Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers

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Celtics-Sixers review: Words come back to bite Sixers

BOSTON As a way to motivate his players, Sixers coach Doug Collins told them about the thousands and thousands of minutes logged by Boston's core group of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo in addition to veteran guard Jason Terry.

It was designed to remind them that as tired as they might have felt following Friday night's game, the C's veteran core should be even more tired.

"I'm sure the crowd is going to lift them," Collins said prior to the game. "But there's no reason those guys should be fresher than us, not with the amount of playoff games and minutes they've put into this league."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers, never one to turn down an opportunity to provide added motivation to his players, mentioned this to the Celtics prior to them taking to the court.

Rivers wouldn't say exactly how the team reacted, but did say, "Kevin reacted the way you think he would react."

Regardless of whether it was added fuel for the Celtics, there was no mistaking the C's running away with a surprisingly easy win, 92-79.

Boston (11-9) led the entire game and other than a few minutes in the third quarter, seemed to just get stronger as the game went on.

"You could tell that we definitely wanted this one, needed this one," Celtics veteran big man Chris Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We brought it the whole game."

And While Collins' comments were intended to motivate his players, Wilcox said they actually wound up providing some much-needed focus to the C's bench.

"We wanted to come in and go to work, so the starters wouldn't have to log that many minutes," said Wilcox who had eight points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Paul Pierce was asked about Collins' comments after the win.

"I didn't really think nothing of it; I really didn't," said Pierce who has logged more than 38,000 minutes of court time in his career. "That's crazy that he calculated that."

Finding the necessary motivation to succeed was indeed a key to Boston's win over Philadelphia on Saturday. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston has made a point of getting Kevin Garnett the ball early and often in the post the last two games, which has helped him get into an early groove and the C's get off to a solid start.

WHAT WE SAW: Garnett was a post-presence - offensively at least - for the C's throughout most of his time on the floor. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting. Unfortunately he did not grab a single rebound which had not happened to him since Jan. 21, 1997 when he played for Minnesota and they lost by 12 points to Toronto.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Evan Turner: Both carried their respective teams for long stretches on Friday night with Pierce leading the C's with a game-high 27 points and Turner tallying a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds which included the game-winning basket.

WHAT WE SAW: Each player scored 13 points, but Pierce's performance was clearly the more impressive one. In addition to his scoring, he also had a season-high nine assists which took him over the 4,000 career assists plateau - only the fifth Celtic to do so.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry had his worst shooting game in a Celtic uniform on Friday, tallying just four points while missing 11 of his 12 shots from the field. He promises to be better - a lot better - tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: Terry did all his work scoring the ball in the first half, tallying nine points on 3-for-9 shooting. It wasn't the kind of breakout performance he would have liked, but it was a definite improvement compared to Friday night's debacle.

STAT TO TRACK: The Celtics' rebounding numbers place them at the bottom of the NBA standings this year, but there has been a noticeable improvement lately. Boston came into Friday's game against Philadelphia being out-rebounded by 4.2 boards per game. In the C's last five games, they have edged opponents on the boards by 0.6 per game. Keeping that margin relatively close will once again be a factor in Boston's chances to win tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics wound up being minus-4 on the boards for the game. However, when the game was actually a game - the first half - Boston managed to edge out the Sixers on the boards in both quarters which factored into their 48-28 halftime lead.

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

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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

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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.