Five Years of Division Domination

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Five Years of Division Domination

"I'm not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that, like I know they do in baseball. It's a good accomplishment, I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner."

That was Paul Pierce after last night's Atlantic Division-clinching victory, and you understand where he's coming from.

Can you imagine how awkward it would have been if the Celtics really celebrated last night's win? If the final buzzer sounded, and everyone stormed the court. If Pierce hopped up on the scorer's table, five fingers in the air. If KG ran out, kissed the floor, and then broke down in tears during his post game interview: "This one's for you, Ray! This one's for Jermaine, and Jeff and Chris. This one's for everyone, man! Now go to sleep, Boo Boo!"

No, you can't imagine it. Because it would never happen.

It doesn't matter that this was far and away the most difficult division title of the Big 3 era. It doesn't matter that it was more than likely the last (with everyone still intact). It doesn't matter how many times they were counted out along the way. These Celtics don't celebrate division titles. At least not in public. Pierce saying, "it's a good accomplishment, I guess" is about as celebratory as we're going to get.

BUT because winning even one division title, never mind five straight, is still a more than impressive feat. And since, like I said, this is more than likely the final time the Big 3 will win one together, I spent some time putting together this list:

Fun Facts About the Atlantic Division Five-Peat.

Enjoy.

Their first division game together was November 4, 2007, with the Celtics beating the Raptors, 98-95 in OT. Ray Allen had 33 point in 49 minutes. KG had 23 and 13. TJ Ford scored 32 points for Toronto, followed by Rajon Rondo spending the night tied to a pipe in Tom Thibodeau's basement. (Note: I'll always remember this game because it was on at the same time as the PatriotsColts. I have nothing more to add on that)

The most points they've scored in a division game is 124, in a win against the Knicks on December 21, 2008. Rondo led the way with 26, Ray Allen had 18 and Brian Scalabrine fouled out in 14 minutes. The win was Boston's 18th in a row, and improved them to 26-2, which tied the best start in NBA history for a team with two losses.

The fewest points they've scored: 71. That happened all the way back on March 7, 2012, in a 32 point loss to Philadelphia. Remember that? OK, good. No need for details.

Since the Atlantic Division was created in 1970, no team has ever won more than five titles in a row. But this is the third time the Celtics have won exactly five (72-76 and 84-88). Also, the Celtics have now won a total of 21 Atlantic Division titles. The next closest team is Philadelphia, with 5.

If this is the end for the Big Three, they'll finish their five year run with a combined 63-15 record in the Atlantic. Over that time, they lost only four division home games Toronto, New Jersey and Philly x2.

Not that this is remotely important, but how about the fact that the Celtics lost consecutive division games only twice in five years? The most recent stretch came last month with two losses to Sixers (with no division games in between). Before that, the only other time was last March, when the C's followed up a loss to the Sixers with a disgusting loss in New Jersey. Judging by the box score, this was right in the middle of the "Rondo misses Perk and got burned by Obama" era. Good times.

The list is now over.

So, congrats to the Celtics on a fifth straight Atlantic Division title. It's been an unbelievable run, and regardless of what happens next, it's one that we'll always remember and respect, and at some point maybe even celebrate.

But for now there are more important things on everyone's mind.

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

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.