Celtics-Bulls review: What we saw

669896.jpg

Celtics-Bulls review: What we saw

BOSTON Finally, the Boston Celtics have a win over one of the NBA's elite - sort of.

Boston's 95-91 win over Chicago came with the Bulls' best player and the reigning league MVP Derrick Rose, out with a back injury.

"In this season, every win is a marquee win, with the shortened season," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "You got bodies out, on both teams every night."

But the Bulls have proven they are a formidable foe with or without Rose in the lineup, evident by their 5-1 record coming into Sunday's game without Rose playing.

Rose's absence was among the factors to keep an eye on leading into Sunday's game.

We'll take a look a few others, and how they actually played out in what was one of the Celtics' biggest wins this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Bulls are still unsure if reigning league MVP Derrick Rose will play today. He sat out Chicago's 31-point win at Charlotte on Friday due to a back injury. If Rose does play, it'll be interesting to see just how much that back injury will limit his effectiveness at attacking the rim which he does as good as any player in the NBA. In Chicago's 88-79 win over Boston earlier this year, Rose had 25 points and seven assists and four rebounds.
WHAT WE SAW - No Derrick Rose hasn't really been an issue for the Bulls this season. But it was clear on Sunday night that the guys who normally fill the void for him - C.J. Watson and John Lucas III - would not be up to the challenge this time. Watson got the start and had 22 points, but he shot just 8-for-23 from the field. Lucas wasn't much better off the bench, finishing with nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. "We just looked a little sluggish," Watson said. "Came out slow and that's probably why they got a quick start on us."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Carlos Boozer or Joakim Noah: Garnett will be matched up with one of these guys, depending on whether Jermaine O'Neal (shoulder) plays. Regardless of which one KG faces, the C's need him to win that matchup. And with Garnett, it doesn't have to necessarily be him scoring more points. Garnett has to make an impact, whether it's rebounding, blocking shots or playing his usual Jedi mind trick games.
WHAT WE SAW - With Jermaine O'Neal (left shoulder) and Brandon Bass (left knee) out, Garnett began the game at center with Chris Wilcox starting at power forward. Garnett and Joakim Noah played to a virtual standstill, which actually favors the C's considering how Noah's energy and hustle has often given him an edge over most big men. Noah finished with 16 points and nine rebounds. Garnett had a solid 13-point, 12-rebound night for the C's, in addition to blocking a game-high four shots compared to none for Noah. "I think overall, they just wanted it more," Noah said.

PLAYER TO WATCH - The legend of Avery Bradley continues to grow. Bradley told CSNNE.com that the shoulder injury that limited him the past couple games, won't keep him off the floor today against the Bulls. We've seen Bradley's on-the-ball pressure completely blanket guards. But Derrick Rose? That's an entirely different animal. Like Kevin Garnett, Bradley's impact on the game won't necessarily be seen in his individual stats. In Boston's 86-74 loss at Toronto, Bradley only had three points in his seven minutes on the floor. But in that time, he had a plusminus ratio of plus-7.

WHAT WE SAW - The Bradley factor was not really that big a deal on Sunday, with him playing just over eight minutes in which he had four points, a couple rebounds and a rare blocked shot. His lack of minutes was a direct reflection on how well Rajon Rondo (32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds) was playing.

STAT TO TRACK - First quarter scoring has been an issue for the Celtics all season, evident by them ranking 27th in the NBA in points scored (21.7) in the first quarter. However, the C's are averaging 24.1 points in the first quarter in their 14 wins this season. Chicago has been among the NBA best at limiting first-quarter scoring. Teams are scoring just 21.3 points against the Bulls in the first quarter, which ranks No. 3 in fewest first quarter points allowed this season. The first quarter clamps have been even tighter of late by the Bulls, having allowed 16 or fewer points scored in each of their last four games - all blowout wins.

WHAT WE SAW - The Celtics could not have had a better start to the game, with lots of contributions from their patchwork lineup. The early results were solid, as the C's took a 28-23 lead after the game's first 12 minutes.

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

patriots-malcolm-butler-031417x.jpg

Butler earns praise from Belichick, Patricia after wire-to-wire performance

FOXBORO -- Malcolm Butler left Sunday's win over the Texans feeling pretty good about himself. One week after being relegated to the No. 3 corner role on the Patriots defense, he played every snap and allowed just two catches for 10 yards.

“I think I’m building,” Butler said afterward. “I think I’m taking it a step at a time. There’s a lot of football to be played, so whatever you see, judge me.”

MORE PATRIOTS

And we have. There was the pass-interference penalty in Week 1. There was the botched pick-play coverage with Patrick Chung in Week 2. But even with those mishaps mixed in, Butler's energy and effort did not seem to wane on film.

He caught Chiefs speedster Tyreek Hill for a tackle from behind to prevent a first down in the season-opener. Against the Saints, his hard pass breakup on top Saints wideout Michael Thomas was a bright spot for the Patriots secondary.

In Week 3, that effort was there again. Targeted twice while in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins, Butler did well to jam Hopkins at the line of scrimmage and then limit the game's highest-paid receiver to zero yards after the catch.

When asked about Butler on Tuesday's conference calls, both Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia struck tones that were strikingly different than the ones that made headlines when discussing Butler the week prior.

"Yeah, I think Malcolm did a good job," Belichick said. "I mean, all of our defensive backs I thought were pretty competitive. We had some scramble yardage and loose plays and things like that. But I mean, the normal passing game we were pretty competitive on. But like anything else, there are certainly a lot of things we can do better."

That goes for Butler, too, who admitted last week that he hadn't been playing up to his standards.

On one of those scramble-drill plays Belichick referenced, Deshaun Watson found tight end Ryan Griffin for a 35-yard gain, which included several yards after the catch when Butler was among the defenders who missed the chance to try to wrestle Griffin to the ground.

There were occasions though -- like Watson's first-quarter third-down scramble that Butler helped to stop, forcing the Texans to kick a field goal -- when Butler's want-to was evident.

"I thought Malcolm played really well," Patricia said. "We certainly didn’t play great at all as a defense. I’m not saying that but I think the guy really tried to go out and play extremely hard. 

"This is a very competitive guy. Malcolm steps up to the challenges that you place in front of him. He goes out and competes, he works hard, he tries to do it the right way and he really tries to get better every week. Look, we had a productive week last week for him and working through. But it’s a new week and we’re going to try to get the same consistency every single week and that’s what we’re trying to do."

A week ago, when asked about Butler's performance, Belichick and Patricia weren't quite as glowing.

"I don’t think anybody’s performance this season is really where it needs to be or where it will be," Belichick said at the time. "We all need to do a better job."

"I think with Malcolm, he’s kind of in a boat with everybody else," Patricia said. "We’re trying to get better."

Part of the reason Butler may have been relied upon as much as he was could have been due to the fact that fellow corner Eric Rowe -- who started in Week 2 opposite Stephon Gilmore -- was inactive with a groin injury. 

How Butler will factor in against the Panthers in Week 4 remains to be seen, but if his work against the Texans improved his confidence, then that would seem to benefit the Patriots defense as a whole. 

"Things that we're confident in," Belichick said, "we do more aggressively, we do quicker, we do with probably better overall execution than things we're not confident in . . . 

"It’s a fine line there between confidence and overconfidence and taking it for granted, as opposed to just being right in that sweet spot of having an edge, having confidence, being alert and aggressive."

Report: Dwyane Wade close to reuniting with LeBron James in Cleveland

cleveland-cavaliers-dwyane-wade-lebron-james-92617.jpg

Report: Dwyane Wade close to reuniting with LeBron James in Cleveland

The LeBron James-Dwyane Wade reunion is happening in Cleveland.

Wade, 35, who won two championships with James with the Miami Heat, is "nearing a commitment" to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers, ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported. 

Wade, bought out by the Chicago Bulls after one underwhelming season in a return to his hometown, will clear waivers Wednesday, become an unrestricted free agent and can sign for the $2.3 million veterans minimum with the Cavs. 

Wojnarowski reported that Wade considered offers from the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and a return to Miami, where he won two titles with James in 2012 and '13 and one with Shaquille O'Neal in 2006. 

The Cavs, of course, have remade James' supporting cast significantly since reaching the NBA Finals for the third consecutive season in June. 

Kyrie Irving was traded to the Celtics in a deal that sent Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder to Cleveland. Thomas' injured hip is expected to keep him from playing until January, giving Wade, who averaged 18 points for the Bulls last season and 23.3 points, 5.7 assists and 4.8 rebounds in his career, an opportunity for more minutes.