Celtics best Bucks, 87-74, but lose home court

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Celtics best Bucks, 87-74, but lose home court

BOSTON Ryan Hollins for a number of stretches on Thursday, was the best player on the floor.
That tells you all you need to know about the Boston Celtics' 87-74 win over Milwaukee, a game in which the Bucks had nothing to gain or lose -- and for the most part, played that way.
Meanwhile, the Celtics had a slim chance of gaining home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win and a loss by Atlanta, but the Hawks were able to beat defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks and will host Games 1 and 2 of their first round playoff series with the Celtics which begins in Atlanta on Sunday.
In addition to the win, the Celtics showed tangible signs of getting most of the gang back healthy for what they anticipate will be a long playoff run.
Mickael Pietrus and Rajon Rondo each returned to the lineup, and showed no signs of rust despite the lengthy lay-off.
Pietrus made his first three shots, and finished with nine points. And Rondo delivered yet another double-digit assist game with 15. Rondo, the NBA's leader in assists this season, has now had 10 or more assists in 24 straight games -- five short of tying the record set by Utah's John Stockton in 1992.
Boston's Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett did start the game, but both spent the entire second half on the bench. The C's got a bit of a scare in the first half when Pierce had to leave the game with a left big toe injury that was expected to keep him out for the rest of the game.
Instead, Pierce returned and ultimately wound up playing about six minutes, tallying 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting. Garnett was on the floor for 11 minutes, missing five of his six shot attempts.
While the Celtics are closer to being whole heading into the playoffs, there's still a big piece of their roster -- Ray Allen -- still missing.
He has now missed nine straight with a right ankle injury, which has put his availability for the playoffs very much in doubt.
But that's what made these games near the end of the season so valuable for Boston.
While most of the games that played extended minutes in the last week or so probably won't see nearly as much time in the playoffs, it's a good sign that they were ready to play when given an opportunity.
"We don't know who will be in the rotation for the playoffs," said Celtics guard Keyon Dooling. "At the end of the day, they may need us for three minutes, four minutes here or there. We want to be able to contribute, whether it's on the defensive end, in the hustle category, whether we have to make a shot, whatever it is you have to be mentally tuned in and focused and you can't think about your own personal situation. You have to be bigger than that. That's what's different about this team. That's what's so awesome about this team. It's all about progressing."

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

Belichick explains matching in the secondary

FOXBORO – Here’s a leftover from last week I’m dredging up because it’s really instructive in giving insight to something we all flap our arms about: how the Pats decide whether to play zone, man-to-man or match receivers with their secondary.

The jumping off-point was asking about Trumaine Johnson -- a long-tall corner for the Rams. As Belichick about Johnson and the difficulties he poses, at 6-foot-2, it brought to mind the team’s acquisition earlier this season of Eric Rowe. The 6-2 corner they got from the Eagles filled a need in that the Patriots other corners are not very tall, headlined by 5-9 Malcolm Butler.

So I asked Belichick if the team strives to have different sized players in the secondary.

“That’s if you move them around,” he explained, meaning size only matters if you intend to put size-on-size. “If you don’t move them around, if you play a guy at one positon and he plays on the right side or the left side, you cover the guy that’s over there, which I’d say is more the situation than not. There are some teams or some situations where you’ve got him, he’s got the next guy, you’ve got somebody else, but I’d say that’s by far the lower percentage of the plays, by far. Generally, you see a corner play – some games are different. We’ll match to this guy and somebody else matches to that guy. Teams will do that. There’s some of that, but by and large, most teams play at one position and whoever is in that spot, that’s who they cover.”

With matching receivers being the exception rather than the rule, the next logical question is why? Why would you let a little guy cover a big guy if you also have a big guy who could cover?

Because offenses make it complicated, Belichick answered.

“The easiest thing in the world is for one player to match another,” he explained. “‘OK, you go cover this guy.’ Alright, great. But what do the other 10 guys do? That’s the problem. It’s easy to matchup one guy. That’s simple. What do the other 10 guys do? What if he’s here? What if he’s there? What if he goes in motion? What if he’s in the backfield? What if it’s this personnel? What if it’s that personnel in the game? Then how does all the rest of it matchup? That’s where it gets tricky.  You can be spending all day, literally, on that. OK yeah, you take this guy but what are you going to do with the other 10?”

Belichick also delved into other options including a coverage concept the Pats used when Darrelle Revis was here. Giving Revis the opponent’s so-called No. 2 receiver and doubling the No. 1.

“You can matchup and put your best guy on their best guy, or you can matchup and put your best guy on let’s call it their second best guy and put your second best guy on their best guy and double him,” Belichick said. “If you’re going to put your best guy on their best guy and double him anyway then you kind of lessen the matchups down the line. It’s like setting a tennis ladder, or whatever. If you put your bad guy at one and you win two through seven, great. If you put your best guy at one and he gets beat by their one and then your two versus their two, you know. That’s what you’re doing. You have a three to four-man ladder there with the receivers and your DB’s [defensive backs], except we don’t have to match them that way. You can match them however you want.”

It’s a fascinating discussion and it comes into play the next two weeks as the Patriots will see a true test with receivers like the Ravens Steve Smith and Denver with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas.

The Patriots will have decisions to make. Chances are they’ll use a little bit of everything. But these are some of the the things they weight when doing so.

Players, analysts weigh in on Chris Sale trade

Players, analysts weigh in on Chris Sale trade

The Red Sox made a major splash with Tuesday’s Chris Sale, the second swap of the day after acquiring Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers. 

MORE ON THE TRADE

While Boston had to give up top prospect Yoan Moncada and three other legitimate prospects in the trade, the deal gives them a very deep starting rotation that figures to see last offseason’s big acquisition -- David Price -- end up as Boston’s No. 3 starter. 

Here’s what the reaction looked like as the trade came down: 

CSN baseball analyst Lou Merloni gave the deal his stamp of approval. 

Yahoo! Sports’ Jeff Passan cautioned against thinking the Red Sox at a discount. 

Blake Swihart was not one of the four prospects involved in the deal, and he’ll have a heck of a team to work with going forward. 

In Tampa, Chris Archer realized the AL East has a new ace. 

And one Sox fan pointed out that Dave Dombrowski has absolutely dumped out what was once a large and top-heavy chest of prospects.