Boston Bruins

Celtics-Mavericks review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Mavericks review: What we saw . . .

DALLAS For a number of stretches during Monday's 89-73 loss at Dallas, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers used the kind of lineups you'd only expect to see in practice. With a rash of injuries and players unavailable for non-basketball related reasons, Rivers has had no choice but to get creative with his roster. "If we could've stolen the game, it would have been great," Rivers said. "Playing five guards on the floor, we just tried to mess the game up."

And in doing so, it looked liked you guessed it, a big old mess.

Not having Kevin Garnett (personal matter) and Brandon Bass (left knee injury) hurt. Learning hours before tip-off that Rajon Rondo would be suspended for two games (he threw a basketball at an official in Sunday's loss at Detroit) only made matters worst.

What else could go wrong?

Injuries to Jermaine O'Neal (left wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) which has both players questionable for Wednesday's game at Oklahoma City.

It's obvious that all of those players being unable to play, were among the reasons for Monday's loss.

We identified a handful of other factors that might come into play in determining the game's outcome. We'll examine just how they played out in the Celtics' loss which drops them below-.500 for the first time since Jan. 29.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Dallas Mavericks are one of the best teams in the NBA at getting out the gates quickly. They average 25.8 points scored per game in the first quarter, which ranks No. 2 in the NBA. And the last thing the Celtics need to deal with is a team that comes out scoring early. One of the keys to the Celtics scoring defense being ranked No. 2 in the NBA, has been how they've handled themselves in the first quarter. Teams are scoring 22.8 points per game against the C's in the first quarter, which ranks eighth in the NBA in first quarter scoring defense.

WHAT WE SAW - Once again, the Boston Celtics defense came out playing well enough to give them a chance at winning. But scoring continues to be a major, major struggle for the Celtics as they could only muster up 15 first-quarter points while limiting the Mavericks to 20.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Jermaine O'Neal vs Brendan Haywood: O'Neal is coming off one of his strongest performances of the season with the Celtics, grabbing 11 rebounds to go with eight points while blocking five shots. With so few bigs available either because of injury or non-basketball related matters, the C's need JO to step his game up. Haywood doesn't present nearly as many challenges as Tyson Chandler (now with the New York Knicks) did last season, but he is a serviceable big man that if you're not careful, can cause problems either scoring or rebounding the ball.

WHAT WE SAW - Neither player made much of an impact tonight, although you'd have to give the nod in this one to Haywood. Not only did he have more points (4-0) and rebounds (8-3), he also did it in fewer minutes (17-19) which speaks to how he did a better job of maxing out his playing time in comparison to O'Neal who actually had to leave the game in the third quarter and was unable to return after suffering a left wrist injury. His status for Wednesday's game is uncertain.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Mickael Pietrus is a streaky player who can get hot at any time. The dude is overdue - WAY OVERDUE - to have one of those big scoring binge-type nights. Boston has lost five of its last six games. In that span, Pietrus has averaged 4.2 points while shooting 32.1 percent (9-for-28). And in his last three games, he's missed 11 of his 12 shots which includes missing all 10 of his 3-point shots.

WHAT WE SAW - This was a much better performance, but not because of what he's expected to do which is to make 3-pointers. Pietrus has the reputation of being a 3-point shooter who can defend. But he also showed that he can contribute on the boards as well, finishing with a team-high 12 rebounds. "Of course I can shoot, everyone knows I can shoot," said Pietrus, who was 2-for-6 on 3s Monday. "But I can help the team in other ways too, like rebound, block shots, other things besides scoring."

STAT TO TRACK- As has been the case in most of their games this season, turnovers will go far in determining whether the Celtics can pull off an upset tonight. Their turnover numbers this season mirror their struggles just to maintain their current middle-of-the-pack status. Boston averages 15.4 turnovers per game which ranks 19th in the league. The Mavericks are led by former Celtic Rick Carlisle, whose teams dating back to his days as the Detroit Pistons head coach, have always been strong defensively. The Mavs are forcing 15.9 turnovers per game which ranks ninth in the league.

WHAT WE SAW - Turnovers were indeed a factor, but not one that had a huge say in the game's outcome. Boston turned the ball over 17 times which led to 25 points for the Mavericks. However, the bigger issue was talent. The Mavericks had lots of it, healthy and ready to play. The C's have some, but a significant amount of it wasn't on the floor - or the American Airlines Arena for that matter.

Bruins have just as good a chance as the Celtics do this season (which is small)

Bruins have just as good a chance as the Celtics do this season (which is small)

Dan Shaughnessy ran a piece this week calling the Bruins the No. 4 team in town these days. He wasn’t wrong. They are. 

Of course, the claim isn’t really a discussion about the Patriots or Red Sox, as they’ll always be the two most popular teams in town. It’s about the Bruins being behind the Celtics, which again, they are. 

Yet while the general premise of the story was correct, there was an issue to be taken with the piece. Shaughnessy wrote that, “In terms of overall interest and championship hopes, [the Bruins] are a distant fourth.”

That’s where he’s wrong. Nobody would argue against the Celtics garnering more interest (even if the Bruins might have a stronger fanbase), but championship hopes? The teams are deadlocked. 

The Celtics are one of the top teams in a league in which only one team (the Warriors) has a chance. The Bruins are a middle-of-the-pack team in a league in which the literal last team in the playoffs (the No. 16 seed Predators) went to the Stanley Cup Final last season. 
 
This isn’t about which team is better, because that’s not close. The Celtics have three All-Stars in their starting five and the third overall picks from each of the last two drafts. They’ve also got one of the best coaches in the league. 

It’s also not about who will likely go farther. The Celtics will at the very least reach the Eastern Conference finals. The issue is that they’ll then either be eliminated by the Cavaliers or earn the opportunity to perhaps get swept by the Warriors in the Finals. 

That leaves the Celtics with a certainty of a very good season, but also close to an impossibility of a championship season. 

As for the Bruins, they probably won’t be much better than they were last season, if at all. This season was always the one to watch in the Sweeney era, as it will see the biggest implementation of the young players drafted. There should be at least four Sweeney draft picks on the team this year (Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson), plus youngsters from the Chiarelli era still pushing for jobs. 

The biggest change figures to be on the back end, where the Bruins should have the best top-four they’ve had since Sweeney dealt Dougie Hamilton. A lot of that rides on McAvoy, but there remains hope on the back end in future seasons with Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril trying to eventually break in. 

Will the Bruins rule their division the way the Celtics will? Most likely not. The guess here is that Tampa and Montreal will finish ahead of teams like Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. 

Yet there isn’t a Cleveland or a Golden State waiting to swallow up whoever does emerge throughout the playoffs, and that’s what leaves the Bruins and Celtics with equal chances at a title. The Penguins have won back-to-back titles, but the Bruins have gone 4-1-1 against them in the regular season the last two years. They’re hardly the unstoppable force that exists in Golden State. 

So in terms of buzz, offseason moves and anticipation for a new season? Sure, the Celtics have it all over the B’s. I’m certainly way more excited for basketball season. When it comes to championship hopes, however, the B’s and C’s are no different. 

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay walked into the postgame news conference and immediately asked, "Anyone have a beer?"

He probably wasn't the only person who wanted a drink after watching a surprisingly thrilling Thursday night shootout between his Rams and the San Francisco 49ers that wasn't decided until Los Angeles prevented a potential game-tying 2-point try and then delivered a rare defensive stop after blowing the onside kick in a 41-39 victory.

"We talk about mentally tough, be your best regardless of the circumstance," McVay said. "I thought the players did that. They found a way in spite of some of the ups and the downs to come away with the win."

While the defense came up big late, it was the offense that carried the day for the Rams (2-1), who have gone from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL a year ago to a dynamic one through three games under McVay.

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards and scored three TDs and Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each topped the 100-yard mark receiving in Los Angeles' second 40-point performance of the season. The Rams have 107 points in all so far, the second-most in franchise history after three games to the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

"Since I've been here we haven't been able to do that," Gurley said. "Hopefully we can keep putting points together, keep working together and keep learning from this. I think we left a lot more points off the board."

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion on a deflection by Troy Hill and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

"I just rushed it, I missed it, I made a mistake," Gould said. "Obviously, I wish I didn't do that, or we'd probably be playing in overtime right now.""

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

The Rams were 8 for 12 on third down, including all three of Goff's touchdown passes.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

"I just told him to start over," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Got to go back to work. We didn't change anything, went right on with the script. But it was a tough way to start out."

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.