Blakely: Celtics loss to Heat proves they're still a work in progress

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Blakely: Celtics loss to Heat proves they're still a work in progress

MIAMI There was no spilled blood or mangled body parts at America Airlines Arena as the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat kicked off the first chapter of what should be yet another brutal annual rivalry Tuesday night that ended with a 120-107 Celtics loss.

It was just the first of many battles to be waged between these foes, but there was no mistaking that this game meant more to all involved than it being just one of 82 games which they have been trying to sell folks on for weeks.

Nobody is buying that.

The Heat were out to prove that they were a wiser, smarter bunch than the franchise's first title winner in 2006 that opened defense of their crown by getting smashed by the Chicago Bulls in the opener.

And the Celtics were set on establishing that their depth, experience and all those cut-and-paste small ball lineups Doc Rivers can use, would truly be "lethal" in the games that really mattered.

However in their first game, the C's second unit managed to be outscored by the Miami backups, 32-29.

And during a stretch early in the third quarter, Miami pushed its lead to double digits with both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade on the bench.

"That should never happen," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You can see they're ahead of us in continuity and all that."

And that lack of continuity is among the many reasons why the Celtics, while disappointed, are far from discouraged.

"We're not where we want to be," said C's newcomer Jason Terry. "But we will eventually."

It was refreshing after the game that most of the focus was on the actual game played, and not all the various subplots that had been dissected in the weeks leading up to the season opener.

Aside from a few hard fouls and what appeared to be some lingering hard feelings, the game was relatively free of drama.

The only moments where the tension was clearly noticeable came in the first quarter when Ray Allen tapped the shoulder of Kevin Garnett who was on the C's bench at the time, and Garnett ignored him.

"You guys know KG," Allen told a handful of Boston media. "Did you expect him to react? Kevin, he's an intense competitor. On the bench, he's in a different world; he's in a different zone. The five years I played with him, you have to respect that."

But breaking down whatever reasonsissues KG had for doing - or in this case, not doing anything - is pointless.

The C's have bigger, more important issues to worry about.

Doc Rivers had expressed concerns about his defense throughout the preseason, and they were in full blown, nowhere-to-be-found mode against a Heat team that racked up 93 points in just three quarters.

"That's not who we are; the way we defended tonight," said Paul Pierce.

All those small ball lineups that Doc Rivers loves to unleash, all came up small most of the game.

Jeff Green, arguably the best player for the C's in the preseason, was a non-factor and far too often looked lost, confused and when guarding LeBron James, flat-out abused.

"It all starts on the defensive end," Green said. "I didn't feel I was as aggressive on the defensive end as I should have been."

He wasn't alone.

Defense. Small ball challenges. Lots of first-half turnovers.

Yes, it was the first of 82 regular season games.

But this one means more not because of the outcome, but the opportunity it presents.

"Tonight was a good measuring stick for us," Pierce said. "We played against a team that's the best team in the NBA; they are the champs. There's a good chance for us to see where we're at. We got a lot of work to do. Obviously it's Game 1. We're not going to be the same team. As the year goes on, we understand it's a work in progress."

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.