Celtics-Bulls review: What we saw

669896.jpg

Celtics-Bulls review: What we saw

BOSTON Finally, the Boston Celtics have a win over one of the NBA's elite - sort of.

Boston's 95-91 win over Chicago came with the Bulls' best player and the reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, out with a back injury.

"In this season, every win is a marquee win, with the shortened season," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You got bodies out, on both teams every night."

But the Bulls have proven they are a formidable foe with or without Rose in the lineup, evident by their 5-1 record coming into Sunday's game without Rose playing.

Rose's absence was among the factors to keep an eye on leading into Sunday's game.

We'll take a look a few others, and how they actually played out in what was one of the Celtics' biggest wins this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Bulls are still unsure if reigning league MVP Derrick Rose will play today. He sat out Chicago's 31-point win at Charlotte on Friday due to a back injury. If Rose does play, it'll be interesting to see just how much that back injury will limit his effectiveness at attacking the rim which he does as good as any player in the NBA. In Chicago's 88-79 win over Boston earlier this year, Rose had 25 points and seven assists and four rebounds.
WHAT WE SAW - No Derrick Rose hasn't really been an issue for the Bulls this season. But it was clear on Sunday night that the guys who normally fill the void for him - C.J. Watson and John Lucas III - would not be up to the challenge this time. Watson got the start and had 22 points, but he shot just 8-for-23 from the field. Lucas wasn't much better off the bench, finishing with nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. "We just looked a little sluggish," Watson said. "Came out slow and that's probably why they got a quick start on us."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah: Garnett will be matched up with one of these guys, depending on whether Jermaine O'Neal (shoulder) plays. Regardless of which one KG faces, the C's need him to win that matchup. And with Garnett, it doesn't have to necessarily be him scoring more points. Garnett has to make an impact, whether it's rebounding, blocking shots or playing his usual Jedi mind trick games.
WHAT WE SAW - With Jermaine O'Neal (left shoulder) and Brandon Bass (left knee) out, Garnett began the game at center with Chris Wilcox starting at power forward. Garnett and Joakim Noah played to a virtual standstill, which actually favors the C's considering how Noah's energy and hustle has often given him an edge over most big men. Noah finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Garnett had a solid 13-point, 12-rebound night for the C's, in addition to blocking a game-high four shots compared to none for Noah. "I think overall, they just wanted it more," Noah said.

PLAYER TO WATCH - The legend of Avery Bradley continues to grow. Bradley told CSNNE.com that the shoulder injury that limited him the past couple games, won't keep him off the floor today against the Bulls. We've seen Bradley's on-the-ball pressure completely blanket guards. But Derrick Rose? That's an entirely different animal. Like Kevin Garnett, Bradley's impact on the game won't necessarily be seen in his individual stats. In Boston's 86-74 loss at Toronto, Bradley only had three points in his seven minutes on the floor. But in that time, he had a plusminus ratio of plus-7.

WHAT WE SAW - The Bradley factor was not really that big a deal on Sunday, with him playing just over eight minutes in which he had four points, a couple rebounds and a rare blocked shot. His lack of minutes was a direct reflection on how well Rajon Rondo (32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) was playing.

STAT TO TRACK - First quarter scoring has been an issue for the Celtics all season, evident by them ranking 27th in the NBA in points scored (21.7) in the first quarter. However, the C's are averaging 24.1 points in the first quarter in their 14 wins this season. Chicago has been among the NBA best at limiting first-quarter scoring. Teams are scoring just 21.3 points against the Bulls in the first quarter, which ranks No. 3 in fewest first quarter points allowed this season. The first quarter clamps have been even tighter of late by the Bulls, having allowed 16 or fewer points scored in each of their last four games - all blowout wins.

WHAT WE SAW - The Celtics could not have had a better start to the game, with lots of contributions from their patchwork lineup. The early results were solid, as the C's took a 28-23 lead after the game's first 12 minutes.

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Branch's agent later confirmed the news on Twitter.

Word of Branch's punishment, which stemmed from what was reported as a positive marijuana test, became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, though. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. He also stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can now focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.