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Brad Stevens is looking for his first win over the Spurs (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

After back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Thunder, respectively, the Celtics schedule doesn’t get any easier as the C’s head to San Antonio to take on the second-best team in the league without their best player.

Without Isaiah Thomas (groin), the Celtics will face a tall task of pulling off an upset on national TV – ESPN— and prove how good they are without their All-Star guard.

Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, the Spurs haven’t lost a game at home since Nov. 29 – a surprising loss, not only because it was against the Magic but because the Spurs suffered only one loss at home last season (40-1) and are already 6-4 this year at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio actually plays better on the road (13-1) than at home but that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that the Celtics will have their hands full on Wednesday.

Although the Celtics aren’t the only ones playing without a member of their starting unit on Wednesday – Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) will sit out against the Celtics – San Antonio still has plenty of firepower behind the rest of their starting unit and guys who can produce off the bench.

However, if the Celtics are to pull off what would be their biggest win of the season, here are five things that would go a long way toward helping that happen.

1. Jae Crowder comes through with his season-best effort

Coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight straight games, it only took Crowder two games to find his offensive rhythm. The scrappy small forward followed up a 15-point, 6-of-11 performance in Brooklyn on Nov. 23 by scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 attempts against the Spurs at home.

He’s quietly shooting the ball very well this month. In six games, Crowder is shooting 49.2 percent from the floor and averaging 13.3 points. With Thomas (groin) sidelined for his fourth straight game, Crowder is due to have a breakout night. After scoring the Celtics’ first nine points against the Thunder on Sunday, he was on pace for a big offensive night but foul trouble deterred his momentum as he fouled out at the 3:19 mark of the fourth quarter, finishing with 18 points on 7-of-9 shots, including 3-of-4 from deep in 27 minutes.

If the Celtics are going to defeat the Spurs, they’re going to need scoring from guys other than Al Horford and Avery Bradley. In Thomas’ absence, Bradley and Horford are averaging a combined 36 points. They’re going to need Crowder’s scoring against the Spurs, as well as his terrific defense on the wing in order to give Brad Stevens his first win against San Antonio.

2. Limit San Antonio to less than 40 points in the paint

No LaMarcus Aldridge, no problem, right? Eh, easier said than done.

With Aldridge (rest) sitting out on the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics still have plenty of other players to worry about but not having Aldridge in the mix certainly helps, a little.

Celtics are 3-3 in their last six outings – in all three of their wins, the C’s limited their opponent to 38 points or less in the paint. In a narrow 109-103 win, the Spurs only scored 30 points down low in their last meeting against the Celtics, look for coach Gregg Popovich to expose the Celtics’ lack of interior defense. Boston is coming off a game where they allowed a whopping 66 points in the post against the Thunder and the Spurs have plenty of players like Kawhi Leonard and David Lee – who finished 4-of-7 in the paint in their last meeting – who can finish strong down low.

3. Free-throw attempts

The Celtics are fourth in the league in fewest free-throws attempted (20.3) per game. After attempting a season-low eight shots from the charity stripe against the Thunder on Sunday, the Brad Stevens has to find a way to get his guys to the line.

Guess which team the Celtics only attempted nine free-throws against, their second lowest free-throws attempted in one game this season.

The Spurs.

That’s not going to cut it in San Antonio. Whether it means finding Al Horford in the post, setting up backdoor plays for Bradley and Crowder or forcing his guards put the ball on the floor more often, Stevens has to find a way to draw fouls against the Spurs. Free-throws will be very important in this matchup as well as inside scoring.

4. Points off turnovers

Although the Spurs commit only 12.8 turnovers per game, the Celtics forced 17 Spurs turnovers in their last meeting. This helped the Celtics gain some momentum on the offensive – giving them more possessions in the fourth quarter that the C’s failed to capitalize on.

In what was one of their better efficient offensive games of the season, the Celtics only committed 10 turnovers – which gave them a chance to pull close in the final minutes before coming up short. Boston will need as many opportunities as they can get in San Antonio. It starts on the defensive side and ends on how strong their offense can finish on the other end of the floor.  

5. Celtics bench scoring

Brad Stevens is going to need 30 or more points out of his bench. With Marcus Smart starting in place of Thomas, the Celtics bench has proven that they can still score without their sixth man. In their last two outings, the Celtics reserves combined for 24 points against the Thunder and 32 against the Raptors, respectively.

Coming off an impressive fourth quarter in Oklahoma City where he scored 10 points in four minutes, rookie Jaylen Brown will be very important for this bench group. Brown, who finished with 19 points, 5 rebounds in Cleveland against the Cavaliers on Nov. 3, proved that he isn’t afraid to perform in front of national TV’s bright lights. If he can carry over his offensive momentum from Oklahoma City to San Antonio, it will put the Celtics in great position for a win.

It won’t be easy for the league’s third overall pick but with Kelly Olynyk and Terry Rozier shooting 25.4 and 29.1 percent, respectively in their last two outings, this is the time for Brown to step up. With an excellent performance from the rookie, the Celtics bench should be able to have themselves an offensively productive night.

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Ben Kichen of the “Dale and Holley Show” discuss the latest news on the injury that has kept Isaiah Thomas off the court and how valuable it is for Marcus Smart to stay in control.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

Isaiah Thomas will miss his fourth straight game when he skips Wednesday night’s matchup vs. the Spurs in San Antonio. Thomas, dealing with a strained groin, did not travel on the team’s two-game road trip that started in Oklahoma City on Sunday night, but there was speculation that he might join the team in Texas if he was cleared to return.

WEEI.com's Mike Petraglia and Ben Kichen of the "Dale and Holley Show" discuss the latest news on the injury that has kept Isaiah Thomas off the court and how valuable it is for Marcus Smart to stay in control.

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Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas will miss his fourth straight game when he skips Wednesday night’s matchup vs. the Spurs in San Antonio. Thomas, dealing with a strained groin, did not travel on the team’s two-game road trip that started in Oklahoma City on Sunday night, but there was speculation that he might join the team in Texas if he was cleared to return.

Coach Brad Stevens told reporters that he is hoping Thomas will be back for Friday’s game at TD Garden against the Hornets.

“Isaiah is feeling a lot better,” Stevens said (via ESPN.com’s Chris Forsberg). “Any pain is gone; still a little stiff.”

Thomas suffered the injury during a Dec. 5 game in Houston, although he finished that contest.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

The Celtics entered Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City having yet to beat a contending NBA team this season. They also started the day with the longest streak in the league of having not allowed a triple-double against them.

Both streaks remain intact.

Russell Westbrook drives on Terry Rozier during Sunday's game. (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

Russell Westbrook drives on Terry Rozier during Sunday’s game. (Mark D. Smith/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics entered Sunday’s game in Oklahoma City having yet to beat a contending NBA team this season. They also started the day with the longest streak in the league of having not allowed a triple-double against them.

Both streaks remain intact.

Although Thunder star Russell Westbrook fell short of an eighth consecutive triple-double, the Celtics could not get a breakthrough win, as Oklahoma City closed the game on a 19-8 run to take a 99-96 victory.

Westbrook finished with 37 points and 12 rebounds but just six assists. He struggled from the line, hitting just 7-of-12 free throws. When he missed the second of two with 5.1 seconds left, the Celtics had a chance to force overtime. Marcus Smart dribbled up the court and pulled up for an open 3-pointer from the top, but his shot bounced off the left side of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

Al Horford — who revealed before the game that he was “strongly considering” the Thunder during free agency, intrigued by the thought of reuniting with his former college coach, Billy Donovan — led the C’s with 19 points.

Avery Bradley netted 18 and shared time with Smart guarding Westbrook. Jae Crowder scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting (3-of-4 treys) before fouling out midway through the fourth quarter. Smart had 11 points and a game-high nine assists. Rookie Jaylen Brown scored all 10 of his points in the fourth quarter, hitting 4-of-5 shots.

Both teams got off to a miserable start, combining to hit just two of their first 14 shots, leaving the score tied at 2-2 over four minutes into the game. Crowder was the first to find his touch, scoring Boston’s first nine points. The Celtics, playing their third straight game without leading scorer Isaiah Thomas, led 24-21 after one period.

Thunder guard Victor Oladipo was injured with five seconds remaining in the first quarter when he ran out to defend Jonas Jerebko, leaped in the air when Jerebko faked a 3-pointer, then tumbled over Jerebko and landed hard on the ground. After receiving medical attention for a few minutes, Oladipo was helped up and gingerly walked to the locker room.

The Celtics have not allowed a triple-double since Wizards guard John Wall posted one in 2014.

The Celtics continue their road trip Wednesday night when they play the Spurs.

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar

According to multiple reports, the Celtics’ team plane received a bomb threat while in the air, flying to their game in Oklahoma City, Saturday afternoon.

According to multiple reports, the Celtics’ team plane received a bomb threat while in the air, flying to their game in Oklahoma City, Saturday afternoon.

A team spokesman told ESPN that some staffers were informed of the threat while in the air, with the players asked to leave their bags behind to be inspected once on the tarmac.

Nobody was hurt, with the players receiving their bags once at the team hotel.

The incident was one of several hoaxes called into airports Saturday. Both the NBA and FBI will reportedly investigate the threat.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
Screen Shot 2016-12-09 at 9.40.08 PM

Isaiah Thomas is trying to look on the bright side of things during his groin injury. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Most of the time, professional athletes block out the noise and nonsense. 

But ever so occasionally, sometimes the noise bleeds through. 

So when there was the theory put out early in Wednesday’s game against Orlando that the Celtics are somehow a better passing team without Isaiah Thomas in the lineup, the injured point guard fired back. And he drew on the advice he got once from Kobe Bryant. 

“They gotta write something,” Thomas said of the Twitterverse. “They say the stupidest things so they get the headlines and everybody can talk about it,” Thomas said Friday night before the Celtics hosted the Toronto Raptors. “I can’t control that. At this point, I laugh about it now. Because it’s like, if you really think that, OK, that’s fine. I know what I mean to my teammates, I know what I mean to this organization and to Brad Stevens.”

The Celtics started out with 11 assists on 13 baskets. They finished the game, a 30-point blowout win, with 29 assists on 43 baskets in Boston’s first game without Thomas. 

“The ball moved a little better without me. I guess so,” Thomas said before Friday’s game with an appropriate amount of cynicism. “‘They’re a better team without me. The ball moves better without me.’ I see it all.”

After getting his points across with a due amount of sarcasm, Thomas began to speak more from the heart. 

“That’s not true. So the chip on my shoulder that is what it is, I’m always going to have that and use that for motivation,” Thomas said. “But the numbers don’t lie. It is what it is. But people that say that they don’t even believe it. They go home at night, they’re not believing that. They’re just saying it to get a reaction. I’m trying my best not to react.”

Thomas is not only averaging 26 points, he handing out a team-leading 6.1 assists per game. 

“If it was anybody else we wouldn’t be talking about that,” Thomas continued. “I’m 5-9, that’s the only reason why they say that. I’m fine with that. I know what I bring to the table. My teammates know what I bring. As long as they are happy. I’m fine. I’m not going to react. I try not to. I try to think of what Kobe said: Be a lion. Just lock in and don’t worry about what others say.”

Sully’s return: Jared Sullinger is still waiting to make his return to the NBA after back surgery last spring. The Raptors signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal at the start of free agency in July. Sullinger was made available when the Celtics decided not to tender him in restricted free agency. But because of his offseason surgery, he hasn’t been able to get on the floor. But his coach has high hopes for him once he starts playing. 

“He gives us the same thing Al Horford gives the Celtics – a guy who can space the floor, a post-up threat, a passer, a player with a lot of intellect to play that position, experience,” Dwane Casey said. “He started 79 games for them last year, so he gives us that experience.”

When exactly that return happens is still up in the air.

“Not sure. There’s no definite timetable on it yet,” Casey said. “Someone said four to five weeks, and I don’t want to put a hard deadline on that. But it’s going to be up to him, his pain threshold, he’s been working his ass off, he’s been in the pool, he can barely put weight on it, but he’s trying to get back. He’s doing an excellent job with his conditioning, his weight is down. We’re not concerned as all.”

Sullinger has been traveling with the Raptors, including Friday night in Boston, where he got a chance to catch up with some former teammates. Was he disappointed not to play Friday night against the Celtics?

“Not really. I kind of disengage myself from the game of basketball just so I don’t rush back,” Sullinger said. “Just understanding health is most important right now. Going through the season I’m just glad it happened early instead of late. Right now I’m just removing myself, just so I don’t rush back and do something I’m not supposed to or make a step I’m not supposed to make. I’m just trying to stay away from it.”

Sullinger says the back injury happened on April 1, when he went up to block Ian Clark’s shot in Oakland against the Warriors. 

“As funny as it sounds, when I went up to block Ian Clark’s shot, it just felt funny and the rest of the game it felt funny,” Sullinger recalled Friday. “The next day I woke up and it was sore. We went over and over and where I had the crack in the bone, my pain wasn’t lined up with it. I had more pain in my ankle than the actual foot part. So we just let it rest and it wasn’t getting better. I got an MRI and realized it was time to have surgery.

“You don’t want to mess this up, because once you mess it up, you’re out another three months, and then you mess it up again and you’re out another three months and you don’t want that to happen. So I’m just taking it slow.”

Sullinger says his first trip back to Boston was a bit odd. 

“It was just weird, not being able to go to my house and staying in a hotel,” Sullinger said. “That was the weirdest part. There were emotions, of course. This place had some of the best four years of my life, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But at this point it’s all about getting a win for Toronto.”

Sullinger admitted that he felt a sense of pride in being part of the turnaround from the start of the Brad Stevens era, when the Celtics won 25 games in 2013-14 to now.  

“I just thought, for what I came in to do as a rookie to when I left, it was gratifying to see the program changed, and I was a part of that,” Sullinger said. 

“Right when I heard the news I texted him to make sure his spirits were high and he was all right,” Isaiah Thomas said. “And I just saw him a little bit ago. He seems like he’s in the right state of mind and he’s just trying to get back to getting healthy, and get out there and playing.

“He got me open so it was lovely playing with Jared. He’s a great teammate, he’s a hell of a basketball player, and like I said when I was open it was because of him. So he set great screens for me, and I miss him. I miss him out there.”

Then there was the reaction of coach Brad Stevens. 

“I texted him right after the surgery maybe but no I haven’t talked to him in the last couple of weeks,” Stevens said before Friday’s game. “Obviously, everybody here wishes him a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back out on the court soon. I like Jared a lot. He’s a heck of a player, a really smart guy. I have a lot of respect for him. It stinks that he has to go through that, but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.” 

The reason Sullinger didn’t come back? 

“[Al] Horford. That was the decision driver,” Stevens said. 

Backcourt basics: While they may not have the popularity or fame of the Splash Brothers in Golden State or the name recognition of Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving or Chris Paul, the Raptors possess one of the truly superior backcourts in basketball. 

And the combination of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan showed their brilliance in one exceptional game-changing quarter of basketball Friday night in the Raptors’ come-from-behind win. Lowry scored 14 of his game-high 34 points in the period while DeRozan added 10 in the quarter. The two were a combined plus-31 and shot 7-of-16 from the field. They simply took over the game. Lowry and DeRozan combined for 58 points in the 101-94 Raptors’ win.

“It’s a big-time backcourt,” Brad Stevens said before the contest. “Two Olympians. Guys that are playing at a high level. Guys that are in the prime of their career. They’ve been a bear for everybody. They’ve had an outstanding year thus far. They’re a really hot team, and, tough matchups.”

DeRozan is averaging 28 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists while Lowry, in his 11th year out of Villanova, is averaging 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists. 

“I don’t know why he’d be overlooked,” Stevens said. “Not overlooked by me or our staff. I think he’s one of the best point guards in basketball, and he can shoot the ball at a high, high level. He’s a hard guy to stop in pick-and-roll going downhill. He can play with the ball or off the ball, and then defensively he’s a pest. He breaks things up. He’s physical so he can guard bigger. He’s good.”

Silver linings backcourt:  With Isaiah Thomas out with a groin injury, Brad Stevens has now lost three of his five projected starters at some point this season due to injury. Al Horford and Jae Crowder came back and helped the Celtics win 5-of-7 in their return. Now, the Celtics are 1-1 without Thomas, beating Orlando by 30 on Wednesday but losing to Toronto Friday night at TD Garden. Marcus Smart stepped into the starting role for Thomas while Terry Rozier is seeing much more playing time off the bench.

“It’s always tough because you’re kind of always managing a curveball here or there,” Stevens said. “But I look at it as a good thing in the long run with regard to more people are getting opportunities. And maybe this expedites Jaylen Brown’s learning curve, expedites Terry Rozier’s learning curve.

“They’re getting to see things and go through things and do things that maybe they don’t get as much when we’re fully healthy. It is what it is. You prepare with who you have available and you move forward. Our system really doesn’t change a ton. It may change the read you make off of the action but hopefully we have enough in that can take advantage of playing through the strengths of multiple people on each action.”

A true hero: The Celtics sensational community program “Heroes Among Us” honored 25-year-old Seth Rotberg from Natick, Mass during Friday’s game against Toronto. After his mother died from Huntington’s disease, he was tested for the disease. He tested positive. His response was to raise $80,000 for nonprofits supporting research and care. Last year, he received the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s Youth of the Year Award for his efforts. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia