Celtics vs. Pistons: Previewreview


Celtics vs. Pistons: Previewreview

BOSTON Well, this isn't quite how the Boston Celtics drew up Wednesday night's bon voyage game against Detroit, the team's last game at the TD Garden until Feb. 29. The Celtics suffered yet another disappointing setback, losing 98-88 to a Pistons team that is among the worst on the road in the NBA this season.

Not having Kevin Garnett certainly didn't help. But to pin this loss on having no KG is letting the C's off the hook for yet another head-scratching performance.

"We made some bonehead plays," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Leaving Ben Gordon open for a 3-pointer to trap Damien Wilkens. Rotate out to defend Ben Wallace . . . around the 3-point line?

And giving up offensive rebounds on free throws, are a definite no-no if you're trying to secure a much-needed win at home.

"Those three possessions to me, changed the game," Rivers said.

Maybe so, but there were other factors that played a role in the Celtics (15-13) losing for the third time in the last four games. Here's how we saw it before the game, and what actually happened:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With the Pistons having lost Tuesday night at home to San Antonio, don't be surprised if the Celtics come out looking to run more than usual. Along with Detroit likely having weary legs, the Celtics have proven despite their age, they can run - and run well. Against the Bulls, Boston outscored them 33-7, in fast break points. With Detroit having its issues earlier this year defensively, they naturally don't fare well when it comes to fast-break points. They average 11.2 per game which ranks No. 22 in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics came out attacking in transition, primarily because they were rebounding the ball well and getting out before the Pistons could fully set up their defense. At one point, Boston had an 11-4 advantage in fast-break points. But as the game wore on, the Celtics' began to run less, attack less and the end result? Another lesson in how to NOT win at home! For the game, the C's managed to claim a slim 18-14 edge in fast-break points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rodney Stuckey vs Ray Allen. Size and strength, meets speed and accuracy. Stuckey's play has been a part of Detroit's improved play of late. In their last six games, he has averaged 15.3 points and 4.8 assists - both better than his season numbers. As for Ray Allen, he has shot less than 50 percent from the field in each of the last three games, which is the second-longest such stretch for him this season. The big thing with Allen is getting shot attempts. In the month of February, the Celtics are 3-1 when Allen gets 10 or more shot attempts.
WHAT WE SAW: This was very lopsided, but not even close to how anyone outside of the 3-1-3 would have envisioned. Stuckey scored off the dribble, on pull-ups and from the free-throw line, finishing with a team-high 25 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Meanwhile, Allen had just 10 points and shot 1-for-5 from the field. His lone field goal made came late in the fourth, well after the Pistons had the game well in hand.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Wilcox did a fine job (12 points, 9 rebounds against Chicago) filling in for Jermaine O'Neal. Now that O'Neal is expected back for Wednesday night's game, it'll be interesting if Wilcox can make a similar impact coming off the bench. His athleticism and ability to run the floor, in many ways, makes him a more attractive option for the Celtics at the center position. But don't look for the C's to make a change, not with O'Neal providing the kind of defensive presence that no other Celtic center - Wilcox included - provides.
WHAT WE SAW: Chris Wilcox continues to give the Celtics exactly what they're looking for, regardless of whether he's starting or coming off the bench. Filling in for Kevin Garnett (hip flexor), Wilcox had a season-high 17 points and 9 rebounds. "He's been really good," Rivers said. "He's playing hard. If he can stay where he's at right now, I'm very happy with that."

STAT TO TRACK: Arguably the best center in the Eastern Conference to not be named an All-Star this year is Detroit's Greg Monroe. The Pistons are ranked 13th in the NBA in points in the paint (40.7), with Monroe's inside presence being key. He's coming off a sub-par 4-point, 6-rebound night against the Spurs. But for the season, he's a near double-double with 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. As for Boston, they have actually improved their interior defense as the season progressed. Teams are scoring 39 points per game against them inside the paint, which ranks 9th in fewest points allowed in that category.
WHAT WE SAW: Monroe proved once again that he's a tough cover for any defense, scoring 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting to go with nine rebounds. Boston actually was plus-2 on points in the paint, but the fact that they gave up 42 points around the basket was among the many areas in which the Celtics were not as good as they have been lately.

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

Haggerty: Bruins continue to stumble against Canadiens at home

BOSTON -- One of the definitions of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Much like Charlie Brown was never going to actually kick the football before Lucy pulled it away, it feels like the Bruins are never again going to beat the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden. They failed again Saturday night, never holding a lead at any point as they dropped their ninth straight home game to the Habs, 4-2.

Bruins-Canadiens games in Boston have become the hockey version of 'Groundhog Day', as the same patterns emerge over and over again: Montreal's speed forces the Bruins into mistakes with the puck; Habs players draw the B’s into taking bad penalties; Carey Price dominates in goal. It's been that way ever since the last Bruin victory over Montreal at the Garden, on Jan. 12, 2012. To put it perspective, Tim Thomas and Tyler Seguin were still Bruins back then.

Saturday night's loss, though, had a little added twist: The B's second-period woes, such a problem last year, reared its ugly head again.

“[The second period was] terrible, and that’s where it really hurt us," said Claude Julien. "I thought we played well (in the first period) . . . But the second period came back to haunt us. We were flat coming out. We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end, and because of that, it gave them some momentum. And by the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit, and pucks ended up in the back of our net . . .

"[When] you give up four goals to Montreal, and you have Price at the other end, it’s pretty hard to beat that team. So we needed to be better . . . [We] shot ourselves in the foot with some real poor mistakes, and we can’t afford to do that against the Montreal Canadiens."

The Bruins were essentially done for after a couple of very typical Boston-Montreal plays went against them in the middle 20 minutes.

The first was a defensive coverage breakdown in the D-zone that allowed both Max Pacioretty and Brendan Gallagher to operate with time and space. Five B’s players simply watched as Gallagher smoked a one-timer from the outside of the left circle that eluded Anton Khudobin.

Then, later in the period, John-Michael Liles misread a play where he pinched deep in the offensive zone and couldn’t control the puck. As a result, Alexander Radulov worked a 2-on-1 with Phillip Danault to skilled perfection on a typical Habs transition play.

"I think our second period has got to be better overall," said Patrice Bergeron. "We talked about them having a good forecheck . . . [but] we didn’t make the easy plays too many times. When you do that, it creates turnovers and you spend more time in your zone than you’d like to."

From there, it was just more of the same. Playing with the lead, Montreal was able to neutralize Bergeron and Brad Marchand; Bergeron never got a shot on goal. Price came up big when he had to, shutting down a couple of Ryan Spooner chances.

And Bruin weaknesses were exposed, things Julien and the coaching staff may have to address. It looks like it’s time to move on from the Joe Morrow/Torey Krug defense pairing; it's simply not working. (Krug, in particular, was a minus-3 and made mistakes all over the ice.) They also may need to switch things up with the forwards, as they're getting zippo offensively from their second and third lines.

To their credit, the Bruins never packed it in. They hung in and made plays in the third period to keep the game close, right up to the 6-on-3 advantage they had at the end. But there are no consolation prizes or moral victories in the Boston-Montreal rivalry, especially when the Habs have made it so one-sided.

To be a true rivalry, you need equal rivals. And the Bruins, especially at home, aren’t holding up their end of the bargain.

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.