The Celtics' bench explodes with the rest of TD Garden after Isaiah Thomas's overtime 3. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)Last year's happy-to-be-here playoff vibe was unmistakable.



 

Well, we have our family feel-good moment of the 2016 NBA playoffs.

Following a 28-point performance in a heart-pounding 104-95 overtime win in Game 4 Sunday night at TD Garden, Isaiah Thomas hit the postgame podium.

But unlike Friday night, he had two special guests, sons Jaden and James. “The new ‘Big 3’ up there, or ‘medium-sized 3’ or whatever,” longtime Celtics public relations man Jeff Twiss quipped at the beginning. They were beside him during his six-minute session with reporters.

After talking about the great play of Marcus Smart shutting down Paul Millsap and how great it is to be even again in the series, Thomas walked off the stage but his sons weren’t done.

“Hi everybody. Isaiah is the greatest basketball player. Thank you,” James Thomas said.

Celtics fans are thanking their dad for giving them hope that the kids might be making a return engagement sometime soon on the dais. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia



WEEI.com’s Mike Petraglia and Sam Packard discuss how Marcus Smart and the Celtics stopped Paul Millsap and the Atlanta Hawks when it mattered most in a 104-95 overtime win Sunday night at TD Garden. Millsap scored 45 points but only two when Marcus Smart was guarding him for the final 10 minutes of the game. The Celtics also caught a break when Hawks point guard Jeff Teague dribbled out the final 15 seconds of regulation.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

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Brad Stevens figured he had nothing to lose. 

Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) controls the ball while Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) defends during overtime Sunday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) controls the ball while Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) defends during overtime Sunday. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens figured he had nothing to lose. 

Paul Millsap had 24 points at the half Sunday night. He came out and had baskets over, in order, Evan Turner, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder to open the second half. The Celtics defensive engine was leaking oil and fast. They trailed 62-46 midway through the third. The Hawks stopped going to Millsap long enough for the Celtics to catch their breath and catch up by the end of the third quarter. 

They trailed just 73-70 heading into the fourth. Millsap had 36, almost half of Atlanta’s points. Then Millsap turned it on again to start the fourth, scoring seven more points before Stevens had seen enough. 

The Celtics coach turned to Marcus Smart and essentially said, “You’re up next. Go get ’em Marcus.” 

“To be honest I was a little surprised with the height and size advantage that he had,” Smart said of the eight inches he was giving up to Millsap. “But just to really stop and make it hard for him, pressure him and really contest every shot that he took.”

It worked. Millsap scored just two more points, finished with 45 and the Celtics pulled out a stunning 104-95 overtime win Sunday night to even the series at 2-2 heading back to Atlanta Tuesday for Game 5. 

“Well, he guarded Millsap the last thirteen minutes of the game, including overtime, probably; maybe the last eight minutes of the fourth quarter,” Stevens said after the game. “Obviously you’re throwing darts a little bit with a guy that’s rolling like that. But one thing about that is, when you’ve scored 45 through three quarters you probably are a little winded. So he probably got to guard him at a good time, but he still fought quite well.

“Kept him off the glass on all those shots, which was excellent, and just made him take tough, contested shots. And then offensively made huge plays. You know, we’re going to need to continue to have Evan (Turner) and Marcus make big plays because Isaiah’s going to be off the ball some, and I thought Marcus’ shots were huge in keeping us in it. Jonas (Jerebko) and Marcus both really made big plays as we were coming back.”

Smart got into Millsap’s body and didn’t allow any easy looks.

 

“A guy as talented as he is, he came out the gates hot, making us pay for whatever mistake that we did, but guarding a guy like him and him being so hot you just got to contain him the best you can and pressure him,” Smart said. “I tried to use my speed and my quickness against him and just tried to get up under him and make him play on his heels. I just gave it everything I had on the defensive end and made sure he didn’t beat us and try to make somebody else.”

Millsap seemed to fatigue down the stretch, playing 45 of the 53 minutes in the game. 

“He’s tough, he is a tough guy, 45 minutes you know no excuse,” Millsap said of his playing time. “If I get the ball down there, especially having the night I had I got to make it work. So I blame myself for not being aggressive down the stretch and putting the ball in the hole.”

Smart, who came off the bench to score 20, was on Kyle Korver in the first half. 

“Everybody knows what Kyle can do and the way he can do it,” Smart said of Korver’s shooting. “He can get high real quickly and my job was to, just like with Millsap, make it tough for him. Trail him and just be physical with him and get into his air space.” 

Smart was asked if he’s ever given his coach a heart attack with his shot selection, like his back-to-back threes in the fourth.

“I think I gave at least every coach I’ve played for a heart attack at least once, but what player hasn’t,” Smart laughed. “You’re going to mess up, you’re not perfect but its definitely a line between being aggressive and being in control. You got to determine between the two; you can be aggressive while still in control and I did get out of control a little bit tonight, but for the most part I stayed pretty much in control.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Just as the crowd had grown weary of Marcus Smart’s inconsistency, he took Game 4 over on both sides of the ball, shutting down Paul Millsap on one end and scoring 11 straight fourth-quarter points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-po

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) scores around Hawks forwards Thabo Sefolosha (25) and Paul Millsap (4) during the first half. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Just as the crowd had grown weary of Marcus Smart’s inconsistency, he took Game 4 over on both sides of the ball, shutting down Paul Millsap on one end and scoring 11 straight fourth-quarter points, including a pair of back-to-back 3-pointers, to give the Celtics their first lead of the second half.

When all was said and done, the Celtics tied the series at two games apiece with a 104-95 overtime win.

It wasn’t easy. Millsap totaled 45 points and 13 rebounds — 99 percent of which came before Celtics coach Brad Stevens switched Smart on to the All-Star power forward — and the C’s required an Isaiah Thomas drive to tie the game at 92-92 with 15 seconds left and a horrible Jeff Teague end-of-regulation possession to force overtime.

Thomas iced the game in overtime, drilling a 3-pointer from the corner to give the Celtics a 102-95 lead in the final minute. The series goes back to Atlanta anew on Tuesday.

Thomas scored a team-high 28 points to go along with six assists and four rebounds. Smart added 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists off the bench. Evan Turner (17 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists), Jonas Jerebko (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Jae Crowder (12 points) also reached double figures, somehow nullifying Millsap’s singular effort.

For the complete box score, click here. To go beyond the box, read on.

STUD OF THE NIGHT: Paul Millsap, and then Marcus Smart.

After disappointing performances in the first three games of the series, Millsap was simply unstoppable. Before the series, many expected Millsap to be the X-factor and the best player on the floor, and Sunday night he proved why. He was great in the low post, great from mid-range, and great from 3. Stevens threw everything he had at him, short of doubling, and nothing worked. That was until Smart decided to have the fourth quarter of his life. Smart played tremendous defense on Millsap in the post, and then dominated on the offensive end. During one stretch, Marcus had a baseline slam, followed by two consecutive 3-pointers. Smart did almost everything for the Celtics down the stretch, but his defense on Millsap was simply outstanding.

DUD OF THE NIGHT: Jared Sullinger.

Sully didn’t play as poorly as Celtics Twitter would suggest, but he certainly did not have his best performance. In 17 minutes, he only grabbed six rebounds and scored two points.

VINE OF THE NIGHT:

WHINE OF THE NIGHT: Celtics offense sans Isaiah.

When Thomas was on the bench to start the second and fourth quarters, the Celtics were physically unable to put the proverbial biscuit in the basket. If the Celtics want to win this series, Thomas may need to play 48 minutes per game.

STAT OF THE NIGHT: Minus-16.

The Celtics really had no business winnning this game. Only four minutes into the third quarter, the the C’s were down by 16. They somehow crawled their way back into it with an absurd 8-0 run at the end of the third quarter.

@ OF THE NIGHT:

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard
Live Blog Celtics-Hawks Game 4
 

Blog Author: 
WEEI

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was a man in control Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics came out with great emotion and energy in Game 3, and it paid off in a 37-20 lead after one quarter. Then that energy wore off a bit and Brad Stevens was concerned his team might run out of gas on lap one of the mile course.

Stevens also knows the Celtics are fortunate, perhaps, to not have lost Isaiah Thomas to a suspension after Thomas’ left palm struck Dennis Schroder in the face late in the first quarter. 

Energy and discipline. It’s a combination the Celtics must master in Game 4, along with executing their offense with Isaiah Thomas likely playing his same off-guard role as Game 3. 

“I think we have to play better, from an execution standpoint,” Stevens said. ” bviously our energy was really good, played really hard. We gotta bottle that up and do that again, that’s going to be imperative. And we’re going to have to match their speed and continue to find the right shot and hopefully knock them down.

I think that that’s been the critical part of the whole series and, in the game that we did, we gave ourselves a great chance to win. I think that, again, it goes back to what you can control and finding those great shots is most important from my standpoint, then playing with that same energy that we played with on Friday night.”

Kelly Olynyk will be back after a two-game absence with a right shoulder injury. But look for the Celtics and Stevens to stay small when possible, meaning Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and Tyler Zeller might find it tough to get on the court. 

“I think kind of like what we did the other night, there’s a chance obviously with Kelly back that we would play two bigs together – and when I say bigs, I’m not really considering Jonas and Jae in that regard that have played the four mostly for us in this series,” Stevens added. “But it probably won’t be a ton. So it just limits the minutes that you can play all those different guys, whether it’s Amir, Jared, Kelly, Tyler and such.

“Obviously we certainly have confidence in playing those guys together. We’ve done that at different times throughout the year, but we’ll see how this game turns itself out. And judging by the first three games, obviously being with more switching groups and playing more small has been better so far. SO we’ll see. It’s a tough position for all those guys to be in just because of the way the series is going, but we’re going to need them all at one time or another to have success in this thing. So each of them’s in a different boat, and we’ll see.”

 Stevens did admit he spoke to the team about not getting into any shenanigans that might lead to technicals or worse. 

“Yeah. I think we talk about, all the time about not wanting to cross that line. And at the same time it’s going to be physical and competitive because you watch every playoff series, that’s what they are,” Stevens said. “You’re playing a team for the fifth time in two weeks. They’re used to us, we’re used to them. It’s prideful people on both sides of the floor, really good players. There’s gonna be some of that. But obviously you don’t want it to cross the line. That’s something that certainly we’ve addressed. And we’re not going to spend a ton of time on it, and I’m sure they aren’t either. We’ve got to focus on what we can do to play well.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Kelly Olynyk will be available in Game 4 after a two-game absence due to a re-aggravated right shoulder injury.