Celtics-Bucks preview review: What we saw...

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Celtics-Bucks preview review: What we saw...

BOSTON It will be a week from today before the Boston Celtics return home for playoff Games 3 and 4 against the Atlanta Hawks. While much of the attention following Boston's 87-74 win over Milwaukee on Thursday centered around them beginning the playoffs on the road, winning at home will also be important.
The Celtics had their problems at home this season, but closed out the month of April with home victories in six of their seven games at the Garden.
Boston establishing a presence at home was indeed a major factor in beating the Bucks. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: At this point, the goal is to get the core guys a chance to break a sweat, do a little damage on the scoreboard, and start looking ahead to Sunday's Game 1 matchup against Atlanta. Rajon Rondo (back) is expected back in the lineup tonight. Don't look for him to play his usual near-40 minutes tonight. Garnett will likely see some, but not a lot, of playing time tonight. Ditto for Paul Pierce, who has maintained for days that he doesn't want to miss any games leading into the playoffs.
"Rest is important, obviously, but you want to have a good rhythm going into the playoffs, too," Pierce told CSNNE.com. "Right now, my body feels pretty good and I'm in a pretty good rhythm, so I don't want to do anything to disrupt that."
WHAT WE SAW: Rondo played just over 25 minutes and finished with 15 assists for his 24th straight game with 10 or more assists. "I don't know if he can get 15 assists in 25 minutes in in a playoff game," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles.
"There are going to be better defensive teams in the playoffs. He made it look pretty easy."
Garnett played just over 11 minutes and Pierce and a sore big toe injury limited Pierce to under seven minutes of action but he still managed to get 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Doc Rivers vs. Scott Skiles: They're not going to log a minute on the floor tonight -- although that would probably make for more interesting matchup than the actual game -- but the way they handle things tonight will be worth keeping tabs on. Rivers wants to give his main guys rest, but with home court within reach, he has to balance that need with giving his team the best shot at winning. As for Skiles, it's hard to get his guys motivated tonight with no chance at the playoffs and no way of helping or hurting your position for the NBA draft. This is one of those games where a fast start by Boston might be enough to put this game out of reach quickly.
WHAT WE SAW: Neither coach had much of an impact on this game, although it was clear that Rivers' players played with with the kind of attention to detail that you would like to see from guys who know that they're probably not going to play much for the rest of the season. The Bucks looked for long stretches, like a team that had nothing to gain or lose on Thursday. Having already been eliminated from the playoffs and unable to drop any further in the NBA standings -- which would have increased their chances of landing the No. 1 pick in June's NBA draft -- motivation certainly was a challenge for them.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Mickael Pietrus will return to the lineup after missing four games with swelling in his right knee. He is one of the biggest X-factors for Boston in the playoffs. His ability to stretch defenses while making life difficult as possible for opponents with his defense, will be huge for the Celtics in the postseason. Like most of the Celtics core guys, don't look for him to log too many minutes with the playoffs right around the corner.
WHAT WE SAW: After missing the last four games, he made his first three shots from the field and finished with nine points.
"I was moving pretty well," said Pietrus, who was out with swelling in his right knee that has pretty much subsided by now. "You know I try to get in, try to help my team the best way I can, and get ready for the playoffs."

STAT TO TRACK: Milwaukee has been one of the best all season at forcing turnovers, with opponents committing 15.9 per game which ranks fourth in the NBA. Those turnovers have led to 18.9 points per game which ranks fifth in the NBA. The C's have been middle-of-the-pack in terms of points off turnovers with 16.3, No 15 in the NBA this season. As far as turnovers, Boston ranks sixth with 15.6 forced per game.
WHAT WE SAW: The Bucks didn't play a lot of their core guys - just like the Celtics - and it certainly showed in their inability to generate easy points off of turnovers. Milwaukee forced the Celtics into committing 15 turnovers but only generated 14 points off of Boston's mistakes. Meanwhile, the C's forced 23 Bucks turnovers which led to 18 points.
"They got into us pretty good, but we made some plays that we haven't made all year," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles. "We made some decisions with the ball that we normally wouldn't make. They got into us, they were physical, and they caused us problems."

Gronkowski put on IR, officially ending his season

Gronkowski put on IR, officially ending his season

The Patriots have placed Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve, officially ending the injured tight end's season. 

The Patriots have added running back D.J. Foster to the 53-man roster. 

Gronkowski underwent surgery on his back Friday in Los Angeles. There was some hope he might be able to return if the Patriots reached the Super Bowl, but this move ends that.

More to come...

Hagg Bag: Bruins right about where we expected

Hagg Bag: Bruins right about where we expected

After more than a quarter of the season, the strengths and weaknesses are beginning to take shape for the Bruins. So, that means the potential needs for the Black and Gold are also taking shape with a collection of players that have been right about where people expected them to be in the standings, though, in some ways, they're the opposite of how most expected team to perform. 

The Bruins are 24th in the NHL with 2.3 goals per game and have scored two goals or less in 17 of their 24 games this season, but their defense is fourth in the NHL averaging just 2.2 goals allowed per game. 

While the Bruins are right in the mix to finish anywhere from sixth to tenth in the Eastern Conference at this point, that kind of mix of offense/defense is one that could be playoff-worthy provided Tuukka Rask continues performing at an elite level and they don’t suffer any catastrophic injuries.

In other words, the Bruins might be okay while having pretty much zero room for error as a team hoping to wrangle one of those few playoff spots in April. With that as the current situation, it’s the perfect time to answer a few questions in a Hagg Bag mailbag. As always, these are real questions from real followers to my Twitter account using the #HaggBag hashtag, emails to my jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com account and messages to my CSN Facebook page. 

Now, on to the bag:

Joe, 

December /2016 is here and soon to be gone. What’s next for the Bruins? Wait till they are severely out of the picture? Wait for [Cam] Neely and [Don] Sweeney to be let go? Charlie [Jacobs] must see and know that the state of his Bruins team is entirely due to the lack of not being active to make the team better by HIS management team? Claude in no way should be the scapegoat. It's a very sad time for Bruins Nation. I believe that there are players in the system that will help out in the near future, but really what is the team’s strategy?

Bob Boisclair (message on Facebook)

JH: Far be it for me to be the team messenger for the Bruins, Bob. I have not understood the bigger picture mentality behind many of the moves the B’s have made over the past couple of years and think that some of them amount to short-sighted stunts designed to temporarily push the team back into the playoffs. That being said, the Bruins are currently in a playoff spot and they’ve been better in some respects than people thought. 

So, don’t count me among those that are especially down on the Bruins right now when considering the line of prospects starting to make an impact (Brandon Carlo) and the next couple of waves that are expected to be just as good (Charlie McAvoy, Zach Senyshyn, Anders Bjork). 

That’s not to say this team isn’t flawed or that it’s exactly what the Bruins fans want to see. I’m not sure that’s the case at all after watching the god-awful game played against Carolina on Thursday night that looked tired, disinterested and totally disconnected from providing entertaining hockey for fans that pay big bucks to get in the building. I’ll chalk that one up to the hectic, compacted schedule thanks to the World Cup of Hockey and the bye week taking place later on in the season. 

But the bottom line is that the Bruins have been making money over the past couple of seasons even as they’ve been missing the playoff cut, according to the Forbes article out earlier this week. I’m not sure we’ll see significant organizational changes until that particular dynamic changes for the worse, but you never know what can happen if the Bruins miss the playoffsthree years in a row. 

By this point, the new Bruins management has had a couple of years to right the ship and they should have collected enough talent to secure a playoff spot this season. That includes having a coach that can help avoid another collapse by a team that looks like there’s enough there to at least qualify for the postseason. I don’t exactly see Claude Julien as a scapegoat as much as I see him as somebody that’s been in Boston for a long time now and sometimes the same voice gets old after that length of time. He’s been great and he’s doing a good job this season thus far introducing a lot of young talent, but there’s still a great deal of season left to be played. 

 

Hi Joe, 

As always, I enjoy your work on the Bruins for CSNNE.com.

Matt Kalman had a recent article about how the Bruins should try to execute an extension with David Pastrnak now, and threw out a 5 year 25 million dollar figure.  Let's say it's in that neighborhood give or take 1 million AAV on either side.  The Bruins long term will have 5 forwards north of 5 to 6 million (Pastrnak, Krejci, Marchand, Bergeron and Backes).  With a goaltender making 7 million and Krug making 5.25, they will have limited flexibility in terms of bringing a higher salaried defenseman via trade or free agency (Shattenkirk or Alzner come to mind).  

My question for you is this.  Do you think the Bruins keep all of their high salaried forwards for the next couple of years while finding a mid-range salaried defenseman to build a bridge to McAvoy, Zboril, and Lauzon (I don't include Carlo as he's already a Top 4 D)?  Or do the B's move a salary (Krejci is always mentioned, but Krug may have more value) and then try to buy some more time for the young "D" to develop by signing or trading for a 2nd pairing guy this offseason.  I think the Bruins can hold onto most everyone for the next couple of years because they will have several contributors on entry level contracts (Carlo, Czarnik, Vatrano, Acciari, Heinen, McAvoy, Zboril etc.), and the salary cap usually bumps up about 2 million each year. 

The ultimate argument for moving salary and getting an established defenseman now is to take advantage of what people call the "Bergeron window".  Last time I heard that argument from a certain writer, we traded Tyler Seguin to maximize the "Chara window" so it doesn't always work.  I'd rather build organically myself, but ownership and ticket holders paying a high premium may not be so patient.  

Thanks for the time Joe.

- Kevin (Holliston MA)     

JH: Hey Kevin. It made much more sense to pay attention to the “Chara window” coming off an appearance in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. I don’t buy into the “Bergeron window” now because the Bruins are nowhere near being Stanley Cup winners at this point. It’s simply about getting into the playoffs for a group that’s now stuck right in the NHL middle class with a lot of other teams and will come within a few points, for better or worse, of cracking the top eight in the East. 

I don’t think Kevin Shattenkirk ends up in Boston. If I had to guess he won’t be traded this season from St. Louis and he’ll sign with the New York Rangers in the summer on a mega-deal thanks to the giant contract handed out to Brent Burns. The Bruins are better off staying away from that kind of money for Shattenkirk anyway, even though he’d be a good fit for them. 

Given that I think McAvoy may be ready as soon as next season for the NHL, there may not be as much need for a bridge D-man as one would think. The only way they’d really need one, in my opinion, is if they planned on trading away Chara prior to the end of his contract running out at the end of next season. If that happens then they’d need a left shot top-four guy to play some heavy minutes, but the emergence of Carlo, along with McAvoy on deck, might just be enough to get them through the next couple of years. Let’s watch how 20-year-old Carlo develops the rest of the season while gauging the need for that “bridge defenseman.”

As for David Pastrnak, there’s no rush to sign him. It will get done in due time. He likes it in Boston and he’s going to get paid. It’s just a matter of when the two sides sit down and hammer it out. This is part of the reason the Bruins didn’t make a push to sign Jacob Trouba to an offer sheet last summer: because they knew that would make it open season on Pastrnak for NHL poachers with big money offer sheets ready to snatch him away. The danger level for a restricted free agent, even one as talented as Pastrnak, flying the coop from Boston isn’t strong at all unless the Bruins buckle under the threat of an offer sheet, and then trade a player away before they have to as they did with Dougie Hamilton. 

Hey Haggs, Any idea how Vatrano's recovery is going? Still ahead of schedule? ETA for his return?

--Dan Rooney (@_pepperooney)

JH: Last I had heard was that Vatrano was about two weeks ahead of schedule and could start becoming a viable option for a return to the B’s lineup about mid-December. It remains to be seen if the Bruins would put Vatrano on a rehab assignment after missing the entire season and training camp as a 22-year-old without a ton of pro experience. It’s also a question as to how long it would take Vatrano to get up to full speed like he was last season when he scored 44 goals between the NHL and the AHL and a question of just how good he’s going to get at the NHL level. The talent is there, but Vatrano finished with just eight goals and 11 points in 39 games in Boston last season while trying to establish himself. The Bruins had high hopes for him headed into this season, but he still needs to show it before he becomes a big solution for a struggling Boston offense. 

 
When does management (and you) realize that Krug, McQuaid, and "The Millers" are the biggest problems the team has? All minus players game after game.

--Doug Inflorida (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: The Bruins are fourth in the NHL in defense, so I’d say the offense is the biggest problem that the team has. Torey Krug struggled to start the season coming off major shoulder surgery, but he’s really stepped up with Chara and John-Michael Liles out. He’s also now fourth on the Bruins in points as he heats up offensively, so I’d say you should gladly take the very good with Krug along with the occasional turnover or bad defensive play.

Look, you’ll get no argument out of me on Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. You can afford to have one of those players in your top-six defensemen group, but I don’t think you can consistently win in today’s NHL if both of those D-men are playing significant minutes for your team. The jury is out on Colin Miller, who has a great deal of talent and a lot to learn still at 24. 

But the Bruins have allowed a grand total of nine goals in the five games without Chara and all of those defenseman have stepped up across the board. So, credit where it’s due. On the whole the Bruins back end has played better than I expected them to this season, and they, along with the B’s coaching staff that guaranteed they would, deserve some accolades for that. 

If anything, the Bruins need to add another top-six left wing, rather than a defenseman, if we’re talking priorities for roster upgrades. 

 

Hey Haggs. Going to the game tonight. With all the injuries and lack of scoring, can you find the silver lining or should I find the nearest bar to my section Description: 😉

--Jonathan Hebert (via CSN Facebook page)

JH: I’d go to the bar in your section, watch the game on TV while slugging down a Guinness and then make a judgment based on the way the Bruins look in the first period. When it comes to their performances on home ice the past couple of years, the Bruins just don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt right now. 

 

When Vegas doesn't pluck Jimmy Hayes from the B's will they just cut him?

--Donye West (@dontuna)

JH: I’d say he would be Providence-bound long before he gets cut. The Bruins aren’t going to eat that kind of money simply over a massively underachieving player. Jimmy Hayes isn’t a bad kid by any means, but he’s running out of chances with the Bruins if he doesn’t bring more to the table than straight zeroes across the board on the stat sheet. He’s already received more of a chance than some other guys would get. Does anybody remember that Matt Irwin’s career was done with the Bruins after two bad games? You could ice a mini-NHL team in Providence with Hayes, Matt Bartkowski, Peter Mueller and Zac Rinaldo all potentially playing for them at the same time. Not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it would mean the NHL parent has a few bad contracts on the books.