Boston Bruins

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.

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

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Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

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Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

CANTON, Mass. – LeBron James has embraced the fact that Kyrie Irving has moved on, but you get a sense that there’s still a bit of ‘what if. . .?” that James is still thinking about.

"I was wondering if there was something I could have did better to make him not want to be traded," James told reporters during Cleveland’s Media Day on Monday. "Is it the way the season finished, or, was it me coming back in the first place? Was it the coaching changes or the GM change, or, I don't know. I had so many different emotions go through my head."

When told about James wondering if there was something he could have done better to not make him ask for a trade, Irving responded, “Yeah.”

Irving declined to get into specifics, saying, “If we ever have that conversation, I don’t think it’s for anybody but me and him.”

He added, “Even if there are things, it’s really not anybody’s business. It’s between two men. That’s really where it is.”

Irving, a four-time All-Star in his six seasons with the Cavs, asked for a trade request in July.

Cleveland talked to several teams, and were seemingly focused on trying to send him to a team in the Western Conference.

While there was considerable interest, the Cavs didn’t see any deals come across their desk to their liking which is when they rekindled conversations with Boston.

After initially coming to terms of a trade, Cleveland was concerned that Isaiah Thomas’ still-on-the-mend hip injury was more serious than they had initially thought and asked for additional compensation in the form of a first-round pick.

The Celtics indicated during their initial talks that Thomas might not be ready at the start of the season. His timetable still remains uncertain, but reports out of Cleveland indicate that he may be ready to play prior to January.

Both Boston and Cleveland found a happy medium with the trade eventually being Irving to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn along with a 2020 second-round pick Boston got from Miami, that they conveyed to the Cavs.

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