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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,
Jae Crowder says he will ‘push [right ankle] to the limit’ in effort to return Thursday 03.30.16 at 6:31 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder drives to the hoop against Rockets guard James Harden before his injury March 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder drives to the hoop against Rockets guard James Harden before his injury March 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics may have their most versatile player back in uniform when they take on the Trail Blazers Thursday night at the Moda Center. 

Jae Crowder returned to full team practice on Wednesday at the University of Portland for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in the second half of their March 11 loss to the Rockets at TD Garden.
 
The team will see how he reacts Thursday and assess his availability Thursday morning. 
 
“Today I’m going to push it to the limit,” Crowder told reporters Wednesday before practice. 

“I’m hopeful that we can get back to playing the way that we were playing when we’d been all healthy earlier this year,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters before practice. 

Crowder started Boston’s first 66 games before missing the last eight with the right ankle injury. The team has played .500 ball (4-4) in those games. Crowder’s value came not just in his 15.4 points per game but consistently drawing the opposing team’s best scorer as well as providing a legitimate second scoring option behind Isaiah Thomas. In losses to teams like Oklahoma City, Toronto and the Clippers on Monday, his absence was dramatically felt.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Jae Crowder, NBA
Brad Stevens defends (sort of) his team’s lack of defense: ‘We didn’t play with any composure’ 03.29.16 at 2:35 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas couldn't find a way to clear the Clippers Monday night.  (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas couldn’t find a way to clear the Clippers Monday night. (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

All effort and no execution will make for a losing formula every time on the road in the NBA.

That was certainly the case Monday as the Celtics, fighting for playoff positioning at 43-31, allowed the Clippers to shoot a scorching 58.5 percent from the field in the first half while yielding a remarkable 7-of-11 from beyond the arc. Those two stats alone allowed Los Angeles to race out to a 67-50 halftime lead.

Everyone was hitting shots in a Clippers uniform Monday night, including four players off the bench who scored in double figured and led a season-best 67-point effort.

“I don’t how you would say it’s bench or starters, but it’s depth,” Stevens said, referring to the 16 points of Austin Rivers and 15 of Jamaal Crawford. “It’s the ability to bring Evan [Turner] off and be versatile at that spot and play him and Smart together with the skilled bigs is obviously we like to do. But we haven’t been able to do it. Hey, those guys in the last few games have been pretty good off the bench. I thought certainly, today wasn’t a bench or starters thing. It was a Clippers thing. Credit goes to them.

“They deserve a lot of credit for the way they made shots, the way they made plays,” Stevens told reporters after his team’s 114-90 loss that ended a four-game win streak. “I thought any time we got close, we didn’t play with any composure to get back over the hump. Part of that has to do with being competitive and trying to hit home runs all the time when you’re trying to mount a comeback.

“We’ve got to do a better job in those situations than we did tonight. Defensively, I actually felt like, especially on the perimeter, we were pretty locked in and pretty good, for the most part. I thought they obviously made some contested shots that you’re going to have to defend and make. We missed some opportunities to challenge them at the rim with some rotations. All told, their play is the reason they won the game.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Los Angeles Clippers,
Even with shots not falling, Marcus Smart still determined to ‘find a way to impact the game’ 03.27.16 at 2:10 am ET
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Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket while guarded by Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket during last Monday’s game against the Magic. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

This might be just the second year in the NBA for 22-year-old Marcus Smart, but he’s been around long enough now to know that you don’t have to score to help your team win important games. 

Saturday night was such a night for the player who right know can’t buy a shot. 

Smart finished just 2-of-7 from the field and missed all five 3-point shots in Boston’s 102-99 win over the Suns in Phoenix. But he made several key hustle plays down the stretch, including one offensive rebound with four minutes left where he grabbed the ball, spun it around his back to keep it away from the defender and managed to get the Celtics another 24 seconds on the shot clock. 

Smart played 32 minutes off the bench, helping to take some of load off Avery Bradley (weak from an illness and a cross-country flight Saturday). He had eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and even a blocked shot. 

“My main focus is try to, even though my shot’s not falling still, find a way to impact the game,” Smart told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of things. If my shot’s not falling, I try to pick us up some other way, especially when we have guys that are knocking down shots.”

There’s been almost constant talk about Smart’s inability to score, and for good reason. In the last three games, all Celtics wins, he’s made just 4-of-26 from the field and has missed all 11 attempts from beyond the arc. But his offensive rebound and his defensive intensity are just two things he did that helped the Celtics win their fourth straight. 

“Those are the things that makes Marcus special,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Sometimes those go in a box score, sometimes they don’t but he does them every game. It’s why I don’t get too caught up in the box score stuff with him. He impacts winning and tonight was a good example of that.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Los Angeles Clippers, Marcus Smart
Brad Stevens on 1st winning season: ‘You don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games’ 03.23.16 at 11:39 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (C) reacts from the sidelines during the second half against the Toronto Raptors at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens reacts from the sidelines during the second half against the Raptors at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

For the man who has made a career out of playing it low key, Brad Stevens was in rare form Wednesday. 

After his team beat the shorthanded Raptors, 91-79, to lock up his first winning season in Boston and the first winning campaign of his NBA coaching career, Stevens brought some perspective to the table. 

“The one thing that I will say is, I’ve felt like — especially in the last year, 14 months, whatever it is — that we really — I feel like there’s real progress,” Stevens said. “And it’s been pretty consistent progress.  We’re certainly going to have our bad games and we’re certainly going to have games that are unique throughout an 82-game season, but there’s been good progress, there’s been good growth.  And that’s my biggest focus.” 

But then he repeated what he told Celtics TV reporter Abby Chin after the game. 

“It’s like I told Abby, you don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games. So we’ve got a long way to go.”

The Celtics have won three straight after a season-long four-game skid. They’re 42-30 and right in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and they beat a Raptors team that had their number in the first three games. 

“You’re focused on the next opponent, you’re trying to play your best against the next opponent, but certainly a team that’s beaten you three times, there’s a part of you that — a necessarily competitive side of you — that wants to play better. And our guys have some of that.”

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Isaiah Thomas: ‘We’re getting there’ as Celtics eye big test against Raptors, West Coast trip 03.22.16 at 12:35 pm ET
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Funny what a few made shots will do to a team’s confidence.

Isaiah Thomas, who has for the most part been immune to his team’s recent shooting struggles, scored 28 points Monday night in a 107-96 win over the Magic.

But while he was 9-for-18 from the field it was the shooting of his teammates that gave Thomas some reason for optimism.

Starters Evan Turner (7-for-11), Amir Johnson (5-for-6) and Avery Bradley (9-for-15) and backup Kelly Olynyk (7-for-12) had their shots fall for a second straight night. In Philadelphia, the Celtics made 10-of-24 from 3-point range as the thaw from the ice cold week began to take hold.

“Guys finally hitting shots,” a relieved Thomas said. “I mean that losing streak, we really weren’t shooting the ball as well. We weren’t defending but on top of that, we weren’t hitting shots. Everybody is starting to shoot with confidence and step into their shots and make plays and I think that’s making it easier for everybody else.”

The one guy still not hitting shots is Marcus Smart. Monday, he was 1-for-11 from the field and missed all five from 3-point range.

“[Sunday] he made some and had a pretty productive offensive day,” Stevens said of Smart’s 6-of-12 shooting on a 15-point night against Philadelphia. “[Monday] wasn’t his night. You have to continue to shoot the good ones. You have to continue to shoot the right ones. When you shoot the right ones it allows you to rebound because you’re in position. He had a couple today where he had nice drives off of movement. He drove the slots, drove openings and drove close-outs. He’s going to have to make the right play and continue to believe. We believe in him.”

One player the Celtics definitely believe in right now is Amir Johnson. The Celtics forward had his sixth double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) of the season Monday. They’re going to need him Wednesday as the Celtics look to salvage a win at home against Toronto before heading out West for five games.

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
Kelly Olynyk does away with shoulder brace, gets ‘back in rhythm’ with 22-point effort in win 03.21.16 at 11:46 pm ET
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In the previous three games with a black shoulder sleeve/brace protecting his injured right shoulder, Kelly Olynyk didn’t look like himself.

The best 3-point shooter on the team (41.3 percent) before his Feb. 10 injury against the Clippers could barely reach the rim with authority on his shot. And he knew it.

He made just one of ten from beyond the arc in losses against the Thunder and Raptors and a win over the Sixers Sunday night, including misses on all four tries in Philadelphia. He was just 5-of-22 overall (22.7 percent).

Something had to change so on Monday, before the game against the Magic, Olynyk decided to go without the brace and the impact was noticeable starting with shootaround, where he was getting more lift on his shot.

It paid off when he hit his first two shots from beyond the arc. He was in a rhythm and that propelled him to a 22-point night off the bench in Boston’s 107-96 win over the Magic at TD Garden.

“Yeah, just getting out there, back in the rhythm, back in motion, yeah, it was better range of motion without the shirt on, definitely. And just went out there and played confidently,” Olynyk said.

“If you miss six weeks of basketball, you’re going to be rusty when you get back,” coach Brad Stevens added. “Every game you play, every practice you have, you feel a little bit better. You don’t know when that’s really going to happen, especially with an upper-body injury where you haven’t been able to shoot much. But you knew it was going to come around at some point.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
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