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How Marcus Smart has made Avery Bradley expendable at the trade deadline 02.16.17 at 10:36 am ET
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Feb 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 116-108. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) late in the game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge watched this week as the Raptors made a big push to re-claim their position atop the Eastern Conference with Cleveland when they acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Magic.

But what the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations has also watch is the emergence of one of his own players into a legit force on the team that has pushed its way past Toronto in the East and sits just two games back of Cleveland in the East.

What Marcus Smart has done in the last two weeks has been eye-opening.

In Boston’s 11-1 run to second place in the East and first in the Atlantic Division, Smart is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 assists, four rebounds and an eye-popping 2.3 steals a game. Of course, that last number got a huge bump Wednesday night with eight swipes against the Sixers in a 116-108 win at TD Garden.

A 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio is considered good, and that’s exactly what Smart is averaging in the 12-game run, with 2.7 turnovers per game. But throw in his steals and it’s nearly 3-to-1. That’s sensational. Consider that the OPS-plus of basketball.

“I’ve been really trying to elevate my game especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive,” Smart said after Wednesday’s win. “I can honestly say this is the most comfortable I have been in a Celtic uniform. It feels good, not only for myself but to be able to contribute to this team in other ways. It’s definitely something I will continue to try and keep doing.”

If there was a singular play that defines Smart’s play over the last two weeks it was his jumping on Nik Stauskas when Stauskas lost his dribble 20 feet from the basket with three minutes left and the Celtics up, 106-101. He seized the opportunity to grab the ball, which he did for his seventh steal, and fed Jae Crowder for the game-sealing lay-up.

“I saw the ball and went after the ball,” Smart said. “He just happened to be in the way of it.”

“I thought Smart was fantastic. I thought Smart has really strung a bunch of games together here. Made big shots, made timely shots, but then defensively was terrific,” Brad Stevens said. “I think the last couple of weeks have been some of his best basketball. And we needed it. We’re down a couple of bodies and he is playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.

“I think the ankle sprain at the start of the year was kind of an unfortunate kick-off to the year; it set you back a little bit. And then in the last few weeks I just think, like, he’s really found a rhythm and a groove. And it started on the defensive end with guarding at a really high level. I think he’s guarding even better than he did at the start of the year and he’s been good. We need him to, again. We’re down Jaylen (Brown) and down Avery, you’ve got to have those perimeter defenders step up for you.”

With Isaiah Thomas setting all sorts of new franchise scoring marks (now averaging 29.8 points for the season), it would be easy to overlook Smart. But Smart’s efforts in the last week have been the backbone behind Thomas’ sensational season. With Smart locking opponents down defensively, Thomas has been freed up a bit to focus mainly on making sure the Celtics keep scoring at a frenetic pace.

Ainge has a decision to make. Does he want to make a deal in the days leading up to the Feb. 23 deadline to give the Celtics a better chance at making a run at Cleveland? What pieces on his current roster could help him make such a deal? Forgetting, for a moment, the first-round picks the Celtics have in their draft bank, there likely would have to be some legitimate talent swapping places.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Isaiah Thomas makes franchise history, ties John Havlicek 02.15.17 at 11:44 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas tied two franchise scoring records on Wednesday night at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas became the second player in Celtics history to score 20-plus points in 40 consecutive games on Wednesday night at TD Garden. 

Thomas finished with a game-high 33 points in the Celtics’ 116-108 win over the 76ers. He is now tied with hall-of-fame legend John Havlicek, who completed the feat on Jan. 30, 1972.

If Thomas is able to score 20 or more points in Thursday night’s game against the Bulls, he will become first Celtics player to score 20-plus points in 41 straight games. 

Can he make history on Thursday?

“I’m confident I can but like I’ve said, I’m not chasing that,” Thomas said. “Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t. I always say it — it doesn’t seem real for my name to be mentioned with certain greats and hall of famers, you know? It doesn’t seem like it should be like that but you know it means I’m doing something [right] and I’m just glad we’re winning on top of it.”

Thomas also made Celtics history from behind the arc in Wednesday’s win when he drained his 168th 3-pointer of the season. He’s now in second place for most 3-pointers made in a single season, tying Ray Allen who finished the 2010-2011 season with 168 3’s.

Antoine Walker holds the franchise record for most 3-pointers made in a single season, he drained 222 3’s throughout the 2001-2002 season. 

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Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon recap more history from Isaiah Thomas, great play from Marcus Smart in win over Sixers at 11:03 pm ET
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More Celtics history Wednesday night from Isaiah Thomas in a win over the Sixers at TD Garden. Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have the details.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Josue Pavon, Marcus Smart
Brett Brown genuinely amazed at what Isaiah Thomas ‘is doing to the NBA’ at 9:35 pm ET
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On a night when Isaiah Thomas tied John Havlicek for the most consecutive games of at least 20 points in Celtics history, Sixers coach Brett Brown gave the Celtics point guard praise worthy of his history-making night. 

“They really can score,” Brown began when asked about the Celtics offense. “They really, really can score. The last two times we’ve played them, with 30 seconds left, it was 100-100, and it was 102-100 the other game. We’re there at the end. The good news is I feel like we’re playing good basketball right now. The bad news is they are playing as good as basketball as I’ve seen them play in a while because I feel they are firing on all cylinders with just firepower.”

CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato tried to ask an ‘apart from Isaiah Thomas’ question, probing Brown’s thoughts on the rest of the Celtics roster, like the red-hot Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. But Brown couldn’t help himself. 

“Isaiah Thomas, what he is doing to the NBA and the volume and the volume of points he scores and what he does in fourth periods and what he does in back-to-back games,” Brown said. “You look at what he’s doing to the league right now, he’s an All-Star for a reason.” 

That reason is 29.8 points per game, second only to the 30.8 of Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. The Celtics lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 29 points per game. The Celtics have been closing out close games and Thomas is the numero uno reason. Throw on top of all of that 40 straight games of at least 20 points, and you have a historic performance for a legacy franchise. 

“I know you asked, ‘Apart from Isaiah,’ but you can’t help but talk about him and the firepower they have collectively when you talk about how you try to give yourself a chance to win,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to defend them, and they’re really hard to do that.” 

Then Brown took it to the next level. 

“I mean he’s so unassuming physically. You look at him and it’s not like you’re looking at LeBron or somebody that’s tall and all cut up,” Brown said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “He’s very sort of unassuming when you look at him on a court. And then all of sudden, you start studying him. His ability to control speeds.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, John Havlicek, LeBron James
Win in Dallas shows again Celtics know how to seal the deal late 02.13.17 at 10:57 pm ET
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Feb 13, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to control the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas battles for control of the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics once again had their finishing kick in high gear Monday in Dallas. 

Perhaps the most important quality the Celtics have shown over the course of this promising season is their ability to close out teams in the fourth. They did it again Monday as they scored 28 points in the final 12 minutes in a 111-98 win over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. No team in the NBA scores more in the final 12 minutes than Boston’s 29-point average. 

Something else they’ll need come playoff time is balance. They showed that Monday, also. Isaiah Thomas led six players in double figures with 29 points. They improved to 17-11 on the road, the best such record in the East. 

The Celtics finished off their 4-game West Coast swing with three straight victories after a loss in Sacramento. They come back home with a great deal of momentum, taking on the fast-improving 76ers Wednesday night at TD Garden.

“It’s hard to win a game,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. “We got outplayed the first night. But then the last three games we played pretty well.”

“We would’ve loved to go 4-0, but we bounced back,” Marcus Smart added. “That’s what good teams do, and we’re becoming a really great team.”

For a full recap and box score of Monday’s win over the Mavericks, click here.

The Celtics won their tenth game in 11 outings to improve to 36-19 and draw to within two games of first-place Cleveland (37-16) in the East. 

“We’re playing aggressively on offense,” Thomas said. “We have a good pace on offense and on defense we’re heading in the direction we want to be.”

Thomas had 29 points, his 39th straight game with at least 20 points. The Celtics got a dose of their own medicine as 5-foot-7 rookie Yogi Ferrell scored 20 points and put a scare into the Celtics in parts of the game. 

Early in the game, 5-foot-7 Isaiah Thomas was guarding 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki hit a couple of jumpers over him.

The Celtics then switched to Marcus Smart. The man who has “Dallas” tattooed on his forearm put on a show in his hometown early. 

The two teams were red hot to start the game from the perimeter. Thomas hit his first three shots from beyond the arc while Smart also hit an early three, making the Celtics 4-for-4 from deep. But the Mavericks connected on six of their first seven shots as they kept pace.

The Celtics finished the first quarter hitting 7-of-11 from 3-point range while Dallas was 4-for-6 from deep.

The game was a continuation of the coming out party for rookie Yogi Ferrell. He is the Mavericks’ answer to Isaiah Thomas. For a good part of the first half, he played like it. He hit his first five shots and scored 11 points in just nine minutes of action.

Deron Williams was ejected when he drove to the basket with just under 40 seconds left in the first half and was called for an offensive foul, drawn by Smart. Williams picked up two quick technicals and was tossed.  

Then with just 0.6 seconds remaining, Ferrell was whistled for a questionable foul on Isaiah Thomas, who was firing up a deep three. Thomas hit all three shots and finished off an 8-0 run to put the Celtics up, 61-50, at the half. Thomas led the Celtics at the break with 18 points while Smart added 17. Gerald Green had 10. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas
Win in Portland shows Celtics’ true grit as Marcus Smart and Gerald Green spark rally 02.10.17 at 1:21 am ET
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Feb 9, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. (Jaime Valdez/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics had one of their toughest and most satisfying wins of the season Thursday in Portland. 

Trailing by 17 points with under three minutes left in the second quarter, the Celtics went on a 23-4 run to get back in the game, and then held off a rally by the Blazers late in a 120-111 win at the Moda Center in Portland. 

Gerald Green hit a three with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter to give the Celtics the lead for good. Boston improves to 34-19 while Portland falls to 23-31. 

With Avery Bradley (Achilles) and Jae Crowder (family illness) unavailable, Marcus Smart and Gerald Green stepped up while Isaiah Thomas was his standard unstoppable self, scoring a game-high 34 points. 

Smart had 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals while Gerald Green was 5-of-6 off the bench with 11 points, including a spectacular put-back dunk with 7:06 left in the game that put Boston up, 94-91.

“That’s a heck of a win, considering we didn’t have Avery and Jae out there. That was a hard-nosed, tough win. Down big but stuck with it. End of the first half was outstanding,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. 

Rookie Jaylen Brown also played a critical role in the win. He scored 14 points in the starting lineup, helping the Celtics avenge the 127-123 overtime loss to Portland on Jan. 21 at TD Garden. 

As for Smart?

“He was terrific. Marcus was good, he was really good,” Stevens said. “We were guarding at a much-better rate.”

The Celtics cut the 17-point hole down to six before half and continued their spurt to open the third quarter. Thomas was again remarkable in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of the team’s 43 points in the final 12 minutes as the Celtics outscored the Blazers, 43-35. The 43 points was a season-high for the Celtics in any quarter. 

The Trail Blazers big took early advantage of the soft middle. 

One night after coming up empty late against a Kings team without DeMarcus Cousins and watching their seven-game win streak end, the Celtics again looked a step slow against one of the best tandem guards – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum  – in the league. Lillard finished with 28 while McCollum had 20. 

McCollum made a sick hesitation dribble on Kelly Olynyk with 34 seconds left in the first quarter. He drove to the basket and drew the foul. 

Then McCollum, on the next Blazers possession, made a spectacular pass across the lane to Al-Farouq Aminu, who was fouled. He made both free throws and the Blazers led, 32-22, after 12 minutes. 

It was Aminu, who finished with 26 points, who had the great bounce pass midway through the second quarter, finding Lillard to grow the Blazers’ lead to 43-28. 

Former Celtics sixth man stud Evan Turner missed the game as he’s out 5-6 weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. 

For a full recap and box score of Thursday’s win over the Blazers, click here

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Isaiah Thomas named Eastern Conference Player of the Week 02.07.17 at 5:10 pm ET
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Feb 5, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) during the second half against the LA Clippers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

After winning January’s Player of the Month award, Isaiah Thomas wins the Player of the Week award for the second time this season  (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Isaiah Thomas followed up his incredible month of scoring by earning the Eastern Conference Player of the Week award.

After winning Eastern Conference Player of the Month honors for the month of January, Thomas led the Celtics to a 4-0 record, while averaging 37.8 points and 6.8 assists. In two of those four games, he scored 40-plus points against the Pistons (41) and Raptors (44). 

Thomas also averaged an astonishing 17.5 fourth-quarter points last week.

Since his 52-point performance on Dec. 30, the All-Star guard has been on an unbelievable tear — averaging 34.8 points and 6.6 assists in 16 games.

The Celtics (14-4) are tied with the Pacers (14-4) for the second-best record since Dec. 30. Warriors (15-3) have been the hottest team in the league throughout that span. 

The C’s (33-18) are currently in second place in the Eastern Conference and will look to stretch their winning streak to seven consecutive games on Wednesday when they kick off a four-game road trip in Sacramento against the Kings.

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