Celtics vs. Pistons: Previewreview

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Celtics vs. Pistons: Previewreview

BOSTON Well, this isn't quite how the Boston Celtics drew up Wednesday night's bon voyage game against Detroit, the team's last game at the TD Garden until Feb. 29. The Celtics suffered yet another disappointing setback, losing 98-88 to a Pistons team that is among the worst on the road in the NBA this season.

Not having Kevin Garnett certainly didn't help. But to pin this loss on having no KG is letting the C's off the hook for yet another head-scratching performance.

"We made some bonehead plays," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Leaving Ben Gordon open for a 3-pointer to trap Damien Wilkens. Rotate out to defend Ben Wallace . . . around the 3-point line?

And giving up offensive rebounds on free throws, are a definite no-no if you're trying to secure a much-needed win at home.

"Those three possessions to me, changed the game," Rivers said.

Maybe so, but there were other factors that played a role in the Celtics (15-13) losing for the third time in the last four games. Here's how we saw it before the game, and what actually happened:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: With the Pistons having lost Tuesday night at home to San Antonio, don't be surprised if the Celtics come out looking to run more than usual. Along with Detroit likely having weary legs, the Celtics have proven despite their age, they can run - and run well. Against the Bulls, Boston outscored them 33-7, in fast break points. With Detroit having its issues earlier this year defensively, they naturally don't fare well when it comes to fast-break points. They average 11.2 per game which ranks No. 22 in the NBA.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics came out attacking in transition, primarily because they were rebounding the ball well and getting out before the Pistons could fully set up their defense. At one point, Boston had an 11-4 advantage in fast-break points. But as the game wore on, the Celtics' began to run less, attack less and the end result? Another lesson in how to NOT win at home! For the game, the C's managed to claim a slim 18-14 edge in fast-break points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rodney Stuckey vs Ray Allen. Size and strength, meets speed and accuracy. Stuckey's play has been a part of Detroit's improved play of late. In their last six games, he has averaged 15.3 points and 4.8 assists - both better than his season numbers. As for Ray Allen, he has shot less than 50 percent from the field in each of the last three games, which is the second-longest such stretch for him this season. The big thing with Allen is getting shot attempts. In the month of February, the Celtics are 3-1 when Allen gets 10 or more shot attempts.
WHAT WE SAW: This was very lopsided, but not even close to how anyone outside of the 3-1-3 would have envisioned. Stuckey scored off the dribble, on pull-ups and from the free-throw line, finishing with a team-high 25 points on 7-for-16 shooting. Meanwhile, Allen had just 10 points and shot 1-for-5 from the field. His lone field goal made came late in the fourth, well after the Pistons had the game well in hand.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Wilcox did a fine job (12 points, 9 rebounds against Chicago) filling in for Jermaine O'Neal. Now that O'Neal is expected back for Wednesday night's game, it'll be interesting if Wilcox can make a similar impact coming off the bench. His athleticism and ability to run the floor, in many ways, makes him a more attractive option for the Celtics at the center position. But don't look for the C's to make a change, not with O'Neal providing the kind of defensive presence that no other Celtic center - Wilcox included - provides.
WHAT WE SAW: Chris Wilcox continues to give the Celtics exactly what they're looking for, regardless of whether he's starting or coming off the bench. Filling in for Kevin Garnett (hip flexor), Wilcox had a season-high 17 points and 9 rebounds. "He's been really good," Rivers said. "He's playing hard. If he can stay where he's at right now, I'm very happy with that."

STAT TO TRACK: Arguably the best center in the Eastern Conference to not be named an All-Star this year is Detroit's Greg Monroe. The Pistons are ranked 13th in the NBA in points in the paint (40.7), with Monroe's inside presence being key. He's coming off a sub-par 4-point, 6-rebound night against the Spurs. But for the season, he's a near double-double with 16.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. As for Boston, they have actually improved their interior defense as the season progressed. Teams are scoring 39 points per game against them inside the paint, which ranks 9th in fewest points allowed in that category.
WHAT WE SAW: Monroe proved once again that he's a tough cover for any defense, scoring 22 points on 11-for-14 shooting to go with nine rebounds. Boston actually was plus-2 on points in the paint, but the fact that they gave up 42 points around the basket was among the many areas in which the Celtics were not as good as they have been lately.

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

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David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

BOSTON — David Price and Rick Porcello showed improvement on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, important signs for the Red Sox after a difficult month for both pitchers prior to this homestand.

Price on Saturday night went six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 6-3 loss to the Angels. He fanned five and his velocity has been consistently better this year than last year.

But the most important number was his walk total: one. He walked three batters in his previous start, and four in both of his starts prior.

“Two outings ago, the first start here in Fenway,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “There was better timing in his delivery and overall better separation over the rubber. And he carried that through I thought, even though there's a higher pitch count in Houston, and has been able to maintain it here. I can't say there was one specific thing. It's been more the timing over the rubber. And you're seeing him pitch out of the stretch exclusively. Just less moving parts in a better position to repeat it.”

After Price’s final inning, the telecast captured Price calling pitching coach Carl Willis into the tunnel. Neither Farrell nor Price detailed the conversation. 

“Yeah, everything was fine,” Farrell said of the conversation. “Everything is OK there.”

Price made it sound like he’s dealing with some sort of physical ailment, but was vague.

“There's a lot of stuff going on right now,” the pitcher said when asked about the desire to stay out there. “You don't want it to linger into the next start, or two or three weeks from now, and that's why we did what we did.”

Asked to elaborate, Price reinforced that the decision was to save his body for another day.

“You never want to come out of a game. But you have to look forward at the time,” Price said. “You don’t want today to cost you your next start or you know, the start after that. So that’s what happened.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow or anything like that. This is — you get past one thing and there’s another So that’s what it is.”

Price in New York in early June felt a blister develop on his ring finger. He missed an in-between start bullpen because of it.

Asked about the blister Saturday, Price said, “That one’s gone.”

Farrell indicated the blister was diminished, if not entirely gone.

“He's been dealing with that,” Farrell said. “I think while it's still present and maybe not as severe as it was when it first happened, I'm sure he's going to check on it occasionally."