Stars, studs and duds: Celtics win 'a perfect way to close out' 2016

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics win 'a perfect way to close out' 2016

BOSTON – All the talk following Boston’s 117-114 victory over the Miami Heat centered around Isaiah Thomas and his career-high 52 points which was the fourth-highest scoring performance by a Celtic.

But more important than his individual success was the fact that the Celtics (20-14) came away with the win to close out 2016.

“We talked about that,” said Celtics forward Jae Crowder. “We just wanted to get a win. It was a tough one for us, to bounce back from (losing at Cleveland Thursday night) and come in here and get a win. Physically, it was tough on us.”


Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said his team looked like they were dragging a bit when they showed up for the team’s pre-game shoot-around, which wasn’t all that surprising when you consider they were playing their sixth game in nine days.

“Miami played well,” Stevens said. “They made timely jump shots – they made a lot of jump shots. We knew this was going to be really hard. Sometimes you’ve got to find a way, and man, did he (Thomas) find a way.”

But even more important than the game was its outcome – a Celtics victory.

“Oh it’s huge,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “We’ve had a tough stretch here, and to be able to come out and respond, Avery (Bradley) not being here tonight, and Isaiah stepping up in this way, it’s the perfect way to close out the year.”

Here are the Stars (OK tonight, there was just one star and I think we know who that is), Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.



Isaiah Thomas

52 points. Nine 3-pointers. There really isn’t much to say after one of the best individual performances we have seen this season, and one that ranks among the best scoring nights ever by a Boston Celtic.



Al Horford

Friday’s Heat game was a nice bounce-back performance by Horford who had six points on 3-for-9 shooting at Cleveland on Thursday. Against Miami, Horford had 21 points on 8-for-12 shooting with six rebounds, four assists and a steal.

Josh Richardson

Richardson was filling up the stat sheet for the Heat all night, scoring 19 points to go with six rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocked shots.

James Johnson

Like Richardson, Johnson’s versatility was a major factor in the Heat staying within striking distance most of the night. He finished with a team-high 22 points off the bench to go with six assists, two steals and two blocked shots.



Celtics defense

The fact that Isaiah Thomas went off for 52 points and the Celtics needed damn near every one of those points, is not a good thing. They will take a couple days off to rest, recover and hopefully return with a renewed focus towards playing great defense. Because the way they played at that end of the floor was good enough to beat the Heat, a team with more than twice as many losses (24) as wins (10) this season. But to be among the elite teams or on a level just below that, the Celtics have to get better – a lot better – defensively.

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.



Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Optimism that Kyrie will be back for playoffs

Kyrie Irving underwent a left knee procedure on Saturday that will keep the five-time All-Star guard out for at least the start of the playoffs.

The Celtics indicated that Irving will be out for 3-6 weeks.

According to the Celtics, the procedure was to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed there as part of the surgical repair of the fractured patella injury Irving suffered in the 2015 NBA Finals when he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Removing the wire is expected to lessen the irritation it was causing in Irving’s left patellar tendon.

The fractured patella injury from in 2015 has fully healed and, according to the Celtics, Irving’s knee has been found to be “completely structurally sound.”

The timetable for Irving's return is roughly the same as that of Celtics guard Marcus Smart, who last week had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right thumb. 

Irving, who turned 26 on Friday, finishes his first regular season with Boston appearing in 60 games while averaging 24.4 points per game on a career-best 49.1 percent shooting from the field.