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Celtics make themselves a tough opponent as they find versatility in individual abilities 12.27.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Marcus Smart applauds the Celtics' effort during Tuesday's victory over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart applauds the Celtics’ effort during Tuesday’s victory over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night was, by all accounts, much better than the nail-biter they found themselves in exactly a week prior.

Trailing by as many as 17 at one point, the C’s were saved only by a 44-point performance by Isaiah Thomas in the two-point overtime win in Memphis last Tuesday. This time around, the Celtics never trailed after 4:07 in the first quarter. They controlled field goal and 3-point percentages as well as rebounds.

What the win truly served as, however, was a clinic in variety.

There was little doubt that after dismantling the otherwise stout Grizzlies defense, Memphis was going to put heavy emphasis on stopping Thomas. To a degree, they did that, holding him to 21 points. But the Celtics way of answering was unleashing a wealth of other scorers onto them to balance the offense.

“They were paying a lot of attention to [Thomas] off screens, they were blitzing some, they were sending guys from the weak side into the paint. And I thought he did a pretty good job of making the right play,” coach Brad Stevens said following the win.

The Celtics had five others on top of Thomas in double figures. Al Horford (11), Marcus Smart (13), Jae Crowder (17), Gerald Green (19) and Avery Bradley (23) all helped balance out the production.

Marcus Smart was subtly a major part of relieving some of the pressure off of Thomas. Oftentimes lately (with Tuesday as no exception), the 22-year-old has been tasked with running the point, allowing Thomas to get time on the bench without the need to but Terry Rozier in, who otherwise would be a defensive downgrade.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Report: Celtics boss Danny Ainge ‘wants to do a deal,’ eyes Gordon Hayward, but overvalues players like Marcus Smart 12.15.16 at 10:35 am ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge’s hunt for a superstar continues.

Noted NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said on his Vertical podcast (fast-forward to 35-minute mark) on Wednesday that Ainge is itching to pull the trigger on a deal for a star, but as usual is finding the going rough.

One name to keep an eye on: impending free agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and has emerged as a potential All-Star this year.

“Danny’s wanted to strike and, like everybody else, get that big star, get that big player,” Wojnarowski said. “[Al] Horford was a big play and a great get in free agency. They can still keep their eye on Gordon Hayward from Utah who’s an unrestricted free agent this summer who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. I think there’s still strong hope in Utah that he’ll want to stay there.”

One problem hamstringing Ainge, according to Wojnarowski, is that he’s overvaluing players in trade talks, particularly misfiring guard Marcus Smart.

“Boston’s interesting in that (they have) some good young players, they have draft picks they can put in deals and they have some veterans that hold some interest in places,” Wojnarowski added. “I do wonder sometimes if Boston might overvalue some of the players they have compared to what the rest of the league sees in them. I think Marcus Smart might be starting to fall into that category. His name’s been in some talks previously, and they’ve been pretty careful about who they’d give him up for.”

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: Brad Stevens, Celtics rumors, Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward
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
Can the Celtics reel in Marcus Smart? Jae Crowder and Brad Stevens are working on it 11.29.16 at 8:15 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Jae Crowder could see and hear Miami coach Erik Spoestra trying an old trick Monday night to get under the skin of Marcus Smart. 

Crowder and everybody else familiar with Smart knows the third-year guard came out of Oklahoma State with a reputation for letting his intensity turn into anger and frustration, eventually leading to technical fouls or worse. 

“It’s funny because I was telling him [Monday] during the game, Spoelstra was saying, ‘He’s a hothead. He’s a hothead.’ So obviously that was part of the game plane to try to get under his skin a little bit,” Crowder said with a brotherly smile after practice Tuesday.

“A lot of teams know he wears his emotions on his sleeves so they’re going to do stuff like that. And you just have to be more cautious of it and know that it’s just a game they’re trying to play with him. I’m sure as the season goes on he’ll be more aware of it. And hopefully he gets better.”

Tired of getting hacked by Goran Dragic, Smart indeed took a technical foul when he complained about a double-foul with 2:26 left in the game. There’s clearly a fine line for Smart to walk and always has been since he came into the NBA in 2014. 

“I was begging for Spoelstra to get a technical foul because he was saying a lot of stuff. He was everywhere last night, but that’s one of the things he did say. When they went to intentional foul Marcus it was obvious that what they were trying to do was more than just foul. They were trying to get under his skin and play a little physical, and knowing he wanted to retaliate for the most part. So it’s just part of the scouting report on I guess Marcus that he wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

Crowder got his wish when Spoelstra was finally T’d up with 2:11 left as the Celtics pulled away for the 112-104 win. 

“It’s a very fine [line]. He as a person, as an individual, has to control it,” Crowder said. “We as teammates can keep being on him about it, but it’s about him and being able to control it. A lot of players and coaches in this league know he’s an emotional type of guy, so they’re going to try to do everything they can to get under his skin and in his head. But he has to want to put his pride aside and put his emotions aside for the team’s sake. And take care of business.”

Can Crowder see a maturity in Smart?

“Of course. He has not gone backwards in that regard,” Crowder said. “But he’s playing more minutes now than he was when he was a rookie. He’s playing a bigger role now, so we need him to be more locked in on that standpoint. You can’t just give away points at the free throw line on technicals and flagrants and stuff like that. So, we’ll keep pounding it in his head, and he keeps [telling] us he wants to change, so he’ll get better, hopefully.” 

Brad Stevens is also keeping a close eye on Smart’s on-court intensity. 

“I think toughness is such a critical component of a team and everybody brings their own levels of skill to the table and everything else but you have to have a competitiveness and an ability to figure out a way to win that possession,” Stevens said. “He’s able to do that on a lot of possessions.”

There’s an obvious irony to what happened Monday as it’s usually Smart and his intense defense that agitates and gets opposing players out of their game. 

“Well, he plays physical. For the most part, a lot of guys don’t like to play physical,” Crowder said. “They want an easy-flowing game and Marcus don’t play like that. That alone just gets under guys’ skin, just him playing physical and him being a presence on the basketball court with his body and his stature. A lot of players don’t like it. [Hassan] Whiteside is one of those guys who doesn’t like to play that physical. He likes to play physical as long as guys don’t play physical back with him. So, he didn’t like the foul Marcus laid on him late in the first quarter.”

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, Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra, Jae Crowder
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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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk
Celtics Friday pregame: Al Horford, Jae Crowder much improved, will travel 11.18.16 at 7:16 pm ET
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The Celtics could be very close to getting two-thirds of their starting front court back.

Al Horford, who missed his ninth straight game Friday night with a concussion, will travel with the Celtics on their three-game road trip, which begins Saturday night in Detroit.

Also on the trip will be Jae Crowder, missing his eighth straight game Friday night with a sprained left ankle.

“Al had, by far, his best day [Thursday],” Brad Stevens said before Friday’s game with the Warriors. “He did on some 3-on-3, some 1-on-1, went up and down [the court]. Felt pretty good. Hopefully, barring no setbacks, we’re closer than further with him.”

With Horford and Crowder out against the front court of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia, the Celtics are in the position of possibly having to put 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart in a mismatch.

“We’ll mix up matchups all over the place. I think some [switching],” Stevens said. “Obviously, the biggest thing is you can’t get caught up in is you’ve got to have a body, you’ve got to be on them. You have to be able to contest their shots. They’re going to hit some shots other people don’t hit. You’ve got to be able to go down and score. That’s what you have to do when you’re playing a team like this.”

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, Golden State Warriors, Jae Crowder
Celtics pregame notes: Al Horford misses 8th straight game, Jae Crowder out for his 7th straight 11.16.16 at 7:25 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics will continue to be without Jae Crowder and Al Horford, at least for Wednesday’s tilt against the Mavericks, as they continue to learn to play without the pair of mainstays in the lineup.

Crowder is out with a left ankle sprain, while Horford continues to make his way through the NBA concussion protocol. And though returns could be on the horizon given the nature of the injuries, coach Brad Stevens noted he has “no clue” as to an exact timetable for either. The day-to-day nature of of the pair makes coaching decisions challenging for Stevens, but as time has gone on, he’s found a way to ease the process.

“I just kind of go through and scout, and if they’re available I’ll figure that out when the time comes. But until then I’m going unavailable in my own mind, I think that’s the best way to do it, the best way to organize you’re thoughts,” Stevens said. “If Al is able to play down the road, later in the week, we’ll throw Al right in there and I’ll adjust quickly. I think the best way is to plan without those guys, especially if they haven’t played in a while.”

Regardless of results, as of late, the Celtics have still been showing improvement with Crowder and Horford’s absence. And as exciting as those returns may be once they happen, it’s not a sure sign that the C’s will automatically experience an upswing in wins.

“I think it will still be an adjustment when we do [get everyone back] just because those guys haven’t played in a while,” Stevens said. “Until then we still have to focus on playing well, I thought we’ve made good strides the last three games. It was disappointing coming up short against New Orleans, but defensively we’ve made good strides, and we’ve had some younger players do some things they haven’t done before, so that’s a positive step moving forward.”

In the meantime, it has allowed younger players such as Marcus Smart to step up. 

“I think [Smart’s] played pretty well. And he’s always been god competiively, he’s making shots, doing a lot of tough things. He’s playing undersized almost every night that he’s on the floor, by four inches a night usually. So he’s really doing a good job.”

One thing Smart has done so far is hit shots. Not known for being a knockdown shooter by any stretch, he’s shooting 41.7 percent from the field and 35 percent from 3-point territory. Smart noted periodically throughout the offseason and into the season that he has put in quite a bit of work in improving his shot. And while that work has helped, Stevens added that his shot selection has also improved as well, allowing him to shoot higher-percentage shots.

He’ll start Wednesday night, as will Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas.

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, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart,
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