Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

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Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

INDIANAPOLIS It's going to take some time for both the Boston Celtics and Ray Allen to work out the kinks now that he's coming off the bench. His play in Boston's 86-72 win over Indiana was certainly a good start. Allen powered a Celtics bench with 19 points, nine of which came in the decisive fourth quarter.

Saturday's game was Allen's second straight after missing the previous six with a right ankle injury.

"I told him, 'it's going to take a couple games,'" said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You're still trying to get your legs back."

But his arms and wrists seem to work just fine, as Allen launched up 11 shots in the first half - nearly twice as many as the next Celtics' shooter.

He only had four made shots, but it was clear that as the game went on, his play steadily improved at both ends of the floor.

"In the second half, you could see that he had a breakthrough," Rivers said. "I thought that was terrific."

And while the number of shots Allen got does seem a bit high - he led all players with 18 shots taken - Rivers has no problem if they continue to come the way they did against the Pacers.

"He doesn't search for them (shots) now," Rivers said. "With the second unit, he's the go-to, him and Kevin (Garnett). Kevin couldn't buy a shot for a while, so we went with Ray. And Ray made some shots."

Indeed, Allen's ability to knock down jumpers was an important part of Boston's much-needed victory over Indiana on Saturday. Here are a few other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they played out as the Celtics (31-24) look to extend their lead in the Atlantic Division on Sunday against the Philadelphia 76ers.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR The Boston Celtics got a rare day off on Friday, having played back-to-back games against San Antonio and Chicago, respectively, the two previous nights. They day off could not have come at a better time. Not only do the C's look as though they could have used the rest, but playing with one day off between games has usually been a good sign of things to come for Boston. This season, the Celtics are 20-10 in games in which they have one day of rest. That is far and away their best winning percentage in terms of how they perform following off days. You can count Paul Pierce among the C's who believes the day off will bode well for the Celtics' chances of winning tonight. "This is a tough schedule at this point," Pierce said. "We need the rest; we need to try and regroup ourselves and bounce back from two tough losses."

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics were indeed the fresher team, and came out playing like it. They broke open a 15-all tie in the first with a 9-4 run to end the quarter. And in the second quarter, the C's pulled ahead by as many as 17 points before settling on a 10-point halftime lead. Indiana chipped into the Celtics lead in the third quarter, but Boston continued to make all the big shots and get all the necessary defensive stops to keep a nice cushion between them and the Pacers. Once the fourth quarter rolled around, Boston continued to play with a lead that the C's were once again able to push into double digits.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Avery Bradley vs. Paul George: Avery Bradley is used to guarding bigger players, but Paul George will be a handful, for sure. Besides the six-inch height difference, Bradley's also dealing with a guy that's more than 30 pounds heavier. On top of that, George is coming off a career night in which he grabbed 16 rebounds. It was the most rebounds grabbed by an Indiana guard since 1977 - a span of 35 years. And it was the second-highest rebounding total for a guard in a game this year. The top spot belongs to Rajon Rondo, who grabbed 17 rebounds as part of a triple-double of 18 points and 20 assists in Boston's 115-111 win over New York on March 4.

WHAT WE SAW: Neither player contributed much in terms of scoring, but the edge has to go to Bradley simply because he did a better job of playing the role he has with the Celtics. He is a defensive pest which was a contributing factor in George scoring just two points which included him missing all seven of his shots from the field. "First of all, Paul George is a very good player," Bradley said. "He had an off-night tonight, and I tried to make everything hard on him. Like he said, he didn't make shots tonight. But they are a good team."

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett hasn't been his usually consistent self lately. In the month of April, Garnett has shot jus 36.1 percent from the field - that's about 15 percent points below his season average. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said he will give some thought during this current stretch coming up, to sit a player or two. Do not be shocked if Garnett misses a game in the coming days that's non-injury related.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett once again had his share of stretches in which he struggled to score, missing a number of shots he normally makes. Part of that can be attributed to him having to defend Roy Hibbert who had nine points on 3-for-9 shooting, but also grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds. As for Garnett, he finished with 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting, and he grabbed seven rebounds.

STAT TO TRACK: When you look back at what went wrong in the Celtics' loss at Chicago on Thursday, without question it was their struggles defensively in the third quarter. Tonight they face an Indiana team that is at its best in the third quarter of games. The Pacers average a league-best 25.8 points per game in the third quarter. Boston will try and counter with a defense that has been very strong in the third quarter, giving up just 21.8 points in the third which ranks second in the NBA and has been the C's best quarter defensively in terms of limiting opponents scoring.

WHAT WE SAW: The third quarter was a struggle for both teams, which actually worked out in the Celtics' favor. Having went into the half with a 10-point lead, the C's were more than happy to have been able to maintain a comfortable lead - eight points - going into the fourth.

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''