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Mike Petraglia recaps Isaiah Thomas’ return (26 points), Al Horford’s presence (5 blocks) in win over Hornets 12.16.16 at 10:51 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas made his return after a four-game absence due to a groin injury Friday night. And the Celtics needed his 26 points and Al Horford’s 18 points and five blocks to help beat the Charlotte Hornets to end a three-game losing streak. Mike Petraglia has your recap inside TD Garden.

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: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, Isaiah Thomas
Celtics pregame notes: Isaiah Thomas (groin) returns with no minutes restrictions at 6:45 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has been cleared for liftoff.

The Celtics point guard who has missed the last four games, including all three of Boston’s losses in their current skid, returns Friday from a groin injury suffered in a loss to Houston on Dec. 5. At the time of the injury, Thomas was leading the Celtics in scoring at 26.0 points per game in 21 games. 

The Celtics did win their first game without Thomas on Dec. 7, when they blew out the Magic by 30. But they’ve lost the last three to the Raptors, Thunder and Spurs. Marcus Smart has started at point guard in all four games. He returns to the bench for Friday’s game against Charlotte. 

Brad Stevens was asked before Friday’s game if Thomas was good to go.

“From everything I know, yep,” Stevens said.  “He went through everything and felt pretty good.”

The Celtics did not practice Thursday after returning late from San Antonio Thursday morning. 

Stevens also added that Thomas will not be under any minutes restrictions. 

“They told me nothing more today and nothing about minutes restrictions,” Stevens said. 

Thomas’ teammates were certainly happy to have him back. 

“It’s a big-time boost,” Avery Bradley said. “We’ve been missing him. His scoring, his leadership. I could go down the list.” 

The Celtics take on a Charlotte team that is led by Kemba Walker. But the star point guard out of UConn is not playing due to a personal issue. Walker has dramatically improved his long-range shooting this year, converting 41.2 percent of his 3-point attempts, up four percentage points from last season and seven points above his career average over his six seasons.

“First of all, whether he plays or not, he’s obviously had a great year and he’s a great individual player,” Stevens said. “This team is a tough team. They are really well-coached. They’re really disciplined. They don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the ball over. And I think he does a terrific job, Steve Clifford. Regardless if Kemba’s playing or not, we have our hands full.”

Stevens has a special appreciation for the Hornets guard since it was Walker who drove a dagger into Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs in the 2011 national championship with 16 points in a 53-41 Connecticut win. 

“Kemba and his progression [shooting threes] is not a surprise at all,” Stevens said. “It’s hard for me to talk about it because he beat us in the national championship game. That kid’s a warrior. That kid’s a competitor and always has been. You know that he loves the game. I watched him play as a high schooler in an AAU game and play with a great love for the game and spirit. And that’s translated at every level.” 

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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Mike Petraglia, Ben Kichen talk concern for Isaiah Thomas’ groin, Celtics’ late-game issues 12.14.16 at 9:15 am ET
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WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Ben Kichen of the “Dale and Holley Show” discuss the latest news on the injury that has kept Isaiah Thomas off the court and how valuable it is for Marcus Smart to stay in control.

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: Ben Kichen, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Full Court Press: Isaiah Thomas hears all the ridiculous naysayers, recalls advice from Kobe Bryant 12.10.16 at 7:03 am ET
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Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 9.40.08 PM

Isaiah Thomas is trying to look on the bright side of things during his groin injury. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Most of the time, professional athletes block out the noise and nonsense. 

But ever so occasionally, sometimes the noise bleeds through. 

So when there was the theory put out early in Wednesday’s game against Orlando that the Celtics are somehow a better passing team without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup, the injured point guard fired back. And he drew on the advice he got once from Kobe Bryant. 

“They gotta write something. They say the stupidest things so they get the headlines and everybody can talk about it,” Thomas said Friday night before the Celtics hosted the Toronto Raptors. “I can’t control that. At this point, I laugh about it now. Because it’s like, if you really think that, OK, that’s fine. I know what I mean to my teammates, I know what I mean to this organization and to Brad Stevens.”

The Celtics started out with 11 assists on 13 baskets. They finished the game, a 30-point blowout win, with 29 assists on 43 baskets in Boston’s first game without Thomas. 

“The ball moved a little better without me. I guess so,” Thomas said before Friday’s game with an appropriate amount of cynicism. “‘They’re a better team without me. The ball moves better without me.’ I see it all.”

After getting his points across with a due amount of sarcasm, Thomas began to speak more from the heart. 

“That’s not true. So the chip on my shoulder that is what it is, I’m always going to have that and use that for motivation,” Thomas said. “But the numbers don’t lie. It is what it is. But people that say that they don’t even believe it. They go home at night, they’re not believing that. They’re just saying it to get a reaction. I’m trying my best not to react.”

Thomas is not only averaging 26 points, he handing out a team-leading 6.1 assists per game. 

“If it was anybody else we wouldn’t be talking about that,” Thomas continued. “I’m 5-9, that’s the only reason why they say that. I’m fine with that. I know what I bring to the table. My teammates know what I bring. As long as they are happy. I’m fine. I’m not going to react. I try not to. I try to think of what Kobe said: Be a lion. Just lock in and don’t worry about what others say.”

Sully’s return: Jared Sullinger is still waiting to make his return to the NBA after back surgery last spring. The Raptors signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal at the start of free agency in July. Sullinger was made available when the Celtics decided not to tender him in restricted free agency. But because of his offseason surgery, he hasn’t been able to get on the floor. But his coach has high hopes for him once he starts playing. 

“He gives us the same thing Al Horford gives the Celtics – a guy who can space the floor, a post-up threat, a passer, a player with a lot of intellect to play that position, experience,” Dwane Casey said. “He started 79 games for them last year, so he gives us that experience.”

When exactly that return happens is still up in the air.

“Not sure. There’s no definite timetable on it yet,” Casey said. “Someone said four to five weeks, and I don’t want to put a hard deadline on that. But it’s going to be up to him, his pain threshold, he’s been working his ass off, he’s been in the pool, he can barely put weight on it, but he’s trying to get back. He’s doing an excellent job with his conditioning, his weight is down. We’re not concerned as all.”

Sullinger has been traveling with the Raptors, including Friday night in Boston, where he got a chance to catch up with some former teammates. Was he disappointed not to play Friday night against the Celtics?

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Friday pregame notes: Isaiah Thomas says ‘I want to play but they keep telling me no’ 12.09.16 at 6:42 pm ET
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In the wake of his epic 61-39 win in NBA2K17 over a group of four lucky kids Friday night, Isaiah Thomas appeared to be in a good mood. 

Then the conversation turned to his sore groin. 

“I’m not that good because I can’t play,” Thomas said. “It’s getting better. It hasn’t gotten worse and I’m just work as hard as I can to get back on the court.”

Thomas said he wasn’t sure about his status for the upcoming two-game swing through Oklahoma City (Sunday) and San Antonio (Wednesday). 

“I want to play but they keep telling me no,” Thomas said later in the locker room. “They keep wanting to be very patient with this because they don’t want to re-injure it. It’s an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season.

“So I don’t want that. And on top of that it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”

Brad Stevens said before the game that Thomas’ injury, one suffered Monday night in Houston, was one that the team expects to sideline Thomas 7-10 days. Thomas is trying to be more optimistic.

“I’m going to take it day-by-day. Hopefully, I can play in the next few games and we’ll see what happens,” Thomas said. “Today, I feel a lot better than I have since I gotten the injury so we’ll see maybe in next couple of days. I’m shooting for Wednesday.”

“When I talked to Ed [Lacerte] [Friday] morning, over the last probably 24 to 48 hours, they’ve said it’s usually about 10 days to two weeks for an injury like this,” coach Brad Stevens said. “But again we’ve talked about Isaiah being pretty ambitious in his return. And he’s been getting treatment around the clock, so we’ll see. He’ll be officially listed as day to day.”

Stevens added that he’s not worried about Thomas pressuring team staff into playing him.   

“No, our medical staff is great,” Stevens added. “He trusts them. But obviously we have to make sure that – but also nobody knows his body better than him. But yeah, they feel like he’s not looking long term. It’s not going to be a long-term thing, for sure. We have to make sure we don’t bring him back tonight or too soon so that it doesn’t become one.”

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Danny Ainge says Isaiah Thomas ‘probably’ out Friday vs. Toronto after PRP injection for groin 12.08.16 at 10:00 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas dives on the floor for a loose ball during Wednesday's win over the Nets. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has again been playing all-out this season for the Celtics. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are being very cautious with the sore groin of Isaiah Thomas. 

The star point guard will likely miss his second straight game with the injury suffered Monday night in Houston after receiving a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection on Wednesday. The 13-9 Celtics take on Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Friday night at TD Garden and stand just 1.5 games back of them for the No. 2 seed in the East. 

“It’s just day to day. He is a warrior. He loves to play,” Ainge said of Thomas on the team’s flagship station Thursday morning. “He’ll be back faster than most players would be back after an injury. But at the same time we really have to be careful with Isaiah for the long haul and make sure that he doesn’t come back and re-injure it. So I’m not sure about the answer.

“I don’t know if he’ll play Friday. Probably not. We’ll just try to get him as much rest as we can and get him back on the court when he’s ready.”

Head coach Brad Stevens told reporters before Wednesday’s game that the team will be cautious with its All-Star point guard due to the nature of the injury. 

The Celtics didn’t need Thomas Wednesday night as they blew out Orlando, 117-87, outscoring the Magic, 68-37, in the second half. 

Thomas is again leading the Celtics in scoring this year, averaging 26 points and 6.2 assists in 21 games. Wednesday’s game was the first Thomas missed this season. 

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, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas,
Isaiah Thomas sent back to Boston to begin treatment on pulled groin 12.07.16 at 2:59 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

The injury bug continues to bite Celtics starters.

Starting point guard and offensive catalyst Isaiah Thomas was ruled out for Wednesday night’s tilt against the Magic in Orlando with a pulled groin, with the team taking it a step further and sent the 27-year-old back to Boston Tuesday night to get begin treatment on the injury.

According to coach Brad Stevens, Thomas was “very sore” on Tuesday. He sat out practice on Tuesday, but did get up and do a little shooting afterward.

Stevens told reporters after Wednesday morning’s shootaround, “Like Isaiah is, he had convinced himself he wanted to play, and he really wants to play. Obviously, it’s an injury you’re wary of because it can hamper you … if it continues to exist.”

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday’s one-point loss to the Rockets. 

The point guard has been an essential part of the Celtics’ offense, averaging 26 points per game — good for second in the east behind the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan. The additional benefit of Thomas that is now lost is his late-game ability. For a team that tends to struggle in the fourth quarter like the Celtics have periodically this season, Thomas has bailed the Celtics out multiple times with their backs against the wall.

There is no definite timetable as to when Thomas will be back, but given his status from Wednesday and the Celtics set to return home anyways for Friday’s game against the Raptors, it made sense to give him a head start in treatment.

“You put him on the plane so you can get him back to get treatment around the clock in our training room, see our doctors, and everything else,” Stevens said.

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