Celtics-Nuggets review: What we saw

706234.jpg

Celtics-Nuggets review: What we saw

DENVER Get beat by a team that makes a ton of shots. Get beat by a team that simply did a better job at executing.

But to get beat by a team that simply played harder, is a tough pill to swallow.

The Boston Celtics have no choice but to choke on that one, as the Denver Nuggets hung on for a 98-91 win.

"We just got out-worked tonight," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "It was nothing about game planning or Xs and Os. It was just they out-worked us. I hate for it to even come out my mouth. For me to come in here and say that, what happened tonight, it hurts me to say that."

Seeing how well the Celtics played in the second half, and woeful in the first, stings pretty bad as well.

Celtics coach Doc Rivers looks back at the team's win at Golden State, as being the precipitant of the team's struggles lately that have produced back-to-back losses. "We relaxed against Golden State, and we won the game," Rivers said. "And then we thought we could come out and do it again against Sacramento, and we got our butt kicked."

Much of the same was on display in the first half as Boston showed very few signs of being the aggressor that we've seen of late from them, especially defensively.

Effort was certainly one of the keys in the loss. But there were other factors at play, some of which were highlighted prior to the game. Here's a look at how those potential factors actually played out as the C's dropped their second in a row while the Nuggets (25-20) are in the midst of a nine-game home stand.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston has a tendency to ease their way into games, which can't happen tonight. While the Nuggets rank among the NBA's top 10 in points scored in the first quarter (25.4), they give up a ton of early points as well. Teams are averaging 26.1 points against Denver in the first quarter of games which ranks 28th in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Denver and its high-powered offense didn't waste much time getting the Celtics to play their brand of basketball. They shot a higher percentage and crushed the C's on the boards which both factored in the Nuggets leading 29-22 after the first quarter.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Kenneith Faried: Pierce should win this battle rather convincingly, but the C's have to be on guard for not looking for Pierce too much so that it disrupts the flow offensively and leads to what Doc Rivers refers to at times, as the "ball sticking" on one side of the floor or in the hands of one particular player. Faried is a high-energy guy who seems to continue to get better with more experience. The 22-year-old rookie has started 17 games this season after not playing (coaches decision) in a number of games in January.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce usually struggles in the Mile High City, but had a respectable game shooting the ball (22 points, 8-for-17 from the field) despite being in foul trouble down the stretch and eventually fouling out. As for Faried, his energy and just flat-out hustle was too much for most of the night for Boston to handle. He finished with 18 points and a career-high 16 rebounds which included a rebound in the fourth in which Pierce picked up his sixth and final foul of the night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Anytime the Celtics have a back-to-back situation and minutes become a concern, you always have to wonder how will it impact Kevin Garnett. However, because of the lopsided loss at Sacramento on Friday night, Garnett should not be too fatigued considering he was the only starter to play less than 30 minutes in the loss.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett showed no signs of fatigue, finishing with 22 points nine rebounds and five assists. Although disappointed with the loss, Garnett reached yet another milestone. He is the only player in NBA history with more than 20,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists and 1,500 steals. "To be honest, I'm not a stat guy," Garnett said. "But anytime you make accomplishments in the league, milestones, you gotta be grateful." For his career, Garnett has 23,945 points, 13,157 rebounds, 5,004 assists and 1,648 steals.

STAT TO TRACK: With lots of points come lots of mistakes by Denver. The Nuggets average 15.6 turnovers per game which ranks 27th in the NBA. Ironically, the Celtics average 15.6 forced turnovers per game which ranks sixth in the NBA. But a normal night in terms of forced turnovers by Boston, probably won't be enough for the win. The C's need to have another one of those nights in which they force 20 or so turnovers which should then lead to a few easy baskets in transition.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston forced the Nuggets into turning the ball over 22 times which led to 20 points scored. But that could not mask how poorly Boston's defense played in the first half, which set the tone for the C's to be outscored 48-40 on points in the paint, 20-4 on second-chance points and 21-6 in fast-break points - the kind of trifecta that put the Celtics in a hole that they could never fully dig their way out of all game.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.