Celtics let opportunity slip away vs. Sixers

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Celtics let opportunity slip away vs. Sixers

The same thing happened against the Hawks.

It was the night before Game 1, and over in Chicago, Derrick Rose tore his ACL, ending his season and placing the Bulls in serious danger. Back in Boston, the Celtics hadnt even taken the court for Round 1, but the conversation had already moved past Atlanta and on to the second round.

Can the Sixers beat Chicago? Either way, with Rose out of the picture, are the Celtics now a legitimate threat to move on to Miami?

Roses injury was the break that Boston was waiting for. The latest in a series of late season dominoes to fall in their favor and inject hope into a lost season. There was a time when the mere thought of the Conference Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus press conference, but with one injury, the Conference Finals became the expectation. The seas had parted, and in our eyes, all the Celtics had to do was dance down the middle, through the Hawks and whomever else.

Destination: Miami.

The next day, the Celtics laid an egg in Atlanta, and woke us from the perverted dream. Suddenly, Derrick Rose the Bulls the Sixers nothing mattered. The Cs had a battle on their hands, and spent the next five games and a whole bunch of energy and effort fighting for their playoff lives.

They eventually took down the Hawks in the first round, the Sixers in Game 1 of the second and then, it happened again.

It was the night before Game 2, and down in Miami, Chris Bosh strained his abdomen. When the dust settled, and the Heat classified him as out indefinitely we fell right back into the dream.

Another round, another major domino. Of course, Chris Bosh isnt Derrick Rose (hes barely Carlos Boozer), and his injury was nowhere near as serious. But whether hes significantly less than 100 or altogether absent, the injury presented a legitimate threat to Miamis chances.

Back in Boston, the conversation moved past Philly and onto the Conference Finals.

"Can the Celtics beat the Heat?" became "The Celtics can beat the Heat!"

There was a time when the mere thought of the NBA Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus dance party, but now it was the expectation. Or at the very least, a legit possibility. The seas were parting again, and all Boston had to do was follow their Basketball Moses down the middle.

Destination: NBA Finals.

Last night, we were all hit with another wake up call.

Suddenly, Bosh the Heat the Pacers the NBA Finals nothing matters. The Celtics have another battle on their hands. Now, they're without home court advantage against a young team that's brimming with confidence. Now, we're back to obsessing over Paul Pierce's knee, Rondo's late game decision-making, whether KG can carry them every night. From looking into the future to worrying whether there will be a future at all. It's Atlanta all over again.

And just like with Atlanta, the most frustrating part of all this is the knowledge that the Celtics are the better team.

It would be one thing if we still had that mindset from earlier in the season. When the second round was the ceiling. When the Celtics didn't have a chance. When we'd made peace with the futile end of the Big Three era and were prepared to watch them go down peacefully. Back when we had no expectations, a night like last night wouldn't have hurt so badly.

But now, things have changed. With the Celtics, and all around them. To this point, the playoffs have been like a sequel to Angels in the Outfield Leprechauns in the Backcourt (working title). We've watched the Basketball Gods strike down other teams, give KG wings and make believers out of everyone. Destiny's basically called a team meeting and is screaming in the Celtics ears: "It's right here, guys! I'm doing this all for you! Why do you have to make this so much harder than it has to be?"

But they still don't get it. Like Game 1 in Atlanta, and especially Game 5 in Atlanta, last night the Celtics missed another huge opportunity to help destiny along. To take advantage of their unbelievable good fortune and put themselves in the best position for another unlikely, yet entirely realistic trip to the NBA Finals.

But now as opposed to yesterday, and thanks to last night that potential trip to the NBA Finals, even the Conference Finals, is the farthest thing from our mind.

The Celtics once again have their hands full, and will spend a whole lot of effort and energy fighting for their playoff lives.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

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Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

Isaiah Thomas has established himself as one of the NBA’s top players in the fourth quarter of games this season.

“I’d rather play that than any other quarter,” Thomas said.

But there will be times when the game’s flow or head coach Brad Stevens’ gut will tell him to go in a different direction with Thomas’ minutes which is something the two have had conversations about which has helped eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

“We’ve had player-coach talks, how he feels and how I feel,” Thomas said. “That’s the relationship we have. We changed it up a little bit (in the win over Sacramento) and I’m just happy we got the win.”

In that game, Thomas was replaced by Terry Rozier with 3:20 to play in the quarter and Boston trailing 66-63. He returned to the floor at the 8:31 mark and the Celtics were down 76-74.

“The key is, there are some times where you feel like those last few minutes of the third quarter will be real important moving forward,” Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “Especially based on how your team is playing. And you just have to make that decision. You have to make that decision, you take him out early in the third like we did (against Sacramento) and put him back in earlier; or play him through until the two or one-minute mark in the third, and then give him his rest up until the seven or six. Either way, we’ve talked about it like I do with all our guys, especially the guys that are playing and big in the rotation.

Stevens would love to come up with a game plan and stick to it with little to no changes being made.

But the NBA game is unpredictable and his job as the head coach is to make the necessary on-the-fly changes that best position the Celtics for victory.

“Ultimately there will be days that it will be very consistent and there might be a time or two where I’m gonna go with my gut,” Stevens said. “They know that and we’ve talked about it.”

And while Stevens’ decision may not sit well with some, players understand it’s all done to achieve one goal – win. 

“There’s a number of reasons why you make a decision to leave someone in or take someone out,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, we have to figure out game to game, moment to moment, what’s best for our team. That’s what I’m charged with. That doesn’t mean I’m always right. I’m not gonna act like that. Ultimately, those guys know I’m thinking about it all the time.”

C's Mickey sent to D-League

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C's Mickey sent to D-League

Jordan Mickey, inactive in five of the Boston Celtics’ last six games, has been assigned to the Maine Red Claws of the Development League.

“He’s been inactive in a few of these games here,” Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game at Philadelphia. “And rather than being inactive and being here in a suit and tie, we knew there was a hockey game this afternoon and it was going to be unlikely to get much action on the court at all today. So it made a lot more sense to play for a couple days and fly down to Houston and meet us.”

Mickey has appeared in just eight games this season, averaging 2.2 points and 1.8 rebounds while shooting 47.1 percent from the field.

Tonight will be the former second-round pick’s 10th missed game this season, five in which he did not play (coaches decision) and another five in which he will be inactive.

The lack of playing time for the second-year player has more to do with Boston’s depth in the frontcourt than anything specific to his game.

“He’s done a good job,” Stevens said of Mickey. “It’s the same old thing that last year although we’re not quite as deep at that spot. But it’s still, at the end of the day we have to make a decision of, are we going to play more traditional or are we going to slide like a Jonas (Jerebko) or Jae (Crowder) over to the four (power forward) and play more spaced which limits the amount of bigs you can have in a game.

Stevens added, “he’s done a good job.  He’s made progress. I don’t think there’s any question we think he’s a guy that can help us not only down the road but this year.”

Mickey is in the lineup for the Red Claws’ game tonight against Santa Cruz and he’s also scheduled to play in Sunday’s game against the Raptors 905 with both games being televised via Facebook Live.