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Brad Stevens says young Celtics bench stepping up: ‘They’ve all had their moments’ 03.21.16 at 7:37 pm ET
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Tommy Heinsohn has lovingly called the back end of the Celtics bench a “D-League” group. While that’s more a clear reference to their youth and not necessarily their skill, the point is still there that it’s a unit that probably is not ready to step forward and produce at the NBA level for a team that fighting desperately for home court in the upcoming playoffs. 

But to Brad Stevens, the group led by Terry Rozier has been much more than just a group of throwaways. It’s been a group that’s been put in a position where they have no choice to step up with injuries to Kelly Olynyk, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko. 

Rozier, R.J. Hunter, James Young, Coty Clarke and Jordan Mickey have all come off the bench for the Celtics, and not just at the end of games where the decision is already determined. All five of those players have seen action in the first half of Boston’s last five games at one time or another. When the Celtics were getting roughed up by the Pacers, Thunder and Raptors, Stevens turned to the back end of the bench to provide a spark. Against the Pacers and Raptors, it helped the Celtics stay in the game well into the second half. 

“They’ve all had their moments. They’ve all had their opportunities. I told our team if Coty Clarke is open, we should probably throw it to him since he’s never missed a three in an NBA game,” Stevens joked, referring to Clarke’s three in Indiana. “But hey, James has had good moments, especially I thought he did a good job in the first half of the Oklahoma City game, come in and kind of stem the tide as we were going to the bench. R.J. hit some big shots against Toronto. Jordan is obviously, Jordan. He’s just in the position where we have the most depth. So, I think they’ve all had their moments.” 

Rozier is the one player who has seen the most playing time of the group because he’s a guard who can come in and provide some support in Boston’s weak rebounding game. 

“I think Terry has really added to us in the last couple of games because I feel like he’s been able to handle the ball, make plays for others and rebound. That’s a big deal for our team. Rebounding has not been our best strength this entire season.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Dwight Howard, James Young
Brad Stevens on badly needed win: ‘Guys played with good purpose’ 03.20.16 at 11:43 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It may not have looked great for all 48 minutes, but the Celtics responded at key moments Sunday night and their coach was paying close attention. 

Brad Stevens knew going into Philadelphia with a four-game losing skid, coming out lethargic like they did in Toronto 48 hours earlier was not an option. 

The Celtics did fall behind 9-4 early but ended the first quarter with a 24-7 run and never trailed the rest of the way. They held the Sixers to 32 percent shooting in the first half in taking a 55-44 lead at the half. They did allow Philly to score 35 points in the third quarter, as the Sixers took advantage of some porous transition and low post defense. But the Celtics recovered nicely to close out their 40th win of the season. 

“Except for the third quarter, we were really good,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought we were really locked in, defensively. But the in third quarter, we have up 35 points and we weren’t. And you could see that at the third when we were trading baskets instead of really locking down. Hey, our guys came out ready, came out focused.”

The win improved the Celtics to 40-30 on the season, matching their total from last year. And now, they’re just a half-game behind Miami (40-29) for fourth in the Eastern Conference. As a matter of fact, starting with third-place Atlanta (41-29), only 1.5 games separates third from sixth in the East. Charlotte enters Monday with a 39-30 mark. 

“We knew it was an important game to play well,” Stevens said. “We can’t always control the results but you can control your input into it. Guys played with good purpose.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Philadelphia 76ers,
Brad Stevens: ‘For the most part, we looked hesitant’ 03.18.16 at 11:23 pm ET
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Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens reacts during game against Toronto Raptors in the first quarter at Air Canada Centre. (Peter Llewellyn/USA Today Sports)

The last thing a coach wants to see is hesitation from his team. 

That’s exactly what Brad Stevens has seen from his team in their last four games, all losses, including Friday’s 105-91 defeat at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors. 

The Raptors, despite playing their fourth game in five nights, came out on fire, thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Luis Scola, and took a 30-14 lead after one. 

“Yeah, Scola had 13 against us last game in the first quarter and 17 tonight. He’s a Celtic-killer,” Stevens said. “I thought that actually we did a pretty good job. Obviously, there were a couple of shots. [DeMar] DeRozan’s not a high-volume 3-point shooter. Scola’s not a high-volume shooter but certainly he’s capable of shooting it and has shot it very well this year.”

“Sometimes those go down and you regroup and you kind of hang around while they’re making those shots, and sometimes they don’t. I think Scola’s bigger ways he hurt us were just with his cutting, his post scoring, his rebounding, his plays around the rim. I just think that’s where he’s hurt us both games.”

Still, a pair of 19-point deficits before halftime seemed inexcusable, given what was at stake for the Celtics and stretch the Raptors were in. The Celtics played their best quarter in the last week in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and drawing to within five, 79-74. 

“Ball was really moving,” Stevens said. “We were getting good looks. Defensively, we were aggressive. We were communicating. You could tell there was a connectivity with the way they were playing. I thought we started really poorly,” Stevens said. “I did think though, a couple of those shots were not high-percentage shots that they made. But at the end of the day, you gotta kind of score and keep up with that as that’s happening and not dig yourself that big of a hole. The best we’ve played in two weeks is the third quarter.

“We can build off that. I think it was more of a factor of being hesitant than it was about not coming out and playing or competing or any of that stuff. I think that, for the most part, we looked hesitant. We looked unsure of ourselves and that type of stuff.

“I just told them I’m glad we played the way we did in the third because we’re a good basketball team when we play really hard together and believe in each other. We’ve just got to do that. It’s a tough stretch we’re in. We knew it was a tough stretch. It continues on Sunday on the road at Philly. We’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win.”

The Celtics were again without Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko but Stevens knows he couldn’t use that as an excuse for lack of execution. 

“Everybody misses players, right? I think those players are really good players,” Stevens said. “If they were here tonight, they would’ve played but they weren’t. We need other guys to step up.

“I guess we got back in it in the third quarter and then we had a cluster of errors there that led to transition points and kind of got us back out of it. We played the best in the third quarter that we’ve played in two weeks, so that’s good. But we’ve got to sustain it longer period than one quarter. “

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Toronto Raptors,
Jonas Jerebko out 2nd straight game with Achilles injury that is ‘not a long term thing’ at 8:40 pm ET
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Jonas Jerebko missed his second straight game Friday night in Toronto. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Jonas Jerebko missed his second straight game Friday night in Toronto. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The injury bug has picked a bad time to hit the Celtics. 

Already without Jae Crowder due to a high sprain of his right ankle, forward Jonas Jerebko didn’t even make the trip to Toronto, staying home in Boston to get treatment of a sore Achilles. 

After not playing in Boston’s 130-109 loss to Oklahoma City on Wednesday, Jerebko remaining in Boston to get treatment. Stevens told reporters in Toronto before Friday’s game that he would miss Friday’s game and Sunday’s game in Philadelphia. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters that Jerebko was not with the team in Toronto.

“We left him at home to get treatment,” Stevens said. “It’s not a long-term thing.”

Without Crowder and Jerebko, Stevens was stripped of two of his most versatile post players, and it showed early. Luis Scola went off for 17 points as the Raptors built a 19-point first-half lead. 

Jerebko could be back in time for Monday’s game against the Magic at TD Garden. The Celtics could use him right about now. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko
Brad Stevens on Kelly Olynyk’s return: ‘He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in 5 1/2 weeks’ 03.16.16 at 11:14 pm ET
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Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) returned from a right shoulder injury Wednesday. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Celtics center Kelly Olynyk returned from a right shoulder injury Wednesday. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

It was pretty much what Kelly Olynyk and his coach expected Wednesday night.

The 7-footer made his return to the Celtics rotation against the Thunder after missing 12 games with a partially separated right shoulder. Before Olynyk entered the game for Marcus Smart with 4:47 left in the first quarter, his status was up in the air until shortly before game time, when the big man determined he felt good enough to get back on the court.

In his team’s 130-109 blowout loss, Olynyk played 22 minutes off the bench. He certainly showed signs of rust, shooting just 1-for-7 from the field, including 0-for-2 from beyond the arc. He finished with eight points, six of which came from the free throw line.

In his postgame press conference, Celtics coach Brad Stevens did not sugarcoat his evaluation of Olynyk.

“He looked like a guy that hadn’t played in 5 1/2 weeks, which is to be expected,” Stevens said. “Which is why we put him back in at the end of the game. The more minutes the better.”

Olynyk took several hits to his shoulder early in the game, including one from Kevin Durant with 19.4 seconds left in the opening quarter that resulted in him missing one of his two free throws. Olynyk appeared to be uncomfortable at times. He stayed in the game, however, playing through the pain.

“Yeah, took a couple hits to it, little pain and discomfort,” Olynyk said. “And you know, just trying to keep its strength and keep those muscles activated. … hopefully you don’t take too big of a bump, but other than that it felt all right out there. It was just good to get back in the rhythm.”

The Celtics now have dropped three straight games in what is a critical stretch of the season. Next, the team will travel to Toronto to face yet another formidable opponent in the Raptors. Olynyk hopes to put this game in the rearview and help his team pick up a much-needed win Friday.

“It was good to be back out there, unfortunately the game didn’t go the way we wanted,” Olynyk said. “But we have another Friday and we’ve got to keep pushing.”

Read More: Brad Stevens, Celtics, Kelly Olynyk,
Brad Stevens on playing without Jae Crowder in loss: ‘Our worst fears were realized’ 03.15.16 at 11:34 pm ET
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Evan Turner and the Celtics couldn't get around Paul George and the Pacers Tuesday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

Evan Turner and the Celtics couldn’t get around Paul George and the Pacers Tuesday. (Trevor Ruszkowski/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics hung tough for the first three quarters Tuesday night in Indianapolis. Then it appeared not having their most versatile player finally caught up with them. 

That’s the way Brad Stevens saw it as the Celtics lost their first game this season without Jae Crowder. The Celtics actually led 77-76 with just over eight minutes left. But they couldn’t make a shot when it counted and they had no answer for Paul George and Jordan Hill off the bench in a 103-98 loss to the Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. 

Without Crowder, the Celtics shot under 40 percent for a second straight game (36-for-94) 38.3 percent. They were again ice cold from 3-point range, 8-for-32 (25 percent). With no Crowder, the Celtics struggled to find an offensive rhythm. They had a 20-13 lead early, fell behind 43-33, and made a run late in the first half. But the consistency just wasn’t there without Crowder. 

“First and foremost, I think this is a hard game to win, no matter who’s on your team,” Stevens told reporters afterward. “This is a good team. They’re playing really well. Minus the Atlanta loss [Sunday], they’ve had a bunch of games in a row where they’ve really played well before that. I’m not that discouraged about it. 

“What I am discouraged by is I think we could play with better purpose and give ourselves a better chance late. You’re going to give up points because of size at times, or height. But I think we can get a little bit better playing the way we play with the guys we play.”

Evan Turner scored just six points on seven shots in 27 minutes off the bench. Jonas Jerebko had a season-high 17 points off the bench. But the Celtics got just nine points from Tyler Zeller, Coty Clarke and Terry Rozier. 

“Obviously, we had those moments, that stretch where we couldn’t score in the first half, got down ten,”  Stevens said. “But then I thought we were playing great all the way up until the end of the third quarter, when we were still playing pretty well.”

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Jae Crowder (high ankle sprain) out ‘a couple weeks, minimum’ 03.13.16 at 3:32 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — The “positive vibes” Brad Stevens had for the prognosis on Jae Crowder’s right ankle took a turn for the worse late Friday and an MRI Saturday revealed a more serious situation for the Celtics.

The most versatile player and defender on the team suffered a high ankle sprain and will be out of action for at least two weeks.

“After I talked to you guys, he went back in and saw the doctor, [he] had developed a little bit of swelling,” Stevens said after Sunday’s practice. “[Crowder] has a high ankle sprain. He’s going to be out a couple of weeks minimum.”

Crowder, who was taking treatment Sunday instead of practicing, is averaging 14.4 points this season for the Celtics while usually defending the best scorer on the opposing team.

“He’s one of our most versatile players certainly in his ability to guard. I think that a lot of perimeter players have perimeter defensive versatility, but there aren’t a ton of guys that can guard 4’s for long stretches or sometimes 5’s for long stretches, and Jae can do all that. So that’s one of the things that’s going to be quite a balancing act without him, and we’re going to have to have guys step up and play. We’ll probably end up playing a little more traditional because of that, and we’ll see.”

The timing of the injury to Crowder couldn’t be much worse. Starting on Tuesday, the Celtics have a string of three games in four days against Indiana, Oklahoma City and Toronto, with their best all-around defender unavailable against the likes of Paul George, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan.

“I think it’s a heck of a challenge when you look at our week ahead, right, with George, Durant and DeRozan, bang, bang, bang. But that’s this league,” Stevens said. “That’s why long, athletic, versatile guys are in such demand in this league. Again, we may be a little bit smaller at times at the three and we may be bigger than we’ve been at times at the four. We’ll see how it all plays itself out and pans out. We’ve got a lot of good players. It’s a great opportunity for them and it’s a great opportunity for some of our younger players maybe to take a more pivotal role than they have so far.”

Crowder is the only player to have started all 66 games this season for the Celtics. That string comes to an end Tuesday. Stevens said he hasn’t made up his mind who takes his place.

“Nah, we’ll decide that on Tuesday morning after another 36 hours of thinking about it,” Stevens said.

Could Crowder be back for the playoffs?

“Hey, we’ve got to qualify for those. The same old adage still applies with us: We’re not that far from out of it. So, we have to play well. We have a heck of a stretch coming [up]. He’ll be back as soon as he can.”

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