Celtics-Raptors preview: Getting Pierce to the line

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Celtics-Raptors preview: Getting Pierce to the line

BOSTON It has truly been a search-and-discovery mission for Paul Pierce in figuring out his role in the Boston Celtics' revamped offense.

"I'm starting to get a better rhythm, starting to understand where my shots are going to come from in the offense," Pierce said. "We changed a lot of things in the offense this year."

One of the changes thus far has been Pierce spending a lot more time at the free throw line.

He comes into today's game against Toronto averaging 10.6 free throw attempts per game which ranks fifth in the NBA.

Since Kevin Garnett arrived prior to the 2007-2008 championship season, Pierce has finished no better than 14th in the league in that category.

The year before Garnett arrived, Pierce ranked eighth in the league with 8.6 per game. In 2005 and 2006, Pierce ranked 10th and fourth, respectively.

"We all know what the Captain can do," C's guard Jason Terry told CSNNE.com. "When he's attacking, being aggressive out there, it only makes us a better team. And if you can get him to the free throw line, that's easy points for both him and our team."

A career 80.8 percent free throw shooter, Pierce is connecting on 82 percent of his free throws this season.

Getting Pierce to the free throw line as much as possible will indeed be an important factor in Boston's chances of beating Toronto. Here are some other keys to keep an eye on as the C's try to run their dominance at home over the Raptors to nine in a row.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics have not exactly lit up the scoreboard to start games, ranking 20th in first-quarter points with 23.2 per game. But that could change today against a Raptors team that tends to dig itself an early ditch by giving up 26.4 points in the first quarter which ranks 28th in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs Andrea Bargnani: Garnett and Brandon Bass will likely switch off at times on Bargnani whose length and perimeter-shooting skills make him a scoring threat whenever you play the Raptors.

PLAYER TO WATCH: To the surprise of many, DeMar DeRozan landed an unusually large multi-year extension worth 40 million over four years last month. To his credit, he has put up some decent numbers this season - 20 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

STAT TO TRACK: The C's have been a decent 3-point shooting team this season, ranking 11th in the league at 36.8 percent per game. That number will likely see a spike today against a Raptors team that has had problems defending perimeter shots all season. Opponents are shooting 41.3 percent on 3s against Toronto, the second-worst 3-point percentage defense in the NBA.

Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

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Morning Skate: Sidney Crosby has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wishing everybody a safe and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. 

*Apparently Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette has yet to try Nashville’s hot chicken despite his time behind the Preds bench. It’s okay, I have yet to try it either in my handful of visits to Music City. 

*Good stuff from PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough. Apparently it wasn’t so easy to make Wayne Gretzky’s head bleed when it came time for director Doug Liman to cut Swingers together

*Sidney Crosby cares about the history and the issues of the game, and has been a good ambassador as the face of his NHL generation despite the hate that always comes with such responsibility. 

*Puck Daddy examines Crosby’s performance in the playoffs, and the odds of him winning another Conn Smythe Trophy. 

*The Penguins have made it to the Stanley Cup Final without Kris Letang for their playoff run, and that’s an amazing accomplishment. 

*Erik Karlsson said that he will be tending to his injured foot next week, and expects a full recovery for next season after a brilliant run with his Ottawa Senators

*Larry Brooks again rails against the Stanley Cup playoff structure and it’s relation to an “absurd regular season.” Say what you will, but the fact the Penguins are there for a second straight season shoots down some of the absurdity stuff in my mind. The best team from the East is where they should be and they did it without Kris Letang to boot. 

*Chicago Blackhawks prospect Alex Debrincat is confident his abilities will translate to the NHL despite his size after taking home honors as the best player in junior hockey this season. 

*For something completely different: Apparently there’s a hard core comic book geek gripe that “The Flash” is burning through bad guys too quickly. This would make sense if they couldn’t revisit these bad guys at any point, but they absolutely can go back to a big bad like Grodd anytime they want. 

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

Playoff run ends for Providence Bruins, but some promising signs

It was the longest run that the P-Bruins have had in a few years and another unmistakable sign that the future is brightening for the Black and Gold, but the Bruins AHL affiliate has ended their playoff push in the Calder Cup semi-finals. 

The Providence Bruins fell by a 3-1 score to the Syracuse Crunch on Saturday night to lose to the Crunch in five games when the best-of-seven series was set to return to Providence this coming week. The P-Bruins had vanquished the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Hershey Bears in the first two rounds of the Calder Cup playoffs before finally exiting against Syracuse. 

Though it’s over, it’s clear some of the Bruins prospects made a nice step forward over the second half of the AHL season and then into the Calder Cup playoffs. With the Calder Cup Finals yet to start, B’s forward prospect Danton Heinen stands as the second-leading playoff scorer in the entire AHL with nine goals and 18 points in 17 playoff games after really struggling in the first half of his first pro season while bouncing back and forth between the NHL and the AHL. 

This could bode well for the skilled Heinen and his hopes to make the leap to the NHL in the near future after a stellar collegiate career at the University of Denver. AHL journeymen-types Wayne Simpson and Jordan Szwarz were the next two top scorers for the P-Bruins in the playoff run, but Jake DeBrusk had a strong playoff season as well while popping in six goals in 17 games. DeBrusk led all Providence players with his 54 shots on net in the 17-game playoff run for Providence, and he headlined a group that included B’s prospects Ryan Fitzgerald, Zach Senyshyn, Matt Grzelcyk, Peter Cehlarik (who succumbed to shoulder surgery during the playoffs), Emil Johansson and Robbie O’Gara all getting some vital playoff experience. 

Both Heinen and DeBrusk will be strong candidates for jobs on the wing with the Boston big club when training camp opens in the fall after strong showings in the postseason. 

On the goaltending side, Zane McIntyre was solid for the P-Bruins at times while in 16 of their 17 playoff games with a .906 save percentage. But it was Malcolm Subban that was playing at the very end of the playoff run for Providence and featured a sterling .937 save percentage in the four AHL playoff games that he appeared in this spring after an up-and-down regular season. McIntyre had an .857 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average in the final series against Syracuse, and looked a little spent like many of the other P-Bruins players once they’d unexpectedly made it to the third round of the AHL postseason.  

The only unfortunate part of Providence’s run is that newly signed youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson couldn’t be a part of it after signing and then appearing in NHL games following a cut-off date for AHL playoff rosters. Both missed on an experience that could have been very conducive for their professional development, and uncovered a wrinkle in the NHL/AHL transaction process that really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a developmental league.