Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard

For the first time this season, a Celtics team that was at full-strength faced one of the best teams in the league. 

Although the C’s have already played against teams like the Cavaliers and the Warriors, both games were played without Al Horford and Jae Crowder. After sweeping their three-game road trip, Horford, Crowder and the Celtics battled against the third-best team in the NBA — the San Antonio Spurs (13-3) — but were outplayed in the second half en route to a 109-103 loss at TD Garden.

Isaiah Thomas’ 3-pointer from the corner with one minute left pulled the Celtics to within three points before Spurs guard Patty Mills answered Thomas with a 3 of his own — making it a two-possession game (107-101). Out a timeout, Horford’s dunk pulled the game to within four points but the Celtics surrendered a crucial offensive rebound to Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge — who made both free-throws with 18.5 ticks left and that pretty much sealed the game.

The backcourt duo of Isaiah Thomas (24 points, 8 assists) and Avery Bradley (19 points, 8 rebounds) led the Celtics and Jae Crowder had his best shooting night — finishing with 18 points on 7-of-11 shots.

Leonard finished with a game-high 25 points to go with his 9 rebounds and 4 assists and Mills’ 19 points led the Spurs’ bench. San Antonio’s bench made a big difference in this one. They combined for a whopping 56 points. Former Celtic David Lee finished with a double-double (15 points, 12 rebounds) and Davis Bertans added 15 points, including 3-of-5 from deep. 

For a complete box score, click here

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The Celtics got off to a quick start, thanks in part to Crowder and Bradley — they combined for 19 points and along with Thomas’ 7 points, raced out to a quick start. Clinging to a double-digit lead, the Celtics took a 10-point lead into the second quarter (32-22). However, the Spurs found their offensive rhythm after the first quarter by going on a 12-0 run, pulling to within one point. Celtics took a two-point lead (48-46) into halftime. 

It only took two minutes into the second half for San Antonio to grab their first lead of the game. The Spurs executed pick-and-roll plays that led to backdoor cuts for easy buckets down low. But the Celtics’ defense kept them afloat. They made stops throughout the quarter and on the other end of the floor, the Celtics had great ball movement which lead to open jump shots and uncontested 3-pointers.

But the Spurs’ 5-0 run, including a  3-pointer by Mills at the end of the quarter, giving San Antonio a one point lead (75-74) heading into the final frame. The Celtics gave up a lot of offensive rebounds (12), including five in the fourth quarter, which led to 15 second-chance points for the Spurs. San Antonio’s offense took over the game when they needed it most. They scored 34 points on 10-of-18 attempts and finished 22-25 from the free-throw line.

Stud(s) of the night: Spurs bench

Leonard certainly had himself a night but it was San Antonio’s bench that kept them ahead throughout the second half. Mills caught fire and Lee’s offensive rebounding kept their possessions alive in the fourth quarter — which help the Spurs keep their offensive rhythm alive.

Dud of the night: Amir Johnson

In a game where the Celtics really needed their big men to step up on the defensive end, Amir Johnson did little to nothing in trying to slow down LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol and David Lee. He made committed easy-to-call fouls, only pulled down two rebounds and finished scoreless (0-for-5) on the other end of the floor. Johnson has really struggled throughout this season’s first 16 games. 

Why the game was lost: Spurs offensive rebounding/free-throws

The Celtics picked the wrong time to give up offensive rebounds and the most crucial rebounds — Aldridge with 18.5 left — sealed their fate. The Celtics were gaining momentum offensively in the fourth quarter but offensive rebounding and the Spurs’ trips to the free-throw line prevented the C’s from gaining a significant advantage. 

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

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Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday. 

For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.

For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark. 

As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters. 

“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.

Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins to improve to 9-6 on the season. 

“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.

“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”

As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover. 

“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said. 

The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard. 

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“You’d know the numbers better than I would probably if you look through them, but I would say he’s a very unique player,” Stevens said. “One of the best in the league certainly. His ability to guard any number of positions 1 through 4 is very, very rare, and then his ability now to not only play in pick-and-roll and play facing the basket, but also post up if you have to go with smaller guys – he’s a handful. He’s a problem.”

The Spurs generate multiple mismatches with a starting lineup that is bigger than normal at the 2, 3 and 4 positions.

“They’re a really big team. And at the same time they do a lot of what some of the smaller teams do with switching a lot and keeping guys in front, and trying to keep people from taking threes,” Stevens said. “They’re great defending the 3-point line even with that size, and obviously it’s hard to score on the rim when they’re all converged on you. So they do a great job of making you take the shots they want you to take.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

If you missed the Celtics’ 111-92 victory over the Nets on Wednesday night, take a break from your Thanksgiving meal Thursday and check out the highlights.

If you missed the Celtics’ 111-92 victory over the Nets on Wednesday night, take a break from your Thanksgiving meal Thursday and check out the highlights.

The C’s played their most entertaining game of the young season, demonstrating tremendous ball movement — leading to 26 assists — and coming up with a handful of dazzling plays in a dismantling of the Nets that capped a 3-0 road trip.

Isaiah Thomas led the way with 23 points and five assists. Avery Bradley had 22 points, seven rebounds and five steals. Al Horford amassed 17 points, five rebounds and eight assists. Jae Crowder added 15 points and five boards.

Contributions came from everywhere. Jonas Jerebko (10 points) did his part to keep the Celtics in charge when the Nets were trying to make a run early in the fourth quarter. The Swede hit three shots in a row, including a corner trey. However, Brooklyn was able to close to within seven before Boston finally put it away. Bradley had a big bucket in the closing stretch when he drove baseline past Robin Lopez, who had switched out on him, missed a lay-in but then immediately jumped up from the other side of the rim and tapped in the rebound with one hand for a 13-point lead with 5:11 remaining, leading to a Nets timeout.

The Celtics looked like they were ready to deliver the knockout blow when they went on a 16-4 run to closet out the third quarter and take a 79-66 lead. The spurt featured a nice play by Marcus Smart when he drove to the top of the lane, dribbled behind his back, then made a nifty pass to a cutting Tyler Zeller for a wide-open layup and one of his eight assists.

The Celtics, for a change, got off to a fast start, taking a 14-point lead after one period and extending it to 17 early in the second quarter. However, the Nets used a 21-6 run to get right back in it, with Bojan Bogdanovic scoring 10 of those points, and it remained a two-point game at the break, 51-49.

Sean Kilpatrick led the Nets with 23 points, while Trevor Booker netted 18 with 12 rebounds and four steals.

The Celtics next host the Spurs on Friday at 1 p.m.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

The Timberwolves entered Monday’s game ranked last in the league in second-half scoring. Luckily for Boston, that trend continued, as the Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter for a 99-93 road victory.

The Timberwolves entered Monday’s game ranked last in the league in second-half scoring. Luckily for Boston, that trend continued, as the Celtics rallied in the fourth quarter for a 99-93 road victory.

The Timberwolves ranked second in the league in first-half scoring (59.8 points) and last in the league in second-half scoring (45.2 points). So, even though Minnesota led by 10 points at the half (52-42) and 13 points heading into the fourth quarter (81-68), there was reason to believe the C’s could make a run. And what a run it was — 19 consecutive points that started with a basket with one second remaining in the third.

The Celtics, struggling for offensive consistency all night, finally got hot while the Timberwolves went ice cold, with the hosts failing to score a single point for almost seven minutes. Al Horford came up with a bucketful of big plays, including a block on Gorgui Dieng in front of the basket followed by a dunk at the other end

Terry Rozier also provided a spark in the fourth, hitting a pair of 3’s, including one that tied the game at 81 with 6:52 left. Shortly thereafter, he came up with a steal on the defensive end that led to a breakaway one-handed dunk and a two-point Boston lead. When Horford hit a short jumper on Boston’s next possession it capped the 19-0 run and forced Minnesota to call its third timeout of the period and final one of the game.

While the C’s continued to attack, Minnesota continued to struggle. The hosts scored just 12 points in the fourth (41 in the half). It marked the fifth time this season the Timberwolves squandered a lead of 14 points or more (their lead peaked at 15).

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 29 points. Horford had 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Rozier finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-for-4 treys).

Minnesota center Karl-Anthony Towns lived up to the hype, amassing 27 points and 18 rebounds. Dieng also had a double-double with 20 points and 10 boards.

Minnesota dominated down low, outrebounding Boston 51-39 an outscoring the visitors in the paint by a 58-34 total.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

One night after the Warriors humiliated them at the Garden, the Celtics looked confident, in-sync and overcame 20 lead changes to hand the Pistons their first home loss of the season, Saturday night. 

And having both Jae Crowder and Al Horford back in the lineup sure didn’t hurt. 

Al Horford proved pivotal for the Celtics Saturday night (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford proved pivotal for the Celtics Saturday night (Tim Fuller/USA Today Sports)

One night after the Warriors humiliated them at the Garden, the Celtics looked confident, in-sync and overcame 20 lead changes to hand the Pistons their first home loss of the season, Saturday night. 

And having both Jae Crowder and Al Horford back in the lineup sure didn’t hurt. 

It was Horford who punctuated the 94-92 win, notching the game-winner with 1.3 seconds remaining.  (For a complete recap, click here.)

Isaiah Thomas’ strong words about the team and coaching staff yesterday might have also inspired the Celtics to step up their game. Thomas himself led the team in scoring with 24 points and in assists with eight.  Crowder finished with nine points in 26 minutes.

The Celtics were up, 50-47, over the Pistons at halftime with help from Thomas’ 13 points and Horford’s 12. But the game took a sharp turn in the Pistons favor in the third quarter and Detroit led the Celtics 73-71 going into the fourth. But the Celtics battled back thanks in large part to Horford, who finished with 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting.. 

Marcus Morris had a night for the Pistons with 22 points, while Andre Drummond scored 17 with 14 rebounds. 

Despite the shaky-at-best second half, the Celtics finally look like they’re headed in the right direction as a cohesive team. 

Stud of the night: Al Horford 

Oh man, did the Celtics miss Horford. He did a little bit of everything in his first game back after suffering a concussion during practice in October.

“Al was, for guy who hasn’t played much in the past weeks, obviously, was really good out of the gate,” head coach Brad Stevens said of Horford in his postgame interview. 

Horford led the team in rebounds with nine. He also had five assists, two steals, and two blocks. Beyond that, the Celtics just looked solid with Horford back on the court. His return might be the key to steadying the roller coaster start to the season the Celtics have experienced. 

Dud of the night: The Celtics’ third quarter 

What a disaster those 12 minutes were. After cruising through the first part of this game, the Celtics looked like they might lose the game in the third. The lead changes made for a riveting nail biter, but the Celtics’ turnovers and missed shots were frustrating. 

When the game was won: The first quarter (or so it seemed) 

The Celtics looked like a brand new team at the start of this one, and basically were, with the return of Horford and Crowder, and at the time it looked like this game was in the bag. But the game was almost lost in the third, as there were nine lead changes in that quarter alone and the Celtics just played poorly all around. But the energy they brought in the first quarter showed up again in the final minutes and the Celtics were able to pull off the win. 

Blog Author: 
Lucy Burdge
Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to get between Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been Isaiah Thomas or nothing this season for the Celtics. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The imagery was too rich. Moments after Friday’s 104-88 wipeout at the hands of the Warriors, fire alarms were going off all around TD Garden. Fire trucks had trouble getting down the side streets leading up to the Garden to turn off the annoying sounds that delayed Brad Stevens’ postgame explanation of the mess. 

Turns out, a grill on the fourth floor malfunctioned and overheated, setting off the 20-minute disruption. 

If only fixing the Celtics were that easy. But we’ll try. 

1. Shorten the bench. From early on in camp, the thought was that having a deep bench could strengthen rotations for Brad Stevens. It hasn’t worked that way. The bench is not producing enough and is getting constantly outdone by the opposing group of reserves. On Friday, three players on the bench had at least 23 minutes. Part of that was because of garbage time in the fourth and part of it was traveling to Detroit after the game for a back-to-back Saturday. A good three or four man rotation off the bench is the sweet spot for most NBA teams and the return of Jae Crowder and Al Horford should help that. 

2. Pray for health. The Celtics have been admittedly hard hit by injuries early in the season. Crowder (left ankle) and Horford (concussion) have missed most of the season while Marcus Smart dinged his left ankle Friday night. Crowder and Horford should return on the trip while the prognosis for Smart does not seem dire. When you’re missing two-thirds of your starting front court, there is going to be a problem.  The Celtics have been using this as a bit of crutch but it’s been a legitimate issue that has stunted their ability to improve early on. 

3. Bench Kelly Olynyk. He spaces the floor but at some point, when you’re 0-for-5 as a finesse big man and have grab three rebounds in 17 minutes, the message needs to be sent. The Celtics can’t afford his finesse game right now. They need bigs who will get dirty. Olynyk is heading back to the bench and he should probably stay there until the 7-footer shows the ability and determination to help on the inside. Stevens certainly sounds like he’s going to try and support Olynyk on board for as long as he needs him. “Kelly, I thought, has always done a lot of good things for us. There’s some tough match-ups out there [Friday] and I think that he’s had better games; he’d be the first to tell you. But he’s been a good player for us.”

4. Press more and create transition. This is a team with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Smart. When they’re on the court, they should limit their half-court exposure and use their quickness to their advantage. With Crowder and Horford out, Stevens tried going with Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller to match up big for big. That didn’t work. They went to Smart to guard much bigger bigs. Not a bad idea considering he’s the healthiest low-post defender. In half-court, trapping more couldn’t hurt. They desperately need to create turnovers and transition offense for easy baskets, a category they dominated last spring when they made a run to 48 wins. 

5. Get to the basket. The Celtics are taking 30 threes a game, making 10 of them. The instant gratification from that is great. Here’s the problem: They’re not drawing fouls on the opposition and, outside of Isaiah Thomas (9/9 Friday) they’re not getting to the free throw line. Thomas is fifth in the league getting to the line, averaging 10 free throws a game, making 9. The inside game of the Celtics is lacking and that takes some dirty work. Do the dirty work, get to the line and rebound. All of that happens when there’s more of an inside commitment. 

Attitude problem:

Isaiah Thomas finally had enough after Friday’s 104-88 embarrassment on national TV to would-be Celtic Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics were humiliated 31-9 in the third quarter, a period that featured an 18-0 run by the Warriors. The Celtics were an abysmal 2-of-17 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Al Horford or no Al Horford, Jae Crowder or no Jae Crowder, those numbers are appalling.

“We know we have two of our key players out and that’s no excuse but we were in the game for one half,” Thomas said. “Everybody seen that third quarter open it up. So if you take away that third quarter and play as close to 48 minutes as possible, we’d still be in the game. You can’t let a team like that go on a run like that and expect to come back.

And what’s more concerning is the lack of consistency the Celtics have shown over a 6-6 start to the season. Opposing teams aren’t just snubbing the Celtics like Durant, they’re rubbing their noses in it like Durant’s front court colleague Zaza Pachulia, who did a dance after a 17-footer that capped the 18-0 spurt. That shot made it 79-51. 

“Yeah. At that point, the game is turned around,” Thomas said. “I guess we we gave up. I mean, coaching staff as well. We started subbing, it was bad. Especially, I only played 27 minutes. We gave up.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

It’s one thing to be getting beat. It’s another to be giving up. The Celtics spent much of last week talking about how the team must learn to take a punch and punch back. They can’t be taking abuse and not responding. They can’t be hanging their heads when things aren’t going well. They’re doing all of that right now.

And now their star player is calling out the coaching staff for quitting on the game. Nearly at the same time last year, Jae Crowder had a similar critique about rotation issues last year and the team responded by winning five of their next seven games. It was after an ugly 110-91 loss in Orlando that dropped the team to 9-8. That was criticism of strategy. What Thomas is suggesting is criticism of faith. 

The Celtics of last season had a lot more heart and determination than this one is showing right now. And everyone on the team knows it. They took Golden State to overtime and lost in Boston in December and they beat the Warriors in Oakland to end their record home-court winning streak. Friday night, they looked no where close to being that same team. 

“We couldn’t score and they did,” Thomas said. “That’s what we did well last year with them. Even though they went on runs, we held our own and we were able to score right back on them. That’s what happens against a really good team like that: If you stop scoring, they’re definitely going to continue to score, because they have so many options.”

Brad Stevens had to coach with the thought that the Celtics will be in Detroit Saturday night playing a game. The players took any decision-making out of his hands when they fell down by 29. Yes, they cut it to 11 points with 90 seconds left but by then it was too late.

“I think that it’s a long year, everybody knows it’s a long year; we’ve got 70 games left,” Stevens said. “We haven’t played a game yet without two of our top eight rotation guys missing. So everybody’s got a pretty good mindset about that. They realize that there are areas that we need to continue to improve, but at the same time we’ve got a really tough stretch coming up and I think we’re going to approach it positively.”

All of that is true. But there could be a much more serious problem under the surface. When one of your core leaders says the team collectively gave up, there is the sense that there is no fight in the team. How many times have you heard teams collectively talk about fighting to the end or battling even when the team was blown to smithereens on the field of play? Bill Belichick famously said after the 41-14 blowout loss to Kansas City in 2014 that all he was looking for in his team in the second half of that game was fight. How did the team fight? That’s exactly what’s missing from this Celtics team right now. 

“We panicked too fast. Any game is winnable,” Thomas said. “As fast as you can get up, as fast as you can make a comeback. We have a game tomorrow, we have to turn the page. But we gotta be more consistent as players and as coaches.”

Thomas said he “didn’t really notice” the crowd booing Kevin Durant. That’s probably because the Celtics have far more pressing issues than worrying about hurt feelings because a free agent didn’t sign with them four months ago.

“Just turn the page,” Thomas said. “The best players have the shortest memories, whether good or bad. Once you go to sleep, wake up tomorrow, you forget about this loss. But I believe we gave up. For whatever reason, they hit us and we didn’t hit back.”

It’s been Thomas or nothing this year on offense for the Celtics. That clearly is not a viable plan going forward. Friday night, he scored 18 points on 4-of-12 shooting, his first sub-20 point game of the season. This came just 48 hours after Thomas scored 20 points in the final six minutes of a 90-83 win over the woeful Mavericks. Thomas had eight points through three quarters. Friday is what happens when you rely on a player on an off night and nobody steps up. 

 “Well, I mean he’s done it – he’s done it so many times. But I was afraid that we were really going to have to gut this one out and figure out a way,” Stevens said after Wednesday’s game. “Even with our start, and then the start of the second quarter kind of put us in a little bit of a – we definitely stagnated quite a bit. But I thought we looked a little heavy-legged, and I thought that our guys fought through it. And credit those guys for figuring out a way to defend the whole way through and ultimately making enough shots to win. Certainly Isaiah’s fourth quarter was tremendous.”

Before Friday, the Celtics had shown signs of playing better defense, holding Dallas to 83 points in a 90-83 win Wednesday night.

“We talk together…we had a team meeting…those last couple games we’ve been blown out by 30 and 20…that wasn’t the way the Celtics play, it’s not the way this team plays and we had to come back and look ourselves in the mirrors and explain to ourselves,” Smart said .”Everybody came out and said what they thought was going on and we had to be truthful to ourselves.”

When the Celtics were blown off the court in Washington, Smart and the players got together for a players-only meeting to hammer things out.

“One practice after the Wizards game, and it was no coaches just us, and like I said we had to look ourselves in the mirror and come to the conclusion that it is us and we’re the ones playing and that we have to get it together,” Smart said.  

Might be time for that again. 

Closing out Durant:

Kevin Durant finally made his appearance Friday night in Boston and drew the ire of Celtics fans every time he touched the ball. He responded with 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting and a remarkable plus-32 (which was as high as plus-41 in the third quarter). 

What do you think of Durant’s coach think of the superstar getting the reaction he did?

“It’s just the beer talking,” Steve Kerr quipped. 

Added Klay Thompson, the man rumored to be in trade discussions involving the Celtics, “That is normal at this point. Boston fans are very passionate, doesn’t matter what sport, they love their Celtics. They might’ve felt like he burned them but that’s okay. Like I said, they are passionate…I’m sure KD enjoys it. He is a competitor and we enjoy our one trip here a year.”

And the man himself?

“I didn’t care,” Durant said. “I’m always motivated to play, so no, I was cool.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia