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.

Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

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Brady: Preseason reps help you adapt to the speed of the game

FOXBORO -- It's clear that Tom Brady wants to play at some point this preseason. What's a little less clear is what he thinks he stands to gain from preseason game reps in August when he won't be playing meaningful snaps until October. 

After explaining why he missed Thursday's preseason game with the Bears, which he was scheduled to start, Brady was asked on Tuesday if he feels as though he needs game reps before matching up with the Browns in Week 5.

"I don’t think any of them hurt," he said. "I think just do the best you can do. We’re preparing a lot of guys to get ready to play. I fit into that, but so do a lot of other guys. I’m just taking the advice of coach [Bill Belichick], and whatever he wants to do. I’m going to do everything I can to be ready to go when I am called upon. That’s what my responsibility is so that’s what I’m preparing to do."

If the only benefit of having Brady play against the Panthers in the third preseason game amounts to, "Well, couldn't hurt..." then it would come as some surprise if Belichick opted to play Brady anyway. Because it could hurt. It could hurt quite a bit should something flukey happen and Brady ends up worse off than he was after his recent run-in with a pair of scissors. 

Former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff Mike Lombardi, told WEEI recently that Brady needs to work in a preseason game before serving his four-game suspension. Why? 

"The speed of the game changes," Lombardi said. "You have practices against the Bears, but it’s kind of simulated and controlled. I think Tom wants to get the flow of the game . . . Because it’s the third preseason game, Jimmy [Garoppolo] is probably going to play as much into the third quarter as possible, and then you don’t want to put Tom out there with a lot of other guys that perhaps won’t make the team. The second game was kind of a game where he should have played a little bit to get his feet wet. He’s not going to play the fourth game against the New York Giants. That’s going to be Jacoby Brissett’s game. 

"I think [the Bears game] was the time, and that’s why [Brady] was going to play. Obviously something happened with the injury and that’s why he didn’t play . . . I know Tom needs to play in the preseason. He’s not just going to go waltz onto the field and feel the game is going to come right to him."

It feels as though Brady, after 16 years in the NFL, would be able to adapt to the speed of the game relatively quickly with or without preseason reps. But Brady expressed an opinion similar to that of Lombardi when asked about the difference between preseason snaps and practice snaps. He's seen plenty of the latter against the Bears, Saints and his own teammates.

"Well, I think you’re getting hit so just the space awareness, guys around you and ball security and things like that," Brady said. "For whatever, the last 30 practices, quarterbacks aren’t touched. Just standing there in the pocket, holding the ball knowing that they’re coming to get the ball and knock it out of your hands, hitting the ground, those types of things and so forth are important.

"You just have to feel things out, and the game is really the only place to get it because it’s regular speed. You don’t know what’s coming. We prepare, but we don’t obviously get to walk through the looks that we’re going to get. When you get out there you just have to make good decisions and go play quarterback the way that I’ve always tried to do."

Maybe it's to adapt to the pace of the game. Maybe it's to be faced with the real threat of contact. Maybe it's just because he can't stand not to be on the field when the Patriots are playing. Either way, Brady obviously hopes that he'll play on Friday night in Carolina. 

The question now is are the benefits great enough that Belichick will allow him to?

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

McAdam: Will this be Clay Buchholz's last start?

With Wright and Rodriguez set to return, Sean McAdam joins SNC to discuss whether Tuesday’s game against the Rays will be the last start for Clay Buchholz.