Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

ATLANTA When you think of the Atlanta Hawks, visions of Josh Smith dunking on somebody, or Joe Johnson splashing a 3-pointer usually come to mind. But when you start to seriously look at this Hawks team, you come to find that they can defend really well.

In fact, Atlanta's scoring defense is ranked fifth in the NBA at 92.1 points given up per game.

That's just two spots behind the Celtics, who are giving up 90.9 points per game.

"They've been good; they've been good (defensively) for several years," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We do always think about them, the high-flying act and all that stuff. They're just a solid basketball team."

Rivers points to Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia as being an important part of the Hawks success defensively this season.

"Zaza has really helped them with the physicality," Rivers said. "You think about it, they've done this without (Al) Horford which I think is even more impressive. They're a solid basketball team."

Horford had pectoral surgery in January that was expected to keep him out 3-4 months.

Regardless of the opponent, scoring for the Celtics (23-21) -- much like their record -- has been an up and down affair all season.

Despite ranking just 26th in the NBA in scoring (91.4 points per game), Boston has actually been among the NBA's best at generating points in the third quarter.

The C's 24.4 points scored in the third quarter ranks ninth in the league.

Scoring at a comparable clip won't be easy against an Atlanta Hawks team that defensively, has been at their best in the second half of games. The Hawks are giving up the second-fewest points (21.8 points) in the third quarter, and are giving up a league-low 22.1 points in the fourth.

Here's a rundown of a few other keys to watch as the Celtics try and snap a two-game losing streak against the Atlanta Hawks in the first of three meetings this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Celtics are the more rested team with the Hawks having played at Cleveland on Sunday night, so look for the C's to try and get out and run early. If they do, that means they're doing a decent job on the defensive boards which is essential to their ability to score in transition. The C's would like to improve on their 12.4 fast break points per game average, which ranks 20th in the NBA. What the C's do in terms of fast break points is literally an average night for Atlanta's transition defense. The Hawks rank sixth in fewest fast break points allowed, at 12.4 per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Rajon Rondo vs. Jeff Teague: You would think this matchup would be heavily in favor of the Celtics. As good as Rondo has been against most teams, he has historically had his problems against the Hawks. Since the 2008-2009 season, Rondo has averaged 7.4 assists in nine games against the Hawks. Only his 6.3 assists per game average against the New Orleans Hornets is lower in that span. As for Teague, he falls in line with many of today's point guards who are more about scoring than distributing the ball. "They're trying to score points," C's coach Doc Rivers said of Atlanta's point guards. "I think hat's what they think, 'point' guard means. But they're good."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Because of his unpredictable but impressive above-the-rim game, Atlanta's Josh Smith is a hard player to not watch when the Hawks play. The Celtics will try and keep him from having a big game offensively, which has indeed been the case throughout his career. Smith averages 12.1 points against Boston. There are three teams (Cleveland, New Orleans and San Antonio) in which he has a lower scoring average.

STAT TO TRACK -- Second-chance opportunities will be huge in tonight's game, because neither team is very good at getting them. The Celtics are hands-down the worst rebounding team in the NBA, struggles that extend on the offensive boards where they average 8.3 per game which, not surprisingly, is dead-last in the NBA. Meanwhile, Atlanta has had its share of struggles on the offensive glass as well. They average 10.3 offensive rebounds per game which ranks 26th in the NBA.

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

Report: Patriots, Gronkowski restructure contract for 2017 season

The Patriots and Rob Gronkowski have restructured the tight end’s contract for the coming season, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. 

The reworked deal can bump Gronkowski’s salary for the 2017 season from $5.25 million to $10.75 million, according to Schefter. 

From Schefter on Facebook:  

Specific details on Rob Gronkowski's new deal with Patriots, per @RosenhausSports:

1st tier, which gets him to $10.75M either 90 percent play time or 80 catches or 1200 receiving yards or All Pro -- and he's made All Pro four times.

2nd tier to $8.75M: he has to get 80 percent play time or 70 catches or 1000 receiving yards or 12 TDs.

3rd tier takes him to $6.75M is 70 percent playtime, 60 receptions, 800 receiving yards or 10 TDs.

But a big new groundbreaking deal for Gronk.

Gronkowski was limited by injury to just eight games last season. He had 25 receptions for 540 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were career lows. 

The 28-year-old is entering his eighth NFL season since being selected by the Pats in the second round of the 2010 draft. He has played played in at least 15 regular-season games in four of his first seven season, though he’s twice played fewer than 10. 

Brandin Cooks ready to bring back arrow celebration after NFL rule change

Brandin Cooks ready to bring back arrow celebration after NFL rule change

Tuesday’s announcement from Roger Goodell that the NFL is “relaxing” its rules on celebrations is good news for at least one Patriot. 

That would be Brandin Cooks, who began celebrating the rule change on Twitter not long after the league made its announcement. 

Cooks, whom the Patriots acquired from the Saints this offseason in a trade that sent first and third-round picks to New Orleans, lost his favorite celebration last season when it was made clear that miming archery was off-limits. Josh Norman was fined $10,000 last season for such a celebration. 

Following Norman’s fine, Cooks lamented the league’s decision to punish what Cooks had previously done in reference to a Bible verse (Psalms 144:6). 

"Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them," Cooks told the New Orleans Advocate. "I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this."

Added Cooks: ”I’ve been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it. Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it's almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it's frustrating. I'll definitely continue to speak my opinion about it, and if they have a problem with it, so be it."

When Tuesday’s news emerged, Cooks and former Saints teammate Mark Ingram were quick to react.