Curran: Patriots show signs of hope on defense

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Curran: Patriots show signs of hope on defense

FOXBORO Two games ago the Patriots threw a blanket over the St. Louis Rams offense, allowing seven points in Wembley Stadium in a 38-point blowout win.

A glimmer of hope? No. Just headlights from a freight train in a tunnel. The Bills came into Foxboro last week and smashed the notion the Patriots defense was all fixed by putting up 31 points and 481 yards of offense in a too-close-for-comfort, 37-31 loss to the Patriots.

Thats worth remembering in the wake of the Patriots electric effort against Indy and rookie quarterback Andrew Luck on Sunday. After a flat start, the Patriots defense made it hard for Luck, forcing four turnovers, returning two Luck throws for touchdowns and allowing just a field goal as a 14-7 deficit at the end of one turned into a 45-17 advantage by the end of the third.

All fixed? Probably not. Better. No doubt.

After weeks of passive defense in the secondary where receivers would wind up uncovered and DBs would look at each other with upturned hands as if to say, I thought you had him there were no occasions of Colts receivers running free.

And, of the 27 passes Luck completed (21 after the first quarter), the vast majority were on tight fits. The Patriots played faster and with more confidence than they have all season.

Obviously, weve been catching a little criticism but we know the type of players we have on the back end and what were capable of and I think today showed a little bit of that, said safety Steve Gregory. "But the thing for us is being consistent and thats what we have to focus on. We have to get in there and correct things. Theres some things we didnt do that well and in a game like this, sometimes things go unnoticed. We have to go in, get those things corrected and be consistently that way every week. Play like this every week. And thats what were going to focus on.

The presence of Aqib Talib and his aggressive style seemed to rub off on the rest of the secondary. Talib gave up his share two touchdowns went to his man but the Patriots seemed comfortable having a cover corner they could move around and get innovative with. And the safety play so horrid in terms of support picked up as well.

Aggression and confidence seemed to carry the day in the secondary.

Playing fast comes with experience, said Gregory. Obviously we have some young guys out there but you have to find a way to play free and fast within the scheme of the defense. You cant go beyond yourself and leave an area open where thats your responsibility. Its about picking and choosing and knowing those times when you can go beyond and do a little bit more. For us today, we did a great job of that. We made a lot of plays and you see the results.

With Talib starting at one corner and Alfonzo Dennard on the other side after Kyle Arrington picked up a 40-yard pass interference on the opening Colts drive, the Patriots suddenly have two players on the outside who are known for their coverage ability, not their versatility. And thats a good thing. Theres confidence on the outside with those two and communication continues to improve.

We had a good week of practice, said Talib. We put a lot of emphasis on that in practice - communication and playing fast. We coulda did better today. We gave up some stuff. We felt good today but it can be better.

It already is better than it was.

I think we settled in, said Patriots linebacker Rob Ninkovich. Obviously they gave us their best shot early. Everything they were doing, they game plan just like we do. You dont want to give up those drives, especially the first drive, you want to get the offense the ball. So its just another one of those, Hey, lets watch the tape and see the things we werent doing correctly. I was happy that we were able to settle down and stop them there towards the end and then we were able to just kind of keep rolling on that momentum there.

The first Colts drive ended with T.Y. Hilton scoring on an in-cut at the back of the end zone with Talib in coverage.

On the short one, I just got undercut at the goal line, Talib explained. I didnt play good technique. I let him widen me and then cut back inside.

As for the second touchdown Talib allowed a 43-yarder to Hilton - Talib said, I didnt have my eyes in the right spot. My eyes were exactly where they shouldnt be, on the quarterback, so I watched him throw a touchdown on me, thats what I did, so Just gotta get a lot better.

Hes a cog in a broken machine. Hes not enough to fix the Patriots secondary all alone. But his presence Sunday made the whole operation more smooth. And with the calendar soon to flip to December, its not a minute too soon if youre a Patriots fan.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics hold on to lead after Kings rally back

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics hold on to lead after Kings rally back

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics take a slim 47-46 lead into the half over Sacramento, a team they have dominated at the TD Garden. 

The Celtics are looking to extend their winning streak at home over the Kings to nine in a row with a victory tonight. 

But the Kings are not going to go down easily, as they rallied back from a 13-point deficit in the first quarter. 

After Boston went ahead 29-19, the Kings scored the final 10 points of the quarter to tie it at 29. 

Sacramento took a couple of brief leads in the second, only for the Celtics to get a clutch shot or a timely stop defensively. 

The final points of the half came on a put-back basket by Al Horford which gave Boston a one-point lead that would serve as the margin going into the half. 

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Friday’s game.

 

STARS

Al Horford

After taking just five shots in Wednesday’s loss to Detroit, Horford had as many in the first six minutes. He would finish the half with 16 points on 7-for-11 shooting which included a pair of three-pointers.

DeMarcus Cousins

He had a horrible first half shooting the ball, but there was no denying Cousins’ presence and impact on the game. Despite missing six of his nine shot attempts he still led them with nine points and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Avery Bradley

He looked a lot more like the Avery Bradley we’ve seen most of this season, and not the one who was a non-factor for most of Wednesday’s loss to Detroit. At the half he had nine points and four rebounds.

Matt Barnes

The oldest player on the floor certainly didn’t look past his prime. The 36-year-old small forward came off the Kings bench to score six points along with grabbing eight rebounds. 

 

DUDS

Rudy Gay

A 19.6 points per game scorer this season, Gay couldn’t get into any kind of flow or rhythm offensively. At the half, he had four points on 2-for-8 shooting which included him missing all four of his three-pointers.

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

Don't expect to see Celtics shy away from 3-pointers

BOSTON – There were a bunch of numbers from Boston’s 121-114 loss to Detroit on Wednesday that stood out. 

Among the eye-grabbing stats was the fact that the Celtics had taken 42 3s (with 15 makes), an unusually high number of attempts that we may see matched or even surpassed tonight against the Sacramento Kings. 

Don’t count head coach Brad Stevens among those surprised to see the Celtics attempt a lot of three-pointers. 

Last season the Celtics took 26.1 three-pointers per game which ranked 11th in the NBA. 

This season they’re up to 31.2 three-pointers attempted and 11.3 made which both rank fifth in the NBA. 

You can count Kelly Olynyk among the Celtics pleased with the team's increased emphasis on shooting 3s. 

The 7-foot led the NBA in shooting percentage (.405) on 3s taken last season.

"We play a lot of spread offense with four shooters, four perimeter guys," Olynyk, who is shooting 38.1 percent on 3s this season, told CSNNE.com. "We're trying to make teams shrink their defense and spray out and hopefully make shots. You're making extra passes, giving up good ones for great ones. And we have some pretty good shooters on our team. That's the way we're trying to play. It's just a matter of us making shots."

And the Celtics face a Kings team ranks among the NBA’s worst at limiting 3-point attempts with Sacramento opponents averaging 28.4 three-pointers taken per game which ranks 25th in the league. 

One of Stevens’ main points about three-pointers is while it’s an important shot for them, they need to be the right shot, the right basketball play at the right time. 

And when asked about the 42 attempts against the Pistons, he was quick to acknowledge those were for the most part the right shots to be taken. 

“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day we want lay-ups. And if we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. If the defense shrinks in, you’re able to touch the paint and kick out. Two of our last three games, maybe three of the last four, two-thirds of our possessions we touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s our objective. We’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot. We’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate. And we haven’t scored in transition. To be able to be sitting where we are offensively, a big reason is because we space the floor.”