The Celtics are holding their own against the NBA’s elite.

The Celtics are holding their own against the NBA’s elite.

Less than three weeks after beating the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks, the Celtics gave the West-leading Warriors all they could handle, establishing a 26-point first-half lead in front of a raucous home crowd before Golden State chipped away and crumbled their hosts, 106-101.

Once again, Isaiah Thomas ignited the C’s scoring effort with 20 points — missing a 3-pointer that would have tied the game in the final seconds — to go along with five assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Tyler Zeller’s 17 points led all five Celtics starters in double figures, followed by Brandon Bass (15 points, 12 rebounds), Avery Bradley (12 points), Marcus Smart (10 points) and Evan Turner (10 points). Jae Crowder added 17 rebounds and nine points off the bench.

Still, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Warriors team that owns the league’s best record (46-11) and features MVP favorite Stephen Curry, who netted 37 points to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, the Celtics drop to 23-34 and remain on the outside looking in on the East’s eighth and final playoff seed.

For a complete box score, click here.

THE RUN THAT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO COME

Since taking a 5-4 lead 1:55 into the game, the Celtics held the Warriors at bay longer than anyone expected, but it was only a matter of time since the league’s top-scoring team got back in the game. Over the course of 12 minutes from the end of the third quarter to late in the fourth — as Shaun Livingston gave them a spark off the bench, Green heated up and Curry remained on fire — Golden State outscored the Celtics 32-15 to grab their first lead since the opening minutes.

DEFENDING THEIR LIVES

If the Celtics have any hope of making the playoffs, it’ll be their improvement on the defensive end that will make the difference between a first-round series and a lottery pick. Six games after holding the Hawks to 42.3 percent shooting, the C’s held the Warriors to 42.1 percent — not an easy task two of the game’s most prolific shooters. Curry and Klay Thompson (20 points) were always going to get their points, but the C’s built their lead by holding Golden State’s frontcourt — Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala — to combined 4-of-20 shooting in the opening 24 minutes. That’s especially impressive considering the Celtics are sans Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.

ISAIAH THOMAS IS AN ELITE SCORER

Quite simply, Thomas has been a dominant offensive force during his Celtics tenure, anchoring a unit that scored 117.9 points per 100 possessions during his first four games in Boston. Even more impressive, he owns a usage rate of 35.4 percent, meaning more than a third of the C’s possessions are running through Thomas when he’s on the floor. His 58.2 true shooting percentage during that four-game stretch would rank among the NBA’s best guard over a full season. Sunday night was no different, as his 15 points before the break led a 65-point first-half for the Celtics. He cooled off in the second half, finishing just 8-of-21 from the field and missing eight of his 11 3-point attempts, but his presence remains a revelation.

JAE CROWDER IS THE C’S DRAYMOND GREEN

Granted, Green will receive a max contract on the restricted free agency market this summer and Crowder won’t command anywhere near that salary, but the two offer similar styles. Crowder has shown the ability to knock down the open 3-pointer, defend multiple positions on the other end and generally fill up the stat sheet across the board. Crowder’s outside shot wasn’t falling, as he made just 4-of-17 shots, but he finished with nine points, 17 rebounds, two assists and a block in 26 minutes off the bench  — a Green-esque performance.

JONAS JEREBKO IS A STRETCH 5

The Celtics continued to play small-ball with great success, in large part because the Warriors didn’t have a center capable of making them pay defensively. That allows the C’s to space the floor offensively with Jerebko playing the five. His entrance coincided with an 18-5 run that helped the C’s establish the startling 26-point lead. Starting the second quarter alongside Thomas, Marcus Smart, James Young and Crowder, Jerebko knocked down his lone 3-point attempt while collecting four combined rebounds, blocks and steals — and finished a plus-11 in seven first-half minutes.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Don’t look now, but the Boston Celtics are making a playoff push ‘€“ and a strong one at that, having won seven of their last 10 games.

At the beginning of the season, if you had to pick the three best players on the Celtics, your answer probably would have been Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. As we now know, Rondo and Green were sent packing, and Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot.

Enter the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko ‘€“ players that were on three separate rosters at the start of the season (none of which were the Celtics). The trio have been dominating games off the bench in Boston’€™s last two wins. We know the NBA has been trending towards ‘€œsmall ball’€ lineups, but this unit often takes things to a whole new level.

Thomas is undersized for his matchup every night at just 5-foot-9, but plays far above his height in the sense that he is constantly comfortable battling in the paint. Crowder (typically a small forward) and Jerebko (a power forward) are each moved up to power forward and center in the new ‘€œsmall ball’€ lineup. The other two positions are often filled by 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley and 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart. Like I said, a whole new level.

‘€œWell, with a two-game sample size I would say it’€™s been good, but I don’€™t know that we can determine if it’€™s good long-term or not,’€ Brad Stevens said of his new lineup that he seemingly stumbled upon. ‘€œI think that the biggest thing for me has always been if you can find somebody with enough speed and skill that can guard above their size. Then you can create some havoc on the other side of the court, and that’€™s what Jae has done. Jae’€™s ability to guard the post has given us some options as we’€™ve been smaller here, and Jonas too. But we had to double Al [Jefferson] still and we had to do some of that stuff, but Jae did a great job on Al Jefferson. He did as good as anybody can.’€

So what’€™s been the difference in the C’€™s recent success?

‘€œIsaiah Thomas,’€ Bradley said without hesitation when asked what sparked the change in the team. ‘€œNot only him, Jae Crowder, I can go down the list. Everyone’€™s just buying in to what Brad’€™s trying to do and that’€™s team basketball.’€

‘€œThat’€™s pretty nice,’€ Thomas then replied to Bradley’€™s compliment. ‘€œIt’€™s not me, though, it’€™s just this team. We’€™re playing hard, coach is putting us in a position to be successful and that’€™s the big key. We’€™re believing in each other.’€

Come April, team basketball could be something that carries the C’€™s to the playoffs ‘€“ something Bradley admitted has been a goal he’€™s thought about since the beginning of the season. Thomas concurred, admitting that Friday’€™s atmosphere felt much like a playoff game to him. Turns out Thomas might not have to wait as long as we thought to get his first taste of the postseason for real.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Say hello to the new Big Three.

Say hello to the new Big Three.

In an absolutely wild game, Isaiah Thomas (28 points), Jonas Jerebko (16), and Jae Crowder (14) led the Celtics to a 106-98 home win over the Charlotte Hornets on Friday. Forget starting the season on the roster, this newest Celtics trio — all acquired by midseason trade — didn’€™t even crack tonight’€™s starting lineup.

The Celtics overcame a 16-point deficit and a nine-minute stretch in which they were outscored 25-1. All five Hornets starters reached double figures, led by Mo Williams‘ 31 points. Avery Bradley also contributed 19 points for the Celtics, including two put-back dunks in the final minutes that sealed the game for the C’€™s.

The victory marks the third straight for the Celtics and seventh in their last 10, pulling them into a virtual three-way tie with Charlotte and the Indiana Pacers for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

For the complete box score, click here.

ISAIAH THOMAS ATTACKS THE RIM

In his first three games with the Celtics, Thomas averaged 20.3 points a game off the bench. While he is not the most efficient player (9-22 FG), he is the only player on the team with the ability to create his own shot, getting into the lane with ease. In the first half, the referees were reluctant to use their whistles, so Thomas’€™ aggressive drives ended in missed baskets or turnovers rather than free throws. In the second half, he continued his assault on the rim and got much better results, scoring 21 of his 28 points in the final 13 minutes. Thomas also dished out seven assists.

STEVENS GOES SMALL

With Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger both inactive, it was unclear who would step up on the Celtics’ frontline. Brad Stevens decided to go small, playing Jerebko at center and Crowder at the power forward down the stretch. The pair did an excellent job of containing Al Jefferson and Cody Zeller while limiting the Hornets’ points in the paint. Offensively, Jerebko and Crowder complemented Thomas quite nicely, making big plays in the pick-and-roll and knocking down a number of key 3-pointers. The pair combined for 30 points and 16 rebounds.

CELTICS ARE PLAYOFF CONTENDERS

There is currently a five-team race for the honor of being swept by the Hawks in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Entering Friday’s game, the Celtics, Pacers and Pistons effectively trailed the Nets and Hornets by one game for the eighth seed. With the win, the C’s now own the exact same record as the Hornets (23-33) and are 1-2 in the season series. The two teams play for a final time in Charlotte on March 30.

MARCUS SMART STARTS HOT, QUICKLY COOLS

With Sullinger out for the rest of the regular season, Smart has assumed the role of last player announced during pregame introductions. The rookie guard responded well to the new honor and responsibility, making his first four shots and scoring 10 points in the opening quarter. Despite this hot start, Smart simply stopped shooting in the final three quarters. He missed his next three shots and was generally a non-factor offensively.

MO WILLIAMS, MO PROBLEMS

It didn’€™t matter which of the C’s many guards was trying to stop him, Williams was dominant. He finished with 31 points, including 13 in the third quarter. When Williams went to the bench towards the end of the third quarter, his team had an 11-point lead. When he returned with his team up one, he struggled to re-find his stroke. Williams did his best to keep the Hornets in the game, scoring seven in the final minutes, but was unable to match the effort of the new Big Three.

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard

An increasingly uncommon sight: Rajon Rondo draws contact. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)The Rajon Rondo trade is looking better and better.



Gigi Datome is the new Gino Time.

Jonas Jerebko

Jonas Jerebko

Gigi Datome is the new Gino Time.

The newly acquired Italian entered the game with 3:46 left in a 115-94 blowout victory against the Knicks, but it was his former Pistons teammate Jonas Jerebko who started the Celtics‘ dance party. The 27-year-old Swede scored 20 points for the first time in almost a year, draining four of the C’s 14 3-pointers on the night while adding five rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.

Additionally, Evan Turner recorded the first triple-double of his career (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). Isaiah Thomas added 19 points and seven assists during his first Boston appearance in a Celtics uniform. Jae Crowder (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Marcus Smart (16 points, 4 assists) and Avery Bradley (12 points) also reached double figures.

The Celtics improved to 22-33 with their second straight win, keeping pace with a crowded Eastern Conference field vying for the eighth seed. For a complete box score, click here.

ISAIAH THOMAS IS THE CELTICS’ BEST PLAYER

We’re three games into the Isaiah Thomas era in Boston, and it’s already apparent he’s the best player on this Celtics roster. Two minutes into his Garden debut, he buried his first shot attempt as a member of the C’s in their home building. It was a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 21-19 lead. A minute later, he connected on his second attempt — a driving layup. And that’s Thomas. No Celtics guard attempts as many shots at the rim (3.2 per game), and no Celtics player attempts as many free throws (4.7 per game). Likewise, he leads the C’s in both 3-point attempts (4.6 per game) and 3-point percentage (39.2). He is no Paul Pierce, but Thomas is the C’s most dynamic scorer since their former captain.

CELTICS STILL CAN’T PLAY DEFENSE

The C’s defense isn’t so much mean as it is the median. They rank 15th in defensive rating this season, allowing 103.3 points per 100 possessions. And they’ve been worse this calendar year, ranking 22nd (104.4 points per 100 possessions) since New Year’s Day. The Knicks took advantage early, shooting 52.4 percent and grabbing a 25-23 first-quarter lead. Six Knicks attempted shots in the frame, and six Knicks shot 50 percent or better — led by Tim Hardaway Jr.’s eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. It could’ve been worse, too, had New York not missed all six of their 3-point attempts and two of their three free throws in the opening 12 minutes. The C’s cracked down on defense in the second half, putting together a 20-0 run that spanned 5:40 from late in the third quarter to early in the fourth and put a close game out of reach. Still, they were facing the NBA’s worst team.

CENTERS OF INATTENTION

Since Kevin Garnett‘s departure, the Celtics have long made centers with any semblance of skill look like Wilt Chamberlain, but sans Jared Sullinger their paper-thin frontcourt is even turning ordinary bigs into extraordinary talents. Knicks center Jason Smith had his double-double early in the third quarter and even went on triple-double watch for a bit. Entering Wednesday, Smith had made 386 appearances over seven NBA seasons and collected 12 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in a game exactly once. He had those numbers with a quarter still to play agains the C’s.

HIS NAME IS JONAS

With Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk nursing injuries, suddenly the newly acquired Jerebko has been thrust into the C’s rotation, and he seized the moment. In a span of 57 seconds, Jerebko scored seven points to help the C’s keep pace with the Knicks midway through the second quarter, and it was his buzzer-beating 3-pointer that put the Celtics up 80-72 entering the final frame. As a second-round pick in 2009, the 6-foot-10 Swede started 73 games for the Pistons, averaging 9.3 points and six rebounds during a promising rookie season. Since then, though, injuries have played a role in him not living up to that promise, but perhaps Brad Stevens can help him recapture it.

E.T. PHONE HOME

It took 202 games, but Turner finally dialed in his first career triple-double. Signed through next season at an average annual value of less than $4 million, Turner continues to pay dividends as a late-summer signing. As Stevens admitted, “I couldn’t take him off the floor,” playing his versatile wing 18 straight minutes during their second-half run.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach


It was announced following the All-Star break that Jared Sullinger would miss the remainder of this season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Injuries happen in sports, but these type of injuries alway seem to happen to Sullinger.

This will be the second season in Sullinger’s three-year NBA career that he will have to shut it down early. The cause for even more concern is that both injuries (back surgery in 2013 and now his foot injury) can be attributed to Sullinger’s poor conditioning. This is something the power forward (listed at 265 lbs) is aware of, and plans to address.

“A little bit of everything,” Sullinger said of his goals during his recovery process. “[I want to] change [my] physique, change the way I look — that’s the biggest thing is just change the way I look. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning’s going to be a big factor, but it’s just going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. So we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape as possible.

“Getting in shape is going to be the biggest thing just because stuff like this can reoccur. You don’t want it to reoccur, [I’ve] just got to get in better shape.”

So does Sullinger regret not taking his conditioning seriously enough in the past?

“I got in better shape,” he said about his last offseason. “It’s just there’s another level to it. There’s always another level [of getting in shape] for everybody. I’ve just got to take it to another level now. This year I came back in better shape, but obviously it wasn’t good enough. And now I’ve just got to get back to the grit and grind, the usual, to kind of break my body down just to build it back up.”

Sullinger will remain in Boston for the remainder of the season and continue working with team trainers and studying film with an eye on next season.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow