Health concerns mount for C's heading into series-clincher

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Health concerns mount for C's heading into series-clincher

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have a different kind of Big Three now - three players of concern for Doc Rivers.

As the C's head to Atlanta for a potential series-clinching matchup with Atlanta on Tuesday, they'll do so with at least three players whose status is iffy, at best.

Mickael Pietrus (hamstring), Paul Pierce (left knee) and Ray Allen (right ankle) are all questionable for Tuesday's Game 5 matchup.

Pietrus' injury occurred during the Celtics' 101-79 Game 4 win over Atlanta on Sunday.

"MP's hamstring, we had to take him out," said C's coach Doc Rivers.

And while Allen had another solid game (13 points) for the Celtics since returning to the lineup after missing the previous 11 games, Rivers isn't sure if the ankle injury that sidelined him will return and thus limit him or worse - make it so that he can't play in Game 5.

But Allen maintains that the injury woes in recent weeks - for now at least - appear to be a thing of the past.

"I feel surprisingly great," Allen said. "I'm really managing my off days really well."

And he'll look to continue doing that on Monday, a day in which the C's will travel to Atlanta but will not practice.

"Traveling takes a toll on your body being in the air," Allen said. "I think everybody's going to deal with some type of swelling. You know getting into the hotel and just staying off your feet is huge."

The player that the C's are probably most concerned about now is Pierce, who had a game-high 24 points in less than 17 minutes of action on Sunday.

The left knee injury he suffered in Game 5 was actually re-aggravated from an injury he suffered during the C's shoot-around on Sunday morning.

C's coach Doc Rivers was as surprised as anyone that Pierce was able to play, let alone play so well on Boston's Game 4 win.

"When I left shoot-around, I probably thought he (Pierce) was not going to play," Rivers said.

And the injury, Rivers said, was such a fluke one, too.

"He was just dribbling the ball and went to the floor in shoot-around," Rivers recalled. "And I was thinking, "What more can you ? We were walking (throughout most of the shoot-around). You know, that's how you felt, like, my gosh. And honestly, when he went down, it didn't look good.So the fact that he could come in and play, and play the way he played was great."

As far as whether he'll play in Game 5, Rivers said, "I have no idea. You know, with a couple of guys - actually three of them - we literally don't know. So we'll find out."

Report: Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

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Report: Patriots DT Branch wins appeal of four-game suspension

FOXBORO -- Alan Branch knew he had a good case, otherwise he wouldn't have appealed. It was just a question of when that appeal might be heard. 

As of Wednesday, the Patriots defensive tackle hadnt heard anything as it related to the appeal of his four-game suspension. But by Saturday morning, according to Field Yates of ESPN, Branch had won the appeal and been cleared of the league's ban. 

Word of Branch's punishment stemming from a positive marijuana test became public when reported by ESPN on Nov. 21. Per the league's substance abuse policy, appeal hearings are typically scheduled for the fourth Tuesday after a player has been informed of his penalty. The policy notes that it is possible for appeals to be heard on another date should the two sides be able to work out different schedule, but Branch was not optimistic that would be the case earlier this week. 

Good news came quickly, apparently. 

Had Branch been forced to miss any time, it would have docked the Patriots arguably their top interior defensive lineman. Branch has started every game, and he leads all Patriots defensive tackles with 457 snaps played. 

The Patriots recently waived running back DJ Foster and signed defensive tackle Darius Kilgo, seemingly as a way to build some depth on the roster behind Branch if Branch had been suspended. 

By having his four-game suspension wiped away not only are the Patriots saved from having to deal without one of their top players in the trenches, but Branch saved himself a relatively hefty financial penalty.

A four-game ban would have cost him nearly $300,000 in base salary as well as four game-day bonuses adding to $100,000. And he stood to lose as much as $750,000 in season-long playing-time incentives. In all, had the suspension stood, it could have cost him about $1.1 million. Patriots salary-cap expert Miguel Benzan goes into more detail about the potential financial impact of Branch's suspension here

Thankfully for Branch, he doesn't have to worry about that any longer. With this situation in the rear view, he can focus on helping the Patriots win games during the stretch run of the regular season and into the playoffs.