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Is Brad Stevens now the front-runner in NBA coach of the year race? 04.02.16 at 2:31 am ET
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Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens is directing the Celtics toward a playoff run with a signature win in his back pocket. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It might be time to call Brad Stevens the front-runner in the race for NBA coach of the year. 

After all, his team, missing its most versatile defender on the court, was able to pull off something no other team in the NBA had been able to do since Jan. 27, 2015. 

In beating the Golden State Warriors Friday night, 109-106, without Jae Crowder, the Celtics ended Golden State’s regular season home win streak at 54 games and gave Stevens the signature win to date of his three-year tenure in Boston. The Celtics became the first team since San Antonio on Nov. 11, 2014 to beat the Warriors in regulation in a regular season game in Oakland. 

The Celtics, who improved to 44-32, withstood charge after charge down the stretch from the record-hungry Warriors, who fell to 68-8 on the season. They withstood Steph Curry going off for 21 of his 29 points in the third quarter. Stevens got Thomas involved in the offense early in the third quarter, as Thomas scored his first 18 points of the game in the period. Stevens diagramed play after play, including the game-clincher, an side inbounds from Marcus Smart to Thomas for a layup with 8.3 seconds left in the game. 

“It was a heck of a game,” Stevens told reporters after the game. “When Curry got going in the third quarter, the biggest moments of the game were us scoring consecutively when he scored because when he got going, that’s usually when they run away with a 10-0 run or a 12-0 run. We had to play. Guys had to play really well. We didn’t have a guy play poorly. That’s what it takes to beat a team like this. They’re outstanding.”

Perhaps most impressive was the fact that Stevens had his team ready just 24 hours after a 116-109 grueling loss in Portland. 

“I think the biggest meaning is the idea that we can bounce back from a night like [Thursday] night where we expended a considerable amount of energy and came up short, flew here, got in late and came to compete again,” Stevens said. “I thought that probably the other biggest moment of the game was when we were struggling to score in the second quarter, they weren’t scoring a ton and kind of kept us in the game. We were fortunate to win but at the same time, we made a lot of plays to win the game.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Golden State Warriors, NBA
Studs and Duds: Blazers spoil return of Jae Crowder, Celtics fall to 6th in East 04.01.16 at 12:52 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas shoots the ball in front of Portland Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu during the first quarter at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Steve Dykes/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas shoots the ball in front of Trail Blazers forward Al-Farouq Aminu during the first quarter at the Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. (Steve Dykes/USA Today Sports)

Not exactly the way the Celtics wanted to head into Golden State.

Al-Farouq Aminu scored a career-high 28 points and single-handedly spoiled the return of Jae Crowder Thursday night as the Blazers outlasted the Celtics, 116-109, Thursday night at the Moda Center.

Crowder made a big impact with a double-double, scoring 13 points and hauling in 10 rebounds, in his first game back from a high ankle sprain. With 22 points, Isaiah Thomas set a new franchise record with his 14th straight game as the team’s leading scorer. It was also his 14th straight game with at least 20 points, two games shy of Paul Pierce’s streak in the 2005-06 season.

“It felt good. He showed signs of what he does,” Thomas said of Crowder afterward. “It probably will take a couple of games for him to get back to his full strength. Just glad to have him back in a routine. It just sucks we couldn’t get the win for him.” 

It was a costly loss for the Celtics (43-32) as they fell to sixth in the East, a half-game behind the Heat and Hornets.

Thanks to 50 percent shooting from the field in the first quarter, the Celtics raced out to a 12-4 lead. Portland didn’t score in the game’s first two minutes. 

The first quarter featured the first action from Crowder since suffering a high ankle sprain March 11 against the Rockets. In the opening 60 seconds, he showed no ill effects, grabbing a rebound on the first Blazers possession of the game. On the next possession, Crowder collected a steal and dished an assist on an Isaiah Thomas 3-pointer. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, NBA
Jae Crowder says he will ‘push [right ankle] to the limit’ in effort to return Thursday 03.30.16 at 6:31 pm ET
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder drives to the hoop against Rockets guard James Harden before his injury March 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics forward Jae Crowder drives to the hoop against Rockets guard James Harden before his injury March 11. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics may have their most versatile player back in uniform when they take on the Trail Blazers Thursday night at the Moda Center. 

Jae Crowder returned to full team practice on Wednesday at the University of Portland for the first time since suffering a high ankle sprain in the second half of their March 11 loss to the Rockets at TD Garden.
 
The team will see how he reacts Thursday and assess his availability Thursday morning. 
 
“Today I’m going to push it to the limit,” Crowder told reporters Wednesday before practice. 

“I’m hopeful that we can get back to playing the way that we were playing when we’d been all healthy earlier this year,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters before practice. 

Crowder started Boston’s first 66 games before missing the last eight with the right ankle injury. The team has played .500 ball (4-4) in those games. Crowder’s value came not just in his 15.4 points per game but consistently drawing the opposing team’s best scorer as well as providing a legitimate second scoring option behind Isaiah Thomas. In losses to teams like Oklahoma City, Toronto and the Clippers on Monday, his absence was dramatically felt.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Jae Crowder, NBA
James Young, Coty Clarke recalled from Maine, available in Phoenix 03.26.16 at 8:17 pm ET
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Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing a 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Coty Clarke meets with reporters on March 7 after signing his first 10-day contract. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The Celtics have reinforcements as their five-game Western swing begins. 

Coty Clarke and James Young were recalled Saturday from the Maine Red Claws. Both are expected to be with the team in Phoenix as the Celtics take on the Suns.  The reinforcements will help the team deal with the continued absence of Jae Crowder, who is expected to miss his seventh straight game with a high sprain of his right ankle. Crowder is with the team out West and Brad Stevens said he’s still hopeful Crowder could be back playing before the end of the trip. 

On Friday night, in the Red Claws’ 120-113 victory over the Austin Spurs, Clarke scored 21 points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 32 minutes of action. Clarke, who signed his second 10-day contract on March 18, has played in 42 games for Maine this season and is averaging 16.4 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 26.0 minutes per game.

Also on Friday night, Young finished with nine points, eight rebounds, two assists and one steal in 29 minutes against Austin on March 25. He has appeared in 12 contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 14.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.0 steal in 28.0 minutes per game.

Both also played Wednesday night in the first game of the two-game trek through Texas, a 137-111 loss to Rio Grande. Clarke had 22 points and seven rebounds while Young scored 21 points and six rebounds. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Coty Clarke, James Young, Maine Red Claws
Evan Turner gets pushed in back, doesn’t want to take it anymore 03.24.16 at 9:37 am ET
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Evan Turner is, for the most part, a pretty chill, laid-back guy on the Celtics. He can laugh, make a joke and have fun.

But on Wednesday, the Celtics swingman, who finished with 17 points in Boston’s 91-79 win over the Raptors, had a bad flashback to what can happen when you put yourself in a vulnerable position going up for a shot near the basket.

As the first quarter was winding down, he drove the lane and the Toronto defense collapsed on him in the form of big men Jason Thompson and Bismack Biyombo. He felt a push in the back near the basket and had a really bad flashback to his days at Ohio State.

In a game on Dec. 5, 2009, Turner went up for a dunk against Eastern Michigan and got nudged in the back as he was going up. He dunked the ball but lost his balance and fell on his upper back. He broke two vertebrae and sat out eight weeks.

What made Wednesday infuriating to Turner was that he told the referee crew, led by veteran Monty McCutcheon, and felt it fell on deaf ears.

“One, I got pushed in the back two or three times, and when I said it, I said it calmly. I’m the kind of guy I just kind of laughed about it. I made a move when I was going up [to the basket] when I was in college and I got pushed. I kind of got pushed the same way so when that occurred I was more worried about it. It was a crazy play.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Evan Turner, Monty McCutcheon, NBA
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
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