Lucic shapes up his point against Rangers

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Lucic shapes up his point against Rangers

The beaming, wide, knowing grin on Milan Lucics face said it all on Saturday night. It was the only fitting reaction after he potted the Bruins first goal of the season with a little less than six minutes to go in the first period.

It lit a raging fire of emotion under the posteriors his Bs teammates and lifted them up amid what had been a scoreless first which Boston largely dominated while out-shooting the Rangers by a 14-7 margin. It also resoundingly answered all of the critics that reasoned the 24-year-old Bruins power forward was woefully out of shape while idling in Boston during the four-month lockout.

The doubters expected the worst out of Lucic to start the season, and the doubters got it wrong.

Instead the wide mark of happiness on Lucics visage was about the first thought that popped into his head after snapping home the rebound: his newborn eight pound, one ounce baby girl Valentina Lucic born just two days prior after 18 hours of labor.

Thats what was really important amid so much sound and fury with the NHL season cranking up this week.

It was a whirlwind last week for Lucic with the start of a week-long training, the birth of his first child and Saturday nights 3-1 win over the New York Rangers in impressive fashion. So youll forgive No. 17 if he didnt have enough energy or care for a round of I told you so sound bytes to everyone that doubted him after Boston's big win.

It is what it is. I dont want to make too big of a deal about it. I feel good; Im just going to go out there and play my game, said Lucic. You guys get to watch from upstairs, and you guys can make your own judgments and opinions about it.

Whether it was answering the naysayers or simply missing the game of hockey while the NHL was away for the last four months, Lucic was playing with the snarling edge that makes him one of the league's most fearsome forces. He actually could have had a goal even earlier in the period when Henrik Lundqvist kicked the rebound of a Nathan Horton shot toward the post.

But Lucic instead chose to crash the straight down the middle of the ice and wasnt in position to slam home the loose puck.

Instead Lucic took a mental note for later in the period, and crashed the far post the second time around. That's where the rebound of a David Krejci shot bounced right onto his stick for the put-back score, and the Bruins were off and running while following Lucic's lead.

The goal seemingly announced that Lucic wouldnt be suffering from the slow start to the hockey season many predicted. It also made it difficult to discern which players had or hadnt played in Europe during the lockout as everybody looked pretty close to equal in effort, output and energy levels through 60 minutes.

I give credit to the guys that went over to Europe and played were playing at a high level and doing a good job, but I also give credit to the guys who didnt, said Andrew Ference. I think a lot of guys out there tonight didnt look out of place and I thought the game was good, professional. The guys were acting like professionals even during the frustrating time of not playing.

Lucic was a professional force around the net with his big body on rebounds, he led the team with four registered hits that served notice to the Rangers he meant business for the evening and he ended up cutting his night short early after a late dust-up with Mike Rupp and Ryan McDonagh. The altercation earned him a 10-minute misconduct late in the third period when Lucic didn't leave the area once the refs told him it was time to head back to the bench.

Claude Julien loved what he saw out of Lucic after he was among many players that struggled badly in Tuesday nights scrimmage against Providence.

Lucic was very good. The microscope was on him for a long time because he didnt play in Europe and people thought that maybe he wasnt in the best of shape, said Julien. There were a lot of question marks on him, but I thought he played a solid game.

Not only did he score that goal from driving the net, but physically and everything else he was good. I dont really have any complaints about anyone on our team tonight, because I thought from top to bottom we were a pretty good hockey club.

While key forwards like Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand also didnt play in Europe during the 113 days of the NHL lockout, it was Lucic alone that bore the brunt of unfair criticism that he hadnt worked hard enough to prepare for a shortened campaign. It was always true that he hadnt been on the ice much in November or December and because of that he wasnt in game shape.

But anybody with eyes could also see Lucic hadnt gained any bad weight or suddenly fallen into terrible shape that was going to hamper his ability to at least work himself back into game shape" over the first few weeks.

Instead people ran with the narrative and tweeted out pictures of Lucic sucking wind and down on one knee when the Bruins players first got together at Boston University prior to organized training camp. That raised questions and, to be truthful, aggravated some of Lucics teammates.

Looch has been in shape this whole time, and it was great for him to go out and score proved that he hasnt missed a beat. He was physical out there as well, said Johnny Boychuk. Thats the way he wants to play and thats the way hes going to play. For him to go out and get that goal to show that hes not slacking really means a lot to everybody.

The challenge now for Lucic is to tap into that same motivational force time and time again this season once the adrenaline fades away, and the grind of the 48-game sprint begins to weight him down.

Lucic goes from tough-to-play-against to impossible-to-stop beast when hes got something to prove, and that was definitely the case while passing his personal fitness test against the Rangers.

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
 
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
 
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
 
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success. 

And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
 
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
 
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
 
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
 
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-

AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
 
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B- 
 
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
 
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-

WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
 
JAE CROWDER:
This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+

JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
 
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late.  GRADE: B-

GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
 
JAMES YOUNG:
He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
 
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
 

AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
 
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
 
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
 
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
 
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C

Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

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Boston College to play Maryland in Quick Lane Bowl

Boston College has accepted an invitation to play Maryland in the 2016 Quick Lane Bowl, the school announced Sunday. The game will be played at Ford Field in Detroit at 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 26. 

"We are excited to continue our season and play in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit,” BC director of athletics Brad Bates said in a press release sent out by the school. “This is great opportunity for our program to continue to develop and gives our players one final opportunity to play together to close out the season."

The game presents a matchup of schools looking to end unimpressive seasons on a high note, as both BC and Maryland went 6-6 this season. 

This will mark the 12th meeting between BC and Maryland. They last faced one another in 2013, before Maryland had departed the ACC for the Big Ten.