerebko could be back in time for Monday’s game against the Magic at TD Garden. The Celtics could use him right about now.
Impending free agent Kevin Durant is calling for a little perspective when it comes to cities he might choose in free agency this summer.
First of all, there’s a good chance that the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar might sign a one-year contract (likely back in Oklahoma City) to reach his 10-year vested veteran rights that would allow teams to pay him and have his salary take up 35 percent of the payroll.
Durant will also likely take advantage of the exploding salary cap. The cap is expect to grow by $40 million over the next two seasons.
Secondly, there will be many teams and cities that could make a push for him.
So, it’s a little presumptuous to think that just because he had kind words for the city of Boston that means that’s his preference.
“I love being in Philly, too,” Durant told reporters at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Friday morning before Friday’s Thunder-Sixers game. “If you ask me about a city, I like being there. I’m not going to say anything bad about it. That’s how I am. I’m not going to watch what I say. Because I know how I’m saying it and my intentions in saying it. People are going to pick and choose what they want to write and I can’t control that.
“But I can control what I say. And I’m not going to hold my tongue or answer things differently or walk on egg shells because I don’t want stuff written about me.
Responding to the reports earlier in the day at the Thunder’s shootaround at TD Garden, Celtics fans chanted “Come to Boston” at Durant during the game. Durant scored 28 points in Oklahoma City’s 130-109 win.
“I’m just gonna be who I am,” Durant added. “Of course people are going to say stuff. I like playing in Boston, like the city, it’s a cool city, they ran with that one. But I know how it is. It’s all good.”
WEEI.com’s Ben Rohrbach broke down why it’s highly unlikely Durant is coming to Boston this summer. But a little wishful thinking never hurt. But as Durant reminded everyone Friday, it also wouldn’t hurt to just keep those expectations realistic.
Here’s video of that KD quote on not being careful when it comes to comments about opposing cities part 2 pic.twitter.com/xj9uuPGX1K
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 18, 2016
Call it another reward for Coty Clarke.
The 6-foot-7 forward was inked Friday to another 10-day contract by the Celtics. When the Celtics initially signed him to a 10-day deal on March 7, coach Brad Stevens said Clarke was being “rewarded” for the hard work and production he showed for the Celtics’ D-League affiliate in Maine.
In the 10 days since, Clarke has seen some significant action off the Celtics bench.
He’s appeared in two games, scoring three points and grabbing a rebound in three minutes of game action. The three points came on his first shot of his NBA career, a 3-pointer from the right wing in the first half of Tuesday’s loss at Indiana.
When Clarke was recalled from the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, he was averaging 16.1 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game.
Clarke has also appeared in one game for the Red Claws on assignment from the Celtics where he recorded 18 points, five rebounds, two assists and one steal in just under 20 minutes against Erie on March 10.
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