Dunking on Ray Allen

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Dunking on Ray Allen

Last night in Atlanta, the Celtics earned themselves a much-needed win.

It was their first since the trade deadline and their third in six tries on this extended road trip. Subsequently, the victory brought Boston within a game and a half of the all-important sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and will likely (or hopefully) give them an extra jolt for the last leg of this trip.

At the very least, it provided everyone involved with a much-deserved break from the madness.

Did you really want to spend the next two days discussing Boston's three-game losing streak and the race to add a useless big man?

Nope. And thanks to last night's win, you won't have to. (Actually, no guarantees on the big man.)

Anyway, all in all, it was a pretty painful game. It looked frighteningly similar to what happens these days when when my friends and I try to play pick up. Seriously, the Celtics and Hawks looked like a crew of slow and out of shape 30-somethngs running around trying not to get hurt. For most of the night it was hard to watch.

That it is, until Jeff Teague did this:

1. The Dunk

I feel like every night, there's at least one moment when the basketball gods deliver a cold and clear reminder that the clock's running out on the Big 3.

And last night, Teague's dunk nearly knocked me unconscious.

First, just watching KG chase him down the court. I'm sitting there thinking: "Come on. Run back on defense!" Then I realized he was running.

In Ray's case, getting dunked on isn't a huge deal, seeing he was never really known as a ferocious shot blocker, but here's what I found disturbing:

Allen was at half court before Teague even reached the three point line.

Seriously, take one more look at the video. Look at the head start Ray has on defense, consider that Teague is also dribbling a ball(!) and shake your heads in unison. Damn.

The only thing that could make that dunk more depressing is if you watched it while listening to this.

2. The Disrespect

I can't get too get carried away over Teague's celebration, because if he'd done it against any other team, I probably would have thought it was great.

Really, what did he do?

He held the finish a little too long.

He took a slight step in Ray's direction.

He yelled.

OK.

At this point in the game, the Celtics and Hawks were just about going at each others throats. The caliber of play may have been gross, but the intensity was at an all-time high. I mean, so many of the faces have changed, but somehow it still felt like the 2008 playoffs. I don't care how long it's been. The seeds of hatred that were planted during that series still very much exist.

So, in the heat of battle, Teague threw down explosive and demoralizing dunk, in front of his home fans (all seven of them), and got a little carried away. Whatever. Do I wish he'd just turned to the crowd, thrown up his hands and run the other way? Of course, but it was a great dunk, in a huge moment. We've seen a lot worse. It doesn't bother me.

But it did bother the Celtics, and changed the course of the game.

(Quick question: Is Teague's reaction less acceptable because the scream was directed at a legend like Allen? From our view, maybe. But at the same time, it's not fair to expect these guys to hold the Big 3 in a higher standing in the midst of competition. That's what the Big 3 wants them to do; it's a psychological advantage. And one that, if plays like this are any indication, is fading by the day.)

3. The Run

After Teague's dunk, the Celtics trailed 47-39, and looked to be on the ropes. Instead, the jam triggered Boston's most inspiring stretch of basketball in nearly a week.

At its most impressive, the run registered at 34-11. It helped Boston turn an eight-point deficit into a 15-point lead, and even though they nearly choked it away at the end . . . they didn't. It was enough, and it's the reason Boston wonstole that game.

We're about six weeks away from the start of the postseason, and the Celtics have already been hit with the cliched "Team nobody wants to play" label. And runs like this one will perpetuate that. If you'd turned on last night's game in the middle of third quarter, you wouldn't have had any idea that the Celtics are where they are. You wouldn't have seen a team that was still fighting to make the playoffs, and had been written out of the championship conversation. You would have seen a TEAM. Six or seven guys who were entirely on the same page, focused on winning, and ready to play with anyone. For that brief run, they were the Celtics again.

Of course, it didn't last very long, and there's no rhyme or reason as to where and when those Celtics will re-emerge. But the knowledge that somewhere, deep down, those Celtics still exist, should be enough to have any potential playoff opponent wishing they were matched with someone else.

4. The Question
Why does it still take something like Teague's dunk to kick the Celtics into gear?

Is there not enough urgency already?

What will it take for this team to feel like they need to come out and give a complete effort every single night, regardless of what the other team is doing?

OK, that was three questions.

5. The Nobody

By my count, last night Jeff Teague became the third "nobody" of Kevin Garnett's time in Boston.

First, there was Charlie Villanueva, who KG called a "nobody" at the tail end of the cancer patient saga. Shortly after that, "nobody" was Joakim Noah (after he called KG "a very mean guy" on the radio). Then, last night, Garnett was asked about Teague's dunk and ensuing celebration: "I don't know who you talking about," Garnett said. "That guy's a nobody."

When the quote first came out, I was a little embarrassed for Garnett.

I was thinking, "Really? This again? You know very well who Teague is: He's the starting point guard on a playoff team in your conference. About a half hour ago, you had a pretty sweet view of the back of his jersey as he was leaving you in the dust. Enough with pretending you don't know guys. Or how about coming up with another line?"

But the more I thought about the situation, I understand where he's coming from.

First of all, it's not like KG started his interview by declaring Teague a nobody. He was asked about a play in which a much younger, less-accomplished player disrespected Garnett and his teammates in front of the basketball world (and a handful of Hawks fans). What's he going to say?

Also, if we're being realistic, who is Jeff Teague to Kevin Garnett? I mean, to basketball fans, Teague is a young, confident point guard with a lot of promise, but how many guys like that has KG seen come in and out of this league over the last 17 years? In the mind of one of the greatest basketball players who ever lived, who's this cocky, big shot point guard who's barely played 150 games in an uneven NBA career? He's a nobody. At this point in KG's career, he's got no time for guys like Jeff Teague. Not until he's got more than a few good months and a dunk on his resume.

Until then, KG has more important things on his mind.

For instance, how to make the most of his likely last two months in a Celtics uniform.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Report: Red Sox acquire bullpen help in Tyler Thornburg from Brewers; Travis Shaw included in trade

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Report: Red Sox acquire bullpen help in Tyler Thornburg from Brewers; Travis Shaw included in trade

According to multiple reports, the Red Sox have traded 1B/3B Travis Shaw and two minor-leaguers to the Milwaukee Brewers for righthander Tyler Thornburg. The prospects heading to Milwaukee are reliever Josh Pennington and infielder Mauricio Dubon.

The hard-throwing Thornburg had a tremendous season for the Brewers last year, sporting a 2.15 ERA in 67 appearances. Thornburg struck out 90 hitters in only 67 innnings, while walking 25. 

More to come...

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

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NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

By all accounts, 20-year-old Brandon Carlo has been outstanding for the Boston Bruins.

The rookie D-man was remarkably strong and consistent skating with Zdeno Chara as a top-pairing shutdown D-man before the Bruins captain went down with injury, and he was still very good after adjusting to life without partner Big Zee over the last six games.

Carlo had a couple of assists and a plus-3 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time in each of the games without Chara, and rightly saw it as an opportunity to show what he could without the 6-foot-9 safety net on his left side. It’s exactly those kinds of challenges that spark Carlo’s competitiveness and get the fire burning that he so desperately needs in order to play at such a high intensity level every night in the NHL.  

“Zee helps me a lot, but I feel like at the same time I have the strengths to be able to handle myself on my own in this league,” said Carlo, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with his plus-12 rating for the season. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there and build relationships defensively. I just take it as an opportunity to prove myself in this league by myself. It was an opportunity to gain some confidence in different ways. With Zee playing so well and with such great chemistry between us, it gave me a whole bunch of confidence.

“Playing with different guys and matching up against the other team’s best players or matching up with third and fourth lines and maybe taking a few more hits, it shows that I can play anywhere in the lineup. It’s another great opportunity to prove myself.”

Well, Carlo has proven himself and passed that test along with all of the other NHL rookie exams set in front of him more than a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Clearly there are obvious gifts with Carlo plain to anybody watching him for the first time. He has the 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that simply can’t be taught and that size allows him to win battles against stronger, more experienced opponents looking to do battle with him in Boston’s defensive zone.

He also has a very good point shot he consistently threads through traffic, and that has him on pace for a very respectable seven-goal, 20-point rookie campaign without any power play time mixed into his ice time. The decision-making with the puck and the passing is tape-to-tape more often than it’s not, and Carlo usually does a good job of avoiding the kind of high risk passes that can turn into goals against while battling other team’s top line players.

He keeps it simple and keeps it focused on defense, but Carlo also shows there is more surface to scratch with his offensive game.

Some of Carlo’s talents are a little less apparent to the casual observer, however.

The defensive stick-work, in particular, is something that you notice after watching Carlo shut things down in the D-zone night after night. He uses his long wing span and king-sized stick to poke pucks away from attackers, and has an uncanny ability to sweep the puck away from speedier players that were able to get a step on the big D-man.

“The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Torey Krug, who has had to learn to survive in the NHL without those particular gifts. “He has the ability to come back and recover. The second part of that is being unfazed by it. He can make a mistake on one shift, and the next shift he shrugs it off and says ‘Okay, I’m not gonna get beat like that again.’ He has the ability to overcome that. He has the right head on his shoulders with the willingness to listen, to learn and to just keep getting better.”

The stick-checking in the D-zone is exactly how somebody would teach their hockey-playing kids to utilize the stick in the defensive zone, provided those puck prodigies were 6-foot-5 with excellent strength and hand-eye coordination to boot. Carlo said it’s something he’s nearly always been able to do as a big-bodied defenseman, and that certainly was reinforced by his coaching at the WHL level with the Tri-City Americans.

“There were not a lot of teaching points there. The stick is just something that I’ve always just loved using,” said Carlo. “Whenever I was on 1-on-1’s with my teams the guys would hate going against me because my poke check was so good. It’s just something that I really took pride in, developed and just got better and better with over time. There are certain things guys have told me [over the years] like using the straight back-and-forth instead of the windshield wiper [stick check].

“With my size I kind of had to adapt to the long stick, and I really enjoy using it [as a defensive weapon]. It gives me an extra step and an extra opportunity to get the puck away from guys too, particularly when they get behind me. It’s nice that I can use that long reach to get me out of sticky situations at times.”

Claude Julien made certain to point out that it’s something Carlo brought to the table prior to joining the Bruins organization, and was noticed immediately by the Providence Bruins coaching staff last season in his handful of games with them. It’s something of a rarity for a 19 or 20-year-old player to have that kind of stick technique down to a science to the point where it becomes a defensive weapon for him at the NHL level.

It’s also something that’s made Carlo’s transition to the NHL almost seamless despite just eight games of AHL experience entering this season.

“Most young guys always have two hands on their stick and it’s up around their waist, and you have to do a good job of teaching them to keep one hand on the stick with sticks on pucks,” said Julien. “Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard [sometimes] to break younger players in because for some reason they’re told to keep two hands on their sticks when they’re younger. At this level we need the one hand to have sticks on pucks.

“That’s what came out of last year when he first got to Providence. He had a very good stick and that’s what we were told. He had that before he came here, and that was one of his strengths. You continue to work with him because that has been one of his best weapons. Zdeno is probably one of those guys that’s going to tell you it served him extremely well, so he’s learning from the best when he’s playing with [Chara]. No doubt that’s been a big part of why he’s able to play here right now is because he defends well, and he uses his stick well.”

It’s exactly those kinds of fundamental strengths that have the Bruins believing they’ve got the real deal in a top-4, shutdown D-man in Carlo, and that the 20-year-old Colorado native has played himself into a big part of the big picture future for the Black and Gold. 

ONE TIMERS

*Seeing Brad Marchand lose it on a linesman Saturday afternoon in Buffalo reminds me of his preseason comments on getting on the good side with the refs this season. Marchand had just engaged in a scuffle with Rasmus Ristolainen, and then the Bruins winger engaged in a verbal scuffle with one of the officials during the ensuing face-off. Cameras caught Marchand saying “Do your job! Do your job!” before dropping a couple of clear F-bombs his way before the puck was dropped. Well, so much for racking up the brownie points to change the reputation with the refs, eh Brad?

*In case it isn’t already obvious, expect the Bruins big trade acquisition prior to the deadline to involve a top-6 forward that can put the puck in the net rather than a top-4 defenseman. They could use both, of course, but they are looking to find somebody that can finally fill into Loui Eriksson’s left wing role on David Krejci’s line, and both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller haven’t been perfect solutions for the playmaking Krejci. Certainly the Black and Gold will look at 22-year-old Frank Vatrano when he comes back as well, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take a youngster like that to fully come back from foot surgery. The Bruins may just hedge their bets by going out and getting another winger after putting together a whole collection of centers on the roster this summer.

*Continued prayers and thoughts for Craig Cunningham as it sounds like he’s on the road to recovery in very slow steps out in Arizona. He is a great kid and deserves all the positive thoughts that Bruins Nation can send out to him.

*If you haven’t already, go out and pick up fellow Bruins writer Fluto Shinzawa’s new book entitled “Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” The Boston Globe writer goes deep into the B’s history books for some Old Time Hockey anecdotes and characters, and also gives you a close-up view of the last 10 years as he’s covered the daily doings of the Black and Gold. It’s not that big of a book either, so it looks like the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the Bruins fan in your family.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.