Curran: Belichick's dark cloud has lifted

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Curran: Belichick's dark cloud has lifted

INDIANAPOLIS - Wait, help me out. Fourth-and-2 is in play? We can mention that with impunity and make it a punch line?
Because Ive heard some things.I remember back in 2001 when Bill Belichick looked at the assembled media in the soon-to-be-euthanized Foxboro Stadium and said, The strength of the wolf is in the pack.I remember the night before Super Bowl XXXVI when I sat in a Holiday Inn near the French Quarter and Bill Belichick told me by telephone, The hay is in the barn, and that he felt as confident before playing the St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl the next day as he did the week previous when his team upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship.Back then the Patriots were upstarts. Lightly taken and soon to be dismissed.Except Belichick didnt believe that. Earlier in the season he noted in the wolf statement that the 2001 team was better than the sum of its unimpressive parts.But back then, the Patriots were just another upstart team on a hot streak. Still, to Belichick and his players Tedy Bruschi, Troy Brown, Ty Law, Tom Brady, Lawyer Milloy, Roman Phifer, Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri and so many others on that team there was something special afoot.Belichick didnt believe the Patriots would be overwhelmed by the Rams in the Super Bowl when the dynasty that he and Tom Brady (and a whole lot of others) created was still in the birth canal.He gave off an air in the first week of February 2001 as the Patriots approached their first Super Bowl with Belichick as head coach that said, Were going to be fine.They were. And they continued to be through the first decade of the 21st century. Two more Super Bowl wins. An NFL record 21-game winning streak. Legitimacy as a team that needed to be included in the all-time greatest discussions with the Packers of the '60s, the Steelers of the '70s, the Niners of the '80s and '90s, and the Cowboys of the '90s.The tenor and expectations changed after 2001. A team and program as good as the one Belichick spawned in New England went from Cinderella to supermodel.But as the stakes were raised, Belichick got progressively more circumspect.By February 2008 the last time the Patriots played in a Super Bowl Belichick had become more guarded.They were the hunted. They had been every other franchises quarry for several years, but the scrutiny and the judgmental nature of the media -- which was bent on chip, chip, chipping away at the foundation of everything Belichick, his players and his staff had built -- wore him down.The AFC Championship loss to the Colts after the 2006 season sent Belichick into a funk and the team set about making sure it never happened again. With two masterstrokes, the Patriots acquired Randy Moss and Wes Welker. They also added Donte Stallworth and Adalius Thomas.They went unbeaten in the regular season in 2007, but it was a joyless march to perfection with the specter of a videotaping scandal taking on a life of its own. The desire of a football-obsessed nation to see the beloved franchise of 2001 get its comeuppance for its real and perceived arrogance was rampant.The Patriots became a franchise detested. And Belichick became a villain. The tightness of the Patriots under Belichicks grip seemed to cause the team to fear failure more than it embraced success.But something interesting has happened since. The 2008 Patriots overachieved with Matt Cassel at quarterback, winning 11 games. The 2009 Patriots a chemistry disaster failed. The 2010 Patriots overachieved again, winning 14 regular-season games before a loss which sent Belichick into an even deeper funk.Now comes 2011. And a Patriots team thats been pockmarked by defensive flaws still found a way to go 13-3 and emerge as AFC Champions.Even though the Patriots had a better regular-season record than their NFC counterparts the Giants, Big Blue despite its 9-7 regular-season record has emerged as the favorite (even if Vegas still says otherwise).With that backdrop, Bill Belichick has especially in the past few weeks seemed to find some measure of balance. Hes lightening up.On Sunday in Indianapolis, Belichick made a punchine of the game back in 2009 when a flawed Patriots team peed away a win in Indianapolis.A reminder: Belichick, feeling his offense could close out a win against the Colts and not trusting his defense to stop Peyton Manning, opted to run a play on fourth-and-2 from his own 28. A pass to Kevin Faulk failed. The Colts answered with a touchdown. New England lost, 35-34.Weeks of second-guessing ensued, colored by a belief that Belichick was arrogant to take the gamble.Sunday, Belichick laughed about a game that previously tore him apart, saying, I never had too much hospitality (in Indianapolis) until I went for it on fourth-and-2 and since then, Ive been greeted in a lot more friendly manner than I have in the past.A minor thing in the grand scheme but, for Belichick, a willingness to show that life does indeed go on was a benchmark moment.Welker was asked about Belichicks mood this season. Is he more kicked back?We wonder about that all of the time, said Welker. I dont know if its a lady in his life or what the deal is, but he definitely smiles a little more than he used to.Belichick will never be confused for Dave Chappelle. But the fact he can joke about a bleak point in his Patriots history is an example that life does indeed go on.This season isnt reminiscent of 2007, when an unstoppable team was stopped by the Giants. This time, the Patriots are the upstarts, never mind what Vegas or regular-season records say.And Bill Belichick is willing to let his team embrace that. To lighten up. And to see once again if the strength of the wolf in the pack.

Isaiah Thomas continues to claim Celtics' franchise records

Isaiah Thomas continues to claim Celtics' franchise records

BOSTON – This continues to be a historic season for Isaiah Thomas as more records fell in Wednesday’s 103-100 loss to Milwaukee, and the company he’s keeping becomes even more exclusive. 

Thomas had a game-high 32 points on Wednesday which included five made 3’s on nine attempts. That gave him 223 for the season which is a new franchise single-season record for made 3-pointers. The previous record was 222 set by Antoine Walker during the 2001-2002 season.

And his 32 points scored gives him 2,012 this season. 

Only six players in franchise history (Paul Pierce was the last to do it during the 2005-2006 season) have scored 2,000 or more points in a single season. 

Oh, there’s more. 

With Wednesday being the 66th time this season he has had 20 or more points, Thomas has now tied Pierce (2005-2006) and Larry Bird (1985-1986; 1987-1988) for sixth on the Celtics’ single-season franchise list. 

“I didn’t even know that,” a visibly disappointed Thomas said following Wednesday’s loss. “It doesn’t feel that good right now. But when I look back on it, probably in the offseason, I’ll appreciate it a little more. But I’m just staying in the moment and try and play as best I can to lead this team to as many wins as possible.”

Other season milestones Thomas is in the mix for include the following:

  • The 5-foot-9 guard is one of three players this season to have 50 or more games of 25-plus points, joined by Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook (57) and Houston’s James Harden (54).
  • Thomas has made at least one 3-pointer in a franchise-record 50 straight games (Dec. 3 – March 29). That’s also the longest current streak in the NBA. 
  • With 66 games of 20 or more points this season, Thomas is second in the NBA to Westbrook (67).

Marcus Smart at center of yet another controversial call

Marcus Smart at center of yet another controversial call

BOSTON – One of the more bizarre plays in Boston’s 103-100 loss to Milwaukee came in the second quarter, requiring some explanation from the officials afterwards. 

With 3:55 to play in the second quarter, the officials had originally called a foul on Marcus Smart which he verbally protested that eventually led to him being whistled for a technical foul. 

After the officials reviewed the play, they changed the call to a personal foul against Khris Middleton but no change to the called technical foul against Smart who objected to a call that, upon review, they agreed was the wrong call to make. 

Official Sean Corbin, through pool reporter Ken Powtak of the Associated Press, acknowledged that the original call was a loose ball foul against Smart. 

“The (officiating) crew got together, we met prior to video and we decided that we needed to look at video because both players were on the floor bleeding so we went to the video for a hostile act,” Corbin told Powtak. “In the review we noticed that Khris Middleton initially made contact to Marcus Smart’s face. That’s how the original contact to the play occurred.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, Middleton missed his technical free throw while Smart split a pair of free throws which cut Milwaukee’s lead to 49-40.

Still, that’s no consolation for Smart who was whistled for a technical foul on a play that the official acknowledged was the wrong call to make. 

In the fourth quarter, Smart was at the center of yet another controversial call that was also reviewed by the officials. The verdict wasn't nearly as good for Smart who was whistled for a flagrant foul after getting his feet tangled up with Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo who was called for a non-shooting foul in the play with 4:46 to play. 

Antetokounmpo made one of two free throws and on the Bucks' ensuing possession, he was called for traveling.

Smart was unavailable to talk after the game in part because the aforementioned incident left an abrasion to his mouth and, because of the technical foul, a little lighter in the wallet as well.