Kelly: Bruins should beware of the Senators

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Kelly: Bruins should beware of the Senators

WILMINGTON, Mass. Who better to understand the domination of the Ottawa Senators over the last four years at the hands of the Boston Bruins than Chris Kelly?
Kelly was a member of the Senators for 6 12 years prior to his acquisition by the Bruins at the trade deadline in 2011, so he's seen life from both sides. The B's are 18-5 over Ottawa in the last four years, and Kelly will tell you it's better being the hammer than the nail.
But he'll also tell you that assuming the B's will roll over the Sens in the playoffs -- the two are likely first-round foes -- just because they've beaten them consistently in the regular season these last few years is pure folly.
If we take the approach to the playoffs that teams will roll over then wed be in some big trouble," said Kelly. "The regular season is the regular season, and the playoffs are a whole different beast. Youve seen it in the past where a team has done extremely well against a team during the regular season, and then it goes the other way during the playoffs. The regular season gets thrown out the window after Saturday.
Its all but assured the Bruins and Senators will open up as first-round opponents when Bostons playoff Cup defense begins, probably on April 12 at TD Garden, and those teams meet for the final time this season Thursday night at Scotiabank Place. It wont have the feel of a potential playoff preview, of course, as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas were all left back in Boston to get some rest with the playoffs around the corner.
But that didnt stop Kelly from remembering the ill-at-ease feeling he had when he knew Thomas was going to start against them during his Ottawa days.
Thomas has lost only 5 of the 16 games hes played at Scotiabank Place over his highly decorated career, and he has a current nine-game winning streak in Ottawas home building. Kelly joked that whenever Boston was coming to town it got to the point where the Senators hoped Thomas would get the night off for any reason under the sun.
I was always hoping hed get the flu and miss the game, said a laughing Kelly. But once you saw that gold on the mask, you knew you were in for it.
In his career at Scotiabank Place, Thomas has 1.99 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in 16 games. He even wins exhibition games in Ottawas building, as he took the victory in Team Charas win at the NHL All-Star game in January.
But none of that matters much to the young Senators, who are readying for a surprise playoff bid. They're a group of largely young, unproven players hungry for a taste of the postseason. Only a handful remain from Kelly's days with the team.
While most NHL prognosticators picked the Senators to finish last in the Northeast Division and out of the playoffs Chara said hes not surprised Ottawa could be Bostons first-round foe. Both he and Kelly give credit to Sens head coach Paul MacLean bringing a new attitude after Cory Clouston couldnt provide the answers Ottawa was looking for.
The biggest difference we see from last year with Ottawa is that theyre really committed to the system and the structure this season, said Chara. They seem to really be paying attention to details, and the new coaching staff seems to have a lot to do with that.
Whats a little more relevant to this seasons potential playoff matchup?
The Bruins are 4-1 against the Sens this season, with the lone Ottawa victory coming in their last game in Boston, and all the Sens defensemen aside from Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson were minus players against the Bs this year. But Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson also combined for 11 points in nine games against the Bruins this season, and give the Senators their biggest wealth of postseason experience heading into the first-round match.
Alfredsson and Spezza led the playoffs in scoring the year we went to the Cup Finals (2006-07), along with Dany Heatley, so its kind of rare that all three guys would have 26 or 27 points each, said Kelly. Youve got to know where they are on the ice. Theyve been in the postseason before, but there are also a lot of new faces with postseason experience because they all won the Calder Cup with Binghamton last year. There is no shortage of playoff experience on that team.
The AHL playoff experience is obviously much different than the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Kellys point is well-taken.
The bottom line with the Ottawa Senators: Theyre a young, talented team that did well to force themselves back into the playoff picture this season, but the Bruins should have little problem picking them off in an ideal first-round challenge.
Hockey history has shown that the Bruins have been the superior hockey club for a long, long time, and hockey history doesnt lie.

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

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.

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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

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.

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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.