Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

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Celtics-Hawks review: What we saw

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics are not the kind of team that gets too giddy about what some might construe as a quality loss.

But Friday's 97-92 loss at Atlanta just may qualify as the lone exception.

Boston had no business keeping the game close, let alone being in position to win it in the final minutes.

And there they were, playing without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett who were given the night off.

No Mickael Pietrus (knee), Ray Allen (ankle) or Rajon Rondo (back) either, with all back in Boston nursing their respective injuries.

"Nobody gave us a chance in hell tonight," said Celtics guardforward Marquis Daniels. "We gave ourselves a chance to win the game. We were a couple shots away from it."

And that shot at winning was fueled by what on many stretches resembled the Celtics' "C" team of players at the very end of the bench that delivered in a big, bad way for the Celtics all game against an Atlanta team that played their usual rotation players close to their usual minutes.

"Even though we didn't win, I felt like we took steps forward as a team," said Boston's Avery Bradley who led all C's with a career-high 28 points. "It was an opportunity for us to improve, and a lot of our guys did that."

Boston's cut-and-paste second unit kept the game close with a number of hustle plays such as steals, deflections and contesting shots. But surprisingly, they held their offensively as well, tallying 29 points compared to 30 for Atlanta's second unit.

Even though the Hawks got the win, it was clear that Atlanta head coach Larry Drew didn't feel overly enthused with how the game played out.

"As far as I'm concerned, whether Boston won or not, they accomplished what they wanted," Drew said. "To have his reserves come out and compete at a high level, and to take us down to the wire the way they did."

Bench play certainly gave the Celtics a shot at pulling off the major upset. Here are some other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR If the Celtics keep as many guys out as expected tonight, Avery Bradley may be the team's best scoring option among the starters. It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact he can make when more attention is paid to him offensively, and he doesn't have the benefit of Rajon Rondo at the point or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the floor creating space for him to work.

WHAT WE SAW: Avery Bradley continues to make a last-minute dash for the league's Most Improved award, showing that he can indeed deliver offensively without the usual set of Hall of Famers or all-stars around him. He scored a career-high 28 points, his third game with 20 or more points in Boston's last four. "Avery played a terrific game in a lot of areas that really helped us tonight," said C's coach Doc Rivers.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Sasha Pavlovic vs. Joe Johnson: This matchup will be decided in the first quarter most likely. If Pavlovic can come out and hit a couple shots early, his defense will actually get better Johnson. It's weird, I know. No one is under any disillusions that Pavlovic is going to shut Johnson down. But if he can keep him from being an efficient scorer, the C's will have a much better chance at victory.

WHAT WE SAW: Joe Johnson, arguably the best crab-dribbler in the NBA, was much, much, much too much for Pavlovic to handle. Pavlovic didn't take a single shot until the second quarter. By that point, Johnson was well on his way to a game-high 30 points - 23 of which came in the first half. Pavlovic finished with four points on 2-for-3 shooting.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Keyon Dooling is expected to get the start tonight, which should take some of the ball-handling pressure off Bradley. Dooling needs to be more than just a facilitator. He needs to provide the Celtics with a bit of scoring, something he has not done much of this season. He's averaging a career-low 3.5 points per game this season and has not reached double figures scoring since scoring 10 points at New Orleans on Dec. 28.

WHAT WE SAW: Dooling was very aggressive offensively in the first half, scoring 10 of his season-high 17 points. Just as impressive was how efficient he was, connecting on seven of his 10 shots from the field along with racking up three assists without a single turnover.

STAT TO TRACK: Both Boston and Atlanta rank among the bottom-10 in the NBA in rebounds per game, so winning the battle on the boards will be huge. The C's rank dead-last with 38.8 per game while the Hawks are No. 23 with 41.3 per game. In the two previous games, both Celtics wins, the C's have averaged winning the boards by six per game.

WHAT WE SAW: The Hawks played without center Zaza Pachulia, but it didn't matter on this night. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards against Boston which more than anything else, prevented the C's from getting out and running as much as they would have liked. Despite coming up short on the boards, Boston still managed to tally more second-chance points (14) than the Hawks (12) in addition to outscoring Atlanta in the paint, 44-36.

Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

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Will Dobson finally change the storyline this year?

FOXBORO - Aaron Dobson is like the tide. Hitting a predictable high-water mark around the same time every season then gradually receding to a predictable low.

At least that’s how it’s seemingly gone for the first three seasons of the wideout’s NFL career. In truth, it’s not really been as bleak as we’ve all intimated it to be.

There have been bright spots for the 2013 second-rounder and there is upside to his game. But the combination of injuries, inconsistencies and annual drops into obscurity have obscured the very notion that anything he does between May and August should be taken seriously.

Saturday, Dobson was back at it again with the summertime fun making two terrific early-practice grabs on the first day in pads. That was a continuation of what he put out there in May and June when he looked nothing like the guy who pattycaked so many passes in 2015.

When the team’s key skill players broke off to a separate field midway through practice it was Tom Brady, Jimmy Garoppolo, Rob Gronkowski, Martellus Bennett and Dobson working out.

Dobson knows the party line on him. He basically summarized what folks feel has been lacking with his game.

“I’m just trying to keep improving and stay consistent and show my teammates that I can stay consistent and dependable,” Dobson told me Friday.

We’ve done the Dobson Propaganda “This may be the year…” piece before. Like last summer when Josh McDaniels gushed about Dobson and we dutifully talked him up. It wasn’t without cause. The guy does things nobody else on the roster at the wideout position can do because of his height and leaping ability.

I asked Dobson if he’s yet shown the best of what he can do.

“I feel like I can play football,” he said. “It’s up to me to show my abilities to everybody. It’s hard to really say. For me, I’m just trying to get out and get better every day, every day, every practice.”

He couldn’t have envisioned this, though. Fourth season and still with some nitwit standing in front of him talking about his football mortality in New England.  

“Going through what I’ve gone through has been difficult but you just have to stay grounded,” he said. “You can’t let it hold you back, you can’t let it keep you down, you can’t worry about the past, you just gotta worry about the future and what I can do to help myself.”

There are things beyond Dobson’s control that have intervened. A stress fracture in his foot in 2013 that bled over into 2014 when surgery was deleted then performed in the spring.

But there are things which seem preventable too that keep arising. Like the number of times Dobson is unable to catch the ball cleanly and double-catches the ball.

I asked him about that.

“You gotta let the ball in,” he said. “Regardless. When it comes to double-catching, you just gotta make the catch, when it comes to you.”

You hear the things he’s said before – all said with a self-deprecating smile. No ego. You see the things he can do in the air. And you think…this year?

Then you watch that drill with Brady and Garoppolo, Bennett and Gronkowski. And throw after throw, when Dobson could either catch the ball out front with his hands or let it come into his chest or cradle it into his stomach, he chooses the latter. The less safe, less polished, easier way to catch.

And you know the coda to this Dobson story like the ones in the past comes with the caveat, “we’ll see…”

Tom E. Curran can be followed on Twitter: @tomecurran

Saturday, July 30: Colorado's Tyson Barrie could become available

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Saturday, July 30: Colorado's Tyson Barrie could become available

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while knowing that “Saturdays are for the boys” no longer exists once you are married with kids…except during glorious bachelor party weekends, which are few and far between.

*Congrats to Patrick Williams, who was named the Ellery Award winner for his great coverage of all things at the AHL level. Well deserved, Pat! 

*A really moving, heartbreaking and also life-affirming tribute from Bobby Ryan to his recently-passed mother after his childhood experience really forged a bond. 

*The Tyson Barrie/Colorado Avalanche arbitration case has a chance to get messy, and that may be a very good thing for teams hoping a D-man suddenly becomes available

*Some great stories about the hockey movies made over the last 30 years including Sudden Death, Mystery Alaska and Slap Shot. 

*Kudos to Gabriel Landeskog, who has joined an organization attempting to advise athletes on recovery from concussions after his scary experiences

*The focus of P.K. Subban’s philanthropy is on the kids, a thing made abundantly clear by his generous pledge to raise $10 million from a Montreal children’s hospital. 

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Josh Cooper over at Yahoo! Sports on Murray Craven as a bit of an “Everything Man” for the new Las Vegas expansion franchise. 

*For something completely different: what a great American and Patriot looks like, even if the Republicans and Trump don’t seem to think so.

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

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Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox’ 6-2 win over the Angels:

QUOTES

* “He just had very good command the entire night. Stayed ahead in the count [and] pitched to all quadrants of the strike zone. He used his four-seamer in on some powerful right-handed hitters in their lineup.” John Farrell on Rick Porcello’s performance.

* “We needed a win bad and swung the bats well and played good defense. That’s a big win for us.” Rick Porcello said after his win in an interview with NESN.

* “24 hours ago we were probably in a much different place mentally after a ball game like tonight.” Farrell on the win.

“That was probably the first time I sat on off-speed pitches this whole year. I took a chance, took a gamble.” Jackie Bradley Jr. said on his home run.

NOTES

* Rick Porcello completed his first game in a Red Sox uniform in the 6-2 win. The CG was the fifth of his career and his first since he threw three in 2014. The righty has 14 wins, one win shy of tying his career high.

* Xander Bogaerts had his first multi extra-base hit performance of the season since June 11. He’s only done that twice this season. He extended his hitting streak to 11 games.

* David Ortiz logged his 85th RBI of the season in the win and Mookie Betts his 67th. Heading into Friday night’s game, the two were one of five pairs of teammates ranking in the top 20 in RBI. The list includes Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story, Adam Duvall and Jay Bruce and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

* Dustin Pedroia has now reached base safely in 32 straight games.

STARS

1) Rick Porcello

Porcello had his first complete game in a Red Sox uniform, stopping Boston’s losing skid at four games.

2) Xander Bogaerts

Bogaerts finished with a double and a home run -- the only Boston hitter with multiple hits. He also led the Red Sox with three RBI and scoring twice in the win.

3) Dustin Pedroia

In addition to walking in his first two at-bats, Pedroia had a base hit -- and another walk -- scoring twice on the night.