The Celtics are about to find out just how good their bench is.

Brad Stevens opened his Wednesday pre-game media briefing with a painful grin, acknowledging the injury bug that has hit his team this week.

Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 117-87. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) makes his first NBA start Wednesday against Washington. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are about to find out just how good their bench is.

Brad Stevens opened his Wednesday pre-game media briefing with a painful grin, acknowledging the injury bug that has hit his team this week.

“It’s a long one. James Young is out. Avery Bradley is out. Tyler Zeller is out,” Stevens began. “Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in the first half [Tuesday]. He’s out. And then Jaylen Brown twist his ankle, sprained his ankle, Monday in practice and then played, felt pretty good, but aggravated it and felt sore today and he’s out.

“So who do we have in? I’m 99 percent sure which I’m going to go. I think we’re going to go with Jordan Mickey, with Al [Horford].”

Mickey, the second-round pick in 2015 out of LSU, is making his first NBA start. In nine games this season, he’s averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in just over seven minutes a game off the bench. In 25 career games, he’s averaging 1.7 points. So, why Mickey for Johnson?

“Keeping the second unit where it is,” Stevens explained. “I like where Jordan is with regard to how he impact with that first unit, rolling to rim and rebounding and defending and those types of things.

“I think the biggest thing is being around him for a year and a half. It’s not just practice, it’s watching him play and do individual workouts. It’s the way he goes through walkthrough, it’s his focus and attention to detail and hey, we’re going to need everybody that’s available to help us tonight. So, I think anytime you get a chance, especially when you talk about how we play with the first group, he’s a good fit for that. Amir’s largely rolling [to the basket] for us. Amir is defending in pick-and-roll and defending from a rebounding angle and everything else. We’re going to need that out of Mick.”

And by the sounds of it, Wednesday might not be a cameo for Mickey, as Johnson’s ankle seems to be a significant injury.

“Sounds like Amir’s [ankle] was pretty swollen earlier [Wednesday]. I’d say that he’s doubtful for the weekend. And Jaylen, I have not heard, from a severity standpoint. But it wasn’t made out to be quite as bad as Amir’s but he’s sore today.”

As for Bradley, who’s missing his third game with a sore right Achilles, Stevens said the soreness is persisting.

“He worked out [Tuesday] and woke up [Wednesday] sore,” Stevens said. “That’s my medical evaluation.”

Will he Bradley be back Friday in Atlanta?

“I have no idea,” Stevens replied. “I have no idea what that means, how sore. I haven’t asked any questions after I got out [vs. Washington].”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Rick Pitino set the standard when it comes to escaping Boston sports fans and never looking back. (Matt Cashore/USA Today Sports)You know who was Roger Goodell before Roger Goodell?



This was supposed to be as inspirational as a mid-January game could be.

Beat the Raptors, draw even with Toronto for second seed in the Eastern Conference, and prove yourselves to closer to Cleveland than ever before. That was the plan for the Celtics.

DeMar DeRozan torched the Celtics for 41 points Tuesday night. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

DeMar DeRozan torched the Celtics for 41 points Tuesday night. (Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports)

This was supposed to be as inspirational as a mid-January game could be.

Beat the Raptors, draw even with Toronto for second seed in the Eastern Conference, and prove yourselves to closer to Cleveland than ever before. That was the plan for the Celtics.

The plan fell apart with one Raptors’ fourth-quarter flurry. Toronto boosted its lead over the Celts in the conference standings to two games after completely dominating the final seven minutes of what would end up as the Raptors’ 114-106 win over Brad Stevens’ club in Toronto.

(For a complete recap of the loss, click here.)

The Raptors would out-score the C’s, 34-22, in the fourth quarter. But the ultimate dagger would reveal itself in the form of a 23-6 run by the hosts to close out the Tuesday night loss, leaving the Celtics just one game ahead of the Hawks for the conference’s third spot.

The frustration that came with the Celtics blowing a 16-point, third-quarter lead was just a small part of the equation. The big picture reality should have been much more painful.

While Toronto’s backcourt duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan were taking over the game down the stretch, the Celtics were left defaulting to their fourth-quarter superstar Isaiah Thomas. This time, however, Thomas couldn’t keep up. Simply watching the collapse unfold, you could get that feel that something was missing for the Celtics.

The easy elixir would be remembering that the Celtics’ second-leading scorer, Avery Bradley, wasn’t available due to an Achilles tendon injury. But Bradley isn’t exactly that kind of create-your-own shot, end-of-the-game presence the likes of the Toronto duo (and Cleveland’s backcourt) deliver.

Part of the frustration should also emanate from Al Horford. The player the Celtics are paying to be an All-Star, go-to guy, is good but hardly great. Horford is having a Horford season, averaging right around the same points per game as he has the previous two seasons (15.4). In this game, the power forward netted 14 points while grabbing rebounds. Not bad. But the lack of either an above-average inside presence (Toronto center Jonas Valanciunas had 23 rebounds) or any kind of offensive dominance left the Celtics needing more.

Horford is a nice player, as are Marcus Smart and Jae Crowder (who was not very formidable in scoring nine points). Still, something is missing.

If you want to keep raising the blood pressure understand DeRozan, the player who finished with 41 points and is neck-and-neck with Thomas in scoring at 27 points per game, signed a contract that pays him around the same amount per season as Horford. While it is clear the forward is a nice fit for this Celtics team, he is not the type of guy who is going to put the C’s over the top.

That’s was a reality that was put on display in Canada Tuesday night.

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Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics continue to live and die by the 3. 

It’s been their m.o. throughout the 2016-17 season and ended up being the difference in their 117-108 victory over the Pelicans. The C’s have now won four consecutive games, including 10 of their last 12.

Luckily, the Celtics have been living well from deep. Throughout their last three games, the C’s shot 51.4 percent on 53-of-103 attempts from outside. 

Fresh off their win against the Sixers — where they drained 19 3-pointers, a new franchise record — the C’s carried over their streak of hot outside shooting against the Pelicans. Boston flirted with the franchise’s 3-point record while shooting 50 percent from the floor on 18-of-36 attempts from deep.

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart were on fire — they combined for 11-of-18 from 3.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 13-point first-quarter, the Pelicans grabbed a 10-point, first-half lead before the Celtics found their offensive momentum. The Pelicans big man finished with a monster double-double (36 points, 15 rebounds) but his big-time performance was no match against Celtics’ outside touch combined with a 38-point night by Isaiah Thomas, who has stretched his streak of scoring 20-plus points to 12 consecutive games — the longest streak in the league. 

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

The Celtics caught fire after halftime — they knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc and grabbed a 14-point lead (75-61) midway through the third quarter. They outscored New Orleans, 36-20, in the third quarter and began the final frame with a 20-point lead (93-73). The C’s knocked down 9-of-18 from downtown in the second half. 

Smart, who got the start over Avery Bradley (sprained Achilles), put together his best shooting night of the season. Smart knocked in a season-high 5-of-7 from outside and finished with 22 points to go with his 6 assists, 5 rebounds and three steals. He was locked in on both ends of the floor and triggered excellent ball movement throughout his teammates on the offensive end. 

However, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Celtics will perform when the 3-pointers aren’t falling. The C’s are shooting 36.5 percent from outside this season — good enough for ninth in the league — yet, there isn’t one player in the team’s rotation who is afraid to attempt a 3-pointer, even Amir Johnson will rarely pass up an open 3.

They may find out how tough it is to win a game without making 17 or 18 3-pointers, like they’ve done the past three games, in Toronto when they take on the eastern conference’s second-best team in the Raptors (24-11) on Tuesday night.

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

The Celtics continue to live and die by the 3. 

It’s been their m.o. throughout the 2016-17 season and ended up being the difference in their 117-108 victory over the Pelicans. The C’s have now won four consecutive games, including 10 of their last 12.

Luckily, the Celtics have been living well from deep. Throughout their last three games, the C’s shot 51.4 percent on 53-of-103 attempts from outside. 

Fresh off their win against the Sixers — where they drained 19 3-pointers, a new franchise record — the C’s carried over their streak of hot outside shooting against the Pelicans. Boston flirted with the franchise’s 3-point record while shooting 50 percent from the floor on 18-of-36 attempts from deep.

Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart were on fire — they combined for 11-of-18 from 3.

Led by Anthony Davis’ 13-point first-quarter, the Pelicans grabbed a 10-point, first-half lead before the Celtics found their offensive momentum. The Pelicans big man finished with a monster double-double (36 points, 15 rebounds) but his big-time performance was no match against Celtics’ outside touch combined with a 38-point night by Isaiah Thomas, who has stretched his streak of scoring 20-plus points to 12 consecutive games — the longest streak in the league. 

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

The Celtics caught fire after halftime — they knocked down 5-of-9 from behind the arc and grabbed a 14-point lead (75-61) midway through the third quarter. They outscored New Orleans, 36-20, in the third quarter and began the final frame with a 20-point lead (93-73). The C’s knocked down 9-of-18 from downtown in the second half. 

Smart, who got the start over Avery Bradley (sprained Achilles), put together his best shooting night of the season. Smart knocked in a season-high 5-of-7 from outside and finished with 22 points to go with his 6 assists, 5 rebounds and three steals. He was locked in on both ends of the floor and triggered excellent ball movement throughout his teammates on the offensive end. 

However, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Celtics will perform when the 3-pointers aren’t falling. The C’s are shooting 36.5 percent from outside this season — good enough for ninth in the league — yet, there isn’t one player in the team’s rotation who is afraid to attempt a 3-pointer, even Amir Johnson will rarely pass up an open 3.

They may find out how tough it is to win a game without making 17 or 18 3-pointers, like they’ve done the past three games, in Toronto when they take on the eastern conference’s second-best team in the Raptors (24-11) on Tuesday night.

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

Brad Stevens said he had a sense this was coming Thursday in practice. Lucky to win. pic.twitter.com/U9haE4CMoV

— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 7, 2017

Jan 3, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) controls the ball during the first quarter against the Utah Jazz at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley led the Celtics Friday night. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are lucky their best big man was also their most clutch 3-point shooter Friday night. 

On a night when Joel Embiid owned the paint with 23 points and eight rebounds, Al Horford countered with 19 points and 12 rebounds, including three threes in the final 12 minutes to allow Boston to escape, 110-106, at TD Garden. 

Horford connected on the decisive three with 17.2 seconds left to put the Celtics up 107-106. Boston won for ninth time in 11 games to improve to 22-14 on the season. 

The Celtics can also count themselves fortunate that Ben Simmons – who traveled with Philly for the first time Friday – was not in uniform and playing. If he were, the Celtics would not have had enough answers. 

Sixers coach Brett Brown raved and raved and raved pregame about Isaiah Thomas. Then Avery Bradley came out and dropped 14 points in the opening quarter against Philly to remind him and everyone else just how good the Celtics (at least on offense) can be when it’s not just Thomas doing the scoring.

On the night that the Celtics handed out pamphlets pushing Bradley as their second worthy All-Star candidate, the guard made the team’s media relations department look smart. 

The Sixers abused the Celtics in the first half in the paint, outscoring the Celtics, 30-6, and taking a commanding 62-51 lead. 

Philadelphia showed the glimpses of the team they might become if Ben Simmons comes back healthy and joins the likes of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova. There was the monstrous block of Al Horford from behind by Noel midway through the first half. There was the 17 points in 14 minutes from Embiid. And Ersan Ilyasova poured in 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep. 

In the first half, the 9-24 visitors were clearly the more athletic and energetic team.  

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

The fact that the young Sixers came out strong and with energy in the opening 24 minutes should not concern Celtics fans. 

The face that they dominated the Celtics physically in their own building should. Al Horford did have 10 rebounds and was 1-for-7 from the field. But the rest of Boston’s inside game was MIA. 

Ironically, it was Thomas who was struggling badly to start the game, matching a season-high with five turnovers in the first 17 minutes of the game. 

The Sixers haven’t won a game in Boston since the end of the 2013-14 season, Stevens’ first in Boston and a season that ended 25-57. That year, the Sixers took three of four from the Celtics. Including Friday, the Celtics have now won 10 straight from the Sixers.

With 11:34 left in the fourth, the Celtics finally drew back even when Marcus Smart got into the paint and threw one up and in. On the next possession, the Celtics took their first lead since 27-25 early in the second quarter. 

With 7:33, the Sixers reclaimed the lead, 90-89, on a Noel alley-oop dunk after the Celtics went up by five, 89-84. But the Celtics came back with a three from Horford to take the lead. Horford did it again five minutes later to snap a 97-97 tie. Horford’s third three of the fourth put the Celtics up, 107-106, with 17.2 seconds left. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Jan 3, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns (32) shoots against the defense of Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) during the second half at Wells Fargo Center. The Philadelphia 76ers won 93-91. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Embiid (21) has been a force in the paint for the Sixers this season. (Bill Streicher-USA Today Sports)

A lot of players have tried – in vain – to stop Isaiah Thomas this year. The Celtics point guard who 

Philly’s Joel Embiid, before Friday’s game, was the latest to express his desire to get in on the action.

“I think it’s a reflection of how he sees himself,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said in his pre-game media session. “I think it’s a reflection of an attitude that I appreciate. There is an inner confidence. There is a self-belief. There is a fearlessness to say things kind of out of the box. He’s a big personality type player.

“Guarding him at times you may have to switch, because they have the ability to pick-and-pop Horford or Olynyk and those guys can shoots threes and that’s part of the challenge of guarding Isaiah in pick-and-rolls where when you give him attention they now have the ability to pick-and-pop guys that can shoot threes at a high percentage. So in that circumstance, Joel might find himself on Isaiah Thomas.”

As it turned out, Embiid didn’t have to chase Thomas, at least in the first half. The Celtics guard took it to him in the first half, with mixed results. 

Thomas matched his season high with five turnovers in the first 17 minutes as Embiid flashed out on him a couple of times. The Celtics crowd, fresh from cheering for Gordon Hayward, starting chanting “Trust the Process” in an ode to his physical skills as well as an effort to get in his head. 

But what the Sixers – and every other team that’s played Thomas – is aware of is his explosiveness in the clutch, namely the fourth quarter. Thomas scored 29 of his 52 points in the final 12 minutes against the Heat on Dec. 30. 

“He almost singlehandedly beat us in that one-point loss in Philadelphia,” Brown said of Thomas’ 13 fourth-quarter points in Boston’s 107-106 win on Dec. 3. “He’s just so elusive. He’s got the ability to create off the dribble. That might sound like it’s common to say that, but it’s rare and it’s hard to guard somebody who can create their own shot and at times doesn’t need a pick and roll.”

Thomas finished that game with 37 points and the Celtics escaped with a win. 

“So, we’ve got to choose the defenders we feel have a chance to guard somebody that elusive, that dynamic,” Brown said. “I had a chance to see his 50-whatever point game against Miami and that massive fourth period and he’s an All-Star for a reason so we have to really – as a team – just [mark] off a few guys we think can just stalk him and make his life as difficult as we can.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia