Celtics hang on, beat Bobcats, 102-95

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Celtics hang on, beat Bobcats, 102-95

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Grind it out. Make it ugly. Deliver the kind of basketball that if Dr. James Naismith were around now, he'd probably tweet about how unattractive the C's brand of basketball is and end his message with an 'smh' tag-out.

None of that matters to this team.

Boston is concerned about two things now - winning as many games as possible and finishing atop the Atlantic Division.

They took a major step on both of those fronts with Monday's 102-95 win over Charlotte.

The victory was the Celtics' fourth in their last five games.

Just as important, beating the Bobcats puts the C's (27-22) in a tie atop the Atlantic Division with idle Philadelphia.

On paper, this was a game that the Celtics should have won easily.

But with this team, this year, with all their injuries, there's no such thing as a gimme win - even if its against a Charlotte team that's currently on track to have the lowest winning percentage in NBA history.

Not surprisingly, the C's found themselves in a down-to-the-wire battle that should have never come to that.

A pair of free throws by former UConn star Kemba Walker cut Boston's lead to 93-89 with 2:41 to play. Kevin Garnett missed a short jumper in the lane, but Brandon Bass grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 2: 25 to play. He made both, making it a two-possession game.

The Bobcats continued to scrap, but a lay-up by Pierce with 1:47 to play and soon after a jumper by Kevin Garnett, put an end to Charlotte's last gasp at rallying for the win.

Although the game had a relatively close finish, Charlotte played from behind for all but a couple minutes in the first quarter.

Pierce was a big part of the Bobcats' struggles, leading all scorers with 34 points. His ability to get into the lane on driving lay-ups and when that didn't work, draw fouls, was instrumental in the Celtics getting what amounts to one of their biggest wins of the year.

Not because of the opponent, or the margin of victory, but the impact that the win has on their potential playoff seeding.

Finishing atop the Atlantic will guarantee the C's open the playoffs with home court advantage.

Short of that, Boston's likely looking at a sixth or seventh seeding - something they clearly want no part of.

In the first quarter, Boston played with the kind of defensive intensity and offensive balance that you would expect in a game of this magnitude.

After the Bobcats tied the game at 13, the Celtics closed out the quarter with a 20-2 run to lead, 33-15. It was the third time in the last four games that Boston racked up 30 or more points in the fourth quarter.

With a chance to get a share of first place in the Atlantic Division at stake, against the league's worst team, it was the kind of start you would expect.

But the Celtics, far too often their own biggest enemy, allowed the Bobcats to open the second quarter with a 10-0 run to make it a single digit game again.

Charlotte was back in the game, and had what you hate to give teams with horrific records - confidence.

The Bobcats continued to chip away at Boston's lead, with the C's going into the half clinging to a mere two-point lead.

After a disappointing second quarter, the Celtics knew they had to re-establish control in the third.

The C's did just that with a 9-2 run to open the quarter, which included four points from Paul Pierce.

His contributions during that spurt were consistent with his role as the team's catalyst of late.

After scoring 17 points at the half, Pierce had another 10 in the third quarter which were much-needed as the Celtics took an 82-75 lead into the fourth.

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

Collins' new contract may influence Patriots' negotiations with Hightower

FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins and the Cleveland Browns are reportedly closing in on a contract that will turn the ex-Pat's place of exile into his long-term place of work. 

That's interesting in itself. The Browns must have made it clear to Collins he was getting franchised, otherwise you'd think Collins would want to get out there and test the market for at least a couple of days when free agency rolled around. 

It will also be interesting for Collins' former teammate in New England, Dont'a Hightower. While the Patriots aren't going to let the Browns dictate their market and offers when it comes to negotiating with Hightower, Collins' contract will be a useful comp for Hightower. 

Whatever Collins gets, Hightower can make the case for a fair amount more. Hightower is the centerpiece of the Patriots defense, a run-stopper, blitzer, leader and tone-setter. From the jersey number (Tedy Bruschi's old number 54) they encouraged him to wear, to selecting him captain, the team and Hightower's teammates have stated how important he is to the club. 

Hightower on the open market would be in line for a contract in the $10 million-per-year range, with a total value of around $50 million (using Luke Kuechly, Navarro Bowman, Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons as comparable players). The Patriots can franchise Hightower just as easily as the Browns could have franchised Collins. The sticking point for the player is that he doesn't realize the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal. The injury Sword of Damocles dangles every day. 

In other words, Collins' influence on the Patriots isn't done yet. 

Report: Chip Kelly was scheduled to meet with Bill Belichick recently

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Report: Chip Kelly was scheduled to meet with Bill Belichick recently

FOXBORO -- Might Chip Kelly be working for the Patriots at some point in the near future? One report calls New England a "logical" landing spot for the former Eagles and 49ers head coach. 

According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Kelly "was headed to New England to meet with [Bill] Belichick" once he found out that he was no longer in the running for the offensive coordinator job in Jacksonville. 

Kelly was fired by the 49ers after one season as head coach and has been interested in continuing his career as an NFL coach, per Mortensen. Kelly coached the Eagles for three seasons, going 26-21.

Belichick openly threw his support behind Kelly after he was let go by Philadelphia on New Year's Eve in 2015.

"I would say it's actually disappointing," Belichick said at the time. "Chip Kelly to me is a really good football coach. He does a great job. I think he's done a good job with that team. It's disappointing to see . . . Pretty much everybody's on a one-year contract in this league. I don't know how you build a program in one year. 

"Chip's a great coach. He'll end up somehwere and he'll do a great job there. I'd say a lot of the players that were on the Eagles that are no longer on the Eagles aren't really doing too much for anybody else, either."

Mortensen opines that the Belichick-Kelly connection would make sense because of their tight bond. 

"The friendship between Kelly and [Belichick] is no secret," Mortensen wrote. "They have exchanged football concepts since Kelly's fast-tempo offense became the rage at Oregon."

Per Mortensen, Kelly was considered an asset by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, and he was in the running for a job there, yet new coach Doug Marrone saw Kelly as a bad "philosophical fit." 

Apparently that led to Kelly's planned visit here. 

There is history of the Patriots hiring friendly faces during the postseason. In 2012, Belichick re-hired Josh McDaniels to work with then offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who was set to take over Penn State's program after the season. McDaniels -- who had been the offensive coordinator for the Rams earlier that year -- re-claimed his role as offensive coordinator in New England the following season and has been in-house ever since. 

Kelly has no experience as one of Belichick's employees -- McDaniels, of course, rose through the coaching ranks in New England before being hired as head coach in Denver in 2009 -- but perhaps he is a candidate to fulfill a role similar to the one McDaniels was given before Super Bowl XLVI.