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Celtics pregame notes: Isaiah Thomas (groin) returns with no minutes restrictions 12.16.16 at 6:45 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has been cleared for liftoff.

The Celtics point guard who has missed the last four games, including all three of Boston’s losses in their current skid, returns Friday from a groin injury suffered in a loss to Houston on Dec. 5. At the time of the injury, Thomas was leading the Celtics in scoring at 26.0 points per game in 21 games. 

The Celtics did win their first game without Thomas on Dec. 7, when they blew out the Magic by 30. But they’ve lost the last three to the Raptors, Thunder and Spurs. Marcus Smart has started at point guard in all four games. He returns to the bench for Friday’s game against Charlotte. 

Brad Stevens was asked before Friday’s game if Thomas was good to go.

“From everything I know, yep,” Stevens said.  “He went through everything and felt pretty good.”

The Celtics did not practice Thursday after returning late from San Antonio Thursday morning. 

Stevens also added that Thomas will not be under any minutes restrictions. 

“They told me nothing more today and nothing about minutes restrictions,” Stevens said. 

Thomas’ teammates were certainly happy to have him back. 

“It’s a big-time boost,” Avery Bradley said. “We’ve been missing him. His scoring, his leadership. I could go down the list.” 

The Celtics take on a Charlotte team that is led by Kemba Walker. But the star point guard out of UConn is not playing due to a personal issue. Walker has dramatically improved his long-range shooting this year, converting 41.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, up four percentage points from last season and seven points above his career average over his six seasons.

“First of all, whether he plays or not, he’s obviously had a great year and he’s a great individual player,” Stevens said. “This team is a tough team. They are really well-coached. They’re really disciplined. They don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over. And I think he does a terrific job, Steve Clifford. Regardless if Kemba’s playing or not, we have our hands full.”

Stevens has a special appreciation for the Hornets guard since it was Walker who drove a dagger into Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs in the 2011 national championship with 16 points in a 53-41 Connecticut win. 

“Kemba and his progression [shooting threes] is not a surprise at all,” Stevens said. “It’s hard for me to talk about it because he beat us in the national championship game. That kid’s a warrior. That kid’s a competitor and always has been. You know that he loves the game. I watched him play as a high schooler in an AAU game and play with a great love for the game and spirit. And that’s translated at every level.” 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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5 keys for Celtics to beat Spurs without Isaiah Thomas 12.14.16 at 7:46 pm ET
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Brad Stevens is looking for his first win over the Spurs (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

After back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Thunder, the Celtics’ schedule doesn’t get any easier as the C’s are in San Antonio to take on the second-best team in the league without their best player.

Without Isaiah Thomas (groin), the Celtics will face a tall task of pulling off an upset on national TV (ESPN) and prove how good they are without their All-Star guard.

Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, the Spurs haven’t lost a game at home since Nov. 29 — a surprising loss, not only because it was against the Magic but because the Spurs suffered only one loss at home last season (40-1) and already are 6-4 this year at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio actually plays better on the road (13-1) than at home, but that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that the Celtics will have their hands full on Wednesday.

The Celtics aren’t the only ones playing without a member of their starting unit — Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) will sit out against the Celtics — although San Antonio still has plenty of firepower behind the rest of its starting lineup and has guys who can produce off the bench.

If the Celtics are to pull off what would be their biggest win of the season, here are five things that would go a long way toward helping that happen.

1. Jae Crowder comes through with his season-best effort

Coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight straight games, Crowder needed just two games to find his offensive rhythm. The scrappy small forward followed up a 15-point, 6-of-11 performance in Brooklyn on Nov. 23 by scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 attempts against the Spurs at home.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Mike Petraglia, Ben Kichen talk concern for Isaiah Thomas’ groin, Celtics’ late-game issues at 9:15 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Ben Kichen of the “Dale and Holley Show” discuss the latest news on the injury that has kept Isaiah Thomas off the court and how valuable it is for Marcus Smart to stay in control.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Ben Kichen, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Full Court Press: Isaiah Thomas hears all the ridiculous naysayers, recalls advice from Kobe Bryant 12.10.16 at 7:03 am ET
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Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 9.40.08 PM

Isaiah Thomas is trying to look on the bright side of things during his groin injury. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Most of the time, professional athletes block out the noise and nonsense. 

But ever so occasionally, sometimes the noise bleeds through. 

So when there was the theory put out early in Wednesday’s game against Orlando that the Celtics are somehow a better passing team without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup, the injured point guard fired back. And he drew on the advice he got once from Kobe Bryant. 

“They gotta write something. They say the stupidest things so they get the headlines and everybody can talk about it,” Thomas said Friday night before the Celtics hosted the Toronto Raptors. “I can’t control that. At this point, I laugh about it now. Because it’s like, if you really think that, OK, that’s fine. I know what I mean to my teammates, I know what I mean to this organization and to Brad Stevens.”

The Celtics started out with 11 assists on 13 baskets. They finished the game, a 30-point blowout win, with 29 assists on 43 baskets in Boston’s first game without Thomas. 

“The ball moved a little better without me. I guess so,” Thomas said before Friday’s game with an appropriate amount of cynicism. “‘They’re a better team without me. The ball moves better without me.’ I see it all.”

After getting his points across with a due amount of sarcasm, Thomas began to speak more from the heart. 

“That’s not true. So the chip on my shoulder that is what it is, I’m always going to have that and use that for motivation,” Thomas said. “But the numbers don’t lie. It is what it is. But people that say that they don’t even believe it. They go home at night, they’re not believing that. They’re just saying it to get a reaction. I’m trying my best not to react.”

Thomas is not only averaging 26 points, he handing out a team-leading 6.1 assists per game. 

“If it was anybody else we wouldn’t be talking about that,” Thomas continued. “I’m 5-9, that’s the only reason why they say that. I’m fine with that. I know what I bring to the table. My teammates know what I bring. As long as they are happy. I’m fine. I’m not going to react. I try not to. I try to think of what Kobe said: Be a lion. Just lock in and don’t worry about what others say.”

Sully’s return: Jared Sullinger is still waiting to make his return to the NBA after back surgery last spring. The Raptors signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal at the start of free agency in July. Sullinger was made available when the Celtics decided not to tender him in restricted free agency. But because of his offseason surgery, he hasn’t been able to get on the floor. But his coach has high hopes for him once he starts playing. 

“He gives us the same thing Al Horford gives the Celtics – a guy who can space the floor, a post-up threat, a passer, a player with a lot of intellect to play that position, experience,” Dwane Casey said. “He started 79 games for them last year, so he gives us that experience.”

When exactly that return happens is still up in the air.

“Not sure. There’s no definite timetable on it yet,” Casey said. “Someone said four to five weeks, and I don’t want to put a hard deadline on that. But it’s going to be up to him, his pain threshold, he’s been working his ass off, he’s been in the pool, he can barely put weight on it, but he’s trying to get back. He’s doing an excellent job with his conditioning, his weight is down. We’re not concerned as all.”

Sullinger has been traveling with the Raptors, including Friday night in Boston, where he got a chance to catch up with some former teammates. Was he disappointed not to play Friday night against the Celtics?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, NBA
Mike Petraglia recaps a disappointing end to a promising night as Celtics fall to Raptors 12.09.16 at 10:59 pm ET
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The Celtics get out to a big first half lead but go cold in the third quarter as they lose to the Raptors Friday night at TD Garden. Mike Petraglia has your story inside TD Garden.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Boston Celtics, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Mike Petraglia
Fast Break: Celtics bench shines but can’t overcome Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan in loss to Raptors at 10:32 pm ET
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Dec 9, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots against the Boston Celtics in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

DeMar DeRozan (10) shoots against the Celtics in the first quarter at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

It was clear in Friday night’s 101-94 loss to the Raptors that this Celtics team needs Isaiah Thomas.

Thomas was on the bench with a groin injury and watched his team lose a tough one at the Garden.  

The Celtics bench did look strong in the first half, scoring 21 points with a consistent shot distribution.

The team as a whole looked confident in this win. Al Horford also had a strong game, as he and Avery Bradley both led the team in scoring with 19 points. 

The Celtics led 50-42 at halftime before losing the lead late in the third quarter. The Raptors pulled ahead to lead 75-68 at the end of the quarter and outscored the Celtics 33-18. 

Boston fell apart and had trouble driving to the hoop in the second half, missing 13 of 18 shots in the third quarter. They made nine of those shots from beyond the arc and only sunk three of them. 

“It was hard for us to break their wall of defense,” coach Brad Stevens said after the game of the Raptors in the third quarter. “They were pushing into us, they were very, very athletic at a number of positions and they ratcheted it up. And it was hard for us to handle that pressure. And when we drove they collapsed and used their athleticism to affect us in the paint. They were very good. Their defense was fantastic in the third quarter.” 

For the full box score, click here.

The Raptors sat starting forward DeMarre Carroll to rest his knee so he wouldn’t play in back-to-back games. Norman Powell started in Carroll’s place and scored 20 points. The Raptors had three players score 20 or more points, as Kyle Lowry led the team with 34 while DeMar DeRozan scored 24. 


Stud of the night: The Celtics bench

The bench carried the first half for the Celtics, scoring a total of 32 points in the game with 21 in the first half. Terry Rozier alone scored 12 of those points and had three rebounds and three assists. 

Dud of the night: The third quarter

The third quarter flat-out stunk for the Celtics. This was where they lost all their steam and let the game slip away. They missed more than half of their shots and made only two their shots in the paint. 

When the game was lost: Also the third quarter

The Celtics cooled off considerably in the third quarter and never started their engines up again for the rest of the second half. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Boston Celtics, DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors
Friday pregame notes: Isaiah Thomas says ‘I want to play but they keep telling me no’ at 6:42 pm ET
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In the wake of his epic 61-39 win in NBA2K17 over a group of four lucky kids Friday night, Isaiah Thomas appeared to be in a good mood. 

Then the conversation turned to his sore groin. 

“I’m not that good because I can’t play,” Thomas said. “It’s getting better. It hasn’t gotten worse and I’m just work as hard as I can to get back on the court.”

Thomas said he wasn’t sure about his status for the upcoming two-game swing through Oklahoma City (Sunday) and San Antonio (Wednesday). 

“I want to play but they keep telling me no,” Thomas said later in the locker room. “They keep wanting to be very patient with this because they don’t want to re-injure it. It’s an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season.

“So I don’t want that. And on top of that it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”

Brad Stevens said before the game that Thomas’ injury, one suffered Monday night in Houston, was one that the team expects to sideline Thomas 7-10 days. Thomas is trying to be more optimistic.

“I’m going to take it day-by-day. Hopefully, I can play in the next few games and we’ll see what happens,” Thomas said. “Today, I feel a lot better than I have since I gotten the injury so we’ll see maybe in next couple of days. I’m shooting for Wednesday.”

“When I talked to Ed [Lacerte] [Friday] morning, over the last probably 24 to 48 hours, they’ve said it’s usually about 10 days to two weeks for an injury like this,” coach Brad Stevens said. “But again we’ve talked about Isaiah being pretty ambitious in his return. And he’s been getting treatment around the clock, so we’ll see. He’ll be officially listed as day to day.”

Stevens added that he’s not worried about Thomas pressuring team staff into playing him.   

“No, our medical staff is great,” Stevens added. “He trusts them. But obviously we have to make sure that – but also nobody knows his body better than him. But yeah, they feel like he’s not looking long term. It’s not going to be a long-term thing, for sure. We have to make sure we don’t bring him back tonight or too soon so that it doesn’t become one.”

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