Opponents: Celtics are 'missing Ray'


Opponents: Celtics are 'missing Ray'

The Boston Celtics had little interest in discussing former teammate Ray Allen at the start of this season. Some players politely wished him the best after he signed with the Miami Heat last summer. Kevin Garnett noted he no longer had Allens phone number. Rajon Rondo referred to him as Number 20.
Allen will return to the TD Garden on Sunday for the first time as a member of the Heat. He will face a Celtics team struggling to establish consistency and currently ranked eighth in the Eastern Conference (20-21).
Even though the Celtics have focused on looking forward this season, opponents have noticed a difference in the team without Allen on the floor:
Rip Hamilton (Chicago Bulls)Theyre different. When you go into the game, you know with him, hes coming off curls, hes coming off pindowns. He really spaces the floor for Paul Pierce to go ahead and to what he do, for KG Kevin Garnett to do what he do. It was a guy that you never ever could not guard.
Ramon Sessions (Charlotte Bobcats)You can definitely tell they look different. They just play a little different without him out there. When he comes in, he kind of solidifies that second unit. I think they brought in JT Jason Terry to fill that role. He kind of started off to a slow start but I think once it gets deeper into the season, being a veteran, hell kind of take over that role. You definitely defend them differently any time Rays not out on the court because Ray is a pure shooter and they ran a lot of sets for him with that second unit. Its definitely a different vibe and a different feel with that second unit now that hes not out there. They still play the same way, I think. Of course in the back of their minds, they probably miss him a little bit because hes a guy that can hit big shots. But I think JT will step in and fill that void.
Luol Deng (Chicago Bulls)Its going to be difficult. Ray Allen takes so much attention and he gets guys shots. He made a big difference for them. You could always replace everyone. Its just, how do you do it? Its not going to be one guy. Dont think that youre going to bring one guy in and hes going to just fill in the shoes. It takes a team effort and a team goes in a different direction, whether its Paul Pierce or Kevin or Rajon Rondo who are scoring more. I think people fall into, This guys gone, so this guy has to be that guy. Its never like that. Every individual is different. Thats why every time you get a superstar in the NBA, people want to compare the new player to him and its never the same because everyone is so different, our fingerprints are different. Youre just not going to get the same thing.
Marcin Gortat (Phoenix Suns)Obviously theyre missing their sharpshooter, but still, theyve got so much talent. Theyve got so many guys that can shoot the ball, they still run a great system, theyve still got KG whos running the whole defense, they have Rajon Rondo who can distribute the ball so well. So I dont think theres a huge drop off from Ray Allen. Obviously the team would be better if he would have stayed, but right now theyre still pretty good.
Tony Allen (Memphis Grizzlies)Thats a Hall of Fame kind of guy. So that right there just lets you know, theyre missing Ray. Period, point blank. Theyre missing Ray.

Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win.