Camerato: Can't expect Pierce to win games on his own


Camerato: Can't expect Pierce to win games on his own

BOSTON -- There was a time when 30 points a game wasn't out of the ordinary for Paul Pierce.

It wasn't unusual to see the Boston Celtics captain lead the way on offense while his teammates trailed behind him on the box score. That was also during a period when the Celtics were struggling to find wins and Pierce was forced to carry the load himself.

Things have changed since the establishment of the "New Big Three" in 2007. Scoring has been distributed among other star players and even when Pierce had a big night, it was often in conjunction with a solid team effort.

Pierce cannot be expected to do it alone. Is he capable of putting the team on his shoulders? Yes. Is that the most effective way for the Celtics to win consistently? No.

On Wednesday Pierce posted a near-flawless 43-point performance (13-16 FG, 6-7 3PG, 8-8 FT) in the Celtics win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Two days later, his 35 points (13-23 FG, 3-7 3PG, 6-8 FT) were not enough to push the Celtics past the Milwaukee Bucks in overtime.

"Its a team game, regardless of how I play," said Pierce. "Weve got to do better in stretches.I think when our offense isnt going for long stretches ,weve got to be able to defend. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, we went into the quarter up like seven or eight and we instantly kind of gave away the lead.Thats the kind of case where even though our shots arent falling, weve got to be able to come down and get stops after stops after stops. It just comes and goes in stretches right now.

Pierce played 43 minutes in the Celtics overtime loss to the Bucks. At 35 years old, head coach Doc Rivers wants to manage his veteran captain's minutes. At the same time, it is hard to do when he is one of the only players making shots.

"Because of the overtime he played more minutes, but hes the only one that really had it going," said Rivers. "I always jokingly and its the truth say its a make-miss league and tonight was evident of that. We had point-blank looks at the rim all through the game and one of the best shooters in the NBA in JET (Jason Terry) and Kevin (Garnett). We got them great shots, just couldnt make them. I thought as the game went on you know you press more and more to make them and we just couldnt.It was one of those games."

Other members of the Celtics will get going offensively -- the team has too much talent to rely on one player. But when the Cs are struggling to find their way to the basket, they know they still have a tried and true option they can turn to. They just don't plan on making a habit out of it.

"When everybodys not making shots youre down, youre looking for whoever is making shots," said Rivers. "They didnt come in the game trying to miss or not ready, just the ball wouldnt go in.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1


STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl


Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.