Bruins know they can't take Sabres lightly

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Bruins know they can't take Sabres lightly

BUFFALO -- Claude Julien has pointed out in recent days that the Bruins need to do a better job focusing in games against teams out of the playoff race.

There is good reason for that.

The B's have 16 regulation losses on the season, and 10 of them have come against non-playoff teams. That speaks to a loss of focus against lesser teams, and difficulty keeping their level of play consistent regardless of the opponent.

Of course the Bruins are Stanley Cup champs and theyve already experienced epic clashes with the class of the league this season. Their games against the Flyers, Rangers, Penguins, Canucks and Red Wings were all days when the Black and Gold put their best foot forward.

But with teams scratching and clawing to say alive as the regular-season schedule begins to shrink in the dog days of February, points became more difficult to come by and Buffalo should be a great example of that on Wednesday night at the First Niagara Center.

Theyre playing well right now. The first two games we played against them were good games and were not expecting anything different, said Chris Kelly. They want to move up the standings just like we do. If you look there are a lot of three point games at this time of year and teams are bearing down.

If theres a chance for at least one point then you better believe both teams are going to get that point. There are no easy points in the second half and that hasnt been a secret for years.

Julien is fully aware that the Sabres have won three of their last four games, and are in the last gasps of their playoff hopes. Buffalo sits 11 points behind Ottawa for the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but does hold some games in hand.

The Sabres also still hold quite a healthy bit of ill will for the Bruins after Milan Lucic took out Ryan Miller with an open ice collision thats seemingly set Buffalos season on a spiraling path ever since.

Every team is battling to stay in the playoffs or for a playoff spot, said Julien. We expect every team from here on in until the trade deadline, at least, to be very hard to play against; even after that there will be teams looking to be spoilers and guys fighting for jobs on teams that wont be making the playoffs.

The rest will be about fighting for position. I dont think there will be any easy games from here on in.

It sounds like it should be a fun ride for the rest of the season with the grind portion of the regular season officially entered.

Mr. Reliable: Numbers don't illustrate Amir Johnson's value to Celtics

Mr. Reliable: Numbers don't illustrate Amir Johnson's value to Celtics

BOSTON – After most Celtics games, Amir Johnson can easily navigate his way around the Boston Celtics’ locker room with very little fanfare from the media.

And when you least expect it, he’ll surprise you by blurting something out you didn’t expect, like in the middle of Isaiah Thomas’ post-game interview on Sunday night he yelled, ‘give a shout-out; you know what time it is!’

In many ways, Johnson’s ability to be below-the-radar but present inside the Celtics locker room, isn’t all that different than what he does between the lines every night for Boston.

His play in Sunday’s 112-108 win over Miami was about as flawless a performance as we’ve seen from the 6-foot-9 veteran this season.

Johnson finished with 14 points coming on 6-for-6 shooting from the field. Along with his scoring, Johnson also added seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

But more than anything else, it was Johnson doing the one thing most didn’t anticipate he could for the Celtics – stay healthy.

When the Celtics signed him to a two-year, $24 million contract in 2015, his durability was a bit of a concern despite him missing very few games with the Toronto Raptors whom he spent six seasons with.

While he didn’t miss many games with the Raptors, he did play in pain at times when he probably should not have.

A similar trend may be taking shape with Boston with Johnson being a near-Iron Man this season with 70 starts in 73 games, both tops among all Celtics players.

And while his minutes are less than other starters, it’s clear in watching him play closely that Boston has a tremendous amount of respect and value for what Johnson brings to the table at both ends of the floor.

We saw in the win over a scrappy Miami Heat team, the way Johnson made an impact at both ends of the floor.

In addition to his scoring, Johnson did his part to help others get going offensively by registering five screen assists which was second on the team (Al Horford, six) against the Heat.

Johnson was also tied for second on the team with four deflections against Miami while recovering a team-best three loose balls. But what really seemed to be almost contagious with the Celtics in the second half more so than the first against Miami was their increased effort to contest as many Heat shots as possible.

And yes it was Johnson leading the way with 12 contested two-point shots which was tops among all Celtics players against the Heat.

Contesting shots and grabbing loose balls is not going to get you on the even news highlight reel, or a lot of love from fans, either.

But it does get the attention of the coaching staff and the respect of teammates who have repeatedly talked about how important Johnson’s presence is to what they are trying to accomplish this season.

“Just recognizing every win counts as we get closer to postseason,” Johnson said. “I feel like I play hard every time I get out on the floor. Just getting an opportunity … just playing hard.”

And he does this on a nightly basis, even if his numbers don’t just jump out at you.

But that’s OK.

In his 12th NBA season, Johnson knows chapter and verse on what it takes to last so long in the NBA and not necessarily have your role being that of a superstar.

Johnson figured out early on his career that he wasn’t going to be that kind of player, but that wouldn’t prevent him from being someone who can impact the game in a positive way in a multitude of roles if needed.

“He’s been very reliable all season,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He just continues to get better as the season has progressed.”

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens doesn't need stats to recognize Crowder's impact

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens doesn't need stats to recognize Crowder's impact

BOSTON – Brad Stevens was sitting at his post-game podium when the first question tossed his way centered around Jae Crowder.

“I don’t have a stat sheet in front of me so I don’t know exactly what … I know that he was really good,” Stevens said.

And that made Crowder’s performance not all that different than what he does on most nights.

But Crowder, much like his Celtics teammates, stepped their play up in beating a Miami Heat team, 112-108, that they could potentially see down the road in the first round of the playoffs.

Crowder had a season-high 25 points on 8-for-13 shooting, with six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

With Miami playing a considerable amount of small-ball, Stevens used Crowder more as a power forward than usual.

And to Crowder’s credit, he rose to the challenge and played within himself which was a major factor in Boston (48-26) winning their fourth straight and eighth in the last 10 games.

“Being aggressive” was how Crowder described his role in the Celtics offense, adding that “they (opponents) put a lot of different defenders on me. Some smaller, so I know I had to be on the offensive glass a little, but just being aggressive.”

Stevens offered up plenty of praise for the job Crowder did, as well as his versatility.

“We had to play small so he’s playing at the ‘four’ (power forward a lot,” Stevens said. “He ended up on (Hassan) Whiteside a couple of different times on block-outs. He had to guard James Johnson who’s just a matchup nightmare, the way that they play. And I thought he did a lot of good things, and obviously the points were huge too.”

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: Another big night for Thomas, who cracked the 25-point plateau for the fifth straight game. He led all scorers with 30 points on 10-for-18 shooting.

Hassan Whiteside: Boston had its share of problems on the boards, and Whiteside’s presence had a lot to do with that. He led the Heat with 19 points and 14 rebounds, giving him 51 double-doubles this season.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

There wasn’t a single area of the game on Sunday night that Crowder did not impact in a positive way for the Celtics. Along with his season-high 25 points, He also had six rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.

James Johnson

Watching the way he navigated the Miami offense off the bench was similar in some ways to how Boston operated a year ago with Evan Turner (now in Portland). Johnson had 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting in addition to five rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.

Tyler Johnson

His ability to penetrate and get into the lane created a lot of scoring opportunities for him to finish at the rim. He led the Heat with 24 points off the bench, shooting 9-for-15 from the field.

Amir Johnson

It’s not always pretty, but Johnson continues to be one of the more effective Celtics in his overall play. He made all six of his field goal attempts, finishing with 14 points to go with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Celtics turnovers

It’s great that Boston continues to find ways to win despite playing long stretches of not-so-great basketball. But you have to believe that the high number of turnovers – and the points they generate – will catch up to the Celtics sooner or later. Against the Heat, Boston turned the ball over 19 times which led to 30 points for Miami; a point total that represents just a shade under 30 percent of the Heat’s scoring for the game.