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Why the 0-2 problems (and solutions) start with the players, not Brad Stevens 04.19.17 at 2:52 am ET
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Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) walk off the court after their 106-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) need to regroup in a hurry. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports).

The problem with these Celtics through two games is they haven’t met the challenge of the more experienced Chicago Bulls. This is not the job of Brad Stevens. 

Stevens can only do so much. True, he fell to 2-10 in his three playoff seasons in Boston, including 2-5 at home. No coach in NBA history has a worst record after at least 10 playoff games. Don Chaney and Bob Weiss were 2-9. Monty Williams stands 2-8. But Stevens can only pull so many players from a bench that consists of rookie and second-year players in Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. His bigs behind Amir Johnson are Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Marcus Smart has been spotty at best and Jonas Jerebko has been non-existent. 

Al Horford has underachieved in the first two games and doesn’t play like a pure post player even though Stevens admitted that, due to matchups, the Celtics have no choice but to put Horford at the ‘4’ and hope he can defend the low post. 

Jae Crowder continues to struggle and Isaiah Thomas seems – very understandably so – carrying the weight of the entire team on his shoulders, while his mind is clearly burdened with the loss of his 22-year-old sister last weekend in a tragic car accident 3,000 miles away. 

What exactly is Stevens supposed to say or do with all of that? 

“We have to get ready to play great on Friday,” Stevens said after the 111-97 loss to the Game 2 Tuesday night. “That’s what our focus has to be; we don’t have any other choice. And that’s what we said in the locker room, and that’s it.  We’ll dissect the film, we’ll go through it, we’ll figure out what we didn’t do well and there’ll be quite a lot, and go from there. But the (Paul) Zipsers, (Nikola) Mirotic, (Bobby) Portis – those guys have had huge impacts on the first two games of this series.

“I mean, I expect it from Wade, right? I mean, I think we all do.  Last year I think he hit less than 10 threes during the regular season and then more than that in the first round of the playoffs.  Like, this is who he is. And it’s who Rondo’s been throughout his career. I mean, the level that he’s playing at is terrific. And then Butler’s Butler. So, but those other guys are really impacting the series in a big way.”

Stevens coached this team to 53 wins in the regular season. He’s clearly one of the brightest minds in the game. But at some point, the players like Jae Crowder and Al Horford have to pick it up.

“Its self-explanatory. Down 0-2 going into their place we just have to take it one game at a time,” Crowder said after his 16-point minus-12 effort Tuesday. “They came in and took, and we have to do the same. Take it one game at a time and try to get a game three. It’s not ideal for us. Definitely don’t put yourself in a 0-2 hole having home court advantage. But it’s not the end of the world for us. We have the unit to go to Chicago and take care of business.”

Horford had seven points but was a minus-19. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Chicago Bulls
Why can’t the No. 1 seed Celtics handle the No. 8 Bulls? It starts with Rajon Rondo and Robin Lopez 04.18.17 at 11:50 pm ET
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How did this happen? How are the No. 8 seed Bulls THAT much better than the No. 1 seed Celtics? Well, it starts with Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler and yes, Robin Lopez? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss a 111-97 loss to Chicago that leaves the Celtics in an 0-2 hole headed to Chicago.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Josue Pavon, Mike Petraglia
Isaiah Thomas to travel to Seattle after Game 2, return for Game 3, Celtics may join him at 7:29 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas will be heading immediately to his hometown of Seattle after Tuesday’s Game 2 against the Bulls at TD Garden to attend the funeral service for his 22-year-old sister Chyna.

He may have company on the grueling cross-country trip to support him.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens indicated that the team would like to make the option of travel to Seattle available to all players who wish to make the trip on Wednesday, but added before Tuesday’s Game 2 that details have not been finalized by the organization.

The logistics of the trip are made somewhat more viable by the fact that there are two days off between Games 2 and 3, with the third game not taking place until Friday night at the United Center in Chicago.

Stevens indicated that the plan would be for Thomas to definitely travel to Seattle after the game and return to Chicago in time to play Game 3 Friday.

“He’s playing tonight. Still hard stuff,” Stevens said. “He’s going to go home tomorrow to Seattle and then he’ll rejoin us in Chicago. That’s the plan of attack right now.”

The possibility of the players and staff joining Thomas later after he arrives in Seattle Wednesday is still up in the air.

“From everything I’ve been told, there’s still aren’t any final plans on the services and everything else so once we get information on that, we’ll obviously have to make those decisions on our schedule and everything else,” Stevens added. “But we would hope to, for sure, at least make that available to everybody. Those plans have not been finalized. Isaiah’s just going back [by himself] to be with his family.

“Bottom line, it’s quiet. Everybody really feels for the guy. We’re together all the time. It’s a great group of guys. We realize that we have a job to do and we have to prepare to do our job as well as we can. But at the same time, there’s a strong relationship there.”

Thomas was emotional throughout Game 1, scoring 33 points in the loss and tearing up during the national anthem. Avery Bradley, who is also a native of Washington state, was spotting consoling him before Game 1.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Chyna Thomas
Brad Stevens on the status of Isaiah Thomas: ‘I think his intention is to play’ 04.16.17 at 6:07 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Instead of talking X’s and O’s and his game plan for the Bulls in Game 1 of the playoffs, Celtics coach Brad Stevens spent time updating the media on the status of Isaiah Thomas. 

In the wake of the tragic passing of Thomas’ sister Chyna J. Thomas, Stevens couldn’t confirm if Thomas will play in the opening matchup of the Celtics’ seven-game series against the Bulls but did say Thomas’ initial intention is to take the floor.

“He went through our shootaround. He’s struggling,” Stevens said. “Obviously it’s tragic circumstances that he and his family are going through right now. Our thoughts are first and foremost with all of them. I think his intention is to play. We talked a little bit last night and then again today. As he goes through it and feels like he needs to not [play] then that’s whatever he wants. One of the things that I’ve learned having been through situations in the past is that there’s really no right or wrong answer — it’s whatever’s right for him. That’s what we’ve encouraged him. He’s really hurting. It’s a tough situation.”

Stevens said every member of the Celtics team has reached out to Thomas within the past 24 hours and spent time talking about Thomas’ character and what he means to the team. 

“Everybody reached out, it’s a close-knit team, he’s a big part of it” Stevens said. “Isaiah is a great teammate, Isaiah’s a great husband, he’s a great father. He is a great guy, great son and brother and I think ultimately we just all tried to do our part and let him know we’re thinking about him. Anything that we can all do to help; we do. We’re family and this particular situation with his family takes precedent over everything else going on and we’re here for him if he needs us.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas,
Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon break down what to expect from Celtics-Bulls in the first round 04.13.17 at 9:27 am ET
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The Celtics wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 112-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday night in the regular season finale. They earned a first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls starting Sunday night. Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon preview.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Isaiah Thomas, Josue Pavon
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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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas,
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
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