Talking Points: Celtics snap skid, beat Cavs, 86-83

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Talking Points: Celtics snap skid, beat Cavs, 86-83

CLEVELAND Kevin Garnett has been a guy who plays - not pontificates - his point most of the time when it comes to the game of basketball.

Following the team's last game - a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder - he urged his teammates - every last one of them - to step their game up in the second half of the season which began Tuesday night.

And in typical Garnett fashion, it was his play that ultimately had the final word as Boston managed to squeak out an 86-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Garnett led the way with 18 points, which included a pair of free throws with 3.9 seconds to play.

Not only did his free throws put the C's in great position to win, but it also pushed him past Charles Barkley for the No. 18 spot among the NBA's all-time leading scorers with 23,758 points.

Cleveland, though, had a chance to force overtime.

After a Cavs time-out, Cleveland in-bounded the ball to Kyrie Irving who was immediately fouled on a long two-pointer.

Irving, who had made his previous three free throw attempts, made both to cut Boston's lead to 84-83 with 3.5 seconds to play.

After a Celtics time-out, the ball wound up in the hands of Ray Allen who put the game away.

Cleveland's last gasp was a 3-point attempt by Anthony Parker that hit the front of the rim as time expired.

After controlling the game for the better part of the first half, the Cavaliers began to take over in the third which ended with Cleveland clinging to a 66-64 lead.

The two went back and fourth in the fourth, exchanging basket for basket, turnover for turnover.

After the way the game started, this game didn't seem as though it would be another nail-biter like the first two meetings with the total margin of victory in those games being a (not-so whopping) four points.

The Celtics got off to the kind of start you would expect from a team that was motivated to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the problems of the first half of the season.

Ray Allen, who usually starts games relatively slow offensively, reached double figures scoring in the first half, with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He finished with 22 points.

His play along with Garnett's inside scoring (12 first half points) were instrumental in the Celtics leading by as many as 16 in the first half before having to settle for a 43-38 halftime lead.

But the Celtics, as we've seen so many times this season, found a way to squander control of the game.

And the mode of self-destruction tonight was turnovers, with most being unforced miscues.

Rajon Rondo, doing his best Jeremy Lin impression minus the points scored, had five turnovers in the first half. He was scoreless with 11 assists and did not turn the ball over at all in the second half.

Even with all the turnovers (the C's had 18 which led to 20 points), Boston still spent most of the game playing with the lead.

HOT SHOT: Kevin Garnett delivered the kind of all-around game that the Celtics desperately needed to kick off the second half of the season. He scored 18 points, including a pair of free throws with 3.9 seconds to play that ultimately would prove to be the game-winning points. Garnett also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, one of which was an offensive rebound of his own miss that set up his game-winning free throws. "He's been the model of consistency for us the whole year," said Paul Pierce. "Inside, doing all the little things, defensively; offensively, he's really picking it up over the last month. When he's playing well, we're tough to beat."

IN-N-OUT: It was one of those kind of nights for Rajon Rondo. While he's not known as a shooter, 0-for-6 is bad even by Rondo standards. And when you throw in the five turnovers in the first half, Rondo and the Celtics will just as soon take this win and start looking ahead to their next game. Celtics Doc Rivers thought Rondo got down on himself because of the turnovers. Said Rondo, "not necessarily down. I just wanted to take better care of the ball. I'm the point guard and it starts with me. I just wanted to do a better job of taking care of the ball." He did that in the second half as he played just under 15 minutes and did not have any turnovers. "I didn't have a lot of assists, either. I just tried to keep it as simple as possible. It worked. We got the win."

SUPER SUB: With Rajon Rondo struggling, the Celtics got a major boost from Avery Bradley's play. He played around 16 minutes, scoring six points to go with three assists. When the C's were struggling in the third quarter, Boston went through a stretch in which Bradley either scored or had an assist on nine straight points for the C's. "I just felt, the bench, when you come in you have to do your role," Bradley said. "You have to play hard."
TURNING POINT:Leading 82-81 with the ball, Kevin Garnett missed a 16-foot jumper with 4.9 seconds. One second later, Garnett fought off a couple of Cleveland big men for the offensive rebound - it was only Boston's fifth of the night. He was fouled on the play, and made both free throws with 3.9 to play. Those free throws would prove to be the game-winning points for the C's.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23,758: That would be how many points Kevin Garnett has scored in his career which now has him No. 18 all-time after surpassing Charles Barkley by one point on Tuesday.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "It was a win. That's all it was for us. We'll take the win. We needed the win."- Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Tomlin calls Patriots 'a--holes' in speech Antonio Brown posts on Facebook

Tomlin calls Patriots 'a--holes' in speech Antonio Brown posts on Facebook

Showing a knee-buckling lack of self-awareness, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown put up 13:35 of footage on Facebook Live after his team’s 18-16 win over Kansas City on Sunday night.

It was a weird betrayal of the team’s privacy by one of its star players. Brown, allowed viewers to see live (and on tape until it’s inevitably taken down) that, while head coach Mike Tomlin was around a bank of lockers addressing what Tomlin presumed was his entire team, Brown was mugging in front of his phone for a growing online audience.

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The video starts with Brown and teammates having fun in front of their lockers. As the team is called together for a postgame prayer, Brown keeps the camera rolling. After the prayer, Tomlin made a statement.

“When you get to this point in the journey, not a lot needs to be said,” said Tomlin. “Let’s say very little moving forward. Let’s start our preparations. We spotted those a******* a day and a half. They played yesterday. Our game got moved to tonight. We gonna touch down at 4 o’clock in the f****** morning. So be it. We’ll be ready for that ass. But you ain’t gotta tell them we coming. Because some of us might not like the damn (woofkisses?) The chest pounding.  Keep a low profile.”

While Tomlin was issuing that low-profile request, Brown rolled on. Another Steeler then spoke up saying, “Keep cool on social media, this is about us, nobody else.”

Finally, what sounded like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger addressed the team saying of Foxboro, “That’s a lion’s den we’re going into this week. It’s a lion’s den. I’ve been there, a lot of us have been there. Keep your mouth shut.”

While people might fan themselves over Tomlin calling the Patriots a*******, that’s benign and likely will be matched in private by Patriots coaches this week.

What’s staggering is that a player of Brown’s ability and seeming intelligence would be so self-absorbed as to be agog at putting on a video show for Facebook followers at the expense of his coaches, teammates and franchise.  

Curran: Steelers survive, advance to AFC Championship Game vs. Patriots

Curran: Steelers survive, advance to AFC Championship Game vs. Patriots

For the third time in the Belichick-Brady Era, the Patriots will be trying to step over the Steelers to get to a Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh went into Kansas City on Sunday night and outlasted a breathtakingly sluggish Chiefs team, 18-16.

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If you spent the day stewing about the Patriots adequate-against-Osweiler-but-probably-nobody-else offensive performance Saturday night, maybe Sunday night calmed your nerves.

Despite having a more than 2-to-1 edge in total yards entering the fourth, Pittsburgh had managed just six field goals from kicker Chris Boswell. Their best chance at getting six on the board was squelched when Ben Roethlisberger got picked at the goal line in the first half.

That Kansas City was even in the game with a chance to tie it in the final three minutes has to be humbling for the Steelers. They dominated every statistical category of consequence while the Chiefs played aimlessly behind Alex Smith, who may be a cut above Brock Osweiler but is definitely a cut below every other quarterback in the Divisional Playoff round.  

On this night, Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t much better.

Still, Pittsburgh’s got the best 1-2 punch in the NFL at running back and receiver – LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown were both at 101 yards after halftime – and New England’s entire defensive game plan will revolve around corralling those two and getting them horizontal.

The Patriots beat a Roethlisberger-less team in October, 27-16. Landry Jones was at quarterback that day.

The Steelers were in the Patriots’ red zone four times. They came away with 10 points. They were inside the Patriots’ 40 six times and finished with 16.

“In an offense like that with a bunch of very explosive players, one slant can turn into a touchdown so you have to be really careful in your coverages,” defensive end Rob Ninkovich told me after that game. "There’s not just one go-to guy. They got a running back that can catch it out of the backfield and make plays (Le’Veon Bell). [Antonio Brown] can catch it anywhere on the field and make plays. You just have to make sure with a guy like [Landry Jones] to have him make the throws. It’s hard in this league to be perfect. So to have him sit back there and try to make all the throws was what we chose and the secondary did a great job.”

Bell and Brown combined for 268 yards from scrimmage against the Patriots.

The Steelers scored one touchdown.

The ever-dawdling Bell, who practically walks to the line of scrimmage then skips around like a little kid with a full bladder before finding a crease to exploit, is where it will start for the Patriots.

If the Patriots are going to go to their seventh Super Bowl since Belichick’s hire, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Donta Hightower and Elandon Roberts – their two best interior linemen and their two inside linebackers – will be the ones who start the bus. The overwhelming majority of Bell’s runs are between the guards so building a wall and out-patienting him as he probes for a crease is Job One.

The Chiefs weren’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage and Bell brutalized them. It will, of course, fall to more than just those four. Trey Flowers, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long, Vincent Valentine and Shea McLellin will also be in focus. Run-support from safeties Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty will be a part of it as well, but that’s where the Steelers become tough to deal with.

Once Bell’s established himself, the Steelers can start to work play-action and get Brown into space. Creep too far and the numbers on the back end could wind up being insufficient to deal with one of the NFL’s fastest players.

That’s why you can expect the Patriots to not overexert themselves with pressures and blitzes against Ben Roethlisberger. They’ll want as many back in coverage as possible to deal with Brown and some of the other Steelers speed merchants.

The Patriots have dealt with Pittsburgh’s defense enough to know where to attack. LeGarrette Blount ran for 127 yards on 24 carries in the first meeting and

Tom Brady went 19 for 26 for 222 with two touchdowns.

The Patriots had Gronk that day and the Steelers didn’t have Roethlisberger. That tips the scales some when measuring the differences. But after watching Pittsburgh kick six field goals and keep afloat an underperforming Chiefs team, the issue that dogged them in October – red zone offense – looks like its still around.

And they are going to visit a team that does that led the NFL in preventing points.