Ex-BC defenseman Cross makes most of AHL chance

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Ex-BC defenseman Cross makes most of AHL chance

PROVIDENCE - Tommy Cross admits that it was disappointing when he was dropped down to the East Coast Hockey League a few months ago. The former Boston College standout defenseman was stuck in a numbers game with a large group of defensemen vying for six spots with the Providence Bruins, and he was the odd blueliner out.

So after Cross played in a pair of AHL games after signing with Providence last April, but couldnt break training camp this fall. So, rather than Cross sulking when he went down to the South Carolina Stingrays, he threw himself into the hockey and stood out from the crowd. Cross put up 17 points in 22 games for South Carolina to put him in a tie with former Northeastern forward Tyler McNeely for the team lead in scoring, and included six goals scored for a defenseman not known so much for offensive prowess.

Some of it was skating in the wide open world of the ECHL, and some of the point barrage was simply due to good, old-fashioned puck luck.

It might be a little more wide open down there, and you might have a little more time and space, said Cross. But its also still a pro hockey league and I played 22 games in about 35 or 40 days. That was good experience for me.

It certainly wasnt a lot of highlight reel goals down there. It was being solid defensively with a lot of good first entry passes and we had a couple of good games. But anytime you go down a level of minor league hockey you want to do what they tell, and they told me to make plays with the puck. When you do that youre going to get points.

Of course, some of the high-level performance is also due to Cross immediately having something to prove when his season started in disappointment in South Carolina.

Nobody wants to get sent down or demotedor whatever, said Cross. But you also realize that its part of your development as a player. It was a matter of looking at myself in the mirror, and asking what I needed to do to get a call back to the AHL. You have to take the positives out of it, and the positive was that I got to play a lot of minutes in a lot of different situations.

I did as best as I could and now Im back here. Im just trying to use what I learned down there to help me out. Its still good hockey down there, but its not the AHL especially with the raised quality of players this year.

The consistently high level of play for Cross led to the defenseman getting called up by Providence for this weekend when injuries hit the defensemen corps, and he jumped right into the P-Bruins fray.

Providence took five out of a possible six points in three games, and Cross snapped off a pair of assists while featuring a heavy shot from the point position. Providence Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said much of Cross improvement comes in simply stepping onto the ice with more confidence and surety than he had while a job was on the line in training camp.

Hes played with a lot of composure, hes made some plays and hes done a good job of getting his shot through, said Cassidy. He played his off-side pretty well. Weve got a lot of left sticks and the game is changing pretty well so its tough to play your off-side. But he told us he did that growing up and he did a pretty good job over there.

Physically down low he was good. Its just some gap control stuff and just making sure he can play at the AHL level with some pace. But I liked him. Hes a better player now than when he went to the ECHL in October. Hes playing with a little confidence and swagger in his game. He showed that he can play in the league this weekend, and its a matter of consistency now.

If Cross keeps up that swagger and keeps playing games like he did this weekend, it could be a long, long time before he ever has to worry about any return trips to the South Carolina home of the Stingrays. That would be just fine with him.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.