Celtics blaze Portland, 96-78


Celtics blaze Portland, 96-78

BOSTON Within the first three minutes, the Boston Celtics had delivered a hard foul, blocked a shot courtesy of good help-side defense and opened with a 7-1 run.

Physical play. Good defense. Efficient offense.

It was the kind of balanced attack Doc Rivers has been searching for all season, the kind of performance this team badly needed.

When the Celtics play like that, few teams can beat them.

And if you're one of the Western Conference's weaker clubs - a team like Portland - things could get ugly real quick.

That's exactly what happened on Friday as the Celtics delivered a decisive 96-78 whipping to the Blazers.

Making the win even more impressive was it came without the C's floor leader Rajon Rondo, who served the first game of his two-game suspension for an incident involving himself and Brooklyn's Kris Humphries on Wednesday.

Replacing Rondo in the starting lineup was Courtney Lee, who had a Rondo-like first quarter with four points, three rebounds and three assists. He would finish with a near triple-double of 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Boston's victory was indeed a team-wide success, as contributions poured in from just about every Celtic in uniform.

Jeff Green, who was a game-time decision because of a right knee injury suffered on Wednesday, had one of his best games this season with 14 of his team-high 19 points coming in the first half. Portland was led by LaMarcus Aldridge who scored a game-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds.

The Celtics' scoring was fueled in large part by a strong defensive presence at all five positions, resulting in Portland shooting just 31.3 percent in the first quarter and a pitiful 23.3 percent at the half which ended with the C's leading 56-33.

For Boston (9-7), it was the kind of first half that they needed.

With a road game at Milwaukee on Saturday, the strong first half set the stage for Boston to rest their core guys for a good chunk of the second half. It would also afford some of their end-of-the-bench guys to get some minutes, as well as rookie Kris Joseph (2 points) who was recently called up from the Maine Red Claws of the D-League and scored his first NBA points.

And maybe most significant, it was an opportunity to win without Rondo who will not play on Saturday against the Bucks as well.

As for Portland, Friday's loss only adds to what has been a miserable road trip for the Blazers that includes a loss to the then-winless Washington Wizards.

Even Portland's talented rookie Damien Lilliard could not get into any kind of flow or rhythm. A 19.1 points per game this season, he only had two points in the first half while missing five of his six shot attempts. He finished with eight points on 2-for-8 shooting.

But the Celtics have shown a tendency to let their guard down when things come too easy, but Friday proved to be the exception.

Boston's 23-point lead at the half remained in the 20s most of the third quarter before a mini-run by the Blazers cut Boston's lead to 75-59 going into the fourth quarter.

The Celtics increased their lead in the fourth before Rivers emptied the bench so that the entire active roster saw action, including Joseph.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line


Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.