|Isaiah Thomas on Kobe Bryant: ‘He looked like the old Kobe’||04.04.16 at 2:13 am ET|
Isaiah Thomas was paying very close attention to Kobe Bryant on Sunday night at Staples Center.
The Celtics point guard was watching how the 37-year-old handled his business for a 16-win team that was headed nowhere against a young team trying to clinch a playoff spot.
What he saw was an intense competitor who wanted the ball so desperately down the stretch that he screamed at teammate D’Angelo Russell when Bryant was open for a three. As it turned out, Julius Randle got the ball from Russell and converted a three-point play.
When he did get the ball, Bryant reminded everyone what he could still do, starting with his first shot of the night over Jae Crowder in the first quarter. Bryant had 11 points in the opening 12 minutes.
Bryant had 18 points in the first half as the Lakers stayed close, 57-48, at the half.
Bryant would finish with a game-high 34 points on 11-of-28 shots from the field. The Celtics won the game, 107-100, and a spot in the playoffs.
“He looked like the old Kobe,” Thomas said. “From the jump, from the first play, he just had a different energy about him. You knew it was probably going to be a long night if he felt good.”
Brad Stevens was fond of reminding everyone for the last two months that his team was closer to being out of the playoffs than it was to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Well, he doesn’t have to worry about missing the playoffs anymore.
And the biggest reason for the Celtics making their second straight playoff appearance this year under Stevens is Isaiah Thomas. The point guard scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half Sunday night in a 107-100 playoff clinching win over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at Staples Center.
“It means a lot,” Thomas told reporters afterward. “It means a stepping stone. It was definitely goal of ours to make it to the playoffs but we definitely want more. It’s a positive. We’re happy.”
Last year, the Celtics made the playoffs with a 40-42 record and even finished seventh in the East. But they were swept out in four games by the Cavaliers. Now, the Celtics (45-32) are shooting for much more than just making the playoffs. With Sunday’s win, they are tied with the Hawks for third in the East and could wind up with home court advantage if they perform in the final five games, four of which will be on their home court.
“That’s what you want. You want to, obviously, give yourself a chance,” Stevens said. “So, the only way you get a chance is to make the playoffs. It’s been a very focused group. I haven’t heard the guys talk about it a ton. Obviously, when asked about it, they may comment on it. But they’ve been pretty focused on just the task at hand. We still want to be playing our best going into it.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do and hopefully, get some rest here and get ready for Wednesday night.”
|Evan Turner suffers left eye injury in win over Lakers||at 12:50 am ET|
When Kobe Bryant’s three with 19.9 seconds rimmed in and out, the battle under the boards turned into an ugly affair for Evan Turner and the Celtics.
Turner got entangled with Lakers big man Julius Randle, who appeared to accidentally poke Turner in the left eye with his right hand.
Turner immediately grabbed the left side of his face and made his way off the court and to the locker room.
“He’s got bleeding in his eye,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. “They’re looking at it. An internist is looking at him. We don’t know the extent of the injury. But clearly he got some eye poke [action]. Hopefully, not too much trauma.”
According to multiple reports, Turner emerged from the showers with his left eye shut and redness around the eye.
If Turner is out for any period of time, it could be costly to the Celtics. After Jae Crowder, Turner is arguably the most versatile player on the team. Turner filled in for Avery Bradley Sunday night in the starting lineup. Bradley was not with the team due to personal reasons. Before Sunday, Turner started the last seven games that Crowder missed with his high sprain of his right ankle.
Turner has left eye shut as he emerges from the shower.
— Jay King (@ByJayKing) April 4, 2016
Evan Turner’s left eye is red and swollen shut.
— Steve Bulpett (@SteveBHoop) April 4, 2016
|Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics wave Kobe Bryant goodbye, clinch playoff spot||04.03.16 at 11:59 pm ET|
Beating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and clinching a playoff spot proved to be a little more than mere formality for the Celtics on Sunday night.
Isaiah Thomas scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half and Jae Crowder added 22 as the Celtics turned back the 16-win Lakers, 107-100, at Staples Center. In his final game ever against Boston, Bryant went out on a strong note. He scored 18 of his 34 points in the first half to keep the Lakers close.
As for Thomas, who played in front of his friend and boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, he matched Paul Pierce’s 2005-06 mark of 16 straight games with at least 20 points.
The Celtics improve to 45-32 and are tied with the Hawks for third in the East.
Bryant, who finished 11-of-28 from the field, came out clearly with a point to prove in his final game ever against the Celtics. He made his first shot, a 12-foot left wing jumper over Crowder just 64 seconds into the game. He made just two of his six first-quarter shots from the floor but converted all six attempts at the line for 11 points.
The Celtics, thanks in large part to red-hot shooting to start the game, built an early lead of nine points twice, including 29-20. The Celtics hit seven of their first 10 shots before cooling off to 59 percent by the end of the first quarter. Thomas and Amir Johnson each had eight points in the opening quarter as Boston led 31-26. After a layup by the Lakers just 12 seconds into the second quarter, a disgusted Brad Stevens called a timeout to regroup his troops.
|Avery Bradley (personal) not with team, Jae Crowder returns to starting lineup vs. Lakers||at 9:18 pm ET|
The Celtics will have to avoid a massive letdown without the services of Avery Bradley.
Coach Brad Stevens confirmed before the game in Los Angeles that the best defensive player in the starting lineup will not be with the team due to personal reasons.
Taking Bradley’s place in the starting lineup will be Evan Turner, getting a start for the eighth time in nine games. This start, however, will be at a different position than the previous seven, where he started for Jae Crowder.
“Evan has started the better part of the last couple of weeks because Jae has only been here for one game, so I think that keeps him in that role and in that rhythm and then we’ll figure it out from there,” Brad Stevens told reporters before Sunday’s game.
Crowder will be returning to the starting lineup after missing Friday’s game against the Warriors in Oakland.
Stevens also explained why Turner has been such a versatile player over the course of the last three weeks.
“The 2s and 3s do the exact same things for us, so it doesn’t have any impact as far as knowing what’s coming or understanding the plays or whatever the case may be,” Stevens added. “It’s a pretty seamless transition, because he’s going to guard all three spots, which he usually does.”
Turner has averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in his last seven starts. He scored 21 points in Friday’s shocker in Oakland, grabbed five rebounds, and had five assists. He scored 10 points during the final quarter, including a couple of key clutch jumpers.
There will be others expected to step up their game, also.
“Terry (Rozier) has played a lot more than he had earlier in the season and he and Marcus (Smart) have given us good things together especially with the ability to make physical plays, defend, rebound, those type of things that we need our guards to do to be the best team that we can be,” said Stevens. “It’s one of those things where we haven’t been a great rebounding team, so playing those guys together helps shore that up a little bit.”
|Isaiah Thomas changes shoes at half, sparks ‘one of funnest games’ in his career||04.02.16 at 3:12 am ET|
When things weren”t going well Friday night in Oakland, Isaiah Thomas didn’t look at his hands. He looked at his feet.
After going 0-for-7 from the floor with five assists in the first half, Thomas decided to not take things into his own hands, he decided to change his shoes.
“I switched my shoes,” Thomas told ESPN’s J.A. Adande on the court after the Celtics stunned the NBA world with a 109-106 win over the 68-win Warriors at Oracle Arena. “Them other shoes didn’t have any buckets in them. I always know the All-Star Kobes will give me some type of buckets.”
Of course, the irony there is that Thomas and the Celtics finish the road trip Sunday night in Los Angeles against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
With a new pair of shoes on his feet, he went out and torched the Warriors for 18 points in the third quarter and finished with a team-leading 22 points, giving him 15 straight games with at least 20 points, one shy of Paul Pierce’s mark in 2005-06 and extending his franchise record to 15 games as the team’s leading scorer.
“This says a lot about this team,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “Hopefully, it gives us some confidence to end the season off the right way and play at a high level.”
The Celtics took the best shot from the Warriors down the stretch, leading by 10 points with six minutes left only to see the Warriors make a predictable run in the final two minutes.
“That was one of the funnest games I’ve been a part of just because every time they hit us with something, we hit them right back,” Thomas said. “Usually, teams don’t do that. That’s when they usually go on their run.
“For me, personally, I stayed aggressive, stayed the course. My teammates kept confidence in me and wanted me to be in attack mode. And then things started to open up. Different guys, every guy down the line, made a key play in this win.”
Perhaps most satisfying is how Thomas and the Celtics put Thursday’s 116-109 loss in Portland behind them.
“Man, it was tough [Thursday] night. We gave ourselves a chance to win,” Thomas said of the loss against Portland. “We felt like we should’ve won. We end up losing. And then knowing that we had to play the defending champs, it wasn’t getting any easier. It says a lot about this team and knowing that we can turn the page as quick as needed.”
It might be time to call Brad Stevens the front-runner in the race for NBA coach of the year.
After all, his team, missing its most versatile defender on the court, was able to pull off something no other team in the NBA had been able to do since Jan. 27, 2015.
In beating the Golden State Warriors Friday night, 109-106, without Jae Crowder, the Celtics ended Golden State’s regular season home win streak at 54 games and gave Stevens the signature win to date of his three-year tenure in Boston. The Celtics became the first team since San Antonio on Nov. 11, 2014 to beat the Warriors in regulation in a regular season game in Oakland.
The Celtics, who improved to 44-32, withstood charge after charge down the stretch from the record-hungry Warriors, who fell to 68-8 on the season. They withstood Steph Curry going off for 21 of his 29 points in the third quarter. Stevens got Thomas involved in the offense early in the third quarter, as Thomas scored his first 18 points of the game in the period. Stevens diagramed play after play, including the game-clincher, an side inbounds from Marcus Smart to Thomas for a layup with 8.3 seconds left in the game.
“It was a heck of a game,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “When Curry got going in the third quarter, the biggest moments of the game were us scoring consecutively when he scored because when he got going, that’s usually when they run away with a 10-0 run or a 12-0 run. We had to play. Guys had to play really well. We didn’t have a guy play poorly. That’s what it takes to beat a team like this. They’re outstanding.”
Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Stevens had his team ready just 24 hours after a 116-109 grueling loss in Portland.
“I think the biggest meaning is the idea that we can bounce back from a night like [Thursday] night where we expended a considerable amount of energy and came up short, flew here, got in late and came to compete again,” Stevens said. “I thought that probably the other biggest moment of the game was when we were struggling to score in the second quarter, they weren’t scoring a ton and kind of kept us in the game. We were fortunate to win but at the same time, we made a lot of plays to win the game.”
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