|Isaiah Thomas on avoiding suspension: ‘It was the right call. I’m really focused on Game 4’||04.23.16 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.”
|Jonas Jerebko starts for Jared Sullinger, Evan Turner starts for Marcus Smart as Brad Stevens shakes it up||04.22.16 at 6:55 pm ET|
Brad Stevens stayed true to his word before Friday’s Game 3 with the Hawks at TD Garden.
Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger will start the game on the bench while Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko get the start.
“We’re going to start Turner for Smart and Jerebko for Sullinger,” Stevens announced just under two hours before tip. “We’ll go with Turner, Isaiah, Jae, Jerebko and Amir.”
“Obviously, there’s certain things from the starting group, as far as how we want to play, spacing-wise,” Stevens said in explaining the move. “Those types of things factor in. Obviously, Jerebko gives you spacing, gives you some defensive versatility on the two bigs. And then Turner has been, along with Isaiah, really able to get into the paint and do certain things, and consistently be able to attack throughout the first [two] games.
“That’s that. Sully and Smart are still going to play, still going to play big parts for us. I’ve said this before about the guards, you can just kind of throw a dart with those four guards, and Smart being the fourth one tonight. They’re all going to play 30-plus minutes for us on most nights.”
The lineup of Turner, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Jerebko and Johnson haven’t exactly spent a lot of time together this season on the court.
“They’ve played a whole 33 possessions together. They’re plus-20. So, the sample size in an analytical viewpoint is not strong. But I think the one thing is you practice all year. You try different things. You’re going to have moments like this, certainly, especially with Avery out, with Kelly out where you’re going to have to do some of that. And you know what? There’s going to be groups off the bench that haven’t played much together, too.
“Any lineup with Terry and/or R.J. or both has not played very much for us. So, that’s the way it is. That’s why you practice all year and that’s why you play and find the synergy in practice. You believe in what supposed to do by doing it right and you go out and do it.”
|Avery Bradley will heal fully, ‘possibly’ available in Round 2, Brad Stevens considering lineup change||04.21.16 at 2:12 pm ET|
WALTHAM – The tale of these Celtics could be told by the end of Game 3. And Brad Stevens knows it.
Without Kelly Olynyk (right shoulder) and Avery Bradley (right hamstring), the Celtics held a media session Thursday at their practice facility, then held a team meeting and then a relatively light practice. Before heading off to their bunker before practice, the Celtics coach broke down what’s at stake in the hours leading up to Friday night’s virtual do-or-die game.
“From a physical standpoint I think we need to have a solid day but we’re not going to be out here very long,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be more about what changes we need to make, what we need to do to be a little bit more successful, how we need to play, those types of things. But hey, it’s we’re deep into the season. We’ve got to do what we do better, like I said [Wednesday], and go from there.
“Kelly will be, like I said [Wednesday], questionable probably at best for the game. And then Avery obviously won’t be playing, so the guys that are out here are the guys that we’ll prepare with.”
Bradley did have his MRI and Stevens indicated that surgery will not be needed, just time to heal.
“Nothing that we didn’t think. So I think big picture, long term, he’s going to be able to heal fully,” Stevens said. “It will all be good and everything else. It just takes time with hamstrings. And so like I said earlier he’s definitely out this weekend, and then I would say he’s very unlikely to play in this series again. The hamstring’s one of those things where you can walk down the hallway and look like a million bucks, but when you start playing 32 minutes and have to change speeds and change directions and those type of things, that’s a different story.”
As for the likelihood Bradley would be available for the next round?
“That would be something that we haven’t discussed a whole lot just because they’ve talked about toward the end of this series he should be to the point where he’s able to do a little bit more from a practice standpoint and those type of things,” Stevens said. “So, I would say that it’s still unlikely early in that situation, but possibly in the days that go on after that.”
Stevens indicated another lineup change is in store for Game 3. Stevens had his regular group of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson for Game 1. Then Marcus Smart replaced Bradley in Game 2. Evan Turner replaced Sullinger to start the second half Tuesday night. That could be sign of things to come but Stevens said he hadn’t made up his mind yet.
“In Game 1 it wasn’t as much execution as shot-making,” Stevens said. “And then in Game 2, I thought Game 2 was a much different game overall. So from my standpoint, we look at Game 1, we look at Game 2, we look at the things we can do well, and we need to do them as well as we can for those 48 minutes that are coming up. But I think at the end of the day, we’ve defended how we’ve wanted to more often than not.
“And offensively we’ve got to be better. Especially, again, you can’t dig yourself that big of a hole early because then that puts pressure on you to make the next one and the next one and the next one. We’re going to have to have guys that are not only in the right spots and executing the right ways, but also then finishing plays. And these guys have responded to that all year. So we’ve had our down moments. We’ve had our down quarters in games. And we’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”
|Facing uphill climb, Brad Stevens Isaiah Thomas insists Celtics have ‘resiliency’ to come back from 0-2||04.20.16 at 5:24 pm ET|
Brad Stevens wouldn’t go as far as saying the Celtics have the Hawks right where they want them. After all, no team wants to be down 0-2 in a best-of-7 series, facing a virtual must-win on their home court in Game 3.
But Stevens said Wednesday during a conference that he’s fully confident that his team, which didn’t practice Wednesday, will be mentally ready to go when Game 3 begins Friday night.
“You know, with this group, we’ll re-convene [Thursday] and we’ll talk about where we stand and what we need to do in moving forward,” Stevens said. “I think we just have to have a backs-against-the-wall mentality because this team has been good and been resilient all year in that regard.”
That’s great because the Celtics are fighting some wicked odds, and some nasty recent history. This is the 13th time they’ve been in an 0-2 hole in a best-of-7 series and the fourth straight series they’ve faced this deficit, dating back to the 2012 Eastern Conference finals against Miami.
They’ve managed to overcome the 0-2 deficit exactly once, beating the Lakers, 4 games to 3, in the 1969 NBA finals. They nearly pulled it off against the Heat in 2012 when they were down 0-2, only to win the next three before losing Games 6 and 7. But they’re not worried about ancient history, just correcting the mistakes against Atlanta that has them in their current predicament.
“I think our focus needs to be continue to play the right way on both ends of the court,” Stevens said. “Obviously, we need to start better, we need to play better. We need to do a lot of things better. But I’ve never questioned this group’s resiliency or willingness to stand up when times are tough and those type of things because they’ve been pretty good about that all year.”
Pretty good, like when they came from 26 down in the season finale to beat a Miami team that was mailing in their third quarter. Still, a great feat. Pretty good like when they were without their best big defender in Jae Crowder against Golden State on the road. They erased an early deficit and held off the Warriors during a rush in the fourth quarter and came up with the most scintillating win of the year. And they were pretty good when they erased a late deficit in Cleveland beat the Cavs on a last-second shot from Avery Bradley.
Why is this team so good when the chips are down?
“I couldn’t pinpoint it,” Isaiah Thomas said. “It’s just the background that all these guys come from.We’ve always had a never back down mentality. This group of teammates has always been counted out. They’ve always had that chip on their shoulders to prove everybody wrong. That’s just another stepping stone in everybody’s story. We do have to climb uphill, but at the same time we have to take advantage of our home court.”
|Brad Stevens says changes will be made for Game 3: ‘We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate’||04.19.16 at 10:40 pm ET|
It was pretty obvious from the start, the Celtics were not at the level of the Hawks on Tuesday night. The Celtics dropped an 89-72 decision that puts them in an 0-2 hole as the series shifts to Boston on Friday.
Now it’s up to coach Brad Stevens to figure out what to do about it.
Stevens started Marcus Smart in place of the injured Avery Bradley in Game 2, along with Isaiah Thomas, Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder. That group went 4-1 this season as a starting lineup, including a 106-93 win over Atlanta on Nov. 13 at TD Garden.
That was the regular season. Tuesday night in Game 2, the C’s came out slow and never recovered.
“I think that tonight had a different feel than even the other night,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought the other night, it was one of those nights we didn’t shoot it great but we had done some really good things. We had settled ourselves, defensively. Then, when we started making some shots, we felt pretty good about our chances.
“Here, it never felt like we were at their level. Hey, we’re going to have figure that out. We’re going to have to get to their level and play a lot better on Friday night.”
With Thomas, Crowder and Smart combining to go 6-for-34 from the field, Stevens turned to Evan Turner, who was one of four Celtics in double figures with 12 points. He did not start the game but did start the second half.
“I’ll go back and look it, watch it without sound, watch it without emotion and figure out what looked right, what didn’t look right and see if we can’t bottle more of that up,” Stevens said. “Listen, we start down 24-7 and we look like we’re moving at a speed far less than them. It’s going to be a tough night. It doesn’t matter where we’re playing or when we’re playing. We’ve got to be a lot better out of the gate.”
|Brad Stevens on Game 2 humiliation: ‘They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter’||at 10:16 pm ET|
If Tuesday night showed anything to the Celtics, it’s that it only takes about six minutes to get blown out of a playoff game and never have a chance to recover.
It just so happened those six minutes came at the very start of an 89-72 loss in Game 2 to the Hawks. How bad were the opening six minutes?
The Celtics were outscored 24-3. They allowed Kyle Korver to triple their point total with three 3-pointers. They were down double digits for the final 45 minutes of the game. They made just 3-of-23 shots from the field and missed all six 3-point attempts. They committed five turnovers. They wound up with seven points for the quarter, the fewest ever by an NBA team in the first quarter of any playoff game and the fewest in any quarter by any Celtics team in the illustrious history of the franchise.
“They way outplayed us in every category in that first quarter,” Stevens said matter-of-factly after. “That wasn’t just about shots by any means. I thought that was one team playing and one team not, to be quite candid. We’ll look at it, make the necessary changes and we’ll move forward.
“As I told the team, we can’t get off to starts like that. The only part of the defensive effort that I was upset by was losing Korver a few times and then the transition defense. But other than that, we really guard. We just put too much pressure on ourselves to make shots later because every one of them mattered so much just to have a chance to get back in the game. You can’t start like that. Again, we’ll look at it, figure out what the right changes are to make and make them.”
Stevens, who rarely shows emotion, was screaming at R.J. Hunter for losing Korver on a back screen when Hunter came in for Smart, who left briefly with a hip bruise. Korver drilled one of his three first-quarter treys as Atlanta got rolling.
This did not come as a surprise to Stevens, who knew Korver, after going 1-for-10 in Game 1 (0-for-7 from deep) would be on a mission Tuesday.
“Korver is like one of the main things we talk about every time we walk in this building, every time we walk into the hotel, every time we land in Atlanta, we know that we have to be in his airspace or else we’re toast,” Stevens said. “And you knew coming off a 1-for-10 game, he was going to have the hunger to make shots and take shots early on so we talked about that.
“But it was just a matter of we lost him a few times and our transition D was bad, especially in that first quarter. We had some moments throughout the game where our transition D was bad, but that first quarter, they moving at one speed we weren’t at.”
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