Blakely: C's talk focused on improvement, not wins

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Blakely: C's talk focused on improvement, not wins

BOSTON So this is what it has come to for Doc Rivers and the Boston Celtics - measuring progress in terms of improvement and not wins.

Paul Pierce?

"He's getting it," Rivers says. "You can see it; it's coming."

Battling in the paint for rebounds?

"We've been better, last two games," Rivers said. "So, we're getting there."

This is life in Celtics Nation this year, where talk of banner-chasing and pummeling teams after wins has been replaced with "we're-on-the-rise" chatter and progress in defeat.

Short of wins - they still have just four (with eight losses) following Monday night's 97-88 defeat by Oklahoma City - the one thing the Celtics have going for them is hope; hope that the struggles of today will in some way pay dividends in the future.

"For us, we believe that we're not that far away," said Jermaine O'Neal, who had a season-high 12 points and 11 rebounds against the Thunder.

Added Boston's Mickael Pietrus: "All we need right now is just one win. It can be against anybody, we just need that one win to get everybody regrouped and feel better."

Whatever progress players speak of, it has to be put in the context of how the mistakes being made are costly - too costly on most nights for the C's to win.

The Thunder got 24 of its points off of Boston turnovers, while Oklahoma City's miscues amounted to the equivalent of the shot that the C's seem to struggle at making - a lay-up.

"You know in points off turnovers, that's the game right there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to the 24-2 points off turnover advantage enjoyed by the Thunder.

Kevin Garnett, one of the most competitive players of his generation, has also accepted the reality that the C's - for now at least - are a team that has to be focused more on growth than getting wins.

"There's nothing positive about losing; that's first," Garnett said. "But in trying to make progress, you have to pull the pluses out of everything. We're making progress."

He's right.

The team on the floor now is indeed better than the one that began the season with a Christmas Day loss at New York. But how much better are they really going to get, as they are assembled?

With each loss, there becomes more and more internet chatter from Celtics fans believing they need to trade anyone not named Rajon Rondo. However, the more you listen to this current group of Celtics, the more you watch them play, the clearer it becomes that they are inching closer and closer towards being a respectable team in the East that, depending on who they match up with, could surprise a team or two in the playoffs.

But talk of the postseason is far, far down the road.

Right now, the Celtics' focus has to be on winning games which is proving to be a lot tougher than this team ever imagined.

The disappointment in that is shared by them all. But discouraged?

Not a single player seems down this road.

"At the end of the day, none of us like to lose; that's the frustrating part," Pierce said. "From every win you can take some positives and from losses you can take some positives. I like where we're headed; there are just little things that are really killing us."

Improving on those little things will breathe life into a season that's looking more like a death march than a march toward another championship.

"Winning is tough, man," Garnett said. "It's tough. You're dealing with confident teams; teams geeked to play you. And on top of that, you're dealing with talented teams. Nothing easy about the NBA. Nothing is easy about getting here, wearing the jersey, the process it's very difficult. I know sometimes you sit back and you're writing your stories and it looks easy, but it's a lot of preparation, a lot of things go into this."

While all that's true, the bottom line doesn't change regardless of how much preparation time is involved, or whatever hurdles a player overcomes to make it to the NBA.

It always comes back to one thing - winning. And right now, the C's aren't "there" yet.

Who knows when they will "get there," wherever "there" is.

One thing we do know - it can't happen soon enough.

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.