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Isaiah Thomas shows improved playmaking skills 10.27.16 at 12:08 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

In his sixth NBA season, Isaiah Thomas is blossoming into an efficient playmaker — a facet of his game that will strengthen the Celtics  offense in the long run and help him finish strong in the fourth quarter.

Thomas made back-door passes to his bigs and bounce passes in transition and found his teammates open from the perimeter with ease during Wednesday night’s 122-117 win over the Nets. When he penetrated the paint and drew double teams, Al Horford — Thomas’ new favorite pick-and-roll partner — was a great target for Thomas in the post. 

In what turned out to be an ugly win for the Celtics, Thomas’ passing set the tone throughout the first half and helped the C’s finish with 38 assists on 48 baskets. Instead of being the focal point of his team’s offense — a role Thomas has become accustomed to in Boston — Thomas was the distributor and waited until the third quarter to strike. He scored 12 of his 25 points in the third. His offensive outburst helped extend the Cetlics’ lead to a 16-point advantage (97-81) before the final frame.

However, after the Celtics reserves squandered the lead in the fourth quarter, Thomas reverted to being the set-up guy when he needed to be the leading scorer that he is. He committed one of the ugliest turnovers of the night — a no-look pass that landed in an opponent’s hands and led to a Bojan Bogdanovic 3-pointer that pulled the Nets to within three (120-117).

Although the C’s were able to fend off the Nets in the final minute, Thomas understands that blowing double-digit leads in the fourth quarter is unacceptable, and he isn’t making excuses for the Celtics’ sloppy play.

“We want to be great, we want to be one of the top teams in the NBA, that can’t happen,” Thomas said. “There’s no excuse for it. If we want to be a top team like ‘they’ say we’re going to be, we have to do a better job of closing games out.”

If the Celtics are going to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, Thomas cannot shy away from scoring in the fourth quarter. Setting up teammates like Avery Bradley (17 points) and Jae Crowder (21 points) certainly will pay dividends this season, but it’s important for Thomas to go into attack mode in the second half — much like he did in the third quarter.

Thomas finished with 25 points and nine assists in Wednesday’s win. Despite the late-game frustration, Thomas said it’s still a great feeling to get a win and to be back at TD Garden. 

“It feels great,” Thomas said. “We didn’t end it like we wanted to, but we definitely got the win and it feels good, to play in front of your fans and really get going and playing for something that counts.”

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas (25 points), Jae Crowder (21) open strong as C’s hold on for dear life in season opener 10.26.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball against Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin (7) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas drives the ball against Nets guard Jeremy Lin in the first quarter at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

And we’re off.

Facing a team predicted to be one of the worst in the league, the Celtics held off a late surge from the Nets in a 122-117 victory at TD Garden. 

Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley all found the form off the tip that has made them indispensable in their tenures with the team. Crowder was a knockdown shooter from the field, garnering 21 points with four boards, a pair of assists and steals and a block.

Already having a solid game through one half, Thomas was untouchable in the third, cruising to a 25-point performance while one assist shy of a double-double. Compared to Crowder and Thomas, Bradley’s first non-preseason game since leaving the postseason with an injury in April paled in comparison, as he put up 17 points with five assists and nine boards.

Al Horford had 11 points , five rebounds, six assists and four blocks in his Celtics debut. 

“The first 40 minutes I thought we really played with great presence and purpose. And the last few we didn’t. It’s a reminder of how quickly this thing can turn in this league,” coach Brad Stevens said.

It wasn’t smooth sailing throughout the game, however. Despite going up by double digits in the second quarter, the C’s allowed the Nets to get within five late in the period. This after a streaky first quarter that saw an eight-point lead to get whittled down to one. The Celtics then proceeded to allow the Nets to make a late 18-2 run to close to within three in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before the Celtics starters returned and closed it out.

“It was 110-87 and we started shooting bad shots and not guarding and throwing it to the other team. That’s how quickly it can change, we all know that. I was hopeful not to have to put [the starters] back in, but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have,” Stevens said.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder,
Classy move by Celtics for always-classy Craig Sager 10.25.16 at 8:08 pm ET
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WALTHAM — The battle of Craig Sager has been one that has touched nearly everyone in the NBA.

The most colorful broadcaster in sports is again battling acute myeloid leukemia.

After practice and before speaking with reporters, coaches and players put on multi-colored spotted shirts, symbolic of the bright and colorful suits only Sager could wear. The team then took a picture and shouted the words “Sager Strong!” to a camera for the purpose of sending get-well wishes to the man who has become an institution on NBA sidelines over his long and successful career.

The shirts are for sale for $29.99 at the SagerStrong Foundation website, with proceeds going to benefit the foundation’s mission of cancer research and education. 

For Sager, who announced in March that his cancer had come out of remission, the prognosis is not great, and that was evident again on the face of Isaiah Thomas Tuesday after Celtics practice.

“These [shirts] are Craig Sager. A guy that means a lot to this game of basketball,” Thomas said with a heavy heart. “A guy who means a lot to the NBA, the NBA family. And we just wish him well, and we’re praying for him and his family daily. The shirts are nice. They look like something he would wear. I wouldn’t wear them but I know he would.”

Sager’s son, Craig Jr. helped save Sager’s life as he was a match for the bone marrow transplant needed to push Sager into remission in 2014. But in March, doctors had told him that he had 3–6 months to live without treatment. On July 29, Sager underwent bone marrow surgery.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Craig Sager, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
Isaiah Thomas on season: ‘If we put it all together, we could be special’ at 3:40 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Isaiah Thomas is well aware of the lofty expectations of most Celtics fans this season. 

The All-Star guard from a year ago has his own goals heading into the 2016-17 season opener Wednesday against the Nets. 

“To be another All-Star. All-NBA. Win a playoff series and go from there. That wasn’t in order, but those are definitely goals of mine. And first off, I definitely want to win a playoff series. So that’s the most important. But individual things, I have a lot of goals I want to achieve.” Thomas said after Tuesday’s final practice before the opener. 

The Celtics are coming off a 48-34 season in Brad Stevens’ third year with the team. What is the next step? What is the potential of this Celtics’ unit?

“If we can put it all together, we could be special,” Thomas said, before hedging. “I’m not going to say we’re going to go to the NBA Finals or do none of that, but like I said before teams know we can be really good. We just have to put it together and find our identity, which is on the defensive end. And if we do that everything else will take care of itself.” 

Thomas was asked if he’s going to be paying any attention to the season of his opponent Wednesday night, the Brooklyn Nets. If the Nets finish with the worst record in the league, the Celtics will have a very good chance of the top overall pick. 

“I worry about scoring the ball, getting my teammates involved and winning games,” Thomas said. “I don’t know nothing about those first-round picks. And I wasn’t a first-round pick so I don’t care about first-rounders.”

What Thomas has seen so far in practice and the preseason gives him plenty of reason to be optimistic. 

“We played pretty well. I think overall as a group we’re ahead of the curve. We showed glimpses of how good we can be, and then we also showed glimpses of we’re not that great at the same time. But that happens in preseason. So hopefully we got all the kinks out and we can be perfect [Wednesday].”

Thomas sounded anxious to get past the preseason and the practices and start playing games that count.

“They’ve been important,” he said of preseason games. “Paying attention to detail more. Just trying to lock in on the things we do well and get better at the things we don’t do as well, and worry about us. Now it finally means something to play. So, we’re ready. I’ve been ready. I’ve been ready for the preseason to be over and things to start counting.”

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Isaiah Thomas puts up 19 points in 15 minutes as Celtics run through Nets 10.17.16 at 9:51 pm ET
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(Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

(Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The time remaining for the Celtics to tune up for the season is running thin — but they’re already looking to be in midseason form. Playing the same Nets team they will see in nine days on opening night, the Celtics ran through Brooklyn 120-99.

It only took 15 points for Isaiah Thomas to drop 19 points on the flimsy Nets defense. The point guard cruised into the paint — oftentimes untouched — en route to a perfect 6-for-6 from the field including a 3-pointer, as he played exclusively in the first half. 

“The lane was just open, I guess. Teammates just put me in position to try and be a little more aggressive for myself. I haven’t been that way this preseason yet. But teammates got me the ball in the right spots and I just did what I do, I guess,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ pace throughout his time on the floor was contagious and apparent from the onset, as halfway through the first period the Celtics surged to a 14-to-2 run that put them up by 13 points.

“We’ve been playing a lot better, things are slowing down for us,” Thomas said. “For the most part we’re getting there, we’re ready for the regular season to start so things can count, but we’re still working.”

The Celtics were playing with a regular season tempo that left the Nets visibly overwhelmed and outmatched. Though passing wasn’t as precise as it could have been at times, overall the Celtics transition game was quick and largely effective.

The bench didn’t make upcoming roster decisions for Brad Stevens much easier, as each player coming on demonstrated quite a bit of value in one form or another. The shooting stroke that James Young has struggled to consistently find was present on multiple occasions. R.J. Hunter continued to shoot the ball well from the perimeter. Demetrius Jackson grabbed the hustle play of the preseason, grabbing a steal and finishing it with a layup off an inbound pass following a Celtics basket, forcing the Nets to take a timeout from sheer frustration. 

“I thought they all had really good moments,” Stevens said. “I thought they all played well at times, and certainly we gave up some baskets in transition, we did some things we’d like to do better throughout the course of the night, not throwing the ball to the other team as a team. But that’s across the board, that’s not just young, that’s young and old.

“But everybody showed as they have the whole time that they continue to improve, which is a good thing.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jaylen Brown,
For (preseason) openers, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder shine, Jaylen Brown wows in loss to Sixers 10.04.16 at 9:24 pm ET
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AMHERST —  The growth spurt officially is underway. 

With expectations sky high entering the preseason, the Celtics didn’t disappoint Tuesday night, showing off a new-look roster that is loaded with offensive options and tenacious defense. 

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each scored 11 points in the first half while Al Horford made his debut, scoring eight points in a 92-89 loss to the injury-plagued Sixers in front of a sparse 4,532 fans at the Mullins Center. The game was officially a home preseason game for Philadelphia, as their parent company, Comcast/Spectacor manages the building. But nearly every fan was cheering for the Celtics. 

Jaylen Brown fired up the crowd with several athletic moves, including a one-handed jam late in the fourth to bring the Celtics close. The first-rounder out of Cal finished with eight points. Isaiah Thomas also had 11 points in his 19 minutes. 

Terry Rozier led the Celtics with 12 points. 

The Celtics showed their intensity on defense to the very last possession. Marcus Smart forced a Philadelphia turnover with 12 seconds left on the sideline, giving Boston a chance to tie. Smart missed a fadeaway three from the left wing with six seconds remaining and the loose ball went out of bounds to Philadelphia. Then after a Smart foul, the Sixers tried to inbound but turned the ball over, giving Boston one final chance with 3.6 seconds left. Jordan Mickey missed a three with one second left to end the game. 

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter, a loud “Let’s Go Celtics” chant broke out. 

And early on, the fans had plenty to cheer about.

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder
Practice report: Gerald Green points to return next week after nursing hip, intensity picks up 09.30.16 at 12:10 am ET
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WALTHAM  –  Gerald Green knows he’s no longer the 18-year-old the Celtics drafted 18th overall in the 2005 draft. 

Now, the 30-year-old 6-foot-7 shooting forward comes to camp working harder to stay in shape and get ready for the season. In this process, Green suffered a minor setback. 

While working out in two-a-days this week, Green strained his hip in practice.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said Thursday. “I’m not 25 no more, so just trying to come out there and go full speed, just one of those things I’ve got to learn now since I’m 30.”

The hip didn’t keep him from firing up jumpers at the end of practice and working up a sweat. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to watch,” Green added. “I kind of like to work a little bit. I’m not pushing myself too hard, just enough to where I can get a nice little sweat.”

Coach Brad Stevens didn’t seem overly concerned about it after Thursday’s sessions. 

“Gerald is still the only person that didn’t participate in any of the practice drills, but obviously he’s out here shooting and should be good to go by the start of next week,” Stevens said.

How exactly did it happen?

“I can’t really recall. I just did some research on it. A lot of times you strain a hip flexor it’s from not warming up properly,” Green added. “I think now since I’m 30 I’m at the age where I have to start stretching a lot more. It’s feeling better, having a second day off of practice and today, just doing a lot of treatment right after practice and coming back this evening and doing treatment, so kind of just almost like precautionary thing, making sure it doesn’t get worse.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas
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