Bruins' teammates don't see Thomas as a distraction

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Bruins' teammates don't see Thomas as a distraction

WASHINGTON, D.C. Tim Thomas was one of the first waves of Bruins players to retreat off the ice at the Verizon Center Tuesday morning, and that normally means the 37-year-old goaltender is readying for a night stopping pucks against the Capitals.

But it was no normal day for Thomas, and it was difficult to determine whether his exit meant he was starting or simply giving himself enough time to dress and get out of dodge before the bothersome questions began.

Thomas wasnt in the Bs visiting dressing room when it opened up for the media access portion of the afternoon, and once again his teammates were thrust into the role of answering for the oldest guy on the team. The goaltender has not offered in-person comments about skipping Mondays White House visit, and it appears that Tuesday wont be the day he goes beyond a Facebook post.
His Bruins teammates were uniform in stating Thomas political actions wouldnt be a distraction, and it was about his right to individual expression. Nobody might be more understanding of that than Andrew Ference, who has his own deep-rooted personal and political beliefs that can sometimes butt heads with the collective group.

Its something that was a very rare opportunity. All of us made our own individual decision to go because its a good thing, said Ference, serving out the second game of a three-game suspension vs. the Caps. I think as everybody has already said its his decision. He believes strongly in things, and, well, so be it. Its not for us to really delve into because its his business.

I obviously have a different viewpoint. I think this a wonderful country. The government has done so much for us. I think thats why we were so thrilled to go because we had a different viewpoint. Everybody has a different point of view and thats this country as well, right?

Steve Kampfer, like Thomas, is a Michigan native and was honored as one of only three US native team members invited to visit the Presidents home on Pennsylvania Ave. There was no hesitation in the young defenseman when it came to visiting something as symbolically significant as the White House, and getting a behind-the-scenes look at something he pored over for four years in Ann Arbor.

Its Timmys decision. Its his beliefs and his right to do whatever he wants. We all had a great time going to the White House, said Kampfer. For me it was a dream come true because I studied politics in school. I was a political science major in school, so to shake the Presidents hand was awesome. Its something Ill never forget.

Peter Chiarelli reiterated there would be no disciplinary actions levied against Thomas because of a personal decision to decline President Barack Obamas invitation but there will certainly be questions for Thomas until theyre sufficiently answered by people curious about his decision.

Im not going to regulate free speech, said Chiarelli, who confirmed he spoke with Thomas several times imploring him to change his mind about his White House absence. Tim is his own person. Hes been that way for the five or six years that Ive known him. That hasnt changed and it wont change. We won a Stanley Cup and were doing well this year."

This didnt come across my desk last week." continued Chiarelli, "This is something Ive known about for three months. I know what his beliefs are and his political position is. That statement was entirely consistent with his position.

If Thomas plays Tuesday night against the Capitals he could face a healthy collection of boos from a Washington-centric crowd already viewing him as the opposition. Things could be really interesting a week from today at TD Garden when the Bruins open up the traditional second-half with the Ottawa Senators. Thomas will clearly get a healthy dose of those questions from the national hockey media during the upcoming All-Star weekend in Ottawa.

One has to wonder what the Bruins will do organizationally if their fervent, proud fan base takes Thomas decision personally, and voices their disapproval early and often with loud booing. Its hard to envision that given his heroics in the Cup win, but politics-based reactions are sometimes difficult to gauge.

Thomas could simply throw a shutout down Ottawas throat and have the fan base on his side again once the conversation shifts to hockey rather than Tea Party politics. Its easy to envision the Bruins simply bulldozing over this most current speed bump and continuing on their merry way into the playoffs with Thomas.

Players like Milan Lucic indicated they knew well ahead of time Thomas wasnt going to attend the White House event, and theyre very familiar with his conservative-leaning beliefs. Theyve been able to win with Thomas espousing his beliefs before, and its something most feel like they can simply do again whether or not he decries the government publicly.

Weve had the same group of guys around here for how many years now? Were the same group of people, said Ference. Its not like the locker room all of a sudden changed one day. Its the same people, its the same personalities and we all know each other extremely well.

Were all practically married to each other. Its not like there are any secrets about viewpoints or personalities." continued Ference, "Maybe its interesting for everybody else to read on the outside, but for us its another day. Its the same family weve had for the last few years. It hasnt changed the dynamics for us.

Its difficult to argue with Ference, but theres also this: an entire nation of US citizens werent as familiar with Thomas individual beliefs as they are this time around. As always the people will decide how his actions are ultimately received, and his teammates will decide if things ever become a distraction.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.