Blakely's Celtics-Pistons preview

665240.jpg

Blakely's Celtics-Pistons preview

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. Paul Pierce is what you would call a "professional scorer."

He can do many things on the court, which is why the 34-year-old has been selected to 10 All-Star games by the Eastern Conference coaches. But just like Celtics victories, points have also been hard to come by for Pierce.

After his streak of 15-point, 5-assist games was snapped in Toronto on Feb. 10, Pierce has been unable to score 15 or more points in the four games since the streak came to an end.

For some, it may not seem like that big a deal.

But for a professional scorer like Pierce, it's huge . . . as in, historically huge.

Throughout his 13-plus NBA seasons, the 6-foot-7 forward hasn't had a stretch of five or more consecutive games scoring less than 15 points, since a seven-game slump in March of 1999 -- his rookie season.

So to say that Pierce will be looking to get on track scoring-wise tonight against the Pistons, well, that's a given.

But that's not the only factor that'll come into play, as the Celtics (15-14) look to remain above .500 against a Pistons team that has won six of its last eight games, a stretch that includes a 10-point win at Boston on Feb. 15.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Forcing Detroit rookie point guard Brandon Knight into making mistakes has to be part of the Celtics' game plan. Like most rookies -- especially point guards -- Knight has had his share of up and down moments. Certainly one of the highlights of his season was Friday night when the Pistons beat Sacramento, and he had 10 assists without a single turnover. Indeed, his assist to turnover ratio in many ways will be a key to tonight's outcome. In Detroit's 10 wins, he's averaging 4.4 assists to just 1.5 turnovers per game. In the 22 losses, his assist numbers dip to 3.2 per game, but there's a sizable jump in his turnovers, to 3.1 per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Ray Allen vs. Rodney Stuckey: This was the matchup to watch when the two played last week, a matchup that was won decisively by Stuckey. Allen showed signs in the second half of the Bulls loss on Thursday that he's on the verge of breaking out of his annual shooting slump. He had 12 points which included three, 3-pointers. "It was good to see him make some," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "When it's not going in, you need to see it going in." That hasn't been an issue for Stuckey, who has scored at least 23 points in each of Detroit's last three games -- his best scoring stretch of the season.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- The Celtics have been in "strategic rest" mode with Kevin Garnett all season, but it's clear the condensed schedule is starting to impact the 16-year veteran. He missed his first game of the season last week with a hip flexor injury, and the C's are limiting what he does on the rare days when they practice. So far, the C's '5-5-5' plan with KG's minutes has been working. But Boston may consider modifying that slightly, depending on if they think a change will allow him to play with less pain.

STAT TO TRACK -- The Pistons are a middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting team (they're ranked 17th), with a significant number of their long-balls coming from Ben Gordon. The former UConn star willed the Pistons to victory over Boston last week, connecting on 4-of-6 3-pointers in the fourth. Mind you, the rest of the Pistons were 0-for-6 on 3s. And when Gordon is on from 3-point range, the Pistons usually win. In victories, he has connected on 50 percent of his 3-point shots. In losses, that number falls to 39 percent.

Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

penguins_sharks_game_1_053016.jpg

Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH - Nick Bonino's main job for the Pittsburgh Penguins is to get to the front of the net and create chaos. The well-bearded forward executed perfectly in his debut in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino took a pretty feed from the corner by Kris Letang and beat Martin Jones from in close with 2:33 remaining to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

Rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary staked Pittsburgh to an early two-goal lead before the Sharks tied it in the second period on goals by Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau. The Penguins responded by upping the pressure in the final period and it paid off with Bonino's fourth goal of the playoffs after he darted to the San Jose net in time to knuckle Letang's pass by Jones for the winner.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Matt Murray finished with 24 saves for Pittsburgh, which began its bid for the fourth title in franchise history by peppering Jones constantly in the first and final periods. Jones made 38 stops but couldn't get his blocker on Bonino's wrist shot. The Penguins threw 41 shots at Jones, well over the 28 he faced on average during San Jose's playoff run.

The Sharks made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history by rebuilding themselves on the fly. Two years removed from a brutal collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Los Angeles, San Jose ended a 9,005 day wait to play in the NHL's championship round by relying on a tough, aggressive style that squeezes opponents with a relentless forecheck while limiting chances in front of Jones.

Yet veterans Marleau and Joe Thornton - the top two picks in the 1997 draft held in Pittsburgh who had waited nearly two decades to make it to the league's biggest stage - insisted the Sharks were hardly satisfied after dispatching St. Louis in a cathartic Western Conference finals.

Maybe, but the Sharks looked a step slow - maybe two steps slow - while searching for their footing against the Penguins, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to edge the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games to advance to their first Cup Final since 2009.

Rust, who surprisingly made the team out of training camp and became an unlikely playoff star by scoring both of Pittsburgh's goals in Game 7 against the Lightning, gave the Penguins the lead 12:46 into the first when he slammed home a rebound off a Justin Schultz shot for his sixth of the postseason, a franchise record for playoff goals by a rookie.

Less than a minute later Sheary, who didn't become a regular until the middle of January, made it 2-0 when Sidney Crosby whipped a blind backhand cross-ice pass to Sheary's stick. The rookie's wrist shot from the right circle zipped by Jones and the Penguins appeared to be in complete command by overwhelming the Sharks in a way few have in months.

San Jose and its group of Cup newcomers regained its composure in the intermission and responded with a big surge. Hertl jammed a shot from just outside the crease between Murray's legs on the power play 3:02 into the second to give the Sharks momentum. Late in the second, Marleau collected a rebound off a Brent Burns one-timer behind the Pittsburgh net and then beat Murray on a wraparound to the far post that caromed off Murray's extended right leg and into the net.