Blakely's Celtics-Pistons preview

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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.

Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

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Freeman, Coleman lift Falcons past Saints, 45-32

NEW ORLEANS - Devonta Freeman practically wore out the Superdome turf with one long gain after another, Tevin Coleman wouldn't be denied near the goal line and the New Orleans Saints hardly looked like the team that made an emotional homecoming nearly 10 years ago to the day.

Cheers turned to boos, and many fans filed out early.

Coleman rushed for three touchdowns, Matt Ryan passed for two TDs and Deion Jones returned an interception 90 yards for a score to help the Atlanta Falcons beat the winless New Orleans Saints 45-32 on Monday night.

"It was real fun. Everybody was doing their job and everybody was playing for each other," Coleman said. "Everything clicked, and we got it done. It's a real big win for us to beat this team here."

The game coincided with New Orleans' celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the Saints' memorable return to the Superdome on Sept. 25, 2006, 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. But there would be no reprise of New Orleans' dominant and emotional 23-3 triumph over Atlanta a decade ago.

The Saints' depleted defense struggled to slow Freeman, who rushed for 152 yards and caught five passes for 55 yards. Coleman also was effective in the passing game out of the backfield, with three receptions for 47 yards to go with his 42 yards rushing.

"We have to stop the run better," Saints coach Sean Payton said. "They were over 200 yards in situations where you knew the run was coming, even at the end of the game."

Ryan finished with 240 yards passing for Atlanta (2-1), which did not turn the ball over and moved into sole possession of first place in the NFC South.

Drew Brees put up his usual big numbers - 376 yards and three TDs passing - and hit tight end Coby Fleener seven times for 109 yards and a TD. But Brees' tipped pass that resulted in Jones' TD return early in the fourth quarter gave the Falcons a 45-25 lead that proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.

Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

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Hayes knows he's a good player, wants to silence the critics

BOSTON, Mass. – There’s a long way to go toward a complete resurrection from last season’s misdeeds, but Jimmy Hayes made a nice little statement that he’s learned some lessons in Boston’s preseason debut. The Bruins lost the game, 3-2, in the shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but Hayes scored one of the two goals for the Black and Gold as one of the few veterans in a very youthful lineup for Boston.

The Hayes goal was a nice give-and-go with Jake DeBrusk at the end of a nice transition play in the second period, and was the highlight of a night playing on the right wing with DeBrusk and center Austin Czarnik. The score and a team-high four shots on net for Hayes represent a good start for what he hopes is a gigantic rebound season after last year’s disappointment.

Clearly Hayes heard some of the unflattering chatter about him on sports talk radio and otherwise last season, and may even understand how his difficult season in his home city of Boston -- whether he actively expressed it to him or not -- might have been a factor in his buddy Jimmy Vesey ultimately choosing New York over Boston.

It appears the former Boston College standout is looking to change the conversation in Boston. 

“Yeah, sure am. I’ve got a lot to come out here and…[there were] a lot of comments about myself, but I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason,” said Hayes, who dropped from 19 goals and 35 points with the Panthers to 13 goals, 29 points and a career-worst minus-12 for the Bruins last season.

“To be able to play at the NHL level and continue to play at that level on a consistent basis is what I expect out of myself. I do it for myself and our teammates, and to help our team win. I’ll continue moving forward.

“It’s funny being the old guy on the line. It’s nice to see those young guys and see how excited they are, and how excited I am to get back out there. That’s what I said to the guys, they still have the jitters and they still have them for the first preseason game. It shows that these guys want it and it’s been a lot of fun skating with those guys. They’ve got a lot of speed and to keep pushing the pace. Trying to keep up with them has been a lot of fun.”

There is still a long way to go for the 26-year-old winger, and his willingness to stick around the danger areas on Monday night was a welcomed one for a Bruins team that needs his 6-foot-6 body in front of the net. Hayes paid the price with stitches and a fat lip after taking a Dalton Prout high-stick to the mouth in front of the Columbus net that went uncalled on a Bruins PP at the end of the second period.

That’s all part of the big man’s game on the ice, however. It’s also the kind of battle and determined fight that Hayes will need to show much more consistently in his second season with the hometown Bruins if he’s truly looking to bounce-back from last year’s mediocre performance.