Celtics snap six-game win streak, beat Bucks, 100-91

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Celtics snap six-game win streak, beat Bucks, 100-91

MILWAUKEE The weather is starting to heat up and apparently, so are the Boston Celtics, who went on a blistering fourth quarter shooting spree to pull away from the Milwaukee Bucks, 100-91.

Boston (25-21) heads into Friday night's game against Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia (26-21) down by just half a game, with the winner -- similar to when the two met earlier this season -- taking their place atop the Atlantic Division.

The Celtics used a balanced attack in the fourth quarter for the win, but for most of the game it was too much Paul Pierce for the red-hot Bucks (they had won their previous six games) to handle.

He finished with a game-high 25 points along with nine rebounds.

The comfortable finish was in stark contrast to the first three quarters of play.

After a close first half, it was more of the same in the third quarter. However, a slew of missed shots by both teams brought the score down to a more manageable Celtics pace.

Boston spent a good chunk of the quarter with a slim lead courtesy of Pierce, who was at his best in the first and third quarters when he scored 11 and 10 points, respectively.

However, Boston has had a season-long problem with closing out quarters and Thursday night they decided to flip the scrip.

After allowing the Bucks to regain the lead with a 5-0 spurt, back-to-back baskets by Kevin Garnett to end the quarter put the C's ahead, 74-71.

The C's led 35-29 after the first quarter as Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen combined for 10 points, which equaled Milwaukee's high scoring backcourt duo of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.

Boston's 35 points were the most they've scored this season in the first quarter, so an offensive lull in the second quarter seemed likely.

Meanwhile, the Buck kept a steady clip offensively with another 29-point quarter and led, 58-56 at the half.

Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

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Giardi: Butler's offseason may cut deep, but it's time for him to battle back

This hasn’t been easy for Malcolm Butler. None of it. He’s never been given anything. Hell, at times he’s pissed his future away. But with a tenacity that reminds you of a certain 199th pick in the 2000 draft, Butler has fought his way back, into college, into the pros and, in 2015 and 2016, into the upper echelon of NFL cornerbacks. He’s a two-time Super Bowl champ, making arguably the most memorable play in the history of that game.

He should be drinking in the adulation, savoring an incredible start to his career and a very lucrative future. Instead, he’s in both professional and Patriots purgatory. Free agency beckons but there’s a season to play, and as this is the only professional team he’s known, a burning desire to be recognized as an important piece, not just in the present, but the future of this organization as well.
 
One of his closest friends on the team, Dion Lewis, calls Butler a warrior. “The game means so much to him.”

Another teammate, fellow defensive back Devin McCourty said of Butler, “This is what he does. He competes.”

Duron Harmon insists that the 27-year-old corner has been the same guy he’s always been. Actually, they all say that. But clearly, the coaching staff sees something different, leading to Butler’s demotion Sunday in New Orleans. 
 
Bill Belichick has been short when talking about Butler dating all the way back to the spring. That hasn’t changed now that the games count. He’s dismissed past performance. All that matters is how you’re playing now. Butler has not established that same level. Why? There is no easy answer.
 
The lack of a new contract cuts deeply. The unsettling offseason -- was he going to be a Saint? -- left quite a mark as well. But Butler came back to Foxboro with purpose, reporting for voluntary workouts. He was hell-bent on proving to all -- Belichick included -- that he was still the lead dog, not Stephon Gillmore, despite the $31 million dollars in guaranteed money the organization forked over to the former Buffalo Bill.
 
That strategy worked for a time. Butler was one of the Pats best players in training camp, right up until the joint practices with the Texans midway through August. What happened? Butler doesn’t know. But one mistake became two. His play in the preseason game with Houston was poor. His confidence suffered. He started pressing. That didn’t help. Butler was just as bad at Detroit. The kid that had always answered a knockdown with one of his own, instead wobbled to his feet. The inconsistencies were evident in practice but the "he's-Malcolm-he'll-fix-it" thought process that teammates echoed didn’t prove true, at least not entirely.
 
According to Eric Rowe, the cornerbacks were informed of the role change at the beginning of last week. But other teammates said they didn’t realize Butler wasn’t starting until the walkthrough Saturday. The ensuing fallout wasn’t surprising -- HE’S MALCOLM BUTLER, SUPER BOWL HERO, DAMMIT -- but the worry around the team has been justified because Butler takes things to heart. His swagger comes from the game. That was stripped away prior to the game against the Saints, and even at the beginning of this week, leading into the Texans game. Butler had to get his head right. If his meeting with the media Thursday is an indication, he has.

But the proof is in the play. Butler has always known that. And while his play didn’t warrant a role reduction, another message has been sent by the powers that be in Foxboro. What happens next is all on Butler. His future depends on it.

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

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Patriots place Vincent Valentine on IR, promote Geneo Grissom

FOXBORO -- Anyone hoping to see Vincent Valentine make his season debut got some bad news Friday. 

Valentine, who has been inactive for both of the Patriots' first two games with a knee injury, was placed on injured reserve. ESPN's Field Yates was first to report the news.

With Valentine on IR, Geneo Grissom was added to the roster from the practice squad. ESPN's Mike Reiss had that one first:

Valentine, whom the Pats chose 96th overall in 2016, has not been practicing with the team as he's dealt with the knee injury.

A third-round pick of the Pats in 2015, Grissom was released by the team in September and signed to the practice squad a day later.