Celtics fans believe they have the best coach in the NBA prowling their sidelines. The Coach of the Year voters strongly disagree.

Fresh off a season that saw him take the Celtics to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, as well as a seven-win improvement over last year, C’s coach Brad Stevens finished a surprising sixth in the NBA Coach of the Year voting on Tuesday.

Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Celtics fans believe they have the best coach in the NBA prowling their sidelines. The Coach of the Year voters strongly disagree.

Fresh off a season that saw him take the Celtics to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, as well as a seven-win improvement over last year, C’s coach Brad Stevens finished a surprising sixth in the NBA Coach of the Year voting on Tuesday.

Golden State’s Steve Kerr won the award despite missing the first 43 games of the season with a back injury (Luke Walton, the fill-in who went 39-4 in his absence, earned five points). Kerr’s win was no surprise, given Golden State’s rec0rd-breaking 73-win season.

Kerr earned 64 first-place votes and 381 points, outdistancing second-place finisher Terry Stotts of the Blazers, who overcame the loss of free agent big man LaMarcus Aldridge to lead Portland to 44 wins and the fifth seed in the Western Conference.

Stevens earned five first-place votes and 74 points, finishing behind San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich (166), Charlotte’s Steve Clifford (98), and Toronto’s Dwane Casey (83) as well in the balloting of 130 broadcasters and journalists.

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Live Blog Mike Petraglia LIVE chat Celtics-Hawks Game 5 preview
 

WEEI’s Celtics writer and columnist Mike Petraglia will field your questions and comments and help break down everything Celtics-Hawks related for Game 5 Tuesday night in Atlanta. Join him on the WEEI Green Street live chat at noon. 

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WEEI
The boys recap Marcus Smart and Paul Millsap's incredible battle in the Celtics' Game 4 win over the Atlanta Hawks with ESPN's Chris Forsberg. Jared Weiss and Sam Packard discussed Jared Sullinger's struggles and the reemergence of Machine Bun Kelly. They discuss inside media stuff like when to applaud for honorees and Chris' devotion to southern unsweetened tea. Of course they answered your #WEEICeltics Tweet Bag questions too.

[0:03:46] ... expect it in a way you don't expect and going up against Paul Millsap for the last fourteen minutes of the game holding him to one for five shooting while it's guarding him. It's it's incredible ...
[0:05:20] ... Smart tries to strip them gets flush contact with the ball. But Paul Millsap was in the right from the Bill Belichick leader and he knows he can't fumble that situation girls -- to knock him ...
[0:06:21] ... that was a little bit tired so I know he got a great performance. What were very quick to anoint him the markets market and I know I called it dead on our way and I ...
[0:12:45] ... The thing for the Celtics is that their offense. Existed outside of Isiah Thomas scored forty points. And a lot of people contributed and Jae Crowder actually made of the first couple shots and his team. ...






Celtics mascot Lucky runs with a banner during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics mascot Lucky runs with a banner during the second half in Game 4 of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Hawks at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

If only the Celtics could bottle up the electric, deafening atmosphere from TD Garden and bring all the Celtics fans with them for Game 5, leaning on them like they did in the 104-95 overtime win Sunday.

“I think it’s less about where it is and more about how you play,” the always calm and cool Brad Stevens said Monday. “At the same time, I certainly haven’t been in many playoff environments like the last two games. It was incredible.”

There will no doubt be noise inside Philips Arena for the pivotal swing game in the series but it won’t be nearly as intense as what the Hawks experienced in Games 3 and 4. 

As a matter of fact, when the series opened in Atlanta on April 16, there were hundreds of empty seats with neon yellow shirts on them. The Hawks attempted to hide the fact that Atlanta, a notoriously passive sports town, wasn’t fully behind their NBA team in the first round of the playoffs. 

The Hawks managed to hold serve at home with wins in the first two games. 

When the series shifted to Boston last Friday, the decibel level went through the roof. The Celtics responded with a 37-20 quarter right out of the chute. They held on for a 111-103 win. The crowd rewarded that with an even crazier atmosphere in Game 4, when Patriots owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick and players Rob Gronkowski and LeGarrette Blount showed up.

The Hawks may not have noticed the Patriotic impact but they sure heard it. When Isaiah Thomas drained a three from the right baseline in in front of Belichick in the final minute of overtime, the Garden was literally shaking. 

“Oh yeah, they have a great crowd and they really fed off of it,” Kyle Korver said. “When your crowd’s screaming behind you, the basket seems bigger and there’s a lot more adrenaline, and they played really well here. Give them credit.” 

Philips Arena isn’t considered one of the more intimidating environments in the NBA. Will that change in Game 5? 

“I think that it’s a good situation, we going back home and our fans will be into it, our energy level will be great,” Paul Millsap said after scoring 45 points in Atlanta’s Game 4 loss. “So, it sucks we didn’t get a game on this road trip, but we still got three games to get 2 and we feel confident about it, especially going back home.”

“I think that obviously there’s great challenges playing wherever you’re playing but you know, when you’re playing on the road, you’ve got to do a great job of just staying in the moment and focusing on the task at hand,” Stevens said Monday. “But I think you’ve got to do that at home, too. You can easily get distracted or too comfortable when you’re at home. We had our moments where we had some real slippage in the last two games, mostly due to how Atlanta was really beating us up and the way they were playing.”

Stevens is more concerned about the Celtics not falling behind 24-3, like they did in the first six minutes of Game 2. He also wants to make sure his team doesn’t get manhandled by the bigger Hawks like they did at times in Games 3 and 4 when the Hawks were making runs. 

“They were doing a great job spreading us and moving us and isolating us and getting the matchups they wanted and everything else, and that had a lot more to do with it,” Stevens said. 

Of course, if the Celtics can take care of business in Game 5, they will have the chance to give Celtics fans a chance to watch a clincher on Thursday in Game 6 back at the Garden. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Apr 24, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Atlanta Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots the ball over Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hawks forward Paul Millsap (4) shoots the ball over Marcus Smart (36) during the second half in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Who will step up for Atlanta in Game 5?

That has to be the question Brad Stevens is asking himself and his staff as they prepare for a critical swing game in the first-round series. After going 1-for-10 and missing all seven from long range in Game 1, Kyle Korver hit on 5-of-7 from deep and 6-of-9 overall in Atlanta’s 89-72 win in Game 2. 

Paul Millsap went 1-for-12 in Game 2 and 3-for-9 in Game 3 before coming to life for 45 points on 19-of-31 shooting on Sunday. Korver was back down to 3-for-11 on Sunday while a dinged up Al Horford was 2-for-8 and Jeff Teague was 4-for-18 so there’s plenty to choose from. 

“Well, one of the things about great players in this league is, when they have a tough game the game before they usually come out with a great hunger and we saw that from Korver in Game 2. You saw that from Millsap in Game 4,” Stevens said Monday. “I think that that’s just kinda the way that this league goes. And even during the game, that was a really hard call with Millsap because, the one thing that you don’t want to do is get those other guys going.”

And that is the biggest factor Stevens has to weigh when considering how to use Marcus Smart, Evan Turner, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson in Game 5. 

“If you put too much emphasis on doubling the post or rotating or whatever the case may be, now [Kent] Bazemore gets a wide-open three in the corner or a layup on a cut, or Teague hits an open three, Korver gets an open three,” Stevens added. “Those are bad things as well. It’s a tough call in the heat of the moment, you just kind of go with what you’re feeling at that moment, go with what you’re seeing. Then go with any numbers that might back up your decision.”

Kelly Olynyk might play more in Game 5, or he might not. The Celtics 7-footer played just three minutes in the first half of Sunday’s game and missed the only shot he took, a misfire that was way right of its mark. Olynyk was available for the first time since Game 1 when he re-aggravated his reportedly separated right shoulder. 

“Time will tell. I think that we’ll see. I think the bottom line is — we aren’t in a position where if a guy has rust, that you’re going to be able to play much, obviously,” Stevens said.” But if he feels really good and is playing really well then his minutes will certainly expand in that moment. I just felt like, the way that we had played the game before and the fact that he hadn’t played in a week, it was probably better to go with the other guys. We’ll see how he looks tomorrow in shootaround, we’ll see how he goes through it. But we trust him. He’s had a lot of great moments this year and he does give us the spacing that we need against these guys.”

What will be the biggest key Tuesday? 

“I wouldn’t recommend 24-3 again. Just generally, I think that would be a bad thing. Bottom line is that you have to do that in every game. And I guess in every game you could make it a major emphasis, whatever the case may be. But this is the playoffs. You play 80-plus games – if intensity or hard play is an issue then you’re in trouble and you don’t really need to go over anything else.

“And we’ve talked about that. We’ve talked about it. But we don’t talk about it every minute of every day because it has to be a non-negotiable. That has to happen in order for us to execute because there’s no game plan that’s going to make up for that. And so again, I didn’t think we played necessarily with a lack of effort in Game 2. I thought we didn’t play well in the first five minutes and then we were fighting and swimming uphill, and that was bad. They certainly played at a different pace than we did in Game 2 at the start. That can’t happen again.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford (15). (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) blocks the shot of Hawks center Al Horford (15). (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics didn’t practice Monday and Marcus Smart can be very happy about that. 

When he checked in for Jonas Jerebko with 9:20 left in the third quarter of Game 4 Sunday, he probably didn’t think he would play the rest of the game. But that’s what he did. 

He played the final 28 minutes and 40 seconds of an epic, highly-charged and intense playoff game at TD Garden. His defense on Paul Millsap for the final 10 minutes was a big reason the Celtics were able to pull out a 104-95 win in overtime and tie the series at 2-2. 

But just because he held Millsap to four points in the final 10 minutes doesn’t mean Brad Stevens won’t put him back on Kyle Korver (whom he guarded initially) or Jeff Teague or anyone else. 

“I think obviously we’ll play him on a bunch of different guys the way we have all season,” Stevens said in a conference call Monday before heading off on a flight to Atlanta for Game 5 Tuesday. “We’re going to have to play the game as it goes.”

Evan Turner took the place of Smart in the starting lineup after Smart went 1-for-11 from the field and the Celtics needed the scoring. Sunday, Smart hit a pair of huge threes back-to-back to put the Celtics on top, 85-84, midway through the fourth. Smart played 41 of the 53 minutes Sunday and scored 20 points. 

“I don’t know how we could put him on the court much more,” Stevens said. “He played the last [nine] minutes of the third quarter, the whole fourth quarter and overtime. So, whether he starts or not, really to me is inconsequential. He’s going to play a lot and then we’ll figure out what match-ups we’ll need to hit during the game.

“That’s part of what the way I’m looking at it right now. Obviously, we’ve started decent each of the last two games. There’s going to be times where we need Marcus to guard Teague, Marcus to guard Korver, Marcus to guard Millsap, etcetera. We’ll play it by ear. We’ll see how it’s going with that. But, he’s going to play his typical lot of minutes.”

Isaiah Thomas played 43 minutes and was able to rest the first three minutes of the fourth quarter before coming back in for the final 14 minutes of the game.  Stevens said Monday he looks at somewhat differently in the playoffs. 

“We’ve got a lot of numbers backing up the best methods and the best way to do it, from a minute standpoint. And we were pretty consistent throughout the regular season. In a situation where you bring him in maybe two minutes earlier in the playoffs, that’s not going to have a huge impact on a guy, especially with the adrenaline, the extra day’s rest, the 3 and a half minute media timeout at the end of each quarter, etcetera, etcetera.

“I think when you’re talking a minute or two here or there, that’s a little bit different than talking 48 straight minutes or so. That’s what it was so impressive what Marcus did; he basically played 25 straight minutes.” 

But Stevens doesn’t sound like a man concerned about conditioning heading into Game 5. 

“We’re only going to do film when we get to Atlanta in the hotel,” Stevens said. “So, there’s not going to be anything on the court. And then these guys are used to playing every other day at minimum. So by the time the game tips at 8:30 tomorrow we’ll be rested and ready to roll.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Will Marcus Smart and Celtics use Game 4 to soar to victory over Hawks? (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)The Celtics should win this series now.



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If you watched the final 15 seconds of regulation in stunned amazement Sunday, you were hardly alone. Even Isaiah Thomas, the man who was covering the man with the ball did not quite know what the Hawks were doing in a 92-92 game. 

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball past Atlanta Hawks guard Jeff Teague (0). (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

If you watched the final 15 seconds of regulation in stunned amazement Sunday, you were hardly alone. Even Isaiah Thomas, the man who was covering the man with the ball did quite know what the Hawks were doing in a 92-92 game. 

Instead of finding Paul Millsap, the man with 45 points already, point guard Jeff Teague received the ball and proceeded to dribble and dribble and dribble. He was going to isolate Thomas and pull up for the game-winner. He didn’t even really get a chance to do that as he lost his handle with three seconds left. 

The game went to overtime and the Celtics outscored Atlanta 12-3 in the extra period for a 104-95 win in Game 4, tying the series at 2-2. Was it just great defense by Thomas and denying the driving lane? 

“Nah, don’t give me no props for that,” Thomas said. “I don’t know what they were doing. I think they were trying to isolate me. I felt like he took a little bit too long and I kind of knew what he was going to do once the clock hit three or four seconds. Most guards do a hesitation pull-up and he tried it and lost the ball.” 

His coach gave him a little more credit than that.

“Well, they were sprinting to slip [Kyle] Korver off of a screen to try to give Teague an alley to drive and Isaiah did a good job of keeping him squared  up,” Brad Stevens said. “Didn’t give him an alley to drive, and then made a nice – I think Teague slipped or whatever, but he was forced way out. Isaiah did a really nice job in that position.”

One might think the man with 45 points might have an objection to his point guard dribbling out the clock and not even looking to get the ball to Millsap. The forward wasn’t throwing his point guard under any bus, yet. 

“Well no, Jeff had the opportunity to take a guy, he had a good look but the ball slipped out of his hand,” Millsap said. “But, the play was for him to be aggressive and try to make a play for us. Down the stretch he did a great job of keeping us in it, made some big shots down the stretch, so we trusted him to win the game for us.”

Was the play designed to be a screen or isolation?

 “Little bit of both, you wanna exhaust the clock in that situation, you want to take the last shot and I think Jeff just ended up like miss handling it a little, but that was Jeff against Isaiah Thomas and you know obviously just try and get a good look, get a good opportunity and not leave any time on the clock,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia