Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

What transpired against the Heat without Bradley — who missed his first game with an illness — was a familiar refrain. The Celtics needed scoring, so Isaiah Thomas scored. In this case, the production was in the form of 52 points and franchise-record nine three-pointers.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

Al Horford also offered his complementary output. But as has been the case for most of the last two seasons, the mish-mash of good-but-not great was good enough to beat a team like Miami, but not enough to get over the hump against the conference elite in Cleveland.

Thomas could do whatever he wanted against this collection of Heat, especially in the fourth quarter when he netted 29 points (another franchise record) to help the guard finish the fourth-highest point output for a single game in Celtic history.

But try this strategy against any team with a record better than 10-24? Good luck.

Sure, Bradley and his 17.9 points a game would have helped. But without the guard, and even with Horford, this was a reminder of the pain that will ultimately be waiting in the postseason. The kind of pain that the Celtics became all-too-familiar with last April against the Hawks when Thomas finished off his season bemoaning triple-teams.

So, will this dynamic change before the Celtics really have to be judged against the best of the East?

It’s not like legitimate Top 3 guys can be added without some discomfort. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins (whose game would be a perfect fit), the uneasiness comes with both the player’s demeanor, and the cost to bring him in.

And really to reel in any available player similar to Cousin’s caliber, the Celtics be ready to give up that Brooklyn pick. It is one that is looking better and better every day thanks to both the college prospects who might be available and the Nets’ record. (Brooklyn is 1/2 game out of tying Philly for the NBA’s worst record.)

Perhaps Danny Ainge wants to ride this out. But the problem is if he does there really doesn’t seem to a lot of hope for internal solutions.

Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart. Gerald Green. Jonas Jerebko. Terry Rozier. To think that any of of this group is going to offer the kind of consistent production needed to change the conversation isn’t realistic.

Perhaps the best hope is Jaylen Brown, the rookie who once again showed flashes in his 15 minutes against the Heat. Brown finished with just six points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor, but with some increased confidence and playing time, he possesses the type of game of that can solve some problems.

Or maybe Brown becomes the kind of player teams will actually prioritize when looking to talk trade with the Celtics.

Isaiah (who, by the way, didn’t have a single assist) needs some help. Until then, the Celtics will have to live on the edge they’ve found themselves the last two nights.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Avery Bradley was not available for the Celtics’ game against the Heat Friday night. He wasn’t even at TD Garden.

Upon first blush, the news would have seemed to be a result of a jammed left thumb suffered on a blocked shot by LeBron James Thursday night. But that was not the case. Bradley’s absence, as explained by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, was due to a illness.

Avery Bradley is missing his first game of the season, Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley is missing his first game of the season, Friday night. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley was not available for the Celtics’ game against the Heat Friday night. He wasn’t even at TD Garden.

Upon first blush, the news would have seemed to be a result of a jammed left thumb suffered on a blocked shot by LeBron James Thursday night. But that was not the case. Bradley’s absence, as explained by Celtics coach Brad Stevens, was due to a illness.

“Avery’s home sick,” Stevens said prior to the C’s showdown against Miami. “His hand felt a little bit better, but he came down with the latest sickness. He came in, got checked out and we sent him home.”

Bradley had been a key component in the Celtics’ two previous meetings, with the guard scoring 18 and 20 points, respectively in both C’s wins.

Starting in place of Bradley was Marcus Smart.

Bradley is turning in a borderline All-Star season, averaging 17.9 points and 7.1 rebounds per game in just 28.4 minutes a contest. He has hit double-figures in each of his 33 games.

It will be the first game the Celtics have gone without Bradley this season, having represented the only Celtic who started every game.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

At Thursday’s team shootaround, hours before the Celtics took on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, Brad Stevens was asked about the C’s using the game as a measuring stick, and he downplayed the significance.

LeBron James drives during Thursday's game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

LeBron James drives during Thursday’s game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

At Thursday’s team shootaround, hours before the Celtics took on the defending NBA champion Cavaliers, Brad Stevens was asked about the C’s using the game as a measuring stick, and he downplayed the significance.

“We’ve played these guys,” Stevens said (via MassLive.com). “We know how good they are. They’re the class of the East. Regardless of how we play tonight and regardless of result, these guys are still the champions last year and they are still well ahead of all of us. We’re chasing them. We’ve got to play better over the course of a long, long stretch to start talking about measuring anything against this level, in my opinion.”

Good choice of words.

As has been the case for most of the season, the Celtics were unable to deliver when faced with a chance to make a statement against one of the league’s elite, rallying in the fourth quarter to cut a 20-point deficit to one but ultimately dropping a 124-118 decision in Cleveland.

They’ll take away some positives — the C’s took control in the fourth quarter and had a chance to take the lead with eight seconds remaining but Jae Crowder’s 3-pointer clanged off the back of the rim, and Al Horford’s block of a LeBron James layup attempt in the first half undoubtedly will become a regular clip on the TD Garden video board the rest of the season  — but they continue to show that they are not yet ready to take that next step.

And using the Cavaliers as any kind of measuring stick is not a good idea. As Stevens said, the Cavaliers are a proven commodity. The Celtics have been playing better lately, but they’re nothing more than a tough out right now.

Barring an injury to LeBron James or Kyrie Irving (who sat out the final seconds with a sore hamstring), or Danny Ainge pulling the trigger on a major deal, the Celtics would be fortunate to just get to the conference finals. They haven’t shown they can be a real threat to the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors, let alone the Cavaliers.

Isaiah Thomas has proven himself a legitimate MVP candidate, Avery Bradley continues to play like an All-Star, Al Horford has delivered as expected, and Jae Crowder is a dependable fourth starter, but there is not enough consistency from the rest of the lineup. And the defense — supposedly a hallmark of this team — continues to be an issue. Cleveland shot 51.8 percent and scored 101 points in just three quarters before cooling off in the final 12 minutes.

“I just think we have to play better,” Steven said in his postgame press conference. “Our defense has to be more connected and play better. … Disappointing defensive performance, in my opinion.”

Stevens has sounded frustrated a lot this season, as for the first time in his Boston tenure he is coaching a team that is not living up to expectations. This team had many prognosticators predicting a run at the Cavs. Two months into the season, we’ve yet to see it.

Any way you measure it, the Celtics are coming up short.

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

There was an odd stretch of time from the start of the second period to the seven-minute mark of the frame in the Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night.

Eighteen seconds in, Gerald Green took a feed from Kelly Olynyk and knocked down a 17-foot jumper. Innocuous enough.

Avery Bradley scored a team-high 23 points in Tuesday's 113-103 win over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley scored a team-high 23 points in Tuesday’s 113-103 win over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara USA Today Sports)

The Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night was, by all accounts, much better than the nail-biter they found themselves in exactly a week prior.

Trailing by as many as 17 at one point, the C’s were saved only by a 44-point performance by Isaiah Thomas in the two-point overtime win in Memphis last Tuesday. This time around, the Celtics never trailed after 4:07 in the first quarter. They controlled field goal and 3-point percentages as well as rebounds.

What the win truly served as, however, was a clinic in variety.

There was little doubt that after dismantling the otherwise stout Grizzlies defense, Memphis was going to put heavy emphasis on stopping Thomas. To a degree, they did that, holding him to 21 points. But the Celtics way of answering was unleashing a wealth of other scorers onto them to balance the offense.

“They were paying a lot of attention to [Thomas] off screens, they were blitzing some, they were sending guys from the weak side into the paint. And I thought he did a pretty good job of making the right play,” head coach Brad Stevens said following the win.

The Celtics had five others on top of Thomas in double figures. Al Horford (11), Marcus Smart (13), Jae Crowder (17), Gerald Green (19) and Avery Bradley (23) all helped balance out the production.

Marcus Smart was subtly a major part of relieving some of the pressure off of Thomas. Oftentimes lately (with Tuesday as no exception), the 22-year-old has been tasked with running the point, allowing Thomas to get time on the bench without the need to but Terry Rozier in, who otherwise would be a defensive downgrade. 

Smart’s ability to step in and run the point has been a key sign in maturity for the third-year pro.

Said Stevens, “I thought he was really good tonight. Obviously he made a couple of shots, but I thought the biggest thing was he was all over the place defensively, he made big plays, he got his hands on a couple of rebounds it looked like they were going to get, and I thought he was just really good.

“I’ve said all along, I consider us to have more starters than five, and he’s a guy that plays starter’s minutes. He’s a good player.”

Added Smart, “[I’m] really just finding my spots on the court. I try not to force many things but just kind of let the game come to me.

One of the biggest catalysts of the night was Green’s performance. The 30-year-old unleashed a 19-point deluge, more than twice his previous season-high. 

“He’s a guy you have to be wary of if you’re the opponent, and I felt that way when we were coaching against him,” said Stevens. “He’s had an impact — a big impact — in the last two games; energy plays too.”

The performance is not exactly a surprise given Green’s known ability to hit a rhythm. It was not overly long ago in 2014 when he dropped his career-high 41 points in March of that season. But all the while he has been a fringe rotation player this season, mainly being used as an occasional spark when the offense stagnates. 

His performance and the versatility he gives is an enticing one, especially when making a case he belongs in Stevens’ rotation.

But is he ready consecrate his spot in the rotation?

“That’s coach’s decision,” Green said. “That’s why I’m the player and he’s the coach. Right now the most important thing is that we’re winning games. Whatever rotation that he throws out there, as long as we win games and keep getting better and keep getting better as a team, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t matter who plays or not.”

Blog Author: 
Logan Mullen

Avery Bradley (XX points) was one of just two Celtics with more points than Gerald Green in Tuesday's win (Bob DeChiara USA Today Sports)

Avery Bradley (23 points) was one of just two Celtics with more points than Gerald Green in Tuesday’s win over the Grizzlies (Bob DeChiara USA Today Sports).

There was an odd stretch of time from the start of the second period to the seven minute mark of the frame in the Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night.

18 seconds in, Gerald Green took a feed from Kelly Olynyk and knocked down a 17-foot jumper. Innocuous enough.

Shortly over a minute later, the 30-year-old took a step back 24-footer to extend the Celtics’ lead to 9. After Vince Carter — a man 9 years his senior — drained a 3-pointer, Green responded with another 2-point jumper. At that point, it was becoming evident that Green was starting to feel some kind of way.

He found the net from distance one more time, dropping a 26-footer to put the Celtics up by 11 and sending the TD Garden into hysterics. He was subbed out for Jae Crowder 1:35 later, finishing the eight minutes of work with a then-team-leading 10 points. 

He reentered the game in the third period, providing another spark in the fourth with an offensive board on the Celtics’ baseline, finishing with a contested layup off the glass. It put the Celtics up by six and coerced the Grizzlies into a timeout. He finished the night with 19 points in as many minutes with five rebounds. When he departed the game with 3:44 in the game and a five-point lead, the Garden crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Only Avery Bradley (23) and Isaiah Thomas (21) had more points for the Celtics than Green.

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

With possibly Tyler Zeller as his only competition for player with most fluctuation in his minutes, Green’s return to the Celtics has been nothing short of enigmatic. He’s averaged 9.9 minutes per game this season, has been active for 28 games and seen the floor in just 15 of them.

He’s been lauded by Brad Stevens as a spark plug for the Celtics on offense. While on the bench he’s one of the most visibly active, between chatting with younger players and jawing with older opponents. On Tuesday he could be seen giving a friendly verbal lashing to Carter while on the bench as he was being guarded by Jaylen Brown in the third period.

In this current stretch, he’s now appeared in three consecutive games, the highest since a run of eight to start the season.

What does that mean? It means Stevens recognizes the value he has in the journeyman.

When Green entered the game with two and a half minutes left in the first quarter, he was the second man off the bench. Olynyk had entered the game a few minutes earlier and Green entered with Jonas Jerebko. Among a plentiful amount of other options — especially considering Stevens isn’t afraid to run exceptionally small at any point in time — he skipped over Brown.

That’s not to say that Stevens is by any means obligated to play the third overall pick from this season’s draft, but given Green had not played in the five previous games due to both a injury and Stevens’ discretion leading up to Friday’s loss to the Thunder, it was a compelling choice.

For all we know, Stevens may not even look in Green’s direction on the bench when they take on the conference-leading Cavs on Thursday. That’s what makes Green’s case so unique, there’s really no forecasting when he’ll appear on the court. But take a look at any team that has found deep success in the postseason, and on top of a wealth of talent, they always have the guy that makes you turn your head and think, “wow, he’s still in the league?”

Take a look at the most recent champions in the Cavaliers, who, deep on their bench had the likes of Richard Jefferson and James Jones. If you go back to the championship-winning Celtics in 2008, look no further than P.J. Brown, most notably his stunning 10-point breakout performance in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cavs. He was signed in February of the season and retired following the postseason.

These aren’t the types of guys that are going to take you to the Promised Land. In fact, their numbers will be far from staggering. But they’re the types  that are nice to have along the way, especially for teams finding themselves playing well into May and June.

At Celtics Media Day at the end of September, Green delved deep into his time playing in Russia when he was in his mid-twenties. He capped the anecdote by saying that he came to the realization that he belonged in the NBA, regardless of the role. He stopped thinking about himself and redirected it towards thinking about his team. Ever since, he’s played for five teams in a variety of roles.

How far the Celtics go this season is yet to be seen, and speculation about where they end up is enough to numb the mind of even the most seasoned speculators. Like any other team, they’ll need their health and talent, sure. But don’t sleep on the value of a guy like Green.

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: 
Logan Mullen

Following a stretch of five games in which four were played on the road, reasonable minds would believe it’s a welcome change for the Celtics to have a home tilt on the docket as they do Tuesday against the Grizzlies.

Not so fast.

The Celtics are off to a 6-6 start at home, they’ve shot 44-percent or less from the field in eight of those games and enter Tuesday 2-3 in their last five home games.

For head coach Brad Stevens, it’s about playing strong regardless of venue.

“I don’t really look at whether or not you’re playing at home or on the road. You’ve just got to play well between the lines,” Stevens said prior to Tuesday’s game. “I don’t know if there’s enough of a sample size necessarily to say you play well on the road or well at home.

“At the end of the day we’ve got to figure out a way to win some of those games and get over the hump a little bit more. That is what it is, I haven’t lost sleep over that as much as just trying to get better as a team and play well when the clock starts.”

The Celtics will need to find a way to win games at home sooner rather than later with home matchups scheduled to ramp up in the coming weeks. Playing just 12 games at home as opposed to 19 on the road thus far into the season, six of the next eight games for the C’s will come at the TD Garden between Tuesday and Jan. 11.

At 20-13 the Grizzlies will provide the Celtics with quite a handful. They’ll have to do that, however, without the help of Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley, both of whom are out with injuries and will not be at the disposal of head coach David Fizdale.

“This is a heck of a team,” Stevens said. “They’ve been great throughout any circumstance and continue to be one of the tougher teams in the league.”

The Celtics saw the Grizzlies a week ago, winning 112-109 in overtime in Memphis thanks to a career-high 44 points from Isaiah Thomas and season-high 14 boards from Al Horford.

In order to claim that win, however, they had to overcome a 17-point deficit.

“We were lucky to win,” Stevens said. “Isaiah made incredible plays, Avery Bradley’s defense on Conley was terrific late in the game. We just kind of were galvanized by a few plays and figured out how to win a close game against a really good team.”

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: 
Logan Mullen

I’ve said this too many times to count: Marcus Smart will never make an NBA All-Star team.