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Even without Kyle Lowry, Raptors, Luis Scola present test for Celtics 03.23.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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The irony of the question was only apparent just before tipoff Wednesday night. 

Longtime Celtics beat writer Bill Doyle asked Brad Stevens what made the Raptors backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan so effective. DeRozan came in averaging 23.9 points per game while Lowry average stood at 21.9. 

“Really strong, physical, excellent athletes,” Stevens said. “Obviously, Lowry and DeRozan ability to hit really tough shots and get to the line at an elite rate. All those things combined is why they’re so difficult to defend. It’s easier said than done because they usually have a physical advantage on their position from a size standpoint and a strength standpoint. And then they don’t give up anything in athleticism and speed. So, it’s a really good duo but they’ve got other good players, too. It’s a heck of a team.”

Just before the start of the game, Lowry was scratched from the starting lineup as a precaution with a sore right elbow. He was dressed and available but expected to sit the game out. 

One player the Celtics wish would sit out, at least in the first quarter, is Luis Scola. The 36-year-old veteran from Argentina hit a pair of threes in the first six minutes. In the last two games against Boston, Scola has 30 points in the first quarter alone, including 17 last Friday in Toronto’s win. 

“He’s been really good in the first quarter of both of those games. I do think it’s one of those things where you have to go back and say, ‘OK, were we defending the right way? Why did he get his points? Are there things we can do different without overreacting and without saying, OK, those other two guys are critically important, too.’ Making sure you’re good on the glass is critically important and everything else.

“Scola is a good player. He’s been a good player for a long time. I think people and fans of international basketball knew it long before he came into the NBA. He’s given us fits the last two games, specifically in the first quarter.”

Even though Lowry sat out, the Raptors still have plenty to play for. They entered Wednesday’s game just 1.5 games behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East. The Celtics, at 41-30, are still in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the East, coming into play just .003 behind Miami. Problem is, the Celtics have lots of competition for that spot as they are tied with Charlotte and Atlanta. All three have 41-30 records. 

“It’s hard to be naive to it but I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about it. I’ve got a general feel for where all the teams are. I don’t know the exact records. I don’t the exact tie-breakers and all that other stuff,” Stevens said. 

“We’ve said all year the East is deep and the East has been good and you’re going to have to play well through 82 games to get into the playoffs. Here we are.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kyle Lowry, Luis Scola, NBA
Jae Crowder takes some steps, Kelly Olynyk showing off some D at 7:26 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden on Mar. 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder (99) drives to the hoop against Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) during the second half at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder continues to take some small steps on his way back from the high sprain of his right ankle that forced him to miss his sixth straight game Wednesday night against the Raptors.

“He shot [Tuesday] with [assistant coach] Jamie Young for a while,” Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game against Toronto. “He shot pregame today but from what I’ve been told, I don’t think there’s any movement shooting. I think it’s just spot shooting so no real update. He’s going to go on our trip. I don’t want to put a timeline on him but I don’t anticipate him playing early in the trip.”

Stevens was asked if he thinks Crowder’s uncertainly might leave the Celtics a bit shorthanded on the five-game trip out West.

“I don’t think so right now. Obviously, if we have more issues, we’ll address as we move forward.” 

The Celtics sent Coty Clarke and James Young on the trip out to Texas for games Wednesday and Friday. They are expected to join the Celtics when they begin their trip in Phoenix Saturday night. 

“I expect them to, yeah. I haven’t talked to Danny [Ainge] yet. They play on their trip and then they’re going to hop over and join us after that,” Stevens said. 

One of the keys to the Celtics keeping pace without Crowder is the continued play of Kelly Olynyk. On Monday, Olynyk scored 22 points off the bench against the Magic. But his defense also made an impact on Stevens. 

“I think he’s a position player. He’s a guy that can keep people in front of him,” Stevens said. “He actually switches better than people think. He’s got pretty good feet on the perimeter and he’s good in our pick-and-roll system. Kelly’s greatest strength on the defensive end is adding to the team defense.

“He’ s a guy that’s been here three years and a guy with that kind of size and understands the game and feels good about the game. The game has slowed down for him in some ways and that can have a good impact.”

As anyone knows who watches the Celtics, shot-blocking is not Olynyk’s expertise. He has just 31 blocks in 58 games this season. 

“It’s not fair to compare him to a 7-foot shot blocker because he’s not a shot blocker,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that has to use position, has to use his base, his feet and move and keep guys in front of him, and make the right play. He took the charge in Philly the other night with great positioning. The other day against Orlando, he had some great positioning plays. So, I think it’s a lot less about height. It’s a lot more about being in his stance and playing low and playing lower longer than the guy he’s playing against.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
Kelly Olynyk does away with shoulder brace, gets ‘back in rhythm’ with 22-point effort in win 03.21.16 at 11:46 pm ET
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In the previous three games with a black shoulder sleeve/brace protecting his injured right shoulder, Kelly Olynyk didn’t look like himself.

The best 3-point shooter on the team (41.3 percent) before his Feb. 10 injury against the Clippers could barely reach the rim with authority on his shot. And he knew it.

He made just one of ten from beyond the arc in losses against the Thunder and Raptors and a win over the Sixers Sunday night, including misses on all four tries in Philadelphia. He was just 5-of-22 overall (22.7 percent).

Something had to change so on Monday, before the game against the Magic, Olynyk decided to go without the brace and the impact was noticeable starting with shootaround, where he was getting more lift on his shot.

It paid off when he hit his first two shots from beyond the arc. He was in a rhythm and that propelled him to a 22-point night off the bench in Boston’s 107-96 win over the Magic at TD Garden.

“Yeah, just getting out there, back in the rhythm, back in motion, yeah, it was better range of motion without the shirt on, definitely. And just went out there and played confidently,” Olynyk said.

“If you miss six weeks of basketball, you’re going to be rusty when you get back,” coach Brad Stevens added. “Every game you play, every practice you have, you feel a little bit better. You don’t know when that’s really going to happen, especially with an upper-body injury where you haven’t been able to shoot much. But you knew it was going to come around at some point.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Kelly Olynyk, NBA
Kevin Durant tells everyone to chill about Boston talk: ‘They ran with that one’ 03.18.16 at 7:35 pm ET
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Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives the ball against  Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first half Wednesday at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) drives the ball against Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) in the first half Wednesday at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Impending free agent Kevin Durant is calling for a little perspective when it comes to cities he might choose in free agency this summer.

First of all, there’s a good chance that the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar might sign a one-year contract (likely back in Oklahoma City) to reach his 10-year vested veteran rights that would allow teams to pay him and have his salary take up 35 percent of the payroll.

Durant will also likely take advantage of the exploding salary cap. The cap is expect to grow by $40 million over the next two seasons.

Secondly, there will be many teams and cities that could make a push for him.

So, it’s a little presumptuous to think that just because he had kind words for the city of Boston that means that’s his preference.

“I love being in Philly, too,” Durant told reporters at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia Friday morning before Friday’s Thunder-Sixers game. “If you ask me about a city, I like being there. I’m not going to say anything bad about it. That’s how I am. I’m not going to watch what I say. Because I know how I’m saying it and my intentions in saying it. People are going to pick and choose what they want to write and I can’t control that.

“But I can control what I say. And I’m not going to hold my tongue or answer things differently or walk on egg shells because I don’t want stuff written about me. 

Responding to the reports earlier in the day at the Thunder’s shootaround at TD Garden, Celtics fans chanted “Come to Boston” at Durant during the game. Durant scored 28 points in Oklahoma City’s 130-109 win. 

“I’m just gonna be who I am,” Durant added. “Of course people are going to say stuff. I like playing in Boston, like the city, it’s a cool city, they ran with that one. But I know how it is. It’s all good.”

WEEI.com’s Ben Rohrbach broke down why it’s highly unlikely Durant is coming to Boston this summer. But a little wishful thinking never hurt. But as Durant reminded everyone Friday, it also wouldn’t hurt to just keep those expectations realistic.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant, NBA, NBA trade talk
Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard explain how Kevin Durant, Thunder manhandled Celtics 03.17.16 at 12:10 am ET
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In an overpowering display, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook helped the Thunder score 42 points in the third quarter, build a lead of 30 points before coasting to a 130-109 win over the undermanned Celtics on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Durant had 28 points while Westbrook added 24 for the Thunder (46-22). The Celtics (39-29) lost their third straight and fell to fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics were led by Isaiah Thomas, who had a game-high 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting from the field. But the Celtics lost their second straight without the injured Jae Crowder.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Durant, Mike Petraglia, NBA
Isaiah Thomas says Celtics ‘punked’ by Thunder, ‘soft as tissue’ in embarrassing loss 03.16.16 at 11:58 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas was embarrassed.

Even though he scored a game-high 29 points and made 11-of-19 shots from the floor, he was embarrassed by his team’s 130-109 loss to the Thunder at TD Garden before a national TV audience.

The Celtics gave up 42 points in the third quarter, the most points they’ve surrendered in any 12-minute period this season. The 130 points were the most they’ve allowed in regulation this season and the most any Celtics team has allowed in regulation since 2004. 

Kelly Olynyk’s returned from a 12-game absence due to a shoulder injury didn’t overcome the loss of Jae Crowder (ankle) for a second straight game. Not even close. 

At one point of the third quarter, it got so bad, the Celtics trailed by 30.

“They punked us. We played soft as tissue,” Thomas lamented. “That third quarter, they took advantage of every little thing they could have. With a good team like that, you can’t have that happen. So, whoever is playing, whether Jae’s out, Kelly’s back, they punked us. That was basically what it was. They were the tougher team, no question.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Kevin Durant
Brad Stevens on return of Kelly Olynyk: ‘We’ll see how much he plays’ at 6:08 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens (L) and center Kelly Olynyk (41) are searching for best return path. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and center Kelly Olynyk are searching for the best return path. (Jeff Hanisch/USA Today Sports)

After 12 games on the sidelines, it appears Kelly Olynyk finally is ready to return to action. 

Olynyk is expected to return from his partially separated right shoulder just in time to take on Kevin Durant and the Thunder on Wednesday at TD Garden.

“Kelly told me at shootaround that he thinks he’s going to give it a go, but we’ll wait till he gets through all this stuff, but it sounds like he’s going to try to give it a go,” coach Brad Stevens said an hour, 45 minutes before tipoff Wednesday. “We’ll see how much he plays. Obviously he hasn’t done much other than our practices the last five-plus weeks.”

Olynyk injured the shoulder in the first half of the game against the Clippers on Feb. 10 at the Garden. It appeared that he would be ready to go Tuesday in Indiana after taking part in a full contact practice on Sunday. But he was held out after indicating to coaches that he wasn’t quite ready. 

“I think [confidence] is a big deal,” Stevens said. “That’s depending on how much pain you’re having. There’s only one person that can answer that question and that’s him. That’s why he’s been smart about it. We didn’t want him to come back until he was ready to roll and didn’t feel tentative. He’s going to have some pain there and that’s part of it. But I think at the end of the day he feels more comfortable today than he has before.”

The Celtics could use Olynyk’s 3-point prowess. He leads the team at 41.3 percent. The Celtics have converted just 16 of 63 from beyond the arc in the last two games, both losses. 

“If you’re going to play small, you better be able to shoot,” Stevens said. “You better be able to make shots or you better be able to get out in transition and really run because otherwise the lane’s clogged. We’re going to have to continue to find better shots than we did last night. I thought we guarded about as well as we could have last night. That’ll be significantly tested again. Hey, this is a tough stretch of games for us. I’m conscious of that. At the same time, I think we need to play better offensively to beat a team of this caliber.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Coty Clarke, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Durant
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