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Jackie MacMullan on OM&F: ‘The thing about the Celtics is they control their own destiny’ 04.08.16 at 4:47 pm ET
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ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan joined the Ordway, Merloni & Fauria show on Friday and discussed the Celtics’ chances in the upcoming playoffs.

First off, she was extremely impressed with last week’s win over the Warriors.

“I thought it was incredibly meaningful, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “They didn’t show up against the Clippers on that road trip. They have a really crummy practice in advance of that Portland game. And from what I understand, [coach Brad] Stevens called them all together and said, ‘You guys aren’t nearly as good as you make think you are. This is a good Portland team and we could lose to them tonight.’ And they went out and played pretty well in that game, but they lose anyway.

“Now, if they don’t come out of that road trip 3-2, we’re all going to say, ‘That was a disappointing road trip,’ right? So you know they’re going to beat the Lakers, or at least you hope they can. But that game, they’re the perfect team to play Golden State, because of the way they hawk the ball, the way they hawk those guards and pressure the ball defensively. They gave Stephen Curry trouble, there’s no question about it. To me, that win was more about the psyche of the team now going forward.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Celtics, Jackie MacMullan, NBA playoffs
Brad Stevens gets teaching moments for his team in win, Avery Bradley, Celtics ‘appreciate’ Amir Johnson 04.07.16 at 8:58 am ET
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The way the injuries had been piling up in the last four weeks, Brad Stevens was just happy he could make light about the elbow Marcus Smart took to the face in the final 90 seconds of Boston’s 104-97 win over the Pelicans on Wednesday night that result in four stitches above the right eye. 

“He had four stitches just above his eye,” Stevens said. “Everything is in place and everything is fine. He will not have to wear goggles on Friday. I know that’s the most important part of the question.” 

Stevens was referring to the constant questions he’s faced over the last several days about Evan Turner’s left eye and whether he might play on Friday and whether or not he’ll have to wear goggles to protect his left eye. As it turns out, Stevens said there is “a chance” Turner will be available against the Bucks.

Since mid-February, the Celtics have lost Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner for stretches of time with various injuries. But after Wednesday’s ugly win, in which the Celtics blew a pair of double-digit leads in the second half to the Pelicans and had to pull away in the final 90 seconds, Stevens was just focused on his team playing hard and closing out games.

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens,
Brad Stevens doesn’t watch Villanova title-winner, and who can blame him? 04.05.16 at 3:14 pm ET
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Villanova Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins (2) celebrates his game winning shot with teammates defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in the championship game of the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four at NRG Stadium. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins (2) celebrates his game-winning shot with teammates after defeating North Carolina in the NCAA championship game. (Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — As epic as Villanova’s title-winning shot was from Kris Jenkins, there was one man who didn’t mind missing out on the second half.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens watched the first half of the Villanova-North Carolina game Monday night before turning in after a very long 24 hours. After a red-eye flight back from Los Angeles, getting into Boston at 7 a.m. and getting medical (Evan Turner) and paternal (Avery Bradley, Jonas Jerebko) updates on his players, Stevens felt comfortable turning in.

The college basketball game of the century ended when Jenkins sank a 25-footer at the buzzer, giving Villanova a 77-74 win and its first national title since 1985.

“I watched the first half and then saw the highlights this morning,” Stevens said. 

Then he was reminded of the painfully obvious. As Butler’s coach, he was on the sideline in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium in April 2010 when Gordon Hayward’s shot at the buzzer against Duke nearly accomplished what Jenkins did Monday night in Houston. Still, he was asked what he thought when he saw the highlight of Jenkins’ shot that came just moments after Marcus Paige’s bicycle-kicking 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds to go that tied the game at 74. 

“I think I’m probably the wrong person to ask. I think it’s obviously cool to see those kids perform on that stage and get those opportunities and I’m happy for all of them that they got that,” Stevens said. “To make shots in that moment and to ultimately win it, and the way that both teams handled it I thought was really impressive.”

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Read More: 2010 Final Four, 2016 Final Four, Brad Stevens, Butler Bulldogs
Isaiah Thomas on Kobe Bryant: ‘He looked like the old Kobe’ 04.04.16 at 2:13 am ET
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Kobe Bryant dunks the ball against the Celtics during the first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

Kobe Bryant dunks the ball against the Celtics during the first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas was paying very close attention to Kobe Bryant on Sunday night at Staples Center. 

The Celtics point guard was watching how the 37-year-old handled his business for a 16-win team that was headed nowhere against a young team trying to clinch a playoff spot. 

What he saw was an intense competitor who wanted the ball so desperately down the stretch that he screamed at teammate D’Angelo Russell when Bryant was open for a three. As it turned out, Julius Randle got the ball from Russell and converted a three-point play. 

When he did get the ball, Bryant reminded everyone what he could still do, starting with his first shot of the night over Jae Crowder in the first quarter. Bryant had 11 points in the opening 12 minutes. 

Bryant had 18 points in the first half as the Lakers stayed close, 57-48, at the half. 

Bryant would finish with a game-high 34 points on 11-of-28 shots from the field. The Celtics won the game, 107-100, and a spot in the playoffs. 

“He looked like the old Kobe,” Thomas said. “From the jump, from the first play, he just had a different energy about him. You knew it was probably going to be a long night if he felt good.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant
Isaiah Thomas on clinching a playoff spot: ‘We definitely want more’ at 1:47 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket defended by Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) during the second half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket defended by Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) during the second half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens was fond of reminding everyone for the last two months that his team was closer to being out of the playoffs than it was to the top of the Eastern Conference. 

Well, he doesn’t have to worry about missing the playoffs anymore. 

And the biggest reason for the Celtics making their second straight playoff appearance this year under Stevens is Isaiah Thomas. The point guard scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half Sunday night in a 107-100 playoff clinching win over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at Staples Center. 

“It means a lot,” Thomas told reporters afterward. “It means a stepping stone. It was definitely goal of ours to make it to the playoffs but we definitely want more. It’s a positive. We’re happy.”

Last year, the Celtics made the playoffs with a 40-42 record and even finished seventh in the East. But they were swept out in four games by the Cavaliers. Now, the Celtics (45-32) are shooting for much more than just making the playoffs. With Sunday’s win, they are tied with the Hawks for third in the East and could wind up with home court advantage if they perform in the final five games, four of which will be on their home court. 

“That’s what you want. You want to, obviously, give yourself a chance,” Stevens said. “So, the only way you get a chance is to make the playoffs. It’s been a very focused group. I haven’t heard the guys talk about it a ton. Obviously, when asked about it, they may comment on it. But they’ve been pretty focused on just the task at hand. We still want to be playing our best going into it. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and hopefully, get some rest here and get ready for Wednesday night.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
Is Brad Stevens now the front-runner in NBA coach of the year race? 04.02.16 at 2:31 am ET
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Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It might be time to call Brad Stevens the front-runner in the race for NBA coach of the year. 

After all, his team, missing its most versatile defender on the court, was able to pull off something no other team in the NBA had been able to do since Jan. 27, 2015. 

In beating the Golden State Warriors Friday night, 109-106, without Jae Crowder, the Celtics ended Golden State’s regular season home win streak at 54 games and gave Stevens the signature win to date of his three-year tenure in Boston. The Celtics became the first team since San Antonio on Nov. 11, 2014 to beat the Warriors in regulation in a regular season game in Oakland. 

The Celtics, who improved to 44-32, withstood charge after charge down the stretch from the record-hungry Warriors, who fell to 68-8 on the season. They withstood Steph Curry going off for 21 of his 29 points in the third quarter. Stevens got Thomas involved in the offense early in the third quarter, as Thomas scored his first 18 points of the game in the period. Stevens diagramed play after play, including the game-clincher, an side inbounds from Marcus Smart to Thomas for a layup with 8.3 seconds left in the game. 

“It was a heck of a game,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “When Curry got going in the third quarter, the biggest moments of the game were us scoring consecutively when he scored because when he got going, that’s usually when they run away with a 10-0 run or a 12-0 run. We had to play. Guys had to play really well. We didn’t have a guy play poorly. That’s what it takes to beat a team like this. They’re outstanding.”

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Stevens had his team ready just 24 hours after a 116-109 grueling loss in Portland. 

“I think the biggest meaning is the idea that we can bounce back from a night like [Thursday] night where we expended a considerable amount of energy and came up short, flew here, got in late and came to compete again,” Stevens said. “I thought that probably the other biggest moment of the game was when we were struggling to score in the second quarter, they weren’t scoring a ton and kind of kept us in the game. We were fortunate to win but at the same time, we made a lot of plays to win the game.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Golden State Warriors, NBA
Jae Crowder ‘looking right’ for return vs. Trail Blazers, not likely for Friday vs. Warriors 03.31.16 at 2:22 pm ET
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Jae Crowder

Jae Crowder

The return of Jae Crowder is likely to be one-game only event tonight in Portland.

Barring any setback before the game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he’s hopeful Crowder to be available against the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center.

“I’m feeling pretty good. Minor soreness.” Crowder told reporters Thursday in Portland. Crowder said at the shootaround that he’s hopeful to play but hasn’t fully committed. That will come following one more test in a shootaround before the game at the Moda Center.

Asked if he’d be ready to go against Portland, Crowder replied, “It’s looking right,” adding that he would prefer the slower tempo and pace of the Blazers versus the up-tempo demands of the Warriors. 

Stevens added that Crowder would be limited to the game against the Trail Blazers if he’s physically not able to play in back-to-back games so early back from his right high ankle sprain. The Celtics are scheduled to play the 68-win Warriors on Friday night in Oakland.

Crowder practiced with the team at full speed Wednesday in Portland for the first time since injuring the ankle against the Rockets on March 11 at TD Garden. Stevens said he liked what he saw from Crowder in practice.

“He just looked like Jae,” Stevens told reporters Thursday.

He’s missed eight games and the team has posted a record of 4-4 in his absence.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Jae Crowder,
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