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Brad Stevens on badly needed win: ‘Guys played with good purpose’ 03.20.16 at 11:43 pm ET
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Celtics head coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of the game against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens shouts instructions during the first quarter of Sunday’s game against the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

It may not have looked great for all 48 minutes, but the Celtics responded at key moments Sunday night and their coach was paying close attention. 

Brad Stevens knew going into Philadelphia with a four-game losing skid, coming out lethargic like they did in Toronto 48 hours earlier was not an option. 

The Celtics did fall behind 9-4 early but ended the first quarter with a 24-7 run and never trailed the rest of the way. They held the Sixers to 32 percent shooting in the first half in taking a 55-44 lead at the half. They did allow Philly to score 35 points in the third quarter, as the Sixers took advantage of some porous transition and low post defense. But the Celtics recovered nicely to close out their 40th win of the season. 

“Except for the third quarter, we were really good,” Stevens told reporters after. “I thought we were really locked in, defensively. But the in third quarter, we have up 35 points and we weren’t. And you could see that at the third when we were trading baskets instead of really locking down. Hey, our guys came out ready, came out focused.”

The win improved the Celtics to 40-30 on the season, matching their total from last year. And now, they’re just a half-game behind Miami (40-29) for fourth in the Eastern Conference. As a matter of fact, starting with third-place Atlanta (41-29), only 1.5 games separates third from sixth in the East. Charlotte enters Monday with a 39-30 mark. 

“We knew it was an important game to play well,” Stevens said. “We can’t always control the results but you can control your input into it. Guys played with good purpose.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Philadelphia 76ers,
Studs and Duds: Celtics get healthy at hands of hapless Sixers at 8:33 pm ET
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76ers forward Nerlens Noel (4) drives toward the net as Celtics forward Amir Johnson (90) defends during the second quarter of the game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Sixers forward Nerlens Noel drives as Celtics forward Amir Johnson defends during the second quarter of Sunday’s game at the Wells Fargo Center. (John Geliebter/USA Today Sports)

Nothing’s automatic in the NBA. But Sunday night was about the closest thing to it for a road team badly in need of a win. 

Amir Johnson scored a season-high 18 points while Isaiah Thomas scored 13 of his team-leading 26 points in the third quarter, as the Celtics ended their four-game losing skid with a 120-105 win over the historically inept 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center. 

Avery Bradley added 20 points and four steals for the Celtics, who matched their win total of last season and improved to 40-30 with 12 games left in the season. The 76ers (9-61), with precious little NBA talent at their disposal due to injury, lost for the 22nd time in 24 games. If they were to lose their last 11 games, they would match the 1972-73 Sixers for the worst record in NBA history. 

All of the above not withstanding not to say the Celtics didn’t have some moments where you wondered if they were going to let the Sixers hang around. 

The Sixers, who were led by a season-best 26 points off the bench from Carl Landry, opened the game impressively, shooting out to a 9-4 lead. But the Celtics quickly went into the paint and established some interior dominance, outscoring the Sixers, 24-7, to close out the first quarter and take a 28-16 lead. The 16 points allowed marked a season-best by the Celtics defense in any quarter, accomplished twice previously. 

But an 8-0 run by Philadelphia to open the second quarter capped a 10-0 spurt and drew the Sixers within four, 28-24. After the Sixers again closed to within four, 35-31, the Celtics scored the next 11 points and raced out to 46-31 lead. 

The Celtics maintained control of the game the rest of the half as they took a 55-44 lead to the locker room. Avery Bradley (15 points) and Amir Johnson (12) combined for 27 points after totaling 12 on Friday night. 

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Read More: Amir Johnson, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Philadelphia 76ers
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
Brad Stevens gets an early look at strength of his team: ‘Our bench has to be a great source of energy’ 10.29.15 at 10:43 am ET
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If Wednesday night is what the Celtics bench is going to look like all season, Brad Stevens is going to have a very good year.

The Celtics started off slowly to the lowly 76ers, trailing by as many as nine, 26-17, in the first quarter. Boston made just six of its first 21 shots and could find no rhythm.

The young 76ers had rookie Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel running the court, and scoring. And the Celtics looked flat.

Then the bench started to make the impact that it was built all offseason to make. Slowly but surely, Jared Sullinger, Isaiah Thomas and Amir Johnson made their impact, some faster than others. Thomas missed his first four shots before finding his range, on his way to a game-high 27-point night. Johnson added 15 and Sullinger chipped in with 12 as the vision of Danny Ainge was clear for everyone to see.

When it was all said and done, the Celtics bench outscored Philly reserves, 67-15, in walking away with a 112-95 win. That’s exactly what Ainge and head coach Brad Stevens had in mind when they built the deepest roster in the NBA in the offseason.

“Our bench has to be a great source of energy and scoring and everything else for us,” Stevens said. “And I thought [the Sixers] came out of the gates great. Okafor was really hard for us to guard early ‘€“ and then Noel, I just thought they had a great impact on the game on both ends. So, we found ourselves in a hole which probably isn’€™t all bad in your first game, to see how you respond, and we responded. Any time we cut it close I thought we responded. I thought we missed some things that we can clean up, but at the same time I thought we did a lot of good things.”

Down 26-17, the Celtics outscored the Sixers, 21-2, over the next eight minutes. Thomas and Sullinger each had six points in the run.

The bench was also the reason the Celtics were able to hold off the Sixers each time they made a run. Three times the Sixers got as close as five points and each time the Celtics answered, including a 7-0 spurt at the end of the third, when Thomas hit a three right before the buzzer.

“The end of the quarters are important to us,” Stevens said. “We want to finish well, we want to do well in those situations. And those were big for us tonight. But I thought just as big was they’€™d cut it to five and we’€™d go on a 7-0 run. They’€™d cut it to, I believe it was three one time, we go on a 6-0 run. So those are good responses in those moments.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
Isaiah Thomas shoots himself into a groove in opening night win: ‘I’m not going to be shy’ at 12:36 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas is very happy that his coach doesn’t get discouraged by a little cold streak.

The instant offense offense off the Celtics bench missed his first four shots in the first quarter Wednesday night as the Celtics struggled out of the gate.

Thomas made three of his next five shots and that was a sign of things to come as the Celtics outscored the Sixers, 30-14, in the second quarter, grabbing control of the game, 51-40, at the halftime break.

Smart his 5-of-8 shots in the third quarter, including a three at the buzzer as the Celtics took a 79-67 lead into the final quarter.

“I mean that’€™s the biggest thing,” Brad Stevens said. “We’€™ve talked quite a bit about that: play with speed, play aggressive, play with spirit, let the chips fall where they may with him. We know a hot streak is coming.”

Thomas scored 13 of his game-high 27 points in the third quarter as the Celtics cruised to a 112-95 win in the season opener at TD Garden.

“That’€™s my job,” Thomas said of keeping the shots coming. “I’€™m not going to be shy when I’ve got a job to do out there. Coach has confidence in me. My teammates have confidence in me, and they tell me to continue being aggressive ‘€“ so I’€™m going to continue to do that.”

Thomas’ 27 points came in 29 minutes of action. The Detroit Pistons of the mid and late-80s had Vinnie Johnson – “The Microwave.” The Celtics have Isaiah Thomas.

“I work on it ‘€“ each and every day,” Thomas said. “I know that some point in time, it’€™s going to fall. I have that confidence in my game, and I work on my craft, so I think the harder you work, and when it doesn’€™t happen in games, you go to what you know. When I get into the spots that I like to go to in my workouts, and feeding off my teammates, no matter if I’€™m having a good game or not, you have to just make the right play out there. If the right play is to shoot, and I’€™m not making them, I have to continue to shoot that shot.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Philadelphia 76ers,
Studs and Duds: 1 down for Celtics, 81 to go 10.28.15 at 10:03 pm ET
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@WEEICeltics PODCAST GAME RECAP

It’s unclear whether the Philadelphia 76ers are an NBA team, but the win counts just the same.

With a 112-95 win over the ever-tanking Sixers on opening night, your Boston Celtics are 1-0, undefeated, atop the division standings and tied for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. One down, 81 to go. Brad Stevens is probably already watching Toronto Raptors tape right now.

Isaiah Thomas led the way with 27 points (10-19 FG) and seven assists. He was joined in double figures by Amir Johnson (15 points, 7 rebounds), Jae Crowder (14 points, 6 rebounds), Marcus Smart (13 points, 5 assists) and Jared Sullinger (12 points, 7 rebounds). Production abound.

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

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Isaiah Thomas.

It wasn’t a great shooting night for the Sixth Man of the Year favorite, and he still had 23 points through three quarters. Thomas missed his first five 3-point attempts, but made up for it by getting to the line a ton (6-7 FT) and knocking down a triple just before the third-quarter buzzer that pushed the C’s lead to 79-67. He added seven assists against three turnovers and generally destroyed the 76ers on the pick-and-roll, mostly with Johnson working as his partner.

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Tyler Zeller.

This could just as easily be David Lee, but Zeller was yanked 5:13 into the ballgame after the Sixers scored 10 of their first 15 points in the paint. He returned briefly in the second quarter and was removed again shortly after Philadelphia point guard Isaiah Canaan scored on another layup. Zeller was removed for the starting lineup at halftime in favor of Sullinger, and he sat the entire time the Celtics build their lead as large as 15 points.

VINE OF THE NIGHT:

Out of a timeout with 2.9 seconds left in the half, the Celtics ran a ton of misdirection in the paint, only to have Smart inbound the ball, hop to the 3-point line and get the ball back. It was the simplest of play calls that led to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer and a 51-40 halftime lead for the C’s.

WHINE OF THE NIGHT: Let’s hope this is the last time I write this sentence: More Johnson, please. Okafor was killing the Celtics with eight early points on four shots within five feet of the basket, so Brad Stevens answered with Jared Sullinger midway through the first quarter? I was under the impression interior defense was precisely why Amir Johnson was signed this past summer. On the ensuing possession, Okafor scored on Sullinger within five feet of the basket, giving the 76ers a 17-11 lead. Johnson finally checked in with 2:31 remaining in the opening quarter and the C’s trailing by nine. He recorded a block on his first possession. Over the next 8:14, the Celtics outscored Philadelphia 18-2 and grabbed a 35-28 lead. You do the math.

STAT OF THE NIGHT: 26 fast-break points. Despite their youth last season, the Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack with 13.6 fast-break points per game — a slight uptick from Stevens’ first season. Granted, they were facing the 76ers, but the C’s scored 34 points off 24 turnovers and thrived in transition. Pace and space is all the rage, and they had the first part down in the opener.

@ OF THE NIGHT:

Read More: Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
Celtics stick with starting lineup, deactivate James Young at 7:09 pm ET
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James Young

James Young

Prior to Wednesday’s season opener against the hapless Philadelphia 76ers, Celtics coach Brad Stevens confirmed he would employ the same starting lineup he used to finish out the preseason: Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder, David Lee and Tyler Zeller.

The two inactives for the C’s: R.J. Hunter (illness) and James Young, whose benching officially establishes him as the last guy on the 15-man roster. Rookie second-round pick Jordan Mickey earned the spot final spot over him. And if Young can’t crack the depth chart when Hunter is ill, then he likely won’t be seeing time in Boston soon, since they play the same position.

Kelly Olynyk will serve his one-game suspension for dislocating Kevin Love‘s shoulder in Game 4 of the C’s first-round loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. He’s eligible to return on Friday.

Meanwhile, the 76ers will start Boston area native Nerlens Noel and lottery pick Jahlil Okafor along with three guys you may have never heard of — Hollis Thompson, Jakarr Sampson and Isaiah Canaan. The league’s tanking experiment gone wrong for the past several seasons, Philadelphia offers a prime opportunity for the Celtics to start the season off with a win in front of their home crowd.

Read More: Boston Celtics, James Young, Philadelphia 76ers, R.J. Hunter
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