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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,
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,
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