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Even without Kyle Lowry, Raptors, Luis Scola present test for Celtics 03.23.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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The irony of the question was only apparent just before tipoff Wednesday night. 

Longtime Celtics beat writer Bill Doyle asked Brad Stevens what made the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so effective. DeRozan came in averaging 23.9 points per game while Lowry average stood at 21.9. 

“Really strong, physical, excellent athletes,” Stevens said. “Obviously, Lowry and DeRozan ability to hit really tough shots and get to the line at an elite rate. All those things combined is why they’re so difficult to defend. It’s easier said than done because they usually have a physical advantage on their position from a size standpoint and a strength standpoint. And then they don’t give up anything in athleticism and speed. So, it’s a really good duo but they’ve got other good players, too. It’s a heck of a team.”

Just before the start of the game, Lowry was scratched from the starting lineup as a precaution with a sore right elbow. He was dressed and available but expected to sit the game out. 

One player the Celtics wish would sit out, at least in the first quarter, is Luis Scola. The 36-year-old veteran from Argentina hit a pair of threes in the first six minutes. In the last two games against Boston, Scola has 30 points in the first quarter alone, including 17 last Friday in Toronto’s win. 

“He’s been really good in the first quarter of both of those games. I do think it’s one of those things where you have to go back and say, ‘OK, were we defending the right way? Why did he get his points? Are there things we can do different without overreacting and without saying, OK, those other two guys are critically important, too.’ Making sure you’re good on the glass is critically important and everything else.

“Scola is a good player. He’s been a good player for a long time. I think people and fans of international basketball knew it long before he came into the NBA. He’s given us fits the last two games, specifically in the first quarter.”

Even though Lowry sat out, the Raptors still have plenty to play for. They entered Wednesday’s game just 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East. The Celtics, at 41-30, are still in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the East, coming into play just .003 behind Miami. Problem is, the Celtics have lots of competition for that spot as they are tied with Charlotte and Atlanta. All three have 41-30 records. 

“It’s hard to be naive to it but I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I’ve got a general feel for where all the teams are. I don’t know the exact records. I don’t the exact tie-breakers and all that other stuff,” Stevens said. 

“We’ve said all year the East is deep and the East has been good and you’re going to have to play well through 82 games to get into the playoffs. Here we are.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, NBA
Jae Crowder takes some steps, Kelly Olynyk showing off some D at 7:26 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden on Mar. 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder continues to take some small steps on his way back from the high sprain of his right ankle that forced him to miss his sixth straight game Wednesday night against the Raptors.

“He shot [Tuesday] with [assistant coach] Jamie Young for a while,” Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Toronto. “He shot pregame today but from what I’ve been told, I don’t think there’s any movement shooting. I think it’s just spot shooting so no real update. He’s going to go on our trip. I don’t want to put a timeline on him but I don’t anticipate him playing early in the trip.”

Stevens was asked if he thinks Crowder’s uncertainly might leave the Celtics a bit shorthanded on the five-game trip out West.

“I don’t think so right now. Obviously, if we have more issues, we’ll address as we move forward.” 

The Celtics sent Coty Clarke and James Young on the trip out to Texas for games Wednesday and Friday. They are expected to join the Celtics when they begin their trip in Phoenix Saturday night. 

“I expect them to, yeah. I haven’t talked to Danny [Ainge] yet. They play on their trip and then they’re going to hop over and join us after that,” Stevens said. 

One of the keys to the Celtics keeping pace without Crowder is the continued play of Kelly Olynyk. On Monday, Olynyk scored 22 points off the bench against the Magic. But his defense also made an impact on Stevens. 

“I think he’s a position player. He’s a guy that can keep people in front of him,” Stevens said. “He actually switches better than people think. He’s got pretty good feet on the perimeter and he’s good in our pick-and-roll system. Kelly’s greatest strength on the defensive end is adding to the team defense.

“He’ s a guy that’s been here three years and a guy with that kind of size and understands the game and feels good about the game. The game has slowed down for him in some ways and that can have a good impact.”

As anyone knows who watches the Celtics, shot-blocking is not Olynyk’s expertise. He has just 31 blocks in 58 games this season. 

“It’s not fair to compare him to a 7-foot shot blocker because he’s not a shot blocker,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that has to use position, has to use his base, his feet and move and keep guys in front of him, and make the right play. He took the charge in Philly the other night with great positioning. The other day against Orlando, he had some great positioning plays. So, I think it’s a lot less about height. It’s a lot more about being in his stance and playing low and playing lower longer than the guy he’s playing against.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
Isaiah Thomas: ‘We’re getting there’ as Celtics eye big test against Raptors, West Coast trip 03.22.16 at 12:35 pm ET
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Funny what a few made shots will do to a team’s confidence.

Isaiah Thomas, who has for the most part been immune to his team’s recent shooting struggles, scored 28 points Monday night in a 107-96 win over the Magic.

But while he was 9-for-18 from the field it was the shooting of his teammates that gave Thomas some reason for optimism.

Starters Evan Turner (7-for-11), Amir Johnson (5-for-6) and Avery Bradley (9-for-15) and backup Kelly Olynyk (7-for-12) had their shots fall for a second straight night. In Philadelphia, the Celtics made 10-of-24 from 3-point range as the thaw from the ice cold week began to take hold.

“Guys finally hitting shots,” a relieved Thomas said. “I mean that losing streak, we really weren’t shooting the ball as well. We weren’t defending but on top of that, we weren’t hitting shots. Everybody is starting to shoot with confidence and step into their shots and make plays and I think that’s making it easier for everybody else.”

The one guy still not hitting shots is Marcus Smart. Monday, he was 1-for-11 from the field and missed all five from 3-point range.

“[Sunday] he made some and had a pretty productive offensive day,” Stevens said of Smart’s 6-of-12 shooting on a 15-point night against Philadelphia. “[Monday] wasn’t his night. You have to continue to shoot the good ones. You have to continue to shoot the right ones. When you shoot the right ones it allows you to rebound because you’re in position. He had a couple today where he had nice drives off of movement. He drove the slots, drove openings and drove close-outs. He’s going to have to make the right play and continue to believe. We believe in him.”

One player the Celtics definitely believe in right now is Amir Johnson. The Celtics forward had his sixth double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) of the season Monday. They’re going to need him Wednesday as the Celtics look to salvage a win at home against Toronto before heading out West for five games.

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard on Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, what’s ahead for Celtics 03.21.16 at 11:50 pm ET
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Read More: Boston Celtics, Mike Petraglia, Orlando Magic, Sam Packard
Kelly Olynyk does away with shoulder brace, gets ‘back in rhythm’ with 22-point effort in win at 11:46 pm ET
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In the previous three games with a black shoulder sleeve/brace protecting his injured right shoulder, Kelly Olynyk didn’t look like himself.

The best 3-point shooter on the team (41.3 percent) before his Feb. 10 injury against the Clippers could barely reach the rim with authority on his shot. And he knew it.

He made just one of ten from beyond the arc in losses against the Thunder and Raptors and a win over the Sixers Sunday night, including misses on all four tries in Philadelphia. He was just 5-of-22 overall (22.7 percent).

Something had to change so on Monday, before the game against the Magic, Olynyk decided to go without the brace and the impact was noticeable starting with shootaround, where he was getting more lift on his shot.

It paid off when he hit his first two shots from beyond the arc. He was in a rhythm and that propelled him to a 22-point night off the bench in Boston’s 107-96 win over the Magic at TD Garden.

“Yeah, just getting out there, back in the rhythm, back in motion, yeah, it was better range of motion without the shirt on, definitely. And just went out there and played confidently,” Olynyk said.

“If you miss six weeks of basketball, you’re going to be rusty when you get back,” coach Brad Stevens added. “Every game you play, every practice you have, you feel a little bit better. You don’t know when that’s really going to happen, especially with an upper-body injury where you haven’t been able to shoot much. But you knew it was going to come around at some point.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
Brad Stevens says young Celtics bench stepping up: ‘They’ve all had their moments’ at 7:37 pm ET
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Tommy Heinsohn has lovingly called the back end of the Celtics bench a “D-League” group. While that’s more a clear reference to their youth and not necessarily their skill, the point is still there that it’s a unit that probably is not ready to step forward and produce at the NBA level for a team that fighting desperately for home court in the upcoming playoffs. 

But to Brad Stevens, the group led by Terry Rozier has been much more than just a group of throwaways. It’s been a group that’s been put in a position where they have no choice to step up with injuries to Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. 

Rozier, R.J. Hunter, James Young, Coty Clarke and Jordan Mickey have all come off the bench for the Celtics, and not just at the end of games where the decision is already determined. All five of those players have seen action in the first half of Boston’s last five games at one time or another. When the Celtics were getting roughed up by the Pacers, Thunder and Raptors, Stevens turned to the back end of the bench to provide a spark. Against the Pacers and Raptors, it helped the Celtics stay in the game well into the second half. 

“They’ve all had their moments. They’ve all had their opportunities. I told our team if Coty Clarke is open, we should probably throw it to him since he’s never missed a three in an NBA game,” Stevens joked, referring to Clarke’s three in Indiana. “But hey, James has had good moments, especially I thought he did a good job in the first half of the Oklahoma City game, come in and kind of stem the tide as we were going to the bench. R.J. hit some big shots against Toronto. Jordan is obviously, Jordan. He’s just in the position where we have the most depth. So, I think they’ve all had their moments.” 

Rozier is the one player who has seen the most playing time of the group because he’s a guard who can come in and provide some support in Boston’s weak rebounding game. 

“I think Terry has really added to us in the last couple of games because I feel like he’s been able to handle the ball, make plays for others and rebound. That’s a big deal for our team. Rebounding has not been our best strength this entire season.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Dwight Howard, James Young
Jonas Jerebko ‘cleared’ for return vs. Magic, Jae Crowder to travel on West Coast trip at 6:43 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) shoots the ball against the Pacers. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8) shoots the ball against the Pacers. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics will get a key part of their bench back when they take on the Magic at TD Garden. 

Brad Stevens confirmed before Monday’s game that that the 6-foot-10 power forward will be available off Boston’s bench after missing the last three games with a sore Achilles that forced him to stay back in Boston and receive extensive treatment. 

The Celtics missed him in losses to the more versatile Thunder on Wednesday and the Raptors on Friday. The Celtics were able to compensate against the 61-loss 76ers on Sunday. 

“Jonas is, from everything I’ve been told, cleared to play tonight,” Stevens said. 

Jerebko is averaging just 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 66 games this season but gives Stevens an important matchup tool against the longer front courts they face. 

As for Jae Crowder, the starting swingman is still undergoing treatment on the high sprain of his right ankle. He suffered the injury against the Rockets on March 11 and has missed the last four games after starting in Boston’s first 66 games. The team is sticking to the minimum prognosis of two weeks to heal enough to return to game action.

“Jae is progressing well,” Stevens said. “We think he’s about on the same timetable that I initially gave you. Obviously, he’s going to end up being two [weeks] this week. Minimum of two [weeks] but most likely that’s a very, very conservative estimate.”

“I haven’t even seen him. I just get told that he’s improved. We’ve been gone. He’s been here with our trainers so I get a daily update. I saw him today, real briefly, before he went back into his rehab. He said he’s feeling better. There’s a big difference between that and playing in a game.”

Stevens said he’s not going to get involved in trying to adjust the timetable, should Crowder push the team to rush him back to action. 

“I don’t even get into it. That’s our doctors and our trainers and our players,” Stevens said. “I think my best job is to stay away from getting in the middle of those conversations because I know he really wants to play. I know he wants to expedite that. But as a coach, I have to trust all those guys to make the right decision.”

The most encouraging news Monday was Stevens’ declaration that Crowder would be making the five-game trip out West, starting Saturday in Phoenix. 

“For sure, it’s a long trip. And it’s within that timeframe where he could play again so who knows when but certainly the plan is to take him on the trip.” 

Kelly Olynyk is another player trying to find his rhythm after suffering a right shoulder injury on Feb. 10. Olynyk missed 12 games before returning against the Pacers last Tuesday. He is still struggling to find his offensive rhythm, as indicated by his 0-for-4 performance from 3-point range (2-for-8 overall) Sunday night in Philadelphia. In three games back, Olynyk has made just five of 22 shots from the floor (22.7 percent) and just one of his 10 attempts from beyond the arc. 

“You have to ask him,” Stevens said of Olynyk’s comfort level. “I’m not sure. That would be a question for him. I think he’s looking fine. I think his shot looks good. It’s just probably feel for him to see a few go down.” 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk
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