Boston Celtics

Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

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Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Chad Ochocinco was recounting how much he had changed during his one season in New England, when a section of fans in the stands started to cheer. Startled, he turned his head away from the microphone and tried to see what was causing the commotion at Super Bowl media day, which had a new look this year. For the first time, fans were allowed to sit in the stands and watch the goofiness unfold on the field. What he heard was some of the 7,300 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium cheering Tuesday when a player complimented their city and their restaurants. "It's kind of crazy," Patriots linebacker Tracy White said. "It's a new thing with the fans being able to buy tickets and come watch us do interviews. It's pretty cool." For 25 apiece, they got headsets that allowed them to hear how coaches and players at some of the 14 podiums on the field responded to media questions and everything else thrown their way. They quickly became part of the ambiance. While videographers were setting up tripods at the most popular podiums -- the one for quarterback Tom Brady drew the most attention -- fans settled into their seats, most of them wearing Colts jerseys. One fan dressed like Brady -- blue Patriots jersey, pants, shoulder pads, hand towel and pretend play list on his left forearm -- ventured to the front row and quickly got his desired several minutes of interview attention. Shortly before the Patriots started walking onto the field, a public address announcer told the crowd: "Let's respect all the media, all the players." The crowd applauded, then started figuring out how to tune in the headsets to listen to the interviews. "It's such an intimate experience," said Nick Lowery, a Patriots fan who drove from Columbia, Mo. "This is really cool." Until Tuesday, the NFL had restricted interviews at the Super Bowl stadium to accredited members of the news and entertainment media. By opening it up to fans, the two hour-long interview sessions felt more like the practice sessions before NCAA basketball tournament games, which are open to the public. Fans weren't allowed to get autographs or take photos with players, but a couple of them managed to sneak one in. A fan got Giants safety Kenny Phillips to autograph a football and toss it back. Mostly, they watched a typical media day -- lots of questions, a little bit of strangeness. A man dressed as a caped character from a cable network wandered about with a crew taping his off-beat interactions with Giants and Patriots. A Spanish language network sent a crew with a dance instructor and a disco ball on a stick, luring players into showing their moves to salsa music. Ochocinco's social media network -- the Ochocinco News Network -- prowled the sideline for interviews. Nobody enjoyed the day more than Ochocinco, who reached the playoffs only twice during 10 seasons with Cincinnati and wound up 0-2. When he was traded to the Patriots in July, he knew he would have to keep most of his comments to himself to co-exist with coach Bill Belichick, who doesn't tolerate diva distractions. Ochocinco kept quiet and accepted a reserve role on the team. He was the last Patriot to wade into the media throng on Tuesday, smiling at one of the best moments of his career. "Aw, man, I've dreamed of it," Ochocinco said. "I've been playing this game a long time -- started out at 4 years old. And this is what you dream of, to come to this stage and enjoy it. So that's what I'm going to do." Asked if it was bittersweet because he wasn't a starter and didn't get to sit at one of the podiums, Ochocinco smiled again. "It's not bittersweet," he said. "It's the Super Bowl."

Cavs expect Isaiah Thomas playing in games by January

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Cavs expect Isaiah Thomas playing in games by January

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Isaiah Thomas could be running the point for Cleveland by the end of the year.

The All-Star point guard, acquired from the Celtics this summer in a blockbuster trade, has made progress with his hip injury, and the Cavaliers expect him to be playing games by January.

Thomas has begun running and doing on-court activities as he rehabilitates the injury, which prematurely ended his postseason with the Celtics. Cleveland acquired him in a trade that sent All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston, its biggest challenger in the East.

Thomas doesn’t need surgery. While the Eastern Conference champions have been encouraged by his recovery, they will not rush him back. While he gets healthy, Derrick Rose, another summer acquisition, will start at point guard.

Thomas averaged 28.9 points last season for the Celtics, who sent him along with forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round draft to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers were concerned with Thomas’ injury, so the Celtics added a second-round pick to complete the deal.

When they introduced Thomas at a news conference, the Cavaliers were vague about a timeline for his return, mainly because they hadn’t yet worked with him. It’s now possible Thomas could be back and playing by Christmas, when the Cavs visit Golden State.

Thomas is only under contract for the upcoming season and has said in the past he wants a maximum contract.

Copyright The Associated Press.
 

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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