Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

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Changing Face of the Atlantic MORE: Preseason all downhill from here

Five years ago last month, Kevin Garnett landed in Boston and changed the face of the Atlantic Division.

Or maybe changed the face is the wrong phrase. More accurately, Garnett simply took over. He invaded and pillaged the Atlantic like a White Walker after sundown.

That first season, the Celtics took the division by 25 games.

Of course, most of that had to do with the fact that Boston was a damn good team. Obviously. Now that the Cs have fallen slightly back into the pack, I think we have a much better appreciation for just how great that 2008 squad was. They won 66 games. They went 35-6 at home. They would have won in any division that year. But at the same time, their dominance was enhanced by a lack of competition.

Back in 2007, the rest of the Atlantic was a ghost town. The Knicks were stuck in the Isiah Years. The Nets were on their last lap with Jason Kidd. The Sixers were figuring out life after AI. The Raptors were OK, but never a threat. They were the best worst team in basketball. And all of a sudden, they were sharing a division with an NBA super power.

In Year 2, even with Garnett injured down the stretch, the Celtics won the Atlantic by 21 games. In Year 3, with KG hurting, Big Baby pouting and Rasheed Wallace stinking everything up, Boston fell back to Earth with 50 wins, but still won the division by 10. In Year 4, Perk trade and all, the Celtics won by 14. Last year, they started slowly, but went on a late run to claim the Atlantic by three. Three games.

From 25 to three, things have obviously changed.

Over the last five years, the Knicks have freed themselves from Isiah's crippling insanity. The Nets were purchased by a crazy Russian billionaire, determined to compete at all costs, and moved to Brooklyn. The 76ers drafted well, found the right coach and were bought by a young HarvardWharton-educated owner. The Raptors are down, but can only get better.

When KG arrived in Boston, the Atlantic was void of star power. You had Chris Bosh and little else in Toronto. A bunch of spare, awkward parts in New York. Young Andre Iguodala flailing in Philly. Kidd and Vince Carter past their primes in New Jersey. Today, you look around and its hard to believe the talent that surrounds the Celtics.

Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, Tyson Chandler, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, Brooke Lopez, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner . . . and now, Andrew Bynum.

There are about 1,500 different storylines surrounding today's enormous Dwight Howard trade, and as far as I can tell there's only one positive for Boston: They got Howard out of the conference. I don't care where he went, or who else changed teams, one of the biggest and best defensive players in NBA history no longer stands between the Celtics and the NBA Finals. That's a good thing. But after that, it was a tough day for Boston. Emotionally (with Howard going to the Lakers) and in a pure basketball sense.

As A. Sherrod Blakely pointed out this afternoon, moving forward, Andrew Bynum's presence will concern the Celtics far more than Howard's absence. Obviously, Bynum's a bit of a wild card physically. If he isn't healthy, the conversation will change. But assuming he stays on the court, the transformation of the Atlantic Division is just about complete.

From the most boring and one-sided segment of the NBA world, to one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

In a way, we knew it would eventually happen. There was no way that an entire division could stay down for so long without a worthy challenger finally scraping its way to the surface. But all of a sudden, there are three of them.

Fortunately for Boston, Kevin Garnett's still here. Five years older, but still willing and able to defend his kingdom.

But for he and the Celtics, the days of feasting on the Atlantic have disappeared in the rear view.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

Bruce Cassidy: Bruins 'have got to have a stronger mental capacity' in times of adversity

BOSTON – While there were some warning signs over the last few weeks that the Bruins might be getting away from their game, it didn’t really hit home until Thursday night’s frustrating loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

The Bruins blew through three different one-goal leads in the second period in the 6-3 loss to the Bolts at TD Garden, and each time surrendered a tying goal to Tampa in less than two minutes after initially scoring. It was a clear indicator that the Bruins weren’t fully focused on the task at hand despite having already lost three games in a row, and that their ability to bounce back from adversity is going away from them again. 

That much was obvious when the bottom dropped out in the third period, and Jonathan Drouin and Nikita Kucherov turned into a two-man Lightning wrecking crew outscoring the Bruins by a 3-0 margin in the final 20 minutes. 

“I think the frustration is more in-game, where we’ve got to have a stronger mental capacity to handle those [challenging] situations in-game. Let’s face it, when you get on a bit of a losing streak, all those things creep in, whether it’s in October or whether it’s in March,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You have doubts, you start pressing, and again, it’s my job to alleviate the kind of attention in those situations.

“But, as I told you, we all have to be accountable and be responsible for ourselves, and that’s where we just need to have better focus and better discipline in those areas. It was there when it was 3-3 [on the scoreboard]. We’ve got to push back after they score, and that’s where I thought we started to come apart a little bit where we should’ve stuck together and stuck with the program. [We needed to] get ourselves slowly back into the game. We had 10 minutes to even the score, and we weren’t able to do it.”

Clearly this wasn’t just the coach alone in his pointed observations, however, as the lack of focus showed unfortunately in a rudderless second period for the Black and Gold where they couldn’t gain any separation from Tampa Bay despite scoring three goals. 

“[It’s] not being focused, not being sharp, and obviously at this time of the year it’s unacceptable, and it’s up on us to be better,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Those kinds of situations shouldn’t happen. So, for sure, we need to address those things and hold each other accountable.”

One thing is clear: The Bruins have a lot of work to do if they hope to avoid the same kind of late season tailspin that doomed them each of the last two seasons, and already seems to be happening over their last four losses to varying levels of hockey talent. 

Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

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Talking points: Tuukka Rask wasn't good enough vs. Lightning

Here are the talking points from the Boston Bruins' 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.