New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

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New lineup sparks Celtics past Pacers, 94-75

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have had impressive wins this season, with most doing little to build momentum going forward.

But Friday's 94-75 victory over Indiana felt different if for no other reason than the lineup being different ... sort of.

Boston's impressive performance was fueled in part by Doc Rivers' decision to put Brandon Bass back in with the first unit, giving the Celtics the same starting five it had when it closed out last season with a 14-5 record that catapulted them into the postseason where they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

It was a strong game for the Celtics (15-17), a night that could not be dampened even by the ejection of Kevin Garnett in the fourth quarter after he was whistled for a flagrant-two foul (automatic ejection) on Tyler Hansbrough.

Boston, snapping a four-game losing streak with the victory, still have quite a ways to go before they are a legitimate contender again.

But Friday's win was certainly a step in that direction.

The Celtics could not make shots in the first quarter, which has usually led to a huge early deficit that they would spend the rest of the half trying to cut into.

But despite shooting just 29.2 percent from the field in the first, Boston was only down 16-15 courtesy of some tough, gritty defense.

That defensive intensity was sustained in the second quarter. And when you throw a slew of shots starting to fall from several Celtics players, the C's pulled ahead by as many as 15 in the first half before settling on a 47-35 lead.

Two important developments in the first half were critical to Boston's strong play.

For starters, Rajon Rondo was as aggressive as we've seen in weeks offensively, tallying all 10 of his first-half points in the second quarter. He finished with a team-high 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds.

In addition, Boston was getting a much-needed boost of energy from its bench and Courtney Lee was leading the way.

Lee's defense coupled with some timely shots around the basket gave the Celtics a lift that seemed to energize both his teammates as well as Celtics Nation. He would finished with 13 points.

The third quarter featured the C's missing several shots in the first few minutes. But for a change, it didn't matter because the Celtics defense refused to allow the double-digit cushion built up in the first half to shrink.

And as the fourth quarter rolled along, the Celtics continued to play solid defense while most of their core guys spent most or all of the quarter on the bench, resting up for Saturday night's game at Atlanta.

There will be many theories as to how the Celtics were able to blow out an Indiana team that had won eight of its last 10 games leading up to Friday's game.

But more than anything else, the Celtics finally had players in roles that head coach Doc Rivers envisioned them being at the start of the season.

So it's not a coincidence that Friday's game was arguably their most complete performance of the season.

But Friday's success won't mean much unless they can use it similar to how they did last season and that's rack up multiple wins, home and on the road.

Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

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Collins gets his pay day as Patriots prepare for Super Bowl

NFL Siberia can’t be all that bad. The Cleveland Browns have signed Jamie Collins to an extension that keeps him off the free agent market.

The former Patriot, stunningly shipped out of town on Halloween, has agreed to a reported four-year, $50 million deal with $26M in guaranteed money.

As eyebrow-raising as the move was at the time, this is an all’s well that ends well story.

Collins, a reluctant Patriot once it came clear the team wouldn’t to aim a confetti cannon of money at him, gets the desired big-dough deal. He didn’t drape himself in glory with his level of play this year in New England, but his agitation over making $900K this year was understandable.

The Patriots -- who made the deal not knowing exactly how it would work out with Collins’ fleet of replacements (primarily rookie Elandon Roberts and, October acquisition Kyle Van Noy) -- have played better defense since Collins has been gone and are headed to the Super Bowl.

Would they have been better if Collins stayed? The answer to that is a question: Which version of Collins, the irked one or the motivated one?

Collins did nothing to veil his desire for a huge contract, saying at the end of the season he’d stay with the hapless Browns if the money was right. Now that he’s decided the money was right, what kind of Collins will the Browns get? With $26M guaranteed, the Browns have tethered themselves to the 27-year-old Collins for a chunk of his prime. The shorter term is ideal for Collins because -- if he performs to his capability -- he’ll be able to see another lucrative deal before he’s too aged.

The deal will certainly be noticed by Collins’ former teammates, primarily Donta Hightower who will be a free agent at the end of the season.

The Patriots could franchise Hightower (last year’s tag number was more than $14M) but that’s not going to be ideal for either side. Hightower will want to get the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal and the Patriots may be reluctant to pay that much to a player that’s got an injury history and plays one of the game’s most violent positions.

A lot’s going to happen between now and the time the Patriots have to make their decision. A good deal of it will happen in the next 12 days. If Hightower stealthily saves the Super Bowl as he did in 2014 with his first-down tackle on Marshawn Lynch … how do you put a price on that?

Despite Crowder's ties to Falcons, Celtics pulling for Patriots in Super Bowl

Despite Crowder's ties to Falcons, Celtics pulling for Patriots in Super Bowl

WALTHAM --  Go up and down the Boston Celtics roster and you won’t have any trouble finding players who will be cheering on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.
 
But there are some Celtics who understandably have mixed feelings about the game.
 
Among them is Jae Crowder, who grew up in Villa Rica, Ga. which is about 32 miles outside of Atlanta.
 
“I’ve been cheering for the Falcons all my life,” Crowder said. “I’m here in Boston; I’ve been a Patriots fan.”
 
And within that fandom, Crowder has developed a friendship with New England players, among them being Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount.
 
Not soon after the Patriots punched their ticket to the Super Bowl, Crowder got a text message from Blount.
 
“He knows,” Crowder said of Blount. “Yeah, he knows I’m in between.”
 
Isaiah Thomas, whose hometown Seattle Seahawks were beaten by the Falcons, said Crowder didn’t become a Falcons fan until they made the playoffs.
 
“Bandwagon? But I just took his money though,” quipped Crowder, referring to the Falcons beating the Seahawks in an earlier round of the playoffs. “We did them Seahawks real dirty; bandwagon.”
 
He’s not the only Celtics player with ties to Atlanta.
 
Boston rookie Jaylen Brown grew up just a few minutes outside of Atlanta in Marietta, Ga.
 
Thomas said Brown is a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
 
“I don’t know how that is,” Thomas said. “Don’t let him tell you he’s an Atlanta Falcons fan. Jae just started reppin’ them when they made the playoffs. They can do what they want; they might as well root for the Patriots.”
 
For Thomas, cheering for the Patriots is more than just supporting his fellow professional athletes. As he tries to continue growing as a player and a leader for the Celtics, the Patriots and the way they do things in many ways has been a blueprint of sorts for Thomas.
 
“They’re the team you want to be,” Thomas said. “Every year they give themselves a chance. From top to bottom, they’re 100 percent professional. They think championship every year. That’s how you should be. We want to model that. Hopefully the can go out and win it, and we can try to piggy-pack on what they did.”
 
Another Celtic with Atlanta ties is Al Horford, who made it clear which team had his support.
 
“Going to school in Florida, being in the south for so many years, college football is kind of my thing,” said Horford, who revealed that he never attended a Falcons during his nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. “I would watch them on TV and stuff like that. I know it’s exciting for them. It’s a big deal to be in the Super Bowl. But I’m here in New England now so I’ll be cheering for the Patriots.”