Pierce finally finding his rhythm


Pierce finally finding his rhythm

BOSTON Paul Pierce has to go.

He's too old, too slow, too out of shape to give the Boston Celtics what they've come to expect from him.

Go out and get Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Atlanta's Josh Smith, somebody -- anybody -- before Pierce's trade value dips any lower, some said.

The rumblings to make a major change steadily grew as the Celtics losses mounted, but coach Doc Rivers remained committed. When Pierce's health and conditioning improved, Rivers said, he would start playing like the Paul Pierce fans have come to love.

That time appears to have arrived, as the Celtics (7-9) are in the middle of their best stretch of play this season.

Monday night's 31-point beatdown of the Orlando Magic was Boston's second straight win, and third in the last four games.

And the key to that success? Paul Pierce.

In the last four games, Pierce has averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 assists and five rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field.

But the numbers only tell part of the story about how Pierce has willed this Celtics team back into, at the very least, what looks like a playoff contender.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, was not surprised that Pierce struggled to start the season.

"He had zero training camp," Ainge told CSNNE.com, referring to the right heel injury that forced Pierce to miss all but one practice in training camp as well as the first three regular season games.

"And even when he came back, he wasn't 100 percent. It's a credit to Paul that he's out there playing, and he's trying to get himself in shape and trying to do what he can to help our team."

Making matters even more complicated was a report that teams were calling the C's to see about Pierce's availability.

"You can't pay attention to that," Pierce said. "That's part of the business. You just gotta do your job as a professional each and every day. That's about it."

Lately, that's exactly what the Truth has done for the Celtics who will face Orlando Thursday -- a team that they embarrassed in every way imaginable on Monday.

The Magic scored a franchise-low 56 points, the kind of performance nobody saw coming when you consider the Celtics were without their starting backcourt of Ray Allen (ankle) and Rajon Rondo (wrist), along with three key reserves.

"They came out and just absolutely dominated us with their energy and their defensive intensity," Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the loss. "That's the most dominating defensive performance I have ever had against me.

Van Gundy added, "It's the first game in my career I've been through where not one guy played well. We didn't have one guy. That was an absolute beat-down, and in most senses it was much worse than the score indicated."

And while it was the C's defense that carried the day, Pierce's play was once again instrumental in Boston getting its first win of the season over a team with a winning record.

"Throughout this short season, it's funny how people expect you to start off perfect," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "It's really a testament to Paul, who he is and what people know him to be. You have no idea how hard it is to get ready for an NBA season, to prepare, drills, sand hills, sand dunes, lines, running, weights, beach, 4:30 a.m. workouts, two-a-days it's still not an NBA game.

Garnett added, "You can do all that stuff, you can do all the conditioning and stuff and all the shooting that you want; it's still not an NBA game."

As far as Pierce's early struggles, Garnett reiterated Ainge's thoughts on Pierce playing through the right heel injury.

"People wrote him off, which was funny," Garnett said. "But it gave some clarity to how people see him. He's in a rhythm now. He's never shy of confidence. He's the Truth. It's good to see him playing good basketball. He's always been our leader since I been here, and he will always be our leader. That's what it is."

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

Randy Moss: Roger Goodell is 'biggest reason' for NFL's problems

With the NFL facing more PR issues by the day, Randy Moss has identified what he feels is wrong with a league that can’t seem to stay out of trouble.

In wake of the Josh Brown situation, which saw the NFL blame the King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office for the lack of initial punishment given to the Giants kicker for domestic violence, Moss said on ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown that commissioner Roger Goodell is the league’s biggest problem. 

“[This is] a bad time to show up now, breast cancer awareness month where we’re supporting the women, and then you come up with this Josh Brown, where it doesn’t seem like we are supporting women,” Moss said. “I think the NFL needs to take a deep look. I think the owners are mad, and Roger Goodell, he is the biggest reason to all of this stuff that’s fallen downhill with the NFL. I have to agree with that.”

Brown was initially given a one-game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy stemming from his 2015 fourth-degree domestic violence charge. On Friday, the 37-year-old was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. 

Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett


Steelers know they'll have their hands full with Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett

PITTSBURGH – So far this season, Martellus Bennett and Rob Gronkowski have combined for 39 catches, 644 yards and five touchdowns. Making the numbers that much more impressive is the fact the numbers were rolled up with Gronk inactive for two games and fairly useless in another thanks to his hamstring injury.

Will the Steelers slow the roll of Robellus Grennetski?

Hard to imagine. As Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette points out, Gronk alone has tuned up the Steelers with 26 receptions for 403 yards and seven touchdowns in six meetings.

Fittipaldo explored the strategies the Steelers defense may unveil Sunday afternoon when the Patriots and Steelers get going. He also pointed out that the return of linebacker Ryan Shazier after a three week layoff and injuries for safeties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden may put Pittsburgh at a disadvantage.

Said Shazier: “They have the tandem they want at tight end. Now they can use tight ends the way they want. You have to respect everyone on the field. Both of them are good blockers, good pass threats and great at running after the catch.”

Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler said Pittsburgh will alter its approaches.

“We have to be able to play more than one defense,” Butler said. “They’re very good and they’ll pick you apart if they can figure out what you’re doing. We just have to execute the defense more than anything else. If we can do that … that’s been our problem for the most part. Some of the things that went on last week, we missed some things we should have made mentally.”

What “went on last week” was a 30-15 loss to the Dolphins.

Pittsburgh hasn’t been a big-play group so far -- eight sacks and three picks -- nor have they seen a gauntlet of great quarterbacks in the first six games. 

Interestingly, their losses have been to Ryan Tannehill and rookie Carson Wentz, probably the two quarterbacks one would figure Pittsburgh would do best against.
Between a smoking hot Brady and a can’t-be-stopped tight end tandem, there’s probably not a lot Pittsburgh can do aside from hoping for an off day.

Said linebacker Arthur Moats hopefully: “You have to continue to mix it up against (Gronkowski). You can’t give him the same look over and over. He has success on guys like that. If we disrupt him, and rush Brady and speed up his clock, I definitely think that will help out.”

In theory, perhaps. In practice? We’ll see.