Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

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Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

BOSTON There appears to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the Boston Celtics' biggest problem right now, which is figuring out how to squeeze a few more wins under their belt.

The numbers don't lie.

Holding opponents to less than a 100 points is as close as there is to a guaranteed C's win.

Boston comes into tonight's game against Oklahoma City as a .500 team with a record of 6-6.

But in games in which their opponent has scored less than 100 points, the Celtics are an impressive 6-1.

That has a nice ring to it, huh?

It sounds pretty easy to do as well.

But when it comes to the Boston Celtics this season, nothing is nearly as simple or easy to come by as it might appear to be.

Boston has lost three of its last four games, giving up triple digit points in each defeat.

And for all the talent Danny Ainge assembled this summer, this group for whatever reasons is just not clicking defensively.

"We pride ourselves on defense," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "And we're just not getting it done."

The C's are having the kind of defensive breakdowns and miscommunications that you seldom see from a Doc Rivers-coached team, even this early in the season.

Rivers is doing his best to put on a brave face and not let the defensive problems sour his mood too much, or come across as though it's something he's extremely worried about.

He reiterates that the issue isn't so much effort as much as it is execution.

"We've got to do our coverages better; bottom line," Rivers said. "(Talk about playing) harder and all that, that sounds great. That's what everyone says when you lose; 'you've got to play harder.' Well, we've got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint."

Keeping a scoring lid of sorts on Oklahoma City - the league's No. 2 scoring club averaging 103 points per game - will be important in Boston's quest to get back on a winning track. Here are a few other keys to victory for the C's.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Thunder are used to jumping on teams and not looking back. They average 26.3 points scored in the first quarter this season which is the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, while limiting opponents to just 21.8 points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook: Both are among the NBA's best point guards, while getting the job done in their own unique but highly effective way. Rondo and the C's are doing their best to take some of the attention off his double-digit assists streak which is a good thing considering the C's are a .500 club and all the talk should be more about winning than ways in which Rondo can continue to rack up 10 or more assists every night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce needs to play better in every sense of the word if the C's are to have any shot against the Thunder. Scoring will be important, but his defense against Kevin Durant and rebounding might be even more valuable. The Celtics are coming off a loss to San Antonio in which Pierce scored 19 points while not hauling in a single rebound. It was only the sixth time in his career he scored 15 or more points without a single rebound to his name.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Thunder off the free throw line will be one of the more difficult challenges for the Celtics. Oklahoma City shoots an NBA-best 84.4 percent from the line, and have shot 80 percent or better from the line in each of the last three seasons. Even more impressive is they also lead the NBA in free throws made per game (23.4) and rank second in attempts (27.8).

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Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

Bruins will add assistant coach, tap Bradley to run draft board

While the Bruins technically operated, and operated well, short one coach once assistant coach Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien behind the Boston bench, that’s not expected to continue for the upcoming season.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed this week that the B’s will be retaining the current assistant coach group of Joe Sacco, Jay Pandolfo and Bob Essensa to work under Cassidy as full-time head coach, and that they’ll be looking to add one more person to his staff.

“I think our staff did a very good job jumping in and picking up, because we didn’t add to it at the time [of Cassidy’s promotion] when we subtracted from the group. It will stay as is,” said Sweeney. “We will also be looking to add to it to complement that group. Bruce and I have already spoken briefly about it, but we haven’t identified yet and we’ve already received some people that would have some interest. We’ll pursue that accordingly.”

Sacco handled the defensemen and the penalty kill in the final few months of the season, and Pandolfo worked with the forwards in his very first season as an NHL assistant coach following a stint in player development. Essensa, of course, worked with the goaltenders and as the “eye in the sky” from the press box once Pandolfo moved to the bench following the coaching change. So the natural assumption would be that the Bruins would hire another former defenseman to work with the D-men given the backgrounds of Sacco and Pandolfo as forwards.

“We haven’t gotten too far out in front of it. But, Joe Sacco moved from the front of the bench to the D, and did a terrific job [while playing a] big part of the penalty kill all year. Jay [Pandolfo] came down from the press box, worked with the forwards, which he had worked with all year. But now he’s in the heat of the battle. They were terrific. We were a true staff,” said Cassidy. “Goalie Bob [Essensa] became a little bit more of an eye in the sky for us up there. We had Kim [Brandvold], who was our skating coach, helped a lot with the practices, with the pace we were trying to establish. I can’t thank them enough.

“Going forward, we’re going to meet and decide what’s the best fit for us [as an assistant hire]. Obviously those two have a forward background, I have a defense background, so maybe that’s an area we have to look at, what’s the best complement. But we’d be getting ahead of ourselves if I said today that we’re pinpointing an exact thing. We’ve got to look at it and say, ‘OK, who’s the best fit. What makes us the most successful?’ We’ll go from there with the candidates we get.”

The situation automatically leads one to wonder if P-Bruins head coach Kevin Dean would be a possible candidate as a longtime Cassidy assistant at the AHL level, or if Dean wants to continue on his track as a head coach. If not Dean then perhaps Providence Bruins assistant coach and former Bruins D-man Jay Leach might also be a strong candidate after his first season working with the young P-Bruins at the AHL level.

While it’s clear the Bruins still have some discussions before potentially making a move on hiring an NHL assistant for Cassidy’s staff, they have made a determination about their scouting staff. The B’s never replaced the head of amateur scouting position when Keith Gretzky was hired as an assistant general manager with the Edmonton Oilers, and it will instead be Bruins assistant GM Scott Bradley that will run Boston’s draft board in June.

“Scotty Bradley has stepped back into that role, which he’s very comfortable doing. He holds the title of Assistant General Manager and he’ll oversee the draft. We’re very comfortable with the people he’s worked with in recent years that have been a big, big part of our recent drafts. Our meetings went well,” said Sweeney. “They were just at the U-18s and had other subsequent meetings, so there will be some banter in the upcoming [scouting] meetings, in terms of where we end up finalizing our list. Scotty will oversee that.”

It’s not exactly foreign territory for Bradley, who previously held the head scouting position with the Black and Gold and played an instrumental role in drafting players like Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. But there’s also some question as to how big a role Gretzky played in drafting the massive wave of talented prospects now pushing their way through Boston’s system, and how much his presence will be missed at NHL Draft weekend moving forward.