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Monday’s loss to the Hawks reveals the true need for Andrew Bogut, and why Isaiah Thomas can’t do everything 02.27.17 at 9:54 pm ET
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The Celtics might be able to skate past the dregs of the Eastern Conference, as they barely did Sunday night in Detroit.

But if Monday proved anything, come springtime, the Celtics are going to have to play bigger and tougher in the paint if they have any aspirations of extending play into May. 

Dennis Schroder outplayed Isaiah Thomas and the Atlanta Hawks blasted the Celtics after Dwight Howard’s ejection in a 114-98 rout of Boston Monday night at TD Garden. Thomas had just two points in the fourth quarter and finished with 19, ending his franchise streak of games with at least 20 points at 43 games. 

The Celtics, who hosted a beardless Julian Edelman next to their bench, were abused in the paint in the first half, getting outscored 28-14 and out-rebounded 32-21. Brad Stevens has said all season that he’s fully aware that his team will not be winning any rebounding battles. 

But there comes a time and a place where getting overpowered eventually wears you down. That was the case Monday. When Isaiah Thomas is your leading rebounder through three quarters, Marcus Smart is your best low post option and the other team has Dwight Howard, that’s an issue. 

If there’s any truth to the report from the Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach that Andrew Bogut, officially bought out Monday by Philadelphia, is interested in coming to Boston, the Celtics should do everything in their power to make sure he doesn’t leave Tuesday’s meeting without signing on the dotted line. 

Monday’s game was much more than just a team playing on the second night of a back-to-back. It was about a bigger, stronger team taking it to them physically. Al Horford is a lot of things. A true big man he is not. Down 17 with six minutes left in the game, Stevens rested Horford, presumably to save him for the defending world champs Wednesday night at TD Garden. 

For a full box score and summary of Monday’s game vs. Atlanta, click here

The Celtics raced out to a 15-7 lead as Avery Bradley returned, showing the same sharp-shooting form he showed before his Achilles injury of early January that forced him to miss 22 of his previous 23 games. Bradley hit the first shot he took, a wide-open 25-footer for three from the left wing. As a matter of fact, the Celtics connected on their first three attempts from beyond the arc as they built the early cushion. 

But Atlanta responded with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter, turning a seven-point Celtics lead into a four-point hole. 

Dennis Schroder and Isaiah Thomas seemed to put their running – sometimes acrimonious – rivalry to the side. It was Schroder who accused Thomas of disparaging comments during a January game directed at Schroder’s mother. Thomas vehemently denied this charge. The two had a very animated but civil exchange in which both appeared to smile and joust with one another. 

Then, following a Thomas drive to the basket midway through the second quarter, it was Schroder who helped Thomas back to his feet. 

Things were more intense in the second half. After Dwight Howard grabbed a driving Isaiah Thomas from behind on a move to the basket, Howard escaped a flagrant foul after review. Then, less than a minute later, as Howard was fighting for a rebound under the Celtics basket, Al Horford fouled Howard hard. Howard responded with a shove to the chest of Horford and was given a technical foul. 

The Celtics then caught a huge break when Howard picked up up second technical of the game for hanging on the rim and flipping his head back on a dunk with 4:03 left in the third quarter. The dunk made it 74-65 Hawks. 

Horford continues to do most of his offensive work on the perimeter. This paid dividends in the third quarter when he found a back-cutting Jaylen Brown for a crowd-energizing, alley oop dunk. 

Without Howard, things only got worse for the Celtics as they trailed 84-71 after three. Boston fell behind by 17, 90-73, with just over nine minutes left. 

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Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder, Dwight Howard
Report: Dwight Howard agrees with Hawks for 3 years, $70 million without meeting Celtics 07.01.16 at 7:12 pm ET
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Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

This will probably come as a relief to plenty of Celtics fans, but Yahoo is reporting that Dwight Howard has agreed to a three-year, $70 million contract with his hometown Hawks.

Howard had been expected to meet with the Celtics in the coming days, but he canceled all of his remaining visits after striking a deal with the Hawks.

Howard, 30, was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft out of Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy by the Magic. He has averaged 17.8 points and 12.7 rebounds for his career, and has also played with the Lakers and Rockets.

He reached the Finals in 2009 by knocking out the defending champion Celtics in the second round after the C’s had taken a 3-2 series lead. He averaged 16.4 points and 17.1 rebounds in that series before losing in the Finals to the Lakers.

Howard had been linked to the Celtics this offseason, but his back-to-the-basket game didn’t necessarily fit Brad Stevens’ system. The C’s are expected to make a hard push for Hawks big man Al Horford, who becomes expendable with Howard now in the fold.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Celtics, Celtics rumors
Report: Celtics not planning aggressive pursuit of free agent Dwight Howard 06.30.16 at 11:25 am ET
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Las Vegas recently labeled the Celtics the favorites to land former All-Star center Dwight Howard, but reporters covering the team are hearing a different story.

Himmelsbach covers the Celtics for the Globe, and frankly, his version of events makes more sense than a rabid pursuit of Howard, who has aged very quickly, even though he’s only 30. The eight-time All-Star averaged just 13.7 points last season for the Rockets, the lowest total since he put up 12 a game as a 19-year-old rookie in 2004-05.

Also, after missing just three games in his first six seasons, Howard has broken down in recent years, missing 63 games over the last three seasons.

For his career, he averages 17.8 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks a game. There’s a question of how he’d fit in the system of Celtics coach Brad Stevens, since Howard is a back-to-the-basket post player who doesn’t stretch defenses.

Howard recently declined his $23.2 million player option with the Rockets to become a free agent.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Celtics, Celtics rumors, Dwight Howard
Vegas: Celtics favorites to land Dwight Howard 06.29.16 at 10:23 pm ET
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Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard

The Celtics will reportedly get a meeting with free agent center Dwight Howard and apparently the team has a good shot at landing him.

According to Bovada, the Celtics have the best odds of landing Howard at 10/11 odds. The Hawks have the next highest odds at 3/2, followed by the Rockets at 10/1 and then the field at 5/2.

Howard opted out of a $23.2 million player option with Houston for next year, thus making him a free agent.

The 30-year-old averaged 13.7 points a game with 11.8 rebounds in 71 games with the Rockets last season.

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Report: Celtics, Hawks setting up meeting with Dwight Howard at 9:04 am ET
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Mar 11, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) shoots the ball against Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics reportedly have their sights set on Dwight Howard during free agency. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Dwight Howard is next up on the Celtics’ wish list. 

Sources tell ESPN that the 30-year-old big man will sit down face-to-face with the Celtics, along with the Atlanta Hawks, as free agency begins this Friday. 

ESPN reports that Howard is expected to meet with as many as five teams in free agency. Unlike the situation with Kevin Durant, where a return to Oklahoma City is a distinct possibility, Howard is not expect to return to Houston after turning down his $23.2 million option for next season

According to ESPN, sources say the Heat have not yet booked a meeting with Howard in free agency, but could emerge later in the process. 

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Hawks are trying to make up their mind on whether to go after Kevin Durant or consider an Al Horford-Dwight Howard front court through free agency.  

As was the case with Horford, Howard was considered to be a target of the Celtics at the February trade deadline before the team backed off. 

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard,
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
Celtics looking for ‘locked in and engaged’ effort to handle Dwight Howard, James Harden, Rockets 03.11.16 at 4:36 pm ET
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Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) dunks against the Philadelphia 76ers during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics have had their fair share of success this season handling big men with big efforts from the likes of Jared Sullinger and Jae Crowder. 

Last week, in the span of 24 hours, Crowder was asked to handle Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James. The Celtics rallied to beat the Knicks on Friday and had James bottled up for the first half in Cleveland before James and the Cavaliers wore down the Celtics in the second half. 

The Celtics didn’t have their best defensive effort against DeAndre Jordan and the Clippers but they found a way in overtime. 

Against the Kevin Durant-less Thunder in November, they allowed Russell Westbrook 27 points but Serge Ibaka scored just 16 and the Celtics beat the Thunder, 100-85, in Oklahoma City. And against the very team they face tonight at the Garden, they held Dwight Howard to four shots, five points and 12 rebounds in 30 minutes. James Harden was just 4-of-10 in 30 minutes for a total of 16 points. The two combined to make just 6-of-14 shots as Boston prevailed in Houston, 111-95, on Nov. 16. 

“Like I’ve been saying all year, all five guys on the court have to be so locked in and engaged on taking away what they like to do and just making it tough for them,” Crowder said. “We have a great game plan going into tomorrow night. We’ll throw a lot of different coverages at those guys on the pick-and-rolls and stuff like that. It takes all five guys. It’s just not one player against their scorers or one player against Dwight. It just takes all five guys to get him off the glass and do everything. I think once we have that, we have control of the game.” 

Howard is still regarded as one of the best pick-and-roll players in the league.

“I don’t know if he’s the best,” Crowder added. “I know he’s a heckuva player. I know you’re aware that he’s down there. He’s a good presence and he’s a vocal part of their team. Try to take it away.”

The Rockets come in at 32-32 and in the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Rockets were not able to trade Howard at the trade deadline. Since holding onto Howard, the Rockets are 5-4, including two straight wins. Howard, to his credit, has responded. In those nine games, Howard is averaging 17.1 points and 12.4 rebounds, including 9-for-12 from the field in each of Houston’s last two games. 

“Howard’s playing at a really good level,” Brad Stevens said. “I think he’s like 18 and 13 over his past seven games or so. Harden’s numbers are off the charts again for the year. And they’re more healthy than I remember them being when we played them last.

“Obviously, you’ve got [Patrick] Beverley back in the lineup. He’s a winning player. He makes a lot of great plays for them. And then [Donatas] Motiejunas is playing more now since he’s been back and starting. And obviously he had his career high last year here. So a lot of good talented players in addition to [Trevor] Ariza and [Corey] Brewer who are kind of their glue on the wings. Those guys are tough to play against. It’s a highly-talented team. I mean, they were in the Western semis for a reason last year and we’re going to have to play really well.”

“We always had the same goal,” Crowder added. “We came into the season with the same goals and this just gets a step closer to where we want to be, and that’s win a playoff series and build from last year. We got to the playoffs last year. We didn’t win any games so we want to win a series now and build from that and build from that. Right now, we’re headed in the right direction. We just have to keep winning, keep taking care of us each and every day, which is at practice. Come game time, we’ll be prepared and ready.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
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