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Isaiah Thomas on track to return vs. Heat

3/24/2015

NEW YORK -- Isaiah Thomas missed his eighth straight game on Monday night in Brooklyn, but Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the injured guard is "as close to probable as it gets" for Wednesday's game against the Miami Heat.

That sets the table for Thomas to potentially return against the team he suffered a bruised back against on March 9 when he hit the floor hard after a late-game drive to the basket. After enduring some abnormal swelling, Thomas has recently resumed basketball activities and Stevens sounded optimistic about his chances to play on Wednesday.

"From everything I've been told -- I have not talked to anybody [back in Boston on Monday] -- but everything I've been told by [the training staff] here is that Wednesday is as close to probable as it gets for now," Stevens said. "We feel good about him playing. He started to do a lot more movement and a lot more working out and shooting. He hasn't played with our guys yet, which is kinda the next step, maybe even in a breakdown sense in shootaround on Wednesday."

The Celtics won their first four games without Thomas, but lost three in a row before posting a 110-91 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night at Barclays Center.

Thomas had been averaging a team-best 21.4 points over 27.6 minutes per game in 10 appearances since being acquired at February's trade deadline. The Celtics have missed his scoring prowess, especially in the fourth quarter when he had emerged as their go-to option in close games.

Smart: 'I'm not a dirty player': In the immediate aftermath of GroinGate, Celtics guard Marcus Smart tried to reason it was a "freak accident." The league didn't buy it and handed down a one-game suspension, but Smart held firm to his explanation before he returned to game action on Monday.

"I still look at it that way," Smart said. "I can definitely see where it comes off to where the NBA makes a decision. I respect the decision they made. I've got to live with it. Looking at the film, it does look a little intentional. But like I said before, that's not who I am. I'm not a dirty player, nor was I trying to -- but looking at the film, like I said, I can definitely see where that comes into play. The NBA made the right decision with the one-game suspension and I'm just glad to be back out here [Monday]."

Smart eased himself back in with two points on 1-of-3 shooting with two steals over 23 minutes in Monday's win. The Celtics started Jae Crowder in his place in the second half looking to add some size and grit after Brooklyn dominated second-chance points (16-0) in the first half.

Smart has endured two flagrant-2 fouls this month -- the other coming when he elbowed Orlando's Elfrid Payton while trying to draw contact on a drive to the basket -- and another would trigger another one-game suspension. Smart was asked Monday if he worried about developing a reputation as a dirty player.

"No, not at all," Smart said. "Because I'm not. My coach and my team, a lot of players know I'm not a dirty player. I am a physical player, no doubt about that. But a dirty one? That's not in my reputation."

Back-to-backs suit young C's: The Celtics had been downright unstoppable in back-to-backs recently, and that continued with Monday's win in Brooklyn that erased the sour taste of Sunday's loss to the Pistons.

Ever since turning around their season with consecutive one-point wins over the Blazers and Nuggets on Jan. 22-23, the Celtics are 8-1 on the second night of back-to-backs (the only loss in Milwaukee on Feb. 7). Boston has won five straight second games of a back-to-back.

Given all the chatter about how much the Celtics used to struggle on the second night of back-to-backs during the Big Three era, it's still somewhat surprising to see these young Celtics thrive on consecutive nights. The Celtics have three back-to-backs remaining before the end of the regular season.

A home game? The Celtics were serenaded by a loud "Let's Go Celtics!" chant in the final moments of Monday's win. Once the game slipped away from the Nets, most fans made an early break for the exits, but those in green stuck around to cheer on the visitors at the Barclays Center.

"Our crowd, sometimes they with us, sometimes they not," Brooklyn's Alan Anderson said. "When we're playing like that, what do you expect?"