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Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck on OM&F: ‘I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today’ 04.12.17 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
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
Impressive win over Pacers proves Celtics have a shot at grabbing No. 1 seed in the east 03.22.17 at 10:10 pm ET
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Mar 22, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown (7) drives to the basket against Indiana Pacers guard Monta Ellis (11) in the second half at TD Garden. Celtics defeated the Pacers 109-100. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday’s win over the Pacers was a group effort as all nine Celtics players contributed to the 109-100 victory (David Butler II/USA Today)

Don’t look now but the Celtics are now in stride to top the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

With 10 games left in the regular season, the C’s are trailing the champs by one game and are showing no signs of slowing down. In Wednesday night’s 109-100 win over the Pacers, all nine Celtics players played a role in taking care of home court for the second straight night. 

Isaiah Thomas (25 points, 5 assists), Avery Bradley (18 points, 8 rebounds) and Al Horford (15 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists) all turned in typical stat lines but guys like Jae Crowder (15 points, game-high plus-16), Kelly Olynyk (11 points, 8 rebounds, plus-12) and Tyler Zeller (6 points, plus-8) came up big in the second half. They helped push the Celtics to a whopping 39-point third quarter that pushed Boston’s lead to 17 — their largest of the night.

Paul George (37 points) and Jeff Teague combined for 42 points to lead the Pacers but the Celtics’ intensity in the second half disallowed their opponent to regain their first-quarter lead. 

For a complete recap of Wednesday’s win, click here.

The Celtics offense tightened up in the second half, efficiently taking care of possessions and flawlessly rotating the ball for easy layups and open shots. It seemed like every player did their part in either rebounding, finding an open guy or making a defensive stop. 

The team’s second unit made their presence felt in the first half. The Pacers’ back court duo of Monta Ellis and Aaron Brooks found their outside touch but so did Marcus Smart — who drained two back-to-back 3-pointers in the second quarter — and Jaylen Brown took advantage of his size over 6-foot-3 Ellis. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Isaiah Thomas,
Silver lining of early season injuries sheds light on Brad Stevens’ approach to resting players late in season at 7:18 pm ET
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Mar 20, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) controls the ball while Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A healthy Avery Bradley has been getting back to form since his return from a sore Achilles. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If there’s one dividend from the early season injury bug that the Celtics are cashing in on now it’s rest.

Specifically, it’s the rest players like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and Jae Crowder were able to gain as the rest of the league was going through the grind. 

Every year, there’s intense debate as to what to do at the league level to discourage teams from resting their players at the end of the season as playoff-bound teams prep their star players for the postseason.

This was brought to a head on March 11 in San Antonio when, on a nationally televised game, the Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant was already sitting with his left knee injury. The Spurs rested Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge. 

What’s Stevens’ take?

“I understand the discussion and certainly we’re all sensitive to the fact that somebody is going to watch a game in TD Garden for the first time tonight,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Indiana. “That’s why I don’t know if this is fortunate or unfortunate, probably more unfortunate because you never want to have injuries, but we had a lot of injuries so we got rest because we had to get rest. 

“I do think in the last week of the season it is a little bit different. But I also understand as each team goes about it to try and best set themselves up for the postseason, the idea and opportunities to get rest. I’m hopeful, like everybody else, that the extra week in the season can appropriately handle some of those things but there are some really tough stretches in this and it is difficult. You just have to try to manage those as well as you can. 

“If some team chooses to rest their players then I understand it has to be a discussion but I understand why they do it.”

To mitigate some of the schedule grind to make it easier on players, the NBA shortened the preseason, adding a week to the schedule to spread out more games. Still, teams like the Celtics still faced a huge challenge.

“We knew going into the year, and I think this is probably what a lot of teams do, they look at the schedule,” Stevens said. “We knew December was going to be a monster and on Dec. 30 we were going to play six games in nine days and then we knew early February the West Coast trip coming back, All-Star break, Toronto, Detroit, back, West Coast trip again, you knew that was going to be really tough. You just kind of know that in advance and try to plan for it the best way you can. But again, some of our decisions were alleviated by the fact that we didn’t have guys available because of injuries. Again, I understand why teams do it but I understand the dilemma.”

Jae Crowder entered Wednesday’s game shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. He has taken 605 shots, 340 from long range. That figures to 56 percent of his overall shots from long range. 

“If they’re all open, whatever, right? And even if they’re lightly challenged, he’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Stevens said. “You look across the league at guys that do what he does, that’s pretty typical. I think that’s something that’s a great testament to him, that he can continue to be as consistent as he’s being, shooting that percentage and shooting as high of a percentage with that volume.” 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Indiana Pacers, Isaiah Thomas
Brad Stevens says Isaiah Thomas is ‘good to go’ for return against Wizards 03.20.17 at 6:34 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas dribbles as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas dribbles as Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) looks on. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

After missing the last two games with a bruised right knee, Isaiah Thomas has been cleared to return against the Wizards. 

The Celtics All-Star point guard injured the knee in last Wednesday’s win over the Timberwolves and missed Friday’s win in Brooklyn and Sunday’s loss in Philadelphia. 

“Yep,” was Brad Stevens one-word answer in the affirmative when asked if the guard would be back in the lineup against a Washington team that is 1.5 games behind the Celtics in the race for the No. 2 spot in the East. 

Stevens said Thomas received plenty of treatment for the bruised knee over the weekend, making the most of time away playing. 

“Feeling a lot better,” Stevens said. “I think all the treatment over the weekend, which he had a ton of, was all positive. He’s good to go.”

Thomas sounded a bit more cautious, admitting that he wasn’t at full strength yet, “but I’m good enough.” 

Then he added, “I can’t sit this one out. I know what’s at stake. I know it’s a big game for us.” 

Stevens added that he doesn’t anticipate a minutes restriction for Thomas, who leads the team in playing time at 34.1 minutes a game. 

“I don’t think so,” Stevens said. “I haven’t heard that from the training staff. Usually, the minutes restriction is as much to do [with] extended periods of time as anything else.”

Stevens was asked if he could tell Thomas was ready based on the team’s walkthrough Monday.

“Well, our walkthrough happened at about 4:45 [p.m.] and it was a WALK through so I think he looked great,” Stevens said. “But I have no idea how that translates to playing in a stance or running up and down the floor but I’ve been told he’s fine.”

On the importance of holding off Washington for the second seed in the East. 

“I think it’s about playing good basketball,” Stevens said. “That stuff sorts itself out. Obviously, you want to be as good of a seed as you can. There’s no question about that. Again, I’d like to have some healthy games here to play good basketball and see if we can’t figure ourselves out as we head into the next month, plus.” 

Monday’s game is the opener of a season-long six-game home stand. Entering Monday, the Wizards and Pacers (Wednesday) were the only team with a winning record of the six teams. Much has been made of the newly-created rivalry in the media between the Celtics and Wizards, featuring Isaiah Thomas and John Wall. A battle for playoff position only fuels it. 

“My focus is on playing good basketball,” Stevens said. “When I think of rivalries, I think of years upon years upon years in the making. Certainly, we have a great deal of respect for how good these guys are. And that’s that. But we’ve got to focus on trying to do our best to play as well as we can against them, which means a lot of the focus has to be on what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’re going to be doing the same on their end. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas
Isaiah Thomas admits he must keep emotions in check following outburst aimed at Brad Stevens 03.08.17 at 3:47 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring this season. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring this season. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Everything seems to be cool between Isaiah Thomas and Brad Stevens –– for now.

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Thomas said he didn’t mean to disparage Stevens following the Celtics’ loss to the Clippers Monday. The All-Star point guard also admitted he must do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. 

“I didn’t mean to throw anybody under the bus. That’s not me,” Thomas said, via ESPN’s Chris Forsberg. “I just said how I felt at that time. My job is just to move on and do my job and don’t make it a distraction, because it’s not.” 

The Celtics were in control of the Clippers throughout the first half Monday, but unraveled after halftime. At one point, Los Angeles went on a 41-14 run, which carried into the fourth quarter. With Al Horford (elbow strain) and Jonas Jerebko (flu) out of the lineup, the Celtics were forced to go with a smaller rotation. At the end of the third period, their lineup featured James Young at one of the forward spots and Jordan Mickey at center. Thomas expressed frustration at the configuration, saying it’s too late in the season to be experimenting

While Thomas didn’t back off his words Wednesday, he said he regrets creating a stir. 

“I gotta do a better job of calming down after tough games, tough loses,” he said. “I’m always going to be me. And that’s the only way I know how. Like I said to Brad, I’m not here to throw anybody under the bus, because I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me. That’s just how I felt at that time. Yes, I have to do a better job of it and I know that. I’m here to be Isaiah Thomas and lead and win games. And I know if we win that wouldn’t have even been a problem.” 

Stevens, for his part, appeared to take Thomas’ outburst in stride. 

“At the end of the day, I didn’t put much thought into it until it became a deal that everybody was talking about,” he said. “And at that point in time, I heard from Isaiah pretty quickly. So again, I don’t put a lot of stock. I understand the emotions and how high they run at the end of games, win or lose.”

After two consecutive loses, including a brutal last-second defeat to the Suns after Thomas missed a free throw and fumbled an inbound pass in the game’s final moments, the Celtics will look to get back on track against the Warriors Wednesday. That, of course, is easier said than done. Golden State is sitting atop the Western Conference with a 52-11 record. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas,
Isaiah Thomas appears upset with Celtics coaching staff following stunning loss to Clippers 03.07.17 at 7:58 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas was upset following the Celtics' loss Monday night. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas was upset following the Celtics’ loss Monday night. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics led by 13 points late in the third quarter Monday night against the Clippers and appeared well on their way to avenging their last-second loss to the Suns the day before.

But, the Clippers then went on a 43-14 run and the Celtics ended up by losing the game, 116-102.

It was their second straight loss.

Click here for a full box score.

After the game, Isaiah Thomas appeared very upset and frustrated.

“We should have won this game,” Thomas told reporters. “We should have won [Sunday] night [in Phoenix]. We can’t be experimenting in Game 63.”

Thomas is likely referring to the lineup the Celtics rolled out late in the third quarter of  Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, James Young and Jordan Mickey. These players hadn’t played together much, if at all this season.

“It’s just the way we lost tonight was unacceptable,” Thomas said. “We lost the game in the last 15 minutes of the game. We played a really good game up until the last 15 minutes. And that’s the players’ fault, the coaches’ fault, that’s everybody in this locker room’s fault. We could have done a lot better.”

Tuesday is an off day with the team then taking on the Warriors Wednesday night.

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