Celtics-Kings preview: West Coast finale


Celtics-Kings preview: West Coast finale

SACRAMENTO Doc Rivers isn't one to get too caught up in the Boston Celtics' schedule even when it clearly is to their disadvantage.

But after a lengthy road trip that has resulted in nothing but losses since coming out West, Rivers was more than a little perturbed that their last game on this trip -- tonight at Sacramento -- comes less than 24 hours later after playing Golden State.

Saturday's loss to Golden State had a 10:30 p.m. start time while tonight's game against Sacramento begins at 9 p.m.

"I do think it's a joke we're playing at 6 (p.m., local time)," Rivers said. "I saw that on the schedule, complained about it . . . obviously nothing changed. But to be playing in 22 12 hours, your last game of the trip, is a joke. That's an absolute joke. But it is what it is."

For Boston, it's one last opportunity to salvage what they can from a trip that has only reinforced their image as an up-and-down team.

A confidence-lifting win at Brooklyn on Christmas Day has been followed by a pair of blowout losses to up-and-coming Western Conference teams.

And the Kings (10-19), winners in five of their last six home games, are starting to play some of their best basketball of the season which only adds to what has been a challenging road trip for the Celtics.

Here are some keys to tonight's matchup as the Celtics seek to avoid dropping two games below .500 since they opened the season with a pair of losses.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With the Celtics short-handed in the backcourt, the Kings will look to push the tempo as much as possible. Although it hasn't resulted in many wins this season, the Kings have been a decent team in terms of scoring in transition. They come into tonight's game averaging 15.3 fast-break points per game which ranks ninth in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jason Terry vs Marcus Thornton. In the Celtics lone game against the Kings last season, Thornton lit them up for 36 points in one of the biggest Sacramento blowout wins (120-95) over the Celtics ever. With Rajon Rondo (right hipthigh) likely out for a second straight game, getting good shots for Terry will be challenging yet again for Boston.

PLAYER TO WATCH: DeMarcus Cousins is so talented, it's hard not to keep all eyes on him when he plays. But far too often it his temper and not his talent, that leaves an indelible impression on the game. If he sticks to the latter, the Celtics -- a team that has been rumored to have some interest in trading for him -- are going to be in for a long, long night.

STAT TO TRACK: In the last two games, Boston's three-point shooting defense has been horrible. The Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State each nailed a dozen 3s, something the C's had not allowed to happen in consecutive games since Seattle (now Oklahoma City) and Toronto did it in December of 2003 with 17 and 13 made threes, respectively.

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.