It was a wasted trip to the Midwest.

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s 122-118 loss to Oklahoma City, the Celtics came out flat, and a late charge fell short in a 101-89 loss to the Spurs Friday night in San Antonio.

It was a wasted trip to the Midwest.

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s 122-118 loss to Oklahoma City, the Celtics came out flat and a late charge fell short in a 101-89 loss to the Spurs Friday night in San Antonio.

For a complete box score, click here.

But thanks to some help from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics (30-38) remain tied for the eighth and final spot of the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers beat the Pacers, 95-92, in Cleveland, dropping Indiana to 30-38 on the year. Miami won their game, 108-91, over Denver, increasing its lead to two games over the Celtics.

After winning five straight games, the Celtics have lost two straight as they fight desperately for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics host Detroit on Sunday night at 6 p.m. at TD Garden.

ICE COLD START

The Spurs raced out to a 19-4 start and the Celtics never recovered. Two issues plagued the Celtics. After Avery Bradley hit Boston’s first jumper of the game, the Celtics missed six of their next seven. They also committed three turnovers in the first five minutes. The Celtics allowed the Spurs to shoot 60 percent in the first quarter and race out to a 32-19 lead after the first quarter.

MARCUS SMART EJECTED

For a second time this season, Marcus Smart was ejected from a game. He punched Matt Bonner in the crotch trying to fight his way through a screen at the top of the key in the fourth quarter.

BRADLEY BRIGHT SPOT

Avery Bradley led the Celtics early on with 16 points. Bradley scored nine of his 16 points in the first quarter and made half of his shots (7-of-14) on the night.

TURNER GREAT LATE

Evan Turner scored 11 of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter as the Celtics made their charge.

LATE RUN

Thanks to some poor shot selection and turnovers by the Spurs and some shotmaking by Evan Turner, the Celtics went on a 16-0 run to cut the San Antonio lead down to seven, 91-84, with just over four minutes left. The Celtics held the Spurs without a field goal for over four minutes. A Tony Parker tear drop shot with 3:45 left ended the Celtics’ run and put the Spurs back up, 93-84. Tyler Zeller missed a dunk and Tiago Splitter hit a baseline turnaround with 3:10 left to give the Spurs a double-digit lead again, 95-84. Avery Bradley missed a three and Parker hit a layup with just over two minutes left to give San Antonio a 99-85 lead.

JEREBKO HITS GLASS

Jonas Jerebko helped the rebounding effort, as he hauled in a team-high 12 rebounds.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

The Thunder scored 40 third-quarter points, and the Celtics never recovered, snapping a five-game win streak with a 122-118 loss in Oklahoma City.

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Thunder scored 40 third-quarter points, and the Celtics never recovered, snapping a five-game win streak with a 122-118 loss in Oklahoma City.

The C’€™s fell to 30-37 on the season, losing a game on the Heat (31-36), who beat the Blazers on Wednesday night. Elsewhere, the Pacers (30-37) fell to the Bulls, the Bucks (34-34) lost to the Spurs, and the Cavaliers beat the Nets (27-39). The Celtics lead the idle Hornets by a half-game and remain tied with Indiana for eighth place, trailing Miami by a game for seventh and Milwaukee by 3.5 games for sixth.

Marcus Smart collected 21 points — including a franchise rookie record seven 3-pointers — to go along with nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks, leading six Celtics in double figures. Kelly Olynyk (20 points), Brandon Bass (20 points), Avery Bradley (13 points), Tyler Zeller (12 points) and Jae Crowder (11 points) rounded out the double-digit scorers, and Evan Turner chipped in with five steals, six rebounds, eight points and a team-high 10 assists.

Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook led the Thunder with 36 points, 10 assists, five rebounds and five steals, while Enes Kanter added 22 points and 10 rebounds. With the victory, Oklahoma City (38-30) opened up a half-game lead over the Pelicans for eighth place in the Western Conference sans Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka.

For a complete box score, click here.

THE RUSSELL WESTBROOK CONUNDRUM

With Bradley, Smart and Phil Pressey all sharing duties, the Celtics did a nice job containing Westbrook in the first quarter, holding the MVP candidate to five points on 1-for-7 shooting. Except, Westbrook’€™s open Thunder teammates scored 23 points on 10-of-14 field goals — aided by six Celtics turnovers — and Oklahoma City took a 28-24 lead after one despite the C’€™s shooting 60 percent in the quarter.

STRETCHING THE DEFENSE

With OKC pairing Kanter and Steven Adams (14 points, 13 rebounds) in the frontcourt, the C’€™s camped Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko beyond the arc, and the stretch forwards made them pay early. Olynyk and Jerebko hit their first three 3-point attempts, leading a 58.3 percent first-halt shooting barrage from the perimeter, but the Celtics couldn’€™t sustain the hot streak while OKC punished them inside.

MARCUS SMART’€™S HOMECOMING

Playing his first game in the state since being drafted out of Oklahoma State this past June, Smart enjoyed quite the homecoming, scoring 14 points (4-6 3P) in the second quarter alone to help the C’€™s take a 57-54 lead into the break. He added four boards, two assists, a steal and one remarkable block in the opening 24 minutes.

NO FREE PASSES

Without Isaiah Thomas (back bruise) careening toward the rim, the Celtics didn’€™t attempt a free throw until midway through the third quarter, when Brandon Bass knocked down a pair of freebies at the 7:04 mark. The C’€™s shot the lights out in the first half, but when the jump shots stopped falling, the Thunder made their run. Even when the Celtics finally attacked the rim and got to the line after halftime, they failed to capitalize, missing five of their 10 third-quarter free throws.

TURD QUARTER

Westbrook emerged in the third, taking over and igniting the Chesapeake Energy Arena crowd. He amassed 15 points (3-10 FG, 1-3 3P, 8-10 FT), two assists, two rebounds and two steals in the frame, sparking a 40-point quarter that transformed the C’€™s four-point halftime lead into a 12-point deficit entering the fourth quarter. The Celtics never quit, making a 12-3 run to cut it to a five-point game in the final 2:30, but couldn’€™t make it over the hump once Oklahoma City assumed the lead.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Brad Stevens (right) has coached Isaiah Thomas and the Celtics back into the playoff picture. (Christian Peterson/Getty Images)I loved Doc Rivers.



The bad news: Contrary to popular opinion, the Celtics are not currently in the playoff picture, since as of today they would lose the tiebreaker to both the Pacers and Heat based on their sub-.500 record against Eastern Conference opponents.

The good news: If the Celtics (30-36) have one more win than Charlotte (29-36), Indiana (30-36) and Miami (30-36) when all is said and done, they’€™ll capture the same seventh seed they earned when last they made the playoffs in 2013.

Heck, based on their performance since the NBA trade deadline (10-5, including five straight victories), there’€™s even an outside possibility the red-hot Celtics could catch the reeling sixth-seeded Bucks (34-32), whose four wins in 13 games since trading Brandon Knight have come against the Nuggets, 76ers, Wizards and Magic.

Obviously, that’€™s jumping ahead a bit, so let’€™s step back and take a look at the remaining schedules of the four Eastern Conference teams now tied with 36 losses. 

CELTICS (30-36)

Wednesday: at Thunder (37-30)
Friday: at Spurs (41-24)
Sunday: vs. Pistons (23-43)
Monday: at Nets (27-38)
March 25: vs. Heat (30-36)
March 27: at Knicks (13-53)
March 29: vs. Clippers (42-25)
March 30: at Hornets (29-36)
April 1: vs. Pacers (30-36)
April 3: vs. Bucks (34-32)
April 4: at Raptors (40-27)
April 8: at Pistons (23-43)
April 10: at Cavaliers (43-26)
April 12: vs. Cavaliers (43-26)
April 14: vs. Raptors (40-27)
April 15: at Bucks (34-32)

BY THE NUMBERS: .498 opponents’€™ winning percentage; 9 games vs. teams above .500; 9 road games; 7 games vs. teams below .500; 7 home games; 4 back-to-backs.

PACERS (30-36)

Wednesday: at Bulls (40-28)
Friday: at Cavaliers (43-26)
Saturday: vs. Nets (27-38)
Monday: vs. Rockets (44-22)
March 25: at Wizards (39-28)
March 26: at Bucks (34-32)
March 29: vs. Mavericks (43-25)
March 31: at Nets (27-38)
April 1: at Celtics (30-36)
April 3: vs. Hornets (29-36)
April 5: vs. Heat (30-36)
April 8: at Knicks (13-53)
April 10: at Pistons (23-43)
April 12: vs. Thunder (37-30)
April 14: vs. Wizards (39-28)
April 15: at Grizzlies (47-20)

BY THE NUMBERS: .512 opponents’€™ winning percentage; 9 games vs. teams above .500; 9 road games; 7 games vs. teams below .500; 7 home games; 4 back-to-backs.

HEAT (30-36)

Wednesday: vs. Blazers (44-21)
Friday: vs. Nuggets (26-42)
Sunday: at Thunder (37-30)
Tuesday: at Bucks (34-32)
March 25: at Celtics (30-36)
March 27: at Hawks (53-14)
March 29: vs. Pistons (23-43)
March 31: vs. Spurs (41-24)
April 2: at Cavaliers (43-26)
April 4: at Pistons (23-43)
April 5: at Pacers (30-36)
April 7: vs. Hornets (29-36)
April 9: vs. Bulls (40-28)
April 11: vs. Raptors (40-27)
April 13: vs. Magic (21-47)
April 15: at 76ers (15-52)

BY THE NUMBERS: .496 opponents’€™ winning percentage; 8 games vs. teams above .500; 8 road games; 8 games vs. teams below .500; 8 home games; 2 back-to-backs.

HORNETS (29-36)

Tuesday: at Clippers (42-25)
Friday: at Kings (22-44)
Sunday: at Timberwolves (14-52)
Monday: at Bulls (40-28)
March 25: vs. Nets (27-38)
March 27: at Wizards (39-28)
March 28: vs. Hawks (53-14)
March 30: vs. Celtics (30-36)
April 1: vs. Pistons (23-43)
April 3: at Pacers (30-36)
April 4: vs. 76ers (15-52)
April 7: at Heat (30-36)
April 8: vs. Raptors (40-27)
April 10: at Hawks (53-14)
April 12: at Pistons (23-43)
April 13: vs. Rockets (44-22)
April 15: at Raptors (40-27)

BY THE NUMBERS: .500 opponents’€™ winning percentage; 8 games vs. teams above .500; 10 road games; 9 games vs. teams below .500; 7 home games; 6 back-to-backs.

The Hornets have the toughest slate of that bunch, and the Heat the easiest, but really there isn’€™t all that much separation between these four teams on the schedule. Injuries are forcing all four clubs to shuffle rosters — perhaps none more so than the C’€™s — and yet all four squads own winning records since the NBA All-Star break.

So, what happens if the seventh and/or eighth seeds come down to a tiebreaker? Here’€™s where the teams stand based on the league’€™s two tiebreaking scenarios — settling the score for one seed involving a) two teams, or b) three or more teams.

TWO TEAMS TIED

Head-to-head: Hornets over Celtics (2-1) and Heat (2-1); Pacers over Heat (2-1) and Hornets (2-1); Celtics over Pacers (2-1); Heat over Celtics (2-1).

Win percentage in East: Hornets (.564); Pacers (.550); Heat (.500); Celtics (.462).

Win percentage vs. East teams eligible for playoffs: Hornets (.560); Pacers (.423); Heat (.346); Celtics (.292).

Win percentage vs. West teams eligible for playoffs: Pacers (.167); Celtics (.154); Heat (.154); Hornets (.000).

Point differential: Pacers (+14); Celtics (-48); Hornets (-144); Heat (-154).

As of now, the Celtics would only win a tiebreaker against the Pacers, based on their head-to-head record. However, if they ultimately finish 2-2 against the other three teams, things get worse. The C’€™s currently wouldn’€™t win either the second or third tiebreaker against anybody, due to their sub-par winning percentage in the East.

MORE THAN TWO TEAMS TIED

Head-to-head: Hornets (5-4); Pacers (5-4); Heat (4-5); Celtics (4-5).

Win percentage in East: Hornets (.564); Pacers (.550); Heat (.500); Celtics (.462).

Win percentage vs. East teams eligible for playoffs: Hornets (.560); Pacers (.423); Heat (.346); Celtics (.292).

Point differential: Pacers (+14); Celtics (-48); Hornets (-144); Heat (-154).

Once again, the Celtics, as they stand today, are in serious trouble if they end up tied with more than one team for the final playoff seed. They own the worst combined head-to-head record, worst winning percentage against Eastern Conference opponents and worst win percentage against playoff-eligible teams in the East.

Of course, there’€™s a rather simple solution for the Celtics down the stretch: Win more of their final 16 games than the Heat, Hornets and Pacers. Then, and perhaps only then, they’€™re in, which is probably why the C’€™s aren’€™t scoreboard watching.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas joined Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss his back injury and also what his short time in Boston has been like. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas joined Middays with MFB on Tuesday to discuss his back injury and also what his short time in Boston has been like. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Thomas has been out since March 9 when he landed on his back in a game against the Heat. It was learned Monday night he likely won’t make the next road trip, which includes stops in Oklahoma City and San Antonio. Thomas admits it’s been hard to miss time, especially against good teams, but knows his health is the most important thing.

“It is, but at the same time I have to do what is best for myself,” said Thomas. “I have to do what is best for myself and try and get as healthy as possible. All the best players they want to go against the best players, so I am upset I have to miss this, but it is for the sake of my health and I have to get healthy.”

“A little better,” he added of how he feels. “It’s progressing slowly, but it’s getting there. For the most part I can’t really do any activity right now, but I am just trying to get back and get healthy enough that we can have a good stretch at the end of this year.”

In six games in March, Thomas is averaging 20.8 points per game.

Thomas was traded to the Celtics from the Suns at the NBA trade deadline. He said he’s enjoying his time in Boston, and hopes to stay long-term. He adds if the team starts winning it could become a free agent destination once again.

“I hope it’s long term,” he said. “I am having a great time. I am having fun. I am playing. We’re winning. We have a chance to make the playoffs, so I have nothing to complain about other than the weather, but that will be OK. I think it’s somewhere when you start winning and see you’ve seen years ago when the team was winning people wanted to be here. I think at the end of the day when you win that is where people want to play.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Celtics news, visit weei.com/celtics.

On coach Brad Stevens: “He’s a great coach. He coaches to players strengths. He puts you in a position to be successful. You have to go out there and try just figure out why you’re on the court. I feel like that is the best way you can coach players. They have to figure out on the court and make an adjustment and play the game. He’s a good Xs and Os coach. He knows what he wants to do and we try and execute it as best as possible when we get out on the floor.”

On his play in the fourth quarter of games: “I’ve always been able to — I am very aggressive in that fourth quarter. And again, coach puts me in position to be successful when I am playing in the fourth quarter and it is something that I like. I like that type of pressure and I believe I play a little better once the game is on the line.”

Blog Author: 
WEEI

With winning comes confidence. With confidence late in the season comes expectation. And these Celtics are talking and acting like a team that expects to make a run to the Eastern Conference playoffs with 16 games left in their season.

Avery Bradley is one of only three players left from the last Celtics team to make the playoffs just two seasons ago. He, Brandon Bass and Shav Randolph were all on the 2013 team that lost in six games to the Knicks.

When the Celtics were 20-33 this season and headed for another seemingly dead end to the season, could he picture his teammates making an improbable run to the postseason?

“For sure, I saw that we were improving every single game and I knew we would have a chance if we set our mind to it and started [believing] in our [potential] and that’€™s what we were doing. We never thought we didn’€™t have a chance to make the playoffs. Now we’€™re right there.”

Indeed, after Monday’s 108-89 blowout of the hapless Sixers, the Celtics are definitely in the mix. While technically ninth and on the outside looking in due to their 18-21 record in the East, they are tied with the Pacers and Heat for seventh in the East with a 30-36 record.

Monday, the Celtics came in focused, even in shootaround, determined not to let a game against the 15-51 Sixers stand in their way of their first five-game win streak under Brad Stevens. They outscored Philly 38-18 in the first quarter and it wasn’t a game after that.

“It’€™s hard, especially when you come in at halftime up by 20 and your coach might say, ‘€˜let’€™s go out there and continue to play hard,’€™ you get a little nervous,” Bradley said. “You start thinking once you get back out there on the floor and that’€™s one thing we didn’€™t do. Even though they were scoring we continued to execute our plays on both ends of the floor and it helped us continue to have a 20 point lead.”

When the Celtics, who shot 67 percent in the first quarter, looked inside, there was Tyler Zeller leading the way. He found his comfort zone and poured in a career-high 26 points.

“I don’€™t know, I mean the shots fell down,” Zeller said. “Jump shot felt really good and then they kept leaving me open so I just kept shooting it. Once again my teammates do a great job of getting me the ball on time and it makes it a lot easier.”

Road games against teams like Oklahoma City and San Antonio can be intimidating for young teams in transition. But that’s not the way these Celtics are looking at Wednesday and Friday. It’s a chance to show how much fun they’re having chasing an improbable playoff spot.

“It’€™s a lot of fun,” Zeller said. “The whole year we’€™ve been changing, I think Danny’€™s done a great job putting together the team that we’€™ve got. We’€™ve been playing with different players every night and finally have a team where we’€™ve settled in, playing with the same players every night and it’€™s fun to go to battle that way. We do a great job of playing hard and playing together.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Brad Stevens knows the potential of his team. He’s just not talking much about it. And, according to the Celtics coach, neither are his players.

With Monday’s 108-89 dispatch of the lowly 76ers, the Celtics had posted their first five-game win streak since the Doc Rivers era. They are 30-36, heading into a two-trip across the heartland, beginning with a game against the red-hot Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday and ending with a game against the defending champion Spurs in San Antonio Friday night.

They are tied with Miami and Indiana for seventh in the East but technically would not make the cut right now because of their 18-21 record against the East. Indiana would be seventh by virtue of its 22-18 mark while Miami is eighth with a conference record of 20-20.

With all the newfound excitement abound, Stevens was asked if he’s hearing the team talking about the playoff race

“I don’€™t know. I haven’€™t heard them talk about it once,” Stevens insisted. “I’€™m dead serious. I mean, we’€™ve talked about it, we’€™ve seen the standings, like you see it but I don’€™t hear it. I have not hear them say whoever Miami’€™s playing today, or who’€™s Charlotte playing today? They haven’€™t talked about it around me; maybe they are, I don’€™t know.

“But I just want to play good basketball and I think our guys just want to play good basketball, and I think as a result you have a lot more fun when you spray the ball around the way we’€™re spraying it around and when you’€™re competing together and pulling for one another and five guys playing together on a string defensively. And we’€™re still not as good as we need to be, even with ‘€“ I think our team that’€™s out there right now without Isaiah can play better. And you know, we’€™re going to need to play better in the next two games to have a chance to win.”

Since falling to 20-33 after a 118-111 overtime loss to the Lakers on Feb. 22, the Celtics have won 10 of 13.

“Obviously, we’€™re judged on wins and losses, but I don’€™t really know about the total number or how many games out of how many games ‘€“ I just think, I knew we were on the right track,” Stevens said. “Even when we were losing earlier in the year I felt like we had made a lot of progress tactically and technically on both sides of the ball; it was just a matter of getting guys, getting us over the hump. And we found a group that’€™s really connected and playing well and we’€™re fortunate that they’€™ve continued to play well with guys out.”

What’s perhaps most remarkable about what the Celtics are doing is change all around them. There were the flurry of trades, the new faces and the injuries to the likes of Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley and now Isaiah Thomas. Bradley has returned and was a force Monday with 20 points and 10 rebounds.

“I mean, four straight games without Isaiah now, and three straight before without Avery and it’€™s not easy to play without basically your two leading scorers, not even including Sullinger in that. So it’€™s been good, and the next man stepped up. We’€™re going on a tough road trip; that’€™s really all I’€™m thinking about right now.”

What’s been the key to the progress and consistency?

“I think it’€™s the continuity of the guys that have been here the whole time,” Stevens explained. “They’€™ve really helped and really helped the way in a lot of ways. And then I just think our additions have been good: good solid team guys that will compete, that are our there helping each other and supporting one another and so that’€™s been a positive.”

Two weeks ago, the Celtics led the same Sixers team by 26 and let them cut it to three in the fourth quarter before pulling away. Such was not the case Monday night. The Sixers cut it to 16 early in the third quarter but never got closer than that the rest of the way.

“I think the biggest thing is when you’€™re up 23 is being able to answer their punches quickly, and we did that,” Stevens said. “You know, I don’€™t think it ever got below 16 and I was monitoring that pretty closely, and we answered pretty consistently in the second half when they did make a basket or two. And they can put a lot of pressure with their athleticism on your defense when they start playing really free like that, especially with Ish Smith pushing the ball.

“So as a coach you’€™re never comfortable, and certainly it’€™s 20 points at halftime’€™s like ‘€“ all you’€™re wanting to do is the clock to run twice as fast. But our guys responded well and I think we grew from ‘€“ you think about the last time we played Philadelphia, we were up 26 in the first half and then it was a three-point game in the fourth quarter. So we talked about are we any better? Let’€™s find out. Maybe we are a little bit better. That’€™s obviously the goal as you move forward through the season.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia