Knowledge is power for Celtics' attentive Johnson

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Knowledge is power for Celtics' attentive Johnson

During the long plane rides, JaJuan Johnson turned to his teammate sitting across the aisle, asked a question, then intently listened to the response as the Boston Celtics traveled to their next destination.

As long as Kevin Garnett was willing to share his wisdom and experience during those trips, the rookie was eager to take it all in.

I sat across from him on the plane, so wed talk every flight, Johnson told CSNNE.com. He's all about listening. If you listen to him, he's going to share anything with you, so it's pretty cool.

Johnson didnt have much opportunity for playing time on a veteran squad in his first year. But perhaps just as valuable was the time he had with his teammates, including Garnett and Rajon Rondo, who he developed strong relationships with over the season.

It makes it easy just because I feel comfortable enough where I can ask about anything and they're going to give me an honest answer, Johnson, 23, said. You've got to really appreciate that because even though this is my first year, I feel like a lot of the other rookies didn't have a chance to do what myself and ETwaun (Moore) and Greg (Stiemsma) did.

The Celtics acquired Johnson on Draft Night last summer after he was selected by the New Jersey Nets with the 27th pick out of Purdue University. At 6-10, he was a long athletic power forward with a jumpshot and shot-blocking skills.

He was also patient. After averaging 35.4 minutes per game his senior year of college, he appeared in just 36 games for the Celtics as a rookie, averaging 8.3 minutes per game. He did not play in the C's postseason run which reached Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

I think our guys really kind of help us and talk to us and encourage us, Johnson said. Even if we're not playing, they make us feel like we're part of the team. I think with this veteran group of guys, it really helps. They're willing to show you stuff. All you've got to do is ask these guys and they'll do whatever they can to help you.

In addition to learning about the Celtics approach on the court, he has also picked up on their habits of studying up for game days. He became accustomed to pouring over scouting reports and analyzing his opponents tendencies on both ends of the floor.

If I took one thing from this year, it's really studying offensively and defensively what the other team likes to do, he sad. I was pretty amazed by how much these guys really do outside of just what we do here as far as watching film. That's the big thing that I really learned.

Johnson looks to put those words of advice to use during Summer League action next month. As one of just four players under contract with the Celtics next season, he believes he can fit into their system in his second year.

He also continues to work on adding on muscle. Johnson faced skepticism upon entering the league because of his stature. He estimates he has gained 10 pounds since being drafted and currently weighs around 225 pounds. Johnson would like to reach 230 pounds while maintaining his running and jumping explosiveness.

I'm athletic, I can run, jump, block shots, knock down shots, and bring some athleticism to our team and energy, he said. Obviously this summer I'm going to really try to work on getting stronger and things like that, but I definitely feel like next year, I'll be able to contribute more to the team.

If he has questions along the way, he knows he has met a group of veterans he can always call upon.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.