Celtics vs. Bulls: Previewreview

674238.jpg

Celtics vs. Bulls: Previewreview

CHICAGO Play well here. Play bad there. The Boston Celtics continue to sputter along this season, showing once again that they can hang with any team in the NBA -- and turn around just as quickly and hang themselves.

The latest team to bury the Celtics was the Eastern Conference-leading Chicago Bulls, who pulled away for an 89-80 win Thursday night.

Boston came out attacking from the start, and seemingly had the Bulls right where it wanted them.

"We came out soft in the first quarter," said Bulls coach and former Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau. "They got us back on our heels."

But that soon changed in the second quarter, as Chicago began to assert control of the game by doing what they do best -- rebound the ball.

"It kept us from getting out and running," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, whose team was minus-15 on the boards. "They crushed us on the glass all game and that was the big difference."

However, there were other factors that came into play as Boston lost for the fourth time in its last five games.

We'll re-examine a few others right now.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: You can bet Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has been on his team lately for how freely they have allowed other teams to score. Despite having the third-best scoring defense (88 points per game) in the NBA this season, the Bulls have given up 105 points per game in their last two games which includes a 95-91 loss to Boston.

"Defensively, we have to play a lot better," Thibodeau said. "Our defense has been okay most of the year. But the last two games, it's not where we want it to be."

WHAT WE SAW: As expected, the Bulls did a much better job defensively against Boston. There were several areas that exemplified this, but none stood out more than the rebounding. The Bulls came into the game as the NBA's second-best rebounding team, while the C's were No. 29. For the game, Chicago was plus-15 on the boards.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Ray Allen vs. Ronnie Brewer: Allen is currently trying to snap out of a mini-shooting slump in which he has averaged 7.7 points on 31.8 percent shooting from the field in the C's last three games. In addition, Allen has missed six of his seven 3-point attempts in that span. Brewer is what you'd call an intangibles guy who does a lot of little things to help the Bulls win, but may not necessarily show up in the final statistics. Against the Celtics, that would be trying to continue making Ray Allen an ineffective scorer.

WHAT WE SAW: It took a while, but Ray Allen finally got on track shooting the ball. He finished with 12 points which included 3-for-7 on 3s. Brewer didn't score a single point, but that's okay. His role is to provide energy and solid play defensively. Considering the Bulls got the win, and Allen had a sub-par game, Brewer did his job.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce will look to bounce from an inexplicable performance in Wednesday's loss to Detroit. He had 10 points on 3-for-11 shooting, but never at any point in the game looked like he was ready to take over. Rajon Rondo's career night scoring the ball did have a downside -- it kept Pierce from ever getting into any kind of flow because Rondo had it going with points in the paint as well as from the perimeter hitting jumpers. Look for the Celtics to try and establish Pierce as a scorer early tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: After scoring six points in the first couple minutes, Pierce only scored eight more the rest of the game. Lack of ball movement wasn't necessarily the main culprit in Pierce's struggles. Much of the credit should go to Luol Deng, who once again did a strong job in defending Pierce.

STAT TO TRACK: Rivers was not pleased with his team's lack of ball movement in the loss to Detroit. Indeed, it was an unusual night for the the C's in terms of spreading the wealth. Boston scores via an assist on 64.6 percent of their made baskets, which is tops in the NBA. In the 98-88 loss to the Pistons, the Celtics had 16 assists on 34 made baskets, or 47 percent. For Boston to have a shot at winning, they'll likely need to be trending close to what they normally do in terms of assists to field goals made this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Boston's ball movement wasn't any better on Thursday then it was in the loss to Detroit just 24 hours earlier. The Celtics had 31 made baskets, but only 15 assists. That's just not going to get it done against the Bulls -- or any team in the NBA, for that matter.

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

penguins_guentzel_052917.jpg

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

bryce_harper_hunter_strickland_fight_052917.jpg

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.