Celtics-Suns preview: Looking for consistent bench play

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Celtics-Suns preview: Looking for consistent bench play

BOSTON It's only three games, not nearly enough consecutive victories for the Green Teamers to go out and get fitted for championship rings. But there's no question the Celtics are playing their best basketball of the season right now.

It's true that their success has been led by the starters, as it should be. But what has ultimately gotten them over the top of late has been a multitude of strong performances from the bench that for most of this season has been a disappointment.

What we're finding throughout the course of the season is how they seem to respond better facing some form of adversity.

Take Monday's win at New York, a game in which Rajon Rondo (suspension, his fourth in less than a year) did not play. In addition to his absence, the Celtics also had to deal with leading scorer Paul Pierce being in foul trouble.

Although Pierce finished with a team-high 23 points, it was the 16 points off the bench by Jeff Green that was just as important, considering most of it came while Pierce was on the bench.

Playing without Rondo, Avery Bradley had a season-high 13 points while three different Celtics (Bradley, Pierce and Jason Terry) each had five or more assists.

"Our bench as a whole has been big," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "You can't just point one guy out when you look at our bench."

That's how it was supposed to be when Danny Ainge assembled this group during the offseason. While it hasn't quite come together as quickly as many would have hoped, they have left little doubt that they can be the difference-makers that the C's envisioned at the start of the season.

"We just have to be consistent with it," Lee told CSNNE.com. "That's all. Just be more consistent."

They will get another opportunity tonight against Phoenix which has lost nine of its last 10 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The days of scoring a ton of points seems to be a thing of the past in Phoenix. They come into tonight's game averaging 96.4 points per game which ranks 16th in the league. They haven't finished outside of the top 10 in scoring since the 2003-2004 season.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Luis Scola. Bass isn't scoring as much as he did last season, but his defense and rebounding has been solid during Boston's current three-game winning streak. Scola is a high-energy, multiple-effort kind of player so keeping him off the boards -- especially the offensive ones -- will be key for the C's.

PLAYER TO WATCH: It seems playing against the Boston Celtics brings out the best in Marcin Gortat, a player the C's may have some interest in as we get closer to the trading deadline. In the three games he has played against Boston since joining the Suns, he has averaged 18.7 points and 14 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the field.

STAT TO TRACK: The third quarter has been decisively positive for the C's lately, and quite devastating to the Suns. In its last three wins, Boston outscored its opponents in the third quarter each game, by an average of 12.3 points per game. Meanwhile, Phoenix is giving up a league-high 25.6 points in the third quarter this season.

Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

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Red Sox celebration quickly washes away walk-off loss

NEW YORK -- It had the potential to be the most awkward celebration ever.

In the top of the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium, before their game was complete, the Red Sox became American League East champions, by virtue of one other division rival -- Baltimore -- coming back to beat another -- Toronto -- in the ninth inning.

That eliminated the Blue Jays from the division race, and made the Sox division champs.

But that ninth inning reversal of fortune was about to visit the Red Sox, too.

Craig Kimbrel faced four hitters and allowed a single and three straight walks, leading to a run. When, after 28 pitches, he couldn't get an out, he was lifted for Joe Kelly, who recorded one out, then yielded a walk-off grand slam to Mark Teixeira.

The Yankees celebrated wildly on the field, while the Red Sox trudged into the dugout, beset with mixed emotions.

Yes, they had just lost a game that seemed theirs. But they also had accomplished something that had taken 158 games.

What to do?

The Sox decided to drown their temporary sorrows in champagne.

"As soon as we got in here,'' said Jackie Bradley Jr., "we quickly got over it.''

From the top of the eighth until the start of the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox seemed headed in a conventional celebration.

A two-run, bases-loaded double by Mookie Betts and a wild pitch -- the latter enabling David Ortiz to slide into home and dislodge the ball from former teammate Tommy Layne's glove --- had given the Sox a 3-0 lead.

Koji Uehara worked around a walk to post a scoreless walk and after the top of the ninth, the Sox called on Craig Kimbrel, who had successfully closed out all but two save opportunities all season.

But Kimbrel quickly allowed a leadoff single to Brett Gardner and then began pitching as though he forgot how to throw strikes. Three straight walks resulted in a run in and the bases loaded.

Joe Kelly got an out, but then Teixeira, for the second time this week, produced a game-winning homer in the ninth. On Monday, he had homered in Toronto to turn a Blue Jays win into a loss, and now, here he was again.

It may have been a rather meaningless victory for the Yankees -- who remain barely alive for the wild card -- but it did prevent them the indignity of watching the Red Sox celebrate on their lawn.

Instead, the Sox wore the shame of the walk-off -- at least until they reached their clubhouse, where the partying began in earnest.

It had taken clubhouse attendants less than five minutes to cover the floor and lockers with plastic protective sheets. In a matter of a few more minutes, the air was filled with a mix of beer and bubbly.

President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski wore a goggles and only socks on his feet.

As the spray reached every inch of the clubhouse, David Ortiz exclaimed: "I'm going to drown in this man.''

Defeat? What defeat?

 

Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

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Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

It’s not difficult to see why Austin Czarnik might have been a little overlooked headed into this Bruins training camp when forecasting favorites among the forwards to win a roster spot on the big club. After all he’s only 5-foot-9 and 167-pounds coming off just one very solid season at the AHL level for the Providence Bruins, and there are bigger, stronger forwards candidates that maybe rank a bit higher on the prospect list than him.

But the 23-year-old Czarnik put together an excellent training camp last fall before finishing with 20 goals and 61 points for the P-Bruins last season, and now he’s doing the exact same thing again this time around.

“Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think we could have been a lot better in a lot of areas. Overall I think everyone is just happy to be back on the ice,” said Czarnik, who along with Frank Vatrano was one of the real starts of camp last season. “You know that type of mentality and you know mistakes are going to happen, and you’ve just got to move forward from it so everyone’s happy to be back.”

The former Miami University star is clearly happy to be back, and it’s showing on the ice with each chance he gets to show his tenacity, withering fore-check and his willingness to crash the net despite his smallish stature.

Czarnik was one of the most dangerous forwards on the ice for the Black and Gold in their preseason opener, and collected a key assist on Boston’s first goal of the game when he pushed a puck through the neutral zone before setting up on odd man rush for Jimmy Hayes and Jake DeBrusk.

This time around Czarnik scored the game’s only goal on a nifty rush during four-on-four play through the offensive zone by Ryan Spooner, who drew in the defense and dished to Czarnik for a wide open tap-in chance.

So it’s a couple of big plays in each of the first two preseason games that led to goals, and a genuinely excellent level of play throughout both contests. It’s something the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of along with his skating speed and hardnosed mentality, and now they have to figure if it fits in with their other NHL pieces.

“We were just talking about it. Everybody has that same feeling. He’s playing well. He moves well. He’s on the puck. He competes, and that’s the thing you’re looking for really,” said Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. “Like right now, we know there’s going to be mistakes made by a lot of our players, especially the younger ones.

“We’re looking to see who’s got that competitive, you know, that competitive fire. [We’re looking for] who’s going to go out there and who can compete at a high level. I know he’s not big in stature, but he plays bigger than he is. He’s had two pretty good games so far.”

Czarnik had a couple of good games early in B’s camp last year before flat-lining a bit at the end when the NHL jobs were seriously on the line, and the 23-year-old wants that story to change endings this time around. It remains to be seen where he’s going to fit as yet another center among Boston’s group of training camp players this month, but Czarnik might just force the Bruins to make a tough decision if he keeps playing at his current high level.