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Facing uphill climb, Brad Stevens Isaiah Thomas insists Celtics have ‘resiliency’ to come back from 0-2 04.20.16 at 5:24 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens wouldn’t go as far as saying the Celtics have the Hawks right where they want them. After all, no team wants to be down 0-2 in a best-of-7 series, facing a virtual must-win on their home court in Game 3. 

But Stevens said Wednesday during a conference that he’s fully confident that his team, which didn’t practice Wednesday, will be mentally ready to go when Game 3 begins Friday night. 

“You know, with this group, we’ll re-convene [Thursday] and we’ll talk about where we stand and what we need to do in moving forward,” Stevens said. “I think we just have to have a backs-against-the-wall mentality because this team has been good and been resilient all year in that regard.”

That’s great because the Celtics are fighting some wicked odds, and some nasty recent history. This is the 13th time they’ve been in an 0-2 hole in a best-of-7 series and the fourth straight series they’ve faced this deficit, dating back to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Miami.

They’ve managed to overcome the 0-2 deficit exactly once, beating the Lakers, 4 games to 3, in the 1969 NBA finals. They nearly pulled it off against the Heat in 2012 when they were down 0-2, only to win the next three before losing Games 6 and 7. But they’re not worried about ancient history, just correcting the mistakes against Atlanta that has them in their current predicament. 

“I think our focus needs to be continue to play the right way on both ends of the court,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we need to start better, we need to play better. We need to do a lot of things better. But I’ve never questioned this group’s resiliency or willingness to stand up when times are tough and those type of things because they’ve been pretty good about that all year.”

Pretty good, like when they came from 26 down in the season finale to beat a Miami team that was mailing in their third quarter. Still, a great feat. Pretty good like when they were without their best big defender in Jae Crowder against Golden State on the road. They erased an early deficit and held off the Warriors during a rush in the fourth quarter and came up with the most scintillating win of the year. And they were pretty good when they erased a late deficit in Cleveland beat the Cavs on a last-second shot from Avery Bradley. 

Why is this team so good when the chips are down?

“I couldn’t pinpoint it,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It’s just the background that all these guys come from.We’ve always had a never back down mentality. This group of teammates has always been counted out. They’ve always had that chip on their shoulders to prove everybody wrong. That’s just another stepping stone in everybody’s story. We do have to climb uphill, but at the same time we have to take advantage of our home court.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens says changes will be made for Game 3: ‘We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate’ 04.19.16 at 10:40 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas attempts a shot against Hawks guard Kyle Korver in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty obvious from the start, the Celtics were not at the level of the Hawks on Tuesday night. The Celtics dropped an 89-72 decision that puts them in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to Boston on Friday. 

Now it’s up to coach Brad Stevens to figure out what to do about it.

Stevens started Marcus Smart in place of the injured Avery Bradley in Game 2, along with Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder. That group went 4-1 this season as a starting lineup, including a 106-93 win over Atlanta on Nov. 13 at TD Garden. 

That was the regular season. Tuesday night in Game 2, the C’s came out slow and never recovered. 

“I think that tonight had a different feel than even the other night,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought the other night, it was one of those nights we didn’t shoot it great but we had done some really good things. We had settled ourselves, defensively. Then, when we started making some shots, we felt pretty good about our chances.

“Here, it never felt like we were at their level. Hey, we’re going to have figure that out. We’re going to have to get to their level and play a lot better on Friday night.”

With Thomas, Crowder and Smart combining to go 6-for-34 from the field, Stevens turned to Evan Turner, who was one of four Celtics in double figures with 12 points. He did not start the game but did start the second half. 

“I’ll go back and look it, watch it without sound, watch it without emotion and figure out what looked right, what didn’t look right and see if we can’t bottle more of that up,” Stevens said. “Listen, we start down 24-7 and we look like we’re moving at a speed far less than them. It’s going to be a tough night. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or when we’re playing. We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens on Game 2 humiliation: ‘They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter’ at 10:16 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver on Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

If Tuesday night showed anything to the Celtics, it’s that it only takes about six minutes to get blown out of a playoff game and never have a chance to recover. 

It just so happened those six minutes came at the very start of an 89-72 loss in Game 2 to the Hawks. How bad were the opening six minutes?

The Celtics were outscored 24-3. They allowed Kyle Korver to triple their point total with three 3-pointers. They were down double digits for the final 45 minutes of the game. They made just 3-of-23 shots from the field and missed all six 3-point attempts. They committed five turnovers. They wound up with seven points for the quarter, the fewest ever by an NBA team in the first quarter of any playoff game and the fewest in any quarter by any Celtics team in the illustrious history of the franchise. 

“They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter,” Stevens said matter-of-factly after. “That wasn’t just about shots by any means. I thought that was one team playing and one team not, to be quite candid. We’ll look at it, make the necessary changes and we’ll move forward. 

“As I told the team, we can’t get off to starts like that. The only part of the defensive effort that I was upset by was losing Korver a few times and then the transition defense. But other than that, we really guard. We just put too much pressure on ourselves to make shots later because every one of them mattered so much just to have a chance to get back in the game. You can’t start like that. Again, we’ll look at it, figure out what the right changes are to make and make them.”

Stevens, who rarely shows emotion, was screaming at R.J. Hunter for losing Korver on a back screen when Hunter came in for Smart, who left briefly with a hip bruise. Korver drilled one of his three first-quarter treys as Atlanta got rolling. 

This did not come as a surprise to Stevens, who knew Korver, after going 1-for-10 in Game 1 (0-for-7 from deep) would be on a mission Tuesday.  

“Korver is like one of the main things we talk about every time we walk in this building, every time we walk into the hotel, every time we land in Atlanta, we know that we have to be in his airspace or else we’re toast,” Stevens said. “And you knew coming off a 1-for-10 game, he was going to have the hunger to make shots and take shots early on so we talked about that.

“But it was just a matter of we lost him a few times and our transition D was bad, especially in that first quarter. We had some moments throughout the game where our transition D was bad, but that first quarter, they moving at one speed we weren’t at.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Avery Bradley hears ‘a pop’ in his right hamstring, focused on getting back for Game 2 04.16.16 at 11:19 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

There will be no sympathy for the Celtics or Avery Bradley at this time of year. And the Celtics and Bradley know it.

When Bradley went up to try and block a layup from Jeff Teague with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter, something didn’t feel right. As a matter of fact, after the 102-101 Game 1 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena on Saturday night, Bradley said it felt “weird.”

“I was trying to go up and block Teague and when I came down, I felt weird,” Bradley told reporters after. “I took a few steps and I just couldn’t walk. My main focus is just try to get treatment so I can get back as soon as possible.”

When he couldn’t put any weight on his right leg and had to be helped to the locker room, the prognosis for Game 2 did not look good. But that doesn’t mean Bradley is giving up hope, especially during the playoffs. 

“I don’t really want to talk about it that much,” Bradley said. “I just want to try to get treatment and take it day by day, and hopefully, I can be back for the next game. I’ll get treatment. If I could get treatment all night. My main focus is just trying to get back for next game.”

Bradley says he will get an MRI on Sunday and then make a determination from that. He tried to maintain a positive outlook after the game. 

“I’ll be fine, once I get some treatment,” Bradley said. “I know Ed and those guys, they’ll do a great job of trying to get me back as soon as possible. I’m not worried at all. I have faith. I know my teammates and people are praying for me, hoping I can get back as soon as possible.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Brad Stevens wants his Celtics to ‘play with a clear mind and be fresh’ for Hawks series 04.15.16 at 3:49 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Brad Stevens saw enough from his players over the last three games to know what was different about them from the team that was closing in on a No. 3 seed in the East. 

In the final three games, two losses and a miracle comeback against the Heat in the second half, Stevens saw his team play out of sorts and out of rhythm. 

He fully realizes that the defense that Atlanta and Charlotte were playing had something to do with that, as did the 65 percent shooting of the Heat in the first half. 

But in going over film of the Hawks, he wants his team to be focused not just on making life tough on Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague but controlling what his team can control. 

“How hard you cut, how well you pass, how well you execute, all those little things,” Stevens said after Friday’s practice before leaving for Atlanta and Game 1 Saturday night. “Now, when you do those things really well that shot has a tendency to go in. That’s just how it works, right? But I think the bottom line is it requires a great deal of multiple efforts the whole game.

“You watch film, do what you need to go to get ready for a game obviously,” Stevens said. “We watched a little bit of film yesterday, too, but you’re going to have to do what you need to do to play well, and it’s a simple, fast-paced game first and foremost, and so I’m big in make the appropriate adjustments but play with a clear mind and be fresh.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Avery Bradley on facing Hawks: ‘I think it’s good for us’ 04.14.16 at 12:27 am ET
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Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Heat forward Luol Deng during Wednesday’s game. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

The guesswork is over. 

The No. 5 seed Celtics will be playing the No. 4 Hawks in the first round of the playoffs. 

“I think it’s good for us, for our sake we get to play them again especially how, our performance the last time,” Avery Bradley said. “We played them there in Atlanta, gives us a chance to go back and play the way we did [Wednesday].”

Well, at least in the second half Wednesday. 

The Celtics were a no-show for 24 minutes on Wednesday night before outscoring the Heat 25-5 in the third quarter and getting themselves back in the game with intense defense. 

The Hawks team they will be facing beat them three of four times in the regular season, including this past Saturday, when the Celtics couldn’t hold a late 87-75 lead. In that game, they were outscored 43-20 down the stretch and lost by 11, 118-107. 

“Well, obviously Atlanta’s really good,” Brad Stevens said. “Atlanta’s beaten us three out of four times and they’ve got some tough matchups. They’re a good basketball team. A really good basketball team.  And so we’ll have our hands full. We’re looking forward to competing against them, we’re looking forward to preparing for them.

“And so, as far as [Wednesday], we just had to decide that we were going to play differently, and we were going to get back to being ourselves a little bit.  That didn’t mean that we were going to make every shot, turn them over, or they were going to miss open shots, but it meant that we were going to, you know, compete at a different level than we were.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley, Brad Stevens
Brad Stevens on playoff picture: ‘Biggest thing is getting back to playing with aggression’ 04.13.16 at 7:32 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is trying to fire his team up for the playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is trying to fire up his team for the playoffs. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For all the fret and worry over playoff scenarios, there’s one variable Brad Stevens is counting on: Togetherness. 

It’s what the Celtics coach felt was missing the most on Monday night in the 114-100 loss to Charlotte at TD Garden. And it’s exactly what needs to be on display not only in the season finale against Miami but heading into the playoffs. 

“I think no matter what, obviously we could win and not finish with home-court advantage,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game with Miami. “We could win and finish with home-court advantage. I think the biggest thing is getting back to playing with the aggression and the spirit that we’ve played with in the past that has got us to this point. We didn’t play with that on Monday, so that’s really been my focus. All of these scenarios and that stuff, I can’t keep up with it.”

Stevens was still able to joke about Monday’s loss. 

“When I was 17, I went and visited one of those people that tell you what you’re going to do with your life and they said you’re going to be an actuary or a basketball coach and I chose coaching,” Stevens said. “It’s probably a good thing because those numbers were spinning in my head when I look at them for five minutes.”

An actuary is defined on a Google search as “a business professional who analyzes the financial consequences of risk.” They use mathematics, statistics, and financial theory to study uncertain future events, especially those of concern to insurance and pension programs.

“I guess on Monday night I was thinking, man, there are probably a lot of people thinking he’d be better off being an actuary. I guess time will tell.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Miami Heat
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