Celtics vs. Pistons: Previewreview

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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.

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

Celtics aren't asking Al Horford to be 'anything more' than what he is

WALTHAM -- From one media station to the next, Al Horford effortlessly moved about during Boston Celtics Media Day.
 
In between stations, I jokingly asked the nine-year veteran, "Been through a few of these before?"
 
"A couple," he quipped.
 
But Monday was different. And every other Monday going forward this season will be different, too, for the longtime Atlanta Hawks forward, who is now a member of the Boston Celtics after they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract this summer.
 
With that significant increase in salary comes -- from those outside the Celtics program at least -- a higher level of expectations.
 
"We’re not asking Al to be anything more than him," said coach Brad Stevens.  "He’s a good fit for how we play on offense. He’s a good fit for how we play on defense. He’s a professional. He has a routine. He works hard at his craft. He’s a guy that guys can follow by example."
 
However, Horford joins a Celtics team that -- since the rebuild began in 2013 -- has yet to win 50 games in a single season or get past the first round of the playoffs.
 
And while it will certainly be a collective team effort for Boston to achieve those goals, make no mistake about it: Horford is expected to be the man leading the way.
 
"We need to start building good habits from Day One," Horford said.

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, is a big fan of Horford’s character and versatility, which has been on display throughout his career.
 
"As much as anything he’s been very consistent over his career," Ainge said. "Shooting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s a guy that fits in with our system with big guys handling the ball a lot."
 
Horford’s new teammate echoed similar sentiments about the four-time All-Star.
 
And when you listen to his new Celtics teammates talk about him and what he’ll bring to a roster that’s loaded with returnees, there are a couple of common themes that seem to develop.
 
"He brings leadership; hard work," said Avery Bradley.
 
Bradley had a chance to spend some time around Jeff Teague, one of Horford’s former teammates in Atlanta.
 
"He just told me I’m really going to enjoy having him on this team," Bradley said. "He’s going to open the floor for everybody. He’s a great player on the offensive end, defensive end. He knows how to play the game of basketball. To have him be a part of this team, I’m just happy about it."
 
So is Amir Johnson, who will likely start with Horford in the frontcourt for Boston.
 
Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man. With the addition of Horford, Johnson won’t be relied on as heavily to be Boston’s last line of defense, which makes his life easier and, more importantly, makes the Celtics a better team defensively.
 
"[Horford] has so many skills he can contribute to the game," Johnson said. "He can run the floor, block shots, shoot the 3-ball, which is big now. He can do it all. It’ll be a big piece to carry us over the top. We just have to put it all together."

Young Bruins 'really excited' for preseason opener tonight

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Young Bruins 'really excited' for preseason opener tonight

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins aren’t going to have anything resembling an All-Star lineup when they take the ice against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at TD Garden for their preseason opener. But they'll take a long, lingering look at their future with a game-night roster full of prospects and young players who still get butterflies at the thought of putting on an NHL sweater for an Original Six club.

Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Jakub Zboril, Robbie O’Gara, Peter Cehlarik and Brandon Carlo are among the top B’s youngsters that will be in the lineup, and will be cranking up the energy prior to puck drop against the Blue Jackets.

“Everybody is really excited. I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face knowing that I get to put the B’s jersey on and get to go out [on the ice] at TD Garden,” said Brandon Carlo, who will be paired with John-Michael Liles as he has been throughout the start of training camp. “I probably won’t have much of a nap today because I’m so amped up.

“I feel like I’m moving my feet out there, and I want to show that I’ve gotten better at things I worked on over the summer like moving the puck. I definitely want to show a little bit of physicality out there as well.”

The young players are the ones who also provide the most unknown variable for the coaching staff at this point. So the first preseason game is largely about how those hopefuls respond to faster, more physical and intense competition.

“You’re looking to see effort and energy tonight. If the effort and energy is there everything else will take care of itself,” said assistant coach Joe Sacco. “You don’t really want them to think too much out there tonight. This is a game where players are trying to showcase their talent, and we want them to do that.”

Sacco said Anton Khudobin will play the first two periods and Zane McIntyre will wrap things up. Here are the line combos and D-pairings expected to take the ice against the Blue Jackets:
 
DeBrusk-Czarnik-Hayes
Cehlarik-Kuraly-Mueller
Heinen-Nash-Griffith
Hargrove-Cave-Randell
 
Zboril-Miller
Liles-Carlo
Morrow-O’Gara
 
Khudobin
McIntyre