Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

OKLAHOMA CITY If you look at the Boston Celtics history on the road against the Thunder, you have to feel pretty good about their chances of winning tonight. Boston has won all three games in Oklahoma City since the team relocated from Seattle.

But history, while nice to reflect upon, won't do the C's a bit of good tonight. Not only do they face arguably the best team in the NBA, but they do with a depleted roster that's even more under-manned than usual.

How bad?

The Celtics' big man rotation consists of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, JaJuan Johnson and . . . that's it!

Both Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) were sent home to see doctors, putting their return to the team following the all-star break, in doubt. The C's are also without Brandon Bass (left knee), who said he'll return to the lineup sometime after the all-star break.

With so few big bodies available, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to avoid foul trouble.

Rivers said things are trending towards the C's needing to go out and add another big man soon.

But Rivers is quick to caution that free agent centers at this stage of the season, can not be seen as a savior or anything like that.

"Listen, if there's a big out there, there's a reason he's out there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I hate to say that, but that's the truth."

Not surprisingly, Rivers will play some zone defense tonight, probably more than usual.

"We're going to zone, we're going to go small, we're going to go big, "

Huh?

"Oh, we can't go big," Rivers quickly reminded himself and the media. "We're going to do whatever we think is required to win the game. It's not going to be traditional at times, and it can't be. It's not like we have a choice."

Junkin' up the game, as coaches like to call it, will certainly be one of the Celtics' goals as they try to salvage what's left of their pre-all star break road trip against the Thunder.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Kevin Durant in full-blown attack mode. Although he's proven to be an excellent perimeter shooter, don't be surprised to see him look to drive the ball more to the basket in an attempt to not just score, but get the Thunder in the bonus early. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has no grand visions of stopping Durant. "If you try and make a special defense for Durant, he's still probably going to score 30," Rivers said. "At the end of the day with Durant, you do your defense. If he makes shots, he makes shots. If he doesn't, he doesn't." Durant comes into tonight's game as the NBA's No. 2 scorer, averaging 27.7 points per game

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs Russell Westbrook: With Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, Avery Bradley will once again get the starting nod. With teams doubling Paul Pierce and Ray Allen every time they touch the ball, Bradley will likely have a ton of good-looking shot opportunities. "I gotta help my team out any way I can," Bradley said. "If that's me being aggressive one night, or if that's me getting us in sets one night, I'll try and do whatever." Westbrook will be a handful, for sure. Not only has he improved his jump-shot, but his speed and power gets him to the free throw line a lot. Westbrook has been to the free throw line 188 times this season which ranks 10th in the NBA. "Westbrook is a foul magnet," Rivers said. "He gets into your body. I wouldn't be surprised if Avery was in foul trouble most of the game."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett returns after missing two games to attend to a personal family matter. With the Celtics so short-handed in the frontcourt, whatever success they enjoy around the basket will likely be generated by Garnett the scorer, or Garnett the passer. And while his minutes will still be monitored closely, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he plans to let him play a little longer than usual tonight. "We'll up his minutes by five minutes," Rivers said. "He's usually at 30. Today he'll play 35."

STAT TO TRACK -- One of the best shots the Celtics have of pulling off the upset, will be to generate points from the miscues made by Oklahoma City. For all that the Thunder do well, turnovers remain a major weakness. They commit 17.1 turnovers per game, more than any other team in the NBA. A lot of that has to do with point guard Russell Westbrook, who is committing an NBA-high 4.3 turnovers per game. Teammate Kevin Durant isn't too far behind, with 3.7 turnovers per game that ranks 7th in the NBA. They are the only team with two players ranked in the top 10 in that category.

Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

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Tom Brady on Donald Trump: 'I certainly disagree with what he said'

After beating the Texans on Sunday, 36-33, Tom Brady didn't want to delve too deeply into what went into his locking arms with teammates during the national anthem. 

"I just think," Brady said, "there's just a great love for my teammates."

He didn't want to get into Donald Trump's comments about players kneeling for the anthem, but he was willing to go there during Monday's Kirk and Callahan Show on WEEI.

"Yeah, I certainly disagree with what he said," Brady explained. "I thought it was just divisive. Like I said, I just want to support my teammates. I am never one to say, ‘Oh, that is wrong. That is right.’ I do believe in what I believe in. I believe in bringing people together and respect and love and trust. Those are the values that my parents instilled in me. That is how I try and live every day.

"I have been blessed to be in locker rooms with guys all over the United States over the course of my career. Some of my great friends are from Florida, Virginia, New York, Montana, Colorado, Texas. The one thing about football is it brings so many guys together -- guys you would never have the opportunity to be around. Whether it was in college, and all the way into the pros. We’re all different, we’re all unique. That is what makes us all special."

Brady was one of several players locking arms on the Patriots sideline for the anthem. More than a dozen others, including Devin McCourty, took a knee. Just before and immediately after the anthem, fans booed the demonstration.

"I think everyone has the right to do whatever they want to do," Brady said of the response. "If you don’t agree, that is fine. You can voice your disagreement, I think that is great. It’s part of our democracy. As long as it is done in a peaceful, respectful way, that is what our country has been all about."

Curran: In the end, everyone stood because of the game

Curran: In the end, everyone stood because of the game

FOXBORO – The boos and demands to “Stand up!” rained down just as the Star Spangled Banner began. The players on the Patriots sideline who knelt – the ones boos and invective was directed at – stayed down. Others stood, locking arms with teammates while others stood with their hands over their hearts.

By game’s end, everyone was on their feet. Players. Coaches. Fans. Together.

Unless they left early because of traffic and a late Patriots deficit. Or because they couldn’t bear the thought of watching an NFL game on a beautiful September Sunday because the entertainers didn’t do what they wanted them to do before the performance began.

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The whole thing’s complicated. I understand why people take offense at those who don’t stand for the anthem.

I understand why others want to deliver a symbolic message about their American experience.

I completely understand why, two days after President Trump thought it appropriate to use the phrase “son of a bitch” to refer to someone making a silent, reflective statement, many NFL players felt challenged, backed into a corner and somewhat dehumanized. The message delivered was, in essence, “Shut up and dance.”

Personally, I prefer to stick to sports. I don’t think I’m equipped to talk politics because I don’t know policy, legislation, constituencies and special interests – all the things that I define as politics – well enough to drone on at anybody.

As for sociology – which is what this is about rather than politics – I have my experiences and others have theirs. I’m trying to mow my own lawn over here. You do you. I’ll do me. As long as you don’t encroach on me doing me while you do you, I’m fine. When I’m not completely self-absorbed, a respectful exchange of ideas can make me see things in a different light.

It didn’t surprise me some people at Gillette Stadium had a visceral and vocal reaction to players kneeling. The pot was brought to a boil all weekend, the lid was just lifted and it bubbled over.

But the irony of how the afternoon played out – that Brandin Cooks, a player booing fans were screaming at to stand three hours earlier brought them to their feet with his toe-tapping last-minute touchdown – was perfectly symbolic.

Ultimately, everyone was there for the football – the players, coaches, media and fans – and in the end it was the football that brought the unified response that stood in contrast to the divided reactions in the stands and on the field before the game.

“That’s what sports is,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “That’s what sports does. That’s what makes them great. They bring out what we have in common.

“I don’t think people look at us as human,” McCourty said. “I don’t think they ever have. We’re just the entertainment. They don’t understand that there’s a human behind it. People want to shake your hand or have their picture taken with you but they don’t want to know you. That’s reality.”

Maybe. Or maybe people feel their voices aren’t heard. They don’t have a column they can write or a TV or radio show to spout off on. They don’t have the chance to demonstrate their individual feelings at their cubicle before the workday starts.

All they know is they spent $500 or more to get to and into with a belly full of steak tips and beer and they don’t need to feel like being reminded about somebody else’s societal oppression on their day off, thank you very much.

It’s not so much about who does what during the Star Spangled Banner as much as it is that a lot of people don’t appreciate the intrusion. That, and they’re tired of hearing how bad everyone else has it when it’s really no damn picnic for most people these days.

Believe me, there’s not unanimity of opinion in the Patriots locker room any more than there is in your office, home, dorm or neighborhood. Players of different races, backgrounds, economic circumstances and ways of expressing themselves are thrown in a pot together and told to work for a common goal and rely on each other.

The mish-mash of ways in which players responded during the anthem on the Patriots sideline, the reticence of some players to dip a toe in the conversation, McCourty’s opening statement at the podium and then his declining to take questions and Bill Belichick’s comment that he would “deal with that later” all seemed to indicate that the team itself is still working through how it expresses itself as a whole.

It’s complicated for them too.

But in the end, it was the football that bound them together. It was the game that left them jumping on each other and the fans standing and screaming and nobody thinking at all about who did what when the song played before the game.

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