|Brad Stevens: ‘We were pretty locked in defensively most of the [game]’||02.27.16 at 6:43 pm ET|
Brad Stevens knows sometimes the best wins are the ugly ones.
When he team started out making just seven of 24 shots and falling behind 12 points to the Heat, Saturday’s game felt like it could be an ugly loss. But the Celtics didn’t panic and began to chip away, thanks in large part to Miami’s equally inept ability to take care of the ball. Thirteen Miami turnovers in the first half kept the Celtics in it, as Boston trailed just 49-46.
Trailing 52-46, the Celtics went on an 11-0 run and led 72-70 after three. They hit the glass in the fourth quarter and rolled to a 101-89 win over the Heat, taking a two-game lead on Miami for third in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics won the game despite making just 39-of-96 shots (40.6 percent), including 7-for-25 from the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas.
“Hard game to win, hard team to play against, especially when you start out shooting the ball the way we did. But we were pretty locked in defensively most of the [game],” Stevens said after his team’s 35th win of the season. Thomas missed all eight shots he took in the first half and finished just 4-for-17. Bradley wasn’t much better early but did finished 3-for-8.
“You look at it and two of our leading scorers, Isaiah and Avery, combined for four [points] and our starters were 5-for-26 in the first half,” Stevens said. “So, you’re down three and you feel like you’re lucky as heck to be down three. But again, that’s kind of what this team has been doing. To their credit, it’s easy to let a game, when you’re not playing well, affect you. To their credit, they just kind of stuck with it and stayed the course. All of them made huge plays in the second half, particularly Isaiah making those plays driving to the basket. Jae Crowder made some big plays and I thought Sully was great on the glass. In the last five minutes of the game, I felt like he got every rebound there was.
“I felt like everybody played really hard through that stretch. I felt like Jonas and Tyler held down the fort with a couple of vertical plays in the paint. Jared, it seemed, got every rebound late. I just thought he was really active, finished plays on offense. Multiple times today he caught it at the rim, he recognized that Whiteside was there and he made a play for somebody else. That play at the end of the half, he kicked it out, extra pass to Avery. That was a heck of a play and a huge play for us. He’s got a good awareness and he’s a smart guy and he’s a heck of a rebounder.”
When Brad Stevens talks about Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, you can sense a great deal of respect and admiration. You can also sense that he wouldn’t mind having his track record some day. When Spoelstra took over for Pat Riley in 2008, he was just 37, the same age Stevens was when he took over the Celtics in 2013.
In his eighth season in Miami, Spoelstra has been to the NBA Finals four times, winning twice with LeBron James. After going just 37-45 last season, and missing the playoffs for the first time, Spoelstra has bounced back strong this year. His team is 32-25 and what’s more impressive is that he’s doing it short-handed.
“I don’t know him all that well,” Stevens said. “I’ve obviously met him in a couple of the coaches’ meetings and seen him at the summer leagues and those types of things real briefly but I haven’t spent a lot of time with him. I’m really impressed by him and have been since I got a chance to first watch his teams play. I didn’t know him when he was a video guy or an assistant in his earlier years either.”
While both were wunderkinds when hired for their first NBA head coaching gigs, Spoelstra and Stevens are from very different backgrounds.
Spoelstra was hired by then-Heat GM Dave Wohl and personnel director Roya Vaziri in 1995 as a video coordinator at the age of 25. He worked his way up, eventually impressing Riley with his work ethic as a video coordinator and eventually a scouting director in 2001. He’s been a Heat lifer. As for Stevens, everyone knows the story how he wowed the basketball world by taking Butler to the NCAA finals in 2010 and ’11, in the process becoming the youngest coach ever (34 years old) to reach the Final Four twice. Stevens didn’t shoot out of the gate and make the playoffs in his first season like Spoelstra but he is commanding the respect of stars young and old around the league. Even Rajon Rondo was impressed with Stevens the first time they met.
But what impresses someone like Stevens is how even-tempered someone like Spoelstra can be, even when things seem to be falling apart around him.
Last week, the Heat’s leading scorer, Chris Bosh, was sidelined with a blood clot in his calf. That was just the latest in a long line of injuries to significant players. Beno Udrih had surgery Friday on his foot and is out three months. Tyler Johnson is out with a shoulder injury. Udonis Haslem had an allergic reaction this week but made the trip to Boston for his short-handed teammates.
Before the Celtics took the court for Saturday’s matinee against a team hot on their heels for third place in the East, Brad Stevens gave some respect the Dwyane Wade, a player who’s been in Miami for his entire 13-year career.
“I think the biggest thing is he’s got a lot on his plate, as far as he’s trying to make plays in pick-and-roll,” Stevens said. “He’s been very aggressive in that. He’s been shooting it well in the games I’ve watched. Obviously, he can post up smaller guys and is one of the better back-to-the-basket players in the whole NBA.
“He’s not scared of big moments, and that comes through loud and clear in every game you watch. Obviously, he has had one of the better careers in the NBA of the active players that are playing now. He’s a handful. Wade is playing as well as I’ve seen him in the two and a half years I’ve been in the league.”
With Chris Bosh and his 19.1 points per game sidelined with a blood clot in his calf, the 34-year-old Wade entered Saturday’s game leading all active scorers on the Heat at 18.9 points per contest.
“I just think they’re playing extremely, extremely hard,” Stevens said after Friday’s practice. “Dwyane Wade is being himself of late. [Goran] Dragic is coming into his own. He’s scoring the ball and dishing the ball better. They defend as well, with [Hassan] Whiteside coming off the bench and doing what he does and Justise Winslow and Gerald Green. It’s almost like us of last year. It’s always been next man up. They’re playing really, really hard, and we’ve got to be ready for that.”
“Every game right now is like that, especially with how tight the standings are, especially in the East,” Stevens said. “We understand it’s one game at a time. Every game matters, every game matter. We can’t let our foot off the gas pedal.”
Part of that is because the Celtics enter play Saturday closer to the eighth and final spot in the Eastern playoff picture than they are to the second-seeded Raptors. At 34-25, they’re six games behind the Raptors and just three games clear of the eighth-place Bulls and Hornets.
“I think there are so many games left that all of that stuff will iron itself out,” Stevens said Saturday. “I think you have to focus on playing good basketball. Certainly, our guys are well aware that we’re not just playing a good basketball, we’re playing a group that has always played hard and are well-coached. They’ve got a good culture about them. They’ve got a good way about them. We’re going to have to play well, regardless of whether this late in the season or November, against these guys, and they’ve come in here the last two times last year and handled us pretty good.
I think we’re all aware. I think it’s not relevant to playing the next possession. I don’t really do a lot of talking about that. Obviously, we want to play well against everybody, and certainly your senses are heightened against the better teams around but every team in this league is capable of beating the other badly on a given night. That’s why you just always have to be good. You always have to play well. So it’s really, to me, about the next possession. If you get too far out of that, then you’re always looking for the next thing to motivate on instead of just doing your job as well as you can.”
The Celtics will have the services of Jonas Jerebko off the bench against the Heat. Jerebko sat out the last 15 minutes of practice on Friday with a sore ankle but Stevens indicated he was ready to go before Saturday’s game.
|Celtics notes: Jonas Jerebko nursing sore ankle||02.26.16 at 4:42 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics went through a much lighter workout at practice Friday than the practice from Wednesday.
The Celtics are dealing with another injury, this time to a member of their bench. Jonas Jerebko missed the last 15 minutes of practice with a sore ankle.
Isaiah Thomas said his left wrist is still “pretty sore” but that he plans to play through it, including the rest of the regular season and playoffs.
The Heat will be without Chris Bosh, who was diagnosed last week with a blood clot in his calf.
The Celtics host the Heat Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m. at TD Garden.
|Jared Sullinger on his contract year, Celtics: ‘It’s first team I played for in NBA and hopefully, the last’||at 4:03 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Jared Sullinger is enjoying the low profile and dim light during his somewhat complicated contract year. And he’s using that low profile to help build his case to stay in Boston for the long haul.
The 23-year-old power forward, represented by the powerful David Falk, is in his fourth NBA season, making $2.2 million. Sullinger is eligible for restricted free agency this summer, with a qualifying offer of $3.27 million.
Sullinger, who said he had an epiphany and a family intervention with John Lucas about his weight and eating issues in the offseason, has committed himself to the Brad Stevens system. He’s been part of a starting lineup that’s remained the same for the last 15 games and is averaging 10.1 points and a career-best 8.6 rebounds this season.
Does Sullinger, still only 23, see himself staying in Boston for a long-term deal?
“Most definitely. Most definitely. My oldest brother always told me that the worst thing to happen to me sometimes is change and that I don’t handle change well. I strongly disagree,” Sullinger said, referring to the fact that he thinks he’s handled change well in the past.
But then he admitted, “Sometimes, you just don’t want to change the scenery. When you play for the greatest franchise in the NBA and you see all those banners and all the fans come at you, you don’t want to leave that place because you know it’s a special place in your heart. It’s the first team I played for in the NBA and hopefully it’ll be the last.”
Does he think about that at practice with all the banners hanging up?
“What comes to mind in practice and shootarounds and games is how can we get better? How can we make this team better?” Sullinger said.
|Isaiah Thomas on seeing Malcolm Butler court-side Thursday night: ‘He couldn’t intercept that one’||at 3:03 pm ET|
WALTHAM — Cameras didn’t catch him looking over to Malcolm Butler for approval but Isaiah Thomas did know Butler and Dion Lewis were court-side watching as Thomas dished one of the more famous assists of the season in a 112-107 win over the Bucks Thursday night.
“Yeah, I definitely [saw] them. [Butler] couldn’t intercept that one,” Thomas laughed, referring to the pass with 50.6 seconds left that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Crowder drilled a wide open three that put the Celtics up, 109-102 after the Bucks cut it to four.
“That’s what made it as good a pass as it was is that Jae hit a real clutch shot for us and got us the win,” Thomas said. “The the pass would’ve been good if he didn’t make it but it makes it that much better.
“Right before I picked the ball up, I was thinking of shooting a floater and I saw him. It was my bailout pass. I saw him in the corner. But then when I was guiding myself to jump, I couldn’t see him anymore. I was like, ‘That’s my only pass and hopefully, he’s still in that corner.’ And he was there and he got there at the right time to shoot the shot.
“The internet was broke last night Everybody has been hitting me about the pass. Guess it was a pretty nice pass.”
|Report: Heat front-runners to land Joe Johnson||at 1:32 pm ET|
According to ESPN’s Chris Broussard, the Heat have emerged as the “frontrunners” to land the 34-year-old sharp-shooter, who was bought out this week by the Nets and waived.
Once he clears waivers, Johnson is free to negotiate and sign with any team. Johnson has reportedly indicated that he’s only interested in signing with a playoff contender, which immediately put the Cavaliers at the top of the list.
But Broussard indicated Friday that the Heat, just a game behind the Celtics in the race for third place in the Eastern Conference, are the leading contenders for Johnson. Broussard reports that sources indicate that Johnson believes he would have “a larger role and more meaningful minutes” in Miami.
The Nets bought out the last year of Johnson’s $21.8 million deal, sending him to the waiver wire and free agency.
The Celtics enter Saturday’s 3 p.m. matinee with Miami, holding a 34-25 record while the Heat come in at 32-25.
‘ Chris Broussard (@Chris_Broussard) February 26, 2016
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