Celtics re-discover defensive dominance

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Celtics re-discover defensive dominance

BOSTON At the end of the first quarter, the Boston Celtics had almost twice as many made field goals (11) as the Sixers (6).

That, combined with a slight rebounding advantage (10-9) at that point positioned them to do what Doc Rivers has been patiently waiting to see all season - a sustained night of good defense.

Rivers got his wish on Saturday as the Celtics defeated Philadelphia 92-79 in a game that they led from the beginning until the final horn sounded.

Focusing on the Celtics' 53.3 percent shooting as being the key to their win over the Sixers is easy.

But knocking down all those shots had little to do with one of the Celtics delivering one of their more dominant defensive performances this season.

"Our defense is why we won," Rivers said.

And it wasn't your typical, man-to-man garden variety, either.

There was a lot of that, but Rivers also used some zone defense along with an occasional double-team just to keep the Sixers off balance.

It worked.

Evan Turner, who lit the C's up for 26 points and 10 rebounds on Friday night, had just 13 points and three rebounds on Saturday.

And Jrue Holiday, a player Rivers has pointed out repeatedly as a likely all-star this season, had just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting from the field.

"When you play defense like that, you usually win games," Rivers said.

And that is where the Celtics should be at right now.

There's no denying that they have made progress on several fronts in the past couple of weeks.

But that progress at some point has to result in victories which have been few and far between for Boston (11-9) this year.

"We see we're getting better day-in and day-out on tape," said Celtics wing Courtney Lee. "But when we see it when we lose, we kind of look back at it like, 'are these things working for us? But like I said, you can see us coming together. Our rotations (defensively) and everything is getting better so we just have to stick with it."

For veterans like Paul Pierce, the idea of committing to being a defensive-minded team is easy to do.

Under Doc Rivers, there's really no choice in the matter.

Players understanding this principle isn't the issue. It's how they go about applying that knowledge to their actual play.

Part of his job as a leader on this team is to remind some of the new guys and some of the returners too, that they are making progress towards becoming the type of team defensively they have to evolve into in order to be successful.

"We know when we commit to that end of the floor and we're all on the same page, that's what we are," Pierce said. "We saw glimpses of that (Friday night in Philadelphia) for most of the game and I told the guys after the game if we continue to play like that, then we're going to win a lot of games than we have. So we have to stick to our principles and stay consistent with that and continue to improve."

And win ... don't forget to win, Celtics.

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago. 

Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face. 

“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.

Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful. 

“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.”