Terry Rozier

Associated Press

Back from injury, Isaiah Thomas scores 25 as Celtics top Wizards

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BOSTON (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 25 points after missing the previous two games with a bruised right knee, leading the Boston Celtics to a 110-102 victory over the Washington Wizards in another testy matchup Monday night between two of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

Avery Bradley added 20 points and nine rebounds for Boston, which moved 2 1/2 games ahead of the Wizards for second place in the East. The Celtics trail first-place Cleveland by two games.

Jae Crowder and Al Horford each scored 16 with nine boards.

Bradley Beal led Washington with 19 points, and John Wall had 16 points with eight assists.

Behind Thomas’ 12 third-quarter points, Boston pushed an 11-point halftime lead to 92-75 after three.

The Wizards trailed by 15 with just more than four minutes left, but closed to 106-100 on Kelly Oubre Jr.’s steal and breakaway dunk with 2:05 to play.

Marcus Smart had a basket and two free throws to seal it.

The bad feelings built up between the teams this season resurfaced briefly midway into the second quarter. Washington’s Brandon Jennings bumped into Terry Rozier a few times under the basket before Rozier pushed him to the floor near midcourt. Both got a technical.

In the last meeting at TD Garden in early January, Crowder and Wall had words at the end of the game. Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face, and Wall slapped at him.

When they met in Washington on Jan. 25, the Wizards wore what they called “funeral black” to the game before picking up the win.

The Celtics used a 16-5 run midway into the second to help them build a 58-47 halftime edge.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Wizards: F Markieff Morris (illness) returned to the starting lineup after missing the past two games. . Wall came up limping after a driving, spinning basket in the third quarter, but stayed in the game. . Washington committed a season-high 28 fouls.

Celtics: Thomas hit a 3-pointer for a club-record 45th straight game. . Boston opened a stretch of six straight at home and play only three games away from home the rest of the regular season.

REACQUAINTED

With the Celtics healthy again, coach Brad Stevens said the final weeks of the regular season give his team a chance to get stronger playing together.

“We just haven’t had a ton of time with ourselves fully healthy,” he said. “We have to make sure that we utilize this time appropriately for our team to get better. Regardless of who we’re playing against, there aren’t any secrets.”

 

Celtics’ Terry Rozier gets dunked on by Richard Jefferson, then throws ball at him for technical

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This is not Terry Rozier‘s proudest moment.

First, he made the right play and tried to switch onto a cutting Richard Jefferson, but there was nothing anyone under 7-foot was going to do about the lob LeBron James threw — Jefferson showed he still has some hops and got up for the alley-oop slam over Rozier.

Jefferson then hung on the rim to avoid an awkward fall on Rozier and ended up swinging over him. Rozier took offense, seeing it as a showboat move, and threw the ball at Jefferson.

That was an automatic technical.

Rozier and the Celtics played the Cavaliers even through three quarters.

Isaiah Thomas has another big 4th quarter, Celtics beat Raptors

Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — Isaiah Thomas scored 19 of his 44 points in the final quarter to lift the Boston Celtics over the Toronto Raptors 109-104 on Wednesday night in a showdown for first place in the Atlantic Division.

It was the fifth straight win for Boston, which moved 1 1/2 games ahead of the Raptors in the division and holds the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed.

Jae Crowder scored 14 points for the Celtics and Al Horford had 11. Thomas had 18 of Boston’s final 23 points.

Kyle Lowry led Toronto with 32 points, former Celtic Jared Sullinger had 13 and Norman Powell added 12. The Raptors have lost seven of nine.

In a final quarter that rivaled playoff intensity, Celtics forward Jaylen Brown was fouled on a breakaway attempt and walked over and had words with Lowry – before a few others player joined in and had to be separated by the officials. Boston’s Terry Rozier and the Raptors’ DeMarre Carroll were each given a technical foul.

With the Celtics trailing by eight, Thomas scored nine straight points to give them their first lead of the game – 95-94 on a driving basket with 4:39 to play.

The lead changed hands six times over the next 3 1/2 minutes – with Thomas’ 3-pointer from the left wing giving Boston a 103-101 edge with 48.1 seconds left.

Toronto led by 11 at the halftime and scored 13 of the first 19 points in the third, pulling to a 75-57 edge on Lowry’s 3-pointer from the right corner.

TIP-INS

Raptors: G DeMar DeRozan was out for the fifth time in six games with a right ankle injury.

Celtics: G Avery Bradley missed his eighth straight game with a right Achilles tendon injury. Coach Brad Stevens said he’s practiced the last two days, but the team wants “to make sure that when we get him back, he’s back on the court and limit the chance that it’ll happen again.” … F Kelly Olynyk was out with a strained left shoulder.

IMPRESSED

Stevens talked about the play of Lowry before the game, admiring both the overall guard play in the league and that of Toronto’s star.

“There are so many guards right now that can make exceptional plays off the dribble,” he said. “Maybe more so and a higher efficiency than I’ve seen before, and Lowry’s one of the best of them.”

NICE ENDING

Thomas hit a 36-foot 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to cap off his 16-point first quarter.

 

NBA: Marcus Smart wrongly called for huge foul late in Celtics’ loss to Trail Blazers

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The Trail Blazers beat the Celtics on Saturday in an overtime thriller. The game provided so much action, there was little objection when what would’ve been one of the most exciting plays was waived off.

But it should have counted.

With Boston down one one and 11 seconds left, Marcus Smart stripped Damian Lillard under Portland’s own basket and immediately hit a go-ahead layup. Except officials called a foul on Smart – in error, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Smart (BOS) makes clean contact with the ball.

Lillard went to the line and made both free throws, and Terry Rozier made a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime, where the Trail Blazers emerged with a 127-123 win.

Portland still would’ve had a chance to answer, but with a correct call, Boston would have held the lead a much better chance of winning in regulation.

Jimmy Butler’s ascent continues into superstardom

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Jimmy Butler was in Milwaukee and hundreds of miles from his home of Tomball, Texas. He was trying to fit in with his new Marquette teammates, most of whom he had never met before. He had to change his playing style as he transitioned up a level.

And then it snowed.

“Unbelievable to me,” Butler said. “I don’t know if I was happy or pissed off that it was snowing. I had never seen snow before. I was incredibly cold.

“That was the biggest culture shock of everything. It was hard. But we got through it. We always do.”

He always does.

The Bulls wing called going from junior college to the Big East the most difficult step in his basketball journey. What he’s doing this year, it’s not easy. But Butler has overcome numerous other challenges.

A rough childhood, getting overlooked in recruiting, rising from junior college to top-shelf college basketball, climbing draft boards as a relatively unheralded prospect, carving out a role in the NBA, working his way into stardom.

Now, Butler – the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2015 – is pushing himself into the NBA’s elite. He’s averaging 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game. He ranks third in real plus-minus, sixth in PER and fourth in win shares.

MVP? Another MIP?

Butler dismisses the “individual s—” with a grimace, but he’s taking to his elevated stature.

“I figured, ‘Why can’t I be up there with the best of them?'” Butler said. “And I continue to think that way.”

Butler didn’t always carry such confidence, and he doesn’t have to think far back to remember the days he lacked it. Jerel McNeal, Wesley Mathews, Lazar Hayward, Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder overshadowed him at Marquette. Derrick Rose, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer once dwarfed his presence on the Bulls.

“I wasn’t always a really good player,” Butler said. “I just worked harder than everybody. I just played harder than everybody.”

Butler developed his skills. He gained fame and fortune.

He just never lost his work ethic.

As he continue to practice and study, he learned how far that could take him. Butler has made the last two All-Star games and last three All-Defensive second teams. Now, he’s recognizing his own potential.

“Your confidence comes from your work,” Butler said.

That confidence is spreading.

Say whatever you want about how he has handled his rise into stardom, Butler continues to rise. He deserves more credit for his jump from star to superstar, maybe one of the most difficult leaps in sports. But his continued evolution has warped expectations.

Bulls teammate Dwyane Wade first noticed Butler at Marquette, their shared alma mater. Could Wade envision then Butler turning into an NBA player?

“That was hard to see,” Wade said.

What about once Butler got into the league? Did his star potential show?

“No, didn’t see that,” Wade said.

Then Butler’s leap to superstardom surely must have also caught Wade off guard, right?

“I won’t say surprise,” Wade said. “He’s playing with the talent he has.

“He’s not doing nothing overcomplicated. He’s not crossing people, making them fall. He’s not jumping over tall people. He’s playing his game. He’s getting to the basket, hitting the mid-range pullup, doing things like that.”

Unfortunately for Butler’s MVP chances, he’s doing it in a year so many other players are posting unworldly numbers. His combination of 26.0 points, 6.7 rebounds an 4.1 assists per game has been matched over a full season just 56 times in the NBA’s 70-year history. Do that in the right year – especially with Butler’s efficiency: shooting 47.2% from the field, 35.1% on 3-pointers and 88.9% on free throws – and Butler walks away with MVP.

But this season, four players – Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Butler – are on pace to hit that scoring/rebounding/passing combination, which would be a record. To win MVP, Butler must fend off those other three and Chris Paul and Anthony Davis and Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James and…

Still, Butler has a more realistic chance of making history given his humble entry into the NBA. The No. 30 pick in the 2011 draft, he could o become the highest finisher in MVP voting in his lifetime who was drafted so low. The current bar is seventh in MVP voting, done by both No. 35 pick Draymond Green and undrafted Ben Wallace.

Butler could also break records with his sustained improvement.

Several Most Improved Players – Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love, Monta Ellis,* Bobby Simmons, Zach Randolph, Gilbert Arenas, Jermaine O’Neal, Tracy McGrady and Rony Seikaly – received votes for the award after winning it. But none seriously contended for a repeat. The closest was 1990 winner Seikaly, who finished 12th in 1997 – with a single vote.

*Ellis received is the only player to receive MIP votes in multiple seasons after winning it. He won the award in 2007 and then made his way onto the ballot in 2008 and 2010.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as a strong frontrunner for 2017 Most Improved player, but Butler belongs in the mix.

To cherry-pick one measure among the many that showcases Butler’s improvement, his PER has risen from 21.3 each of the last two season to 27.8 this year. Only Terry Rozier and Giannis Antetokounmpo have made bigger jumps from their previous career-high PER to a new career high this season (minimum: 200 minutes each season):

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Butler’s ascension has invited greater leadership responsibilities, an area that drew immense scrutiny last season.

Chicago traded Rose and watched Noah walk over the summer. Newcomers Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo declared the Bulls to be Butler’s team.

The pressure was on, and Butler appears to be delivering.

Chicago coach Fred Hoiberg, who drew public criticism from Butler last year, called him a “great leader.” Butler again asked Hoiberg to coach him harder before this season, and his teammates have noticed.

“Is he hard on himself? Is he hard on guys when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to? Yes. He’s supposed to be hard on them,” Wade said. “But I think he’s as advertised.”

That’s because Butler continues to show his genuineness.

“He has a little different personality,” Wade said. “You come in, and everybody talk about it. He’s in the locker room singing country music and all these songs that most people ain’t used to listening to.”

That’s Butler from Tomball, Texas.

He’s now on an effectively max contract, in commercials and headed toward an even higher level of stardom on the court.

Yet, he remains relentless in his approach.

“I’m about right now,” Butler said. “Every single day, what can I do right now to get better for tomorrow – and that’s not even promised. What can I do right now to finish out the day right?”