Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw


Celtics-Sixers review: What we saw

BOSTON Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked about wanting to have assistant coach Tyronn Lue speak with the media following Wednesday's 103-71 crushing at the hands of Philadelphia.

"Because I have nothing to say," Rivers said.

Indeed, the play of his team spoke volumes about how they looked both mentally and physically fatigued while facing a team that was not only more athletic, but well-rested and desperate for a win after dropping eight of their last 10 games.

And while the story line for most will certainly be how the Celtics were simply a victim of the schedule, Rivers went out of his way to make sure that folks knew that the better team on this day was Philadelphia.

"We just didn't have it," Rivers said. "Philly played terrific. I thought they played hard; they had great energy. We were really sloppy."

Philadelphia did several things well to earn the victory. We highlighted some factors that might contribute to the game's outcome. Here we'll review them and see just how big a deal they turned out to be.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When you throw in the fact that the Celtics have played back-to-back overtime games, and the fact that the Sixers have a younger, more athletic team, it goes without saying that Philadelphia will try and get out and run as much as possible. Truthfully, strong transition play has been a staple of the Sixers all season. They come into tonight's game ranked 8th in the NBA in fast-break points, with 15.2 per game. Meanwhile, there are few teams -- three, actually -- who do a better job at limiting fast-break points than the C's. The 10.9 points that opponents are scoring against them in fast-break points, is the fourth-lowest average in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Philadelphia did exactly what they wanted to do in terms of establishing their transition game. Their ability to dominate the boards (they were plus-19 for the game) allowed them to get out and attack a Celtics defense that was sluggish most of the night. And the result? A a decisive 26-10 advantage for Philadelphia in fast-break points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Andre Iguodala: The two all-star wings have both been instrumental to their respective teams being where they are right now. Boston has won five in a row with contributions coming from many. But there's no mistaking the impact made by Pierce, who has had 30 or more points in the last two games by the C's. As for Iguodala, he doesn't score nearly as much as Pierce does, but his ability to defend, rebound and make an impact with his effort and hustle, will make him a tough cover for Pierce and the Celtics.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce may have won the scoring duel (16 to 10, actually), but there was no mistaking that Iguodala had the greater impact on the game's outcome. In addition to scoring 10 points, Iguodala also had a team-high eight assists and seven rebounds.

PLAYER TO WATCH: We have seen the really good (18 points, 17 rebounds and 20 assists in win over New York) and the really average (nine points, 12 assists in win over Houston) from Rajon Rondo this year. Philadelphia is a big game for the Celtics. And as unpredictable as Rondo can be at times, the one thing that he's pretty steady with is his approach to big games. He has 17 triple-doubles in his career, 14 of which have come during a nationally televised.

WHAT WE SAW: This was not a nationally televised game, so you had a feeling that Rondo wouldn't have a great night. Like just about every other Celtics player to see action, Rondo never got into any kind of flow or rhythm as a scorer or a passer. He had five points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field. Normally one of the Celtic's better rebounders, he had just one. And as far as assists go, Rondo had eight which isn't bad for most -- but clearly a sub-par performance for him. Rondo admits that he and the rest of the C's simply didn't have "it" on Wednesday.

"It was a losing effort as a team," Rondo said. "We're not proud of it. You win some, you lose some. You win as a team, you lose as a team."

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics will have to find a way to rattle a Philadelphia team that does a great job of taking care of the ball. They turn the ball over just 10.6 times per game, the fewest turnovers committed in the NBA. Although Boston is middle-of-the-pack in terms of turnovers forced this season (15.3, which ranks12th in the NBA), they have forced each of their last three opponents to turn the ball over 20 or more times.

WHAT WE SAW: As usual, the Sixers did an excellent job of taking care of the ball, and allowing the Celtics few opportunities to capitalize on their mistakes. Philadelphia turned the ball over just nine times which led to 11 points for the Celtics.

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


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


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.