Celtics-Wizards preview: Time for Garnett to be aggressive


Celtics-Wizards preview: Time for Garnett to be aggressive

BOSTON -- There is no player on the Boston Celtics roster that Doc Rivers seems to connect with more than Kevin Garnett. The frank nature of their communication, the mutual respect each man has for the other, has created a Teflon-like bond.

But there are times -- and we've seen quite a few of them in these first few games -- when Rivers wants his most unselfish player to be a little greedy. And Garnett, well versed on that sermon, usually responds with a strong performance.

The Celtics wouldn't mind getting one of those tonight as they host the Washington Wizards, a team they held on to beat 89-86 on Saturday.

Garnett comes into tonight's game averaging 13 points per game, the fewest he has averaged since his rookie season back in 1995. A lot of his lack of production scoring-wise stems from the fact that on too many occasions, the C's simply don't go to him. Garnett, ever the team player, rarely demands the ball despite Rivers' insistence that he demand the ball more.

"Doc Rivers is Doc Rivers, and Kevin Garnett is Kevin Garnett and I have to find a medium and a balance between that," Garnett said. "He's the captain. I listen to whatever he says. It's his ship. Within the flow of the offense, I pick and choose. I try to use my discretion and IQ to know when to be aggressive at times."

And you can bet tonight will be one of those times, especially after the Wizards made a point of going to Kevin Seraphin -- the man Garnett was guarding -- down the stretch in Saturday's loss.

During Washington's last gasp at stealing the victory, Garnett forced Seraphin into making a bad pass that sailed out of bounds, capping off a defensive stretch in which the C's kept Washington scoreless over the final 2:56.

A more assertive Garnett offensively will be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics look to even up their overall record with what would be their first win at home this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston's first win of the season came on a night when they jumped on the opponent (Washington) with a 17-2 run behind suffocating defense and timely scoring. Being the aggressor at both ends of the floor will once again be a key to the C's beating the Wizards again.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: The Celtics bench vs. Jordan Crawford. Had it not been for an ankle injury early in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game, Crawford (21 points in 25 minutes) may have single-handedly outscored the entire C's bench. That should never happen. Jason Terry is more than due to have a breakout game. Ditto for Jeff Green.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee has been OK, but an intangibles player like him tends to have a breakout performance when you least expect it. With the Wizards wanting to limit Paul Pierce from having another big game, and hoping to withstand the strong play of Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, it seems an ideal scenario for Lee to be an unexpected difference-maker.

STAT TO TRACK: Doc Rivers loves to keep the Celtics turnovers to 13 or less per game. In Saturday's win, the C's turned the ball over just nine times. That was a significant improvement compared to the first two games in which the Celtics turned it over an average of 17 times per game.

Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?


Haggerty: So what exactly has happened to the Bruins-Habs rivalry?

BRIGHTON, MASS -- It didn’t take last season’s embarrassing Winter Classic result to figure out something has been missing from the storied, legendary Bruins-Canadiens rivalry over the last few years.

The last traces of the latest, great incarnation of the B’s-Habs rivalry were clearly still there a couple of seasons ago when the two hockey clubs met in the second round of the playoffs. After falling short the last few times the teams met in the postseason, Boston was summarily dismissed by Montreal in Game 7 on their own home ice during that series. The following season the B’s simply had so many of their own players struggling to put out a consistent effort, so the games against the Habs didn’t really register highly on the importance scale, and last season both Boston and Montreal suffered through subpar seasons that saw them each fall short of the playoffs.

Since the second round loss to the Habs in the 2013-14 playoffs, the Bruins are 2-7 while being outscored by a 31-18 margin in nine regular season meetings over the last two seasons in an incredibly one-sided chapter in the two teams’ shared history. The real lack of competitiveness has been a noticeable lack of deep emotion or ill will on the ice between the two hockey clubs, and that is very different from the recent past when signature players like Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton were card-carrying members of healthy hate that regularly spilled out on the ice between the two rival NHL organizations.

Instead it will probably be new blood that breathes glorious, hard-edged life into the history between the two Original Six teams, and new personalities like David Backes, Shea Weber and Andrew Shaw are likely to do just that. Certainly the Canadiens wanted to be much more difficult to play against in recruiting players like Shaw and Weber, and, their presence along with the offensively explosive Alex Radulov, could make it a tough matchup for the Black and Gold.

Either way, the Bruins are curious to see what the matchup looks like this season with the electric P.K. Subban removed from the mix as one of the classic Habs villain-type characters from a Boston perspective.

“It’s always fun to play Montreal at home, or in Montreal. This will be our second time counting the preseason, and our first time at the Garden. It’s going to be pretty cool,” said David Krejci. “When you say any NHL team there are a few names that pop out for that team, and [P.K. Subban] was definitely one of them [for Montreal]. But P.K. is gone, and now it’s Shea Weber. So it’s going to be a little different, but he’s a hell of a player as well so it isn’t going to be any easier.

“It’s a big game. It’s a division game. We don’t want to take any game lightly within the 82 games because you don’t know what can happen at the end. When those games against [Montreal] are done you always feel like you’ve played two games, and not just one. It’s high intensity, and it’s obviously a rivalry that you get up for.”

As Bruins head coach Claude Julien would say it, things are a bit too civilized between the two enemy teams when thinking back to the days of Georges Laraque chasing Milan Lucic around the ice challenging him a fight on the Bell Centre ice, or the awful epoch in B’s-Habs history when Zdeno Chara clobbered Max Pacioretty with a dangerous, injury-inducing hit into the stanchion area.

Nobody is looking for players to get hurt on borderline plays when the two teams suit up on Saturday night, but something to introduce a new chapter into the Boston-Montreal rivalry would be a good thing for both teams, a good thing for the fans and a potentially great thing for an NHL that prides itself on good, old-fashioned rivalries.

“We need to make sure that we’re ready to play [on Saturday]. I like the way that we’ve played so far, and except for Toronto we’ve managed to compete with all of the teams that we’ve played against,” said Julien. “I don’t know if it’s going to stay that way, but I’m going to use the word that [the rivalry] has been more civilized for the last few years. There hasn’t been as much of the sideshow as there has been [in the past].

“I think there’s still a lot of hatred between the two organizations when they meet, but I think the way the game is trending, and how costly that penalties can be in a game, both teams are a little cautious in that way. I still think there is great intensity and both teams get up for the games, so hopefully that happens tomorrow, and the fans get to see a good game.”

One thing that should ensure a good, familiar showdown with plenty of hard-hitting and honest-to-goodness rivalry-like behavior: both the Canadiens and Bruins are off to strong starts at the top of the Atlantic Division in the first couple of weeks this season, and there are some new faces that are undoubtedly going to want to announce their presence for these Bruins-Habs tilts with authority.

Let’s hope this happens because last season’s Bruins-Habs games needed a pair of jumper cables and 1.21 jigowatts of electricity to shock them back into their elevated level of intensity, and that’s when hockey is served best after all.