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An oral history: How Brad Stevens’ Celtics earned a playoff date with LeBron James’ Cavaliers 04.15.15 at 2:16 am ET
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JULY 9, 2014

In what seemed on the surface like a minor move, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent a $10.3 million trade exception — acquired for dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in 2013 — to the Cavaliers for Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton’€™s expiring contract and Cleveland’€™s 2016 first-round pick.

Ultimately, the trade transformed the NBA, allowing the Cavs to free up enough cap space to bring LeBron James back home. From a Boston perspective, the reward of a young center project and a couple more tradable assets was worth the risk of altering the Eastern Conference’€™s balance of power for the foreseeable future.

AUGUST 21, 2014

‘€œA lot of people might say that we can’€™t be this, we can’€™t be that,’€ Celtics guard Avery Bradley — fresh off signing an oft criticized four-year, $32 million contract extension — told a group of bewildered reporters from a basketball camp. ‘€œI feel like with the coach that we have, we can be anything that we want to be. We just have to listen to [Brad Stevens] and buy into what he’€™s trying to do, his plan for us. I feel like we have a chance to make the playoffs and make a lot of noise this year if we listen to Brad.”

AUGUST 27, 2014

During a tour through Asia, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo declared himself ‘€œin great shape’€ after his return from ACL surgery. ‘€œI want to win another championship,’€ he told Hoop China, before adding, ‘€œYou can’€™t have a great team every year.’€ When asked if sixth overall pick Marcus Smart could eventually start for the Celtics this season, Rondo replied, ‘€œNo. He’€™ll play a lot of minutes, but starting as a rookie at the guard position is probably impossible or one of the toughest things you can do.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2014 

Asked by one reporter at the C’€™s annual preseason charity golf outing to name his favorites in the East this season, Ainge listed the Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards.

‘€œYou left off the Celtics,’€ another media member countered.

‘€œI did. Yes, I did. Good observation,’€ said Ainge, pausing, and then adding, ‘€œbut I do believe the extraordinary is possible.’€

SEPTEMBER 29, 2014

Amid widespread speculation that Rondo had broken a bone in his left hand at a trampoline park, the Celtics point guard addressed those rumors at media day, assuring everyone the injury resulted from a slip in the shower. In his 12-minute session, Rondo professed his love for both Boston and Stevens, confirmed his desire for a max contract and conceded again, ‘€œI know this isn’€™t a championship team.’€

SEPTEMBER 30, 2014

‘€œWe have one point guard healthy that has NBA experience, and that’€™s Phil Pressey,’€ Stevens said as training camp opened. ‘€œAnd that’€™s not a lot of it. I’€™m not as worried about [the point guard position] because I think people are going to put you in a box for your position, and I’€™m just not going to do that. I’€™m not going to worry about it. [Evan Turner‘€™s] a ball handler, he can make plays, he’€™s smart. And then I think that keeps our other guys in the positions that they’€™re most comfortable.’€

OCTOBER 2, 2014

Zeller drew rave reviews from his new teammates as the biggest surprise in camp. ‘€œHe just runs the floor,’€ Stevens said. ‘€œHe’€™s a very unselfish player, he’€™s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’€™s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas
LeBron James says he’ll play against Celtics 04.10.15 at 12:23 pm ET
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With the Cavaliers locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, there has been discussion about LeBron James sitting out one or more of the team’s remaining games in order to be rested for the playoffs — fueled by James saying Wednesday that he “probably would take one game or two games off before the postseason starts.”

However, that rest won’t come Friday in Cleveland against the Celtics.

James said Friday morning that he would play against the C’s in the opening game of a home-and-home that concludes Sunday in Boston, telling reporters in Cleveland that he “never had that in my mind” to skip the game. And if history is any indication, he might suit up for Sunday’s game as well.

In each of his last three seasons as a member of the Heat, James took off the final two regular-season games. If he stuck to that plan, he would play both games against the C’s and then miss Monday’s game against the Pistons and Wednesday’s finale against the Wizards.

James has missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. The Cavaliers have a 2-9 record in those games.

James’ backup, former Knick Iman Shumpert, is questionable for Friday’s game with a right quad contusion he suffered in Wednesday’s win over the Bucks.

The Celtics enter play Friday tied with the Nets for the seventh-best record in the East, one game ahead of the Heat and 1 1/2 games in front of the Pacers. The Celtics own the tiebreaker against the Nets, so based on the current standings they would play the Cavs in the opening round.

The Cavaliers have won 18 straight games at home.

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5 things we learned as LeBron James’ Cavaliers blow out Celtics 03.03.15 at 9:56 pm ET
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After a three-game win streak and a hard-fought loss to the Western Conference-leading Warriors, the Celtics began answering questions this weekend about possibly playing in the playoffs.

Well, nothing tempers expectations like a 31-point blowout by the surging Cavaliers.

LeBron James scored a game-high 27 points, and Cleveland dominated from start to finish in a 110-79 victory against the visiting Celtics on Tuesday night. The loss marked the second straight for the C’s (23-35), who fell two full games behind the Nets for the eighth seed in the East playoff race.

Brandon Bass‘ 15 points led an anemic Celtics offense that finished 35 percent from the field. Meanwhile, five more Cavs joined LeBron in double figures: Kyrie Irving (18 points), Kevin Love (12), J.R. Smith (12), Timofey Mosgov (10) and Tristan Thompson (10).

For a complete box score, click here.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James
5 things we learned about Celtics at trade deadline 02.20.15 at 12:20 am ET
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In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”

Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.

So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.

THE CELTICS LOVE ISAIAH THOMAS 

Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.

The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.

If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.

MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD

With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.

AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS

You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.

This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Danny Ainge, Isaiah Thomas
Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success? 01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET
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Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.

After the C’s loss on Wednesday, Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley all referred to the Hawks as a “machine.” So what is it that makes this particular machine so good?

One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.

Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.

“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?

“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”

Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.

It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Celtics growing tired of explaining how they’re blowing big leads 11.15.14 at 10:06 am ET
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The Celtics are quickly growing tired of talking about blowing big leads. It’s hard to blame them, but the painful truth is that it’s an ongoing trend that’s obvious to anyone watching them play early on in the 2014-15 season.

And it’s been a trend from the start. Against Brooklyn in the season opener they led 101-72 after three quarters. Brooklyn closed it to 15 before the C’s eventually held off the Nets. Still, they were outscored 33-20 in the fourth and gave up 64 second-half points. It may not have been a concern at the time in a one-game sample, but it’s turned into a troubling trend.

Against the Bulls in Chicago, they led 83-67 after three. They held on for dear life for a 106-101 win. But on Wednesday against the Thunder, it finally caught up with them. The Celtics raced out to an 18-3 lead and led, 51-42, at the half. They were outscored 67-43 in the second half and lost. Friday night, they had their biggest lead going into the fourth quarter, 101-84 against King James and the Cavs. They were outscored 38-20 in the fourth. Against the Nets, Thunder and Cavaliers, they have given up 64, 67, and 63 points, respectively in the second half, losing the last two.

The Celtics are learning that there’s no better way to blow big leads than playing porous defense.

“I’€™m frustrated by it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I want to be better at it. I thought our energy and togetherness and sustainability was much better [against Cleveland]. When things went south, we came back. They went up by three; we ended up tying the game. Jeff made a great hustle play to get the free throws. You know if you turned on the TV last night you saw it in at least two games, maybe three — and that happens. You’€™ve got to play all 48. You’€™ve got to be great all 48 against this team. And it’€™s not the same against everybody, but you still have to be on your A-game the whole time.”

‘€œWe just got to win games, point blank, we just got to win,” Jared Sullinger added. “There’€™s no more lessons, no more moral victories, we just got to win flat out. Kyrie [Irving] made some shots, LeBron made some shots; that’€™s what great players do. There’€™s no answers we just got to win. In the NBA, no 15, 20-point lead is safe. You just have to keep playing.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Jared Sullinger, LeBron James
LeBron James: Celtics will ‘surprise a lot of teams’ at 2:55 am ET
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After escaping Boston with a 122-121 win over the Celtics, Cavaliers superstar and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James had high praise for coach Brad Stevens & Co. after his 41-point performance.

“œThey’€™re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’€™re better than what the critics said coming into this season,”€ said James. “€œCoach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’€™re top three in the league in assists; they’€™re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’€™s a great brand of basketball.”€

For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James,
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