Celtics 'athletic' with Garnett at center


Celtics 'athletic' with Garnett at center

BOSTON Before the season began, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked about playing Kevin Garnett "some" at center this season.

But with Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) out indefinitely, Garnett's minutes in the middle are more than either Rivers or Garnett expected.

And the Celtics are a better team for it.

As much as Garnett cringes at the idea of being a center after a Hall of Fame career at the 4-spot, he knows as well as anyone that the C's seem to play better when he's at center.

You can add Friday's 10794 win over New Jersey as yet another piece of mounting evidence to support that theory.

Garnett had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the win, giving him his team-leading ninth double-double this season.

And he did most of his damage . . . as a center.

When it comes to playing center, it's like most topics with Garnett he doesn't mince his words.

"Preference-wise, I don't like it," he said. "I'm a 4 (power forward). I don't like you know, it is what it is. I'll do whatever this team needs me to be, other than a cheerleader with pom-pons and some short-shorts."

Although having Garnett play almost exclusively now at center is out of necessity, the benefits of him at center cannot be ignored.

"Garnett looked like he was 21 years old tonight," said Nets coach Avery Johnson.

Indeed, Garnett does appear to have a bit more spring in his step at the center position.

"Kevin at the five has been very good," Rivers said. "We're athletic all of a sudden. You put Kevin and Brandon (Bass) on the floor at the same time. With Rondo. All of a sudden we're flying down the floor and we're getting low posts, we're scoring."

Boston has been among the NBA's lowest scoring teams all season.

The C's are ranked 26th in the league in scoring, at 89.7 points per game.

During their current three-game winning streak, Boston's scoring is bumped up to 98.3 points per game.

And while there are a number of Celtics who have contributed to that recent surge offensively, Garnett's scoring around the basket has been a big part of the turn-around.

Whether he's a four or five-man, Garnett only cares about doing whatever he can to help the Celtics win games.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself when it comes to playing basketball, and positions is just numbers to me," Garnett said. "But, you know, if it comes to preference I enjoy the 4. There's a lot more versatility in the 4. You know, the 5 you're kind of stuck in the mud and cement and you know things are as written.

Garnett added, "but this is what it is and I'm enjoying it and I'm adapting and doing whatever I can to get my team ahead."

Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'


Hightower on Collins: 'He makes it a lot easier for me'

FOXBORO -- Dont'a Hightower is coming off of one of the best games of his career, and he did it while running the Patriots defensive huddle without the help of his on-the-field partner at the linebacker level.

"It’s a lot more fluent having Jamie [Collins] out there," Hightower said on Wednesday. "A lot of the times we coordinate things a lot together. I usually take care of the front, he takes care of the secondary. We have our own way of doing things. Sometimes Jamie is just like, ‘No, you go ahead and you just make the calls and I’ll play off of you.’

"It helps having him out there. I mean, he does everything so he makes it a lot easier for me. Anytime I can have him out there with me, I’m 100 percent having him out there."

Hightower has plenty of experience playing without Collins, however, and Collins is accustomed to having to go without Hightower. Both had issues staying on the field in 2015, and although it's early, that trend has continued this season.

Hightower missed Weeks 2 and 3 due to a knee injury, and Collins missed Week 6 with a hip issue, meaning the duo has been available to coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia only three times this year. 

Last season the pair was active for 10 of 18 games, including both playoff games, and during a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, Hightower played just nine snaps. Collins dealt with an illness that kept him out for four games last season, and Hightower, as has been the case for much of his career, was limited by (and often played through) myriad ailments.

Both are vital to the long-term success of the Patriots defense in 2016, but it's been hit-or-miss as to when they'll be out there to play off of one another as Hightower described.

"Our linebackers, Jamie, Dont'a, they're two of the best in the league," said safety Duron Harmon following Hightower's dominating performance against the Bengals in Week 6. "Any time we can have those guys out there, they just continue to create havoc.

"They make plays, they make it easier for us, especially me. The quarterback can't look off as long when Dont'a's all in his face -- him and Jamie. Having him on the field is a plus. And when you get both of them on the field it's a double-plus."

And therein lies the issue: Having both Hightower and Collins out there together has felt like a luxury rather than the norm. 

At some point, the Patriots will have to make decisions as to what they'll do at the linebacker level for the foreseeable future. Both Hightower and Collins are slated to hit free-agency, and their durability will certainly factor into the equation when the Patriots make them offers to stick in New England.

Until then, though, both will work to be available as often as possible -- both for their team's sake and their own as they eye new deals -- where they can stress opposing offenses at a degree to which most linebacker combinations around the league can only aspire. 

"With us out there we’re able to do a lot of different things, [we have] a lot of versatility," Hightower said. "So hopefully we can both stay out there."

Hightower was removed from the Patriots injury report last week, meaning he's able to take on a full workload in practice. Collins, meanwhile, continues to be limited in practice, and his availability for Sunday's game with the Steelers is not yet known. In place of Collins, sixth-round rookie Elandon Roberts earned the bulk of the playing time against the Bengals last week. Linebacker Barkevious Mingo saw a season-high eight defensive snaps in the win.