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Celtics notes pregame Friday: Brad Stevens starting to see what his team is like healthy 11.25.16 at 12:53 pm ET
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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins over the Pistons, Timberwolves and Nets to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously, we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

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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Read More: Bill Belichick, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Celtics pregame notes: Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk will start against Knicks 11.11.16 at 7:12 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

For the first time this season, Brad Stevens will start Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk in place of Jae Crowder (left ankle) and Al Horford (concussion) against the Knicks on Friday. 

Stevens emphasized the importance of getting off to a strong start against New York and said that defense played a major part in his decision to start Smart and Olynyk.

“I thought we started pretty well in Cleveland but we haven’t started well the last two games,” Stevens said. “I think Tyler [Zeller] has actually done some really good things — I think he’ll be able to play off the bench well. I think that Jaylen [Brown] obviously has done some good things, he’ll be able to play off the bench well. But I know that with Marcus and Kelly I think that from my evaluation the other night they were probably our two best defenders in the game the other night so I’d like to start off with that mindset right out of the gate.”

The Celtics are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and have gotten out to horrendous starts. They’ve allowed 76 points combined in the last two opening quarters and surrendered their biggest loss of the young season on Wednesday — a 118-93 blowout against the Wizards. Although it’s still very early in the regular season, Stevens understands his team’s performance the past two games were unacceptable.

“I think I have to be able to take a step back and say there’s a lot of games to be played, we haven’t played very well the last couple,” Stevens explained. “We’re far from a finished product and we’re far from a full team. But at the same time these games come at you a million miles an hour and you only get one chance to play each of them. So you gotta put your best foot forward and we need to play better. May not ever guarantee the result you want but we need to play better basketball than we played the last few nights.”

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Celtics notes: Brad Stevens gives ‘thought’ to lineup change, Al Horford cleared for non-contact, doubtful Friday 11.10.16 at 3:55 pm ET
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WALTHAM – The Celtics have been without Al Horford for four games now. The likelihood that streak goes to five is very high as Brad Stevens said it’s doubtful that the big man still in concussion protocol will be able to take the court against the Knicks Friday at TD Garden. 

But the Celtics did get good news on the Horford front. Horford, who did not travel to Washington for Wednesday’s blowout loss, did return to the court with the team for practice Thursday. 

But the practice was not one of high intensity and he has not been cleared for contact or physical work. 

“He did some light stuff with us, so he was cleared to go through some of it,” Stevens said. “We didn’t do anything contact, physical, competitive, so I don’t know where that puts him in the protocol. I haven’t gotten the update of what’s next. But he is progressing, He’s feeling a lot better.”

Stevens and Horford spent about 15 minutes talking after practice Thursday. 

As for his chances of playing Friday?

“I don’t know, but I would say that would doubt it,” Stevens answered. “But I don’t know what the official diagnosis is, as far as I don’t know the official next step.”

 Jae Crowder has missed three games with a sprained left ankle. Crowder was not with the team at practice on Thursday. 

“I would doubt we see him until maybe next week when we get back home,” Stevens said. “That’s not for sure either, but that’s roughly the time line we’re looking at, best case scenario.”

It’s no secret the Celtics have been getting their collective doors blown off in the last two first quarters of their last two defenseless losses to the Nuggets and Wizards. Against Denver they allowed 24 first-quarter points to Emmanuel Mudiay and fell behind 42-23. Wednesday in Washington was even worse. They were blown out 34-8 and lost, 118-93. 

What are the chances Stevens breaks up the lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown, Amir Johnson and Tyler Zeller?

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens,
Brad Stevens on Donald Trump’s victory: ‘It wasn’t my vote’ at 8:28 am ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, while saying he is hesitant to discuss politics, felt strongly enough about the results of the Tuesday’s presidential election to reveal his view of Donald Trump.

“It wasn’t my vote,” he told reporters Wednesday in Washington, where his team was preparing to be routed by the Wizards. “Let’s put it that way.”

The Celtics learned of Trump’s upset victory while in the nation’s capital, and Stevens said he had to address it in an attempt to refocus his team.

“I think you have to be able to compartmentalize,” Stevens said (via MassLive.com). “We talked about that this morning, and that’s a hard thing. Everybody is — because it’s such a passionate topic right now, every team’s going to be feeling that this morning. It’s not going to be one team and not another.”

“I think the whole world’s talking about it and has been talking about it for quite some time,” Stevens added. “I read somewhere last week that the campaigning is double what it used to be. The coverage is probably 10 times what it used to be. The predictions are probably worse than they used to be. So I think that there’s a lot of discussion about it, there’s a lot of talk about it, there’s a lot of empty space, empty minutes of your day, that you’re turning on whatever and it’s constantly being discussed. So everybody was talking about it. I don’t think that was just our locker room or just anywhere else.”

All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas also tried to keep his comments to a minimum, although he previously had made it clear via Twitter that he opposed Trump.

“It was a rough night,” Thomas said of watching the election results. “But hopefully he’s good. That’s all I’m going to say.”

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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Brad Stevens on defenseless Celtics: ‘You could see it coming’ 11.08.16 at 10:19 am ET
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Nov 6, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Denver Nuggets guard Jameer Nelson (1) shakes the hand of Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after defeating the Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics coach watched Sunday as Jameer Nelson (1) and the Nuggets ran Boston out of its own building. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM – The 3-3 start by the Celtics, featuring woeful defense, has caught many off guard.  

But that group would not include their coach. Brad Stevens could see cracks in the team’s defensive foundation in training camp. He could see some bad habits forming and now the coach is showing the players, in brutal regular season game detail, what he was trying to get across in camp. 

If you’re not in position to defend, you won’t. That was never more clear than in Sunday’s 123-107 loss to the Nuggets at TD Garden, a game they gave up 42 points in the first quarter and trailed 77-52 at halftime. 

“You could see it coming, but we also lost guys that I thought were pretty good defensively. ” Stevens said after Monday’s practice.

Stevens did cut his team some slack, noting that Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Marcus Smart haven’t been on the court together at the start of the season, and that does nothing to help team chemistry and rhythm on the court, not to mention spacing. 

“Losing guys out of our lineups, obviously Jae and Al and Marcus — we haven’t had all three of those guys in one game; those are three of our best defenders.

“But the reality is that even with that, even with the idea that one, two, or three of those guys are out at once, that we should be better than we’ve been. I don’t think the group that’s played will necessarily be, especially with the group that we had out last night, I don’t think we’re going to be a top-10 defense. But we can be 12th or 13th, right at the end of the season, that’s for sure.”

Stevens has some history to draw upon to think things can get better. Asked Monday what it will take to get better, he referenced his first Final Four team at Butler in 2010. 

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Celtics notes: Al Horford not advancing in concussion protocol, Brad Stevens hasn’t decided on lineup changes 11.07.16 at 4:42 pm ET
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Nov 6, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) drives to the basket while Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried (35) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Jaylen Brown could be finding a seat on the Celtics bench at the start of Wednesday’s game. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — There was some thinking that the sight of Al Horford with the Celtics Sunday night was a sign that perhaps he was advancing in the NBA’s concussion protocol. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens put a damper on those hopes after practice Monday. 

Horford, who has missed three games after suffering a concussion in practice last week, was not able to take participate in any team activities Monday. 

“He has not advanced in the protocol, based on what I’ve been told,” Stevens said. “I have not gotten anything deeper than that but he did not do anything with our team today.” 

The team will not practice in Waltham Tuesday as they leave for Washington and Wednesday’s game against the Wizards. 

Stevens was asked if Horford is exhibiting any symptoms that might indicate where he is in his recovery. 

“I don’t know what that means yet,” Stevens said. “I’m gonna go find out. But I think that not advancing is telling that the symptoms have been at least prolonged through [Sunday].” 

The team’s defense has suffered drastically with Horford and Jae Crowder (left ankle) out of the lineup. They are allowing 118 points per game in their three losses and stand 3-3 on the season. As for Kelly Olynyk, who practiced again Monday, Stevens said he’s going to avoid specific timetables. 

“I don’t know. We’ll find out,” Stevens said. “He’s a good player. But I don’t want to make predictions when he’s gonna play or not. But he is around the corner, which I said last night.

With the team defense struggling and rookie Jaylen Brown (who has started last two games) working to pick up the system, there has been some speculation that Stevens might insert Marcus Smart into the lineup in his place Wednesday night. 


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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Marcus Smart
Brad Stevens on Celtics’ defensive struggles: ‘We play like a finesse team’ at 12:09 am ET
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Brad Stevens saw his team fix some things in earning their second win of the season. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens says his team needs to sustain its aggressiveness on the defensive end. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Following their 123-107 loss to the Nuggets on Sunday at TD Garden, Brad Stevens pointed to his team’s physicality — or lack thereof — as the biggest reason why the Celtics have struggled defensively in their first six games of the season.

The Celtics allow an average of 111.8 points a game — they’re second in most points allowed behind the Suns (113.3). Five of their first six opponents of the season have finished with no less than 105 points, as the Celtics (3-3) are now a .500 team. 

“I think we play like a finesse team, and they play physical,” Stevens explained after the Celtics’ loss on Sunday. “So I kind of saw that right out of the gate. You know, they were getting where they wanted to on their drives.”

How far are the Celtics from becoming a top three defensive team?

“I don’t even know if it’s statistically possible based on our week,” Stevens answered. “I don’t even know if you can make it up in 76 games but we can get a lot better. But it starts with holding your ground physically. You know, [Emmanuel] Mudiay goes nuts, that’s fine, but Mudiay also gets two putbacks — or at least one putback early — that gets you going. Makes you feel good about yourself. We brought a little bit of aggressiveness at the start of the third quarter but that wasn’t sustainable.

So, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. Obviously we’ve got some guys that aren’t playing that will play, but this is about physically holding your ground.”

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