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For (preseason) openers, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder shine, Jaylen Brown wows in loss to Sixers 10.04.16 at 9:24 pm ET
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AMHERST —  The growth spurt officially is underway. 

With expectations sky high entering the preseason, the Celtics didn’t disappoint Tuesday night, showing off a new-look roster that is loaded with offensive options and tenacious defense. 

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each scored 11 points in the first half while Al Horford made his debut, scoring eight points in a 92-89 loss to the injury-plagued Sixers in front of a sparse 4,532 fans at the Mullins Center. The game was officially a home preseason game for Philadelphia, as their parent company, Comcast/Spectacor manages the building. But nearly every fan was cheering for the Celtics. 

Jaylen Brown fired up the crowd with several athletic moves, including a one-handed jam late in the fourth to bring the Celtics close. The first-rounder out of Cal finished with eight points. Isaiah Thomas also had 11 points in his 19 minutes. 

Terry Rozier led the Celtics with 12 points. 

The Celtics showed their intensity on defense to the very last possession. Marcus Smart forced a Philadelphia turnover with 12 seconds left on the sideline, giving Boston a chance to tie. Smart missed a fadeaway three from the left wing with six seconds remaining and the loose ball went out of bounds to Philadelphia. Then after a Smart foul, the Sixers tried to inbound but turned the ball over, giving Boston one final chance with 3.6 seconds left. Jordan Mickey missed a three with one second left to end the game. 

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter, a loud “Let’s Go Celtics” chant broke out. 

And early on, the fans had plenty to cheer about.

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Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder
Report: Danny Ainge ‘definitely wants to do something’ on trade market, Jahlil Okafor best bet 07.16.16 at 12:04 pm ET
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Feb 28, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Philadelphia 76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) shoots over Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic (9)  during second half at Amway Center. Orlando Magic defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 130-116. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

76ers center Jahlil Okafor (8) could still be a big trade target for the Celtics. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Danny Ainge is still hungry to make a deal. 

According to the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett, the Celtics’ president of basketball operations wants to add one more big piece. But the price tag has been too rich. 

“Another sticking point in that and in other deals Boston is talking about is that pick from the Nets next year (2017 pick swap). Danny will make it available in the right situation, but he’s not going to give it up with core players, too,” a league source told Bulpett. “That’s going to be a good draft, and that’s going to be a high pick.

“Everyone’s been talking about how Danny’s trying to make a killing out here, but when it comes to certain pieces you have, I get that you have to be careful. You can give up equal assets, but you don’t want to take away your best opportunities to keep things going down the line.”

Bulpett also reports there have been no recent discussions on two rumored high-profile players Russell Westbrook or Blake Griffin. But an NBA general manager told Bulpett that Philadelphia big man Jahlil Okafor is a different matter. 

“Oh, Danny definitely wants to do something,” the GM told Bulpett. “We’ve got nothing that really works with Boston, but I bet something happens there. I still wouldn’t be surprised if something happened there [with Okafor].”

The Celtics were reportedly close on Jimmy Butler on draft night as they held the No. 3 pick in the draft. The Bulls made no secret about their desire to trade up and grab Providence College point guard Kris Dunn. But, according to Bulpett, the Bulls also wanted two players, while the C’s only were willing to deal one.

Now with the Bulls inking Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, the Bulls seem committed to keeping Butler and making a run next season. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jahlil Okafor, NBA
Full Court Press: C’s consider draft and stash, legend of Togo Palazzi continues with Zach Auguste 06.11.16 at 7:51 pm ET
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Marlboro, Mass. native Zach Auguste worked out for the Celtics. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Marlboro, Mass. native Zach Auguste worked out for the Celtics. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

When the Philadelphia 76ers and then-GM Sam Hinke entered the 2014 NBA draft, they had their sights set on a 6-foot-10 Croatian forward by the name of Dario Saric. The Orlando Magic drafted him twelfth overall and the Sixers made a deal with with the Magic to drop down two spots, acquire Saric, a 2015 second-round pick and a first-round selection in 2017. And all it cost them was Elfrid Payton.

The move was one of the few bright spots of the Hinke era in Philadelphia, as it produced something for the future.

But the deal, an hour after Philly drafted Joel Embiid third overall, did something else. It asked the Philadelphia fans to put their faith in the “draft and stash” approach to the lottery. Just days earlier, Saric signed a multi-year deal in Turkey, a deal he may finally break this offseason to finally come to the states and play for the Sixers. Saric was stashed away in Europe developing his skills as a 19-year-old power forward. It’s very debatable as to whether Saric would have been ready to step in and contribute significantly right away, even on a team that had precious little talent.

The Saric case is not the typical “draft and stash” example, as NBA teams usually employ this strategy for second-round draft picks whom they don’t feel command NBA contracts. The Celtics have five picks in the second round, and certainly could use this approach multiple times if they feel they can reach an agreement with a player and his representative on what’s best for the player’s career in the long term, saving NBA roster spots while holding their future playing rights.

Could the Celtics take Dragan Bender with the third overall pick and allow him to continue to play in Europe? Perhaps. It really depends on how ready they feel he is to enter the NBA after not even playing that much this season for Maccabi in Israel.

“I think that all of those things are on the table and we need to look at all of those,” Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge said this week. “I think Brad [Stevens] asked in his contract extension to not have eight rookies this year. I think that was specifically written in.”

All kidding aside, would the Celtics avoid drafting a player like Bender, if he doesn’t want to stay overseas and would rather play in the NBA now?

“If we really like the guy, no, that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker,” Ainge added. [Draft-and-stash talks] will be finalized kind of after you draft a kid, sit down and determine a plan of action, but those discussions go on all the time, year-round, contract situations, age, different levels of maturity and in the players’ game, all those come into play. But it’s a partnership with the player, his representatives and the team to try to make the best decisions for him.”

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Read More: 2016 NBA draft, Boston Celtics, Cheick Diallo, Dario Saric
Sixers to ‘host’ Celtics in preseason tilt at UMass 06.06.16 at 12:01 pm ET
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Oct 16, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics center Kelly Olynyk (41) goes up for a shot and is fouled by Philadelphia 76ers forward Drew Gordon (30) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Celtics defeated the Sixers 111 to 91. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics and Sixers will do battle in the preseason at the Mullins Center at UMass. (Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics and Sixers have agreed to a deal. 

No, they aren’t trading players or picks yet. The two teams announced Monday that the Sixers will host the Celtics in a preseason game at the Mullins Center on the University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016 at 7:00 p.m.

While the Mullins Center is obviously closer to Boston than Philadelphia, the Sixers have more ties to Amherst location. Julius Erving, the most famous UMass hoops alumnus, was an 11-time NBA All-Star, 1980-81 NBA MVP, 1983 NBA Champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee. Dr. J. starred at UMass from 1969-71, averaging 26 points and 20 rebounds in 38 minutes per game over his two collegiate seasons.

Former NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Camby and former Sixers guard Al Skinner are among seven players in NBA history who attended the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

The Sixers play in the Wells Fargo Center in South Philly, operated by Spectra Management, which also runs the Mullins Center. 

Tickets as low as $30 are available this Thursday, June 9, through MullinsCenter.com, at Ticketmaster outlets, by calling 800-745-3000 or in person at the Mullins Center box office. Group discounts are available by calling the box office by phone.

The Sixers and Celtics were recently awarded the first and third overall picks, respectively, in the upcoming 2016 NBA Draft. Philadelphia also owns the 24th and 26th overall selections. Boston is also scheduled to select at No. 16 and No. 23 in the first round.

Philadelphia and Boston last met at UMass on October 8, 2008 when the Sixers defeated the defending NBA champion Celtics 98-92 in a preseason opener at the Mullins Center. The game marked two-time All-Star forward Elton Brand’s debut in a Sixers uniform.

Read More: 2016 preseason, Boston Celtics, Mullins Center, NBA
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
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