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.

Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

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Quotes, notes and stars: Swihart flashes power and speed

BOSTON - Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 10-3 win over the Colorado Rockies:

 

QUOTES

"I felt a little cramp. I'm fine. I appreciate John and everybody looking out (for me). We obviously don't want anything to happen like last year, but I'm good.'' - Dustin Pedroia, who left the game in the fifth after experiencing some tightness in his right hamstring.

"It's nice to be able to get deep into the game. That's my goal every time. My goal is nine innings, so if I don't get nine innings, I'm a little disappointed because I want to be able to go out there and pitch as many innings as I can.'' - Steven Wright.

"I think my release point was just a little off. That definitely makes it hard, especially when it's moving, because it's not a consistent release point.'' - Wright on the early-inning unpredictability of his signature pitch.

"Even when I was catching, I pride myself on running. I want to be an athlete back there. I want to run the bases, steal bases, things most catchers aren't known to do.'' - Blake Swihart, who hit two triples.

 

NOTES

* Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his hitting streak to 29 games.

* Xander Bogaerts extended his hitting streak to 18 games.

* David Ortiz tied Paul Molitor for 12th on the all-time doubles list with 605.

* Ortiz has driven in multiple runs in three straight games

* Dustin Pedroia has a career batting average of .340 in interleague play, the highest ever for someone with 500 or more at-bats.

* Travis Shaw drove in three runs and now has 68 RBI in his first 111 games since Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in 1974-75.

* Blake Swihart became the third Red Sox hitter this season to post two triples in the same game.

* The Red Sox clinched their fifth straight home series win.

* The Sox are 21-8 since April 24 and are 13-2 in their last 15 home games.

 

STARS

1) Steven Wright

Backed by some rare run support, Wright evened his record at 4-4 with seven-plus innings and his eighth quality start this season.

2) Travis Shaw

Shaw produced two hits and knocked in three runs, making him the fourth Red Sox player this season to reach 30 RBI.

3) Blake Swihart

Swihart got to flash both his power and his speed by hitting two triples to the triangle, motoring around the bases.

 

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.