Celtics-Lakers review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Lakers review: What we saw . . .

LOS ANGELES The Boston Celtics have had their issues with fourth quarter execution at times this season.

That was indeed the case in Sunday's 97-94 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, a game in which the Celtics were outscored 8-0 over the final 2:41 of play.

"We got great shots," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "It's a make-miss league. We didn't make and they did."

That inability to knock down big shots against the Lakers spoiled what would have been one of the better wins this season for the Celtics (21-19).

Boston's Rajon Rondo, who had a team-high 24 points to go with 10 assists, echoed Rivers' sentiments about the team's play down the stretch.

"They made shots down the stretch and we didn't," Rondo said.

But Boston's problems down the stretch had more to do with than just missing shots.

"The problem was we couldn't get any stops," said Paul Pierce. "Kobe made a couple of tough shots. And they went down to (Andrew) Bynum and (Pau) Gasol."

The Lakers twin tower tandem each had a double-double with Bynum tallying 20 points and 14 rebounds, while Gasol chipped in with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Fourth quarter execution was indeed a major factor in the game's outcome, but it wasn't the only one. Here are a few we identified prior to the game, and how they actually factored into the game's outcome.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Both teams have had their problems scoring, and today's game should not be any different. The Lakers come into the game ranked 19th in scoring, at 94.2 per game. Meanwhile, the Celtics are bottom-five in the NBA with a 90.8 points per game scoring average that ranks No. 26. With both teams also ranked among the top six in scoring defense, look for a repeat of their Feb. 9 game at the Garden which ended with a low scoring affair that was eventually won by the Lakers, 88-87.

WHAT WE SAW: Scoring was a bit up for both teams, primarily because both shot a fairly high percentage from the field. Boston connected on 47 percent of its shots, while the Lakers were successful on 50.7 percent of its shot attempts.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Pau Gasol: Gasol's length and craftiness around the basket should make this a favorable matchup for the Lakers, but Bass has continually proven to play bigger than his undersized, 6-foot-8 frame. As much as the Celtics will need him to provide rebounding and solid play defensively, they will also need him to do what he does best and that's score. In their first matchup on Feb. 9, Bass had eight points. He came into that game having reached double figures scoring in 10 of the previous 11 games. And when you consider it was a one-point loss for the C's, that one more made basket is huge.

WHAT WE SAW: Bass didn't get off to the greatest of starts, but seemed to find a good flow through the final three quarters and finished with a respectable 15 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Although he did at times have trouble keeping Gasol off the boards, for the most part Bass did a decent job of holding his own as Gasol had 13 points and 13 rebounds.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With Chris Wilcox out for additional tests on his heart, rookie Greg Stiemsma is expected to play some tonight against Lakers all-star center Andrew Bynum. The 7-foot rookie played a career-high 27 minutes in Boston's blowout win against Portland on Friday. He has struggled at times, often relying too much on his shot-blocking prowess and not enough on playing good positional defense. But he's a rookie who is still learning. And looking at the C's other big man options right now (Wilcox is out, as well as Jermaine O'Neal with a wrist injury), he's the best (and only big man option) they have right now coming off the bench.
WHAT WE SAW: Considering his role with the Celtics, Stiemsma actually had a decent night for the Green team. He only had two points, but grabbed four rebounds and swatted a game-high three blocked shots which includes sending a Pau Gasol shot a few rows deep.

STAT TO TRACK: Rebound, rebound, rebound. The Celtics hear it all the time, and yet seldom do a good job at it. They'll have to today if they are to give themselves a legit shot at winning tonight. The Lakers come in averaging 54.6 rebounds per game which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. Even more impressive is that their average rebounding margin is plus-5 per game. In their Feb. 9 game, the Lakers were plus-10 on the boards which contributed to them having a 24-13 advantage on second-chance points.

WHAT WE SAW: As expected, Boston's lack of size - and thus, ability to rebound - was indeed a factor in the game's outcome. The Lakers had their way around the basket most of the game, and finished plus-8 on the boards. "That's no secret," said Paul Pierce. "Everybody knows what the Laker's strengths are. They have tremendous size."

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.