Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw

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Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw

PHILADELPHIA For the second time this month, the Boston Celtics had a chance to beat Philadelphia and take over the top spot in the Atlantic Division.

And for the second time this month, they failed.

Philadelphia (27-21) used a strong third quarter surge to pull away for a 99-86 win over the C's.

Boston led 49-43 at the half, but soon saw its control - and the lead - disappear in the third.

Usually the third quarter has been a good one for the Celtics, especially for the C's defensively.

This season, Boston ranks No. 2 in fewest points allowed (21.7) in the third quarter, while averaging 24.1 which ranks 11th.

But in the third, the C's defense disappeared which allowed Philadelphia to score 37 points.

"When you give up 37 points in a quarter, regardless if it's the first, second, third or fourth, that team got going and it was hard to shut them off," said C's guard Rajon Rondo.

Indeed, Philadelphia's big third quarter was a major factor in the game's outcome. But there were other keys at play in determining the outcome. Here we'll review some identified prior to the game.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics came out playing very aggressive on offense against Milwaukee Thursday night, and they'll look to do more of the same against Philadelphia. The result was 35 points scored in the first quarter, a season-high for a Celtics team that averages 22.5 points in the first quarter which ranks 26th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixers are about as good a team defensively as you'll find to start games. Teams are averaging just 22 points against the Sixers in the first quarter which ranks No. 2 in the league.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston seemed well positioned for another strong night, as the C's came out surprisingly hot from the field. The end result was a 32-26 lead after the first, which included another big first quarter scoring from Paul Pierce. He scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the first six minutes of the game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Evan Turner: The second-year guardforward torched the Celtics for a career-high 26 points in the blowout win on March 7. But the 6-7 Turner has struggled recently, scoring a total of just 14 points in Philadelphia's last three games. As for Allen, the March 7 loss at Philadelphia was one of the worst games of his NBA career. He missed all five of his shots from the field, finishing with just two points. When you take that kind of game combined with Thursday night's 1-for-8 shooting performance against the Bucks, no one should be surprised if Allen has a big - BIG - night scoring tonight against the Sixers.

WHAT WE SAW: A left ankle injury kept Allen out of the lineup. And a head injury in the second quarter sidelined Allen's replacement, Mickael Pietrus. The 6-foot-6 swingman suffered a head injury with 5:08 to play in the first half after a hard landing after being fouled by Lou Williams. As for Turner, the C's did a much better job of not allowing him to get into a similar flow that he had earlier this month when he scored a career-high 26 points against the C's. On Friday, he had nine points on 3-for-9 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Like most of his teammates in the blowout loss earlier this month, Rajon Rondo will look to bounce back with a better performance. Rondo is putting together an incredibly strong stretch of play lately. Rondo has had at least a dozen assists in Boston's last five games which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is a franchise record. Look for him to try and get out in transition as much as possible to put the Sixers defense on its heals.

WHAT WE SAW: Despite the Celtics' up and down ways of late, Rajon Rondo continues to remain a surprisingly steady force. On Friday, he had six points and 17 assists which extends his franchise record of games with 12 or more assists, to six. "It's really a credit to my teammates," Rondo said. "I'm passing them the ball, but at the end of the day they have to make the shots."

STAT TO TRACK: Balancing good ball movement with taking care of the ball has been essential to the Sixers' success this season. They have a 2.01 assists-to-turnover ratio which is tops in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been one of the NBA's best at forcing teams into a relatively low assists-to-turnover ratio all season. Opponents have a 1.181 assists-to-turnover ratio against Boston, which is the fourth-lowest in the league.

WHAT WE SAW: Philadelphia had an excellent game in terms of its ball movement. The Sixers had 24 assists while turning the ball over just nine times which is actually better than their season average.

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

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Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.

Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.

Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.

"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."

The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.

The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.

"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.