Niners prove they're fighters with win over Patriots

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Niners prove they're fighters with win over Patriots

FOXBORO -- Jim Harbaugh used to live next to a train station in Chicago when he played quarterback for the Bears.

The more he heard the trains, the less he heard them. The loud noise became normal after a while. He was used to the sound.

Following Sunday night's 41-34 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, Harbaugh said he felt the same way about his San Francisco 49ers.

The more pressure they feel, the less they feel it.

Sounds about right, as his team clinched a playoff berth by earning their 10th win of the season against a Patriots team that had just embarrassed the Houston Texans -- the team with the most wins in the NFL.

The 49ers held a 31-3 lead over the Patriots in the third quarter. It was the exact opposite start that the Texans had on Monday night.

That says something, considering the fact that when people lined up Weeks 14 and 15 for the Patriots, their Week 14 game against Houston was a potential AFC Championship preview, and their Week 15 game against the 49ers was a potential Super Bowl preview.

Whether or not either scenario happens, the 49ers did exactly what the Texans couldn't do to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. They got off to a hot start.

"A great victory," said Harbaugh afterwards. "I really love the way our team sucked it up so many times. We didn't make all the plays. But we made a lot of plays . . . They made plays too, but we made more."

The 49ers were forced to make one more play than the Patriots midway through the fourth quarter, thanks to New England's comeback that tied the game at 31-31.

But a short Colin Kaepernick pass to Michael Crabtree that resulted in a 38-yard touchdown pass, put San Francisco up 38-31, and was the difference.

All coming with the pressure of having to one-up Tom Brady in his own building.

"This is a great win," said Harbaugh. "Our team now, they've played in a lot of big-time pressure games. They've overcome adversity, shown they can do that.

"I used to live next to a train station in Chicago. It's like, the more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team, in terms of pressure in big games . . . The more you feel it, the less you feel it. So I feel good about that. I feel good about our team in those big-game situations."

The Texans didn't show up in Monday night's big-game situation. After that loss, they said that the Patriots taught them "how to play championship football."

On Sunday night, the 49ers weren't hanging their heads like the Texans were in the very same visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium. But they certainly weren't crowning themselves Super Bowl champions, either.

"It just shows that we fight, man," said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis after the win. "We're a fighting team, and we're going to play for 60 minutes."

"It let us see where we're at, going against a great team with a great quarterback," said running back Frank Gore. "And we pulled it off. We've just got to keep taking it one day at a time, just keep working as a team, and try to get where we're trying to go."

San Francisco is trying to go to New Orleans. That's the site of the Super Bowl. But even after a win against a Patriots team that has a chance to be representing the AFC in that Super Bowl, the 49ers realize they still have a lot of work to do.

They're just glad they did what the Texans couldn't. They now know that they can win the big game, if they get to it.

"It proved that we can win against a good offense," said Crabtree. "We can win a shootout. Whatever it takes. That's our motto. I feel like we can do anything. The sky's the limit."

That's a phrase Randy Moss used to use when he played for the Patriots. Now as a member of the 49ers, Moss left the visiting locker room without speaking to the media. He got dressed, tossed on his "Beats by Dre" headphones, grabbed his suitcase, and rolled it down the tunnel to the team bus.

He couldn't hear questions from reporters if he wanted to. He was blocking it out. Similar to how the 49ers blocked out the pressure on Sunday night in New England. Similar to how Harbaugh blocked out the sound of passing trains in Chicago.

Unlike the Texans, the 49ers left New England, knowing where they stand.

"It's a huge task," said Harbaugh. "It's a huge challenge. This environment in December, not a lot of teams have been successful.

"So yeah, it will be a happy flight home."

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.

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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.

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“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.