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Isaiah Thomas on Kobe Bryant: ‘He looked like the old Kobe’ 04.04.16 at 2:13 am ET
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Kobe Bryant dunks the ball against the Celtics during the first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

Kobe Bryant dunks the ball against the Celtics during the first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson-USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas was paying very close attention to Kobe Bryant on Sunday night at Staples Center. 

The Celtics point guard was watching how the 37-year-old handled his business for a 16-win team that was headed nowhere against a young team trying to clinch a playoff spot. 

What he saw was an intense competitor who wanted the ball so desperately down the stretch that he screamed at teammate D’Angelo Russell when Bryant was open for a three. As it turned out, Julius Randle got the ball from Russell and converted a three-point play. 

When he did get the ball, Bryant reminded everyone what he could still do, starting with his first shot of the night over Jae Crowder in the first quarter. Bryant had 11 points in the opening 12 minutes. 

Bryant had 18 points in the first half as the Lakers stayed close, 57-48, at the half. 

Bryant would finish with a game-high 34 points on 11-of-28 shots from the field. The Celtics won the game, 107-100, and a spot in the playoffs. 

“He looked like the old Kobe,” Thomas said. “From the jump, from the first play, he just had a different energy about him. You knew it was probably going to be a long night if he felt good.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant
Isaiah Thomas on clinching a playoff spot: ‘We definitely want more’ at 1:47 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket defended by Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) during the second half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas drives to the basket defended by Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) during the second half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens was fond of reminding everyone for the last two months that his team was closer to being out of the playoffs than it was to the top of the Eastern Conference. 

Well, he doesn’t have to worry about missing the playoffs anymore. 

And the biggest reason for the Celtics making their second straight playoff appearance this year under Stevens is Isaiah Thomas. The point guard scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half Sunday night in a 107-100 playoff clinching win over Kobe Bryant and the Lakers at Staples Center. 

“It means a lot,” Thomas told reporters afterward. “It means a stepping stone. It was definitely goal of ours to make it to the playoffs but we definitely want more. It’s a positive. We’re happy.”

Last year, the Celtics made the playoffs with a 40-42 record and even finished seventh in the East. But they were swept out in four games by the Cavaliers. Now, the Celtics (45-32) are shooting for much more than just making the playoffs. With Sunday’s win, they are tied with the Hawks for third in the East and could wind up with home court advantage if they perform in the final five games, four of which will be on their home court. 

“That’s what you want. You want to, obviously, give yourself a chance,” Stevens said. “So, the only way you get a chance is to make the playoffs. It’s been a very focused group. I haven’t heard the guys talk about it a ton. Obviously, when asked about it, they may comment on it. But they’ve been pretty focused on just the task at hand. We still want to be playing our best going into it. 

“We’ve got a lot of work to do and hopefully, get some rest here and get ready for Wednesday night.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas
Evan Turner suffers left eye injury in win over Lakers at 12:50 am ET
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Evan Turner

Evan Turner

When Kobe Bryant’s three with 19.9 seconds rimmed in and out, the battle under the boards turned into an ugly affair for Evan Turner and the Celtics. 

Turner got entangled with Lakers big man Julius Randle, who appeared to accidentally poke Turner in the left eye with his right hand.

Turner immediately grabbed the left side of his face and made his way off the court and to the locker room.

“He’s got bleeding in his eye,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. “They’re looking at it. An internist is looking at him. We don’t know the extent of the injury. But clearly he got some eye poke [action]. Hopefully, not too much trauma.” 

According to multiple reports, Turner emerged from the showers with his left eye shut and redness around the eye. 

If Turner is out for any period of time, it could be costly to the Celtics. After Jae Crowder, Turner is arguably the most versatile player on the team. Turner filled in for Avery Bradley Sunday night in the starting lineup. Bradley was not with the team due to personal reasons. Before Sunday, Turner started the last seven games that Crowder missed with his high sprain of his right ankle. 


Read More: Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers
Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas, Celtics wave Kobe Bryant goodbye, clinch playoff spot 04.03.16 at 11:59 pm ET
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Kobe Bryant shoots over Celtics forward Jae Crowder during first half at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Kobe Bryant shoots over Celtics forward Jae Crowder during the first half Sunday night at Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Beating Kobe Bryant and the Lakers and clinching a playoff spot proved to be a little more than mere formality for the Celtics on Sunday night. 

Isaiah Thomas scored 21 of his 26 points in the first half and Jae Crowder added 22 as the Celtics turned back the 16-win Lakers, 107-100, at Staples Center. In his final game ever against Boston, Bryant went out on a strong note. He scored 18 of his 34 points in the first half to keep the Lakers close. 

As for Thomas, who played in front of his friend and boxing champ Floyd Mayweather, he matched Paul Pierce’s 2005-06 mark of 16 straight games with at least 20 points. 

The Celtics improve to 45-32 and are tied with the Hawks for third in the East. 

Bryant, who finished 11-of-28 from the field, came out clearly with a point to prove in his final game ever against the Celtics. He made his first shot, a 12-foot left wing jumper over Crowder just 64 seconds into the game. He made just two of his six first-quarter shots from the floor but converted all six attempts at the line for 11 points. 

The Celtics, thanks in large part to red-hot shooting to start the game, built an early lead of nine points twice, including 29-20. The Celtics hit seven of their first 10 shots before cooling off to 59 percent by the end of the first quarter. Thomas and Amir Johnson each had eight points in the opening quarter as Boston led 31-26. After a layup by the Lakers just 12 seconds into the second quarter, a disgusted Brad Stevens called a timeout to regroup his troops.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Floyd Mayweather, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant
Avery Bradley (personal) not with team, Jae Crowder returns to starting lineup vs. Lakers at 9:18 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

The Celtics will have to avoid a massive letdown without the services of Avery Bradley. 

Coach Brad Stevens confirmed before the game in Los Angeles that the best defensive player in the starting lineup will not be with the team due to personal reasons. 

Taking Bradley’s place in the starting lineup will be Evan Turner, getting a start for the eighth time in nine games. This start, however, will be at a different position than the previous seven, where he started for Jae Crowder. 

“Evan has started the better part of the last couple of weeks because Jae has only been here for one game, so I think that keeps him in that role and in that rhythm and then we’ll figure it out from there,” Brad Stevens told reporters before Sunday’s game. 

Crowder will be returning to the starting lineup after missing Friday’s game against the Warriors in Oakland. 

Stevens also explained why Turner has been such a versatile player over the course of the last three weeks. 

“The 2s and 3s do the exact same things for us, so it doesn’t have any impact as far as knowing what’s coming or understanding the plays or whatever the case may be,” Stevens added. “It’s a pretty seamless transition, because he’s going to guard all three spots, which he usually does.”

Turner has averaged 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game in his last seven starts. He scored 21 points in Friday’s shocker in Oakland, grabbed five rebounds, and had five assists. He scored 10 points during the final quarter, including a couple of key clutch jumpers. 

There will be others expected to step up their game, also. 

“Terry (Rozier) has played a lot more than he had earlier in the season and he and Marcus (Smart) have given us good things together especially with the ability to make physical plays, defend, rebound, those type of things that we need our guards to do to be the best team that we can be,” said Stevens. “It’s one of those things where we haven’t been a great rebounding team, so playing those guys together helps shore that up a little bit.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder
Doc Rivers on Paul Pierce injury scare: ‘Of course, Laker fans, they were going to bring out a wheelchair’ 03.29.16 at 1:43 am ET
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Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko defends against Clippers forward Paul Pierce in the first half during the NBA game at the Staples Center. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko defends against Clippers forward Paul Pierce in the first half Monday. (Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports)

Doc Rivers could laugh about it after his team’s 114-90 win over the Celtics on Monday night, but the moment Paul Pierce went down in the second quarter clutching his right knee, joking was the last thing from his mind. 

With just over two minutes left in the first half, Pierce drove to his left and lifted a finger roll to the basket that fell through for two points. But Pierce fell very awkwardly. He stayed on the floor for several minutes while trainers took a close look. He got up and limped off, later being diagnosed with a sprained ankle and just a bruise on his kneecap. 

“It’s his ankle, which is the good news because when he went down, I thought it was his knee,” Rivers said. “Of course, the Laker fans, they were going to bring out a wheelchair at some point. They didn’t do that so that was good. He’s going to be out for a little bit. We don’t know how long. It’s one of those things.

“When he went down, I thought it was his knee because he grabbed his knee. He said he grabbed his knee because he got kneed and he hit [the floor]. The pain was there [in knee] but he twisted his ankle.” 

Of course, the incident Rivers was referring to was Game 1 of the 2008 NBA finals when Kobe Bryant drove to the basket and scored in the third quarter. Kendrick Perkins came down on Pierce’s right leg and Pierce fell on the baseline, clutching his right knee. He left in a wheelchair, only to return in Willis Reed-style later in Game 1.

Rivers was relieved to find out from his staff in the second half that the Clippers had dodged a bullet. And while he may be out for the final two weeks of the regular season, Rivers and the Clippers sounded hopeful Pierce would return by the playoffs. 

“For a second, when he grabbed his knee, I definitely thought, ‘Oh boy.’ Then I’m thinking, ‘Against the Celtics.’ I was thinking, ‘No.’ It didn’t happen, so that’s good,” Rivers said. 

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Read More: 2008 NBA Finals, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Los Angeles Clippers
Studs and Duds: Kobe Bryant delivers one last dagger to sink Celtics 12.30.15 at 10:26 pm ET
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After exacting NBA Finals revenge against the Celtics in 2010, Kobe Bryant has softened on Boston, and for the first time since the infamous 2007 “MVP” chants, the city returned the sentiment, offering a standing ovation during the starting lineup role call before playfully booing him on his first few possessions.

It was exactly the sort of reaction Boston reserves for its most worthy adversaries –€” Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and, yes, Bryant, a five-time NBA champion and one of the greatest players ever to play the game of basketball.

The Boston brass presented Bryant with a piece of the parquet before his final game in the Garden, and then the Celtics gave him more ground on the floor, as the 17-time All-Star sunk a 28-foot dagger of a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining in a 112-104 victory.

Bryant finished with a double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) in 33 minutes, as the Lakers won for just the sixth time all season. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 24 points and seven assists. Evan Turner (20 points, 8 assists), Jae Crowder (17 points) and Avery Bradley (13 points) also reached double figures for the Celtics, who fell to 18-14 and had their four-game winning streak snapped.

Marcus Smart was benched for the first quarter after missing the team’s walk-through due to a flat tire, Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. Smart scored four points in 11 minutes.

For a complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
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