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Friday pregame notes: Celtics preparing for the boogie monster that is DeMarcus Cousins 12.02.16 at 7:14 pm ET
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Nov 28, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) shoots over Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) during the second half at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Cousins is the most dominant offensive big man in basketball. (Brad Mills/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics will get an up close-and-personal look at the player many believe is the biggest hope for them to transform their roster into an instant contender. 

DeMarcus Cousins entered Friday’s game fifth in the NBA in points (28.7) and rebounds (10.4) points while dishing out 3.2 assists per game. Before making just one of six from 3-point range against the Wizards last Monday, Cousins was on fire from deep, hitting 15-of-25 in his previous four games. He’s doing every any NBA team would want from a big man. In fact, he is arguably the most versatile big man in basketball. 

“He’s playing in space and attacking the basket and I think his 3-point percentage is pretty high in the last four games also so it becomes a kind of pick your poison deal when he’s out on the perimeter,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. 

“He’s a tough guy to guard,” added Brad Stevens. “A good example is, in a simple pick-and-roll what do you do? Usually with guys who shoot 40 percent (from three) you switch or mix in switches. With his size it becomes a lot more difficult because he can bury you in the post. He’s a great low post scorer and a good offensive rebounder, especially against guys who are smaller. He’s a handful.”

Cousins is under contract for this season and next, averaging $17.5 million per season. Cousins is averaging 20.5 points and 10.8 rebounds in his eight-year career. That puts him in hall of fame company over the last 20 years. Only Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson have averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds for their career. 

After giving up 121 points on Wednesday to Detroit, Brad Stevens was asked before Friday’s game how comfortable he is with his team’s overall defense. 

“In the last three weeks we’ve actually been a little bit better,” Stevens said. “We were better on Wednesday than the score indicated, after I watched it. There were a few missed contests, a couple of moments in transition that were poor. But I thought it was pretty good. Detroit made great plays. Looking at it objectively with the sound off it was pretty obvious they played a hell of a game and we didn’t play quite as well. We’re focused on the things we can control. We have to shore up the rebounding. Then there’s little correctible things.”

Don’t blame the Kings if they were looking at the parquet a little suspiciously before Friday’s game. The last time they tried to play the court in Philadelphia was too wet from condensation to hold a game and the game with the Sixers had to be postponed. As a matter of fact, the Kings haven’t played since Monday when they lost in overtime at Washington, 101-95.

“We hadn’t played in two days so tried to scrimmage a little bit and keep our timing as much as possible,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. 

Joerger also praised the play of Celtics star Isaiah Thomas, who entered play Friday averaging 26.1 points, ninth in the league.

“He’s a good player. I’m very impressed with what he’s become as a player,” Joerger said. “He plays in a lot of space because their bigs kind of invert the floor being able to step out and shoot. So they have an open court. They don’t post up a lot. They play their post-up game and scoring in the paint off of drives and playing in space.”

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Fast Break: Celtics threaten but come up short against Pistons 11.30.16 at 9:53 pm ET
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Nov 30, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas (4) takes a shot while guarded by Detroit Pistons forward Tobias Harris (34) during the second quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas takes it to the basket Wednesday night against Detroit. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics pushed and pushed, but couldn’t break through enough to take control, falling to the Pistons at home Wednesday night 121-114.

Defense was lacking throughout the game on both sides, but the Celtics’ defensive woes stood out through the entirety of the game, letting all five of the Pistons’ starters into double figures before the start of the fourth quarter.

“In a game like [Wednesday’s] you’ve got to be even more in their airspace and you’ve got to capitalize even more on the offensive end, otherwise you’re probably in trouble,” said coach Brad Stevens.

Per usual, Isaiah Thomas drove the bus for the Celtics offense, dropping 27 points to go with his four assists. Kelly Olynyk had a solid night of his own, going 3-for-4 from deep and 7-for-9 from the field for 19 points.

Regardless of any Celtics offensive effort, they were lost defensively, getting worked over by whichever member of the Pistons stepped up at a given moment. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the charge with 25 points while Tobias Harris put away 21 points. The Pistons shot 55-percent from the field as a team.

All the while, Andre Drummond was a force in the paint, topping off his 20 point performance off with 17 rebounds — eight of which coming on the offensive end.

“They’re a hard team to match up with,” said Stevens. “But again, if you’re playing a team that feels good about themselves, which they do, and is physical, you’ve got to really get in their airspace. And we just didn’t quite do it enough of the time, but I don’t want to take away from their play, their level of play was high tonight”

As has been the story all season, the Celtics could not find a way to grab a rebound, getting outrebounded 51-33. In the early stages of the game, it looked as if rebounding issues would potentially be circumvented, with Amir Johnson grabbing four boards in the first two minutes. But as time went on the Celtics continued to struggle on the glass.

“I think they just wanted it more,” said Avery Bradley. “They played hard the entire game.”

The Celtics never truly went away throughout the game, but never found enough answers on the defensive end to make a series of stops to let them push ahead. They went ahead by one with 7:26 left in the game, but never had the fortitude to push away.

For a complete box score, click here.

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Full Court Press: Sounding the alarm, Isaiah Thomas calls out coaches, IT can’t keep bailing C’s out 11.19.16 at 9:57 am ET
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Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to get between Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been Isaiah Thomas or nothing this season for the Celtics. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The imagery was too rich. Moments after Friday’s 104-88 wipeout at the hands of the Warriors, fire alarms were going off all around TD Garden. Fire trucks had trouble getting down the side streets leading up to the Garden to turn off the annoying sounds that delayed Brad Stevens’ postgame explanation of the mess. 

Turns out, a grill on the fourth floor malfunctioned and overheated, setting off the 20-minute disruption. 

If only fixing the Celtics were that easy. But we’ll try. 

1. Shorten the bench. From early on in camp, the thought was that having a deep bench could strengthen rotations for Brad Stevens. It hasn’t worked that way. The bench is not producing enough and is getting constantly outdone by the opposing group of reserves. On Friday, three players on the bench had at least 23 minutes. Part of that was because of garbage time in the fourth and part of it was traveling to Detroit after the game for a back-to-back Saturday. A good three or four man rotation off the bench is the sweet spot for most NBA teams and the return of Jae Crowder and Al Horford should help that. 

2. Pray for health. The Celtics have been admittedly hard hit by injuries early in the season. Crowder (left ankle) and Horford (concussion) have missed most of the season while Marcus Smart dinged his left ankle Friday night. Crowder and Horford should return on the trip while the prognosis for Smart does not seem dire. When you’re missing two-thirds of your starting front court, there is going to be a problem.  The Celtics have been using this as a bit of crutch but it’s been a legitimate issue that has stunted their ability to improve early on. 

3. Bench Kelly Olynyk. He spaces the floor but at some point, when you’re 0-for-5 as a finesse big man and have grab three rebounds in 17 minutes, the message needs to be sent. The Celtics can’t afford his finesse game right now. They need bigs who will get dirty. Olynyk is heading back to the bench and he should probably stay there until the 7-footer shows the ability and determination to help on the inside. Stevens certainly sounds like he’s going to try and support Olynyk on board for as long as he needs him. “Kelly, I thought, has always done a lot of good things for us. There’s some tough match-ups out there [Friday] and I think that he’s had better games; he’d be the first to tell you. But he’s been a good player for us.”

4. Press more and create transition. This is a team with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Smart. When they’re on the court, they should limit their half-court exposure and use their quickness to their advantage. With Crowder and Horford out, Stevens tried going with Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller to match up big for big. That didn’t work. They went to Smart to guard much bigger bigs. Not a bad idea considering he’s the healthiest low-post defender. In half-court, trapping more couldn’t hurt. They desperately need to create turnovers and transition offense for easy baskets, a category they dominated last spring when they made a run to 48 wins. 

5. Get to the basket. The Celtics are taking 30 threes a game, making 10 of them. The instant gratification from that is great. Here’s the problem: They’re not drawing fouls on the opposition and, outside of Isaiah Thomas (9/9 Friday) they’re not getting to the free throw line. Thomas is fifth in the league getting to the line, averaging 10 free throws a game, making 9. The inside game of the Celtics is lacking and that takes some dirty work. Do the dirty work, get to the line and rebound. All of that happens when there’s more of an inside commitment. 

Attitude problem:

Isaiah Thomas finally had enough after Friday’s 104-88 embarrassment on national TV to would-be Celtic Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics were humiliated 31-9 in the third quarter, a period that featured an 18-0 run by the Warriors. The Celtics were an abysmal 2-of-17 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Al Horford or no Al Horford, Jae Crowder or no Jae Crowder, those numbers are appalling.

“We know we have two of our key players out and that’s no excuse but we were in the game for one half,” Thomas said. “Everybody seen that third quarter open it up. So if you take away that third quarter and play as close to 48 minutes as possible, we’d still be in the game. You can’t let a team like that go on a run like that and expect to come back.

And what’s more concerning is the lack of consistency the Celtics have shown over a 6-6 start to the season. Opposing teams aren’t just snubbing the Celtics like Durant, they’re rubbing their noses in it like Durant’s front court colleague Zaza Pachulia, who did a dance after a 17-footer that capped the 18-0 spurt. That shot made it 79-51. 

“Yeah. At that point, the game is turned around,” Thomas said. “I guess we we gave up. I mean, coaching staff as well. We started subbing, it was bad. Especially, I only played 27 minutes. We gave up.”

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Kevin Durant on animosity for snubbing Celtics: ‘What can they be mad about?’ 11.17.16 at 1:04 pm ET
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Nov 16, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan (10) drives to the basket as Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) attempts a block during the third quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Golden State Warriors won 127-121. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin Durant has been a force at the rim for the Warriors in their 9-2 start to the season. (Nick Turchiaro/USA Today Sports)

Kevin Durant feels it’s time for the Celtics and their fans to just get over it. 

There have been few courtships in the history of the NBA like the pursuit of the 6-foot-9 superstar this past offseason. And while the Celtics locked down a solid player in the frontcourt in Al Horford, questions were abound when Durant signed his two-year, $54 million deal with Golden State. 

Why didn’t Durant choose Boston? Why wasn’t Tom Brady enough in The Hamptons? What went wrong? Why can’t Boston draw top free agents?

The Celtics put everything they had into Durant, who instead elected to join the force that is the Golden State Warriors. What ensued in Boston was frustration, and in Jae Crowder’s case, a few off-the cuff remarks.

This Friday will mark the first time Durant faces off against the C’s as a member of the Warriors. For Durant, it was just business.

“Nah, it don’t bother me,” Durant said of Crowder’s comments to ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes. “All these guys that you ask the same questions, you know what you’re going to get from them. So you’re [asking] the same questions. Why am I going to be mad about a guy who has an opinion? I respect all these players. If they don’t respect what I did, I can’t control that.

“I got nothing but love and respect for Jae Crowder and how he approaches the game and how he plays, but we disagree on me coming here,” Durant continued. “That’s just how it is. It’s all good. We’re going to compete no matter what. That’s one thing — you can say a lot of stuff in the media or wherever you are, but we’re going to compete when we’re in between the lines. That doesn’t change anything.”

Durant acknowledged the logic of the frustration of the players and fans, but brings up a valid point — he never actually played in Boston, and he never said he was going to play in Boston.

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Isaiah Thomas continues to bail Celtics out as rest of team does some soul-searching at 9:28 am ET
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Nov 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives to the basket past Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell (7) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas took matters into his own hands Wednesday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Crisis averted. 

Entering the fourth quarter, Isaiah Thomas was having a rough night, finagling just eight points to that point, going 3-for-13 from the field and 1-for-3 from the foul line.

What was worse, however, was the inability for multiple players to step up. Avery Bradley did, making his presence known with an 18 point, 13 rebound double-double. But otherwise, there was not much for the Celtics to hang their hat on. 

“I was afraid that we were going to have to really gut this one out,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We definitely stagnated quite a bit.”

Thomas ultimately went off in the final frame, dropping 22 points while going 4-for-5 from the field and 12-for-13 from the foul line

Kelly Olynyk was the only other player in double figures, netting 10 points. Otherwise, offensive production was subpar. Marcus Smart was 1-for-6 from the field, off the bench Gerald Green was 1-for-4 with, while most other while most everyone else off the bench was 2-for-3 or 2-for-4.

It has all been part of the process of learning to play without Al Horford and Jae Crowder, two player who conceivably will help pick up the slack when Thomas isn’t playing well once they return healthy. But as the team figures out how to step up in the meantime, Thomas indicated he’s going to keep rising to the pressure.

“I guess I just like that quarter. Sometimes guys get a little tired and the pressure gets a little tougher for them, I guess I just like the pressure,” Thomas said.

And while the numbers may indicate it was something of a one-man show, Thomas will be the first to say it wasn’t. He found vast success off the screen, and his teammates were integral in clearing the lane for the 5-foot-9 guard. This was especially true once Mavs big man Andrew Bogut fouled out.

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Fast break: Avery Bradley’s double-double (18 pts, 13 rebs); Isaiah Thomas’ 30 points lead Celtics past Mavericks 11.16.16 at 9:50 pm ET
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Nov 16, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) looks to pass the ball defended by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley goes up for the block on Dallas guard Wesley Matthews (23) Wednesday at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas saved his very best for last Wednesday.

The Celtics superstar guard scored 22 of his game-high 30 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Celtics to 90-83 win over a pesky Mavericks team at TD Garden. 

“He’s done it so many times,” coach Brad Stevens said of Thomas. “I was afraid that we were really going to have to gut this one out … we definitely stagnated quite a bit.”

After dropping their most recent decision to a team off to an underwhelming start, the Celtics didn’t have much room to falter against a Mavericks team entering the game 2-7. 

Avery Bradley also came up huge, putting up a double-double, dropping 18 points while setting a career-high in rebounds as he grabbed 13 boards. 

Thomas and Bradley also combined for the play of the game and one of the most thrilling plays of the early season so far. With just over a minute left, Thomas got out on the break and found a trailing Bradley with a fancy between-the-legs bounce pass. Bradley finished the play with a one-hand jam, sending the Garden into pandemonium. 

“I guess I just like that quarter,” Thomas said. ““Sometimes guys get a little tired and then the pressure gets a little tougher for them. I guess I like the pressure.”

Thomas got off to a slow start, but catching fire when it mattered in the fourth quarter. He entered the final frame with eight points, he dropped 22 points in the quarter. Up until then, his quiet production was nearly palpable given the lack of a support system with the exception of Bradley.

“He’s got a knack for it,” Stevens said. “I guess I’m so used to being around him and so used to watching him operate like that, nothing surprises me.”

Early on, it didn’t take the Celtics long to find their stride, jumping to an 11-3 run to start the game. Oftentimes it felt as though the Celtics were running away with the game, but the Mavs stayed within an arms reach most of the night.

“Just was getting some good shots, my teammates were getting me the ball, I was getting to my spots and was able to knock down some shots in the first quarter,” Bradley said.

For the most part, they stayed within 8-12 points, but they made a surge in the fourth quarter to take a lead with 6:43 left, keeping things close for the remainder of the game. They traded chances with the Celtics, but were never able to create enough of a lead to totally fend the C’s off.

The low-scoring final tally, while far from a positive on the offensive end, was at least a modest hope for a team struggling to keep opposing point totals low. Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews dropped 28 and 22 points, respectively for the Mavs, but the Celtics otherwise kept point production low and contained. As a result, there was a noticeable lack of offense when either one was on the bench.

“Harrison Barnes made some tough shots, but for the most part we were defending them well, we wanted him to take some contested twos and that’s what he did, he was just knocking down good shots for them. He’s a good player,” Bradley said.

The timing of the win couldn’t have been better for the Celtics. After a poor effort on Monday, and a tilt against the Warriors on deck Friday, Wednesday served as a fine enough confidence booster as well as tune up for a Warriors team off to a hot start.

The win also marked the end of a long winless streak for the Celtics against the Mavs. The C’s dropped the last six decisions against Dallas, with their previous win coming on Dec. 12, 2012.

For a complete box score, click here.

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics blow out Knicks 11.11.16 at 10:03 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics were very hungry for a win. 

After two consecutive lopsided defeats, the Celtics reverted to their old ways and put together their strongest defensive performance of the season in a 115-87 win at TD Garden. 

Isaiah Thomas scored a game-high 29 points, Kelly Olynyk added 19 points and seven rebounds in his first start of the season and Avery Bradley finished with a double-double (15 points, 10 rebounds). Seven Celtics scored in double figures. 

From the tip, the Celtics were aggressive in the opening minutes — grabbing a 19-8 lead. But New York came back when Carmelo Anthony caught fire and scored 12 first-quarter points to help push his team to within four points (31-27) after the game’s first 12 minutes.

However, the Knicks never held a lead throughout the second quarter but their rebounding certainly kept things close. New York dominated the Celtics on the glass — giving them plenty of chances but the Knicks only scored five second-chance points off of 12 offensive rebounds. 

With 4:44 left in the first half, the Celtics caught a break when Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony refuted a loose ball foul called by NBA official Tony Brothers. After he was handed an initial technical foul, Anthony continued to plead his case with Brothers which resulted in a second technical foul and was ejected from the game. Anthony finished the night with 12 points and two rebounds in 12 minutes. 

Following the ejection, the Celtics topped off an 11-3 run and finished the half with a 10-point lead (61-51). It was the first time the Celtics have allowed fewer than 54 first-half points in their last three games.

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