Buchholz: Sox returning with 'chip on our shoulder'

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Buchholz: Sox returning with 'chip on our shoulder'

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Clay Buchholz wasn't even part of the September collapse for the 2011 Red Sox, but he knows the fallout will continue for a while this season.

"It is what it is,'' said the Red Sox starter, who missed the final three months of the season because of a stress fracture in his lower back. "I think that stuff is over and done with, but I know we're going to have to answer some questions here early.''

Buchholz tried to speed up his recovery process but could only watch as the team imploded, compiling a 7-20 September and forfeiting what had been a healthy wild-card lead.

"For the most part, either we didn't hit or we didn't pitch,'' he said, "and if you don't do either one of those things in a single month, it's not going to turn out well. I think everybody knows that. I think a lot of guys have come here with a chip on their shoulder about it. We want to do well and we want to do it in October, too.''

When asked about some of the unsavory off-field details that were revealed after the season -- including some starting pitchers eating chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games -- Buchholz suggested that was overblown.

"I think that was last year -- a couple of bad decisions here and there,'' he said. ''I think if we would have made the playoffs, it wouldn't have been that big of a topic. I think it was blown out of proportion a little bit. I think it's in the past. Everybody has learned from it. I think everybody's mental state is going to be a lot better starting here in the spring.''

Buchholz was part of a group of players who had dinner with new manager Bobby Valentine over the winter and thinks Valentine's style may be the perfect tonic for the Sox.

"I think it's going to be in a good way,'' he said. "He seems like he likes to have control of everybody and I think that's something that we need. Then again, he's a relaxed person, too, so it's going to fit in well with this clubhouse.

"Everybody here is a grown man. Everybody can take care of themselves. But sometimes when you veer off the path that you need to take, you need someone there to tell you, 'Hey, this is where we need to go and I see you doing this.' In that aspect, it's going to be good for us."

Like some of his other teammates, Buchholz was surprised the story of clubhouse behavior gained as much traction as it did.

"It's happened more than that in previous years,'' noted Buchholz, "but we did well then and it wasn't spoken about. The main issue is we didn't make the playoffs and that was just something for people to talk about.

"I didn't let it bother me too much. When you're in an offseason and people are still wanting to talk about things that happened four months ago that don't have anything to do with what you're doing now -- I think that bothered a couple of people. But it comes with the territory. We're major-league baseball players playing for the Boston Red Sox. You're going to have to fess up to your mistakes and go from there.''

Some five days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report, all but a handful are already on hand. That's a good sign, Buchholz said.

"It's definitely a good thing,'' he said of the early attendance. "I think that's what we're expected to do, so I think that's why everybody does it. I've been ready to get back on a mound since September. It's good to see everybody here, good to see all the new faces that come in the clubhouse.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year."

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.