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Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard talk Isaiah Thomas’ historic 42-point effort in Game 3 win 04.23.16 at 12:45 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down how Isaiah Thomas rescued Celtics in Game 3 with a career-high 42 points, leading the Celtics to a 111-103 win over the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at TD Garden. The 42 points were the most by any Celtic in a playoff game since Rajon Rondo scored 44 against the Heat in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals on May 30, 2012.

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder
Isaiah Thomas insists his hand to the face of Dennis Schroder was accidental: ‘It’s playoff basketball’ at 12:35 am ET
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Did he mean it or not?

That’s the singular question that now has to be answered by the NBA after cameras and vines caught Isaiah Thomas – in the midst of his career-best 42-point night – swinging an elbow at Atlanta Hawks guard Dennis Schroder. 

In the second quarter of Friday’s 111-103 win over the Hawks in Game 3, and with tempers steadily on the rise throughout the first half, Thomas appeared to raise his left arm and swat Schroder in the head. 

After answering questions about his career-best performance when the Celtics desperately needed it, Thomas’ press conference ended with a simple question: Are you concerned about discipline from the NBA from the blow? 

“No, I’m not,” Thomas said. “I didn’t mean to hit him in the head. He got mad. He was talking. It’s playoff basketball. I’m not going to back down from anybody – and he knows that.”

The Hawks obviously had a different view of things. 

“I have seen it back in the locker room,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “My thoughts are the league will review it; the league does a good job on all things like this and they have high standards and all teams are aware of their emphasis during the playoffs. As far as an explanation, there wasn’t an explanation. There was a double technical and there was no review of the incident in the back court at the free throw line.”

Kyle Korver said Budenholzer took time before the playoffs to read to the team what might happen if you lose your cool in the playoffs and throw a punch.

“I heard that it happened,” Korver said. “I know Bud read us a really long memo before the playoffs started saying what would happen in you threw a punch. I haven’t seen the replay, I know Dennis said he got hit, but I’m sure we’ll hear and see a lot about it in the next couple days.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Dennis Schroder
Isaiah Thomas says Hawks not ‘a scary defensive team,’ C’s just need to ‘knock down shots’ 04.20.16 at 6:16 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas (4) attempts a shot against Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver (26) in the second quarter of Game 2 Tuesday. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

For Isaiah Thomas, the heartbeat of the Celtics dormant offense, the solution is simple. 

“If we start to knock down our shots, it’s going to make it easier for us to execute on the offensive end,” Thomas said in a conference call Wednesday. “But first two games we haven’t been able to shoot the ball. All the Hawks are doing is packing the paint, and we continue to attack the paint. Then all five guys are there anytime someone attacks it.”

When the Celtics shoot 3-for-23 like they did in the first quarter Tuesday, including 0-for-6 from deep, the Hawks can just do what they do, and that’s pack the paint.

“Especially when I’m in attack mode, trying to get into the paint. If guys continue to be confident, and knock down their shots, they’re going to open up lanes for guys to drive it. There won’t be any opportunity for them to block shots.”

And blocking shots is an Atlanta specialty. They rejected a franchise-playoff record 15 on Tuesday in Game 2, including several on Thomas when he tried in vain to create by driving to the basket. Al Horford had five and Paul Millsap added four. 

“They are quick to the ball. You see an opening, and once you get to the hole there’s two or three guys around you,” Thomas said. “Give them credit on that. But I haven’t thought of Atlanta as a scary defensive team where you have to second guess yourself on getting your shot blocked, like with a guy like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside – (players) like that. They’re good at it, and we just have to either finish it off to a big or a drive and kick. Either a pump fake or make the adjustment.”

Brad Stevens suggested changes are coming for Game 3. What might they be?

“I don’t know. I think he will make some kind of change, knowing Brad and watching tons of film,” Thomas said. “But we’ll see. Hopefully he can do a few things that will make this team start games better, and give us a better chance to win.”

Thomas is 12-for-36 in the first two games, including 5-for-16 from deep. He admitted that sometimes he and others might be forcing things when the shots don’t fall.

“That can be the case, but that wasn’t true in the last game,” Thomas said. “Offensively, we couldn’t make shots, and we dug ourselves a big hole in the first quarter. For whatever reason we keep doing that. If we can sustain a better start, that gives us a way better chance to start the game. We give ourselves no chance by getting down by 20 points early in the game.

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Facing uphill climb, Brad Stevens Isaiah Thomas insists Celtics have ‘resiliency’ to come back from 0-2 at 5:24 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer-USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was busy trying to point out Kyle Korver Tuesday night. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

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.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens
Isaiah Thomas: ‘We feel like we can definitely make noise’ 04.15.16 at 3:07 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Armed with an attitude and the confidence of a full All-Star season to back it up, Isaiah Thomas feels these Celtics are ready to make some noise against Atlanta in the playoffs starting Saturday night. 

“I learned a lot,” Thomas said following Friday’s final practice at the team’s facility in Waltham. “You’ve got to adjust to whatever the team’s doing. And be able to still contribute, even if they’re trying to take away your aggressiveness or your scoring ability or whatever the case may be. The best players figure it out. I know they’ll probably try to, not just contain me, but to try to slow me down. But you just gotta stay at it and continue to keep  your foot on the pedal.” 

Last year against Cleveland in the four-game sweep in the opening round, Thomas made just 18-of-54 shots from the field, averaging 17.5 points. He scored 20 points in three of the four games but was held to just five points in the Game 2 loss.

But Thomas believes it’s not just him but the entire team that is feeling better about themselves after a 48-34 season and the No. 5 seed in the East.

I think we got just a lot more confidence. We feel like we can definitely make noise,” Thomas added. “We think that the Eastern Conference is open for any team. We just gotta get a win and gain confidence off that win. I think we’re just a lot more confident and we feel like we’ve been here before, which we have.

“Just more confident. I think we just got a different feel about ourselves. Last year we kinda snuck into the playoffs, this year, I mean, teams knows about us a little bit. I think we’re the best team in the Eastern Conference. We want to make some noise. Like I said, we want to get that first win off our belt, then we want to win a playoff series and go from there. We’re not overlooking Atlanta. We know that they’re a great team. We gotta be locked in and just live in the moment. This is a big moment for us.”

Thomas and the Celtics will have fresh memories of the Hawks when they take the court Saturday night for Game 1. They fell apart in the fourth quarter after leading 87-75 and lost, 118-107. 

“We need to slow down a little bit. Slow down and just execute,” Thomas said. “They sped us up a little bit more than we wanted to. And they also pushed our catches where they were denying us. We just gotta get to our spots. We gotta do what we do and do that at a high level. I think that would be the big thing.”

That goes for his own game. 

“It’s something that I just tried to learn throughout the offseason as well, by watching a lot of film, and really learning how to impact the game without just scoring; learning how to use double-teams to my advantage to get the ball out quicker; having [help] on the backside any things like that,” Thomas said. “Just stay in attack mode, don’t let whatever they do try to slow me down.”

Thomas was again asked about his left wrist after practice Friday and whether it might be an issue in the series.

“No, I don’t want [any tests],” Thomas said. “I’ll be fine, I’ll be all right.”

Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas wins Red Auerbach Award, tells fans ‘We’re going to need you for a deep run in playoffs’ 04.13.16 at 9:12 pm ET
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The only highlight in the first half Wednesday actually came before tipoff when Isaiah Thomas was awarded the 11th annual “Red Auerbach Award” – given annually to the player who embodies the spirit of the Celtics.

After accepting the award, he gave a brief speech to the fans.

“We want to thank you for all your support. We’re going to need you for a deep run in the playoffs,” Thomas said.

The Celtics then proceeded to go out and lay a 24-minute “egg” against the Heat, falling behind by as much as 26 in the first half and trailing, 62-38 at the half.

Apparently, the Celtics were humiliated to the point that they had no where else to go but up. They outscored Miami, 37-7, to open the second half, holding the Heat to five points in the third quarter, their best defensive effort of the year. 

The Celtics outscored the Heat, 60-26, in the second half to complete the largest comeback in the NBA this season, with a 98-88 win. However, with the Hawks losing to the Wizards in Washington, the Celtics finish with the No. 5 seed and start the playoffs on the road in Atlanta this weekend against the No. 4 Hawks. 

Despite blowing the 26-point lead in the second quarter, the Heat, by virtue of the four-way tie at 48-34, with their division and seal the No. 3 seed. They will face the No. 6 seed Hornets. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Red Auerbach Award,
How important is home court for Celtics? Maybe not as important as you think 04.12.16 at 8:59 pm ET
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The Celtics are ready to put on a playoff show for the likes of Patriots players Malcolm Butler (left) and Jamie Collins at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are ready to put on a playoff show for the likes of Patriots players Malcolm Butler (left) and Jamie Collins at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — This has been an odd year for the Celtics on their home court. 

They started off 9-10 on the parquet. They suffered humiliating losses to the likes of the Lakers and Brooklyn back-to-back to open the new calendar year. 

Then they went on a 14-game win streak, the longest in the 20-year history of TD Garden. They fell back to earth with a thud when they lost at home to schizophrenic Rockets, which preceded a blowout loss to Kevin Durant and the Thunder, a game they trailed by 30 at one point. The rebounded with four straight at home before losing a stinker Monday night to Charlotte, inexplicably getting outscored 39-13 in the third quarter. 

All of this leads to one simple question: Will home court, if they earn it Wednesday night against the Heat, really be a factor for the Celtics when the playoffs start this weekend?

“So I’m not going to concern myself with things I can’t control, again,” coach Brad Stevens said in a classic, pleasant-sounding misdirection of a reply. “Hey, I think no matter what, in the playoffs, you can’t be a dud on the road and expect to win a playoff series. And you can’t be good but inconsistent at home and expect to win a playoff series. You just have to play well in the games that you have.

“Again, these guys, our team, as bitter a taste as we may feel from last night, has put ourselves in a great position all year with their play. These guys have really done a lot of good things. And we’ll look forward to playing whoever we play, wherever we play, when that time comes.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
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