Pouliot steps in and steps up

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Pouliot steps in and steps up

BOSTON -- One wouldnt blame Brad Marchand if he got a little uneasy watching how smoothly Benoit Pouliot filled in for him on a sick dayWednesday night.
Bostons favorite agitator missed the game because of flu-like symptoms and Pouliot was called onto play with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin against awoebegone Flames unit, and the results were stunning.
All he did was match a career-high with three assists as he melded smoothly inwith Bergeron and Seguin forthe Bruins' 9-0 win that didn't mess a beat from their run of blowout victories in the last nine games. One of Marchand's linemates sensed their partner might be getting a little antsy, and planned to send out an encouraging message.I was talking to Bergy and we said we were going to send Marchand a text at the same time saying, 'We still miss you . . . ' " said Seguin before busting into laughter. I thought Pouliot did do a great job. Hes fast, obviously. Its hard to replace a guy like Marchand, but I thought he stepped up his game for sure.The onslaught started early. The trio posted its first goal just 74 seconds into the game, and that ignitedthe Bruins' rout. Pouliot notchedan assist on that goal, which was scored by Seguin, and added two more to match a single-game career high of three points amassed last season as a member of the Montreal Canadiens against the Minnesota Wild, the team that originally drafted him as a high lottery in 2005.Playing with high-end talents like Bergeron and Seguin gave Pouliot the kind of skilled linemates who can properly utilize his speed.Anyone watching the B's has witnessed Pouliot's elite size, speed and skill package when they all work together for highlight reelgoals. In fact, Pouliot may be moving up and down the lineup at any number of different spots as vacancies open because of injuries or illness, and he's proven wholly capable thus far this season. His coach gave a big thumbs up for a job well done after the game. That's exactly what good teams do: have players step up when others are injured or otherwise incapacitated. I thought Pouliotplayed a good game tonight," said coach Claude Julien. "He was really strong on the puck he made some good plays and he just continues to get better. I think confidence is a big factor when it comes to that, and hes feeling more comfortable with our hockey club.Poliot's performance illustrates the depth Boston enjoys along its front lines. Lose one of the teams top scorers and antagonists in Marchand, and simply plug the talented (if erratic) Pouliot into the lineup while watching closely for behavior that can sometimes cross the line. It was all good in the hood for Pouliot against the Flames. "It was awesome. It feels like theyre always at the right spot at the right time," said Pouliot of skating with Bergeron and Seguin while they accounted for nine points, a plus-9 and 12 shots on net in victory. "Theyre good skaters, good with the puck and they play hard on both ends of the ice. So, my job is just to fill in and try to help them out as much as I can and try to do what Marchy Marchand does. Things worked out."The 10-minute misconduct Pouliotreceived for mouthing off to a ref in New Jersey Wednesday night is the clear, undisciplineddownside to Pouliot's game. But those moments are becoming increasingly rare and were nowhere to be seen in a big moment stepping up for Marchand. And the Bruins hope moments like Thursday's become increasingly common for a player showing his talent in Boston.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”