Celtics-Blazers review: What we saw

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Celtics-Blazers review: What we saw

BOSTON The Boston Celtics were involved in a second straight blowout.

But this time, it was the Green Team laying down the hammer as they easily defeated Portland, 104-86, on Friday night.

As decisive as the final score was, Boston's play was even more lopsided as Boston's lead peaked at 43 points about midway through the third quarter.

It was an impressive bounce-back performance by the Celtics after they were soundly beaten by 32 points at Philadelphia on Wednesday.

"It was just a good response, especially with the way we played down in Philadelphia," said Paul Pierce, who shared game-high scoring honors of 22 points with teammate Ray Allen. "For us to come out and be sharp early, take care of business before we head out west."

The blowout also allowed Boston's core guys a chance to rest, with Brandon Bass playing 31 minutes which was the most played by any of the Celtics starters.

In the Sixers loss on Wednesday, Rivers pulled his starters for the entire fourth quarter. That time off the floor, coupled with not having practice on Thursday, may have contributed to the C's having a bit more bounce on Friday.

"Maybe the other night, one of the smart things we did do is we pulled the plug early enough to have our legs for tonight," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "That may have been the best thing."

Here's a look at some other factors that were under consideration prior to the game, and how those factors played out in Friday's lopsided blowout win for the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Establishing tempo will once again be important for the Celtics. They face a Portland team that averages 98.1 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. For Boston, keeping Portland's scoring down will likely mean forcing them to turn the ball over more than usual. The Blazers average just 14 turnovers per game which ranks fourth in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics came out as the aggressor defensively. And the result was Portland committing an unusually high number of turnovers in the first quarter - nine in fact. For the game, the Celtics forced the Blazers into turning the ball over 28 times which led to 30 of their 104 points. "I thought it was Rondo's ball pressure," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I thought Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen), everybody was up; Kevin (Garnett) forced (LaMarcus) Aldridge way out away from the bucket."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Marcus Camby: This will be one of the few games all season where you won't hear any mention of Garnett's age being an issue. Regardless of who has been at center, Garnett has been on a nice roll of late for the Celtics with seven double-doubles scoring and rebounding, in Boston's last nine games. Camby, who will be 38 years old later this month, doesn't score with the same level of efficiency as Garnett. But he does provide Portland with a similar defensive presence in the middle.

WHAT WE SAW: Camby had a moment or two where his presence was felt. But this matchup was won by Garnett, decisively. Camby finished with five points and a game-high 10 rebounds. Garnett had 10 points and eight rebounds in just under 22 minutes with the Celtics' bench gobbling up most of the minutes in the second half.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Nicolas Batum has the reputation of being a better-than-average defender, but he's slowly evolving into a reliable scorer as well. He's averaging a career-high 14.2 points this season, with 17 or more points scored in nine of Portland's last 11 games. With his size (6-8, 200) and length, Ray Allen will once again have his hands full getting free for good looks at the basket.

WHAT WE SAW: Batum, like most of the Blazers, never really found a flow or rhythm to his play. He finished with nine points on 3-for-8 shooting from the field. As for Allen, who missed all five of his field goal attempts in Wednesday's loss at Philadelphia, bounced back with 22 points on 8-for-12 shooting.

STAT TO TRACK: If tonight's game is close going into the fourth quarter, it becomes a virtual toss-up as to who will win. Boston has the NBA's best scoring defense in the fourth quarter, giving up a league-low 21.9 points per game. But Portland's scorers will challenge the C's in the fourth unlike few teams have thus far this season. The Blazers average 24.9 points scored in the fourth which ranks No. 2 in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: The fourth quarter was irrelevant in this game. Truthfully, the third quarter didn't matter that much, either. Boston used a 16-0 run to start the second quarter, followed by a 17-7 spurt which put the C's up 65-30, at the half.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''