Blakely: Celtics offense dictating poor defense

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Blakely: Celtics offense dictating poor defense

OAKLAND, Calif. The Boston Celtics have built a foundation on strong defensive principles that at the very least, are unsettled right now.

The identity of this team has been that they are a cohesive unit defensively with any number of able-bodied players who can put up big numbers scoring.

Because of that, they could withstand an occasional offensive lull and still hold their own or more often than not, win.

But this is a different season, a different team.

And that defensive foundation?

It has changed too ... and it's not for the better, either.

These days, the Celtics tend to allow their offense to dictate their play defensively.

So when shots don't fall, they have nothing to lean on to carry them through the tough dry spells that all teams have to endure over the course of a game.

And that inability has been at the core of this team's problems this year, problems that were apparent for most of Saturday night as the Celtics dropped their second straight game, 101-83, to Golden State.

The loss slips the Celtics (14-15) to below-.500 status, a position they have not been in since Nov. 9.

And while there are sure to be parallels drawn between what the C's are doing now and what they did last year (Boston was 15-14 after 29 games a year ago), there's one big difference:

Last year's team was out of shape courtesy of the NBA lockout. And even that didn't take away from them having a strong defensive identity even in those early season losses.

This group?

Game after game, it's one defensive breakdown after another that add up to rough times and most significant, mounting losses.

Doc Rivers won't hesitate in letting anyone within earshot know that he's still learning about this team.

Sadly, there are some truths about the C's this season that he'd wish didn't exist.

The way they let their shooting dictate their play is one of them.

"That's the one thing I do know about this team," Rivers said. "In the past, we could play bad and still win because we didn't get frustrated if the offense (struggled). This is not that group so far. When we miss shots, we are a bad defensive team. Right now, our offense absolutely dictates how hard, how well, how disciplined we stay on defense. That's something I've seen and continues."

Rivers added, "that's our identity. That's who we are right now. You got the whole year to change it, but you have to change it quickly."

Celtics big man Kevin Garnett has also recognized the change with this team - so far at least - not being as locked in defensively as C's teams of the past.

"Since I've been here, we've been a defensive team that has been fueled by the defense," Garnett said. "And that has turned into some offense. Right now, we're not that. Somehow through practice, through repetition, whatever it may be, we have to change that."

Said Paul Pierce: "We have to figure out who we want to be. Do we want to be a defense-first team? If we're not going to be a defensive team, we have to be a better offensive team. It's gotta be something. We still have to find our way."

Quotes, notes and stars: Fourth inning 'a grind' for Porcello

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Quotes, notes and stars: Fourth inning 'a grind' for Porcello

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 8-2 win over Tampa Bay

 

QUOTES

"I can't say enough about the way our position players have continued to grind away. . . Tonight was just another example of that.'' - John Farrell.

"He's been everything that we could have hoped. You look to a starting pitcher to go out and be consistent every fifth day -- he's been a model of that for us.'' - Farrell on Rick Porcello.

"It's nice to come back with a statement game tonight. The past couple of week haven't been good for us, so it was nice to get back on the right track tonight.'' - Travis Shaw.

"Preventing them from scoring first was big and then limiting the big inning. The fourth inning was a grind. I dug myself a hole and had to find a way out of it.'' - Rick Porcello.

 

NOTES

* Rick Porcello became the first Red Sox starter to record a win since David Price beat Seattle on Jume 19.

* Porcello is unbeaten over his last eight starts, going 3-0 with five no-decisions.

* Porcello had gone 19 straight starts without allowing more than two walks, the longest such streak for a Red Sox starter since Curt Schilling went 33 in a row.

* The Red Sox snapped a three-game losing streak and are one of two teams (Cleveland is the other) to not have lost four straight this season.

* Boston has a major league-leading 22 games in which it has scored eight or more runs.

* The first six hitters in the Red Sox lineup were 11-for-24, while the bottom three were a combined 0-for-13.

* Travis Shaw's home run was measured at 449 feet, the second-longest homer by a Red Sox player this season.

* In one night, Travis Shaw had more RBI (five) than he had in his previous 27 games (four).

* David Ortiz tied Frank Thomas in career RBI (1,704); both are in 23rd place.

 

STARS

1) Travis Shaw

Shaw belted out three hits -- including his first homer in the month of June -- and knocked in five RBI, tying a career high.

2) Rick Porcello

In a perfect world, Porcello would have gone a little deeper, but kept the Rays off the scoreboard early and helped set the tone for the night.

3) Hanley Ramirez

Ramirez reached base five times with two hits -- both singles -- and three walks - one intentional - and seemed to be in the middle of every Red Sox rally.

 

First impressions: Red Sox bounce back with 8-2 win

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First impressions: Red Sox bounce back with 8-2 win

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 8-2 win over the Tampa Bay Rays:

 

Rick Porcello gave the Red Sox everything they needed - except for that fourth inning.

On the current road trip, the Red Sox starters had been knocked around regularly, getting knocked out of the box early. The bullpen was overworked and the offense demoralized from being down early, night after night.

Beyond allowing a two-out double to Evan Longoria, Porcello pitched a virtually incident-free first inning and really wasn't pressured through the first three innings.

In the fourth, his command essentially disappeared, as he issued three walks, the last of which came with the bases loaded, forcing in a run. But with the bases loaded and just one out, Porcello toughened, retiring Logan Forsythe on a flyout to shallow right, then slipping a called third strike past Brad Miller.

The inning took its toll as far as elevating Porcello's pitch count, with 39 pitches needed. That eventually cost him an inning, but he got through six frames and allowed just one run.

All things considered, it was one of the most important starts of the season for a Red Sox pitcher.

 

Even on nights when he's not contributing at the plate, Bryce Brentz helps out with his glove.

Brentz has been a nice surprise at the plate since being called up last week when the Red Sox ran out of left fielders, with seven hits in his first four games.

On Tuesday, he was hitless with three stirkeouts, but he made a terrific sliding catch in the sixth, coming on to make a sliding grab on a sinking liner from Nick Franklin.

Brentz has always been well thought of as a defender in the outfield with a strong arm, and for past week, he's shown that with a number of fine plays in left.

 

There was an obvious sense of urgency to the Red Sox

You could sense it as Hanley Ramirez scored from first on a double by Jackie Bradley Jr. in the fifth. Or the hustle shown by Bradley in the seventh, going first-to-home with a slide to score on a double by Travis Shaw.

You could see it -- and hear it -- when Porcello pitched out of his bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth. Porcello let loose with a primal scream as he got Brad Miller on a called third strike, stranding three baserunners.

It's hard to label a game in late June as a "must win'' but given how the first four games of this road trip have played out, this was close. And the Red Sox responded.

 

OFFSEASON

Future uncertain for Johnson and Jerebko as Celtics pursue Durant

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Future uncertain for Johnson and Jerebko as Celtics pursue Durant

BOSTON -- When you’re the Boston Celtics and you have your sights set on a star like Kevin Durant, the potential impact on your roster is undeniable.

That’s a good thing, right?

Well . . . not exactly.

One of the options that the Celtics are considering during the free agency period is whether to waive Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko before July 3 which would create additional salary cap space to potentially sign Durant and another near max-salaried player.

But here’s the problem.

Boston could potentially waive Johnson and Jerebko, fail to get Durant or another elite free agent and see the duo gone for nothing in return while they play their way into a big contract toiling in the NBA’s basement with one of the league’s worst teams.

How you ask?

Multiple league sources contacted by CSNNE.com Tuesday night indicated that if the Celtics waive both players, it’s “very likely” that both will be claimed off waivers.

According to a league office official, waiver priority goes to the team with the worst record attempting to claim a player.

And what team had the worst record in the NBA last season?

Yup. The 10-win Philadelphia 76ers.

And what team was right behind them, or ahead depending on how you look at things?

The lowly, 17-win Los Angeles Lakers.

Johnson is due $12 million next season while Jerebko is due to earn $5 million, chump change in this new age of the NBA with the 2016-2017 salary cap expected to be around $94 million.

In addition, both players would join clubs in contract years. Couple that with each being relatively productive and there’s the potential for each player to have a really big season.

Johnson was the Celtics’ top rim-protector last season, in addition to being a solid pick-and-roll defender. He also averaged 7.3 points, 6.4 rebounds with 1.7 assists and 1.1 blocked shots per game. 

And Jerebko shot 39.8 percent from 3-point range last season, and finished up the playoffs in the starting lineup.

The Celtics are well aware of how valuable both players were to Boston’s success last season, and how their production relative to their contracts makes them extremely important to whatever team they play for.

To lose them for what would essentially be a lottery ticket in the Durant sweepstakes, is certainly a gamble that it remains to be seen if the Celtics are willing to take.

Best-case scenario for Boston is to know where they stand with Durant within the first 24 hours of free agency which would then allow them time to make a more informed decision about Johnson and Jerebko’s futures.

As you can imagine, the Celtics are as eager as any team to know what Durant plans to do this summer.

Because the way things are starting to take shape with Boston’s pursuit of the former league MVP, he’s going to have an impact on the Celtics’ roster one way or another.