Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Heat review: What we saw . . .

MIAMI The Boston Celtics got a huge lift from their Big Three in defeating Miami 115-107.

No, the other Big three - as in, the three players that the C's now turn to off the bench - Ray Allen, Sasha Pavlovic and Greg Stiemsma.

All three played important roles in the win, delivering a little bit of everything when the C's needed it most.

They were especially effective in the first half.

"End of the first, and the second quarter, you could make a case was the biggest part of the game," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "That's when we stretched (the lead) with our bench."

Of the three, the play of Pavlovic has been the biggest surprise.

Although he played less than eight minutes, he had six points on a pair of 3-pointers in the first half in addition to one blocked shot.

"We just have to be ready to go out and play whenever coach (Rivers) calls our names," Pavlovic said. "If we do that every night, we're going to be fine."

Stiemsma, the lone big man off the Celtics bench, had a strong game with eight points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots while playing less than 20 minutes. And then there was Allen, who had nine points and three assists.

"This whole season has been about opportunities," Stiemsma said. "Tonight was just another one."

And when they're playing this well, it makes life a lot easier for the likes of Paul Pierce and the rest of, you know, that other Big Three.

"With so many games, back-to-back nights, these guys have to come up big," said Pierce who led all Celtics with 27 points. "It's going to be nights where they're going to have to save the starters, and they've been doing a good job of that lately."

The play of Boston's bench was indeed a major factor in the C's victory. Here are some of the keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: You can bet one of the first things the Heat will try and do is get LeBron James to get his teammates involved. Of all the problems Boston presented in their 91-72 win over Miami on April 1, it was James' inability to establish scorers around him that put the Boston beat-down in motion. So it's important that Paul Pierce do a good job of not allowing James to find teammates for open or slightly contested shots. But James said he's not coming into tonight's game looking to establish any one particular style of play. "I just kind of let it flow," James said. "Throughout the course of the game, just see if guys have it going, or if I have it going, then I just play it by ear."

WHAT WE SAW: LeBron James didn't waste any time, getting an assist on the Heat's first made basket. He would finish with a team-high seven assists, but there was never a point in the game where James' ability to get his teammates involved seemed to have an impact on the game. In addition to his seven assists, he also had a game-high 36 points along with seven rebounds.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs. Dwyane Wade: You could tell this game really means a lot to Wade, who took Sunday night off against Detroit to rest (wink, wink) a sore ankle. As for Bradley, he has to be prepared for a lot of hard screens set to free up Wade. But to his credit, Bradley's ability to move without the ball and get into position to score off cuts will make Wade work hard on defense which if you're the Celtics, you hope will take away some of his offensive fire power. Needless to say, Wade has been impressed with Bradley's emergence. "One thing about Boston, they have a lot of triggers going on," Wade said. "As a defender, you're looking at (Rajon) Rondo with the ball, you're looking at all the triggers the have and he's one of the best cutters. He finds a way to cut, when the triggers are going on. So you're doing what you're taught to do - pay attention to the ball - and he's going the other way. So you just try and be aware of it."

WHAT WE SAW: Wade was better, but it was yet another game in which Bradley made him work a lot harder than he's used to. Wade finished with 20 points, but shot just 9-for-21 in doing so. Bradley only had 11 points, but he did it by shooting 5-for-8 from the field.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo has had 17 straight games with 10 or more assist, and the last time he saw Miami on April 1 he had a triple-double. Look for the Heat to try and get the ball as much out Rondo's hands as possible, which would force Paul Pierce into being more of a facilitator as opposed to the C's primary scorer.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo continues to play at a ridiculously high level for the Celtics. He finished with 18 points and a game-high 15 assists for his 18th double-double this season in addition to extending his streak of games with 10 or more assists, to 18. "Rondo really facilitated everything," said Paul Pierce. "With the movement, with the pushing the ball, mixing it up and also I thought he did a better job offensively."

STAT TO TRACK: One of the biggest problems Miami has had following the All-Star break, has been poor rebounding. Prior to the break, the Heat ranked 10th in bench rebounding, with 43 per game. Since returning from the break, they rank 26th with 39.6 per game. If the Celtics can keep this trend going, it'll provide a huge boost to their chances of beating Miami for the second time in the span of 10 days.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics became the latest team to give the Heat major problems on the boards, as Boston won the battle of the boards, 40-34.

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

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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

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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.