Blakely's Celtics-Bulls preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Bulls preview

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have been a tale of two different teams most of the season. There were the C's before the all-star break, a team that looked more like they were bound for the NBA lottery than the playoffs.

Then there are the Celtics we've seen since the all-star break, a team that has been among the NBA's best. The two-faced nature of the C's this season even manifests itself within games, which was indeed the case in Boston's 87-86 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.

In that game, the Celtics did very little right in the first half against a high-scoring Spurs squad. And the result was a double-digit halftime deficit. Then came the second half, one in which Boston's defense clamped down. Before you could say, 'Avery Bradley scores again,' the Celtics were back in the game.

"I think they had 53 points the first half?" C's Kevin Garnett said after the loss.

Actually, it was worse. The Spurs had 59 at the half to Boston's 48.

"That was probably the focus of our second half; to be more disciplined on defensive strategy," Garnett continued. "I thought we did that, man. Tough team; there's a reason why they're second in the West."

Things won't get any easier tonight against Chicago (42-13) which has the best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston's ability to go into 'post-all-star break' mode will go far in their quest to knock off the hard-charging Bulls who are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. Here we'll examine other keys to tonight's game between Boston and Chicago.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Boston's rebounding struggles are an issue unto themselves. But they really become problematic when it comes to second-chance points. You look back at Wednesday's 87-86 loss to San Antonio, and arguably the biggest shot of the night was made by Matt Bonner with less than a minute to play, a shot that came about because of San Antonio's ability to get multiple shot opportunities. No team is better at getting second-chance points than the Bulls, who average 15.9 second-chance points per game which is tied with Utah for tops in the NBA. And it should come as no surprise that Boston, the league's worst rebounding team, is also among the NBA leaders in second-chance points given up. Boston gives up 14.2 second-chance points per game, the seventh-highest average in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah: You thought watching Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan on Wednesday night was a treat? Watching KG and Noah go to battle? Even better. In their last meeting on Feb. 16, Garnett had a strong game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Noah also had a huge night, finishing with 15 points, 16 rebounds and most importantly, the victory.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- If he plays, and that's a big 'if' right now, all eyes will be on Derrick Rose. The reigning league MVP hasn't played since March 12 against New York. And even though this will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams, it's only the second time the C's could potentially see Rose on the floor. He missed the last two matchups with a back injury, and is currently out with a groin injury. However, his status is questionable after he was able to participate fully in Chicago's practice on Wednesday. "I really dont know. I felt good, but me playing (against Boston tonight), I dont know," Rose told reporters after practice. "Im able to run a little bit more, but not at my top speed. Top speed or not, Rose playing at all will only add to the list of concerns Boston has to worry about tonight.

STAT TO TRACK -- Keeping the Bulls from running will be among the many challenges Boston will face. The Bulls average 14 fast-break points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics defense is only giving up 12.1 fast-break points per game which ranks seventh in the league.

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

Does uncertainty for Carson Smith mean Red Sox need bullpen help?

BOSTON — Tyler Thornburg’s gone for the season and there’s really no telling when the other set-up man the Sox expected to help in 2017, Carson Smith, will be back.

The Sox have already made inroads, if minor ones, in bolstering their third-base situation and rotation. Smith’s situation leaves a question of whether the Sox will need to pursue help in the bullpen as well.

There's not an easy answer to settle on at this point.

For one, the timetable with the right-hander Smith — whose shoulder has bothered him on the way back from Tommy John surgery — isn’t clear.

“He's in a no-throw [time] through the weekend,” Sox manager John Farrell said Friday afternoon at Fenway Park. “He'll be reevaluated on Monday to hopefully initiate a throwing program. He's responding favorably to the treatment. He continues to rehab as he's been. We have not closed the book in a sense on anything Carson can contribute this year.”

What does this year mean, though? Will they be able to know by July, by the trade deadline?

“Still too early to tell,” Farrell said. “We thought he was days from starting his rehab assignment after his last live BP session in New York [on June 6]. Unfortunately, that was put on hold for the time being. To get into any kind of timeframes, timetables, I don't know that any of us can predict that right now.”

The Sox relievers have done extraordinarily well without either Thornburg or Smith. Can that continue without reinforcements? The bullpen’s ERA entering Friday was 2.94, the second best mark in the majors. Its innings total, 217, was the second. lowest in the majors. 

So it’s not like the entire group is about to collapse from fatigue. But a guy like Joe Kelly, for example, isn’t someone the Sox want to use back to back.

It’s a young group and ultimately an inexperienced group. But Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already fallen into the trap of trading for premium set-up men twice, and that’s a dangerous road to pursue again. Perhaps a smaller trade makes more sense.

“Well, at this point, we’re open minded to help,” Dombrowski said when asked if he was targeting either third-base or relief help. “I’m not going to get into specifics at this time on what else we’re looking for. Keep an open mind on a lot of ways on which we can improve. We have guys coming back and both the spots, I think Carson Smith is very important to us and our bullpen has pitched great. The other day, we struggled but that was one of the few times we really struggled all year. 

“I think Carson still has a chance to come back and help us this year.”