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Brad Stevens has a lot of respect for ‘great job’ Erik Spoelstra has done in Miami 02.27.16 at 3:18 pm ET
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Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra (right)  is a role model for Brad Stevens.  (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra (right) is a role model for Brad Stevens. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

When Brad Stevens talks about Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra, you can sense a great deal of respect and admiration. You can also sense that he wouldn’t mind having his track record some day. When Spoelstra took over for Pat Riley in 2008, he was just 37, the same age Stevens was when he took over the Celtics in 2013. 

In his eighth season in Miami, Spoelstra has been to the NBA Finals four times, winning twice with LeBron James. After going just 37-45 last season, and missing the playoffs for the first time, Spoelstra has bounced back strong this year. His team is 32-25 and what’s more impressive is that he’s doing it short-handed.

“I don’t know him all that well,” Stevens said. “I’ve obviously met him in a couple of the coaches’ meetings and seen him at the summer leagues and those types of things real briefly but I haven’t spent a lot of time with him. I’m really impressed by him and have been since I got a chance to first watch his teams play. I didn’t know him when he was a video guy or an assistant in his earlier years either.”

While both were wunderkinds when hired for their first NBA head coaching gigs, Spoelstra and Stevens are from very different backgrounds. 

Spoelstra was hired by then-Heat GM Dave Wohl and personnel director Roya Vaziri in 1995 as a video coordinator at the age of 25. He worked his way up, eventually impressing Riley with his work ethic as a video coordinator and eventually a scouting director in 2001. He’s been a Heat lifer. As for Stevens, everyone knows the story how he wowed the basketball world by taking Butler to the NCAA finals in 2010 and ’11, in the process becoming the youngest coach ever (34 years old) to reach the Final Four twice. Stevens didn’t shoot out of the gate and make the playoffs in his first season like Spoelstra but he is commanding the respect of stars young and old around the league. Even Rajon Rondo was impressed with Stevens the first time they met. 

But what impresses someone like Stevens is how even-tempered someone like Spoelstra can be, even when things seem to be falling apart around him. 

Last week, the Heat’s leading scorer, Chris Bosh, was sidelined with a blood clot in his calf. That was just the latest in a long line of injuries to significant players. Beno Udrih had surgery Friday on his foot and is out three months. Tyler Johnson is out with a shoulder injury. Udonis Haslem had an allergic reaction this week but made the trip to Boston for his short-handed teammates.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra, Miami Heat
Isaiah Thomas relishes in Suns GM Ryan McDonough admitting mistake: ‘I’m starting to get more and more respect’ 02.25.16 at 11:39 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas cracked a smile from ear to ear when he was asked about Suns general manager Ryan McDonough admitting Thursday morning on a Phoenix radio station that it was “a mistake” to trade Thomas to the Celtics at the 2015 NBA trade deadline.

Thursday night, after scoring a game-high 27 points and dishing out seven assists in a 112-107 Celtics win over the Bucks, Thomas took a little time to savor the recognition of his former employer. 

After making a couple of stunning passes to find open teammates, including one over three Bucks to Jae Crowder for a game-clinching three, Thomas was asked if he heard McDonough’s admission.

“Yeah, did,” Thomas said. “I mean it’s cool. I’m starting to get more and more respect, I guess. It feels good to hear him finally say that. But like I always say, I’m focused here on the Celtics. I’m not focused on what happened in the past. When I saw that this morning, it was nice to see somebody say something like that.”

Thomas might have felt snubbed by the Suns when he was traded but he’s turned himself into an All-Star scoring point guard for the third-best team in the Eastern Conference, so there is satisfaction in that.

“I’ve always felt overlooked,” Thomas said. “Ever since All-Star selection, guys are kind of liking what I do, I guess.”

Thomas admitted that he’s a much different player than the one that played in Phoenix even two years ago.

“The game’s slowing down for me,” Thomas said. “For the most part, I’m a better decision-maker. I’m not just trying to score every time. That’s something I’ve done my whole life where scoring has been easy for me but now, it’s just trying to pick and choose my spots, knowing when to be aggressive for myself and knowing when to get other guys going. I think that’s my next step, just becoming a more complete basketball player, just being unpredictable and going out there and trying to make the right play, each and every time.

“I think just because I’m labeled as a scorer. If you score too much, guys say you don’t pass. If you pass too much, like [Rajon] Rondo, they say you can’t score. They’re always going to say something so you’ve just got to take what the defense gives you.”

Speaking of Rondo, does Thomas think Rondo could’ve pulled off that behind-the-head, no-look pass with 50.6 seconds left Thursday night?

“No doubt. You all probably seen that before. He probably did something even crazier than that.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA, Phoenix Suns
Brad Stevens working to keep young guns in the mix 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
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