Jae Crowder gets a little too aggressive defending Heat forward Derrick Williams during the Celtics' victory Monday night. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Jae Crowder gets a little too aggressive defending Heat forward Derrick Williams during the Celtics’ victory Monday night. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Although the Heat are one of the weaker teams in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics had to be a little concerned when center Al Horford stayed in Boston for the birth of his second child. After all, one of the Heat’s strengths is Hassan Whiteside, who came in leading the league in rebounds (14.9) and second in blocks (2.5) per game.

It turns out the C’s had nothing to worry about.

Despite an off shooting night from Isaiah Thomas, Boston used a big second quarter to pull away early and kept a safe distance from Miami the rest of the way in a 112-104 victory, its fourth in five games and its fifth straight road win.

The C’s led by two points after one period, then outscored the hosts 27-12 in the second quarter. Miami stayed within striking distance the rest of the night but never was able to make a serious challenge for the lead.

Thomas rallied to finish with 25 points on 7-of-23 shooting (just 2-of-10 treys) and 9-of-9 free throws. He also had eight assists.

Boston had six players in double figures. Jae Crowder had an efficient game with 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Avery Bradley scored 18 points. Kelly Olynyk netted 14 (more on his strong all-around effort below). Marcus Smart (12) and Tyler Zeller (10) were the other double-figure scorers.

Tempers flared in a chippy fourth quarter, with Smart (no surprise) in the middle of things. After Whiteside grabbed a rebound with 3:17 remaining and cleared some space as he prepared to finish, Smart raced in and knocked over Whiteside, earning a flagrant-1. Later, the Heat repeatedly intentionally fouled Smart (a 55 percent free throw shooter), and he took exception and pushed Goran Dragic, earning a technical foul.

Dragic, who had missed the previous two games with a strained left elbow, did his best to keep Miami in the game, scoring 27 points and dishing out out 17 assists, both game highs. Whiteside had 25 points and a game-high 17 rebounds, although the C’s only lost the overall battle of the boards by one, 41-40.

The Heat played without second-year forward Justise Winslow, who missed his eighth consecutive game with a wrist injury.

Stud of the night: Kelly Olynyk

The forward hit 5-of-7 shots, including 2-of-3 treys, and both of his free throws. He also collected six rebounds, four assists and a pair of blocked shots.

Dud of the night: The Heat’s outside shooters

Miami shot just 6-for-30 from 3-point range (20 percent). The starters were 1-for-12.

When the game was won: Early in the fourth quarter

The Heat were within 10 points heading into the fourth quarter after a Josh Richardson jumper with less than a second remaining in the third. However, the C’s open the final quarter on a 7-2 run — a 3-pointer by Smart and two baskets from Olynyk — to make things more comfortable. Miami never was a threat thereafter.

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Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

WEEI’s Mike Petraglia talks with WEEI colleague and blogger Josue Pavon about how the Celtics are looking better with Al Horford back on the court and the overall toughness of this team.

Blog Author: 
WEEI's Mike Petraglia talks with Josue Pavon about how the Celtics are looking better with Al Horford back on the court and the overall toughness of this team.

[0:00:45] ... how the team responded in the second half how they fell apart. Isiah Thomas ripping in to not only the players but really the coaching staff after the game saying that everybody gave up. On that ...
[0:04:08] ... player up about this subject is what. As your initial reaction. To Isiah Thomas Friday night. Frustration makes pat did you just say that it all came I want I think. The fact that the Celtics ...
[0:04:53] ... head. During the game and you know obviously we can't get inside Isiah thomas' hand nobody asked him what he was thinking. You know as he's playing the game but afterward we asked what we he ...
[0:06:30] ... that. Brad Stevens is going to handle this much differently than a Doc Rivers ward and that this is just another case of you know that X generation style coach the millennial type of coach that Brad Stevens as. He's not going to react and put a player in his place right away that's not his management and where his coaching style. On the court and I think that's going to be a fascinating dynamic to watch going forward because. He's going to take Isiah Thomas aside talked to one on one but he's not going to Ream him out. In the media. Well no is not you know it's funny you mention that because. I'm a little bit of this reminding me of like a young young Paul Pierce when him and Doc Rivers are sort of having that friction going on great EP. He didn't think twice to bench to baseball as a sort of message you know he didn't care about. How important Paula it's seen. And and you know opera doc if you look at came amid ultimate respect even a year. Or the first two years or so they would when Doc Rivers took over so I think that we really good point actually which you bring up until the how to correct even gonna ...

Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Gregg Popovich yells at his players during the first half against the Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

In Philadelphia, they “trust the process.” In Boston, where they are light years ahead in the NBA galaxy, it’s not the process but the system that matters.

And Brad Stevens has two mentors that have set the standard in two professional sports.

This past spring, Belichick was the guest of the Celtics and Stevens courtside at the end of the regular season and in the three home playoff games against Atlanta.

In the fall, Belichick invited Stevens to speak at his foundation’s event and said it was actually the 39-year-old Celtics coach who provided “a lot of insight” into coaching. Stevens said Belichick was very supportive and offered advice.

On Friday, one of the people Belichick respects the most in the coaching ranks, Gregg Popovich was in town. The two have had lengthy conversations in the past about coaching and what it is to manage modern day pro athletes. Belichick and Popovich are the two undisputed kings of coaching in their respective sports and Brad Stevens has a relationship with both.

Popovich has five rings and six NBA finals appearances with the Spurs and Belichick has four rings and six Super Bowl appearances with the Patriots.

Now that Stevens – in his fourth NBA season – is the coach of a team with expectations to make a run into the NBA stratosphere that includes perennial power San Antonio, Friday provided a good chance for Stevens to measure up to what Popovich has built over the last 20 years in San Antonio. 

“I talk to him occasionally,” Stevens said before Friday’s matinee. “But I’ve said this before, he’s always been very kind, open and helpful whenever I’ve called or needed something. Couldn’t respect a coach or a person more.

“I just think they have a clear way of doing things with regard to every detail matters, every possession matters on both sides of the ball. They’ve always had an emphasis on skilled players but sometimes those guys come in different positions. And they’re just outstanding at what they do.”

What’s been remarkable over Popovich’s tenure in San Antonio – which began in 1996 – is the way the organization, through general manager R.C. Buford, has reloaded. They have replaced names like Sean Elliott, David Robinson and Tim Duncan with Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol. They’ve held onto the likes of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili and managed their minutes so that they’re useful come playoff time. And after Friday, they’re now 13-3 on the season, including a perfect 9-0 on the road. 

“They do tweak and change based on their roster and personnel,” Stevens said. “They certainly have this year. And at the same time, there are a lot of things that look very similar. I just said I don’t know what their typical pregame on the road is, but to me it looks like they sleep, they eat, they probably go through your stuff, they execute you to death and then to leave your arena successful. And that’s usually what – in the first [nine] times they’ve played on the road – that’s what’s happened.”

And what does the 67-year-old Popovich think of the coach 28 years his junior and their relationship?

“Good. Good. Unless he’s been talking bad about me,” Popovich said without missing a beat. “It’s been great. I’ve enjoyed [it]. From Day 1 when he came into the league, we’ve talked several times and we’ve continued that. He’s a fine young mind, great character, one of the fine coaches in the league now already.”

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Tim Duncan the scout? Now that Tim Duncan is spending his first year of retirement hanging around the only team with which he spent his hall of fame career, the speculation has quickly begun that he might get into an expanded role with the Spurs. 

Could Duncan have a more defined role with scouting and player development?

“I told him, I think I said it to the press too, he can have any job he wants. He can help R.C. [Buford], he can help me, he can help both of us, he can come once a week, once a month or every day,” Popovich said. “He gets to do whatever he wants. I mean every time we go to a meal we raise a glass, we toast and say ‘Thank you Timmy.’ He’s pretty much the man.

“He’s not there so you move on. You miss him, of course. I was with him for 20 years. It feels strange at times. I can’t enjoy him telling me what I’m doing wrong. He’s in the gym. He comes by to practice. He pretty much stays away from the games. He comes by and works out. He’s around.

“He’ll come in and put his arm around somebody Dejounte Murray or some younger guy and talk to him a little bit, which is kind of cool. He’ll talk with us, joke. It’ll probably go further than at some point. He’s too smart [to return to playing]. I could see him scouting, taking a trip some place.”

The gold standard in defense:

The Celtics got an up-close and personal look at Kawhi Leonard, the two-time defending NBA defensive player of the year and the player who stands between Avery Bradley and the top of the class among NBA defenders.

Did the Spurs anticipate Leonard becoming what he’s turned into when they traded for the 16th overall pick out San Diego State on draft night in 2011?

“No, we’d be exaggerating if we knew what he was going to be, kind of like Manu,” Popovich said. “We didn’t know Manu was going to be Manu, or Tony [was going to be] Tony. It just worked out for us. We needed size when we made that trade, because it didn’t make sense for us to have Tony, Manu and George Hill out there. They were just too small. We were looking for size, and RC and his group did a great job targeting Kawhi.

“After they do that, they drag me into the room and we sit and watch film and decide if that makes sense. Right up to the last minute, I think [Kawhi] was the 15th pick, we were on the phone right up until that point trying to figure if we really wanted to do it or not. George Hill was one of my favorite players of all-time and we’re still involved together with some charity stuff and off-court activities so it was really difficult, but Kawhi had such size and we thought he had the foot speed to go ahead and move from an inside player to a 3 position so we decided to roll the dice. We did and found out that he has the same attitude that Tim Duncan has. He comes early, he stays late, he wants to be great. He’s just a sponge.”

Isaiah Thomas gets the Pop seal of approval: Popovich is just the latest NBA opponent to show some love for the Celtics point guard who has made the most out of getting little to none in his first four years in the league. Thomas had 24 points and eight assists Friday in the Spurs’ win. Thomas had two more highlight moves, one on a alley-oop to Avery Bradley for a dunk in the first quarter that prompted a timeout from Popovich. The second was a layup has he was falling to the court in the second quarter. 

“It’s hard to keep up with him,” Popovich said. “He’s a tricky little dude. He’s got a lot of ways to score, find the open man if that’s appropriate. He’s just tough to stick with. He’s very clever with the way he scores.”

Remember David Lee? His dunk over Kelly Olynyk midway through the third quarter Friday was a not-so subtle reminder of the toughness that 33-year-old gives the Spurs off the bench. The dunk was also a metaphor what Lee gives the Spurs and what Olynyk does not. Clearly, Olynyk is a 7-foot finesse forward who spaces the floor and shoots threes. Lee is a physical player in the paint that defends and rebounds.

“It did not work out the way I wanted it to, these things sometimes happen,” Lee said after Friday’s 109-103 Spurs’ win. “Obviously, I really respect the people and the organization, the guys on the team. I make sure to say hello to every single guy on the team before the game as well as the coaching staff. Said hello to Brad, so there are no hard feelings on my end. I believe it is the same way on their end. Obviously, when the ball is thrown up it is different, both teams want to win. But it still felt good to come back here to see familiar faces.

“You learn from things you do not do well in your career. With that being said, I came in here and was a good leadership guy for them, was still positive with all the young guys. It is not like I came in here and protested and asked to be traded. It is a situation that occurred and I thought my attitude was great. Did not play well the first few games of the season and they shifted who they wanted to play.”

When the Celtics waived him (and his $15 million cap hit) at the trade deadline last year, they knew he was likely going to land on a playoff team looking for exactly what he gave the Mavericks on the way to the playoffs last year and the Spurs this season. Brad Stevens even texted him congratulations. It was a bumpy road in Boston, with Lee getting benched for the last two months of his stay in Boston. 

Lee signed this summer with the Spurs for two years and $3.1 million. On Friday, Lee had 15 points and 12 rebounds in 17 highly productive minutes off the bench in the 109-103 San Antonio win. 

“Yeah he’s played really well,” Stevens said postgame Friday. “You saw that towards the end of last year when he was playing with Dallas and he’s been a really good fit. Somedays they go with guys and we’ve talked about that a little bit around here like somedays those guys have it going and he really rolls with him.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia


There was so much positive to take for the Celtics Friday in the first 46 minutes.

They hung neck and neck with the best road team in basketball and one of the great franchises in all of sports for the last two decades.

They jumped out to a 24-10 lead. They shutdown three of San Antonio’s best players for most of the game, forcing Gregg Popovich to turn to his bench in crunch time against Boston’s starters.

But then the Celtics realized what so many others have found out when playing the Spurs: If you don’t finish, you usually don’t win. And the Celtics lost 109-103 at TD Garden.

In the final two minutes Friday afternoon, the Celtics had the crowd on its feet as they closed an eight-point hole to just three with 90 seconds left. But with just 44 seconds left, Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart miscommunicated and found themselves guarding space in the paint instead of Patty Mills. Mills drained the three and it was a six-point game again. Then the Celtics battled back again. They had the lead down to 107-103 with 35 seconds left. Instead of fouling, Brad Stevens decided to have his team play good defense. They did. One problem: They didn’t box out LaMarcus Aldridge, who got the offensive rebound and helped the Spurs kill the rest of the clock.

“Well we didn’t rebound a couple of big shots and then I thought obviously losing Mills in the corner was a big play,” Stevens said. “They’re a hard team to guard. I thought we missed a couple of opportunities on both ends.

“I think home, road, 20 years whatever its been they finish; its who they are, it’s what they do. They have excellent players, obviously and excellent system and style of play and got great play off their bench tonight. I thought their bench was the biggest difference in the game scoring 56 points total and when you combine that with the rebounding when you’re minus 9, which hopefully you can manage that and be a little bit closer even with the size difference. We have to play a little bit better to win that game against a really good team.

“You score 103, have 32 assists on 10 turnovers we attacked the paint all [game]. Our goal was attack the paint and I thought we attacked the paint all night. Sometimes that means you are going to get shots at the rim, sometimes you’re not, sometimes it means that you’re going to get to the foul line, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it means you’re going to make the right next play and kick it out and move the ball and attack again. I thought offensively we were pretty good. We missed I thought a couple of shots late around the rim and then the three that we can hit. I felt good about how we were attacking for the most part.”

Are the Celtics, now 9-7, making improvements in the eyes of Stevens?

“Yeah we are playing better,” Stevens said. “I don’t know exactly where to put them on the spectrum on where we ultimately need to be but we’re getting better.”

As expected, the bigger Spurs won the battle of the boards, 45-36. Thanks to David Lee (15), Davis Bertans (15) and Patty Mills (19), they also won the battle of bench scoring, 56-30.

“I think it’s game to game. I think we’ve done better of getting guys off the glass,” Stevens said. “I thought we had a couple of loose balls that we just didn’t quite get to. I didn’t think it was an effort or focus or anything like that, I just felt like they got to the ball a little bit quicker and there’s going to be some size rebounds too; like the glass rebound of the game was a size rebound.

“Ultimately, there are things that we can do better and again that is why I’ve said it all year it’s not about us outrebounding the Spurs by 20, its about being about even and that gives us our best chance of winning. I thought 10 turnovers against that team with 32 assists and moving the ball and doing the little things and pretty good defensively within our system except for that couple of plays. We just got to manage it a little better to win that game.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

What can the Celtics take from a close call against the Spurs Friday afternoon at TD Garden? Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have the positives from a Celtics loss.

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Blog Author: 

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

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.