Apr 6, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives against Atlanta Hawks forward Kent Bazemore (24) in the third quarter of their game at Philips Arena. The Hawks won 123-116. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas could be in for a playing time increase come the playoffs. (Jason Getz/USA Today Sports)

When Brad Stevens steps on the gas in the playoffs, will Isaiah Thomas be ready to fire up the Celtics engine?

For the Celtics to have any prayer of fulfilling the promise made by the Celtics point guard before Wednesday’s regular season finale, Thomas will have to be ready to answer the bell, even if it means playing more minutes than his team-leading 34 minutes-per game average. 

Thomas entered Wednesday’s game ranked 27th in the NBA in minutes played. There are certainly others like LeBron James, Russell Westbrook and James Harden who rank at the top of the league. But with Thomas, there is the unknown of playoff wear and tear. 

The Celtics, after all, are still looking for their first playoff series win with Thomas at the point. Two years ago, the Celtics were swept by the Cavaliers in the opening round. Last year, the Celtics won a pair of games but fell in six to the Hawks in the first round. Thomas was acquired at the trade deadline in February 2015 and the Celtics have been in the playoffs ever since. 

“I don’t know that it changed the attitude. I think that that’s something we were starting to find a stride about us right before the All-Star break that year,” coach Brad Stevens said Wednesday. “Isaiah was a huge addition from the standpoint of he brought something to the table that we needed badly and that complemented the rest of our players. I think that he fit in with his chip on his shoulder and his desire to prove people wrong and be great. But I don’t know that he changed it, per se. We were headed in the right direction and then this was a big part of it. He’s been a huge part of it, don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a collective effort. All of our guys have that mindset.”

Now the mindset is getting deep in the playoffs and that could mean asking more from Thomas and others. 

“Nobody’s played more than 34 minutes a game,” Stevens said. “Isaiah is on 75 games. Everybody else is less than that. We feel really good about our total minutes, our minutes per game and where we are heading into the playoffs, from a preparation standpoint and from a load standpoint thus far. 

“I said the other day that the silver lining of the injuries we went through was everybody sat. Avery missed almost two months, Al missed 15 games, Jae missed 10 games. We’ve had a good number of games missed due to that. And as a result, we feel like it’s more important to play right now and continue to play together.”

After Thomas at 34.0 minutes per game, there’s Avery Bradley at 33.4, Jae Crowder (32.5), Al Horford (32.4) and Marcus Smart (30.4). 

“The minutes per game is a conscious effort,” Stevens added. “That’s a long-term thing that you’re trying to manage within in a game. That’s hard to do. Very rarely did those guys get into the high-30s or low-40s. There may be a case or two where they got into the low-40s. [Minutes management] is what we try to do. Hopefully it’s of benefit. We’ll see.

“I’d say you’d probably be more likely to play more minutes when those times come. I trust everybody that’s available.”

Stevens is at the point where he and his staff feel pretty comfortable with which rotations might be used off the bench, starting with Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk and Jaylen Brown. 

“Yeah, but some of that stuff will be dependent on who you’re playing, how they’re playing, adjustments that both teams make throughout the series and those type of things,” Stevens said. “I feel good about us being able to go to a number of different people within those series.

“Obviously, number one is availability. Number two is I’d say we’ve made some good strides with certain groups on the floor. I feel good about knowing our guys and knowing how they complement each other and what each guy brings to the table, the value they can add to help us win as we move forward. You feel like you’ve got a pretty comprehensive review of all that as you head into the last game and then next week.”

Stevens said his team is ready to embrace the role of the top seed in the East, even though he admitted that the Cavaliers are still the team to beat. 

“I don’t put a lot of time and thought into it,” Stevens said. “I’m excited about progress from the standpoint that we’ve been consistent in our approach and we haven’t gotten too high or too low with regard to long losing streaks or things don’t go our way and not being able to respond. I think most good team are that way. Our first-round opponent is going to be hard, regardless. At the end of the day, that’s what it is. My focus isn’t going to be on the numbers next to the names, it’s going to be on how you have to play to beat whoever you’re playing.”

 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) brings the ball up court during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas leads the Celtics into the playoff charge. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The standings heading into the playoffs may have the Celtics at the top of the ladder in the Eastern Conference. 

But in his mind, Brad Stevens is keeping the defending champions on a pedestal for a purpose going into the playoffs. 

The Cavaliers lost three straight games after knocking off the Celtics last Wednesday at TD Garden. That opened the door for the Celtics to wrap up the No. 1 seed in the East with a win over the rest-depleted Bucks Wednesday night. 

But Stevens knows full well that if he can keep that carrot in front of his team, they will have plenty of motivation to prove themselves worthy of the respect the Cavaliers have already earned. 

Asked before Wednesday’s regular season finale how he feels about the Cavaliers still regarded as the team to beat, he grinned quickly before confirming what many experts already feel. 

“No, they deserve that. Cleveland is the team to beat. There’s no question about that. They deserve that,” Stevens said. “They’ve been to back-to-back finals. So, until somebody knocks them off, as a defending champion, I think that’s a fair way to view things.” 

Clearly, the Cavaliers aren’t concerned about finishing second to the Celtics in the East. They are resting LeBron James at home against the Toronto Raptors in their regular season finale, a game that will be played simultaneous with Boston’s game against Milwaukee. 

Stevens also indicated before the game that it’s safe to say that – heading into the postseason – he will likely go with a rotation of nine regular players. But there’s a chance that the likes of Terry Rozier, Gerald Green or even Jordan Mickey could see time if the situation presents itself. 

“Yeah, I’d say that’s exactly what we’d be looking at,” Stevens said. “But again, everybody’s got to be ready to go because things change, injuries happen.  As we saw last year, matchups you didn’t anticipate become matchups that become important and you need to throw somebody else at so everybody’s got to be ready.”  

The first four off Stevens’ bench would be Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko. 

Stevens confirmed that everyone would be “available” for the regular season finale. 

“We’re trying to win a game,” Stevens said of trying to capture win No. 53, a win that would clinch the No. 1 seed. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (see complete recap here) and was asked about the differing opinions over Al Horford’s impact this season.

Al Horford

Al Horford

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (see complete recap here) and was asked about the differing opinions over Al Horford’s impact this season.

Horford isn’t posting superstar numbers (14 points, 6.8 rebounds, 5 assists), but with the Celtics sitting on 52 wins with a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference on Wednesday night against the Bucks, his contributions have been debated.

Put Grousbeck squarely in the camp of “no regrets” over signing the center to a four-year, $113 million contract last summer.

“I’m very happy with the signing and we have to be responsible for the contract,” Grousbeck said. “I’d love to see him step up and lead us all the way. Adding him last year put us better in the mix for another major free agent last year, obviously, puts us in the mix for a free agent this summer if we want to go that route, makes us a destination. I’d make the Al Horford deal again in one second today.”

So what do fans and media miss on nights when Horford doesn’t score a ton?

“I think when you go to the next level of analytics with Al, you see that Isaiah [Thomas] shoots noticeably better when he’s on the court,” Grousbeck said. “A lot of Isaiah’s points come from Al’s assists and Al’s screens. He’s one of the two leading big men in the league in assists at five a game, which is pretty high for a starting center. His screens are effective. He clears room for Isaiah to drive to the hoop, he sees him effectively along the perimeter. Isaiah and Al are linked. Isaiah shoots 55 percent when Al’s on the floor and 50 percent when he’s not. That’s a big difference when you take as many shots as Isaiah takes. That’s a meaningful difference in a game.”

Grousbeck suspects we’ll see a more assertive Horford in the postseason.

“I think playoffs will logically be his time,” he said. “When everything tightens up, you need that big man passing and setting screens and then bringing his offense. His balance is one of the reasons we are where we are.”

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

 

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (audio above), hours before his club had a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference vs. the Bucks, and was very frank about its chances of beating the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

 

Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck joined OM&F on Wednesday (audio above), hours before his club had a chance to lock down the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference vs. the Bucks, and was very frank about its chances of beating the Cavaliers in the playoffs.

“I don’t think we’re as good as Cleveland,” Grousbeck said. “If we got a chance to play them in the postseason, I’d love to see it, but I’m not sure how it would turn out.”

Grousbeck wasn’t just basing that thought on last week’s disappointing performance against the Cavs in a blowout loss with the top seed on the line, though that game didn’t help.

“I actually hope the guys don’t forget that,” he said. “I hope the guys don’t forget how badly we were beaten last week and they can use it as fire going forward.”

He disputed the notion that the Celtics saw the Cavs clicking on all cylinders.

“That was Cleveland clicking on one cylinder, if you ask me,” he said. “I don’t want to disrespect them, but I saw LeBron [James] take that game over single-handedly. He had a lot of help, etc. . . . I’m not disrespecting Kyrie [Irving] or Kevin Love or anyone else on the team, but LeBron took that over for a period of about six possessions there on the offensive and defensive end of the court. He dominated us. I have to give him a ton of credit. It showed us that we’ve got a ways to go.”

Grousbeck touched on a number of other subjects as well, though one he stayed away from was if the potential of dealing with headache stage dad LaVar Ball would dissuade him from drafting UCLA point guard Lonzo Ball.

“That’s a question best left for you guys to comment on,” he said. “I understand the question, but I can’t answer it.”

Grousbeck also discussed:

— Building through the draft vs. trade.

“There’s also a third option, which is to add a young player and still make cap room for a max free agent,” he said. “That’s the way we worked it last year, and that’s the way we may be able to work it this summer. But we’ve got max cap room if we want it.”

— On if Isaiah Thomas is a franchise player.

“He’s playing at that level,” he said. “When you look at where he ranks among all-time Celtics statistics and players, he’s actually on those leaderboards right now, which is pretty incredible. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are without Isaiah right now. He was thought of maybe as a sixth man coming in. . . . He’s opened everybody’s eyes.”

— On plans to honor the 2008 champions next season and reports that Ray Allen wasn’t invited to a player’s only gathering organized by Rajon Rondo.

“Ray’s always going to be a champion here and we wouldn’t have won it without him,” he said.

— On complaints about teams resting star players.

“We talked about it specifically at our owner’s meeting in New York last week,” he said. “The general approach I took is the problem was there were some marquee games, marquee matchups, and our television partners and our fans were all disappointed that all of a sudden these guys were all sitting out en masse. It was made very clear that we don’t want that to happen again.

“The first way we’re fixing it is in partnership with the players next year, we’re adding a week to the season next year and shortening the preseason so there’ll be fewer back-to-backs. The players that were rested in the games we’re talking about were in back-to-back matchups. It’s hard to play guys back-to-back when you’re getting close to playoff time.”

 

Blog Author: 
John Tomase

The Celtics are one win away from entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

Apr 10, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) reacts during the third quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden.  The Celtics won 114-105. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

A win against the Bucks on Wednesday will give the Celtics a 53-29 record on the season and the No. 1 seed. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today)

The Celtics are one win away from entering the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

After Boston cruised to a 114-105 win over the Nets, the Heat did their part in fighting for the final playoff spot by beating the Cavaliers in overtime — giving the Celtics a one-game lead for first place in the east. All the C’s have to do now is beat the Bucks in Wednesday’s regular season finale at TD Garden in order to clinch the top spot. 

With the win, the Heat — who are now tied with the Bulls for eighth — kept their playoff hopes alive. Now, the Cavaliers not only need to beat the Raptors on Wednesday but also need the Celtics to lose in order to regain the No. 1 seed. 

Isaiah Thomas’ 27 points led five Celtics in double figures, Al Horford finished with 19 points, 8 rebounds, Avery Bradley poured in 18 points and Marcus Smart led the bench with 13 points. 

Celtics ended the first quarter with a 15-point lead (28-13) and held a double-digit lead throughout most of the first half. Celtics kicked off the third quarter with an 11-0 run to give them a 27-point lead — their largest one of the night. 

The Nets responded with a 12-0 run before the start of the final frame and eventually pulled to within 11 points. Jeremy Lin led with a double-double (26 points, 12 rebounds) and Brook Lopez added 25 points. 

For a complete box score of Monday night’s win, click here. 

With Lin converting at the free-throw line and Lopez knocking in jumpers, Brooklyn pulled to within seven points with under five minutes left. However, Horford outscored the Nets 6-2 before Thomas drained a 3-pointer to top a 9-2 Celtics run that pushed Boston’s lead back up to double-digits in the final minutes. 

The Nets never led once. It was the closest they came to tying things up.

Meanwhile, the Bucks (42-39) cruised to a 10-point win against the Hornets and have an opportunity to move one spot up to the fifth seed if they’re able to knock off the Celtics. Which makes Wednesday night’s contest meaningful for both clubs. 

Boston (52-29) now has a chance to grab the conference’s best record, and have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. If they beat the Bucks, it will be the first time the Celtics have entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed since the 2007-2008 season — same year the C’s clinched an NBA title. 

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

Mar 31, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second half against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens will not rest his starters against Nets on Monday at TD Garden (Bob DeChiara/USA Today)

Don’t expect to see Brad Stevens rest his guys in the final games of the regular season. Celtics head coach has no plans of sitting his players if they’re healthy and it could pay dividends depending on what happens Monday.  

With two games left, the Celtics (51-29) find themselves tied with the Cavaliers for the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. After surrendering a 26-point fourth-quarter lead in a 126-125 overtime loss to the Hawks on Sunday, the Cavs are giving the Celtics another chance to grab the top playoff spot in the east. 

A Celtics win and a loss by the Cavaliers at Miami will give Boston a one game lead ahead of the Cavs for first place. The Cavs have to beat the Heat in order to clinch No.1 but will have to do so without LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love — coach Tyronn Lue has decided to rest all three — and Tristian Thompson (thumb), who is out nursing a hand injury. 

Meanwhile, the Heat (39-41), who are currently tied with the Bulls for the eighth and final playoff spot, are fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. If the Heat knock off the Cavaliers, the Celtics can decide their fate in Wednesday’s season finale against the Bucks — a win give them first, a loss will lock Boston into second (CLE owns tiebreaker). 

Although Stevens isn’t going to rest up his guys before the postseason, he’s also not tossing and turning late at night thinking about first place.

“The most important thing is tonight’s game (against Brooklyn). That’s the way I’m looking at it,” Stevens said. “Whatever seed we get, we get. That’ll be the result of an 82-game schedule, not the result of one or two games. It is what it is. We’ve had a pretty consistent year with regard to performance. We’ve also had moments where we haven’t played as well. I’m literally not talking about it with the team nor am I losing one second of sleep over it.”

Despite clinching the league’s worst record of the season, the Nets enter Monday’s game winners of four of their last five. Brooklyn has been playing the “spoiler” role lately, beating teams like the Hawks and Bulls, respectively — two clubs lobbying for playoff position. 

The Nets now will attempt to spoil the Celtics’ final chance at locking in the No. 1 seed.

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

The Celtics don’t seem to like sitting atop the Eastern Conference.

One night after getting blown out by the Cavaliers in a showdown for the No. 1 seed, the Celtics journeyed to Atlanta and played like a team that’s forgotten what got it here.

The C’s looked tight from the start, fell behind by double digits early, and never recovered in a 123-116 loss.