Celtics lose 5th straight, fall to Thunder, 119-104

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Celtics lose 5th straight, fall to Thunder, 119-104

OKLAHOMA CITY The Boston Celtics had one of their best nights offensively in the first half, and there they were still getting smashed by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With key Celtics out with injuries (Chris Wilcox, Jermaine O'Neal, Brandon Bass) and suspension (Rajon Rondo), the Thunder treated the wounded Celtics for most of the first half just how you would a team that's hurting -- put them down emphatically, quickly.

But this is a veteran Celtics team, one with players with lots of come-from-behind wins and a ton of pride.

It came through in the second half, but it wasn't enough, as the Thunder pulled away for a 119-104 win.

After trailing by as many as 27 points in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 24-11 run and trailed, 94-80, going into the fourth.

Boston continued to chip away, making it a six-point game after Paul Pierce made one of two free throws.

But a pair of free throws by Oklahoma City's James Harden and a Kevin Durant bank-shot pushed the Thunder's lead back to double digits with 2:46 to play.

From there, the Thunder's control of the game was never an issue.

Boston has too much pride, too much tradition to make a big deal out of playing the Thunder close.

But there's no mistaking that this team, for all their flaws, showed the kind of fight that makes you wonder just how they would have fared had they had one, maybe two more bodies available.

The strong play at the end of the third by Boston and into the fourth, was similar to how they began the game.

Boston opened the game playing surprisingly well, jumping out to a 22-12 lead.

The double-digit deficit may have been just the wake-up call the Thunder needed, as they responded with a furious 23-3 run to close out the first quarter which ended with them ahead, 35-25.

Oklahoma City continued to pour on the points in the second before gong into the half with a commanding 72-49 lead.

Kevin Garnett, who returned to the Celtics lineup after missing a pair of games to attend to a personal family matter, was very productive for the C's.

At the half, he had 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds.

Now the C's hit the All-Star break after going 0-for-the-road in what players and coaches alike said would be a telling trip.

Truthfully, it only confirmed what we have seen play out most of the season in Boston.

This team can't stay healthy. And because of that, no one -- not Rivers, not Danny Ainge, not the players -- has a true feel for whether this team will ever reach its potential.

That puts Ainge, president of basketball operations, in a tough spot. He has said that he wants to see how this team, when healthy, functions on the floor.

But if they can never stay healthy enough to play, the pursuit of potential trades between now and the NBA trading deadline will only increase.

"It's tough, especially when you go on this road trip, and you just want to be healthy," Rivers said recently. "And you just haven't had that opportunity. This is a road trip I've really been looking forward to. We thought a week ago, Kevin was going to be good and Brandon (Bass) was going to be healthy and now you don't have either ... that makes it a tough trip."

HOT SHOT

Kevin Garnett returned from a two-game absence attending to a personal matter, and didn't seem to miss a beat. Despite being the Celtic's primary big man -- which made targeting him defensively a no-brainer for the Thunder -- Garnett had 23 points along with 13 rebounds for his team-leading ninth double-double of the season.

"He was terrific to watch and compete," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

IN-N-OUT

It was a good thing that Paul Pierce was getting to the free throw line. For most of the game, Pierce struggled mightily to make shots before finishing with a 5-for-15 shooting line. Him getting into early foul trouble, however, posed an even bigger problem for Boston.

"I hurt us by getting into foul trouble," Pierce acknowledged. "But overall, I saw positive things from this game."

Like his success at beating his man off the dribble and getting into the paint which, more often than not, resulted in free throws. Despite his poor shooting, Pierce still managed to score 23 points, good enough to share team-high scoring honors with Garnett.

SUPER SUB

James Harden continues to be the best backup in the NBA, a major cog in the Thunder's machine-like precision when it comes to winning. Harden finished with 17 points on 6-for-10 along with seven assists and two steals.

TURNING POINT

With Oklahoma City leading 108-101 with 3:31 to play, Paul Pierce went to the free throw line with a chance to make it a five-point game. He missed the first, but made the second. The Celtics could not get any closer as the Thunder finished the game with an 11-2 run.

BY THE NUMBERS

4: That would be the number of starters (Jermaine O'Neal, Rajon Rondo) or rotation players (Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox) the Celtics were missing against the Thunder.

QUOTE TO NOTE

"This effort we played with tonight is what we need to do every game from here on out."- Celtics guard Ray Allen.

Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

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Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

Chris Sale -- this year’s American league starting pitcher in the All-Star game -- was a late scratch and sent home before his scheduled Saturday start.

This of course comes after the White Sox have begun to listen to offers for their bonafide ace -- including the Red Sox.

Preceding the game, the White Sox released a statement from senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn explaining that Sale’s removal was “due to a clubhouse incident before the game.”

After ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the altercation was with staff from the front office and had nothing to do with his teammates, there was another report that the issue pertained to the throwback uniforms the White Sox planned to wear for Saturday’s game.

Fox’s Ken Rosenthal has additionally been told the issue “was bigger than that.” 

Sale is a huge addition to any starting rotation -- never mind the Red Sox staff.

His stats are without a doubt impressive. An All-Star every season since 2012 thanks to his career 2.95 ERA and 10.1 K/9 -- this year posting a 3.18 ERA and 8.7 K/9.

But numbers can be deceiving -- especially with players playing for a small market club. That’s not the case with Sale though. While the White Sox haven’t contended in the postseason with the lefty, there’s no denying that Chicago isn’t a small market by any means.

The jump from Chicago to Boston is nothing compared to players coming from places like Miami or Atlanta -- or San Diego. So Sale presents a good fit in terms of approach -- in addition to having good stuff.

The incident makes Sale come across as a prima donna, the fact that the issue went past the uniforms shows there could be a deeper issue at hand -- and not so much an indictment of his mental make-up.

Additionally, this altercation could open the door to get Sale at a lower value. If it was that bad that he was sent home, it could take a lot more than a stern talk and hand shakes to resolve the issue, giving interested teams a much better chance to obtain the Cy Young candidate.

However, if the Red Sox do manage to strike a deal with the White Sox, they’d be wise to throw someone else on throwback nights.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

BOSTON -- After leaving Friday night’s game with right knee soreness, structural damage has been ruled out regarding Mookie Betts, but he could still be out for a bit.

Testing was done on Betts’ knee, removing any doubt of a deeper issue, revealing it was just build-up of fluid, causing swelling in his knee.

“Day-to-day is the status. It may take a couple for him before he’s back to us.” John Farrell said. “Everything points to this being a short-term situation.”

Betts explained that his condition had improved from Friday night, but -- much like Farrell -- doesn’t know how quickly he can bounce back. He wouldn’t make a definitive statement on whether or not he’d be available Sunday.

“It feels pretty good now,” Betts said. “We’re going to do some treatment on it, make sure everything is good and hopefully get back out there.”

Betts joins the list of pivotal players unavailable in Saturday’s game, including Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara who are both on the DL.

Farrell couldn’t commit to a timetable for when he expects Uehara should be back, but hopes he’ll be available during the regular season.

“We’re hopeful of that,” Farrell said when asked if he thought Uehara would be back before the postseason. “There’s no number of day’s that says Koji’s going to put a ball back in his hand . . . To give you a time frame, it’s too early to tell.”

Kimbrel, on the other hand, has bounced back well, and is expected to throw his first bullpen Sunday or Monday. The hope is that he’ll throw twice off the mound before the trip to the West, which would set him up for a simulated game.

“We need to get some PFP involved -- just some change in direction, fielding the position,” Farrell said on Kimbrel. “But in terms of amount of time missed, and that fact that he’s able to as get aggressive right now in long toss. I would think it would be on the shorter end of appearances if it’s even more than one. He feels very good. If he wasn’t making the ultimate decision medically [he’d] probably say ‘Give me the ball tonight.’ That’s how good he feels -- that’s encouraging.”

 

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

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Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

While much of the focus is going to be on the young D-men headed into Bruins training camp, it would be foolhardy to overlook a forward prospect Danton Heinen, who is in position for a real dark horse run at an NHL roster spot. 

The strong odds are that the former University of Denver star is going to be begin the season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins after putting up a couple of points in four games there at the end of last season.

Still, that certainly hasn’t stopped Heinen from setting his sights on an NHL spot out of this fall’s camp, most likely in a third- or fourth-line capacity to start things off, or perhaps at the top-six right wing spots that have given the Bruins some problems filling permanently over the past couple of seasons.

Either way, the 2014 fourth-round pick knows that his clock to fulfilling his dreams as an NHL player has started and that it’s up to him when he can start making that a reality.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work toward my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better, have a good rest of the summer and then put my best foot forward to see what happens,” said Heinen, who had an assist and a sweet goal in the Friday scrimmage at development camp when he twisted D-man Cam Clarke around like a pretzel on a nifty rush to the net. “I just need to continue to get stronger this summer, and working on my skating to get a bit quicker.

“[The AHL] was a lot of fun to get in there and see what it was all about. It was a lot different than college hockey, and it was definitely good to get a taste of it. [Bruins officials] told me to have a really big summer getting faster and getting stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Heinen, 21, continued to show in development camp last week, however, that he has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to flourish while surrounded by more accomplished players and in tighter situations. It’s exactly what he showed while posting 36 goals and 93 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Pioneers and it was what he showed while finishing last week as one of the best forwards in camp.

“He’s looked really good at [development] camp. He’s a smart player, he’s committed and I think you’ll notice him in training camp. It will be up to him, but I think he’ll definitely be pushing some guys [for an NHL job],” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was running the Bruins development camp. “He looked good [in Providence]. He fit in well. He’s the type of player that can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ, and he’s got really good skill.

“Anywhere you put him he’s smart enough to figure it out. You could tell in his first game there was a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the second time game it really looked like he’d been playing [at that level] for a long time. He’s a quick study, and he looked really good last year.”

The Black and Gold management hope he continues to look good at main NHL training camp in a couple of months, where he’ll undoubtedly be featured, and could be a lot closer than many people think as a polished skill forward coming out of a big-time college hockey program.