Blakely: C's talk focused on improvement, not wins

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Blakely: C's talk focused on improvement, not wins

BOSTON So this is what it has come to for Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics - measuring progress in terms of improvement and not wins.

Paul Pierce?

"He's getting it," Rivers says. "You can see it; it's coming."

Battling in the paint for rebounds?

"We've been better, last two games," Rivers said. "So, we're getting there."

This is life in Celtics Nation this year, where talk of banner-chasing and pummeling teams after wins has been replaced with "we're-on-the-rise" chatter and progress in defeat.

Short of wins - they still have just four (with eight losses) following Monday night's 97-88 defeat by Oklahoma City - the one thing the Celtics have going for them is hope; hope that the struggles of today will in some way pay dividends in the future.

"For us, we believe that we're not that far away," said Jermaine O'Neal, who had a season-high 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Thunder.

Added Boston's Mickael Pietrus: "All we need right now is just one win. It can be against anybody, we just need that one win to get everybody regrouped and feel better."

Whatever progress players speak of, it has to be put in the context of how the mistakes being made are costly - too costly on most nights for the C's to win.

The Thunder got 24 of its points off of Boston turnovers, while Oklahoma City's miscues amounted to the equivalent of the shot that the C's seem to struggle at making - a lay-up.

"You know in points off turnovers, that's the game right there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to the 24-2 points off turnover advantage enjoyed by the Thunder.

Kevin Garnett, one of the most competitive players of his generation, has also accepted the reality that the C's - for now at least - are a team that has to be focused more on growth than getting wins.

"There's nothing positive about losing; that's first," Garnett said. "But in trying to make progress, you have to pull the pluses out of everything. We're making progress."

He's right.

The team on the floor now is indeed better than the one that began the season with a Christmas Day loss at New York. But how much better are they really going to get, as they are assembled?

With each loss, there becomes more and more internet chatter from Celtics fans believing they need to trade anyone not named Rajon Rondo. However, the more you listen to this current group of Celtics, the more you watch them play, the clearer it becomes that they are inching closer and closer towards being a respectable team in the East that, depending on who they match up with, could surprise a team or two in the playoffs.

But talk of the postseason is far, far down the road.

Right now, the Celtics' focus has to be on winning games which is proving to be a lot tougher than this team ever imagined.

The disappointment in that is shared by them all. But discouraged?

Not a single player seems down this road.

"At the end of the day, none of us like to lose; that's the frustrating part," Pierce said. "From every win you can take some positives and from losses you can take some positives. I like where we're headed; there are just little things that are really killing us."

Improving on those little things will breathe life into a season that's looking more like a death march than a march toward another championship.

"Winning is tough, man," Garnett said. "It's tough. You're dealing with confident teams; teams geeked to play you. And on top of that, you're dealing with talented teams. Nothing easy about the NBA. Nothing is easy about getting here, wearing the jersey, the process it's very difficult. I know sometimes you sit back and you're writing your stories and it looks easy, but it's a lot of preparation, a lot of things go into this."

While all that's true, the bottom line doesn't change regardless of how much preparation time is involved, or whatever hurdles a player overcomes to make it to the NBA.

It always comes back to one thing - winning. And right now, the C's aren't "there" yet.

Who knows when they will "get there," wherever "there" is.

One thing we do know - it can't happen soon enough.

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Game 5 is about respect for Boston

BOSTON – From the outset of this season, the Boston Celtics were swimming upstream when it came to getting respect. 

No matter how many wins they racked up, no matter how many upsets they managed to pull off, they were never going to do enough to satisfy the court of public opinion which wanted one thing and one thing only from the NBA: A third installment of Golden State against Cleveland in the NBA Finals. 

The Warriors did their part by running through the West with 12 wins in as many playoff games. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will try to not just stave off elimination tonight, but continue to delay what so many believe is an inevitable Golden State-Cleveland Final.

Boston’s Al Horford understands that while the league this season has seen lots of individual success as well as teams that have overachieved, the thirst for Golden State versus Cleveland remains stronger than ever. 

“We understand that’s what everyone has been talking about since the beginning of the season,” Horford said. “For us it’s just to focus … and play the Celtic way. And just come out here and fight and we’ll take it from there.”

The Celtics did that in Game 3 with Avery Bradley delivering one of the more memorable shots in the Brad Stevens era, a game-winning three-pointer that hit the rim four times before falling with 0.1 seconds to play as Boston squeaked out a 111-108 win.

Boston did a lot of good things in Game 4 and seemingly went into the half sensing that maybe just maybe they would even up the series at two games heading back to Boston for tonight’s Game 5 matchup. 

But Kyrie Irving picked up the slack for a foul-plagued LeBron James, lifting the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win which puts them now just a win away from advancing to the NBA Finals. 

Not only have folks both in the media as well as fans who have rooted for this series to be over, even merchandise sellers like Dick Sporting Goods have anticipated this series as already being over.

“It is what it is,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “It’s been like that all year; a lot of guys counting us out. At the same time, we’re trying to put ourselves in position to win each and every game.”

While that has been the goal, it certainly hasn’t worked out that way in this series. 

Despite Games 1 and 2 being at the TD Garden, the Celtics lost both games by a total of 57 points. 

And while they won Game 3 and had the Cavaliers on the ropes in Game 4 before losing, they know their chance to play NBA Finals spoiler is just about up. 

“We know that’s the Finals that everybody wants to talk about, what everybody is looking forward to,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “We understand it. But we work just as hard as these guys. We just have to keep going out there and working. We’re not going to give it to them, and stuff like that. We just have to make it tough on them.”

Red Sox' seven-run rally in seventh keys 9-4 win over Rangers

Red Sox' seven-run rally in seventh keys 9-4 win over Rangers

BOSTON -- Chris Sale was perfectly happy to sit back and watch the Red Sox hitters do the work this time.

Sale cruised into the fifth inning, then was rewarded in the seventh when the Boston batters erupted for seven runs on their way to a 9-4 victory over the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.

Sale (5-2) struck out six, falling short in his attempt to become the first pitcher in baseball's modern era to strike out at least 10 batters in nine straight games in one season.

But he didn't seem to mind.

"It was fun," said the left-hander, who received more runs of support in the seventh inning alone than while he was in any other game this season. "You get run after run, hit after hit. When we score like that, it's fun."

Dustin Pedroia waved home the tiebreaking run on a wild pitch, then singled in two more as the Red Sox turned a 3-1 deficit into a five-run lead and earned their third straight victory. Sam Travis had two singles for the Red Sox in his major league debut.

"I was a little nervous in the first inning," he said. "I'd be lying to you guys if I said I wasn't."

Mike Napoli homered for Texas, which has lost three of four to follow a 10-game winning streak.

FOR SALE

Sale, who also struck out 10 or more batters in eight straight games in 2015 with the White Sox, remains tied for the season record with Pedro Martinez. (Martinez had 10 straight in a span from 1999-2000.)

After scoring four runs in support of Sale in his first six starts, the Red Sox have scored 27 while he was in the game in his last five. He took a no-hitter into the fifth, but finished with three earned runs, six hits and a walk in 7 1/3 innings.

"Guys pulled through for me when I was probably pretty mediocre," he said.

NO RELIEF

Sam Dyson (1-5) faced seven batters in relief of Martin Perez and gave up four hits, three walks - two intentional - and a wild pitch without retiring a batter.

"Martin threw the ball really well and I came in with two guys on and couldn't get an out," Dyson said. "Sometimes they hit them where they are, and sometimes they hit them where they aren't."

Asked if he felt any different, he said: "Everything's the same.

"If I get my (expletive) handed to me, it's not like anything's wrong," he said. "Any more amazing questions from you all?"

SEVEN IN THE SEVENTH

It was 3-1 until the seventh, when Andrew Benintendi and Travis singled with one out to chase Perez. Mitch Moreland singled to make it 3-2, pinch-hitter Josh Rutledge singled to tie it and, after Mookie Betts was intentionally walked to load the bases, Moreland scored on a wild pitch to give Boston the lead.

Pedroia singled in two more runs, Xander Bogaerts doubled and Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked to load the bases. Dyson was pulled after walking Chris Young to force in another run.

Austin Bibens-Dirkx got Benintendi to pop up foul of first base, but Napoli let it fall safely - his second such error in the game. Benintendi followed with a sacrifice fly that made it 8-3 before Travis was called out on strikes to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Rangers: 2B Rougned Odor was shaken up when he dived for Betts' grounder up the middle in the third inning. He was slow getting up. After being looked at by the trainer, he remained in the game.

Red Sox: LHP David Price made his second rehab start for Triple-A Pawtucket, allowing six runs - three earned - seven hits and a walk. He struck out four in 3 2/3 innings, throwing 89 pitches, 61 for strikes, and left without addressing reporters. 3B Pablo Sandoval also played in the game, going 2 for 4 with two runs.

"He felt fine physically," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, who added he would talk to Price on Thursday morning to determine how to proceed. "We had a scout there who liked what he saw."

UP NEXT:

Rangers: Will send RHP Nick Martinez (1-2) to the mound in the finale of the three-game series.

Red Sox: LHP Drew Pomeranz (3-3) looks to snap a personal two-game losing streak.