Preview: Celtics vs. Nuggets


Preview: Celtics vs. Nuggets

DENVER Struggling to make shots or rebound the ball certainly doesn't bode well for the Boston Celtics' chances at winning.

But shoddy defense?

It's a near death sentence for a team whose foundation is strong play defensively.

Proof of how bad the C's are when they play bad defense, can be seen in the 25-point drubbing the Celtics took at the hands of the Sacramento Kings Friday night.

"Whatever you are supposed to "have," we didn't have it," C's coach Doc Rivers said after the game. "I think they had 92 points in the middle of the third (quarter) so that means we didn't play good defense."

Added Paul Pierce: "Hopefully this is a wake-up call in the middle of the trip and we can bounce back (against Denver tonight)."

That'll be easier said than done.

Not only are the Nuggets (24-20) a better team offensively than the Kings, they're actually the best offensive team in the NBA.

So it's a given that one of the keys to tonight's game for the Celtics will be how they limit the balanced offensive attack of the Nuggets. Here we'll take a look at a few other factors that are likely to impact tonight's outcome as the Celtics try to bounce back from one of their worst losses of the year.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics have a tendency to ease their way into games, which can't happen tonight. While the Nuggets rank among the NBA's top 10 in points scored in the first quarter (25.4), they give up a ton of early points as well. Teams are averaging 26.1 points against Denver in the first quarter of games which ranks 28th in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Kenneith Faried: Pierce should win this battle rather convincingly, but the C's have to be on guard for not looking for Pierce too much so that it disrupts the flow offensively and leads to what head coach Doc Rivers refers to at times, as the "ball sticking" on one side of the floor or in the hands of one particular player. Faried is a high-energy guy who seems to continue to get better with more experience. The 22-year-old rookie has started 17 games this season after not playing (coaches decision) in a number of games in January.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Anytime the Celtics have a back-to-back situation and minutes become a concern, you always have to wonder how will it impact Kevin Garnett. However, because of the lopsided loss at Sacramento on Friday night, Garnett's minutes should not be a concern. He was the only starter to play less than 30 minutes in the loss.

STAT TO TRACK - With lots of points come lots of mistakes by Denver. The Nuggets average 15.6 turnovers per game which ranks 27th in the NBA. Ironically, the Celtics average 15.6 forced turnovers per game which ranks sixth in the NBA. But a normal night in terms of forced turnovers by Boston, probably won't be enough for the win. The C's need to have another one of those nights in which they force 20 or so turnovers which should then lead to a few easy baskets in transition.

A worrisome wait for Celtics' final roster candidates Hunter and Young

A worrisome wait for Celtics' final roster candidates Hunter and Young

WALTHAM, Mass. – For most of training camp, R.J. Hunter and James Young have played it cool when asked about their shaky status with the Celtics heading into this season.
Both have talked about not letting it affect their friendship, which according to multiple team sources, is true.
But when it comes to the pressure of having your basketball future thrown into total chaos within the next 48-72 hours, that’s a different story.
Prior to practice Friday, Danny Ainge – the man who will decide their basketball fate – spent time talking with each of them on the sidelines, doing his best to keep their spirits up at a time of uncertainty.
The Celtics have a number of players whose basketball futures were in a similar state of limbo.
Amir Johnson was taken in the second round of the 2005 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons with the 56th overall pick.
It was a veteran team that afforded Johnson few opportunities to prove his worth.
“All I tried to do was learn as much as I could in training camp, and pick up things as quickly as possible,” Johnson told “When you’re a second round pick or undrafted, you have to do all you can to make a good impression.”
Isaiah Thomas echoed similar sentiments.
Thomas was the 60th pick – the last player selected – in the 2011 NBA draft, putting the odds of him just making an NBA roster slim to none.
Since then, he has become an All-Star who is easily the best player ever selected at that point in an NBA draft.
But like Hunter and Young, the pressure of not necessarily knowing your basketball fate can be worrisome.
“It’s tough not knowing, but at the end of the day all you can do is be the best at whatever they ask of you,” Thomas told “If it’s running a play, run that play the best way you know how. If it’s going to get a cup of water, be the best at getting that cup a water. It’s all about leaving your all out there. If you do that, you can live with the results because at that point, you did all you can do.”
Outwardly, both Hunter and Young have adopted that approach to the training camp which they knew going in would likely end with one of them being waived or traded.
And while each has shown noticeable growth through training camp, neither has done enough to separate themselves good or bad.
Most of Hunter’s bright moments have been balanced with struggles or inconsistencies.
Ditto for Young, who is headed into his third NBA season, while this will be Hunter’s second.
Ainge, the C's president of basketball operations, does not take the decision he and his front office has to make lightly. He is more than aware that the player he waives could potentially turn out to be a better pro than the one he keeps.
And this decision could potentially come back and haunt the Celtics if he doesn’t get it right.
As much as we talk about the players feeling pressure, Ainge and his staff are under a bit of pressure too when you consider both Hunter and Young were players he picked in the first round of their drafts.
And both players at the time were considered draft-night steals because each had been projected to go higher than where the Celtics picked them.
But at this point, neither has made a significant impact in the NBA, which is why both are on the cusp of being waived.
That said, they have done enough to where those flashes of strong play have given Ainge and his staff reason to pause and with that, make what all agree will be a well thought-out, difficult decision.
“Sometimes guys just cut themselves. Sometimes guys just win jobs, overwhelmingly win it,” Ainge said. “The guys that are in question have all played really well. I guess that’s refreshing. I’m happy for them that they are all playing well under the stress and pressure of trying to make a team and make a roster. I’m proud of all of them.
And when asked about having to cut a former first-round pick, Ainge responded, “there’s a lot of first-round picks that don’t make it in the NBA. So I feel confident, pretty comfortable that all of our guys are still going to be playing in the NBA.”

Bruins looking for a lift from stagnant power play


Bruins looking for a lift from stagnant power play

BRIGHTON, Mass. – One area where the Bruins are looking for more after a mostly positive first four regular-season games: the power play.

The B’s are a downright gross 1-for-14 on the man-advantage to start the season and were 0-for-4 on Thursday night while squeaking out a last-minute win over the New Jersey Devils. The early-season 7.1 percent success rate doesn’t have them last in the NHL, but only the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames have performed at a lower PP clip.

It’s a subject that Claude Julien knew was coming from the B’s media, and so he was ready to answer for it ahead of Saturday night’s rivalry renewal with the Montreal Canadiens.

“I knew it was just a matter of time before that question came. It is what it is. I think we had some opportunities, but we haven’t finished,” said Julien. “At the end of the day our power play is judged by whether you score or not, and I thought our second period [vs. the Devils] wasn’t great. But our third period had some really good power plays, but we didn’t manage to score.

“Where we need to get to right now [on the power play], is to find a way to finish. There’s no doubt the absence of Patrice Bergeron there brings somebody else in, and maybe there’s not as much chemistry as we’re used to. But I think with him back now we can even be better, and get a little more movement…not be so stagnant. When we struggle a bit it’s because we’re a little stagnant, and we need to get a little better there.”

Quite a bit of the struggles go back to Bergeron missing the first three games of the season and the top power-play unit missing No. 37 from his trademark bumper role at the center of the PP action. The power play remained scoreless as the unit adjusted to Bergeron's return on Thursday night, but it seemed that things started to click a little bit as that game went on.

“It’s not moving right now. We’ll just work through it. There were times last year where it let us down, and there were times last year where it helped us through some tough moments,” said Torey Krug of the PP. “Right now we’re able to play through it, but at some point this team is going to need this PP to step up and score some goals. We rely on that, and the guys on the power play take a lot of pride in it.

“[Bergeron] does a lot of things for us. Instead of me having to go all the way to the other end to break the puck out where I’m losing 20 seconds and frankly it’s tiring to break the puck out, now we have him winning face-offs and we’re starting with the puck in the zone. That’s a big thing, and he collects puck like nobody else in the league. With him back on the power play it brings another important player to the forefront, but it’s a five man unit and when everything’s working out there [on the PP] we have a good unit.”

Now with Ryan Spooner expected to rejoin the B’s lineup, after being healthy scratch vs. New Jersey, that adds another dangerous power-play weapon that practiced with that unit on Saturday morning ahead of the traditional morning skate. The hope is that installing Bergeron and Spooner will help kick-start a special teams unit that’s been less than explosive, and not quite cohesive, in the first four games of the season.