C's look for win vs. Heat despite sideshow atmosphere

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C's look for win vs. Heat despite sideshow atmosphere

BOSTON The long-awaited return of Ray Allen to the TD Garden to face his former team isn't going to have quite the sizzle that many anticipated when the schedules came out in the summer.

Allen's first game against his former team is just one of the many story lines in what would be a big game regardless of whether he joined forces with the C's biggest nemesis.

If not for a game-for-the-ages performance by LeBron James on this same TD Garden in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat would not be defending NBA champions and potentially, Allen might not be a member of the Heat.

More important to the Celtics than Allen's return, is their return to actually winning a game - something they have failed to do in their last six games which is something that never happened during Allen's five seasons with Boston.

Adding to the C's misery is they come into Sunday's game off what was one of the biggest collapses in franchise history, blowing a 27-point lead to the Atlanta Hawks who rallied for a 123-111 double overtime win Friday night.

As the Celtics (20-23) continue to try and fight their way through what has been a difficult and trying season, Allen's return and how the fans will treat him is the farthest thing from the mind of most of the C's right now.

"We're just trying to win games right now," C's guard Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "That's the only thing we're thinking about right now."

Maybe so, but that doesn't take away from the sideshow atmosphere that will surely engulf the TD Garden courtesy of Allen's decision to take his talents to South Beach rather than re-sign with Boston for significantly more money.

"I don't want it to distract these guys from everybody doing their job and being ready to play," Allen told reporters in Miami.

Allen's departure and the many elements that played a role in it, speaks volumes about how quickly things changed for him shortly after the C's won it all in 2008.

From that point on, Allen was the subject of trade rumors and was very close to being dealt to the Memphis Grizzlies for O.J. Mayo shortly before last year's trading deadline.

Always being on the trading block, coupled with an evolving role on the court that he did not feel comfortable with, made the decision to join forces with an arch-rival easier.

Allen lost his starting job to an up-and-coming Avery Bradley last season, begrudgingly becoming the team's sixth man.

And when the offseason came around, the Celtics didn't waste much time in signing then-free agent Jason Terry which was seen by many as a replacement for Allen who was an unrestricted free agent. The C's did offer Allen a multi-year deal for significantly more money than the Heat, but the Terry signing most likely meant fewer minutes for Allen if he did decide to re-sign with the Celtics.

Those were just some of the factors that eventually led to him signing with the Heat, a decision that has worked out quite well for both Allen and the Heat.

Miami, the reigning NBA champions, have the best record in the Eastern Conference with Allen playing a key part in that success.

He has appeared in 39 games (all coming off the bench) for Miami this season, averaging 11.4 points while playing 25.5 minutes per game.

There's no telling how Allen will handle his return emotionally, or what kind of reception he'll get from the Celtics fans who Allen knows all too well can be an unforgiving bunch when they feel betrayed - a sentiment many around New England felt when Allen joined the Miami Heat.

'It's an interesting concept because I've always gotten a warm welcome (in Boston)," Allen told reporters in Miami. "Even before I started playing there. I just want to win. Everything else will take care of itself."

As was the case at the start of the season, the Celtics have had little to say on Allen's departure.

Kevin Garnett said he didn't reach out to Allen this summer because he lost his phone number. And in their first meeting at the start of the season in Miami, Allen made his way towards the Celtics bench only for chilly non-greeting, greeting from Garnett who at the time looked away.

There's no telling what level of interaction there will be among the Celtics players and Allen Sunday afternoon.

But like most games involving these two, it will be worth watching for sure.

And Allen's return is just another storyline to pay attention to.

"There's a lot of stories, but you can throw records out the window when we play Boston," said Miami's Dwyane Wade. "It's significant because we have Ray Allen and it's his first time back, but we're going on the road and we want to play well and it's a tough place to play."

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”
 

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
 
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
 
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.