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Will Isaiah Thomas be ready for his playing time to spike in playoffs? 04.12.17 at 9:27 pm ET
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Apr 6, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas could be in for a playing time increase come the playoffs. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

When Brad Stevens steps on the gas in the playoffs, will Isaiah Thomas be ready to fire up the Celtics engine?

For the Celtics to have any prayer of fulfilling the promise made by the Celtics point guard before Wednesday’s regular season finale, Thomas will have to be ready to answer the bell, even if it means playing more minutes than his team-leading 34 minutes-per game average. 

Thomas has put up MVP-caliber numbers, averaging 29.1 points per game, second in the league only to Russell Westbrook. He’s averaging 5.9 assists and an NBA-best 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. He’s done it all, leading the team in clutch shot-making and wrist-pointing, while leading his team to an unlikely perch atop the Eastern Conference. 

He was held scoreless in the first 14 minutes of playing time Wednesday before exploding for 10 points in the final two minutes of the first half. The Celtics didn’t look like themselves until Thomas took over the game. The question is: Will he be able to continue this in the playoffs?

Thomas entered Wednesday’s game ranked 27th in the NBA in minutes played. There are certainly others like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden who rank at the top of the league. But with Thomas, there is the unknown of playoff wear and tear. 

The Celtics, after all, are still looking for their first playoff series win with Thomas at the point. Two years ago, the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in the opening round. Last year, the Celtics won a pair of games but fell in six to the Hawks in the first round. Thomas was acquired at the trade deadline in February 2015 and the Celtics have been in the playoffs ever since. 

“I don’t know that it changed the attitude. I think that that’s something we were starting to find a stride about us right before the All-Star break that year,” coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday. “Isaiah was a huge addition from the standpoint of he brought something to the table that we needed badly and that complemented the rest of our players. I think that he fit in with his chip on his shoulder and his desire to prove people wrong and be great. But I don’t know that he changed it, per se. We were headed in the right direction and then this was a big part of it. He’s been a huge part of it, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a collective effort. All of our guys have that mindset.”

Now the mindset is getting deep in the playoffs and that could mean asking more from Thomas and others. 

“Nobody’s played more than 34 minutes a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah is on 75 games. Everybody else is less than that. We feel really good about our total minutes, our minutes per game and where we are heading into the playoffs, from a preparation standpoint and from a load standpoint thus far. 

“I said the other day that the silver lining of the injuries we went through was everybody sat. Avery missed almost two months, Al missed 15 games, Jae missed 10 games. We’ve had a good number of games missed due to that. And as a result, we feel like it’s more important to play right now and continue to play together.”

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Even on verge of No. 1 seed, Brad Stevens concedes ‘Cleveland is the team to beat… they deserve that’ at 7:00 pm ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics into the playoff charge. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The standings heading into the playoffs may have the Celtics at the top of the ladder in the Eastern Conference. 

But in his mind, Brad Stevens is keeping the defending champions on a pedestal for a purpose going into the playoffs. 

The Cavaliers lost three straight games after knocking off the Celtics last Wednesday at TD Garden. That opened the door for the Celtics to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over the rest-depleted Bucks Wednesday night. 

But Stevens knows full well that if he can keep that carrot in front of his team, they will have plenty of motivation to prove themselves worthy of the respect the Cavaliers have already earned. 

Asked before Wednesday’s regular season finale how he feels about the Cavaliers still regarded as the team to beat, he grinned quickly before confirming what many experts already feel. 

“No, they deserve that. Cleveland is the team to beat. There’s no question about that. They deserve that,” Stevens said. “They’ve been to back-to-back finals. So, until somebody knocks them off, as a defending champion, I think that’s a fair way to view things.” 

Clearly, the Cavaliers aren’t concerned about finishing second to the Celtics in the East. They are resting LeBron James at home against the Toronto Raptors in their regular season finale, a game that will be played simultaneous with Boston’s game against Milwaukee. 

Stevens also indicated before the game that it’s safe to say that – heading into the postseason – he will likely go with a rotation of nine regular players. But there’s a chance that the likes of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green or even Jordan Mickey could see time if the situation presents itself. 

“Yeah, I’d say that’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens said. “But again, everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen.  As we saw last year, match-ups you didn’t anticipate become match-ups that become important and you need to throw somebody else at so everybody’s got to be ready.”  

The first four off Stevens’ bench would be Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. 

Stevens confirmed that everyone would be “available” for the regular season finale. 

“We’re trying to win a game,” Stevens said of trying to capture win No. 53, a win that would clinch the No. 1 seed. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks
Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Celtics fend off Nets, hold sole possession of No. 1 seed 04.11.17 at 3:00 am ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.  The Celtics won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

A win against the Bucks on Wednesday will give the Celtics a 53-29 record on the season and the No. 1 seed. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

The Celtics are one win away from entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

After Boston cruised to a 114-105 win over the Nets, the Heat did their part in fighting for the final playoff spot by beating the Cavaliers in overtime — giving the Celtics a one-game lead for first place in the east. All the C’s have to do now is beat the Bucks in Wednesday’s regular season finale at TD Garden in order to clinch the top spot. 

With the win, the Heat — who are now tied with the Bulls for eighth — kept their playoff hopes alive. Now, the Cavaliers not only need to beat the Raptors on Wednesday but also need the Celtics to lose in order to regain the No. 1 seed. 

Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points led six Celtics in double figures, Al Horford finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, Avery Bradley poured in 18 points and Marcus Smart led the bench with 13 points. 

Celtics ended the first quarter with a 15-point lead (28-13) and held a double-digit lead throughout most of the first half. Celtics kicked off the third quarter with an 11-0 run to give them a 27-point lead — their largest one of the night. 

The Nets responded with a 12-0 run before the start of the final frame and eventually pulled to within 11 points. Jeremy Lin led with a double-double (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Brook Lopez added 25 points. 

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LeBron James dismisses matchup against Celtics: ‘I’ve been to six straight NBA Finals’ 04.05.17 at 10:09 am ET
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LeBron James doesn't appear excited about facing the Celtics Wednesday. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James doesn’t appear excited about facing the Celtics Wednesday. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics and Cavaliers, who are tied for first place in the Eastern Conference, will match up with each other at T.D. Garden Wednesday. It’s a big game as far as regular season contests are concerned, but don’t tell that to LeBron James.

In an interview following the Cavaliers’ win over the Magic Tuesday, James downplayed the importance of the affair.

“I don’t know, I’ve played in a lot of big games man,” he said. “I don’t … I’m the last person to ask about a big game in the regular season. I’m sorry.” 

It’s understandable if James holds a jaded view about the importance of regular season basketball. The Cavaliers narrowly edged out the Raptors for the No. 1 seed last season, but wound up bulldozing their way through the Eastern Conference playoffs. Cleveland came back from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Warriors in the NBA Finals, largely thanks to an otherworldly effort from James. He averaged 36.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 9.7 assists per game over the final three games to secure his third title. 

After a fast start this season, the Cavaliers have slumped since the All-Star Break. They’re 9-10 since March 1 and had the worst defense in the league last month as well. James lost his temper earlier this week when he started screaming at forward Tristan Thompson following a defensive lapse in the waning moments of Cleveland’s double overtime win Sunday over the Pacers. 

Though the Cavaliers have taken to resting their stars down the stretch, James played 37 minutes Tuesday against the lowly Magic. So maybe Cleveland wants to finish strongly heading into the playoffs, even if James won’t admit it. 

“Taking nothing from [the Celtics], they’ve been playing some great ball, but like I said, I’m not one to get caught up in regular season big games,” he said. “I’m sorry. I’ve been to six straight [NBA] Finals, man. I’m the last person to ask about a regular season game, dude. Sorry.”

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LaVar Ball on ‘Dale & Holley with Keefe:’ I would prefer Lonzo Ball play for the Lakers 03.30.17 at 3:18 pm ET
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LaVar Ball said Thursday he would prefer his son play for the Lakers. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

LaVar Ball said Thursday he would prefer his son play for the Lakers. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

If the Celtics draft UCLA standout Lonzo Ball this spring, his father would probably be disappointed. 

In an interview Thursday on Dale & Holley with Keefe, LaVar Ball said his preference is for Lonzo to wind up with their hometown Lakers. Listen to the full interview on the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.

“I want him to be a Laker. But that’s just my opinion,” he said. “It wouldn’t be like, ‘Oh man he gotta go to Boston.’ I’d love him to stay in LA. But that’s just me though.”

LaVar Ball went on to say he wants his son to play for the Lakers, because he wants to keep the family together. 

“It’s not about me liking [the Celtics] or disliking them. It’s just that we’re west coast guys,” he said. “I’d love for him to stay on the west coast where his brothers can see him all of the time. We’re a real big family. That’s just the only difference. But like I said, my son will play for any team on the fact that his goal was to make it to the NBA. So it doesn’t matter what team he plays for.” 

In a recent USA Today feature story, the man who coaches LaVar Ball’s kids at Chino Hills High School, Stephan Gilling, opened up about Daddy Ball’s overbearing personality and tendency to overrule him at every turn. But in the NBA, Ball says that wouldn’t be a problem. 

“You know what you’re getting from my boys when you get them. Anything before that, in high school, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “That’s why I have to mold them into these players. Everybody thought I went to practices and all that stuff with Steve Alford [at UCLA]. No, I never went to one practice. I’m not going to be up there telling [the coach], wherever [Lonzo] goes, ‘Hey man, you need to play my son like this.’ No, Lonzo’s turned into a man. That’s his job.” 

Though LaVar Ball continued to build up Lonzo during the interview –– he stuck by his claim that his eldest son could beat Stephen Curry in a game of one-on-one –– he said he doesn’t think his brash demeanor hurts his kids. In fact, he says he thinks it helps them become better players. 

“If you’re in the NBA, shouldn’t everyone want to dunk on you? Who cares?,” he asked. “If you want to be the best, I don’t want my son going into a situation where [everyone] says, ‘You know what? You’re a great guy, man. We’re not even going to play that hard on you. We want to ease you in nice and gentle to the NBA. We’re not coming after you.’ Man, that’s a bunch of hogwash. I want them all coming after my boy, because that’s how you get to be the greatest.”

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Devin Booker’s historic 70 points still not enough for Suns to top Celtics 03.24.17 at 11:51 pm ET
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20170324_224503

(Josue Pavon/Weei.com)

Not even 70 points from Suns guard Devin Booker could bring his team close to grabbing a lead — Phoenix never had a chance at winning the game — but the incredible individual performance by Phoenix’s young star is one the Celtics franchise has never seen before.

From tip-off until the final buzzer, the Celtics dominated the lowly Suns while giving them little to no hope of closing their deficit and turned in what should have been their most lopsided victory of the season.

Boston still managed to hold onto a double-digit win — 130-120 — and improved to 47-26 on the season, still one game behind the Cavaliers for first place in the conference but Boston’s poor defense at the end of the fourth quarter propelled Booker to reach historic heights. 

Booker’s career-high 70 points marks the highest scoring performance in Suns franchise history and is the most any player has ever scored against the Celtics.

However, poor defense down the stretch led the Celtics to commit silly fouls as each player took turns in trying to slow down Booker but instead were biting on his up-fakes and sending him the free-throw line. One play that stood out happened when the Celtics led by 13 points (128-115) with 42 seconds left. Isaiah Thomas jumped all over Booker when he fell for yet another pump fake and sent him to the line so that he could inch closer to 70.

Although Booker was phenomenal, hitting 21-of-40 from the floor, 24-of-26 from the charity stripe, he couldn’t have reached this milestone without help from the Celtics. He topped off the C’s with 28 fourth-quarter points, 18 in the final four minutes, including 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.

In the game’s opening seven minutes, the Celtics leaped out a 20-point lead (25-5) and spent most of the first half protecting it. Gerald Green caught fire from deep — knocking down 4-of-4 from behind the arc, including a four-point play as the Celtics took a 66-43 advantage into halftime. 

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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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