Celtics notebook: Isaiah Thomas plants seeds of importance of strong finish in Eastern Conference standings
When asked about their place in the standings, athletes often claim to not pay attention and default to “one game at a time” cliches.
Not Isaiah Thomas.
“I look at them every minute, every chance I can,” Thomas said. “I’m always looking at them.”
The Celtics are one of three teams racing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. Along with the Washington Wizards, the C’s trail the scuffling Cleveland Cavaliers by two games.
Thomas underscored the significance of claiming one of the top two seeds.
“I think it’s very important,” Thomas said. “Whether one or two, I think it’s important to be in that position. We were in that position, we still are but we’ve just got to be able to take control of things we can control. That’s going out there and being us. But I think it’s very important to get that two seed. That’d be good for us.”
With the stretch run in front of them, the Celtics are going to be enjoying some home cooking. The grueling part of their schedule is behind them, and 10 of the final 15 games will be played at the Garden. All will be on the East Coast, and their longest remaining road trip is two games.
“We’re for sure trying to get momentum going into the playoffs. We’ve got a great opportunity right in front of us to play a lot of games at home,” Jae Crowder said. “All of these games are in one timezone so that makes a big difference.”
The C’s boast a 22-9 record at home and Marcus Smart said the team is looking to keep it rolling.
“When we play here, we’ve been playing very well,” Smart said. “We’ve got our fans behind us so the energy is going to be with us, and now we’ve got to feed off of it.”
With the Celtics back to full health for the first time in months, coach Brad Stevens explained that they’ll also be refining the chemistry as the regular season winds down.
“The negative part about being unhealthy was, this group hasn’t played together as much as you’d like,” Stevens said. “So it’s good to still have a month left to hopefully get their rhythm.”
That isn’t something that happens overnight.
“(It’s) going to take the rest of these 15 games, probably,” Crowder said. “(Yesterday was) a great practice with the starters going up and down together. Just getting back into the groove of things. We had a good groove when we did play together before injuries and stuff like that. We just want to get back to that. We’ve got to take each practice to get better, not only just game days, but I think with these 15 games we’ll find the right wave and just ride it out.”
Dances with ’Wolves
Tomorrow night, the Timberwolves visit the Garden, and the Celtics don’t see Minnesota often. Neither do the fans, as the Timberwolves rarely are on national television.
Smart provided a brief scouting report of what to expect. “Heart,” he said. “They’re young and they play hard.”
Stevens expounded on Smart’s take.
“Elite talent when you’re talking about (Andrew) Wiggins and (Karl-Anthony) Towns,” Stevens said. “Both those guys could go for 35-40 on a given night, and both are two of the more electric young players in the league.”
Although they’re currently out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference, Stevens still believes the Minnesota defense is relentless under coach Tom Thibodeau, the former C’s assistant under Doc Rivers.
“What I’m seeing on film is a team that is playing at a way different level than when we played them in November,” Stevens said. “Defensively I think they’ve been No. 1 in the league since the All-Star break. I think (Ricky) Rubio is kind of the head of that. I think he is a tough, tough guy, both defensively and just kind of in leading a team.”
No rookie mistake
Jaylen Brown has been impressive since the All-Star break while averaging 11.5 points, shooting better than 50 percent and letting the 3-pointers fly. The rookie’s minutes are up to more than 24 per game, and Thomas believes that much time on the court has done a lot for the maturation process.
“He’s getting the opportunity. A lot of those guys that the game hasn’t slowed down for years .?.?. they don’t get the chance,” Thomas said. “Or when they do, it’s for two or three minutes here and there in a game, and that’s tough for a young guy. He’s getting valuable minutes on a playoff team, and he’s taking advantage of it.”