The fear is gone, but talent remains

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The fear is gone, but talent remains

One thing thats become increasingly evident over the course of this young NBA season and unfortunately so is that teams are no longer scared of the Boston Celtics. That the mystique and inherent intimidation that used to go hand-in-hand with facing off against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the mighty Green is gone. Banished to Serbia with Darko. Most likely never to be seen again.

Of course, this development didnt happen all at once. More so, its taken shape over the last few years, as the Celtics stars have grown older and slower and the rest of the league has grown stronger and more confident. A series of lackluster regular seasons haven't helped matters either. While the Celtics have consistently been able to turn on their charm once the playoffs roll around, the truth is that their consistent regular season struggles (and thats obviously a relative term) have at one time or another given every team a taste of what its like to get the best of Boston. This has chipped away at the Celtics air of superiority, and left them with the reality of the 2012-13 season.

The league no longer fears them. Opponents dont sit in the pre-game locker room at home or on the road and worry about what lies ahead. Instead, they look forward to it. They see a date with Boston as a potential victory, and to this point, have consistently carried that attitude onto the court.

This was apparent on opening night at the Garden, when the Bucks strolled in and embarrassed the Celtics on their home floor. It was re-iterated the following week, when Wizards rookie Bradley Beal who was all of two years old when KG made his NBA debut told reporters: We know (the Celtics) are vulnerable. We know that they are an aggressive team but they are a lot older than we are. So, we are going to try and wear them down. (Granted, this came shortly after the Celtics beat the Wiz in consecutive games, but in both those games Washington had pushed Boston to the brink, and had done so without the services of their two best players.)

Doc Rivers pretty much implied the same thing when he called out the C's for being soft in the aftermath of the Brooklyn brawl. Basically, that times have changed. The league has changed. Boston's reputation has changed.

But for whatever reason, this reality hasnt quite clicked with the Celtics. Night after night, especially at home, its as if they still expect teams to roll over. To see No. 5, No. 34 and No. 9 across the way and immediately soil themselves with awe. This mentality has resulted in a few bad losses and a handful of unnecessarily close games. More than anything, its led to a series of really slow starts.

Do you realize that the Celtics have trailed at halftime in 11 of 18 games this season? Even worse, they've trailed at the half in seven of their 10 games at the Garden. And last night was no exception. Last night, an undermanned Timberwolves team which boasted a starting line-up that prominently featured Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee and the ghost of Josh Howard took the parquet and somehow appeared to take the Celtics by surprise. They outworked Boston. They out-hustled Boston. Despite the fact that the Cs shot 59.1 percent in the first quarter, Minnesota led 30-27 after the opening frame. At the half, the Wolves were up 51-47.

In the third quarter, that obviously changed. Boston started the half on a 20-10 run; they held the Wolves without an offensive rebound until the four minute mark; they imposed their will and took control. I don't if something specific occurred over the break or it was just a coincidence, but the Celtics finally awoke to a separate and far more important reality. That is, that even if these teams don't fear them anymore, Boston still has enough talent to render that confidence useless. It may not be as easy as it once was, but it doesn't have to be that hard. On some nights, sure; that's the NBA. The schedule can be brutal and can certainly wreak havoc on a team that's built around a core that's as old as Boston's. But on nights like last night when the Celtics are coming off three days rest against a team that's been riddled by injury perception doesn't matter. Reality is enough. Even if the opponent doesn't necessarily believe that Boston is the better team, there's no question that they are.

It's just a matter of waking up and playing like it.

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

Talking Points from the Bruins OT winner

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Talking Points from the Bruins OT winner

GOLD STAR: Solid night’s work from Ryan Spooner, who finished with the OT game-winning strike and was solid throughout the game as the de facto No. 1 center. He had four shots on net, six generated shot attempts and won 12-of-19 face offs as he continues to improve in that area while training camp rolls along. Spooner is trying to hold onto the No. 3 center spot in the lineup despite the addition of David Backes via free agency, and Friday night’s big boy performance with speed, playmaking and skill showed exactly what his potential can be when he puts it all together. It was also a nice little bounce-back from an up-and-down game on Wednesday night against the same Detroit team when he struggled in the face off circle and was part of a team-wide malaise.

BLACK EYE: It wasn’t necessarily a bad night for Brian Ferlin, but it was more of the invisible variety with just a registered hit and one face-off taken in 13 minutes of ice time. The forward earned some NHL time with the Bruins a couple of years, has battled concussion woes over the last year plus and is trying to push his way back into the crowded forward picture during this training camp. While he certainly showed some toughness and skill around the net a couple of years and didn’t seem shy about going there on Friday night, the results just weren’t there and Ferlin didn’t have much of a presence in the game. In general it was a pretty decent performance for the Bruins, so Ferlin’s game was quiet more than problematic.

TURNING POINT: Credit the Bruins coaching staff for switching up the lines in the third period, and that sparked the offense a bit after zero goals through the first 40 minutes against Detroit. Zach Senyshyn was moved with Danton Heinen and Riley Nash, and they became a threat in the third period before Heinen broke through for the game-tying goal from his knees. That score allowed the B’s to push things into overtime, and then Spooner made it a quick extra session by snapping home a shot from the slot after a good effort from Joe Morrow down low. It all was made possible by the adjustment to the lines that took place between the second and the third periods.

HONORABLE MENTION: Joe Morrow is battling to hold onto his NHL roster spot with the Bruins, and that is absolutely underscored by the news that Christian Ehrhoff is being brought to Boston on a PTO. So it was expected that the young D-man would come out with something a little extra after a mediocre performance in his preseason debut, and the left shot D-man was an impact player in the win for the Black and Gold. Morrow dropped the gloves with young tough guy Givani Smith in the second period as part of a B’s group that played with a little bit of an edge on Friday night, and then he won a battle down low in overtime to set up the Ryan Spooner game-winner. Morrow had two hits, two shot attempts, the assist and the fight in 19:48 of ice time, and showed that he’s ready to battle in camp to hold onto his spot.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 – the number of goals in two preseason games thus far for Danton Heinen, who scored important game-tying goals in both instances in the shootout loss to the Blue Jackets and Friday night’s overtime win against the Wings.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “The compete level, especially when he got down 4-0 [on Wednesday night], I don’t think it was high enough. So we talked about it, and we expect a better effort for sure.” –Ryan Spooner on Friday morning prior to going out and snatching the win away from the Red Wings in Detroit with an OT game-winner. 

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

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First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.