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Celtics clinch top seed in Eastern Conference with victory over Bucks in regular-season finale 04.12.17 at 11:58 pm ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas celebrates in the final moments of the Celtics 112-94 win over the Bucks on Wednesday. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

Say hello to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

It took a while on Wednesday, but once the Celtics got rolling, the Milwaukee Bucks B team had no chance.

With the top seed in the conference improbably on the line and the Bucks resting most of their starters, the Celtics closed the game with a 25-6 run to win a 112-94 blowout and clinch home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.

High-flying reserve Gerald Green led the Celtics with 18 points, including a pair of thunderous dunks, and Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson scored 16 apiece.

The Celtics began the night needing either a win or a Cleveland loss to clinch the regular-season conference championship. While the Cavs lost against Toronto, the Celtics (53-29) chose not to back into anything, winning the game and the top seed going away.

“I think there’s a pride in being consistent, and I told the guys that,” said head coach Brad Stevens. “I thought that they’d been really consistent throughout the whole year with the way that they’ve gone about their preparation and competed on a night-to-night basis. It’s not always easy throughout an 82-game schedule to be at your very best, but these guys are very consistent in their prep and the way they compete. So that’s a real positive but now – we’ll talk about what was accomplished later. We’ll focus on whenever we play this weekend, to get ready.”

The Celtics trailed by 11 after one and by as many as 13 in the second quarter before Isaiah Thomas (13 points, 8 assists) scored 10 points in a two-minute stretch to end the first half with the Celtics up 57-56.

The C’s then pulled away with their game-ending blitz, spearheaded by the defense of Marcus Smart and Green’s hot hand.

“I always expected to be the number one team coming out of the East,” said guard Avery Bradley, who injured a finger in the second half but returned to action. “I always expect for us to be better than what people think we’re going to be. The type of guys we have, the coaches, I know the amount of work we put in, the work our coaching staff puts in. I always have high expectations for this team.”

The C’s and Bulls split their four matchups during the regular season. The series marks a reunion with former Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.

“It’s going to be cool, it’s going to be a fun atmosphere for both teams,” Bradley said. “It’s weird playing against him on the other side, but playoff time is when he really brings it. It should be a fun series.”

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, NBA playoffs
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck on OM&F: ‘I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today’ at 12:06 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (see complete recap here) and was asked about the differing opinions over Al Horford’s impact this season.

Horford isn’t posting superstar numbers (14 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5 assists), but with the Celtics sitting on 52 wins with a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night against the Bucks, his contributions have been debated.

Put Grousbeck squarely in the camp of “no regrets” over signing the center to a four-year, $113 million contract last summer.

“I’m very happy with the signing and we have to be responsible for the contract,” Grousbeck said. “I’d love to see him step up and lead us all the way. Adding him last year put us better in the mix for another major free agent last year, obviously, puts us in the mix for a free agent this summer if we want to go that route, makes us a destination. I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today.”

So what do fans and media miss on nights when Horford doesn’t score a ton?

“I think when you go to the next level of analytics with Al, you see that Isaiah [Thomas] shoots noticeably better when he’s on the court,” Grousbeck said. “A lot of Isaiah’s points come from Al’s assists and Al’s screens. He’s one of the two leading big men in the league in assists at five a game, which is pretty high for a starting center. His screens are effective. He clears room for Isaiah to drive to the hoop, he sees him effectively along the perimeter. Isaiah and Al are linked. Isaiah shoots 55 percent when Al’s on the floor and 50 percent when he’s not. That’s a big difference when you take as many shots as Isaiah takes. That’s a meaningful difference in a game.”

Grousbeck suspects we’ll see a more assertive Horford in the postseason.

“I think playoffs will logically be his time,” he said. “When everything tightens up, you need that big man passing and setting screens and then bringing his offense. His balance is one of the reasons we are where we are.”

Read More: Al Horford, Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA playoffs
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck on OM&F: ‘I don’t think we’re as good as Cleveland,’ stays away from LaVar Ball at 11:55 am ET
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Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (audio above), hours before his club had a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference vs. the Bucks, and was very frank about its chances of beating the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

“I don’t think we’re as good as Cleveland,” Grousbeck said. “If we got a chance to play them in the postseason, I’d love to see it, but I’m not sure how it would turn out.”

Grousbeck wasn’t just basing that thought on last week’s disappointing performance against the Cavs in a blowout loss with the top seed on the line, though that game didn’t help.

“I actually hope the guys don’t forget that,” he said. “I hope the guys don’t forget how badly we were beaten last week and they can use it as fire going forward.”

He disputed the notion that the Celtics saw the Cavs clicking on all cylinders.

“That was Cleveland clicking on one cylinder, if you ask me,” he said. “I don’t want to disrespect them, but I saw LeBron [James] take that game over single-handedly. He had a lot of help, etc. . . . I’m not disrespecting Kyrie [Irving] or Kevin Love or anyone else on the team, but LeBron took that over for a period of about six possessions there on the offensive and defensive end of the court. He dominated us. I have to give him a ton of credit. It showed us that we’ve got a ways to go.”

Grousbeck touched on a number of other subjects as well, though one he stayed away from was if the potential of dealing with headache stage dad LaVar Ball would dissuade him from drafting UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball.

“That’s a question best left for you guys to comment on,” he said. “I understand the question, but I can’t answer it.”

Grousbeck also discussed:

— Building through the draft vs. trade.

“There’s also a third option, which is to add a young player and still make cap room for a max free agent,” he said. “That’s the way we worked it last year, and that’s the way we may be able to work it this summer. But we’ve got max cap room if we want it.”

— On if Isaiah Thomas is a franchise player.

“He’s playing at that level,” he said. “When you look at where he ranks among all-time Celtics statistics and players, he’s actually on those leaderboards right now, which is pretty incredible. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are without Isaiah right now. He was thought of maybe as a sixth man coming in. . . . He’s opened everybody’s eyes.”

— On plans to honor the 2008 champions next season and reports that Ray Allen wasn’t invited to a player’s only gathering organized by Rajon Rondo.

“Ray’s always going to be a champion here and we wouldn’t have won it without him,” he said.

— On complaints about teams resting star players.

“We talked about it specifically at our owner’s meeting in New York last week,” he said. “The general approach I took is the problem was there were some marquee games, marquee matchups, and our television partners and our fans were all disappointed that all of a sudden these guys were all sitting out en masse. It was made very clear that we don’t want that to happen again.

“The first way we’re fixing it is in partnership with the players next year, we’re adding a week to the season next year and shortening the preseason so there’ll be fewer back-to-backs. The players that were rested in the games we’re talking about were in back-to-back matchups. It’s hard to play guys back-to-back when you’re getting close to playoff time.”

 

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Lavar Ball, Lonzo Ball
Celtics Pregame: Brad Stevens does not plan on resting players in last two games 04.10.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens will not rest his starters against Nets on Monday at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Don’t expect to see Brad Stevens rest his guys in the final games of the regular season. Celtics head coach has no plans of sitting his players if they’re healthy and it could pay dividends depending on what happens Monday.  

With two games left, the Celtics (51-29) find themselves tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After surrendering a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a 126-125 overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday, the Cavs are giving the Celtics another chance to grab the top playoff spot in the east. 

A Celtics win and a loss by the Cavaliers at Miami will give Boston a one game lead ahead of the Cavs for first place. The Cavs have to beat the Heat in order to clinch No.1 but will have to do so without LeBron James and Kyrie Irving — coach Tyronn Lue has decided to rest both — and Tristian Thompson (thumb), who is out nursing a hand injury. 

Meanwhile, the Heat (39-41), who are currently tied with the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot, are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Heat knock off the Cavaliers while the C’s top the Nets on Monday, the Celtics can then decide their fate in Wednesday’s regular season finale against the Bucks — a win gives them first, a loss will lock Boston into second (CLE owns tiebreaker). 

Although Stevens isn’t going to rest up his guys before the postseason, he’s also not up late at night tossing and turning thinking about first place.

“The most important thing is tonight’s game (against Brooklyn). That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Stevens said. “Whatever seed we get, we get. That’ll be the result of an 82-game schedule, not the result of one or two games. It is what it is. We’ve had a pretty consistent year with regard to performance. We’ve also had moments where we haven’t played as well. I’m literally not talking about it with the team nor am I losing one second of sleep over it.”

Despite clinching the league’s worst record of the season, the Nets enter Monday’s game winners of four of their last five. Brooklyn has been playing the “spoiler” role lately, beating teams like the Hawks and Bulls, respectively — two clubs lobbying for playoff position. 

The Nets now will attempt to spoil the Celtics’ final chance at locking in the No. 1 seed.

Read More: Boston, Brad Stevens, Brooklyn Nets, Celtics
Celtics lose to Hawks, which may end up helping them in playoffs 04.06.17 at 11:27 pm ET
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Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) dunks against the Celtics Thursday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Hawks forward Taurean Prince (12) dunks against the Celtics Thursday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics don’t seem to like sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

One night after getting blown out by the Cavaliers in a showdown for the No. 1 seed, the Celtics journeyed to Atlanta and played like a team that’s forgotten what got it here.

The C’s looked tight from the start, fell behind by double digits early, and never recovered in a 123-116 loss.

Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 18 points, including 5-of-8 on 3-pointers, seven assists and six steals. But the C’s had no answer for the Atlanta backcourt of Tim Hardaway Jr. (23 points) and Dennis Schroder (18). Big man Paul Millsap led the way with 26 points and 12 rebounds.

The Celtics launched 43 3-pointers, but made only 15 (34.9 percent). They tried to make a game of it in the final three minutes, trimming a 13-point deficit to five, with the ball, but they got no closer.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 35 and Jae Crowder added 24, but the Celtics were outrebounded 52-38.

The loss isn’t all bad. It kept the Hawks in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, which means the second-seeded Celtics could avoid them in the second round. That wouldn’t be a bad thing for Boston (50-29), which fell to 1-2 vs. the Hawks this year after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by them last year in six games.

As things stand now, if the seedings hold and the Celtics beat the Bulls in the first round, they’d get the winner of Milwaukee and Toronto in the conference semifinals.

Read More: Celtics, Hawks, NBA scores,
LeBron James (36), Cavaliers pummel Celtics to claim first place in Eastern Conference 04.05.17 at 11:18 pm ET
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Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) on Wednesday. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) works the ball against Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) on Wednesday. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics arrived at the Garden on Wednesday believing they could claim sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference. They left licking their wounds after being routed by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Behind 36 points from LeBron James and a suffocating defensive effort — not to mention a domination of the boards — the Cavaliers cruised to a 114-91 victory that gave them first place in the East with four games left to play.

The Celtics led 20-19 after one, but Cleveland (51-27) took control with a 38-point second quarter to open a 57-42 halftime lead and the C’s never seriously threatened.

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics (50-28) with 26 points on 9-of-19 shooting, but he got absolutely no help from his supporting cast. The C’s shot just 7-for-33 on 3-pointers (.212) and put only three other players in double figures, led by Jae Crowder’s 13.

The Celtics were outrebounded 51-38 and allowed Kevin Love to grab 16 boards alongside his 15 points.

For more on the game, including how badly it exposed the Celtics as playoff pretenders, check out this column.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, Isaiah Thomas
Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley return to lineup for Celtics against Cavaliers, who will be without big man Tristan Thompson at 8:01 pm ET
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LeBron James is always a challenge.  (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James is always a challenge. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

For most, Wednesday’s showdown between the Celtics and Cavaliers is considered Boston’s most important game of the season. 

But for Celtics coach Brad Stevens, this battle for the top seed in the Eastern Conference is just another game. 

With Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder both expected to start, Stevens’ starting five will be at full strength against the champion Cavaliers, who will be playing without big man Tristan Thompson (sprained thumb). But according to Stevens, preparation for taking on the champs is no different than any other opponent. Both squads are 50-27.

“We don’t talk big game/small game, we talk about the next game and trying to do the best that we can against our opponent,” Stevens said. “I know that sounds really boring but that’s the way I look at it — the way I go about it. These have all grown up playing big games their whole lives.”

After some speculation of whether coach Ty Lue would rest his guys, the Cavaliers are expected to start all of their big three members in LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. However, Stevens says Cleveland’s second unit — which has been plagued by injuries since the All-Star break — is often overlooked.

“Those guys are great players,” Stevens said. “No one talks about it, but when we beat them, they didn’t have [J.R.] Smith. They’re going to continue to round in form as those guys are back playing together and now their getting fully healthier with [Kyle] Korver back and everyone else. It’s a really tough team to play against.”

Having Crowder back definitely helps.

“I just think Jae’s really important in general because he allows us what we just talked about with Cleveland,” Stevens explained. “Cleveland is — obviously Golden State, maybe a couple of others — the best at being able to play a bunch of different ways and Jae allows us to play different ways because of his ability to play both the 3 and swing to the 4.”

When asked about the possibility of resting his guys before the start of the postseason, Stevens said he’s given it very little thought, but will continue to check in with his medical staff and make sure his team is at full strength come playoff time.

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, Eastern Conference standings, Jae Crowder
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