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Brad Stevens working to keep young guns in the mix 02.25.16 at 9:16 pm ET
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Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart (36) trips over Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) in the second quarter at the Pepsi Center. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

While there was some discussion pre-game Thursday of how a veteran like Joe Johnson might add valuable versatility, there was also acknowledgment of the potential of the youth that remains on the roster.

With an average age of 24.4, the Celtics are tied with the Jazz for the youngest roster in the league this season.

The team they played Thursday, the Bucks are next at 24.5 and the Sixers come in at 24.7. The Celtics are by far and away the most successful in that foursome of youth. 

The Celtics have three rookies on their roster in Terry Rozier, Jordan Mickey and R.J. Hunter. Marcus Smart and James Young hail from the 2014 draft and Kelly Olynyk represents the Class of 2013 and Jared Sullinger was drafted in 2012.

Of the last two drafts, only Smart is seeing significant minutes and Young’s yo-yo between Boston and Maine is well documented.

How are the young guns handling not playing?

“I think it’s hard. They’ve played their whole lives,” Stevens said before Thursday’s game. “They’ve never had a year where they’ve sat. But it’s probably not all that unanticipated. It’s part of life as a young player, especially on a team that’s like ours. We’ve talked about that there’s not a ton of separation up and down the roster but there is a lot of depth.” 

With David Lee gone to Dallas, the Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson are the oldest at 28 years. Only five of the 14 players on the active roster are over 25.  

“All of our older players, and I say older kind of tongue-in-cheek, but they all are productive NBA players and have a real niche and role,” Stevens added.

R.J. Hunter has had the biggest impact of the 2015 class, averaging nearly 10 minutes a game in the 26 games he’s played. Rozier has played in 20 games and Mickey has seen action in just six games but does have three blocks. 

 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, James Young, Marcus Smart
Avery Bradley: ‘We didn’t play hard enough, consistently’ 02.23.16 at 12:20 am ET
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Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) is fouled by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) in the fourth quarter Monday night. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) is fouled by Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) in the fourth quarter Monday night. (Marilyn Indahl/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics nearly pulled off a miracle Monday night in Minneapolis.

But when Marcus Smart’s potential game-winning three fell short at the final buzzer, the Celtics were left to wonder why they couldn’t beat a Timberwolves team that came in with a 17-39 record.

“I feel like we can learn a lot from this game. We didn’t play hard enough, consistently, throughout the whole game,” said Avery Bradley, who scored 22 points in the 124-122 loss. “That’s the real reason we lost. We gave ourselves a chance.”

Bradley gave the Celtics a real shot when his three with 6.2 seconds left drew the Celtics to within one, 123-122. But after a Zach LaVine free throw, Smart dribbled up the right side and instead of dishing to a wide open Isaiah Thomas, he decided to pull up for a three of his own that fell short off the front iron.

“The last play, or anything like that, that wasn’t the reason we lost the game,” Bradley told reporters afterward. “We just weren’t playing hard enough on a consistent basis.”

The Celtics went small late in an effort to spread the court and space out the Minnesota bigs, who the Celtics couldn’t handle all night. Rookie Karl-Anthony Towns finished with 28 points and 13 rebounds while Gorgui Dieng added 17 points and 12 boards.

“They’re a young, athletic team as well. We let their young guys get going early, and it was hard to slow them down, to be honest,” Bradley said.

Towns served notice early that he was going to be a force, scoring 15 points and grabbing seven rebounds in the opening quarter.

“Yeah, we had no answer for him. We had no answer for him in any type of isolation I thought,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. “That’s why we went zone for a couple of possessions, and actually played it pretty well. And then we just trapped everything late and played five guards and just tried to fly around. The problem with that was obviously rebounding.

“Towns had his way with us the whole night and obviously, their other guys did, too. Certainly, he stood out.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Karl-Anthony Towns
Studs and Duds: Evan Turner, Celtics strike gold in Denver 02.21.16 at 7:28 pm ET
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Evan Turner (11) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) Sunday night. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

Evan Turner (11) drives to the basket against Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) and forward Will Barton (5) Sunday night. (Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports)

There were rocky moments in the Mile High city but, in the end, the Celtics got the win they desperately needed out West. 

Facing a young and rebuilding Nuggets team, Isaiah Thomas (22 points, 12 assists) and Jared Sullinger (16 points, 11 rebounds) each posted double-doubles leading the Celtics to a 121-101 win at Pepsi Arena in Denver. Avery Bradley added 20 points for the Celtics, who finish up their three-game Western road swing with a game Monday night in Minneapolis against the Timberwolves

The Celtics (33-24)  took complete command of the game with a 26-5 spurt in the first quarter, as all seven starters scored. The Celtics‘ bench, which scored just 28 points Friday night in the loss in Utah, matched that total in the first half, led by Evan Turner‘s 13.  Turner nearly finished with a double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing nine rebounds.

With the Celtics’ lead up to a game-high 26, 51-25, Denver went on a 10-0 run. That was the beginning of Denver’s deliberate crawl back into the game. Twice the Celtics answered runs with key 3-pointers, once by Turner and another by Marcus Smart. 

The Nuggets (22-34) got the lead down to five, 67-62, and had a chance to trim it even more but Isaiah Thomas blocked a shot and then two possessions later converted a three-point play to build the lead up 10, 72-62. Thomas again took over with four minutes left in the third. He hit a reverse lay up and then converted a pull-up runner with 3:31, putting the Celtics up, 83-69. 

The Nuggets appeared ready to make another run late in the third. But two missed threes were followed up by a Jae Crowder three-point play to make it 91-75. Will “The Thrill” Barton nailed a three with 0.4 seconds left to make it 91-78 Boston heading into the fourth. 

The hustle was there all night for the Celtics, embodied by the trio of Marcus Smart, Evan Turner and Avery Bradley. Smart dove for a loose ball in the Denver offensive end. He tipped it ahead to Turner. Turner raced it down from half-court, saving the ball from rolling out of bounds. He flipped ball back with his right hand to a waiting Avery Bradley and he went running 10 rows deep into the stands. Bradley’s uncontested basket with 10 minutes left put the Celtics up, 97-82. 

The Nuggets never got closer than 10 in the final seven minutes. The Celtics used a 16-6 run to build the lead back to 20, 117-97, before emptying the bench.

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

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Evan Turner. He single-handedly energized the bench and the team, as indicated above. He finished with 17 points and five assists, featuring a brilliant individual play around Nikola Jokic in the second quarter. Runner-up:  Isaiah Thomas. It’s getting repetitive but the lefty scoring guard is carrying the Celtics right now. And he was the answer in big moments when the Celtics seemed in danger of blowing a 26-point first half lead. 

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Kenneth Faried. Zero points in 13 minutes for the Nuggets starting power forward. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas
Report: Jahlil Okafor was the unnamed target for Celtics on trade deadline day 02.20.16 at 1:56 am ET
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Jahlil Okafor (8) dribbles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

Jahlil Okafor (8) dribbles the ball against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night. (Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports)

The unnamed star that would’ve surprised everyone is Philadelphia center Jahlil Okafor.

According to the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, the Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge wanted the rookie big man.

Ainge told WEEI’s OM&F he was “very close” to acquiring a player at the Thursday trade deadline but that the other team backed out at the last moment.

Okafor is having an impressive statistical season for the wretched Sixers, who fell to 8-46 this season Friday night. The rookie out of Duke is averaging 17.1 points and 7.4 rebounds in 45 games this season.

There’s a good amount of irony in the report about the pursuit of Okafor.

One of his nicknames is “Little Sully” while Okafor, then 19 years old, was the same person who found trouble in a Boston nightclub after Philadelphia’s opening night loss to the Celtics.

Okafor is considered one of the best pure offensive options in the low post, especially rare for a young player who just turned 20. But his biggest liability is defense. 

Still, the Celtics apparently were all in on doing the deal for the rare low post offensive talent before the combination of Philadelphia team president Jerry Colangelo and general manager Sam Hinke pulled back. 

Read More: 2016 NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics, Jahlil Okafor, NBA
Report: Celtics not showing ‘any interest’ in Dwight Howard 02.18.16 at 2:56 pm ET
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It appears the Celtics never had any serious interest in Dwight Howard.

According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, neither Boston nor Charlotte (another team rumored to have need for the Rockets big man) ever had serious discussions with Houston to acquire the 12-year veteran center.

“To my knowledge, neither [team] has ever shown any interest in making a real offer for Dwight. I’m not sure any team has,” Lowe tweeted.

Howard, who has an option for $23 million next season, is averaging 14.6 points and 12 rebounds for a team that is in ninth place in the Western Conference, with a 27-28 record.

The Lowe report echoes the same sentiment of Adrian Wojnarowski, who reported earlier Thursday that the Celtics had not shown any interest in paying “premium” prices for any of the high-profile big men that were reportedly on the block before the trading deadline.

Read More: 2016 NBA trade deadline, Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets
Report: Celtics lead Al Horford sweepstakes if Hawks make him available at deadline 02.17.16 at 4:48 pm ET
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Guard Jeff Teague (0) and center Al Horford (15)  are reportedly on the trading block. (Steve Dykes/USA TODAY Sports)

Guard Jeff Teague (0) and center Al Horford (15) reportedly are on the trading block. (Steve Dykes/USA Today Sports)

Are the Celtics about to get their big man at the trade deadline?

According to A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com, Danny Ainge is the front-runner to land Atlanta center Al Horford if the Hawks make him available before Thursday at 3 p.m. ET.

The nine-year veteran is averaging 15.3 points and 6.9 rebounds while starting all of Atlanta’s 55 games this season. The 31-24 Hawks are just one game behind the third-place Celtics in the Eastern Conference.

This all begs the question why Atlanta would want to deal one the league’s best big men right now? The Hawks are staring down the barrel of the free agency gun with Horford set to hit the open market this summer.

Horford is in the final year of a five-year, $60 million contract and is earning $12 million this season. Blakely reports that the Hawks have not made a decision on whether they will trade Horford but a league source told CSNNE.com that “the Celtics have emerged as one of the favorites to land him.”

But the big caveat is whether the Hawks even decide to part ways with the veteran forward at all. Atlanta would likely demand one of Boston’s three first-round picks.

If Ainge feels the true value is in the lottery pick, and could package the other first-rounders and some other enticements, then the deal might happen.

What would it mean for the short-term? Horford, a four-time All-Star, would easily step in and become Boston’s best post player, as Jared Sullinger, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder has formed the starting front court the last 11 games and 16 of the last 17 games.

Read More: 2016 NBA trade deadline, Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics
2016 Celtics Mock Draft Pick Power Rankings v3.0 01.07.16 at 11:28 am ET
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The Celtics own as many as eight draft picks in June 2016 — only one of which is their own — and the unprotected selection from the Nets is legitimately one of the most fascinating storylines in the entire NBA this season. We’ll regularly update the status of those selections, speculating when and who the Celtics will pick.

FIRST ROUND

3. Boston Celtics (from Brooklyn): Jaylen Brown.

Just as there will be what-ifs when it comes to the C’s end-of-season record, the same will be true for the Nets. Now that their season series is complete, we can surmise how vital those two Boston losses to Brooklyn will prove to be come April. Currently, had the Celtics swept the Nets (10-25) rather than split their four-game set, Boston would have as many wins as the No. 2 seed and Brooklyn would have as few wins as the Lakers.

Regardless, Jarrett Jack‘s season-ending ACL injury likely ensures the Nets will finish no worse than third in the lottery, which means the C’s should have a 15.6 percent chance at the No. 1 overall pick. And if they aren’t lucky enough to win the Ben Simmons sweepstakes, Brown or Brandon Ingram are the next-best wings.

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Read More: 2016 Celtics Mock Draft Pick Power Rankings, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Diamond Stone
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