Ellsbury open to sliding down batting order

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Ellsbury open to sliding down batting order

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jacoby Ellsbury had 660 at-bats in 2011, his breakout season, and all but 31 of those came in the leadoff spot.

Whether Ellsbury remains in the leadoff position in 2012, however, is open to some debate. After belting 32 homers and compiling a. 552 slugging percentage, there's some thought in the organization that Ellsbury might better serve the team hitting third while, say, Carl Crawford takes over the top spot in the lineup.

That would give Crawford the chance to be more aggressive on the bases and take full advantage of his speed. Ellsbury, meanwhile, showed last year that he can be a valuable run producer and, hitting third, could now do so with more runners on base and in scoring position.

"There's not many who have that same package (of skills)," said Valentine. "If he's not totally unique, he's in a real small sample. He's just a joy."

Valentine believes Ellsbury could succeed in the No. 3 spot and has already spoken to the outfielder -- at least informally -- to sound him out on a potential change.

"I think he could," said Valentine. "He just hasn't, which makes it a little bit of a mental challenge."

"I guess, for me, I would keep my approach," said Ellsbury, "(keep) everything the same. And I've told (Valentine) whatever he thinks the team needs -- if it's better for me to hit down in the order or stay at leadoff -- I'm going to do whatever he feels best to get us the most wins. So if he thinks me staying at the top of the order is the best thing for the time... I'm not sure. I haven't talked about how he plans on working spring training. If he looks at mixing it up a little bit, seeing how different lineups look.

"But as far as right now, I'm just trying to get my timing, trying to get everything like that. But I'm sure that here in a couple of weeks I could probably have a better answer for you."

Grapefruit League games don't begin until March 4, and from there, Valentine will likely be experimenting with differing batting orders, depending on availability of veteran players on long road trips and other concessions to the spring schedule.

Toward the end of March, he'll probably settle in on what he'd like to do with the lineup, though he has cautioned several times that, in some past springs, the lineup he used on Opening Day was not one he used even once during spring training.

"I think that's going to be an interesting situation that will probably evolve this spring into the season," said Valentine. "The last thing in the world you want to create is confusion or doubt -- any of those things. Right now, (Ellsbury) seems to be open and Dustin (Pedroia) was in the office the other day and he seems to be free and open and Carl is ready to have a conversation.

"There's a lot of stuff going on."

Ellsbury's 2011 season, for which he was second in A.L. MVP voting, has given him the confidence that he can thrive almost anywhere. No longer the slashing and running player he was in his first few seasons, his improved strength and ability to drive the ball has made him more well-rounded.

"I've always taken or tried to be a complete player," he said, "tried to do everything. So yeah, for everything to come together, I guess you could say last year was something I was always working on. I just try to be a complete player and that's what I take pride in."

Pedroia has said that he doesn't like leading off, which would seem to take him out of the mix. Earlier in his career, Crawford had the same thoughts, though last year, he said hitting first wouldn't be an issue.

"It's hard for me to say at this point," said Ellsbury. "I haven't hit third on this team before. So I don't know how we'd go about mixing the lineup and that sort of thing. Certain guys feel comfortable with hitting certain positions. I've hit in different areas in the lineup and it hasn't really bothered me. I feel comfortable, but at the same time I think that time will tell. I really don't have an opinion either way at this moment."

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

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But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

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“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

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

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.