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.

Brown and Rozier seize opportunity, provide spark off Celtics bench

Brown and Rozier seize opportunity, provide spark off Celtics bench

There was Terry Rozier, delivering dizzying crossover dribbles that set up open jumpers, soon followed by defenders he then beat to the rim for easy scores. 
 
“I felt like I was in college a little bit,” Rozier told reporters Wednesday night. 
 
The second-year guard is a long way from his days at Louisville, but make no mistake about it.
 
His basketball education is ongoing, but on Wednesday it was Rozier and rookie Jaylen Brown teaching the Orlando Magic a lesson as Boston pulled away for a 117-87 victory.
 
Playing without Isaiah Thomas (right groin), Rozier came off the bench to score a career-high 16 points. 
 
And Brown, whose hustle and above-the-rim play energized the Celtics most of the night, had 13 points which included a powerful, poster-worthy dunk over an unsuspecting Nikola Vucevic. 

"I didn't expect to dunk, nor did I expect him to jump," Brown told reporters after the game. "When it happened, I was just as surprised as everyone else."
 
The Celtics (13-9) were pleased with the victory which included contributions from several players. 
 
But there was added pleasure for the veteran Celtics in watching their youthful teammates step up and play well.
 
“It’s hard as a young player to come in and find yourself on a team,” Boston’s Al Horford told reporters after the win. “And those guys are really hard workers. As the season goes on, they’ll become more comfortable with what we’re trying to do.”
 
We have seen Brown put in positions where he was given an opportunity to make a major impact. 
 
His first NBA start came against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. 
 
Boston lost 128-122 to the Cavs, but Brown had a career-high 19 points, five rebounds and three steals. 
 
Brown said when he’s on the floor with Rozier, the two have a very specific agenda. 
 
“Me and Terry get in, we talk to each other and say, ‘we gotta run,’” Brown said. “That’s our focus; we’re young. We try to get up and down the floor. It makes the game easier for us.”
 
The Celtics' second unit has been in a constant state of change most of this season due to the number of injuries sustained by the preferred starting five. 

So getting more consistent play from the team’s youngsters like Rozier and Brown is huge for this team going forward especially if they will be without Thomas for multiple games which is a possibility. 
 
“It was a great opportunity; they seized it,” Horford said. “Moving forward, if they play like they did tonight; defense first, confident, I feel like there will be plenty of more opportunities to show what they have.” 

Capitals lose 3-goal lead, recover to beat Bruins in OT

Capitals lose 3-goal lead, recover to beat Bruins in OT

WASHINGTON - Nicklas Backstrom scored 1:36 into overtime, helping the Washington Capitals beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 after blowing a three-goal lead Wednesday night.

Justin Williams scored twice and Daniel Winnik also had a goal to put Washington ahead 3-0 about six minutes into the second period.

After Winnik's tally, Washington went over 26 minutes without a shot on goal. Boston dominated the final five minutes of the second period, when Dominic Moore and David Pastrnak beat goaltender Braden Holtby. Colin Miller's power-play score 8:19 into third tied it at 3.

Boston arrived in Washington 4-0-1 over its last five games with three wins in a row, including a 4-3 overtime triumph against Florida on Monday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov had two assists for the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin got his first point since Nov. 26.

Boston outshot Washington 34-20. The Capitals have won two straight following a three-game losing skid.