Heat too hot for Celtics in season opener

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Heat too hot for Celtics in season opener

MIAMI The Boston Celtics didn't need to get beat 120-107 by the Miami Heat to know they have a ways to go before they can dethrone the NBA champion.

But it certainly drills the point home, one that won't be forgotten anytime soon by the C's who became the latest team to lose their season opener to the defending NBA champion.

Boston put up a strong fourth quarter rally to come within four points against a Miami Heat team that didn't have LeBron James (cramps) down the stretch.

But the comeback was too little too late for the C's whose defense left a lot of room for improvement.

"That's not who we are," said Boston's Paul Pierce on the Celtics defense. "We're not going to be a team that gives up 120 points. We have to establish our identity and who we are going to be."

Having spent most of the game playing from behind, Boston had a solid start to the game and led by as many as five points in the first quarter. But a 7-2 spurt to end the quarter by the Heat put Miami ahead by six points and the Heat's control of the game remained relatively strong the rest of the night.

There was a lot of talk leading up to the game about a potential Miami letdown after they received their championship rings prior to the game.

Instead of a letdown, the Heat delivered a smackdown of sorts to the C's most of the game which isn't that unusual for defending champs in their season opener.

Despite Miami getting beat badly by Chicago in their opener in 2006 after winning a title that year, defending champs have fared well in openers in recent years.

With Miami's win on Tuesday night, defending champs are now 10-3 in openers the following season since 2000.

Adding to the ring ceremony before the game and the general animosity that has developed between these two NBA powers, former Celtic Ray Allen being with the Heat now added another wrinkle of intrigue to this rivalry.

Allen had a strong game off the Heat bench, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes in the first half which included his first shot being a buzzer-beater at the shot clock - the kind of shot he would routinely knock down during his five seasons in Boston. He finished with 19 points.

For Boston,  Pierce showed just how healthy he is now compared to last season when the lockout and a heel injury resulted in a slower than usual start for the Captain.

Despite some up and down play during the preseason, Pierce looked to be in mid-season form on Tuesday. He finished with a team-high 23 points. Ditto for Rajon Rondo who had 20 points and a team-high 13 assists.

With such a resounding loss, there were a number of Celtic players whose play was, to put it mildly, underwhelming.

At the top of that list has to be Kevin Garnett whose presence both as a scorer or defensive terror, never materialized other than a possession here and there. He had nine points and 12 rebounds.

As much as Garnett struggled, Jeff Green was even worse for the C's off the bench. The best player off the C's second unit in the preseason, Green never got into any kind of flow or rhythm.

That wasn't a total surprise considering this was his first game in more than a year after missing all of last season following heart surgery.

Fortunately for the C's, this is just the first of many games they'll have this season.

So while there's no sense of panic or overwhelming concern, there were more than enough issues that were problematic enough to keep Doc Rivers and his staff busy.

And then there's the opponent, the Miami Heat.

They proved in pretty emphatic fashion why they are the NBA champions - and why many believe that they will be doing yet another championship ring ceremony this time next year, in Miami.

Valentine will be plunked down in heart of D-line

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Valentine will be plunked down in heart of D-line

FOXBORO – The Patriots used the 96th overall pick – a compensatory pick that came to the Patriots after losing Darrelle Revis – on a very large man. Vincent Valentine, a 6-3, 329-pound defensive tackle from Nebraska who is more space-eater than penetrator.

Though Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio said Valentine has played all over the defensive line including 5-technique (outside shoulder of the tackle), he’ll likely be an early-down, middle of the defensive line player for the Patriots at the outset. How does the team go about getting him on the field?

Currently, they are pretty well-stocked with big bodies. Last year’s first rounder, Malcom Brown, is going to play a lot for a long time. Terrance Knighton, added as a free agent, figures to be a major component of the defensive line. And aging Alan Branch showed in 2015 that he’s still got plenty of plays left in him.

The other 300-plus pound linemen in the mix are Marcus Kuhn, a free agent brought over from the Giants, and Joe Vellano, who’s been with the team for four seasons as an end of the roster player.

Valentine had an injury-plagued final season with the Cornhuskers and will need to tune up his body and conditioning for the NFL. He’s not a project but neither is he a plug-and-play type who can be expected to walk in and make immediate contributions. With the 31-year-old Branch nearing the end, it’s reasonable to expect Valentine to be the successor to him in the Patriots interior rotation when they go heavy on early downs and in short-yardage and goal-line.

Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

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Patriots hatch latest backup plan at QB

Tom Brady needs a Hail Mary at this point to get himself on the field for the first four games of 2016. The Patriots are more aware of that than anyone, so Friday night they grabbed a little security, using a third-round pick on North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

The 6-4, 235-pound Brissett was a two-year starter for the Wolfpack and had 23 touchdowns and five picks in his senior season. He’s lauded for his leadership, has outstanding physical skills and is a tireless worker.

All that said, he’s not going to beat out Jimmy Garoppolo. Brissett isn’t in Foxboro to be the long-term No. 2 in 2016. But if he shows a high level of competency between now and the end of August, the Patriots will likely go into the four-game Brady-less stretch with Garoppolo as the temp starter and Brissett as the temp backup.

When Brady returns, everybody moves back down the ladder again.

But a look at the contracts of Garoppolo and Brady shows that, after 2016, Garoppolo may become expendable. Brady is signed through 2019 and isn’t going anywhere. Garoppolo is up after 2017 and will be a free agent. If Garoppolo plays well enough to impress the rest of the league in his four-game audition, the Patriots could look to deal him prior to the 2017 season.

The return on the former second-rounder isn’t relevant right now. What is relevant is that the Patriots are going to have to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster in 2016: Brady, Garoppolo and Brissett. For a team that’s always churning the end of its roster to get the best players ready for every week’s matchup, the team will have one less roster spot to deal with than it’s had in past seasons.

The only way around carrying Brissett all year on the 53 would be to release him, hope he passes unclaimed through waivers and then sign him to the practice squad. It’s likely someone would claim him. So the Patriots will be working with three quarterbacks on their 53 for 2016. Forecasting, it’s not likely they’d do that two years in a row.

The addition of Brissett is a signal that the team isn’t preparing for life after Brady, but life after Jimmy G. 

Faulk sports Brady jersey during Patriots pick as Vincent looks on

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Faulk sports Brady jersey during Patriots pick as Vincent looks on

FOXBORO -- For a moment, retired Patriots running back Kevin Faulk stole the show as he announced one of New England's third-round picks. 

Given an opportunity at the spotlight, even just for an instant, Faulk opted to make a statement in support of his former quarterback, proudly wearing Tom Brady's No. 12 jersey under his suit jacket. 

"The New England Patriots and Tom Brady," Faulk said, "select Joe Thuney!"

While the news that the Patriots had drafted an athletic and versatile offensive lineman from North Carolina State was certainly noteworthy for fans, the enthusiasm with which Faulk delivered his message resonated with folks all the way back at One Patriot Place. 

Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio smiled at his press conference Friday when he was asked what he thought of Faulk's gesture.

"That's why Kevin Faulk is a potential member of the Patriots Hall of Fame," Caserio said. "We all love Kevin Faulk. One of the best Patriots on a multitude of levels and I'd say he certainly showed that tonight."

Before the pick was made, Faulk was introduced to the crowd attending Day 2 of the NFL Draft by NFL executive vice president of football operations Troy Vincent. For Patriots fans, Vincent's name is a familiar one because he played a primary role in doling out Brady's punishment as a result of Deflategate. 

Faulk was named one of three finalists for the Patriots Hall of Fame earlier this month along with corner Raymond Clayborn and linebacker Mike Vrabel. Fans can vote for the winner online here