Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .


Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .

BOSTON The transition game has been a good friend of the Miami Heat all season, courtesy of their ability to force turnovers which trigger fast break opportunities that more often than not, lead to easy points.

For all that went right in Boston's 91-72 win over the Heat on Sunday, limiting Miami's to limit Miami's points off turnovers huge. The Heat came into Sunday's game averaging 19.6 points off of turnovers this season which trailed only Memphis (19.8) in the NBA. On Sunday, Boston turned the ball over 16 times, but it only generated 11 points for the Heat. Of those 16 turnovers, seven came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially over.

"You're not going to beat Miami if you turn the ball over," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "We talked about it this morning; I said, 'If you've got a choice between saving the ball and throwing it in the stands, throw it in the stands.'"

Limiting Miami's points off turnovers was just one of the many factors Boston benefited from in what was their signature win of the season. Here's a review of other keys identified prior to the game, and how they may or may not have played out in Boston's surprisingly decisive win over the Heat.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This will be the second time these two have faced off, but much has changed since their matchup back on December 27. Paul Pierce (right heel) did not play in that game. Kevin Garnett, who now plays center, was playing primarily at the power forward position then. And Greg Stiemsma was just another rookie big man at the end of an NBA bench who didn't play. Today, he's the C's best shot-blocker who is now one of the first Celtics reserves to see action. "We're definitely a better team now than we were at the start of the season," Stiemsma told CSNNE.com. "Hopefully we'll just keep improving, and go into the playoffs playing our best basketball." Miami has a slightly different look as well with the recent addition of Ronny Turiaf who signed with the Heat on March 21 after being waived by the Denver Nuggets. It'll be worth monitoring how the new faces who weren't around or were in different roles the first time these two met, will fare today.

WHAT WE SAW: Paul Pierce had 23 points, a big difference compared to the five points scored by Sasha Pavlovic (he filled in for Pierce who was out with a heel injury) on Dec. 27. Greg Stiemsma fouled out again for Boston, but still managed to chip in six points, four rebounds, two steals and a block before exiting the game. Again, a significant improvement compared to not playing (coaches decision) in their first meeting in December. The only new face since then that's in the Heat rotation, is Ronny Turiaf. He played just under seven minutes, but was scoreless while picking up three personal fouls.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade: Bradley's ability to cut to the basket - A LOT - for lay-ups and lately, start knocking down jumpers, will be put to the test against Wade who is one of the more under-rated perimeter defenders in the NBA. Bradley's aggressive style defensively will face the ultimate challenge in Wade, a big-time scorer who has a way of getting even the best defenders in early foul trouble. Whether Bradley starts or comes off the bench in place of Ray Allen (he's questionable to play after missing the last five games with a right ankle injury).

WHAT WE SAW: You knew Avery Bradley wouldn't shut down Wade, but he made him work a lot harder than anyone outside the Celtics locker room, expected. Wade had 15 points, but needed 17 shots (he missed 11) to get it. In addition to forcing Wade into tough shots, Bradley also managed a highlight-worthy block of one in the second quarter. When you throw in the fact that Bradley finished with 13 points on 5-for-10 shooting, he clearly did his job and then some.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett's last two matchups at center pitted him against Al Jefferson and Kevin Love, easily two players Garnett had no problem getting amped up to face. Joel Anthony? Not quite the same sizzle, but potentially poses an even greater problem. Anthony is a high-energy, all-out hustle kind of player - the kind of player whose strengths work against what Garnett does best. Keeping Anthony from controlling the boards should be Garnett's primary responsibility today.

WHAT WE SAW: While the numbers don't exactly jump out at you, Garnett had another solid game for the Celtics. His job on Sunday was primarily to do a good job defensively on Chris Bosh (he had four points on 2-for-11 shooting), rebound and help protect the paint area. Garnett had 10 points and eight rebounds in the win. "We're a grit team," Garnett said. "Our positions and our personnel, it's all about our system. You do what you're told, know your role Doc's system is not real complicated, but it does call for you to give everything you have."

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has been a lot more efficient offensively around the basket lately, aided largely by their dribble penetration which has resulted in a slight spike in points in the paint. That'll be key against a Miami Heat team that has been among the NBA's best all season in limiting opponents scoring around the rim. Teams have averaged just 36.9 points in the paint against Miami this season, the third-fewest allowed in the NBA. Although Boston's 34.8 points in the paint average ranks just 29th in the league, the C's have increased their points in the paint scoring to 40 per game during their current four-game winning streak.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's scoring around the basket never really materialized into a game-changing issue. The Celtics hit their season average for points scored in the paint, with 34. Although as the Celtics began to blow out the Heat in the second half, points in the paint was among the factors contributing to them pulling away. Boston had 24 of its 34 points in the paint, in the second half. While Miami had 40 points in the paint for the game, only 10 came in the second half which was due in part because Boston didn't allow them too many scoring opportunity in transition or off turnovers.

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.