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

639500.jpg

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.

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

red-sox-clay-buchholz.jpg

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

red-sox-clay-buchholz.jpg

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.

"Everything is on track" with Bruins prospect Zboril

bruins-jakub-zboril.jpg

"Everything is on track" with Bruins prospect Zboril

Little more than a year after he was drafted in the middle of the first round by the Boston Bruins, some are whispering that 19-year-old Jakub Zboril isn’t going to live up to advanced billing. Clearly the Czech defenseman took a step back for the Saint John Sea Dogs after being taken 13th by the Bruins in last year’s draft, and dropped to six goals and 20 points in 50 games in the QMJHL while watching second round pick Jeremy Lauzon pass him by on the prospect hype chart.

Perhaps the more concerning thing have been the whispers about an erratic work ethic and bad habits in Zboril’s game, a couple of criticisms that haven’t exactly gone away since the Bruins signed him to a contract last summer following development camp. Bruins assistant general manager Scott Bradley was asked about those concerns with the young D-man as he heads into an important training camp with Boston this fall, and didn’t seem all that concerned about his first round pick being a “bust.”

“I think his offensive production was down, and that he struggled a little bit coming out of the gate” said Bradley of Zboril, who had 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games during his first season in the Quebec Major Junior League prior to getting drafted by Boston. “But he had a strong playoff. Everybody forgets that he’s a gritty guy, and a strong player that moves the puck. The thing that stands out about him are that his numbers are down from last year.

“But everything is on track with him. He’s going to come to camp and hopefully shines, and has a good year this year…patience.

“I think it’s great if the second rounders are on par with him: the [Brandon] Carlos and the [Jeremy] Lauzons. If you look at the whole of our draft last year you can’t rule out the first eight picks that they might play [in the NHL]. We’re excited. Donnie and I were at the Memorial Cup, and Lauzon raised our eyebrows every night that he played. You’d come away with a good feeling like this kid plays hard, plays the Bruins style, moves the puck and is tough. Obviously [you had to like] what Carlo did when he was brought in [to Providence] at the end. It just bodes well for what we have coming this year. Zboril and Lauzon are probably going back to junior, but Carlo is going to get a long look.”

The young Czech D-man is still at a point where his stock can still shoot higher than it’s ever been with a good showing at training camp, and a strong season for the Sea Dogs entering into his professional hockey career. But he can’t afford to go through another down season, or that talk of him being a first round bust is only going to get louder and stronger.