Haggerty: Bruins have fallen, and they can't get up

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Haggerty: Bruins have fallen, and they can't get up

SUNRISE, FL As one might expect after another discouraging loss, it wasnt a pretty postgame picture in the Bruins' dressing room Thursday night at the BankAtlantic Center.

The Bruins once again buckled under the first signs of adversity. A bad cross-checking call against Shawn Thornton led to a Florida power-play goal, and then the roof caved in. The Bs sound defense and elite goaltending, once their bedrock, again deserted them at the worst time.

The final score was 6-2 in favor of the Panthers, who have quietly crept to within two points of the Bs for the No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference. And the game was just as hopelessly one-sided as the scoreboard suggested.

Tim Thomas let in four goals on the first 17 shots he faced, and was betrayed by a defense that couldnt get out of its own way against an onslaught of Florida attackers.
Zdeno Chara snapped far too many breakout passes straight down the middle of the ice that turned into offensive chances for Florida.
There were far too many breakdowns from old reliables like Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference.

All the Bs defensemen look exhausted, injured or perhaps a little bit of both. That, and the inability to stick to the team's once-airtight defensive system, has led to 36 goals allowed in nine games during the month of March, including 12 in back-to-back losses in the state of Florida (6-1 to the Lightning on Tuesday, 6-2 to the Panthers on Thursday).

The Bruins look nothing like a Claude Julien-coached team, and thats a very bad thing indeed.

It was basically a whole team collapse tonight, said Julien in a sentence that could sum up the last two months. We do have some guys that are tired, and we have some guys that arent playing up to par. Weve got lots of games and we have to fight our way through it. You cant throw your arms up in the air. Youve got to fight through it.

So now the Bruins are one point ahead of the hard-charging Ottawa Senators in the division, two points ahead of the Panthers, and theyve won exactly five regulation games since the beginning of February.

The Bruins emotion, so necessary to their success, is gone. Theyve become the hunted rather than the hunter in the physicality portion of the game, and they look like a team thats been skating Herbies (named in honor of coach Herb Brooks for the suicide skating sprints he put the 1980 US Miracle Team through in practice) for days.

In many ways Thomas has become the fall guy for the Bruins nosedive, based on his decision to skip the White House visit, but the problems -- both with Thomas himself and the team -- had already begun prior to Jan. 23.
Those problems have come to a head during this winless road trip, and Thomas looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders after Thursday's defeat. After yet another horrid outing -- his own, and the team's -- he finally agreed that fatigue was a factor.

It has a lot to do with it . . . yes, said Thomas, who just days ago defiantly insisted that neither he nor his teammates were tired. You can see it in peoples faces.

Thomas has seen a ton of hockey over his 14 years as a professional athlete, and that means hes experienced nearly everything. But the soon-to-be 38-year-old had zero answers on how the Bruins can get out of their 12-16-2 rut of the last 30 games.

Weve done a good job of staying positive and supporting each other, but I dont know what to do. Weve got to figure out something, said Thomas. I dont know if Ive ever been in quite a part of a run like this. Generally you just put it behind you and move on to the next one, but weve done that for a few games in a row. Were stuck in the same place. I dont have any answers.

Chara similarly had no answers and few words. Chara was the captain at the helm when the Bruins hit their high water mark last season in June, and he appears to be the captain on the NHL version of the Titanic this year.

Its tough to describe," he said. "Its tough to find the words for the way were playing. Its everything: offensively and defensively. Were not finding a way to be more creative and effective. The only way we can get out of it is to find the answers in this room and move on to the next one.

We have the tools. We have the talent. We are capable of doing great things. Weve proven it and done it before. Right now we just cant find a way to be effective.

Around the room, the Bruins players dressed quickly and quietly without smiles or conversation. They made no eye contact; indeed, they did little more than study the floor tiles. David Krejci sat in front of his locker stall with his head buried in his hands.

Chara mentioned that the Bruins werent being creative enough when talking about the teams shortcomings, and that spoke to a Bs coaching staff freely admitting they must find a different path to success this time around. Julien said he and his assistants realize the challenge is on them as well as the players to figure something out.

Our team is tired and theyre not playing well, but youve got to fix it somehow said Julien. Theres a lot of thinking to be done. Thats what we do for a living. We have to step up and find a solution as a coaching staff. Thats what we have to do. When you give up 12 goals in two games you need everybody on board.
It better happen quickly, because even the playoffs arent a guarantee if they continue their free-fall.
The Bruins have a chance to use this adversity as fuel to snap them out of their malaise. Or they could become another Stanley Cup champion that fails to make the playoffs the following year.

Nobody knows any more which path the Bruins will eventually, and thats the scary part.

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.