Blakely: Celtics seeking respect against the Heat

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Blakely: Celtics seeking respect against the Heat

BOSTON The Celtics have been on quite a roll lately, winning four straight and six of their last seven.

But beating the likes of Minnesota and Utah, that's one thing.

The Miami Heat? Totally different animal, on all levels.

For starters, it's an Eastern Conference rival, which means there's a chance that these two may cross paths in the postseason.

And then there's the whole old Big Three (Boston), new Big Three (Miami) thing. It doesn't have the kind of hype it did last year, but it's still present.

More than anything, today's game will serve as a measuring stick for both teams.

Miami is seeking to get back to the NBA Finals for the second year in a row, and they understand that Boston will likely be one of the teams standing in their way.

Meanwhile, the Celtics believe they are a different, much-improved team from the last time they saw the Heat on Dec. 27. And while the C's current run has been impressive, a win today would indeed throw the Celtics back into the conversation centered around potential teams to come out of the East.

Players for both sides aren't putting too much stock into today's game other than it being one that they both want to win.

But to ignore the ramifications for today's winner, is to ignore the obvious.

The C's feel as though their recent success isn't getting a lot of credit, which they publicly say is cool with them. Privately, they would love to be talked about as one of the NBA's elite teams. Beating Miami today would go a long way in resurrecting those talks.

And the timing of the Heat coming to the Garden could not be any better.

Rajon Rondo is playing some of the best basketball of his career, with his pulse on the team as strong as we've ever seen it.

Paul Pierce is in a nice groove offensively with his jumper, and 3-point shot. To top it off, he's attacking more and being rewarded with free throw attempts.

Kevin Garnett has been the Celtics' most consistent player and has made the shift to the center position a seamless one.

Avery Bradley. Keyon Dooling. Greg Stiemsma. You go down the line, and chances are you'll find a Celtic player coming through with their best play of the year right now.

And when you're playing that well, you ideally want to see how you measure up against the best teams.

Miami qualifies, easily.

Playing well is exactly what the Celtics seek every game. But they're on the kind of roll where great play isn't necessarily required to win -- even against the Heat.

"We're just hanging in there," Rivers said. "We said it early on. I think since all-star break, we haven't played well every night but we're winning some of the games that we don't play well in. We're grinding games out. With all the injuries and everything, the players are giving you all they have. As a coach, I don't know what more I can ask for."

Quotes, notes and stars: Buchholz's first inning 'part of the game'

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Quotes, notes and stars: Buchholz's first inning 'part of the game'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Boston Red Sox’ 6-2 loss to the Texas Rangers:

 

QUOTES

 

“In the first inning there really weren’t a whole lot of balls that were really hit hard. They were just hit where we weren’t . . . Regardless of it being a mistake, its balls that just seemed to find some holes. They put some good at-bats together, and, yeah, that’s part of the game.”Clay Buchholz on what happened in his 3-run first inning.

“Yeah, he’s tired. He needs a day. There’s no other way to put it.”John Farrell on Xander Bogaerts’ struggling in the series.

“We get a little momentum after the [Bryce] Brentz homerun and then unfortunately give it right back.”Farrell said about Boston losing momentum in the sixth inning with Prince Fielder’s two-run homerun off of Buchholz.

“It’s a matter of settling in and commanding the baseball to quality locations.”Farrell said on Buchholz have immense trouble in the first inning through his last two starts.

“Based on this series it’s a struggle. We get 12+ innings out of a rotation . . . we’re finding ourselves in some holes. That’s not the script you’re trying to draw up.”Farrell on the state of the Red Sox rotation following the series in Texas.

“It’s always special. One thing you’ll never forget.” - Bryce Brentz on his first Major League homerun.

 

NOTES

* Xander Bogaerts finished the series 1-12, and has seen his average drop to .344, falling behind Houston’s José Altuve.

* The Red Sox are now four games behind the Orioles in second place and only lead the Blue Jays by one game. That’s the farthest back the Red Sox have been since the seventh game of the season.

* Clay Buchholz’s less than spectacular outing was his longest since May 26th – his last start before being pulled from the starting rotation. 

* Prince Fielder hit two homeruns off Boston pitching in the series for his sixth and seventh of the year. Those are his first home runs since 6/11. The series against the Red Sox was his first in which he launched more than one homerun in the series.

 

 

STARS

1) Martin Perez

Perez kept Boston off balance all day, scattering six hits and two walks in his six-inning start. The lefty only had two punch-outs, but he kept the ball on the ground -- which is what he does best.

2) Prince Fielder

With Texas talking about sitting him in the series Fielder launched his second homerun of the series in his 2-3 performance. The two-run long ball was the different in the game being a close contest down the stretch.

3) Adrian Beltre

The ex-Red Sox third baseman had another strong game, lacing two RBI singles in the game. His first RBI base hit came in Texas’ three-run onslaught in the first frame.

First impressions: Red Sox happy to get out of Texas

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First impressions: Red Sox happy to get out of Texas

First impressions of the Red Sox 6-2 loss to Texas

 

Clay Buchholz needs to figure out his first inning struggles.

He put together another decent outing -- but they’ve both been all for not thanks to terrible first innings.

Buchholz had the same issue prior to his sentence to the bullpen. But he needs to make an adjustment. David Price, Steven Wright and Rick Porcello have all had to deal with some level of adversity and handled it in some capacity -- so it’s time for Buchholz to do the same.

If he minimizes the damage to one run -- never mind a scoreless first frame -- Boston has a decent chance to win his starts once in a while.

No matter what, Buchholz needs to put out max effort in the first inning of his next start -- no excuses.

 

Don’t look now, but Buchholz was the best Boston starting pitcher of the Texas series.

That’s not saying much with the way Wright and Price’s nights wound up, but he was the best starter.

Obviously five runs (four earned) in 5.1 innings isn’t a good outing, but the bullpen at least had a chance to catch its breath -- compared to Friday and Saturday’s games.

Buchholz still has to do much better for Boston if he wants to remain the fifth starter.

 

Xander Bogaerts’ defense is slipping a bit.

The shortstop has had errors in consecutive games for the first time in 2016 -- both leading to Texas runs.

The 23-year-old shortstop has only sat out one game this year, so it’s fair to assume fatigue is setting in.

Even if that’s not the case, John Farrell should consider giving Bogaerts a day off soon to move past his fielding problems.

 

Buchholz took away the little momentum Boston found in the fourth.

Although Bogaerts didn’t help with the error, Buchholz almost instantly gave back the run Boston scored in the top of the sixth. Which is something Rick Porcello, Steven Wright and David Price have all dealt with -- and overcome.

Just another reason Dave Dombrowski needs to keep working for a fifth starter.

Because there’s no way coming out of any series Boston should have its best effort from a starting pitcher be a five-inning five-run (one unearned) outing.

Other starters have to pick up the slack when Wright has an occasional subpar outing. While Price has been on late and Porcello is reliable, Boston hasn’t had that from anyone else.