Celtics hold off injury-ravaged Pelicans, 104-97

Celtics hold off injury-ravaged Pelicans, 104-97

BOSTON – Isaiah Thomas may be the player the Boston Celtics are touting as a potential all-NBA selection this season.

But when Wednesday’s game mattered most, it was Avery Bradley rising to the occasion in helping the Celtics hold on for a 104-97 victory over New Orleans.

Bradley had 13 points which included a 3-pointer with 32.7 seconds to play that gave Boston a 7-point lead which was its largest in the fourth quarter.

That was just one of big-time shots drained by Bradley in the fourth.

With the score tied at 93, he nailed a baseline jumper after getting the pass from Isaiah Thomas.

A Bradley steal afterwards led to a put-back basket for Crowder that gave Boston a 97-93 lead with 1:38 to play.

And then there was Thomas who made a pair of free throws with 1:23 to play which put Boston ahead 99-93 which proved to be too big a cushion for the Pelicans (29-49) to overcome.

New Orleans got a basket from Tim Frazier to make it a 99-95 game and had a chance to make it a one-possession game, but Amir Johnson came up with a huge blocked shot that seemed to be just what the Celtics needed in order to deflate the Pelicans’ hope of a comeback.

Thomas led all scorers with 32 points, the 10th time this season he tallied 30 or more points for Boston.

With the win, the Celtics (46-32) extend their winning streak to three in a row – all over Western Conference teams.

More important, it gets them one step closer to securing home court advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs.

Boston led by as many as 16 points, but found itself in a 76-all game just 28 seconds into the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer from Luke Babbitt.

Two minutes later, Babbitt struck again with a 3-pointer that tied the game at 79.  He had 16 points off the Pelicans bench along with eight rebounds and four assists.

Brad Stevens had seen enough defensive letdowns/miscommunications and called a time-out with 9:46 to play.

As has been the case most of this season, Stevens began the fourth quarter with Thomas on the bench. Thomas usually returns to the floor about halfway through the fourth quarter and while the Celtics were indeed reeling, he resisted the temptation and instead decided to stick with his second unit players.

The good news is they rewarded Stevens’ faith with better play offensively.

The bad news?

They couldn’t get any stops defensively which kept it a one-possession game until

The Celtics opened the third quarter with an 8-0 run, but soon gave way to the all-too-predictable third quarter lulls that have plagued this team all season.

New Orleans was on a 17-4 run following a put-back dunk by James Ennis that brought the Pelicans within 65-62.

And from there, Thomas, the smallest guy on the floor came up with one of the game’s biggest shots, a 3-pointer that extended Boston’s lead to 68-62.

Thomas’ 3-pointer set into motion an 11-0 Celtics run capped off by a 3-pointer by Jonas Jerebko that made it a 76-62 game.

New Orleans, winners in three of its last five games prior to Wednesday night, bounced back with a spurt of its own that cut Boston’s lead down to 76-73 going into the fourth quarter.

Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

Ainge: 'Setback' wrong word to use about Hayward

When is a setback not a setback?

When Danny Ainge says, "You know what? Sometimes I talk too much," Ainge told the Boston Herald over the weekend. "'Setback' wasn't the right word, so let me rephrase that because it's not exactly true to say it - or say it that way.

The Celtics president of basketball operations, in his weekly radio interview with Toucher and Rich on 98.5 The Sports Hub and simulcast on NBC Sports Boston, used that word when he was describing how Gordon Hayward is coming along in his recovery. 

"He had like one setback for a couple of weeks, maybe a month and a half ago," Ainge said on the radio last week. "We were progressing a little bit too fast, we thought."

Ainge clarified that to the Herald's Steve Bulpett. 

"What happened is he went on the AlterG [anti-gravity treadmill] the first day and he felt some soreness," he said. "It was the first day he tried the AlterG, a long time ago. He just wasn't ready for it at that point. That's all it was."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been adamant that Hayward, recovering from his gruesome leg and ankle injury in the season opener, will not play for the Celtics this season. On Sunday, Stevens, via MassLive.com's Jay King, characterized Stevens' soreness as a "small" issue. 



Chest pains and lack of sleep lead to medical leave for Cavs coach Lue

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Chest pains and lack of sleep lead to medical leave for Cavs coach Lue

CLEVELAND - Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence from the team to address health issues that have included chest pains and loss of sleep.

Lue said Monday in a statement that tests have offered no conclusion about what the issue is and offered no timetable for his return. The coach said he feels he needs to step away "and focus on trying to establish a stronger and healthier foundation" from which to coach the rest of the season.

Here's a portion of Lue's statement:

I have had chest pains and other troubling symptoms, compounded by a loss of sleep, throughout the year. Despite a battery of tests, there have been no conclusions as to what the exact issue is.

"While I have tried to work through it, the last thing I want is for it to affect the team. I am going to use this time to focus on a prescribed routine and medication, which has previously been difficult to start in the midst of a season," Lue said. "My goal is to come out of it a stronger and healthier version of myself so I can continue to lead this team to the championship we are all working towards."

A stress-filled season for the Cavs has taken a toll on the Lue, 40, a former Celtics assistant under Doc Rivers who led them to the 2016 NBA championship after taking over for David Blatt midway through that season. They are j40-29, third in the Eastern Conference, behind the second-place Celtics and East-leading Toronto Raptors, and have endured roster shake-ups, injuries and other distractions as they try to return to the NBA Finals.

David Aldridge of TNT reports that the plan is for Lue to return in a week. The NBA playoffs begin April 14. 

"We all want great players, we all want the best teams, but with that comes a lot of pressure as well. And what Ty Lue has had to go through this year with that team, with the trades and the injuries and the pressure, it's unrelenting," Denver coach Michael Malone said. "So I hope that he gets healthy and is able to get back in time for the playoffs and help that team win as many games as possible."

Lue spent the second half of Cleveland's victory in Chicago on Saturday in the locker room because of an illness, the second time this season he left a game because he wasn't feeling well. The former NBA guard also sat one out against Chicago at home in December.

Associate head coach Larry Drew coached the second half of Saturday's game, the finale of a six-game, 11-day road trip. Cleveland is back home to host Milwaukee on Monday.

"We know how difficult these circumstances are for Coach Lue and we support him totally in this focused approach to addressing his health issues," general manager Koby Altman said.

Charlotte coach Steve Clifford also left his team to address his health this season. He took six weeks off. Medical tests revealed that the 56-year-old Clifford did not have any internal problems, but the doctor's diagnosis was the coach was suffering from severe sleep deprivation.

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds contributed to this report.

© 2018 by The Associated Press