When Avery Bradley went down with 6:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Celtics led the Hawks, 83-80. He grabbed his right hamstring as he made his way up the court and eventually fell to the court near midcourt as he hobbled his way off the court. He was helped to the locker room by trainer Ed Lacerte and Tyler Zeller and did not return. He was ruled out with a strained right hamstring. They were outscored 22-18 the rest of the way and suffered a heart-breaking 102-101 loss in Game 1 at Philips Arena. Will Marcus Smart be able to pick up the load if Bradley is lost for the series? Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

The Celtics lost a playoff game and their best defensive player down the stretch of a rough Game 1 in Atlanta. 

Al Horford led three Hawks with at least 20 points, scoring 24 while grabbing 12 rebounds as Atlanta grabbed Game 1, 102-101, Saturday night at Philips Arena. 

Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) goes up for a rebound against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the first half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics center Jared Sullinger (7) goes up for a rebound against Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford (15) during the first half in game one of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena. (John David Mercer/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics lost a playoff game and their best defensive player down the stretch of a rough Game 1 in Atlanta. 

Al Horford led three Hawks with at least 20 points, scoring 24 while grabbing 12 rebounds as Atlanta grabbed Game 1, 102-101, Saturday night at Philips Arena. 

Avery Bradley left the game midway through the fourth quarter grabbing his right leg in pain with a strained right hamstring. He did not return. His status for Game 2 Tuesday night is unknown. 

Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 27 points, as Boston erased an 18-point first half hole to take a fourth quarter lead. But the Celtics faded after Bradley went down and fell down, 1-0, in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. 

Jae Crowder hit a three with 6.6 seconds left to bring Boston to within two, 100-98. But Jeff Teague hit two free throws with 5.2 seconds left to seal the win. Thomas hit a three with 0.4 left to make it 102-101. 

The Hawks came out on fire in the opening quarter, racing out to a 20-10 lead. The Celtics were settling for jump shots and the Hawks were taking advantage in transition, getting open looks at threes and midrange jumpers. 

With the Celtics concerned about how to contain Atlanta bigs Paul Millsap and Al Horford, the biggest factor in the opening quarter was the foul trouble the Celtics’ big men faced. Both Amir Johnson and Jared Sullinger picked up two fouls apiece. 

The Hawks finished the first quarter on a 7-2 run to take a 30-19 lead. 

The Hawks built their lead up to 14, 39-25 before Marcus Smart drilled a three from the left wing with just under seven minutes left in the second quarter. 

The Celtics made just 11 of their first 49 shots from the floor, falling behind 48-30 with just under two minutes left in the first half.  Atlanta finished the second quarter on an 18-9 spurt to take a 51-34 lead at the half. The Celtics shot an abysmal 23.1 percent, connecting on just 12-of-51 shots in the first 24 minutes, including 2-for-16 from beyond the arc. 

Adding to the misery of the first half was an injury to the left index finger of Smart. He was replaced by R.J. Hunter with five minutes left in the second quarter. Smart returned midway through the third quarter. 

Almost predictably, the Celtics went on an 11-2 run early in the third quarter to cut Atlanta’s lead to nine, 54-45. Brad Stevens made a change in the starting lineup to open the second half, replacing Amir Johnson with Evan Turner. 

 The Celtics were trading baskets for the next five minutes before the Celtics got a three from Isaiah Thomas with 5:47 left in the third, cutting Atlanta’s lead to six, 62-56. 

Bradley’s layup with 4:57 left cut the lead down to five, 63-58 before Mike Scott drilled a three to put the lead back to eight, 66-58. Millsap then drove past Kelly Olynyk for a layup and a foul. The three-point play with 4:05 left in the third put the lead back to 11, 69-58. 

The Celtics’ frustration with a lack of calls going their way finally led to a technical on Brad Stevens with 2:52 left in the third quarter. It was Stevens’ first technical of the season and just his second with the Celtics in three seasons. With 46 seconds left in the quarter, Bradley hit a three that cut the lead back to five, 70-65. The Celtics finished the third quarter with 11 fast break points and 18 points in the paint, cutting Atlanta’s lead to 72-65 heading into the fourth. 

The Celtics used the 3-point play, conventional and beyond the arc, to continue their second-half surge. Bradley hit a mid-range jumper and Marcus Smart was fouled. Smart’s free throw made it a one-possession game at 80-77. With 7:49 left, Smart drilled a three to tie it and then Crowder connected from the left wing with 6:49 left to give Boston an 83-80 lead and cap a 9-0 Celtics run. 

But on the next possession, the entire tone of the game changed when Avery Bradley pulled up lame with a right hamstring strain. He had to be helped off the court by trainer Ed Lacerte and teammate Tyler Zeller. He was almost immediately ruled out of the game by the team. 

Thomas drilled a three with 5:53 left to give the Celtics an 86-84 lead. It would be Boston’s last field goal until a Marcus Smart putback layup with 1:02 left, a drought of four minutes, 51 seconds.

The Hawks went to work. With 4:07 left, Teague converted a layup putting the Hawks up, 88-86. With 3:25 left, Horford’s layup on a pass from Teague made it 90-88 Hawks. Turner’s three to tie the game with 46 seconds left was off the mark. Isaiah Thomas missed a layup and Bazemore hit one of two free throws to make it, 99-93 with 25.7 seconds left.

Game 2 is set for Tuesday night in Atlanta before the series shifts back to Boston for Game 3 next Friday night at TD Garden.

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

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Avery Bradley

Until his injury, the Celtics’ best ball defender, picked up his offense and led the Celtics’ charge in the second half as the Hawks paid close attention to Isaiah Thomas. Runner-up: Marcus Smart. His 3-for-5 shooting from 3-point range, including clutch shots in the fourth, gave the Celtics a chance. 

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Jared Sullinger

Early foul trouble took him out of his rhythm and he was rendered much less effective the whole night on both ends of the floor. He was not on the floor in the final three minutes with five fouls. He was also just 4-for-14 from the line. 

VIDEO OF THE NIGHT: 

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Sam Packard interviews Celtics forward Jae Crowder about his path to the NBA and how he overcame being short and chunky as a junior in high school. Sam also talks to Jae’s high school basketball coach, both of his junior college coaches, as well as the man who recruited him to Marquette. Towards the end of the episode, Sam and Jae discuss what its like to play under Brad Stevens, the first time he realized Isaiah Thomas was great, and the his amazing nickname Bae Crowder.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
Celtics guru Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald joins Christian Arcand and John Tomase from Atlanta to talk all things Celtics
The Growth of Jae Crowder - Sam Packard interviews Celtics forward Jae Crowder about his path to the NBA and how he overcame being short and chunky as a junior in high school. Sam also talks to Jae's high school basketball coach, both of his junior college coaches, as well as the man who recruited him to Marquette. Towards the end of the episode, Sam and Jae discuss what its like to play under Brad Stevens, the first time he realized Isaiah Thomas was great, and the his amazing nickname Bae Crowder. Subscribe to the Pod on iTunes, Stitcher and on the CLNS Radio app.

Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Avery Bradley celebrates next to Miami Heat forward Luol Deng Wednesday at TD Garden. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM  –  The way Avery Bradley looks at it, this first round series against Atlanta is as a good time as any for redemption and respect for this new wave of Celtic pride. 

Bradley has been in the playoffs before with the Celtics. He was a key member of the team’s run to the Eastern finals in 2012. He was an observer off the bench as the team came within 12 minutes of a world championship in his rookie season of 2010. Last year, he was the elder statesman that many younger guns like Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas looked up to for leadership against Cleveland. 

Now, with last year’s four-game sweep a distant memory, it’s time to prove that this year’s 48-34 record was no fluke. As a matter of fact, the only what Bradley believes they can truly earn respect is with a series win over the Hawks, and that starts Saturday at Philips Arena. 

“I’m ready. This is what we prepare all year for, the opportunity to be in the playoffs,” Bradley said. “[Saturday] we have a chance to go out there and show all the hard work that we’ve put in this year. I’m excited about the opportunity.”

How is the mindset different from last year at this time?

“It’s different. I feel like we have a little more experience. Last year, we got a little taste and it was kind of embarrassing, even though we were playing the No. 2 seed. This year, I feel like it’s a lot different. We have a chip on our shoulder and we feel like we can go a lot further than last year. I think it’s a lot different. We’re a lot more confident. Obviously, if you have that experience in something, everybody is going to be a lot more confidence. If they’re nervous of the crowd, the media, whatever it is. We’re a lot more comfortable. We’re just going to go out there and play basketball, just worry about basketball.

“We’ve been playing together, a lot of the guys, the core group of the guys have been playing together for three years, two years. I think can carry into the playoffs because when we’re going through adversity, we’re like a family. We can all sit each other down, look each other in the eyes and dig deep and go out there and play as hard as we can for one another. That’s the most important thing for us as a young team and the playoffs, because we need to stay together every single possession, even if somebody turns the ball over. We have to make sure we’re mature enough to stay positive.”

Bradley is convinced that if the Celtics can bottle up the defensive effort of the second half against Miami and bring it with them to Atlanta to start the series, they’ll be in great shape. 

“I do. I really do. If we play that way, it’s hard for a lot of teams to beat us in the NBA. Whenever we’re playing defense at that level. Atlanta is similar to us. That’s how they played defense against us last time we played them in Atlanta. We have to go out there and make sure we’re playing hard every single possession.

“I hope we bottled it and from the start of the game, we bring it out, that intensity. It has to start from us [the starters]. I’m going to leave everything out there on the floor. I’ll be able to at least go into the locker room and tell my teammates from the beginning of the game, regardless, I always play hard. But from the beginning of the game, I want my teammates to know I’m out there defending. We all need to do this if we want to win the game.

“It gets the crowd into it. It gets everybody off their seats. Defense wins games, man. It gives everybody energy. It almost gives you energy on the offense end. And we have to know that. We have to have that mindset every single game. I want us to be a defensive team. I don’t want us to worry about offense because we know we can score if we’re playing the right way. We have to go out there and play defense. That has to be our mindset this entire series.”

Bradley says he likes the way the Celtics conducted themselves in practice Friday, just over 24 hours before Game 1. 

“I have, especially today,” Bradley said after Friday’s practice. “We went hard. It was a regular practice for us. We were preparing for a game. Every opportunity we get, every little thing, if it’s watching film, whatever it is, taking care of your body, whatever it is we need to do [so] we’re ready for the game.” 

One thing Bradley hasn’t done is watch film again of last Saturday’s meltdown in Atlanta, when they were outscored 43-20 in the final 17 minutes. 

“I just try to not think about it. I didn’t even watch it again,” Bradley said. “I usually watch the games right after the game. I didn’t even watch it because I couldn’t really learn anything from it because it was so bad. But, we get a chance to play them again and redeem ourselves and go out there and play the right way.”

Paul Millsap dominated the Celtics for 31 points and 16 rebounds last Saturday. Obviously, he’ll be a main focus of the defense. 

“Millsap is a very good player. Good players like that in the NBA, they’re going to score,” Bradley said. “All you can do is try to make every possession hard on them. That’s what we’re going to try to do. Amir is going to take the challenge. I know he’s excited about it. He’s preparing and today he went hard in practice. He knows that he has a load and he’s going to be playing against a good player. He should want to take that challenge. All his teammates, we have his back. We want to take the challenge. I want to guard Teague. I want to guard whoever is on their team that is playing well for them. That has to be our mindset from everybody.”

Perhaps most interesting is what Bradley said about starting the series on the road as the No. 5 seed, even though the Celtics and Hawks finished with identical 48-34 records. 

“I like it because it’s like you’re going up against everybody,” Bradley said. “The fans are against you. That’s the best atmosphere because it’s almost like you get a chance to prove everybody wrong.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

 

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WALTHAM — Brad Stevens saw enough from his players over the last three games to know what was different about them from the team that was closing in on a No. 3 seed in the East. 

In the final three games, two losses and a miracle comeback against the Heat in the second half, Stevens saw his team play out of sorts and out of rhythm. 


WALTHAM  –  Brad Stevens saw enough from his team over the last three games to know what was different about them from the team that was closing in on a No. 3 seed in the East. 

In the final three games, two losses and a miracle comeback against the Heat in the second half, Stevens saw his team play out of sorts and out of rhythm. 

He fully realizes that the defense that Atlanta and Charlotte were playing had something to do with that, as did the 65 percent shooting of the Heat in the first half. 

But in going over film of the Hawks, he wants his team to be focused not just on making life tough on Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague but controlling what his team can control. 

“How hard you cut, how well you pass, how well you execute, all those little things,” Stevens said after Friday’s practice before leaving for Atlanta and Game 1 Saturday night. “Now, when you do those things really well that shot has a tendency to go in. That’s just how it works, right? But I think the bottom line is it requires a great deal of multiple efforts the whole game.

“You watch film, do what you need to go to get ready for a game obviously,” Stevens said. “We watched a little bit of film yesterday too but you’re gonna do what you need to do to play well, and it’s a simple, fast-paced game first and foremost, and so I’m big in make the appropriate adjustments but play with a clear mind and be fresh.”

This time last year, the Celtics squeaked in as the No. 7 seed at 40-42 and were swept by the No. 2 seed Cavaliers. Does he feel different this time around?

“I don’t see a whole lot. I think the bottom line is anytime you’re in this position you’re gonna have good focus you’re gonna come to work the right way,” Stevens added. “I mean credit to these guys, they’re pretty much like that all year and so it’s not like that’s a huge deviation or a huge change. I think last year winning six straight going into it, barely getting in it, we were trying to catch our breath and prepare.

 

“This year, knowing you’re gonna be in it but not knowing who you’re gonna play there’s a bit of that. But I think the bottom line is that you’re preparing the same way, you hope to be able to get better results than you did last year, but you know it’s gonna be really tough and you just got to do everything you can to control what you can.”

The biggest difference this year is the rotation. Last year, Isaiah Thomas was one of the best sixth men in the NBA. This year, he’s an All-Star who starts at the point. Jae Crowder came off the bench last year in the Cleveland series. This year, he’s the most versatile defender the Celtics have. Last year, Amir Johnson was in Toronto. 

“It is a little bit different but there’s a lot of guys that have played in this,” Stevens said. “I think Atlanta does such a great job of mixing things up and keeping you off-balance and those types of things, hopefully our experience of playing against all the different defenses and all the different ways people play will help us in that moment. But it’s gonna be the same stuff. We’re gonna have to play really well.

“We’re gonna have to guard with great authority. We’re gonna have to play offense with great authority and we’re gonna have to keep our poise because they’re gonna go on runs. I’ve talked before, you just can’t let Korver go on a 9-0 or 12-0 run them hit 4 threes in a row, you’ve got to stop it at 6, make it a 6-2 run and then answer back. Those are hard things to do, it’s easier to talk about than do but our guys are looking forward to it.

“The other night against Miami you go into the locker room and the first thing you’re thinking is what are we gonna do different, who are we gonna play and all this other stuff. And the answer was, do what we do better and that’s what you always need to do first. Do what you do better and do it as well as you can and obviously we’ll tweak accordingly for Atlanta, but hey we’ve had one day of practice, we play tomorrow. They’ve had one day of practice probably and a film session, but we both play tomorrow. It’s not like you can reinvent the wheel in 48 hours. You’ve got to just go out and play and play as well as you can.”

Stevens will definitely have his team ready to handle the pressure from Paul Millsap and Al Horford, two of the more tenacious big men on defense. 

“Activity, the hand activity, the quickness, the versatility in guarding different positions,” Stevens said. “They’ll play really aggressively in their pick and roll coverages. They’ll be up, they’re able to get their hands on balls. They had a bunch of hands on balls against us last game and they mix in a lot of switching, especially late in the game and so it makes it really difficult and tough and you have to be prepared to handle that under the duress of the savvy and the players they have. These guys are a good basketball team in a lot of ways.

“Everybody talked about their offense last year because of the way they shared and shot the ball and it kind of became one of the main themes of the NBA season and that’s continued, but their defense has been really good both years too and it’s just gotten better and better this year.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

WALTHAM – Armed with an attitude and the confidence of a full All-Star season to back it up, Isaiah Thomas feels these Celtics are ready to make some noise against Atlanta in the playoffs starting Saturday night.