McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

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McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

Thursday night's game got so weird, so fast that the methodical beating the Pats seemed about to apply turned into a pie-in-the-face mess.

But it was clear on Thursday night that the Patriots offense - which had its moments of doubt and pain earlier in the season even as it put up points at a solid clip - is closer to becoming fully evolved.

Even without Rob Gronkowski, even with Aaron Hernandez coming back from his ankle injury (again), even on a short week, the Patriots ran some schemes against the Jets offensively that stretched New York to its breaking point. And past.

The slapstick nature of points 14 through 28 overshadowed the first 14 points the Patriots scored and the drive preceding on which Hernandez re-entered the Patriots offense with a 28-yard reception. But there were plays that showed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is understanding how all his gadgets work.

"Obviously, the more time we spend together, the more you get to learn about different phases of each receiver's game and then how they all work together collectively," McDaniels said. "Whether it's the plays or the performance we're looking for from them, it's all tied together. Really what we try to narrow it to is, hone in on what we feel are the strengths of those groups of players that are working together. Whether that's throwing the ball between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd. Whether that's a certain blocking combination on the edge with tight ends. Whatever it might be, we're trying to maximize the strengths of their games at the same time."

Thursday night, Shane Vereen was employed on two plays of note - a third-and-1 toss that looked like it was ripped from a high school playbook and gained 7. Vereen was also the recipient of a pass in the flat that went for 83 yards when the Patriots schemed it up perfectly to get a matchup of Bart Scott on Vereen.

In the course of asking McDaniels about getting comfortable with his weapons, I alluded to Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady. McDaniels circled back to that tandem as being one that can still improve.

"We need to work on the weak points that maybe we're not doing as well that we need, NEED, to improve on as we go forward," said McDaniels. "I think with Brandon and Tom specifically, there's definitely some real good and then we're always going to try to find some things that we didn't hit positive as we go forward. I know that those two guys have tried extremely hard to try to get that done and hopefully we're gonna see more and more results as we go down the stretch here."

The first time the Patriots and Jets met, Lloyd was a focal point of the game plan and was targeted downfield outside the numbers. Eight throws went his way, he caught 1 for 6 yards.

Thursday, the Patriots featured the running game more and a lot of perimeter attacking based on scheming things and stretching coverage as opposed to beating guys 1-on-1. 

That, McDaniels said, is an outgrowth of the offense expanding.

"There's always things that you need to take and add to (the base offense) as you go based on the defense that you're seeing that week," McDaniels explained. "It may not be a brand new protection but maybe it's a route combination that we've never used from that protection off of a formation that we've used previously. I think those are the little things that we're sensitive to.

"You've heard the term "self scouting" before," McDaniels noted. "A lot of that has to do with looking at yourself and seeing what other teams are seeing and then go forward and either perfect things that are going well or give them something to think about as we go forward."

The Patriots will face two of the NFL's toughest defenses in the next month - the Niners and Texans. It will be interesting to see what New England hatches for them that neither team has seen on film. That will be evidence of what McDaniels is referring to.

"I don't think there's a period of time where you just come to a point in the season where you stop (adding to the offense)," he concluded. "I always think you can make yourself better by complementing some of the things you do well and hopefully that's what will continue to do for the last five weeks of the season."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

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

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.