Bradley, Stiemsma break through on veteran Celtics team

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Bradley, Stiemsma break through on veteran Celtics team

ATLANTA Avery Bradley left the University of Texas after just one season, was a first-round pick by the Boston Celtics in 2010 but did very little as a rookie.

Greg Stiemsma, a 7-footer with a nondescript career in both college and overseas, was a last-minute invite to the C's training camp whose primary job was to give the Celtics another warm body to take some of the wear and tear off of their veteran big men.

As you glance back at the Boston Celtics roster at the beginning of training camp, few would have envisioned that these two players would have made a major impact on the C's this season.

Bradley has gone from a first round bust-in-the-making, to one of the NBA's breakout stars this season making the kind of strides that seem to be growing exponentially at both ends of the floor.

Stiemsma, a long shot just to even make the Celtics 15-man roster, has blossomed into one of the NBA's better shot-blockers and is now the C's first big man off the bench.

"It's been a crazy ride," Stiemsma told CSNNE.com. "I don't know if it'll set in until it's over. So I'm trying to make it last for as long as I can."

So are the Celtics, whose postseason begins on the road Sunday in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks.

For the Celtics to have the kind of deep playoff run they're hoping for, it'll require the contributions of many - Bradley and Stiemsma included.

The fact that both have come so far so quickly is shocking.

To do so for the Celtics, a team that has not relied much on young talent during the Big Three era, makes it even more amazing.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers attributes the success of the team's young players this season to their willingness and desire to improve.

"We're patient with young guys, as long as young guys want to be taught," Rivers said. "It took me about a year of coaching to realize potential with character turns out to be good player. Potential with no character turn out to be the guy that keeps being traded. You get impatient with that, where you try to get a guy to be a better player, and they can't get out of themselves; they're so much into themselves, they're unteachable."

Bradley's numbers are significantly better in just about every statistical category of note from his rookie season until now.

A 1.7 points per game scorer as a rookie, he's averaging 7.6 per game now. A lot of that has to do with him playing 21.4 minutes per game this season - that's more than four times his minutes per game average as a rookie.

"He got his opportunity to play this year, and like all players who put in the kind of work he does and care about the game the way he does, it's paying off for him," C's guard Keyon Dooling told CSNNE.com. "I've said this many times before. He is the NBA's best on-the-ball-defender right now. And with his offensive game starting to take shape, the sky's the limit for this kid; it really is."

But he credits getting a confidence boost from the C's veterans as being instrumental in his development, too.

"My teammates have a lot to do with me getting better," Bradley told CSNNE.com. "They're always in my ear, encouraging me, giving me more confidence to go out and play, help us win games. I'm going to always grind, regardless. But having teammates who are also pushing you to do better, pulling for you, it makes you feel good; it makes you want to go out and play even harder because you know they got your back."

Stiemsma echoed Bradley's sentiments.

"It definitely helps, makes you feel good when you know guys like KG (Kevin Garnett), are pulling for you, trying to help you become a better player," Stiemsma said. "You push yourself that much harder to play well and help the team win."

While there were several moments throughout the season in which their play stood out, the origins of their success can be traced back to where all seasons usually begin training camp.

Avery Bradley's outlook for his second season was significantly different. First and foremost, he was healthy. And maybe just as important, he spent some time during the summer with Doc Rivers, trying to establish a stronger bond which he felt wasn't where he wanted to be, during his rookie year.

Bradley's plan was pretty simple.

The more time he spent around Rivers, the better they would get to know each other. And that maybe, just maybe, could pay off with Rivers having more trust in him this season.

"I don't know how much that helped my chances of playing, but I know it didn't hurt," Bradley said.

Gaining Rivers' trust was one thing. Getting the trust of his teammates?

Much tougher.

They already respected him as a good on-the-ball-defender, but there were a lot of questions about whether he could ever develop into a decent scorer.

Rivers had been saying from Day One that Bradley was a scorer; not a shooter, but a scorer.

But heading into camp and shortly after, Rivers' words were just that - words.

It wasn't until Bradley started to play decent minutes - first filing in for an injured Rajon Rondo, and later as a fill-in and eventual replacement for Ray Allen - did he begin to display the kind of all-around game that the Celtics envisioned when they selected the 6-2 guard with the No. 19 pick in the 2010 NBA draft.

"The kid has worked his behind off to get where he's at, and I'm happy for him," said Garnett, referring to Bradley. "I hope at the end of the year they (Celtics) take care of him, along with Steamboat (Stiemsma) and some other guys because they've earned it. You see these guys come in and put in their work young guys don't even grind like this. They don't even come in and work like this. It's good to see; it's refreshing, to be honest."

Stiemsma's emergence was even more unexpected - and needed - than Bradley.

As one of the last players invited to training camp, the chances of him making the Celtics roster didn't look good.

Boston had Jermaine O'Neal starting at center, with Chris Wilcox as his backup. The plan was to at times throw Kevin Garnett in the mix at center as well.

Then came multiple injuries that limited O'Neal and Wilcox, which afforded Stiemsma an opportunity to play.

Did he ever.

In his first NBA game at New Orleans in December, he swatted six shots - a franchise record for a rookie in his first game.

That was just the beginning, as Stiemsma continued to showcase an uncanny knack for rejecting shots at a rate unlike anything the C's have seen recently. Stiemsma led the Celtics in total blocks (85) and blocks per game (1.55) despite playing in 55 games with just three starts.

His 1.55 blocks per game ranked second among rookies, and 14th overall in the NBA this past season.

Celtics great and Comcast SportsNet analyst Tommy Heinsohn said Stiemsma's timing on blocking shots was reminiscent to one of Heinsohn's former teammates, Bill Russell.

Such praise only increased as Stiemsma's status with the Celtics continued to grow by leaps and bounds - along with a slew of nicknames such as Steemer and Steamroller.

"He's the Steamroller," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "You bring it into the lane, and he's going to steamroll you."

One of Stiemsma's biggest influences has been Garnett, who was among the first to sing his praises well before he became a player that teams had to account for on the scouting report.

He came from the bottom, came from nothing, very appreciative of his opportunity, Garnett said. He comes in and works his ass off. Im not just saying that. He comes in and works his ass off, a true professional. Youre just happy to see a guy get an opportunity like that and more importantly take advantage of it.

And like Bradley, all the individual success has brought him to this point where the C's are in the playoffs with both being counted on to be significant contributors.

Bradley will be part of the bevy of Celtics defenders who will spend time guarding Joe Johnson. Stiemsma will be expected to continue doing a solid job on the boards, in addition to patrolling the paint either as a shot-blocker or having a presence that makes the Hawks think twice about trying to score in the lane.

It has been quite a journey for these two, a journey that neither wants to see end anytime soon.

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.