Celtics-Bobcats review: What we saw . . .

734572.jpg

Celtics-Bobcats review: What we saw . . .

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Boston Celtics are a team that prides itself on being able to execute down the stretch in close games, which was exactly what they did in defeating the Charlotte Bobcats, 94-82. Beating the Bobcats is nothing to brag about. Teams have been doing it - a lot - all season. But for Boston, known for playing down to the level of their competition, to get the win without Ray Allen (ankle), Paul Pierce (toe) and Kevin Garnett (rest), speaks volumes to how deep the C's are this season.

"They have so many good players," said Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson. "Toward the end of the game, we just couldn't come up with the plays and the stops to make a run."

Charlotte cut Boston's lead down to just four points with 6:55 to play following a dunk by Derrick Brown. The C's responded with a 10-2 run that put them up by double-digits, a position of control they were able to maintain for the rest of the game.

For Boston, making all the right plays in a close game isn't anything new.

But doing so without Allen, Pierce and Garnett, well that's a little different.

"It builds their confidence, and for some guys it just lets you know, be ready," said C's forward Brandon Bass. "To constantly work on your game throughout the year and on a night like tonight, your number might be called."

Indeed, the C's collectively being ready to play was a factor in Saturday's victory. Here we'll re-examine some keys to the game identified earlier, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When facing a team like the Bobcats, it's important for Boston to establish control of the game from the outset. That shouldn't be a problem against a Charlotte team that is next-to-last in the NBA in first-quarter points, with 21.7 per game. Meanwhile, the C's boost a defense that gives up 22.6 points in the first quarter - only five teams in the league give up fewer points in the first quarter.

WHAT WE SAW: After a fairly close first quarter, Boston closed the first out with an 11-2 run to take a comfortable 34-23 lead going into the second quarter which sent a clear message that despite being without their Big Three, the C's meant business. "You could see before the game, they really wanted this game; they really did," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "They assume when you sit guys, you're just going to show up and play. And our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room I didn't know if we were going to win or not, but I knew we were going to play hard and right."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Byron Mullens: Bass' ability to defend and rebound at a high level, have been huge factors in Boston's success of late. In Mullens, he faces a player with the size of a true center, but with great range - even past the 3-point line - on his shot. It'll be important for Bass to use his quickness at both ends of the floor for the C's to win this matchup.

WHAT WE SAW: Mullens only played about 22 minutes off the bench, and was a non-factor with just six points and three rebounds. Bass delivered another strong game for the Celtics with 22 points along with nine rebounds. He also was a factor defensively by blocking three shots and contesting a number of other Charlotte misses. "Brandon is the unknown guy," Rivers said. "He's been doing the exact same thing, rebounding and making shots."

PLAYER TO WATCH: If Kevin Garnett does not play, that will most likely mean Greg Stiemsma will start and Ryan Hollins will become the first (and only) big man off the bench. We have all seen what Stiemsma has done when given an opportunity to play a more meaningful role. It'll be interesting to see how Hollins handles this chance to play decent minutes.

WHAT WE SAW: Arguably the one Celtic who has maximized his opportunity to play, Stiemsma was solid in the middle for Boston. Filling in for Garnett at center, Stiemsma had eight points while making all four of his shot attempts, along with grabbing five rebounds and of course, blocking a few - OK, quite a few - shots along the way. Stiemsma was credited with six blocked shots - that was one more than the entire Bobcats team. "Greg, defensively, is a force," Rivers said. "He's a great shot-blocker. I don't think the officials even know that yet because the way he goes after them."

STAT TO TRACK: Charlotte has been a team where a sizable chunk of their scoring comes from their bench. So for Boston, it'll be important to not allow the Charlotte starters to catch fire. This season, the Bobcats starters average 54.2 points which ranks 29th in the NBA. Conversely, the C's first group has averaged 68.5 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Charlotte got 61 points from its starters, although one of them - Derrick Brown - had 15 points and usually did most of his damage against Boston off the bench. The Celtics' patchwork starting lineup did a good job defensively in addition to finding various ways of generating their own scoring. Boston's starting five on Sunday tallied 83 of the team's 94 points which included the C's Big Three - on this night anyway - of Rajon Rondo (20 points), Avery Bradley (22 points) and Brandon Bass (22 points) combining for 64 points. "Those were the three guys we said we had to get points from and they did it," Rivers said. "So that was nice."

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

price_what_we_learned-overlay-master.png

Three things we learned from the Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Twins

Three things we learned from the Boston Red Sox’ 11-9 loss to the Minnesota Twins . . .

1) David Price isn’t having fun

Boston’s $217 million-dollar arm had another rough outing -- this time against a team that already has 60 losses.

Those are the team’s he’s supposed to dominate.

“It’s been terrible,” Price said on how his season has gone following the loss. “Just awful.”

Price’s mistakes have often been credited to mechanical mishaps this year. Farrell mentioned that following his start in New York, Price spent time working on getting more of a downhill trajectory on his pitches.

But Price doesn’t think his issue is physical.

So it must be mental -- but he doesn’t feel that’s the case either.

“Honestly I don’t think it’s either one of those,” Price said when asked which he thought was a factor. “It’s me going out there and making pitches. “

But when it comes down to the barebones, pitching -- much like anything else -- is a physical and mental act.

So when he says it’s neither, that’s almost impossible. It could be both, but it has to be one.

His mind could be racing out on the mound from a manifestation of the issues he’s had throughout the season.

Or it could just be that his fastball isn’t changing planes consistently, like Farrell mentioned.

Both could be possible too, but it takes a certain type of physical approach and mental approach to pitch -- and Price needs to figure out which one is the issue, or how to address both. 

2) Sandy Leon might be coming back to Earth

Over his last five games, Boston’s new leading catcher is hitting .176 (3-for-17), dropping his average to .395.

A couple things have to be understood. His average is still impressive. In the five games prior to this dry spell, Leon went 7-for-19 (.368) But -- much like Jackie Bradley Jr. -- Leon hasn’t been known for his offensive output throughout his career. So dry spells are always tests of how he can respond to adversity and make necessary adjustments quickly.

Furthermore, if he’s not so much falling into a funk as opposed to becoming the real Sandy Leon -- what is Boston getting?

Is his run going to be remembered as an exciting run that lasted much longer than anyone expected? Or if he going to show he’s a legitimate hitter that can hit at least -.260 to .280 with a little pop from the bottom of the line-up?

What’s more, if he turns back into the Sandy Leon he’s been throughout his career, the Red Sox will have an interesting dilemma on how to handle the catching situation once again.

3) Heath Hembree has lost the momentum he gained after being called up.

Following Saturday’s contest, the right-hander was demoted to Triple-A Pawtucket after an outing where he went 1/3 of an inning, giving up a run on three hits -- and allowing some inherited runners to score.

Hembree at one point was the savior of the bullpen, stretching his arm out over three innings at a time to bail out the scuffling Red Sox starting rotation that abused it’s bullpen.

His ERA is still only 2.41 -- and this has been the most he’s ever pitched that big league level -- but the Red Sox have seen a change in him since the All-Star break.

Which makes sense, given that hitters have seven hits and two walks against him in his 1.1 innings of work -- spanning four games since the break.

“He’s not confident pitcher right now,” John Farrell said about Hembree before announcing his demotion. “As good as Heath has been for the vast majority of this year -- and really in the whole first half -- the four times out since the break have been the other side of that.”

Joe Kelly will be the pitcher to replace Hembree and Farrell hopes to be able to stretch him out over multiple innings at a time, as well.