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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas returns, leads C’s past Hornets 12.16.16 at 10:57 pm ET
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Dec 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball defended by Charlotte Hornets center Cody Zeller (40) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated Charlotte 96-88. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas battles through Cody Zeller on his way to the basket in the second half Friday night at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

He’s back.

In Isaiah Thomas’ return, the Celtics snapped a 3-game losing streak and defeated the Charlotte Hornets 96-88. The 5-foot-9 point guard led all scorers with 26 points on 9-of-20 shooting and 6-of-7 free throws. 

The starters got it done, as four of five scored in double figures. Al Horford had a complete game, amassing 18 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and a game-high 5 blocks, while Jae Crowder poured in 12 points, including going 2-of-5 from 3-point range, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Jonas Jerebko, who has quietly become the team’s best scorer off the bench, scored 9 points on 4-of-8 shooting and was a game-high plus-15.

And while the Hornets were missing Kemba Walker, who is arguably their best player, due to personal reasons, the Celtics did exactly what they had to do: beat a team that was already down coming in.

The game was a tale of two halves. The Celtics looked uninspired in the first period, falling behind by 12 in the middle of the second quarter and going into the half down 50-41.

I don’t know what was said at the half, but I wish I did. Falling behind by 12 once again, the C’s embarked on a 16-2 run in the latter half of the third quarter. The game remained close, until the Celtics went on another run late in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hornets 15-0 and essentially sealing the win.

“I thought we really defended a lot of the night, but certainly in the second half,” Brad Stevens said. “And then the ball finally started going down. I thought that this was predictably going to be an extremely tough game, because of the fact that we’re playing a really good team who is, like us, coming off a long road swing and then we’re both, you know, hungry to get a win..  And so you knew it was going to be exceptionally hard. And I give our guys a lot of credit; between all the travel and coming back and popping right back up and playing, now getting right back on a plane tomorrow – I’m really happy with that effort today.  That was great effort.”

As for Horford’s monster night of 18 points, eight rebounds, five blocks and 2 steals?

“He was good.  We need him to be really good,” Stevens added. “They went small at the end of the first half, and we struggled a little bit with that, and then we tried to play small and skilled most of the second half, with the exception of a little few minutes with Kelly (Olynyk) and Amir (Johnson). But, you know, we needed everybody to play well there, in the second half.”

 Stevens played Thomas at the start of the fourth quarter, calling on his fresh legs. 

“I just felt like I’ve seen too many games where you make a come-back and then the other team takes control and goes out to a lead,” Stevens said. “And we’ve actually seen that in our games at Charlotte, where we’ve lost the lead and then got it back and pulled away, and I just thought those first four minutes in the second quarter were really important.  And he was – he hadn’t been doing anything all week. 

“In all sincerity, like, he’s been working really hard to get back.  You know, but the rest of those guys have been all over the place, and now we needed – I told him the other day on the phone, “When, on Friday, we’re going to need to really give us a spark.”

The runs accentuated Thomas’ importance, as his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor opened lanes, caused turnovers and led to wide-open threes.

More times than not, the Celtics win ugly, and they did it again Friday.

 

For a complete box score, click here.

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Mike Petraglia recaps Isaiah Thomas’ return (26 points), Al Horford’s presence (5 blocks) in win over Hornets at 10:51 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas made his return after a four-game absence due to a groin injury Friday night. And the Celtics needed his 26 points and Al Horford’s 18 points and five blocks to help beat the Charlotte Hornets to end a three-game losing streak. Mike Petraglia has your recap 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: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Isaiah Thomas
Celtics pregame notes: Isaiah Thomas (groin) returns with no minutes restrictions 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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USATSI_9722107_168382898_lowres

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
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