Patriots searching for consistency before facing Dolphins

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Patriots searching for consistency before facing Dolphins

FOXBORO -- It's a word that seems to rule the Patriots universe: consistency. Players who want to play need to show it. It can be heard in the soundbites provided to the media. And the team fosters it as much as possible with its schedule.

Lately, it's eluded the Patriots on the field. In Week 14, they beat one of the best teams in the NFL when the Texans came to Gillette Stadium. They lost to the Niners the following week after spotting a second-year quarterback a huge lead and responding with a remarkable comeback that fell short. Then they beat the Jaguars, but without playing close to their best game.

When the Patriots play the Dolphins on Sunday, their hope is that they can rediscover the consistency that's eluded them.

"We try to do that every week," Bill Belichick said on Wednesday. "This week, every week, the early part of the season, end of the season, middle of the season. Yeah, its always about consistency. I think you can look at every team in the league and find good plays and players doing things really well. These are professional football players: theyre very talented, they can do a lot of things. The good teams, the good players, they do them more consistently. Its not about talent as much as it is consistent performance teams and individual players. Its all connected."

Tom Brady echoed those same thoughts yesterday.

"I think its about playing consistent football and I think weve got to do a better job of that," Brady said. "It hasnt been as consistent as we would have liked, but weve still got a chance to improve it. And really, if were consistent this week, which I hope we are, thats ultimately whats going to help us win this game, not really what happened in the previous month or two months. Our goals are ahead of us and thats where were looking and thats the direction were heading in."

The rest of the Patriots know what their coach and quarterback are looking for, and they're trying to find it in the most obvious of places first.

"I think it just gives us reason to want to get better to go out there and practice hard and do what we need to do to get better," Wes Welker said today. "I think it's constantly us just trying to push each other in the right direction."

Vince Wilfork said that sometimes finding consistency is as easy as getting on the right track early, and letting it find you from there.

"We have to do a better job of starting games," he said. "We can play with anybody, we can play for 60 minutes, but there's just so much up and down. Part of that is how we start. We gotta do a better job of starting fast. That's gonna be the motto here from here on out: Start fast and finish strong. It's a good week to start this week. last week of the season, being at home, division game, against a team that's not gonna come in here and lay down."

However it happens, if the Patriots can find some consistency before the end of the regular season, it would be an opportune time for order to be restored to their football universe.

Playoff football awaits.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

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

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.