A true test on South Beach

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A true test on South Beach

It feels like forever since the Celtics last took the court in Miami.

And by NBA standards, that's exactly how long it's been.

But tonight, 106 days, 54 games, 14 starting line-ups and nearly four months removed from their last trip to South Beach, Boston makes its long-awaited return to American Airlines Arena.

The game starts at 7 p.m. Fans should start rolling in around 8.

It's Celtics-Heat III: Stiemer's Revenge!

But the truth is that we don't need days, games or approximated months to quantify how long it's been since these two rivals squared off down south. Instead, just take a look at the box score from that meeting. Or more specifically, at your barely recognizable Boston Celtics.

Back on December 27, Ray Allen was still in the starting lineup. Unfortunately enough, so was Sasha Pavlovic. Meanwhile, KG was old and getting older, Jermaine O'Neal was still fresh off an MVP-caliber training camp and Chris Wilcox was carving out a role in the rotation.

Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels played a combined 42 minutes that night. Avery Bradley and Greg Stiemsma? They combined for less than four.

Yeah, sure. The basic roster is in tact. But the Celtics that were (despite a late run) over-matched by Miami in December will not be the team you see tonight. Those Celtics were ugly and out of sorts. They were still searching for rhythm and identity, and could barely catch their breath long enough to do either. When Boston walked off the court that night, no one knew where this thing was going, except that it wasn't going up. Not as high as we needed, at least.

Nearly four months later, and to be honest, we still don't know where this team is headed, but for the first time in a long time, we're actually excited to find out.

In the 54 games since their 115-107 loss, the Celtics have broken down and built themselves back up. They've undergone a transformation of mental, physical and spiritual proportions and will take the court tonight with purpose. With proper chemistry, a secure identity and a greater sense of confidence than they've had all year.

Finally, we know who these Celtics are, and more importantly, so do they.

So do the Heat.

But just as Miami won't see the same Celtics team that they defeated back in December. You can be sure that the Celtics won't face the same squad that they croaked earlier this month.

The box score from that one is just as shocking.

LeBron and Wade combined for only seven foul shot attempts on April 1; tonight, don't be surprised if they're both at seven before halftime. On top of that, Chris Bosh was horrendous, going 2-11. Mario Chalmers had one basket and one assist in 22 minutes. Both those guys will be better in front of the home crowd, as will be every role player and reserve on Miami's roster. And there are a ton.

It's still remains to be seen what it will take to motivate the Miami Heat on a nightly basis, but it goes without saying that they'll be ready for this one. If there was ever a game for them to put any mental BS on the back burner and put the pedal to the metal from jump ball to final whistle, it will be tonight. On National TV, with a chance to take down a team that they despise and send a message that April 1 was nothing but a prank.

"You really thought you could hang with us? You really thought that you can still contend? Ha! This is your reality, and don't you forget it."

Yeah, there are very few certainties in this world. Even fewer in this league. But tonight, you can be sure that the Celtics in their first trip to Miami in more than 100 days will be faced with the very best that the Heat have to offer.

But on the bright side, you can be just as sure that this Celtics team has never been more prepared for the challenge. Never more ready to declare, once and for all, that there's still plenty of reality in their lofty championship dreams.

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

Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

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Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

It was more than a decade ago that Bruce Cassidy had his one and only NHL head coaching shot with Washington Capitals, so the enthusiasm was predictable and genuine when the longtime AHL coach was named to Claude Julien’s staff this week.

Cassidy paid his dues in Providence with the Bruins the past eight seasons and posted winning records in all five seasons as coach with playoff berths in each of the past four years. He also did all of that while developing the young talent that’s come through Boston’s organizational pipeline and showed a particular penchant for working with young defensemen.

The hope is that the Black and Gold can break the puck out of their end with a little more speed, precision and confidence with Cassidy in charge of pumping some energy into the transition game. The one caveat: a hockey team also needs the personnel to be able to transition the puck no matter how good the coaching might be.

“Obviously there’s going to be some roles that those two new coaches are going to have. Bruce Cassidy will definitely be behind the bench taking care of the defense part that Doug Houda had. Bruce Cassidy being a former defenseman and one that was very successful, I think, in the transitioning of the puck and has done a great job also with the group that he had in Providence,” said Julien. “I think that’s going to be a good place for him and certainly a good area for him to help improve our transition game back there.”

The list is long of B’s players that also counted Cassidy as their head coach: Noel Acciari, Tommy Cross, Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Zach Trotman and Frank Vatrano. Cassidy and P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean’s work with Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Miller and McQuaid among others in AHL has earned them plenty of plaudits in the Bruins organization.

Cassidy finished with a 207-128-45 as the bench boss for the P-Bruins and has said in the past that a return as an NHL head coach is the goal for him. There is a strong belief that Cassidy would be the choice for an interim head coach if an in-season change was ever made with Julien and that missing the playoffs  the past two seasons has dialed up the warmth levels on his coaching hot seat.

Cassidy was clearly avoiding that subject on Wednesday, and instead will dutifully work with the defensemen as fired assistant coach Doug Houda had done for the last 10 years in Boston.

“I’m excited about it. Obviously, to be able to learn from a coach with Claude [Julien]’s pedigree, a Stanley Cup champion, I know it’s a big honor for me. It’s been great down in Providence with me for eight years. To be that much closer to him is only going to make me a better coach, so for me it’s a very exciting time,” said Cassidy, who guided the Capitals from 2002-2004 with a 39-29-8-6 record. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because the stamp of approval is always Claude’s first. Just meeting with him and having discussions, even previous years, I think what we’d like to grow in our game is the ability to move the puck out of the zone quicker and cleaner.

“That may involve a few more one-man breakouts. Players have the ability to beat the first fore-checker with their feet, make a good outlet pass, then you don’t have to always use your partner, so we’re not quite as predictable. So that’s how I’d like us to look on the transition part, where we’re a little more fluid coming out of our zone. That generally is a mindset that the defensemen have to buy into, that they have the ability to do that. Everyone’s is a little bit different. Every player on the back end has the ability to move the puck. They might not all be labeled necessarily puck-movers throughout hockey, but they’re NHL players, they all have the ability to move the puck and we want to sort of grow their game there and at least reach their ceiling.”

Cassidy will have his transition game work cut out for him with stay-at-home defensemen like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller clogging up the Bruins roster, but there clearly could be later dividends for him in Boston if can work wonders with a defense that finished 19th in the NHL last season. 

Jim Breuer reads purported Jastremski email to Toucher and Rich

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Jim Breuer reads purported Jastremski email to Toucher and Rich

On Toucher and Rich, comedian Jim Breuer reads an email he says he received from a man he met at a Mexican resort who said he was John Jastremski, a key figure in the Patriots’ Deflategate saga. 

Watch the video for more. 
 

Breuer identifies picture as Patriots staffer Jastremski: ‘Absolutely’ him

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Breuer identifies picture as Patriots staffer Jastremski: ‘Absolutely’ him

Toucher & Rich try to get to the bottom of comedian Jim Breuer's ‎Deflategate story. Breuer IDs a picture of Patriots equipment staffer John Jastremski as the man he met last year at a resort in Mexico who told him he was the key guy in the controversy.

Watch the video for more.