|Can Celtics keep Hawks from running away with Game 6?||04.27.16 at 9:51 pm ET|
There’s been plenty of talk over the last three games about the coaching moves made by Brad Stevens and Mike Budenholzer.
There was Stevens changing his lineup and inserting Jonas Jerebko and Evan Turner into the starting lineup with great results before Game 3. There was Stevens going with a small lineup that gave the Hawks fits, especially in the fourth quarter of both games in Boston and there were the two timeouts call by Budenholzer with 15 seconds left in regulation of Game 4. He proceeded to watch his point guard dribble out the clock without actually getting a shot up at the rim as the game went to overtime, where the Celtics dominated and tied the series.
The advantage went back to Budenholzer on Tuesday as his decision to stay with a perimeter was rewarded when the Hawks connected on 14-of-35 shots from beyond the arc. Budenholzer also took a page out of Stevens’ book by going smaller and moving Paul Millsap to center for long stretches of the game.
But Stevens said in a conference call Wednesday it’s important not to become overly obsessed with turning the game into a chess match.
“I think that’s what you have to look at. I think that’s what you have to figure out. I think you always start with a mountain-load of information and your desire is to get to basketball in its simplest form,” Stevens said.
“I’ve shared this quote before, my old boss at Butler used to quote Lincoln when he said, ‘I apologize for the length of this letter. I didn’t have time to write a short one.’ I think that that’s a coach’s job, is to try to make it as short, simple and sweet as possible and then let guys go out there and play a fast game with a clear mind, and that’s the bottom line, that’s my job and that’s what I’ll stay up thinking about doing. The goal will just be to go out and do our stuff as well as we can.”
|Brad Stevens on Isaiah Thomas’ call for more help from teammates: ‘You just have to make right basketball play’||at 5:26 pm ET|
Brad Stevens can certainly understand the frustration Isaiah Thomas was feeling during the Game 5 loss in Atlanta.
For just the second time this season, he was held to single-digit scoring. He missed his first five shots and finished just 3-of-12. He faced double and triple-teams all night. Of course, to top it all off, he sprained his left ankle on his final basket of the night.
After the game, Thomas was vocal about the fact that other teammates are going to have to step up when they’re putting so much emphasis on stopping him.
On Wednesday, Stevens watched the film and answered some of Isaiah’s concerns from an Xs and Os standpoint.
“I thought in retrospect, as you go back and watch the film, we handled it really well in those first 18 or 20 minutes,” Stevens said. “We had our opportunities and at the end of the day, you have to take advantage of as many of them as you can, realizing you are not going to play a perfect game. You got to continue to be aggressive passing out of it and guys have to continue to be aggressive driving and playing and making plays for others out of it.
“There are certain things we’ll look to do should they decide to stay with that. I think obviously they did a good job and their energy level was really good. They just executed what they wanted to do really, really well last night. I’m talking about Atlanta here. I think that Isaiah has been trapped before. He’s been trapped quite a bit. I thought yesterday his reads at the start of the game were really good.”
What hurt the Celtics was the same thing that has hurt them all season. When Isaiah Thomas hasn’t scored they’ve struggled to find a consistent second scoring option. Some nights it’s Jae Crowder, some nights Evan Turner and some nights Jared Sullinger. But none of those three require a full game plan to stop. Thomas does.
“You just have to make the right basketball play and he’s got good teammates around him who have had great years,” Stevens continued. “We didn’t shoot it as well as we would have liked last night but I believe in each one of those guys, as does Isaiah.
When the Celtics weren’t struggling on offense, they were having trouble finding the open shooter on the perimeter again, especially in the third quarter, when Atlanta converted five of their 14 3-pointers on the night, scoring 42 points in the process.
“I think transition was the biggest thing and then we had some positions where we probably over-rotated a few times in the half court,” Stevens said.
The Celtics’ zone defense has had its moments when it’s been very effective in matching up against Atlanta’s sharp-shooters. Then there were times like last night where it failed them. Stevens, during his conference call Wednesday, made it sound like the zone is still a gimmick in the Celtics defensive playbook.
“We don’t spend a lot of time on it. We practice it very, very little,” Stevens said. “Obviously, [Tuesday] night, they had a couple of baskets against it. The first one I felt like was handled [well] and got a shot you’d look for, which was a 10-foot contested floater. The second time we didn’t get to [Kent] Bazemore, but the other day it was great to us. Maybe it was Game 3 at home, where they went scoreless against it. Sometime it’s very productive, sometimes it’s not. But we’re not going to spend a lot of time on it since we don’t play it a lot.”
|Brad Stevens sticking with small ball in Game 4, wants team to ‘not cross line’ with emotions||04.24.16 at 5:05 pm ET|
The Celtics came out with great emotion and energy in Game 3, and it paid off in a 37-20 lead after one quarter. Then that energy wore off a bit and Brad Stevens was concerned his team might run out of gas on lap one of the mile course.
Stevens also knows the Celtics are fortunate, perhaps, to not have lost Isaiah Thomas to a suspension after Thomas’ left palm struck Dennis Schroder in the face late in the first quarter.
Energy and discipline. It’s a combination the Celtics must master in Game 4, along with executing their offense with Isaiah Thomas likely playing his same off-guard role as Game 3.
“I think we have to play better, from an execution standpoint,” Stevens said. ” bviously our energy was really good, played really hard. We gotta bottle that up and do that again, that’s going to be imperative. And we’re going to have to match their speed and continue to find the right shot and hopefully knock them down.
I think that that’s been the critical part of the whole series and, in the game that we did, we gave ourselves a great chance to win. I think that, again, it goes back to what you can control and finding those great shots is most important from my standpoint, then playing with that same energy that we played with on Friday night.”
Kelly Olynyk will be back after a two-game absence with a right shoulder injury. But look for the Celtics and Stevens to stay small when possible, meaning Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and Tyler Zeller might find it tough to get on the court.
“I think kind of like what we did the other night, there’s a chance obviously with Kelly back that we would play two bigs together – and when I say bigs, I’m not really considering Jonas and Jae in that regard that have played the four mostly for us in this series,” Stevens added. “But it probably won’t be a ton. So it just limits the minutes that you can play all those different guys, whether it’s Amir, Jared, Kelly, Tyler and such.
“Obviously we certainly have confidence in playing those guys together. We’ve done that at different times throughout the year, but we’ll see how this game turns itself out. And judging by the first three games, obviously being with more switching groups and playing more small has been better so far. SO we’ll see. It’s a tough position for all those guys to be in just because of the way the series is going, but we’re going to need them all at one time or another to have success in this thing. So each of them’s in a different boat, and we’ll see.”
Stevens did admit he spoke to the team about not getting into any shenanigans that might lead to technicals or worse.
“Yeah. I think we talk about, all the time about not wanting to cross that line. And at the same time it’s going to be physical and competitive because you watch every playoff series, that’s what they are,” Stevens said. “You’re playing a team for the fifth time in two weeks. They’re used to us, we’re used to them. It’s prideful people on both sides of the floor, really good players. There’s gonna be some of that. But obviously you don’t want it to cross the line. That’s something that certainly we’ve addressed. And we’re not going to spend a ton of time on it, and I’m sure they aren’t either. We’ve got to focus on what we can do to play well.”
|Jae Crowder heads back to gym after Game 3 to work on shot: ‘I wanted to see the ball go through the basket’||04.23.16 at 5:40 pm ET|
WALTHAM – Jae Crowder had seen enough of his shots not falling through the basket after going 1-for-11 from the field Friday night. Crowder has made exactly two shots in his last 20 attempts covering Games 2 and 3. He is is just 7-for-36 overall in the series, including 3-for-17 from 3-point range.
So, instead of going home to rest and savor his defense on Al Horford and Paul Millsap in a 111-103 Game 3 win, he went back to the Celtics training facility to shoot.
“I wanted to see the ball go through the basket, that’s all,” Crowder said Saturday. “I was here 45 minutes, me and my friend, I needed a rebounder. I’ve done it a few times.”
Then he had a question for the reporters on hand.
“How’d you find out last night and not the previous nights?”
Told that teammate Isaiah Thomas was the one dropping dimes, Crowder seemed at ease.
“Oh, Ok, I got here like 1, 1:30 [Saturday morning],” Crowder said. “The win was great. I was very happy with that, but I wanted to prepare myself for Game 4. It’s a big game for us, and I wanted to really step into my shots and be a force in my offensive game. I’m doing great on defense and guys are still applauding me on that, but I just want to lift our team up a little more in the offensive end. I just wanted to see the ball go through the hoop.”
“It’s a big reason why we’re here, that these guys have that kind of mindset and that kind of work ethic,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I think the general collective chip on our shoulder is pretty good. But I think individually each of these guys has a reason to have a chip on their shoulder. And Jae’s a worker, and always has been.”
Thomas said it’s just a matter of time before the shots start falling, and there’s no time like Game 4.
“We haven’t [seen him struggle like this]. But he’s so positive. We’re so positive with him,” Thomas said. “We’re confident in his ability to score the basketball and to help us like he has all year. Once he gets going, it’s going to be scary. He was in here last night [after the game] getting shots up. He’s hard on himself but at the same time, he’s taking the right shots. The basketball gods will help him out soon.”
Maybe the basketball gods will help with Crowder’s bad right ankle, and ankle Crowder says is still at only 70 percent.
“I don’t plan on changing it. I’m shooting the same way. I’m trying to play with the ankle and learn to adapt to it as much as possible, but that’s what helps me to come back in the gym and stay late,” Crowder said. “That will help me to adjust, but I’m not thinking about it. I’m going to let it fly. I’ve put a lot of work into it. I’m not worried. I’m shooting, working out, doing my same thing.
|Kelly Olynyk ‘in a good amount of pain,’ will miss Game 3, Brad Stevens details adjustments without him||04.22.16 at 7:22 pm ET|
The word on Kelly Olynyk does not sound promising for a return anytime soon, at least in this series.
The forward missed his second straight game Friday after re-aggravating his separated right shoulder in Game 1 last Saturday night.
“Feeling a little bit better,” Brad Stevens said before Friday’s Game 3. “From what I’ve been told, went through some shooting this morning. Didn’t feel great this afternoon when he got here. Did not go through our shootaround, walkthrough. I have not talked to Eddie since that. But because he didn’t go through and because he told me what he told me before, I just assumed, no. And that’s what I was told before.”
Olynyk initially injured the shoulder on Feb. 10 against the Clippers and missed 12 games before returning in March. But he’s been less than 100 percent in his return.
Stevens said Friday it’s not about Olynyk talking his way back into the lineup. It’s about giving the shoulder time to heal and Olynyk being comfortable playing with it.
“They’ve been working around the clock with regard to extra [physical therapy], extra [stimulation], etcetera, etcetera for Kelly to get back. It’s ultimately Kelly’s call on that, based on how he feels,” Stevens said. “He’s been playing through a lot of pain. He got popped pretty good in the first and aggravated it in the first game. The one thing that I know based on how he’s been playing the last month, he would play if he could. I feel very strongly about that.
“I think any time you have an injury, you can make it worse. There’s no doubt about that. From what I’ve been told, from what I understand, he’s got some issues with it shifting and he’s in a pretty good amount of pain.”
Olynyk’s ability to stretch the floor, play transition defense and space the Celtics offense in half-court has been sorely missed in the first two games. Stevens gave some interesting insight Friday as to how the Celtics and Isaiah Thomas might have to adjust.
“With regard to Kelly’s shooting, we’re going to have to do some things that may be a little bit unique to generate the best looks, and the best looks may not be the traditional best looks,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to put Isaiah off the ball some. We’re going to have to drive, kick, drive, kick, drive, kick. We’re going to have to multiple attacks to paint instead of just one attack, especially because of all the attention they’re giving Isaiah at the rim. Isaiah is doing exactly what he did all during the regular season. He gets to the rim. He’s able to come off the pick-and-roll. He’s able to come off screens. He’s getting there. There’s just three or four guys there [waiting]. So, we’ve got to do a great job of staying spaced. Jonas will help that. Hopefully, we’re going to have to knock down some shots, and I believe that we will.”
|Avery Bradley will heal fully, ‘possibly’ available in Round 2, Brad Stevens considering lineup change||04.21.16 at 2:12 pm ET|
WALTHAM – The tale of these Celtics could be told by the end of Game 3. And Brad Stevens knows it.
Without Kelly Olynyk (right shoulder) and Avery Bradley (right hamstring), the Celtics held a media session Thursday at their practice facility, then held a team meeting and then a relatively light practice. Before heading off to their bunker before practice, the Celtics coach broke down what’s at stake in the hours leading up to Friday night’s virtual do-or-die game.
“From a physical standpoint I think we need to have a solid day but we’re not going to be out here very long,” Stevens said. “It’s going to be more about what changes we need to make, what we need to do to be a little bit more successful, how we need to play, those types of things. But hey, it’s we’re deep into the season. We’ve got to do what we do better, like I said [Wednesday], and go from there.
“Kelly will be, like I said [Wednesday], questionable probably at best for the game. And then Avery obviously won’t be playing, so the guys that are out here are the guys that we’ll prepare with.”
Bradley did have his MRI and Stevens indicated that surgery will not be needed, just time to heal.
“Nothing that we didn’t think. So I think big picture, long term, he’s going to be able to heal fully,” Stevens said. “It will all be good and everything else. It just takes time with hamstrings. And so like I said earlier he’s definitely out this weekend, and then I would say he’s very unlikely to play in this series again. The hamstring’s one of those things where you can walk down the hallway and look like a million bucks, but when you start playing 32 minutes and have to change speeds and change directions and those type of things, that’s a different story.”
As for the likelihood Bradley would be available for the next round?
“That would be something that we haven’t discussed a whole lot just because they’ve talked about toward the end of this series he should be to the point where he’s able to do a little bit more from a practice standpoint and those type of things,” Stevens said. “So, I would say that it’s still unlikely early in that situation, but possibly in the days that go on after that.”
Stevens indicated another lineup change is in store for Game 3. Stevens had his regular group of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson for Game 1. Then Marcus Smart replaced Bradley in Game 2. Evan Turner replaced Sullinger to start the second half Tuesday night. That could be sign of things to come but Stevens said he hadn’t made up his mind yet.
“In Game 1 it wasn’t as much execution as shot-making,” Stevens said. “And then in Game 2, I thought Game 2 was a much different game overall. So from my standpoint, we look at Game 1, we look at Game 2, we look at the things we can do well, and we need to do them as well as we can for those 48 minutes that are coming up. But I think at the end of the day, we’ve defended how we’ve wanted to more often than not.
“And offensively we’ve got to be better. Especially, again, you can’t dig yourself that big of a hole early because then that puts pressure on you to make the next one and the next one and the next one. We’re going to have to have guys that are not only in the right spots and executing the right ways, but also then finishing plays. And these guys have responded to that all year. So we’ve had our down moments. We’ve had our down quarters in games. And we’re looking forward to tomorrow night.”
|Isaiah Thomas says Hawks not ‘a scary defensive team,’ C’s just need to ‘knock down shots’||04.20.16 at 6:16 pm ET|
For Isaiah Thomas, the heartbeat of the Celtics dormant offense, the solution is simple.
“If we start to knock down our shots, it’s going to make it easier for us to execute on the offensive end,” Thomas said in a conference call Wednesday. “But first two games we haven’t been able to shoot the ball. All the Hawks are doing is packing the paint, and we continue to attack the paint. Then all five guys are there anytime someone attacks it.”
When the Celtics shoot 3-for-23 like they did in the first quarter Tuesday, including 0-for-6 from deep, the Hawks can just do what they do, and that’s pack the paint.
“Especially when I’m in attack mode, trying to get into the paint. If guys continue to be confident, and knock down their shots, they’re going to open up lanes for guys to drive it. There won’t be any opportunity for them to block shots.”
And blocking shots is an Atlanta specialty. They rejected a franchise-playoff record 15 on Tuesday in Game 2, including several on Thomas when he tried in vain to create by driving to the basket. Al Horford had five and Paul Millsap added four.
“They are quick to the ball. You see an opening, and once you get to the hole there’s two or three guys around you,” Thomas said. “Give them credit on that. But I haven’t thought of Atlanta as a scary defensive team where you have to second guess yourself on getting your shot blocked, like with a guy like DeAndre Jordan or Hassan Whiteside – (players) like that. They’re good at it, and we just have to either finish it off to a big or a drive and kick. Either a pump fake or make the adjustment.”
Brad Stevens suggested changes are coming for Game 3. What might they be?
“I don’t know. I think he will make some kind of change, knowing Brad and watching tons of film,” Thomas said. “But we’ll see. Hopefully he can do a few things that will make this team start games better, and give us a better chance to win.”
Thomas is 12-for-36 in the first two games, including 5-for-16 from deep. He admitted that sometimes he and others might be forcing things when the shots don’t fall.
“That can be the case, but that wasn’t true in the last game,” Thomas said. “Offensively, we couldn’t make shots, and we dug ourselves a big hole in the first quarter. For whatever reason we keep doing that. If we can sustain a better start, that gives us a way better chance to start the game. We give ourselves no chance by getting down by 20 points early in the game.
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