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Avery Bradley, Al Horford and how the Celtics made the Bulls crumble in Game 5 04.27.17 at 2:15 am ET
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What was most impressive about Boston’s 108-97 win over the Bulls in Game 5? Was it Avery Bradley coming out on fire and playing a great defensive game? Al Horford dominating in the 4th or the Celtics generating 23 points off 16 Chicago turnovers? WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss from TD Garden.

Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Al Horford says Gerald Green is biggest reason Celtics won in Chicago. Will it continue? 04.26.17 at 8:24 pm ET
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Al Horford

Al Horford

After facing a 2-0 hole in the best-of-7 series, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew a change had to be made to the starting lineup. 

Stevens’ decision to start Gerald Green over Amir Johnson was a surprising one, to say the least, but certainly made a difference in Chicago — where the Celtics won two straight against the Bulls to tie the series, 2-2. It was a move that Al Horford says is the biggest reason why the C’s topped the Bulls twice on their own floor.

“For us, the lineup change is what helped us [the most], I think,” Horford said. “Being able to add Gerald to the starting lineup, I felt like that gave us better spacing.”

Green certainly made his presence felt in Chicago, especially in Game 4 when he scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half and finished with 7 rebounds in the crucial momentum-changing win. Now as the series swings back to Boston for Game 5, Horford is confident the Celtics can top the Bulls at home for what would be their first home victory of the series. 

“We’re gonna do what we do, that’s just playoff basketball after you play a certain amount of games,” Horford explained. “This is the ninth time we’ve played this team this year. I think it’s just a matter of keep seeing the same guys, keep running the same plays over and over and over. For us it’s just to make sure we go out and handle our business.”

Aside from Green’s Game 4 scoring outburst, Isaiah Thomas’ attitude, along with his 33-point performance of course, and his smile, certainly stood out on Sunday. It was the first time in the series we’ve seen that side of Thomas, since the untimely passing of his young sister, Chyna Thomas. 

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, NBA
Rajon Rondo out of arm cast, could return after Game 5 04.25.17 at 7:18 pm ET
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Apr 18, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Chicago Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo (9) during the first quarter in game two of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago’s offense hasn’t looked the same without Rondo (M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo has been ruled out for Game 5 in Boston on Wednesday, but Games 6 and 7 still remain open.

Rondo, who injured his right thumb in Game 2, had his hard cast removed this week and was taking jump shots on Tuesday before team practice. He was initially expected to miss seven to 10 days — ruling him out for the rest of the series — but after the Bulls dropped two straight in Chicago and are now on the verge of falling behind, 3-2, in their best-of-7 series against the Celtics, the Bulls could turn to Rondo for help.

However, Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg is calling a potential comeback against the Celtics unlikely, but stated if there’s one person who can pull it off it’s Rondo.

“This is honestly the first time he’s touched a basketball with that right hand,” Hoiberg said. “We’ll see. We’ll see how it goes. He’s going to continue to condition and do everything that he can. He was in the weight room yesterday getting a good session in there. It was his first time back in the weight room. He’s just getting this whole process started.

“Just watching him wince a little bit when the ball was coming to him makes me think it’s a longshot. But if there’s anybody who can do it and will try to fight through it, it’s Rondo because of the competitor he is.” (Chicago Tribune)

If the Bulls were to fall behind 3-2, it’d be hard to envision Rondo sitting on the bench in street clothes given the Bulls haven’t won a game in this series without him. One thing’s for sure is Rondo will not play in Game 5 but the rest of the series is still up in the air.

Rondo averaged 11.5 points, 10 assists and 8.5 rebounds in Games 1 and 2 before he was forced to sit out the rest of the series.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Fred Hoiberg, NBA
Big blowout win in Game 3 shows there’s life in Celtics after all 04.21.17 at 9:22 pm ET
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Apr 21, 2017; Chicago, IL, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots over defender Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first quarter in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas shoots over defender Chicago Bulls forward Nikola Mirotic (44) during the first quarter in game three of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at United Center. (Caylor Arnold/USA Today Sports)

There is life in the Celtics after all. 

Thanks to a red-hot Jae Crowder early, an energized Isaiah Thomas in the third quarter and brilliant 3-point shooting, the Celtics managed to turn the tables and rout the Bulls, 104-87, Friday night in a must-have Game 3 at Chicago’s United Center.

The Bulls still lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 set for Sunday night in Chicago before the series shifts back to Boston for Game 5 Wednesday in Boston. 

The Celtics connected on an amazing 17-of-37 shots from 3-point range (.459) as eight different Celtics hit at least one shot from long range. Al Horford led the way with 18 points and eight rebounds while Crowder and Thomas each had 16. 

Avery Bradley chipped in 15 points and great defense for most of the night on Jimmy Butler, who missed nine of his first 10 shots. 

“Avery had a great game tonight,” Brad Stevens said after his first-ever road playoff win in six tries. “I couldn’t take him out of the game. He played the first 18 mins of the second half.”

The Celtics absolutely needed to take advantage of the fractured right thumb that will likely sideline Rajon Rondo for the rest of the series. And early on, they did. With Rondo out wearing a split on his right arm and a unique short-sleeve burgundy suit with white sneakers on the bench, the Celtics clearly looked more energized to start the game – and definitely more confident. 

“I thought our poise was 10-times better tonight,” Stevens said. 

The Celtics did the bulk of their damage from 3-point range. They converted five of their first seven tries from deep and finished the first 12 minutes making 7-of-11 from deep. 

Horford was a monster on both sides of the floor. He had two steals, a block and converted both shots from beyond the arc. 

Gerald Green, in the lineup at the ‘4’ position for Amir Johnson, moved Horford to the center position and provided some early spark with drives to the paint. 

The Celtics jumped out to a 14-4 lead with an 11-0 run. Then, after the Bulls responded with six straight, the Celtics went on a 13-0 run sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from the red-hot Jae Crowder. The Celtics led 33-15 after one. 

The lead ballooned to 37-17 in the opening minute of the second quarter as Jimmy Butler was on the bench. But the Bulls’ bench got hot and responded with an 11-0 run that energized the late-arriving Bulls crowd at the United Center. 

(For the full box score and details, click here). 

In desperate need of better play from Avery Bradley, the Celtics got it in the first half. The guard connected on his first four shots, including three threes, scoring 11 points as the Celtics stabilized things midway through the second with a 42-32 lead. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics
Why the 0-2 problems (and solutions) start with the players, not Brad Stevens 04.19.17 at 2:52 am ET
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Apr 16, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) walk off the court after their 106-102 loss to the Chicago Bulls in game one of the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4), center Al Horford (42), guard Avery Bradley (0) and forward Jae Crowder (99) need to regroup in a hurry. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports).

The problem with these Celtics through two games is they haven’t met the challenge of the more experienced Chicago Bulls. This is not the job of Brad Stevens. 

Stevens can only do so much. True, he fell to 2-10 in his three playoff seasons in Boston, including 2-5 at home. No coach in NBA history has a worst record after at least 10 playoff games. Don Chaney and Bob Weiss were 2-9. Monty Williams stands 2-8. But Stevens can only pull so many players from a bench that consists of rookie and second-year players in Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. His bigs behind Amir Johnson are Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk. Marcus Smart has been spotty at best and Jonas Jerebko has been non-existent. 

Al Horford has underachieved in the first two games and doesn’t play like a pure post player even though Stevens admitted that, due to matchups, the Celtics have no choice but to put Horford at the ‘4’ and hope he can defend the low post. 

Jae Crowder continues to struggle and Isaiah Thomas seems – very understandably so – carrying the weight of the entire team on his shoulders, while his mind is clearly burdened with the loss of his 22-year-old sister last weekend in a tragic car accident 3,000 miles away. 

What exactly is Stevens supposed to say or do with all of that? 

“We have to get ready to play great on Friday,” Stevens said after the 111-97 loss to the Bulls.in Game 2 Tuesday night. “That’s what our focus has to be; we don’t have any other choice. And that’s what we said in the locker room, and that’s it.  We’ll dissect the film, we’ll go through it, we’ll figure out what we didn’t do well and there’ll be quite a lot, and go from there. But the (Paul) Zipsers, (Nikola) Mirotic, (Bobby) Portis – those guys have had huge impacts on the first two games of this series.

“I mean, I expect it from Wade, right? I mean, I think we all do.  Last year I think he hit less than 10 threes during the regular season and then more than that in the first round of the playoffs.  Like, this is who he is. And it’s who Rondo’s been throughout his career. I mean, the level that he’s playing at is terrific. And then Butler’s Butler. So, but those other guys are really impacting the series in a big way.”

Stevens coached this team to 53 wins in the regular season. He’s clearly one of the brightest minds in the game. But at some point, the players like Jae Crowder and Al Horford have to pick it up.

“Its self-explanatory. Down 0-2 going into their place we just have to take it one game at a time,” Crowder said after his 16-point minus-12 effort Tuesday. “They came in and took, and we have to do the same. Take it one game at a time and try to get a game three. It’s not ideal for us. Definitely don’t put yourself in a 0-2 hole having home court advantage. But it’s not the end of the world for us. We have the unit to go to Chicago and take care of business.”

Horford had seven points but was a minus-19. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Chicago Bulls
Even on verge of No. 1 seed, Brad Stevens concedes ‘Cleveland is the team to beat… they deserve that’ 04.12.17 at 7:00 pm ET
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Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics into the playoff charge. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The standings heading into the playoffs may have the Celtics at the top of the ladder in the Eastern Conference. 

But in his mind, Brad Stevens is keeping the defending champions on a pedestal for a purpose going into the playoffs. 

The Cavaliers lost three straight games after knocking off the Celtics last Wednesday at TD Garden. That opened the door for the Celtics to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over the rest-depleted Bucks Wednesday night. 

But Stevens knows full well that if he can keep that carrot in front of his team, they will have plenty of motivation to prove themselves worthy of the respect the Cavaliers have already earned. 

Asked before Wednesday’s regular season finale how he feels about the Cavaliers still regarded as the team to beat, he grinned quickly before confirming what many experts already feel. 

“No, they deserve that. Cleveland is the team to beat. There’s no question about that. They deserve that,” Stevens said. “They’ve been to back-to-back finals. So, until somebody knocks them off, as a defending champion, I think that’s a fair way to view things.” 

Clearly, the Cavaliers aren’t concerned about finishing second to the Celtics in the East. They are resting LeBron James at home against the Toronto Raptors in their regular season finale, a game that will be played simultaneous with Boston’s game against Milwaukee. 

Stevens also indicated before the game that it’s safe to say that – heading into the postseason – he will likely go with a rotation of nine regular players. But there’s a chance that the likes of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green or even Jordan Mickey could see time if the situation presents itself. 

“Yeah, I’d say that’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens said. “But again, everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen.  As we saw last year, match-ups you didn’t anticipate become match-ups that become important and you need to throw somebody else at so everybody’s got to be ready.”  

The first four off Stevens’ bench would be Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. 

Stevens confirmed that everyone would be “available” for the regular season finale. 

“We’re trying to win a game,” Stevens said of trying to capture win No. 53, a win that would clinch the No. 1 seed. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Eastern Conference, Milwaukee Bucks
Silver lining of early season injuries sheds light on Brad Stevens’ approach to resting players late in season 03.22.17 at 7:18 pm ET
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Mar 20, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) controls the ball while Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) defends during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

A healthy Avery Bradley has been getting back to form since his return from a sore Achilles. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If there’s one dividend from the early season injury bug that the Celtics are cashing in on now it’s rest.

Specifically, it’s the rest players like Avery Bradley, Kelly Olynyk, Al Horford and Jae Crowder were able to gain as the rest of the league was going through the grind. 

Every year, there’s intense debate as to what to do at the league level to discourage teams from resting their players at the end of the season as playoff-bound teams prep their star players for the postseason.

This was brought to a head on March 11 in San Antonio when, on a nationally televised game, the Warriors sat Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala. Kevin Durant was already sitting with his left knee injury. The Spurs rested Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and LaMarcus Aldridge. 

What’s Stevens’ take?

“I understand the discussion and certainly we’re all sensitive to the fact that somebody is going to watch a game in TD Garden for the first time tonight,” Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Indiana. “That’s why I don’t know if this is fortunate or unfortunate, probably more unfortunate because you never want to have injuries, but we had a lot of injuries so we got rest because we had to get rest. 

“I do think in the last week of the season it is a little bit different. But I also understand as each team goes about it to try and best set themselves up for the postseason, the idea and opportunities to get rest. I’m hopeful, like everybody else, that the extra week in the season can appropriately handle some of those things but there are some really tough stretches in this and it is difficult. You just have to try to manage those as well as you can. 

“If some team chooses to rest their players then I understand it has to be a discussion but I understand why they do it.”

To mitigate some of the schedule grind to make it easier on players, the NBA shortened the preseason, adding a week to the schedule to spread out more games. Still, teams like the Celtics still faced a huge challenge.

“We knew going into the year, and I think this is probably what a lot of teams do, they look at the schedule,” Stevens said. “We knew December was going to be a monster and on Dec. 30 we were going to play six games in nine days and then we knew early February the West Coast trip coming back, All-Star break, Toronto, Detroit, back, West Coast trip again, you knew that was going to be really tough. You just kind of know that in advance and try to plan for it the best way you can. But again, some of our decisions were alleviated by the fact that we didn’t have guys available because of injuries. Again, I understand why teams do it but I understand the dilemma.”

Jae Crowder entered Wednesday’s game shooting 39.7 percent from beyond the arc. He has taken 605 shots, 340 from long range. That figures to 56 percent of his overall shots from long range. 

“If they’re all open, whatever, right? And even if they’re lightly challenged, he’s a really good 3-point shooter,” Stevens said. “You look across the league at guys that do what he does, that’s pretty typical. I think that’s something that’s a great testament to him, that he can continue to be as consistent as he’s being, shooting that percentage and shooting as high of a percentage with that volume.” 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Indiana Pacers, Isaiah Thomas
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