Celtics blaze Portland, 96-78

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Celtics blaze Portland, 96-78

BOSTON Within the first three minutes, the Boston Celtics had delivered a hard foul, blocked a shot courtesy of good help-side defense and opened with a 7-1 run.

Physical play. Good defense. Efficient offense.

It was the kind of balanced attack Doc Rivers has been searching for all season, the kind of performance this team badly needed.

When the Celtics play like that, few teams can beat them.

And if you're one of the Western Conference's weaker clubs - a team like Portland - things could get ugly real quick.

That's exactly what happened on Friday as the Celtics delivered a decisive 96-78 whipping to the Blazers.

Making the win even more impressive was it came without the C's floor leader Rajon Rondo, who served the first game of his two-game suspension for an incident involving himself and Brooklyn's Kris Humphries on Wednesday.

Replacing Rondo in the starting lineup was Courtney Lee, who had a Rondo-like first quarter with four points, three rebounds and three assists. He would finish with a near triple-double of 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.

Boston's victory was indeed a team-wide success, as contributions poured in from just about every Celtic in uniform.

Jeff Green, who was a game-time decision because of a right knee injury suffered on Wednesday, had one of his best games this season with 14 of his team-high 19 points coming in the first half. Portland was led by LaMarcus Aldridge who scored a game-high 23 points to go with eight rebounds.

The Celtics' scoring was fueled in large part by a strong defensive presence at all five positions, resulting in Portland shooting just 31.3 percent in the first quarter and a pitiful 23.3 percent at the half which ended with the C's leading 56-33.

For Boston (9-7), it was the kind of first half that they needed.

With a road game at Milwaukee on Saturday, the strong first half set the stage for Boston to rest their core guys for a good chunk of the second half. It would also afford some of their end-of-the-bench guys to get some minutes, as well as rookie Kris Joseph (2 points) who was recently called up from the Maine Red Claws of the D-League and scored his first NBA points.

And maybe most significant, it was an opportunity to win without Rondo who will not play on Saturday against the Bucks as well.

As for Portland, Friday's loss only adds to what has been a miserable road trip for the Blazers that includes a loss to the then-winless Washington Wizards.

Even Portland's talented rookie Damien Lilliard could not get into any kind of flow or rhythm. A 19.1 points per game this season, he only had two points in the first half while missing five of his six shot attempts. He finished with eight points on 2-for-8 shooting.

But the Celtics have shown a tendency to let their guard down when things come too easy, but Friday proved to be the exception.

Boston's 23-point lead at the half remained in the 20s most of the third quarter before a mini-run by the Blazers cut Boston's lead to 75-59 going into the fourth quarter.

The Celtics increased their lead in the fourth before Rivers emptied the bench so that the entire active roster saw action, including Joseph.

Drellich: Devers is a keeper, even with the addition of Nunez

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Drellich: Devers is a keeper, even with the addition of Nunez

BOSTON -- The cherub stays.

There's no way Rafael Devers is headed back to Triple-A before the homestand starts Friday, right, Dave Dombrowski? Not for the newly acquired Eduardo Nunez, who's a fine player but has nowhere near the offensive upside of Devers, the 20-year-old phenom you just rushed to the big leagues.

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You probably weren't really considering sending Devers straight back, were you now, Dave? Sometime in the 3 o'clock hour Eastern time on Wednesday morning (after a 13-inning, 6-5 loss to the Mariners), you did tell reporters in Seattle that you would need to sit down with manager John Farrell to figure out the plan at third base from here.

Likely, you're just making sure your ducks are in a row. That Nunez himself has a chance to shake hands with you, and gets to hear straight from you what he'll be doing.

That's fair. But let's be doubly sure we're on the same page.

As long as something else doesn't happen between now and then -- no other trades for third basemen, no injuries -- Devers must at least platoon at third unless he shows he can't handle it. Nunez bats right, Devers left.

But it wouldn't be crazy to let Devers have the bulk of the playing time, either, and use Nunez to spell Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia. Or simply have him come off the bench.

Devers didn't look overmatched in his very first big-league game Tuesday night. On the contrary, he was patient at the plate, drawing the walk that started a sixth-inning rally against Felix Hernandez. (King Felix is quite the draw for a someone making his major-league debut, we should note.) He looked like a happy kid, and sounded like one after the game.

"For me it's just going out there and playing my brand of baseball and having fun out there," Devers told reporters through translator Daveson Perez. "That's what I was trying to do and I think I did that."

Devers finished 0-for-4 with a pair of walks, one strikeout and a run scored. He didn't make any errors and looked smooth and quick, his athleticism shining through some baby fat.

Dombrowski spoke during the last homestand about the lack of league-norm production at third base. Nunez can bring that, if nothing more. He is, at a position that's had no certainty, some form of certainty. A stable piece that can help out around the infield and has valuable versatility.

But Nunez is not what the Sox need most: A bopper.

Devers has pop. The chances he blossoms this year are not in his favor because he is the youngest player in the majors. But it would be a most strange and almost cruel choice to call the kid up for two days and then decide you don't need him because of Nunez, who entered Tuesday with the same OPS as Mitch Moreland (.745).

If you're the glass-is-half-full-type, the first four-game losing streak of the season for the Red Sox was numbed by a third-base situation that's been upgraded twofold. Let's assume the Sox know how to best deploy the two from here -- in the big leagues together, until shown a reason to change course.