|As Celtics face Game 5 on road, Brad Stevens raves about fans, TD Garden atmosphere: ‘It was incredible’||04.25.16 at 9:31 pm ET|
If only the Celtics could bottle up the electric, deafening atmosphere from TD Garden and bring all the fans with them for Game 5, leaning on them like they did in the 104-95 overtime win Sunday.
“I think it’s less about where it is and more about how you play,” the always calm and cool Brad Stevens said Monday. “At the same time, I certainly haven’t been in many playoff environments like the last two games. It was incredible.”
There no doubt will be noise inside Philips Arena for the pivotal swing game in the series, but it won’t be nearly as intense as what the Hawks experienced in Games 3 and 4.
As a matter of fact, when the series opened in Atlanta on April 16, there were hundreds of empty seats with neon yellow shirts on them. The Hawks attempted to hide the fact that Atlanta, a notoriously passive sports town, wasn’t fully behind its NBA team in the first round of the playoffs.
The Hawks managed to hold serve at home with wins in the first two games.
When the series shifted to Boston last Friday, the decibel level went through the roof. The Celtics responded with a 37-20 quarter right out of the chute. They held on for a 111-103 win. The crowd rewarded that with an even crazier atmosphere in Game 4, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and players Rob Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount showed up.
The Hawks might not have noticed the Patriotic impact, but they sure heard it. When Isaiah Thomas drained a 3 from the right baseline in in front of Belichick in the final minute of overtime, the Garden was literally shaking.
“Oh yeah, they have a great crowd and they really fed off of it,” Kyle Korver said. “When your crowd’s screaming behind you, the basket seems bigger and there’s a lot more adrenaline, and they played really well here. Give them credit.”
|Who should be on Celtics’ radar in Game 5? Brad Stevens playing it cautious with Kelly Olynyk||at 3:59 pm ET|
Who will step up for Atlanta in Game 5?
That has to be the question Brad Stevens is asking himself and his staff as they prepare for a critical swing game in the first-round series. After going 1-for-10 and missing all seven from long range in Game 1, Kyle Korver hit on 5-of-7 from deep and 6-of-9 overall in Atlanta’s 89-72 win in Game 2.
Paul Millsap went 1-for-12 in Game 2 and 3-for-9 in Game 3 before coming to life for 45 points on 19-of-31 shooting on Sunday. Korver was back down to 3-for-11 on Sunday while a dinged up Al Horford was 2-for-8 and Jeff Teague was 4-for-18, so there’s plenty to choose from.
“Well, one of the things about great players in this league is, when they have a tough game the game before they usually come out with a great hunger and we saw that from Korver in Game 2. You saw that from Millsap in Game 4,” Stevens said Monday. “I think that that’s just kind of the way that this league goes. And even during the game, that was a really hard call with Millsap, because the one thing that you don’t want to do is get those other guys going.”
And that is the biggest factor Stevens has to weigh when considering how to use Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson in Game 5.
“If you put too much emphasis on doubling the post or rotating or whatever the case may be, now [Kent] Bazemore gets a wide-open 3 in the corner or a layup on a cut, or Teague hits an open 3, Korver gets an open 3,” Stevens added. “Those are bad things as well. It’s a tough call in the heat of the moment, you just kind of go with what you’re feeling at that moment, go with what you’re seeing. Then go with any numbers that might back up your decision.”
Kelly Olynyk might play more in Game 5, or he might not. The Celtics 7-footer played just three minutes in the first half of Sunday’s game and missed the only shot he took, a misfire that was way right of its mark. Olynyk was available for the first time since Game 1 when he re-aggravated his reportedly separated right shoulder.
|Brad Stevens sticking with small ball in Game 4, wants team to ‘not cross line’ with emotions||04.24.16 at 5:05 pm ET|
The Celtics came out with great emotion and energy in Game 3, and it paid off in a 37-20 lead after one quarter. Then that energy wore off a bit and Brad Stevens was concerned his team might run out of gas on lap one of the mile course.
Stevens also knows the Celtics are fortunate, perhaps, to not have lost Isaiah Thomas to a suspension after Thomas’ left palm struck Dennis Schroder in the face late in the first quarter.
Energy and discipline. It’s a combination the Celtics must master in Game 4, along with executing their offense with Isaiah Thomas likely playing his same off-guard role as Game 3.
“I think we have to play better, from an execution standpoint,” Stevens said. ” bviously our energy was really good, played really hard. We gotta bottle that up and do that again, that’s going to be imperative. And we’re going to have to match their speed and continue to find the right shot and hopefully knock them down.
I think that that’s been the critical part of the whole series and, in the game that we did, we gave ourselves a great chance to win. I think that, again, it goes back to what you can control and finding those great shots is most important from my standpoint, then playing with that same energy that we played with on Friday night.”
Kelly Olynyk will be back after a two-game absence with a right shoulder injury. But look for the Celtics and Stevens to stay small when possible, meaning Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and Tyler Zeller might find it tough to get on the court.
“I think kind of like what we did the other night, there’s a chance obviously with Kelly back that we would play two bigs together – and when I say bigs, I’m not really considering Jonas and Jae in that regard that have played the four mostly for us in this series,” Stevens added. “But it probably won’t be a ton. So it just limits the minutes that you can play all those different guys, whether it’s Amir, Jared, Kelly, Tyler and such.
“Obviously we certainly have confidence in playing those guys together. We’ve done that at different times throughout the year, but we’ll see how this game turns itself out. And judging by the first three games, obviously being with more switching groups and playing more small has been better so far. SO we’ll see. It’s a tough position for all those guys to be in just because of the way the series is going, but we’re going to need them all at one time or another to have success in this thing. So each of them’s in a different boat, and we’ll see.”
Stevens did admit he spoke to the team about not getting into any shenanigans that might lead to technicals or worse.
“Yeah. I think we talk about, all the time about not wanting to cross that line. And at the same time it’s going to be physical and competitive because you watch every playoff series, that’s what they are,” Stevens said. “You’re playing a team for the fifth time in two weeks. They’re used to us, we’re used to them. It’s prideful people on both sides of the floor, really good players. There’s gonna be some of that. But obviously you don’t want it to cross the line. That’s something that certainly we’ve addressed. And we’re not going to spend a ton of time on it, and I’m sure they aren’t either. We’ve got to focus on what we can do to play well.”
|Brad Stevens on Game 4 lineup: ‘Would be hard not to start’ same group, Kelly Olynyk still ‘questionable-at-best’||04.23.16 at 11:29 pm ET|
WALTHAM – What makes Brad Stevens a good head coach is that he knows a good thing when he sees it and he doesn’t try to outsmart himself.
So when the group of Isaiah Thomas, Evan Turner Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson helped the Celtics race out to a 37-20 lead after one quarter, Stevens indicated Saturday after practice that he’s likely to start that group again on Sunday in Game 4.
“I think the one thing you don’t want to do is outthink yourself,” Stevens said. “I thought we played well with that group and we’ll see ultimately what tomorrow brings, but it would be hard not to start that group tomorrow.”
Before Friday’s game, Stevens joked that the group had played just 33 possessions together the whole season but was a plus-20.
The other big change Friday was moving Thomas to the shooting guard from his point guard position, allowing him to fly around off screens and drive the lane more and kick the ball to open shooters.
“We’ll talk about it. But our focus needs to be on what we need to do better because again I think you can overanalyze what somebody else might do without really knowing,” Stevens said. “I think you have to read and adjust on the fly, and you have to have counters to each of your actions and those type of things. But hey they’re a really good defensive team. They’re a really good team overall, offensive team. That run in the fourth quarter by both teams where we were just making shots, I mean, that was high-level basketball. So we’re going to have to play really well to have a chance to win.
“There’s all kinds of things we need to do better on both ends of the ball. Defensively we made some errors that we need to correct. They did some actions that were really good. We need to do a better job on Korver obviously not letting him get going. And then those guards put so much pressure on you with their ability to drive downhill. Teague and Schroder are just, they’re as fast as any guard in the league.
|Thomas, Celtics working on not losing their cool in Game 4: ‘You’ve just got to be smart about whatever you do’||at 5:11 pm ET|
WALTHAM – With so much on the line, now is not the time for false bravado or acting like a tough guy. Or flopping like one.
The Celtics were reminded of this Saturday morning before they got together for film session and a light walkthrough at their practice facility in Waltham.
The intensity level picked up Friday night during Game 3. When Jae Crowder was drilled by Jeff Teague in the first quarter and the officials deemed it to be a “common foul,” Crowder said the officials opened the door for chippy play to escalate.
“I told them that hard foul on me by Teague set the tone, I feel like,” Crowder said Saturday. “If you’re going to call that a Flagrant 1, then we know how far we can go. That’s when they tried to change it and called Flagrant 1s and things like that. I told the ref, you set the tone, I hope you realize that, and that’s when it got chippy. It’s just part of it, and the refs have to realize that. That’s for the players. We realize that sets the tone.”
The tone produced three ‘Flagrant 1’ fouls in Game 3, all in the second half. The Hawks committed two, Paul Millsap and Dennis Schroder while Jared Sullinger was called for one in the third. That doesn’t include the double-technical that preceded the Thomas arm to the face of Schroder with 1:27 left in the first quarter.
“Both teams are trying to win the game,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to be smart about whatever you do but knowing that it’s playoff basketball and things are going to happen and it is going to get a little chippy. You’ve got to hold your composure and do what it takes to win. I’m just out there fighting and trying to get my team wins.”
“We’ve reminded, we talk about that stuff and everything else,” Brad Stevens said after practice Saturday. “But I think, at the end of the day, there’s such a fine line between hard real good competition and crossing that line and you just gotta do your best to compete at that physical level necessary to have success. And, obviously, hey, they deemed that he had crossed the line by giving him a flagrant-1 and it is what is and now we move forward. We’ve got to focus our attention on the Hawks.
“When you’re playing a team for the fourth time and they’re all competitive guys on both sides of the ball, they’re all good players, they’re all tough guys. I trust that nothing like that would ever go over the line. But it’s hard for me to predict that but it’s not something that we talk about, it’s not something that they talk about. Obviously, it’s a competitive game and sometimes when there’s a competitive game with a scoreboard and a crowd and everything else, emotions get involved. But you hope that nothing like that ever happens that obviously isn’t good for the game.”
|Isaiah Thomas on avoiding suspension: ‘It was the right call. I’m really focused on Game 4’||at 4:44 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Despite the dire prediction from former NBA discipline chief Stu Jackson, Isaiah Thomas never had a worry about being suspended for Game 4 Sunday night at TD Garden.
On Saturday, he didn’t speak with the league about his left arm and hand to the face to Hawks guard Dennis Schroder. Instead, he only received word from Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge that he was being assessed an additional ‘Flagrant 1’ foul for the first-half incident following a double-technical.
“It was the right call. I’m really focused on Game 4 but I’m glad I wasn’t suspended. It was definitely…[accidental],” Thomas said. “Both teams are trying to win the game. You’ve just got to be smart about whatever you do but knowing that it’s playoff basketball and things are going to happen and it is going to get a little chippy. You’ve got to hold your composure and do what it takes to win. I’m just out there fighting and trying to get my team wins.”
Dennis Schroder has become public enemy No. 1 in this series and the chief instigator with Thomas and Terry Rozier.
“I guess so. I guess that’s his job. Like I said, I’m focused on what we’ve got here and whatever we can do to win Game 4. I guess that’s his job to get under people,” Thomas said. “How much [Hawks] were complaining about it [after the game]. I’m focused on Game 4, man. They made the call of what it was, a ‘Flagrant 1’, whatever it was. I’m glad I’m able to play.”
Was he concerned that the league might hand down a suspension based on the TV replays and the vines that went viral during the game?
“Nah, because I knew what I did. Yeah, the replay, in a slower version it’s going to look like I looked at him and tried to hit him. If I try to hit somebody, I would’ve hit him. I know cameras are watching. I didn’t do it on purpose. But I’m just glad I wasn’t suspended and I can help my team in Game 4.”
|Brad Stevens has his best game of the season, and picks up his first career playoff win||at 1:46 am ET|
While the TD Garden crowd was going bonkers with the Celtics up 37-20 after one quarter in Game 3 Friday night, coach Brad Stevens had a much different feel.
“I knew we would start with great energy because our guys were hurting a little bit from Tuesday but I was really worried that we would be – you know, I don’t know, for any of you that have ever run the mile, you run the first lap, breakneck speed, and then about the third lap, it just feels like you’re never going to make the last two laps.”
Stevens really had those concerns late in the third quarter. The Celtics opened the second half well enough, scoring the first seven points and racing out to a 64-45 lead. Then methodically, the Hawks charged back. With a 1:21 left, Dennis Schroder completed a three-point play that appeared to tie the game, 78-78. In actuality, it gave the Hawks the lead, 78-77, since Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer moments earlier was degraded to a standard 2-pointer after the quarter. Whatever the case, the Celtics were wearing down and the good vibes from Isaiah Thomas’ scorching start seemed to be diminishing somewhat.
But the Celtics caught a huge break when Atlanta couldn’t grab a rebound off an Evan Turner miss. Jonas Jerebko collected it and threw it up in the air and it came down through the hoop to put Boston on top, 79-78, heading into the fourth.
“I thought that we were starting to wear down, obviously, after we took that 19 point lead,” Stevens said. “But then Isaiah made huge play after huge play. But then everybody made plays to kind of keep it at bay after they tied it and then push it out at the end.
“I thought the basket at the end of the fourth quarter – or third quarter – was huge, by Jonas and starting the fourth quarter off with a couple of buckets was big too, just to kind of get ourselves right. Because it’s hard when (Kyle) Korver gets going like that, those guys get driving down hill – they’re a good team. It’s hard.”
Stevens had one of his better games of the season from an Xs and Os standpoint. Not only did starting Jerebko over Jared Sullinger pay off in extra energy down the stretch, starting Evan Turner over Marcus Smart gave the Stevens the chance to play Thomas more as the shooting guard. It also allowed Stevens to run Thomas off screens and create driving lanes with Thomas on the move, something he hinted at before the game.
“Well, I mean, we’re playing, of our nine guys that played, four of them our point guards, because I included Evan in that. So, yeah. Yeah, I mean, and we’ll look at what was good, what was not good, and have to adjust some,” Stevens said.
As for Jerebko, it was evident from the start that he was going to provide a needed boost. His put-back slam dunk in the opening minute sent the crowd into a roar early and fired him up as well.
“He plays really, really, hard. He’s got versatility with regard to defensively,” Stevens said. “It’s really hard to switch onto (Jeff) Teague and (Dennis) Schroder, but all of our bigs have to do that some as they get going downhill on you. And then his scoring is just a plus. You know, if he scores, he scores; if not, he’s still spacing for us. And so they have to honor that. And he had a big driving basket with his left hand in the fourth quarter, he had the big basket at the end of the third quarter, but then his defense was really great all night, I thought.”
And Stevens picked up his first playoff win in seven tries.
“Game Sunday. It’s great. It’s better than the alternative,” Stevens said. “But this team’s too good to do anything but focus on what’s next.”
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