Boston Celtics

Celtics-Pacers: Keys to the game

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Celtics-Pacers: Keys to the game

BOSTON When it comes to winning in the NBA, there's always a price to be paid. One of the drawbacks in Boston's 91-83 comeback win over Orlando on Thursday was that it meant extending the minutes of core guys like Kevin Garnett.

"It was a tough call for me," said C's coach Doc Rivers, pointing towards tonight's game against Indiana as one of the reasons the choice to extend Garnett's playing time was not an easy one to make. "He wanted to stay in so we allowed him to."

Garnett wasn't alone.

Paul Pierce wound up playing a season-high 44 minutes which included him seeing floor action in all but 23 seconds of the second half.

With a tough, well-rested Indiana Pacers team that arrived in Beantown Thursday afternoon, the C's might have to tap into their bench earlier and more often than usual.

That may not necessarily be a bad thing when you consider how so many of the Celtics' role players stepped up on Thursday, making the most of their opportunity to play meaningful minutes in the absence of starters Rajon Rondo (wrist), Ray Allen (ankle) and Jermaine O'Neal (knee).

It was the kind of victory that bodes well for a team with lots of new faces still trying to figure out how they fit in with the current core.

"It should give us tremendous confidence," Pierce said. "Especially with guys hurt. You got key - key! - guys hurt. Jermaine (O'Neal) was huge the first game guarding Dwight (Howard); our all-star point guard (Rondo), our all-star two-guard (Allen) everything was in the makings for us to lay down (against the Pacers) and get ready for (tonight)."

But they didn't.

Rather than fold, they found a way to escape with an improbable win.

But the success of Thursday night will do them little good against a Pacers squad that already has two wins in as many games against the Celtics this season.

"We owe them," said C's forward Brandon Bass. "They beat us in our place. We went there, they beat us. We just owe them. We gotta come out with the same defensive intensity we had (on Thursday) and get the win."

Here are some of the things to keep tabs on as the Celtics seek a fourth straight win that would bring them back to having a .500 record.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Dead legs have to be a huge concern for the Celtics tonight. The best indicator of this is usually in how a team shoots from the field. Jumpers don't have the same lift, and lay-ups tend to roll in and out more often. That becomes an even bigger deal tonight against an Indiana team that's ranked No. 1 in the NBA in field goal percentage defense (41.2 percent).

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Danny Granger. It's obvious that Pierce is feeling like his old self -- and not just old -- lately. During the C's three-game winning streak, Pierce has averaged 25.7 points, nine assists and 6.3 rebounds in addition to playing solid defense. "I am starting to get my legs back. I am playing better basketball," Pierce said. Granger has also picked his game up recently, averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in Indiana's last three games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Indiana's Roy Hibbert is arguably the second-best center in the East behind Dwight Howard, but poses a different -- and in some ways, tougher -- matchup problem. Unlike Howard who relies heavily on his strength and athleticism, Hibbert's length is what will give the Celtics problems. Don't be surprised that if Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) can't play, C's Doc Rivers goes with rookie Greg Stiemsma as the starting center instead of having Brandon Bass start at power forward and sliding Kevin Garnett over to defend Hibbert. To the C's credit, they have made things tough for Hibbert offensively in both games this season. In each of the two matchups, the 7-foot-2 center shot 5-for-15 from the field.

STAT TO TRACK: If the Celtics are to have a real shot at winning tonight, they have to keep the Pacers off the offensive boards. Indiana won the second-chance points game by 14 in each of the two previous games. But the Celtics have hope that they can turn it around, especially against an Indiana that has been outscored each of the last three games in second-chance points, something that had not occurred at any point prior.

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

How should Red Sox handle Chris Sale's pursuit of Pedro Martinez's strikeout record?

BALTIMORE — Baseball records are so precise. When to pursue them, when to value them even if minor risk is involved, is not nearly as clear cut.

The Red Sox, Chris Sale and John Farrell have stumbled upon that grey area, and it will continue to play out in the final two weeks of the regular season.

Sale reached a tremendous milestone on Wednesday night, becoming the 14th different pitcher in major league history to reach 300 strikeouts in a single season. No one else has done it in the American League this century. Clayton Kershaw was the last to get there in the National League two years ago.

“It was really fun,” Sale said of having his family on hand. “My wife, both my boys are here, my mother-in-law. Being able to run out and get a big hug from him and my wife and everybody — it was special having them here for something like this. … I’ll spend a little time with them before we head to Cincinnati.”

Now, there’s another mark ahead of Sale: Pedro Martinez’s single-season club record of 313. And the pursuit of that record is going to highlight the discussion of what matters even more.

The tug-of-war between absolute pragmatism and personal achievement was on display Wednesday, when Farrell gave ground to the latter. 

The manager was prepared for the questions after a celebratory 9-0 win over the Orioles. His pitchers threw 26 straight scoreless innings to finish off a three-game sweep of the Orioles, and the Sox had the game well in hand the whole night.

With seven innings and 99 pitches thrown and 299 strikeouts in the books, Sale went back out for the eighth inning.

If you watched it, if you saw Sale drop a 2-2 front-door slider to a hapless Ryan Flaherty for the final strikeout Sale needed and his last pitch of the night, you surely enjoyed it. Records may not be championships, but they have their own appeal in sports that’s undeniable. 

But Sale could have recorded strikeout No. 300 next time out. Surely, he would have. He needed all 111 pitches to do so Wednesday.

In this case, the difference between 299 and 300 wound up being just 12 pitches. 

It’s doubtful those 12 pitches will ruin Sale’s postseason chances, particularly considering he was throwing hard all game, touching 99 mph. 

Nonetheless, the Sox hope to play for another month, and they've been working to get Sale extra rest. So, why risk fatigue, or worse, injury?

“The two overriding factors for me,” Farrell explained, “were the pitch counts and the innings in which he was in control of throughout. Gets an extra day [for five days of rest] this next time through the rotation. All those things were brought into play in the thinking of bringing him back out.

“We know what the final out of tonight represented, him getting the 300 strikeouts. Was aware of that, and you know what, felt like he was in complete command of this game and the ability to go out and give that opportunity, he recorded it.”

If Sale makes his final two starts of the year, he’ll break Martinez's record of 313. At least, Sale should. But he might not make his projected final start, in Game No. 162, so that he’s set up for Game 1 in the Division Series.

(So, if he could do reach 314 Ks in his next start, he’d make this discussion disappear — but 14 Ks in one outing is not easy.)

When should exceptions be made to let someone get to a record? Where do you draw the line? 

Would it be reasonable to get Sale an inning or two against the Astros in Game 162 if he was a few strikeouts away, even though he may face the Astros in the Division Series?

Letting the Astros get extra looks against Sale is a different matter than Sale throwing 12 extra pitches. But neither is really a guarantee of doom. They're small risks, of varying size.

Consider that if Sale is on, he should rough up the Astros no matter what.

What's 12 pitches Wednesday for a guy who leads the majors in average pitches thrown per game? Not enough to keep Farrell from letting Sale have a go at one milestone.

Will the Sox work to put Sale in position for the next?

Records don’t usually fall into such a grey area. Outside of the steroid era, anyway.