Winning Atlantic won't be easy for Celtics


Winning Atlantic won't be easy for Celtics

PHILADELPHIA Ever since the Big Three era in Boston began, it was a given that the Atlantic Division race wasn't really a race at all.

The Celtics (20-18) would have no problem finishing first, while the rest of the division would fight for whatever playoff seeding scraps were left behind.

This season is one with lots of changes throughout the NBA, including the race to the top of the Atlantic; it's actually a race now.

So far, it's a race the C's aren't winning.

Boston's 32-point drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia on Wednesday night -- the worst loss in the Big Three era -- robbed the Celtics of a chance at taking over the top spot in the division ahead of the Sixers (23-17).

A number of factors have contributed to this season being such a struggle for the Celtics to get the top spot in the Atlantic, a place they have finished each of the past four seasons.

Since the Atlantic Division was formed prior to the 1970-1971 season, only two teams have won it five or more consecutive seasons.

The C's did it first between 1972-1977, and they did it again about a decade later (1983-1988).

Only by winning the division can a team assure themselves of having home court advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.

And with so many teams in the Atlantic hovering around the .500 mark, winning the division could mean the difference between beginning the playoffs at home, or starting off on the road against Miami or Chicago.

That in itself makes Wednesday's loss a tough one for the Celtics, even if the players won't fully embrace the notion.

For the very same reasons that beating New York on Sunday was important for them -- division rivalry, potential playoff seeding, importance of winning head-to-head matchup -- so should have been the value of Wednesday's game.

Paul Pierce acknowledged the loss to the Sixers was an important game, "we gotta win as many games as possible."

He added, "If we still have a better record than Philly, New York, New Jersey and other teams, then we still get that top seed regardless of our division record."

Rajon Rondo echoed Pierce's comments.

"We want to get the best seed possible, regardless of the division," Rondo said. "We want to try to continue to win games. The bottom line is we want to win, win, win."

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

Bruins need to 'find a way to start playing with a lead'

BOSTON -- There’s only so long that a team can hope to thrive, or even survive, in the NHL if they’re constantly chasing the game on the scoreboard, and chasing the puck after digging themselves a hole. The Bruins have been that team in the first couple of weeks during the regular season, and made it five times in five games that they’ve given up the game’s first goal in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.

It’s a pattern that is long past getting old to Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who can’t seem to play the front-runner this season despite three comebacks that have allowed for a 3-2-0 record overall this season.

“I hope it’s not a habit. It’s certainly not what we’re looking for, but there’s no doubt. I think it’s pretty obvious that with the amount of games we’ve played, five games, we haven’t scored first,” said Julien. “We talked about that this morning, trying to get that first goal, and it hasn’t happened yet.”

The start to the game wasn’t really the problem on Saturday night as it’s been a couple of times this season. Instead the Bruins enjoyed a handful of quality scoring chances in the opening 20 minutes against the Habs, but couldn’t come through and finish off those plays when it might have meant an early lead.

Instead it lead to what Julien termed a “terrible” second period that was flat, full of mistakes and ended with the B’s trailing Montreal by a couple of goals. The Bruins scratched and clawed their way to making it a one-goal game in the third period, but that was as close as the Black and Gold would get in losing their ninth straight home game to the arch-rival Canadiens.

“It’s kind of been a story about how things are going for us this far, we’ve got to find a way to start playing with a lead. If you don’t capitalize on your chances, you see what happens when you come out [flat] in the second period,” said Torey Krug, who finished a game-worst minus-3 in the loss for the Bruins. “We had another poor second period and you know it’s kind of… you got to make sure that we put our hand on that and it doesn’t become a thing for the team this year. You see that when you don’t capitalize on chances early, that’s what’s going to happen.”

It’s been a positive development that the Bruins have shown the willingness and backbone to fight back into games after early deficits, and they showed that quality once again on Saturday night by scoring a couple of goals in the third period to keep things close. But the Bruins would be best served if they can start lighting the lamp a little earlier in these games, and see how the other half lives by playing with a comfortable lead every once in a while.