Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Hawks preview

BOSTON The Boston Celtics once again find themselves in a less-than desirable scenario right before a big game.

The C's are coming off a physically and emotionally draining 115-107 win at Miami, the kind of game after which you would love to get a little time off.

No such luck for the Green Team, who will host a well-rested Atlanta Hawks team tonight which is also hoping to improve its playoff positioning.

Atlanta hasn't played since a 116-96 win over Charlotte on Saturday.

"It is what it is," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We just have to be ready and hopefully we get energy from the crowd. Because we used a lot on the floor (in beating Miami)."

The Celtics have given the home crowd plenty to cheer about lately, having reeled off wins in nine of their last 10 games with the lone defeat being a one-point nail-biter to the San Antonio Spurs.

In addition to being well-rested, the Hawks have also proven to be a difficult team to beat when they are in your building.

Only four teams in the East have a better road record than the Hawks, who are 15-15 away from Philips Arena.

Boston's ability to feed off the home crowd will indeed be a factor in tonight's game. We'll examine a few other keys as the Celtics continue to pull away in the Atlantic Division.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Regardless of whether the Celtics played last night, the Hawks are going to come out looking to run. It makes sense when you consider they are the younger team, and getting out in transition has been one of their best traits all season. Atlanta averages 15.8 fast-break points this season (No. 8 in the NBA), a figure that will be challenged by a Celtics defense that's giving up just 12 fast-break points per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs. Joe Johnson: Once again Bradley will find himself matched up with a taller player at the shooting guard position. But what makes Johnson such a tough cover is his ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or pull up for jumpers. Give Bradley credit. He has managed to make some of the NBA's best (Dwyane Wade, for example) have off nights. He'll look to continue that trend against Johnson, one of the most efficient shooting guards in the NBA.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Atlanta's Josh Smith is a phenomenal talent . . . except when he plays against Boston. In his lone game against the Celtics this season, he had 10 points on 5-for-20 shooting. He has faced the C's 24 times in his career, averaging 12.3 points per game. Of the teams he has played against 24 or more times, Smith's scoring, rebounding (6.7) and field goal percentage (.403), are worst against Boston than any other team.

STAT TO TRACK -- Although both Boston and Atlanta have not been among the NBA's top scoring teams this season, both have ratcheted up their bucket-making skills of late. In the last three games by the C's, they are averaging 101.3 points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA during that span. For the season, Boston ranks No. 26. As for the Hawks, they have the 18th-best scoring team this season, but have averaged 112.3 points in the last three games which only trails Phoenix (112.7) during that same span.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

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Posey stays out of the fray during Strickland-Harper brawl

SAN FRANCISCO  — As an irate Bryce Harper charged toward the mound, Buster Posey just stood and watched from behind home plate.

And when the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants cleared their benches Monday and punches flew both ways, the All-Star catcher did his best to remain just outside the fray.

Not where some expected to find the Giants team leader with his pitcher, Hunter Strickland, exchanging head shots with Harper.

“Posey did NOTHING to stop Harper from getting to his pitcher,” former major league pitcher Dontrelle Willis wrote on Twitter. “I’ve never seen that before in my life.”

Posey declined to enter the fracas, instead remaining around its edges and watching as the players scuffled in “a pretty good pile,” as Giants manager Bruce Bochy called it.

Posey dealt with a concussion in April after being struck in the head by a pitch, but did not say he held back because of concerns related to that. He did say he was wary about the risk of injury.

“There were some big guys tumbling around out there,” Posey said. “You see Mike Morse and Jeff Samardzija are about as big as they come and he was getting knocked around like a pinball. So it was a little dangerous to get in there.”

Still, social media was abuzz at the sight of Posey not sticking up for his teammate.

“Strickland must have told @BusterPosey he was hitting him and let him come cause he didn’t even give a soft jog,” Willis wrote.

“Says all you need to know that Buster Posey didn’t bother to hold back Harper,” tweeted Fox broadcaster Kevin Burkhardt . “Let him go get his pitcher.”

Also absent from the fight: hard-nosed Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. As his teammates flew over the dugout railing, Bumgarner stayed put, perhaps because the left-hander is still recovering after injuring his pitching shoulder and ribs in a dirt biking accident in April.