|Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard on Isaiah Thomas, Mark Wahlberg, Celtics win||03.24.16 at 12:06 am ET|
WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down the third straight win for the Celtics, a 91-79 win over the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors on Wednesday night at TD Garden. Isaiah Thomas hit a pair of key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and pointed to movie icon and Celtics fan Mark Wahlberg after the second. Thomas finished with 23 points in the win, which improves Boston to 42-30 and clinches the C’s first winning season under coach Brad Stevens. The Raptors were playing without Kyle Lowry (elbow) and Patrick Patterson (ankle).
|Brad Stevens on 1st winning season: ‘You don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games’||03.23.16 at 11:39 pm ET|
For the man who has made a career out of playing it low key, Brad Stevens was in rare form Wednesday.
After his team beat the shorthanded Raptors, 91-79, to lock up his first winning season in Boston and the first winning campaign of his NBA coaching career, Stevens brought some perspective to the table.
“The one thing that I will say is, I’ve felt like — especially in the last year, 14 months, whatever it is — that we really — I feel like there’s real progress,” Stevens said. “And it’s been pretty consistent progress. We’re certainly going to have our bad games and we’re certainly going to have games that are unique throughout an 82-game season, but there’s been good progress, there’s been good growth. And that’s my biggest focus.”
But then he repeated what he told Celtics TV reporter Abby Chin after the game.
“It’s like I told Abby, you don’t sign up to come to the Boston Celtics to win 42 games. So we’ve got a long way to go.”
The Celtics have won three straight after a season-long four-game skid. They’re 42-30 and right in the mix for the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and they beat a Raptors team that had their number in the first three games.
“You’re focused on the next opponent, you’re trying to play your best against the next opponent, but certainly a team that’s beaten you three times, there’s a part of you that — a necessarily competitive side of you — that wants to play better. And our guys have some of that.”
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.”
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.”
|Mike Petraglia, Sam Packard on Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk, what’s ahead for Celtics||03.21.16 at 11:50 pm ET|
WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard break down the big performances of Isaiah Thomas (28 points) and Kelly Olynyk (22 points off the bench) in the Celtics’ 107-96 win over the Magic on Monday night at TD Garden. The win lifts the Celtics to 41-30 on the season, and keeps them in the hunt for a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Next up, the division-leading Raptors, a team the Celtics haven’t beaten this season in three tries, on Wednesday night at TD Garden.
|Brad Stevens: ‘For the most part, we looked hesitant’||03.18.16 at 11:23 pm ET|
The last thing a coach wants to see is hesitation from his team.
That’s exactly what Brad Stevens has seen from his team in their last four games, all losses, including Friday’s 105-91 defeat at the hands of the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors.
The Raptors, despite playing their fourth game in five nights, came out on fire, thanks to 17 first-quarter points from Luis Scola, and took a 30-14 lead after one.
“Yeah, Scola had 13 against us last game in the first quarter and 17 tonight. He’s a Celtic-killer,” Stevens said. “I thought that actually we did a pretty good job. Obviously, there were a couple of shots. [DeMar] DeRozan’s not a high-volume 3-point shooter. Scola’s not a high-volume shooter but certainly he’s capable of shooting it and has shot it very well this year.”
“Sometimes those go down and you regroup and you kind of hang around while they’re making those shots, and sometimes they don’t. I think Scola’s bigger ways he hurt us were just with his cutting, his post scoring, his rebounding, his plays around the rim. I just think that’s where he’s hurt us both games.”
Still, a pair of 19-point deficits before halftime seemed inexcusable, given what was at stake for the Celtics and stretch the Raptors were in. The Celtics played their best quarter in the last week in the third quarter, scoring 31 points and drawing to within five, 79-74.
“Ball was really moving,” Stevens said. “We were getting good looks. Defensively, we were aggressive. We were communicating. You could tell there was a connectivity with the way they were playing. I thought we started really poorly,” Stevens said. “I did think though, a couple of those shots were not high-percentage shots that they made. But at the end of the day, you gotta kind of score and keep up with that as that’s happening and not dig yourself that big of a hole. The best we’ve played in two weeks is the third quarter.
“We can build off that. I think it was more of a factor of being hesitant than it was about not coming out and playing or competing or any of that stuff. I think that, for the most part, we looked hesitant. We looked unsure of ourselves and that type of stuff.
“I just told them I’m glad we played the way we did in the third because we’re a good basketball team when we play really hard together and believe in each other. We’ve just got to do that. It’s a tough stretch we’re in. We knew it was a tough stretch. It continues on Sunday on the road at Philly. We’ll have to play a lot better to have a chance to win.”
The Celtics were again without Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko but Stevens knows he couldn’t use that as an excuse for lack of execution.
“Everybody misses players, right? I think those players are really good players,” Stevens said. “If they were here tonight, they would’ve played but they weren’t. We need other guys to step up.
“I guess we got back in it in the third quarter and then we had a cluster of errors there that led to transition points and kind of got us back out of it. We played the best in the third quarter that we’ve played in two weeks, so that’s good. But we’ve got to sustain it longer period than one quarter. “
|Isaiah Thomas: ‘Things have got to change around here’||at 11:01 pm ET|
After Wednesday’s blowout loss to the Thunder, Isaiah Thomas was embarrassed.
He assumed that, after calling out his teammates for getting “punked” and looking “soft as tissue” in the 130-109 loss, the Celtics would come out Friday night in Toronto looking hungry against the Raptors, a team that played an overtime game in Indiana the night before and was playing its fourth game in five nights.
Instead the Celtics were the ones who came out flat, falling down 30-14 after the first 12 minutes and looking shell-shocked and unprepared for Luis Scola.
When it was all said and done, Thomas witnessed his teammates commit 16 turnovers and self-destruct in a 105-91 defeat. Now, he wants something to change.
“We keep losing so we’ve got to change something up,” Thomas told reporters after. “Coach [Stevens] said our third quarter, we played Celtic basketball. We got ourselves back in the game. We showed signs of playing like we know how but against a good team like the Raptors, you can’t play just one good quarter.”
The Celtics did indeed cut a 19-point deficit down to five twice, including at the end of the third on a three from rookie RJ Hunter. But six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth and Kyle Lowry (15 points in the fourth) ended any hope of a comeback win.
“I feel like they’re soft turnovers. We’re just being real soft with the ball, not being in control of the possession. That’s the definition of how we’re playing. We’re not playing to the best of our abilities. We’re not playing like we know how. We’re playing like we’re second-guessing all our [decisions], whether it’s offensively or defensively.”
The Celtics are on their first four-game losing streak of the season. They’re 39-30 and suddenly in sixth place in the East. They have winnable games against Philadelphia and Orlando Sunday and Monday but then a game against the Raptors Wednesday at the Garden before heading out West.
“I tried to tell the guys after the game, this is not on the coaches,” Thomas said. “This is not on anybody else. We’re the players. We go out there and play and we’ve got to figure it out. We had this little slump in January and we ended up figuring it out, too.
“But there’s  games left, we don’t have that much more room for error, so things have got to change around here.”
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