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Brad Stevens believes Celtics need to simply play harder, Amir Johnson will start in Game 4 05.07.17 at 5:53 pm ET
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maxresdefaultThe Wizards played with a lot of effort in Game 3, they played harder than the Celtics and it was the best Brad Stevens had seen from Washington throughout their best-of-7 series.

When asked why the Wizards were able to get out to such a large lead in Thursday’s 116-89 loss at the Verizon Center Stevens pointed to Washington’s hustle as the biggest reason while reminding the media that the C’s are facing a very good team.

“They’re just a really good, talented group, whether it’s the first quarter, last quarter, whatever — it’s a group that has a lot of options,” Stevens said. “They’ve tried to post us with a variety of guys. And then Gortat, you know, Gortat’s a guy with his ability to play in seams as a passer but also roll to the rim or seal you up the lane and make lobs to the rim– makes a lot of good plays for them. Very versatile, deep offensive lineup and then you know, I thought defensively the other night they were great.” 

Isaiah Thomas, who finished with 13 points in Game 3, credited the Wizards’ defense in their double and triple teaming coverage as a catalyst to his poor scoring night. However, when Stevens was asked about how will the Celtics adjust in making sure Thomas gets better looks in Game 4, he said it was the effort by Washington that made the biggest difference. And if the Celtics want to head to Boston for Game 5 with a 3-1 lead, they’re going to need to match that hustle.

“The thing that I saw that they did the other day — obviously they put a lot of attention on Isaiah as every team that we play does but the thing I saw is they did it really hard,” Stevens explained. “They were playing exceptionally hard and that’s the deal. It’s not how many guys, it’s how hard those guys are playing and that’s a credit to them. But Isaiah’s played against doubles and triples and all that other stuff all year and we just all have to be better. And that’s everybody on the roster, on the bench, on the coaching staff, we all have to do a better job of helping each other in those moments. Again, credit Washington. They played really well and they played really hard, much harder than we did.”

The tension between these two teams boiled over in what was a technical-foul filled Game 3. There were eight technical fouls, and three ejections total. Wizards head coach Scott Brooks and Stevens were each handed a technical foul.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, NBA, NBA playoffs
Celtics react to Kelly Oubre Jr.’s suspension 05.06.17 at 6:23 pm ET
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20170506_181822After the NBA handed down its one-game suspension to Kelly Oubre Jr. for his Flagrant-2 foul on Kelly Olynyk, most of the Celtics players weren’t surprised by the decision but admitted they had other things on their minds. 

Although Isaiah Thomas agrees with the league’s decision to suspend Oubre Jr. for Game 4, he says Washington’s back up forward is the least of his worries. 

“He should be suspended. If you do that, that should be automatic,” Thomas said. “We’re not really worried about him or what they’re doing. We’re worried about Celtics right now.”

With the chance of grabbing a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-7 series, the Celtics know how pivotal Game 4 will be on Sunday. Coach Brad Stevens replied, “no reaction” when initially asked about the suspension and said it doesn’t matter to him who’s playing for the Wizards, it’s his team that needs to play better on Sunday. 

“We’ve got to play better than we did the other day,” Stevens said. “Regardless of who’s playing.”

Stevens also gave credit to Olynyk for keeping his cool after he was shoved to the ground by Oubre Jr. and said the same about both teams that were involved in the scuffle. 

“I thought he did an unbelievable job keeping his emotions cool in that moment,” Stevens said. “I credit all the guys that were on the court, both teams, after that. I thought that could have started something a lot worse than it started because nobody saw it coming. I thought both teams kept their cool in that moment, for sure.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk
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 Bulls.in 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
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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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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Celtics Pregame: Brad Stevens does not plan on resting players in last two games 04.10.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens will not rest his starters against Nets on Monday at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Don’t expect to see Brad Stevens rest his guys in the final games of the regular season. Celtics head coach has no plans of sitting his players if they’re healthy and it could pay dividends depending on what happens Monday.  

With two games left, the Celtics (51-29) find themselves tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After surrendering a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a 126-125 overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday, the Cavs are giving the Celtics another chance to grab the top playoff spot in the east. 

A Celtics win and a loss by the Cavaliers at Miami will give Boston a one game lead ahead of the Cavs for first place. The Cavs have to beat the Heat in order to clinch No.1 but will have to do so without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — coach Tyronn Lue has decided to rest both — and Tristian Thompson (thumb), who is out nursing a hand injury. 

Meanwhile, the Heat (39-41), who are currently tied with the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot, are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Heat knock off the Cavaliers while the C’s top the Nets on Monday, the Celtics can then decide their fate in Wednesday’s regular season finale against the Bucks — a win gives them first, a loss will lock Boston into second (CLE owns tiebreaker). 

Although Stevens isn’t going to rest up his guys before the postseason, he’s also not up late at night tossing and turning thinking about first place.

“The most important thing is tonight’s game (against Brooklyn). That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Stevens said. “Whatever seed we get, we get. That’ll be the result of an 82-game schedule, not the result of one or two games. It is what it is. We’ve had a pretty consistent year with regard to performance. We’ve also had moments where we haven’t played as well. I’m literally not talking about it with the team nor am I losing one second of sleep over it.”

Despite clinching the league’s worst record of the season, the Nets enter Monday’s game winners of four of their last five. Brooklyn has been playing the “spoiler” role lately, beating teams like the Hawks and Bulls, respectively — two clubs lobbying for playoff position. 

The Nets now will attempt to spoil the Celtics’ final chance at locking in the No. 1 seed.

Read More: Boston, Brad Stevens, Brooklyn Nets, Celtics
Celtics pregame: Stevens on facing Giannis Antetokounmpo, ‘Don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody like him’ 03.29.17 at 7:27 pm ET
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Mar 28, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts to a foul call in the second half against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center. The Bucks defeated the Hornets 118-108. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Giannis Antetokounmpo joins Russell Westbrook and James Harden as one of only three players in the league averaging at least 23 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists this season (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today)

The Celtics will undoubtedly have their hands full on Wednesday as they gear up to face one of the hottest teams in the league.

Fresh off their 118-108 win at Charlotte, the Bucks will look to make it two in a row against the Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back. Celtics coach Brad Stevens couldn’t say enough about Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo — who is probably the biggest reason why Milwaukee has gone from a lottery team to the fifth best team in the Eastern Conference.

“He does some things,” Stevens said. “That’s the best way to say it. He keeps adding to it. Him in transition is like, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anybody like him.”

The Greek Freak enters Wednesday’s game averaging 23.1 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists. Russell Westbrook and James Harden and the only other players averaging 23-plus points, 8-plus rebounds and 5-plus assists.

“As he’s become more skilled,” Stevens said. “He continues to put you in a worst bind. He’s tough; he’s good.” 

Milwaukee’s supporting cast has also been a key to their success. The return of Khris Middleton (left hamstring) has definitely helped throughout their recent stretch, rookie Malcom Brogdon (10.2 points) has emerged as a reliable outside threat and Greg Monroe is embracing his newfound 6th man role — averaging 12 points and 6.7 rebounds off the bench.

Middleton has been on fire this month, averaging 16.8 points and shooting 46.5 percent from the floor, including 40.9 percent from behind the arc.

“Middleton spaces the floor, he can run off screens and score,” Stevens said. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. He’s gotten better, I think, as time’s gone on in pick-and-roll and with the ball. And then he’s a knockdown shooter.”

The Bucks (38-36) have won 12 of their last 15 games. In what could be a possible first-round matchup for the Celtics, Boston will get another crack at beating Milwaukee in their final game of the regular season on April 12.

Read More: Brad Stevens, Giannis Antetokounmpo,
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