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Despite brutal call in loss to Chicago, Celtics show just how much they have moved on from Rajon Rondo 02.16.17 at 10:32 pm ET
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Feb 16, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives past Chicago Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams (7) during the second quarter at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas (4) drives past Chicago Bulls guard Michael Carter-Williams (7) during the second quarter at the United Center. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart keep coming up huge when it matters most. 

But unfortunately for the Celtics the officials decided Thursday’s game. 

Jimmy Butler hit two free throws with 0.9 seconds left when Marcus Butler was called for grazing the right elbow of the shooter by referee Zach Zarba on the baseline. The two free throws were the difference in Chicago’s 104-103 win at the United Center. TV replays showed Smart didn’t make contact. 

A brutal call by Zarba at the worst time. Butler and Thomas each finished with 29 points. 

After a timeout trying to inbound, Al Horford missed a 16-foot shot at the buzzer as the Bulls were bailed out. 

“We not going to be derailed by that,” a tight-lipped Brad Stevens told reporters after. Stevens was irate at the moment the call was made. 

“Yeah, we thought we won the game,” said Kelly Olynyk, who had 17 points and seven rebounds. “A rollercoaster of emotions. It’s tough.”

Thomas and Smart stayed on the court for nearly a minute after the final buzzer and stared down Zarba. Before the call, the Celtics were poised for another clutch win in the fourth. 

There was a mindset and thought as recently as three years ago in Brad Stevens’ first year in Boston that the Celtics still needed Rajon Rondo to be apart of their next charge at a title.

But in that 2013-14 season, he missed the first 40 games recovering from an ACL injury the year before. He was named the 15th captain in team history. One year later, the disenfranchised Rondo was traded away to Dallas and the Celtics haven’t looked back. The Celtics made the playoffs that year, Stevens’ second as head coach. After 48 wins last season, the Celtics are making a run at the No. 1 seed this year.

Rondo has played for Sacramento and now Chicago.

It’s somewhat appropriate that Thomas – the man that helped the Celtics move on from the Rondo era – set a new franchise mark with his 41st straight game of at least 20 points Thursday night in the loss to the Bulls at the United Center in the final game before the All-Star break. The Celtics head into the break with a 37-20 mark, three games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East.

For a full box score and statistical recap of Thursday’s game in Chicago, click here.

Rondo twisted his left ankle badly with three minutes left in the second quarter but in the time he was on the court, he clearly was inspired to prove he could hang with and defend Isaiah Thomas. To an extent, he was successful, holding Thomas to just two points over the first 15 minutes of the game. Rondo, coming off Chicago’s bench, was held scoreless in 20 minutes, missing all five shots from the floor, dishing out eight assists with seven rebounds. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
How Marcus Smart has made Avery Bradley expendable at the trade deadline at 10:36 am ET
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Feb 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) in the second half at TD Garden. The Celtics defeated the 76ers 116-108. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart competes for the ball against Philadelphia 76ers guard Nik Stauskas (11) late in the game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge watched this week as the Raptors made a big push to re-claim their position atop the Eastern Conference with Cleveland when they acquired forward Serge Ibaka from the Magic.

But what the Celtics’ President of Basketball Operations has also watch is the emergence of one of his own players into a legit force on the team that has pushed its way past Toronto in the East and sits just two games back of Cleveland in the East.

What Marcus Smart has done in the last two weeks has been eye-opening.

In Boston’s 11-1 run to second place in the East and first in the Atlantic Division, Smart is averaging 12.3 points, 5.4 assists, four rebounds and an eye-popping 2.3 steals a game. Of course, that last number got a huge bump Wednesday night with eight swipes against the Sixers in a 116-108 win at TD Garden.

A 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio is considered good, and that’s exactly what Smart is averaging in the 12-game run, with 2.7 turnovers per game. But throw in his steals and it’s nearly 3-to-1. That’s sensational. Consider that the OPS-plus of basketball.

“I’ve been really trying to elevate my game especially going into the second half trying to keep the momentum alive,” Smart said after Wednesday’s win. “I can honestly say this is the most comfortable I have been in a Celtic uniform. It feels good, not only for myself but to be able to contribute to this team in other ways. It’s definitely something I will continue to try and keep doing.”

If there was a singular play that defines Smart’s play over the last two weeks it was his jumping on Nik Stauskas when Stauskas lost his dribble 20 feet from the basket with three minutes left and the Celtics up, 106-101. He seized the opportunity to grab the ball, which he did for his seventh steal, and fed Jae Crowder for the game-sealing lay-up.

“I saw the ball and went after the ball,” Smart said. “He just happened to be in the way of it.”

“I thought Smart was fantastic. I thought Smart has really strung a bunch of games together here. Made big shots, made timely shots, but then defensively was terrific,” Brad Stevens said. “I think the last couple of weeks have been some of his best basketball. And we needed it. We’re down a couple of bodies and he is playing at a high level on both ends of the floor.

“I think the ankle sprain at the start of the year was kind of an unfortunate kick-off to the year; it set you back a little bit. And then in the last few weeks I just think, like, he’s really found a rhythm and a groove. And it started on the defensive end with guarding at a really high level. I think he’s guarding even better than he did at the start of the year and he’s been good. We need him to, again. We’re down Jaylen (Brown) and down Avery, you’ve got to have those perimeter defenders step up for you.”

With Isaiah Thomas setting all sorts of new franchise scoring marks (now averaging 29.8 points for the season), it would be easy to overlook Smart. But Smart’s efforts in the last week have been the backbone behind Thomas’ sensational season. With Smart locking opponents down defensively, Thomas has been freed up a bit to focus mainly on making sure the Celtics keep scoring at a frenetic pace.

Ainge has a decision to make. Does he want to make a deal in the days leading up to the Feb. 23 deadline to give the Celtics a better chance at making a run at Cleveland? What pieces on his current roster could help him make such a deal? Forgetting, for a moment, the first-round picks the Celtics have in their draft bank, there likely would have to be some legitimate talent swapping places.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon recap more history from Isaiah Thomas, great play from Marcus Smart in win over Sixers 02.15.17 at 11:03 pm ET
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More Celtics history Wednesday night from Isaiah Thomas in a win over the Sixers at TD Garden. Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have the details.

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, Isaiah Thomas, Josue Pavon, Marcus Smart
Brett Brown genuinely amazed at what Isaiah Thomas ‘is doing to the NBA’ at 9:35 pm ET
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On a night when Isaiah Thomas tied John Havlicek for the most consecutive games of at least 20 points in Celtics history, Sixers coach Brett Brown gave the Celtics point guard praise worthy of his history-making night. 

“They really can score,” Brown began when asked about the Celtics offense. “They really, really can score. The last two times we’ve played them, with 30 seconds left, it was 100-100, and it was 102-100 the other game. We’re there at the end. The good news is I feel like we’re playing good basketball right now. The bad news is they are playing as good as basketball as I’ve seen them play in a while because I feel they are firing on all cylinders with just firepower.”

CSN Philly’s Jessica Camerato tried to ask an ‘apart from Isaiah Thomas’ question, probing Brown’s thoughts on the rest of the Celtics roster, like the red-hot Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk. But Brown couldn’t help himself. 

“Isaiah Thomas, what he is doing to the NBA and the volume and the volume of points he scores and what he does in fourth periods and what he does in back-to-back games,” Brown said. “You look at what he’s doing to the league right now, he’s an All-Star for a reason.” 

That reason is 29.8 points per game, second only to the 30.8 of Russell Westbrook. He is averaging 10 points a game in the fourth quarter. The Celtics lead the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring at 29 points per game. The Celtics have been closing out close games and Thomas is the numero uno reason. Throw on top of all of that 40 straight games of at least 20 points, and you have a historic performance for a legacy franchise. 

“I know you asked, ‘Apart from Isaiah,’ but you can’t help but talk about him and the firepower they have collectively when you talk about how you try to give yourself a chance to win,” Brown said. “You have to find ways to defend them, and they’re really hard to do that.” 

Then Brown took it to the next level. 

“I mean he’s so unassuming physically. You look at him and it’s not like you’re looking at LeBron or somebody that’s tall and all cut up,” Brown said of the 5-foot-7 guard. “He’s very sort of unassuming when you look at him on a court. And then all of sudden, you start studying him. His ability to control speeds.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, John Havlicek, LeBron James
Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown out through break, Brad Stevens makes Al Horford All-Star argument at 7:50 pm ET
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Avery Bradley really wants to get back to playing.

But the Celtics want him 100 percent when the games really matter in April and May.

To that end, Bradley understands the Celtics being ultra-cautious with his sore right Achilles, which is just about fully healed.

That injury forced him to miss his 15th straight game Wednesday and will keep him out as well on Thursday night in Chicago. Bradley has played just once since Jan. 6.

“It’s frustrating,” Bradley said before Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. “I guess it’s just part of the game and part of being smart. I want to play and play through it but the team advised me that this is not the time to take that risk right now and something potentially happen to my Achilles or a different injury.”

Bradley and the team are not just protecting against the existing injury but trying to make sure he doesn’t compensate unconsciously and injure something else.

“It was just a decision to make together and we felt like it’s the best one,” Bradley continued. “It’s feeling really good.”

But Bradley admitted he hasn’t worked on the court much lately and getting back in basketball shape will be key.

“I really haven’t done much,” he said. “I’ve been doing more conditioning and strengthening, upper body and lower body, just making sure I’m strong enough for when I do return. Now, we’re getting the basketball stuff in, so I’m hoping over the All-Star [break], I can play some basketball and be ready for the first game.”

Brad Stevens sounded much more cautious when asked about Bradley and Jaylen Brown (hip).

“Both guys are out for the next two games with the hope of doing some practice when we return,” Stevens said.

After Thursday’s game in Chicago, the Celtics are off for eight days, resuming their schedule in Toronto on Feb. 24 against the Serge Ibaka-revitalized Raptors.

All-Star push: Brad Stevens suddenly has an open roster spot on his Eastern Conference squad Sunday in New Orleans. Kevin Love is out at least six weeks with impending knee surgery. Stevens has no say in Love’s replacement but he has a natural suggestion should anyone ask.

Al Horford may not be putting up huge numbers (14.8 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 5.0 APG) but they are first, second and second respectively on a team that is just two games out of first place in the East. Expectations have been as big as Horford’s four-year, $113 million contract. But according to his coach, he’s been a big part of why the Celtics have risen to the top in the East.

“I always base my decision on who is really impacting winning, and I think that’s why Al would be a good choice,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “I’m hopeful Al gets that call. It’s not our call. But there’s a lot of good players in this league. It doesn’t take anything away from anybody else. We certainly hope Al gets that call.”

If Stevens was being somewhat (understandably) understated in his praise of Horford, Sixers coach Brett Brown was not. He also said the Celtics have risen to the top but went even further in his praise of the man once coached by Brett Brown’s good friend Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta. Brown and Budenholzer coached together under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio. 

“You can’t even put a price tag on that. He was coached by a close friend of mine in Atlanta for a while,” Brown said of Horford’s days in Atlanta. “If you just go to the person, there’s a veteran class and there’s an elite mind, basketball mind, and then you can start talking about his actual game. So, what he does to a locker room, what he does from experience perspective and you take the unusual skill package in that he can bring you out and stretch the court.

“Even when you study the last time that we played here, Joel [Embiid] gets sucked in on a drive and they kick it to Al in the corner for a three, that’s an unusual match-up for a 7-foot-2 center. I think that Brad does a really good job, creative job on using Olynyk and Horford, especially, with how they can stretch the floor, and Amir [Johnson], letting Amir shoot corner threes. Kind of all over the place, off-the-court locker room stuff, I think it’s just a sensational acquisition and piece that they have made to legitimately look at them now as one of the elite teams in the East. It’s a wonderful building block, for sure.” 

The Celtics are 7-5 without Horford in the lineup this season.

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, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Kevin Love
Win in Dallas shows again Celtics know how to seal the deal late 02.13.17 at 10:57 pm ET
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Feb 13, 2017; Dallas, TX, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to control the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas battles for control of the ball as Dallas Mavericks guard Yogi Ferrell (11) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics once again had their finishing kick in high gear Monday in Dallas. 

Perhaps the most important quality the Celtics have shown over the course of this promising season is their ability to close out teams in the fourth. They did it again Monday as they scored 28 points in the final 12 minutes in a 111-98 win over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center. No team in the NBA scores more in the final 12 minutes than Boston’s 29-point average. 

Something else they’ll need come playoff time is balance. They showed that Monday, also. Isaiah Thomas led six players in double figures with 29 points. They improved to 17-11 on the road, the best such record in the East. 

The Celtics finished off their 4-game West Coast swing with three straight victories after a loss in Sacramento. They come back home with a great deal of momentum, taking on the fast-improving 76ers Wednesday night at TD Garden.

“It’s hard to win a game,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. “We got outplayed the first night. But then the last three games we played pretty well.”

“We would’ve loved to go 4-0, but we bounced back,” Marcus Smart added. “That’s what good teams do, and we’re becoming a really great team.”

For a full recap and box score of Monday’s win over the Mavericks, click here.

The Celtics won their tenth game in 11 outings to improve to 36-19 and draw to within two games of first-place Cleveland (37-16) in the East. 

“We’re playing aggressively on offense,” Thomas said. “We have a good pace on offense and on defense we’re heading in the direction we want to be.”

Thomas had 29 points, his 39th straight game with at least 20 points. The Celtics got a dose of their own medicine as 5-foot-7 rookie Yogi Ferrell scored 20 points and put a scare into the Celtics in parts of the game. 

Early in the game, 5-foot-7 Isaiah Thomas was guarding 7-footer Dirk Nowitzki. Nowitzki hit a couple of jumpers over him.

The Celtics then switched to Marcus Smart. The man who has “Dallas” tattooed on his forearm put on a show in his hometown early. 

The two teams were red hot to start the game from the perimeter. Thomas hit his first three shots from beyond the arc while Smart also hit an early three, making the Celtics 4-for-4 from deep. But the Mavericks connected on six of their first seven shots as they kept pace.

The Celtics finished the first quarter hitting 7-of-11 from 3-point range while Dallas was 4-for-6 from deep.

The game was a continuation of the coming out party for rookie Yogi Ferrell. He is the Mavericks’ answer to Isaiah Thomas. For a good part of the first half, he played like it. He hit his first five shots and scored 11 points in just nine minutes of action.

Deron Williams was ejected when he drove to the basket with just under 40 seconds left in the first half and was called for an offensive foul, drawn by Smart. Williams picked up two quick technicals and was tossed.  

Then with just 0.6 seconds remaining, Ferrell was whistled for a questionable foul on Isaiah Thomas, who was firing up a deep three. Thomas hit all three shots and finished off an 8-0 run to put the Celtics up, 61-50, at the half. Thomas led the Celtics at the break with 18 points while Smart added 17. Gerald Green had 10. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas
Win in Portland shows Celtics’ true grit as Marcus Smart and Gerald Green spark rally 02.10.17 at 1:21 am ET
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Feb 9, 2017; Portland, OR, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the second half at Moda Center. (Jaime Valdez/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics had one of their toughest and most satisfying wins of the season Thursday in Portland. 

Trailing by 17 points with under three minutes left in the second quarter, the Celtics went on a 23-4 run to get back in the game, and then held off a rally by the Blazers late in a 120-111 win at the Moda Center in Portland. 

Gerald Green hit a three with 11:25 left in the fourth quarter to give the Celtics the lead for good. Boston improves to 34-19 while Portland falls to 23-31. 

With Avery Bradley (Achilles) and Jae Crowder (family illness) unavailable, Marcus Smart and Gerald Green stepped up while Isaiah Thomas was his standard unstoppable self, scoring a game-high 34 points. 

Smart had 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five steals while Gerald Green was 5-of-6 off the bench with 11 points, including a spectacular put-back dunk with 7:06 left in the game that put Boston up, 94-91.

“That’s a heck of a win, considering we didn’t have Avery and Jae out there. That was a hard-nosed, tough win. Down big but stuck with it. End of the first half was outstanding,” head coach Brad Stevens told reporters afterward. 

Rookie Jaylen Brown also played a critical role in the win. He scored 14 points in the starting lineup, helping the Celtics avenge the 127-123 overtime loss to Portland on Jan. 21 at TD Garden. 

As for Smart?

“He was terrific. Marcus was good, he was really good,” Stevens said. “We were guarding at a much-better rate.”

The Celtics cut the 17-point hole down to six before half and continued their spurt to open the third quarter. Thomas was again remarkable in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 of the team’s 43 points in the final 12 minutes as the Celtics outscored the Blazers, 43-35. The 43 points was a season-high for the Celtics in any quarter. 

The Trail Blazers big took early advantage of the soft middle. 

One night after coming up empty late against a Kings team without DeMarcus Cousins and watching their seven-game win streak end, the Celtics again looked a step slow against one of the best tandem guards – Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum  – in the league. Lillard finished with 28 while McCollum had 20. 

McCollum made a sick hesitation dribble on Kelly Olynyk with 34 seconds left in the first quarter. He drove to the basket and drew the foul. 

Then McCollum, on the next Blazers possession, made a spectacular pass across the lane to Al-Farouq Aminu, who was fouled. He made both free throws and the Blazers led, 32-22, after 12 minutes. 

It was Aminu, who finished with 26 points, who had the great bounce pass midway through the second quarter, finding Lillard to grow the Blazers’ lead to 43-28. 

Former Celtics sixth man stud Evan Turner missed the game as he’s out 5-6 weeks with a broken bone in his right hand. 

For a full recap and box score of Thursday’s win over the Blazers, click here

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, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart, NBA
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