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Even with shots not falling, Marcus Smart still determined to ‘find a way to impact the game’ 03.27.16 at 2:10 am ET
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Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket while guarded by Orlando Magic point guard Elfrid Payton at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart drives to the basket during last Monday’s game against the Magic. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

This might be just the second year in the NBA for 22-year-old Marcus Smart, but he’s been around long enough now to know that you don’t have to score to help your team win important games. 

Saturday night was such a night for the player who right know can’t buy a shot. 

Smart finished just 2-of-7 from the field and missed all five 3-point shots in Boston’s 102-99 win over the Suns in Phoenix. But he made several key hustle plays down the stretch, including one offensive rebound with four minutes left where he grabbed the ball, spun it around his back to keep it away from the defender and managed to get the Celtics another 24 seconds on the shot clock. 

Smart played 32 minutes off the bench, helping to take some of load off Avery Bradley (weak from an illness and a cross-country flight Saturday). He had eight rebounds, four assists, one steal and even a blocked shot. 

“My main focus is try to, even though my shot’s not falling still, find a way to impact the game,” Smart told reporters after the game. “We have a lot of guys on this team that can do a lot of things. If my shot’s not falling, I try to pick us up some other way, especially when we have guys that are knocking down shots.”

There’s been almost constant talk about Smart’s inability to score, and for good reason. In the last three games, all Celtics wins, he’s made just 4-of-26 from the field and has missed all 11 attempts from beyond the arc. But his offensive rebound and his defensive intensity are just two things he did that helped the Celtics win their fourth straight. 

“Those are the things that makes Marcus special,” coach Brad Stevens said. “Sometimes those go in a box score, sometimes they don’t but he does them every game. It’s why I don’t get too caught up in the box score stuff with him. He impacts winning and tonight was a good example of that.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Los Angeles Clippers, Marcus Smart
Studs and Duds: Isaiah Thomas saves Celtics from themselves, sparks win over Suns at 12:39 am ET
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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas dribbles against Suns guard Archie Goodwin during the first half at Talking Stick Resort Arena. (Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports)

Three quarters was enough Saturday night. Barely.

Isaiah Thomas, who was traded from Phoenix at the trading deadline in Feb. 2015, scored 28 points while Evan Turner added 17 points and 11 rebounds as the Celtics barely held off the woeful Suns, 102-99, Saturday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena. The Suns (20-53) were led by rookie Devin Booker with 21 points. 

Avery Bradley finished with 15 points, including 13 in the first half. That was particularly impressive considering he just arrived in Phoenix on Saturday after staying back in Boston with a stomach illness that kept him out of action on Thursday and Friday.

“He felt pretty good,” coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard to come back and play like that. I think the hardest part of today is not necessarily how he felt on Thursday but the fact that he sat on a six-hour flight and then got off the plane and played. That’s not easy. He did a good job.”

The win was crucial for the Celtics in the standings. Not only was it their fourth straight after a four-game skid, it improved them to 43-30 and kept them just a half-game behind third-place Atlanta in the East. Boston pulled a half-game ahead of idle Miami for fourth place. Charlotte (42-31) is just a game back of Boston, and in sixth place. 

Saturday night appeared to be a walk in the park early, as the Celtics built a 58-41 halftime lead. Evan Turner had 15 of his 17 points in the first half and Bradley had 13 points in the first half as the Celtics led 55-34 at one point.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Devin Booker, Evan Turner, Isaiah Thomas
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
Goran Dragic ‘surprised’ Isaiah Thomas landed in Boston 03.25.15 at 11:54 pm ET
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Goran Dragic requested a trade from the Suns, so when Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough also dealt Isaiah Thomas minutes before the deadline, the news came as a bit of a shock.

“If I’m honest, I was a little bit surprised, especially because I asked for the trade,” said Dragic after his Heat beat the Celtics, 93-86. “But that’s how the NBA goes. It’s a business.”

Following Dragic’s Third Team All-NBA campaign in 2013-14, Phoenix acquired Isaiah Thomas on a four-year, $27 million contract in a sign-and-trade with the Kings — seemingly as insurance should restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe find a lucrative contract offer elsewhere.

Only the Suns then reached a five-year, $70 million deal to keep Bledsoe in Phoenix. In theory, the Suns entered this season capable of extending the two-point-guard attack that worked so well last season over a full 48 minutes, but reality eventually took over on the court.

“Unfortunately, we had three point guards at the same position and only one ball,” added Dragic, who scored a game-high 22 points Wednesday, “so it’s kind of hard to satisfy everybody.”

In the end, Dragic landed in Miami, where he’s excited about the Heat’s playoff potential, especially if they can ever get healthy, and Thomas found his way to Boston. While rumors spread that the two former teammates butted heads in Phoenix, both players squashed that notion.

Asked about the on-court dynamic between the two during their 46 games as a backcourt tandem, Thomas said, “It was nice. When we did play together, it worked. He’s a hell of a player.”

“I talked with Isaiah. He’s happy here. He was a great teammate. We had a good relationship,” added Dragic, who then offered a glowing scouting report on Thomas, who returned from injury on Wednesday. “He can score in bunches. He’s an offensive-minded player. If he’s hot, he can score 30 points easy. He has that quality to put his team on his shoulders, especially on offense.”

As for Thomas’ new backcourt mates, Dragic is also impressed and seems to think they complement him well. “[Marcus Smart] is aggressive like Avery Bradley. They’re really good defenders on the ball. … It’s always nice to have these kinds of players on your team, because you know they’re going to defend the whole game, and they’re going to cause a lot of problems for the offense.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Miami Heat
5 things we learned in dramatic Celtics victory over Suns 02.23.15 at 11:47 pm ET
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After dropping a tough game to the Lakers in overtime on Sunday, the Celtics were able to let some of that frustration out against the team that traded them Isaiah Thomas just four days ago.

In a blowout turned thriller, it was Thomas who had the most frustration to vent after being traded by the Suns and then being ejected from his first game as a Celtic. He led the C’s (21-33) over the Suns (29-28), 115-110, Monday night in Phoenix.

Thomas had a late 4-point play, followed by an acrobatic finish at the rim that essentially sealed a Boston win after Phoenix had cut the deficit to just a single point in the fourth.

Avery Bradley had a game-high 23 points for the Celtics, while Thomas had his second 21-point game off the bench in as many games as a member of the Celtics. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight led the way for the Suns, scoring 21 and 20 points respectively.

For a complete box score, click here.

ISAIAH FACTOR

In a pick-and-roll league like the NBA, having a player like Thomas is crucial. The Celtics now have an offensive threat — a player that draws double teams because he can come off of a pick and make a quick decision to pass, shoot or drive to the rim. At 5-foot-9 he’s small in stature, but his value to the Celtics going forward is enormous. Not to overreact to someone who figures to be just a piece of Boston’s future success, but if Thomas’ skill set is so obvious in just a couple of games with a depleted squad, just wait until he’s not the focal point of the opposing defense. You can see why Danny Ainge has been chasing Thomas these past couple years. He was an absolute game-changer down the stretch of the only game we’ve had the pleasure of watching him finish in green. Aside from his 21 points and seven assists, Thomas led his team by a wide margin in plus/minus, finishing as a plus-21 in his 27 minutes of play.

CREDIT AVERY BRADLEY

In WEEI.com’s recent Celtics roundtable I wrote that Bradley was the one guy that needed to improve his play. Maybe he’s been reading Green Street during his down time on the road trip? Bradley has been fantastic of late. He came out and set the tone early with 14 first quarter points, and then had a huge steal and 3-pointer late to help seal the victory. And he did it all while hounding the athletic backcourt of Bledsoe and Knight — finishing with six steals to go with his 23 points (8-for-14 from the field).

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isiah Thomas, Phoenix Suns
Report: Celtics ’emerging as a contender’ for Goran Dragic 02.18.15 at 10:14 am ET
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Surprise, surprise: The Celtics have entered the Goran Dragic sweepstakes.

According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge has placed a call to his former assistant general manager, Phoenix Suns GM Ryan McDonough, about the NBA’s reigning Most Improved Player.

Dragic, who is expected to decline his $7.5 million player option for the 2015-16 season, has alerted the Suns he will not re-sign in Phoneix come July, per USA TODAY’s Sam Amick. Given the team’s wealth of point guards after signing Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe for a combined $97 million this past summer, McDonough is reportedly seeking to trade Dragic by Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Enter Ainge, who has enough draft picks, expiring contracts and affordable young talent to join any trade discussion. But how much are the Celtics willing to pay for a 28-year-old point guard who can walk in June? (See: Rondo, Rajon.)

Granted, Dragic is coming off a Third Team All-NBA season and has 9,118 fewer NBA minutes on his legs than the 28-year-old point guard they traded two months ago — not to mention an entirely different skill-set than Rondo — but Ainge will have to compete with a host of other teams for the Slovenian’s services, including reported suitors in the Heat, Kings, Knicks, Lakers, Pacers and Rockets. Ainge’s familiarity with McDonough, which led to the exchange of Brandan Wright for draft picks last month, can’t hurt in that regard.

Would Brandon Bass‘ $6.9 million expiring contract and pick(s) be enough to land Dragic? Or would the C’s have to include Kelly Olynyk or another burgeoning young talent? The Suns, who currently lead the Thunder by a half-game for the Western Conference’s eighth playoff seed, could use another floor-spacing big man after losing veteran locker room favorite Channing Frye to the Magic in free agency.

Additionally, the Celtics must determine whether the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Dragic — a willing defender and brilliant playmaker who submitted a remarkable statistical season in 2013-14 (20.3 points, 5.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 35.1 minutes per game while producing a 60.4 true shooting percentage and 21.4 player efficiency rating) — could coexist with Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in the backcourt. (Unless, of course, either Smart or Bradley is shipped back to Phoenix in exchange for Dragic). The feeling here is that Dragic and the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Smart could wreak the same kind of havoc Dragic and Bledsoe did during the Suns’ 48-win campaign last season.

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Dragic has included the Los Angeles Lakers, New York and Miami among his list of preferred landing spots, demonstrating a willingness to re-sign with a team currently out of championship contention, but it’s unclear whether he’d be open to staying in Boston. Dragic’s agent, Bill Duffy, also represents Rondo, whose desire to test free agency led to his trade. Just as with Rondo, though, the C’s — or any organization acquiring Dragic — could offer an additional year and roughly $25 million more on the open market. With the NBA’s new television deal expected to increase the salary cap in 2016, Dragic could command a max contract this summer.

For more on the impending trade deadline decisions Ainge faces, click here.

Read More: 2015 NBA Trade Deadline, Boston Celtics, Goran Dragic, NBA
Celtics trade Brandan Wright to Suns for pick(s) 01.09.15 at 6:01 pm ET
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The Celtics traded recently acquired and underused forward Brandan Wright to the Suns for a future draft picks(s), the team announced on Friday night. Yahoo Sports guru Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the trade on Twitter.

In exchange for Wright — seemingly the prized jewel in Celtics president Danny Ainge’s trade of Rajon Rondo — Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is sending a Timberwolves pick to his former employer that is top-12 protected for this season and next before turning into a pair of second-round picks in 2016 and 2017.

The 6-foot-9 Wright came to the Celtics with the league’s highest field goal percentage (74.8 percent), but then played in just eight games for Boston, averaging 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds in only 10.8 minutes a night.

In essence, the Celtics have turned Rondo into Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson’s relatively low $2.73 million expiring contract, a late 2016 first-round pick from Dallas and two second-round picks from Minnesota in 2016 and 2017.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are nearing a deal that would send Jeff Green to the Grizzlies in exchange for Tayshaun Prince‘s $7.7 million expiring contract and a future first-round pick, according to Wojnarowski, likely giving Ainge nine No. 1 selections over the next four seasons.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brandan Wright, NBA, Phoenix Suns
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