The fear is gone, but talent remains

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The fear is gone, but talent remains

One thing thats become increasingly evident over the course of this young NBA season and unfortunately so is that teams are no longer scared of the Boston Celtics. That the mystique and inherent intimidation that used to go hand-in-hand with facing off against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the mighty Green is gone. Banished to Serbia with Darko. Most likely never to be seen again.

Of course, this development didnt happen all at once. More so, its taken shape over the last few years, as the Celtics stars have grown older and slower and the rest of the league has grown stronger and more confident. A series of lackluster regular seasons haven't helped matters either. While the Celtics have consistently been able to turn on their charm once the playoffs roll around, the truth is that their consistent regular season struggles (and thats obviously a relative term) have at one time or another given every team a taste of what its like to get the best of Boston. This has chipped away at the Celtics air of superiority, and left them with the reality of the 2012-13 season.

The league no longer fears them. Opponents dont sit in the pre-game locker room at home or on the road and worry about what lies ahead. Instead, they look forward to it. They see a date with Boston as a potential victory, and to this point, have consistently carried that attitude onto the court.

This was apparent on opening night at the Garden, when the Bucks strolled in and embarrassed the Celtics on their home floor. It was re-iterated the following week, when Wizards rookie Bradley Beal who was all of two years old when KG made his NBA debut told reporters: We know (the Celtics) are vulnerable. We know that they are an aggressive team but they are a lot older than we are. So, we are going to try and wear them down. (Granted, this came shortly after the Celtics beat the Wiz in consecutive games, but in both those games Washington had pushed Boston to the brink, and had done so without the services of their two best players.)

Doc Rivers pretty much implied the same thing when he called out the C's for being soft in the aftermath of the Brooklyn brawl. Basically, that times have changed. The league has changed. Boston's reputation has changed.

But for whatever reason, this reality hasnt quite clicked with the Celtics. Night after night, especially at home, its as if they still expect teams to roll over. To see No. 5, No. 34 and No. 9 across the way and immediately soil themselves with awe. This mentality has resulted in a few bad losses and a handful of unnecessarily close games. More than anything, its led to a series of really slow starts.

Do you realize that the Celtics have trailed at halftime in 11 of 18 games this season? Even worse, they've trailed at the half in seven of their 10 games at the Garden. And last night was no exception. Last night, an undermanned Timberwolves team which boasted a starting line-up that prominently featured Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee and the ghost of Josh Howard took the parquet and somehow appeared to take the Celtics by surprise. They outworked Boston. They out-hustled Boston. Despite the fact that the Cs shot 59.1 percent in the first quarter, Minnesota led 30-27 after the opening frame. At the half, the Wolves were up 51-47.

In the third quarter, that obviously changed. Boston started the half on a 20-10 run; they held the Wolves without an offensive rebound until the four minute mark; they imposed their will and took control. I don't if something specific occurred over the break or it was just a coincidence, but the Celtics finally awoke to a separate and far more important reality. That is, that even if these teams don't fear them anymore, Boston still has enough talent to render that confidence useless. It may not be as easy as it once was, but it doesn't have to be that hard. On some nights, sure; that's the NBA. The schedule can be brutal and can certainly wreak havoc on a team that's built around a core that's as old as Boston's. But on nights like last night when the Celtics are coming off three days rest against a team that's been riddled by injury perception doesn't matter. Reality is enough. Even if the opponent doesn't necessarily believe that Boston is the better team, there's no question that they are.

It's just a matter of waking up and playing like it.

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

Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

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Trump says NFL should fire players who kneel during anthem

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — President Donald Trump says National Football League owners should fire players who kneel during the national anthem. And he’s encouraging spectators to walk out in protest.

In an extended riff during a freewheeling rally speech in Alabama Friday night, Trump also bemoaned that football games have become less violent.

“They’re ruining the game,” he complained.

Several athletes, including NFL players, have refused to stand during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest of the treatment of blacks by police.

Trump says those players are disrespecting the flag and deserve to lose their jobs.

“That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything that we stand for,” he said, encouraging owners to act.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ’Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired,” Trump said to loud applause.

Trump also predicted that any owner who went through with his encouragement would become “the most popular person in this country” — at least for a week.

Trump, who was in Alabama campaigning for Sen. Luther Strange, also blamed a decline in NFL ratings on the nation’s interest in “yours truly” as well as what he described as a decline in violence in the game.

He said players are being thrown out for aggressive tackles, and it’s “not the same game.”

The NFL has made several efforts to reduce violence in the sport, particularly hits that may cause damage to the head. A July report on 202 former football players found evidence of a debilitating brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them. The league has agreed to pay $1 billion to retired players who claimed it misled them about the concussion dangers of playing football.

During his campaign, Trump often expressed nostalgia for the “old days” — claiming, for example, that protesters at his rallies would have been carried out on stretchers back then. He recently suggested police officers should be rougher with criminals and shouldn’t protect their heads when pushing them into quad cars.

It’s also not the first time he’s raised the kneeling issue. Earlier this year he took credit for the fact that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started the trend of kneeling during the anthem, hadn’t been signed by an NFL team.

Trump said the protest was the top reason NFL viewership had waned this season.

“You know what’s hurting the game more than that? When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they’re playing our great national anthem,” he said.

Trump encouraged his supporters to pick up and leave the stadium next time they spot a player failing to stand.

“I guarantee things will stop,” he said.

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Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

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Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

BOSTON – It was probably only a matter of time before it happened, but it looks like Boston’s favorite Little Ball of Hate is stepping up his game on social media.

Brad Marchand is known as much for his rabble-rousing and trash-talking on the ice as he is for massive offensive production while serving as Boston’s top scorer in each of the last few seasons. So Marchand has the perfect mixture of good humor and clout as a star NHL player, and that usually combines for a pretty powerful voice on Twitter.

Marchand has been noticeably more active on Twitter in recent days with a wide-ranging group of tweets, and the big winner is the hockey fan that gets a little more exposure to some classic Nose Face Killah wit. Some of the tweets have been as a Bruins team leader where he’s praising the talented young crop of B’s prospects that he’s watching during training camp:

Some have been about chirping the NHL for their decision to skip the Olympics this winter where Marchand most certainly would have been primed for a chance at a Gold Medal:

Some have been engaging with “fans” and dropping classic pop culture references from children’s books while showing the nasty edge that routinely drives opponents up a wall:

The Charlotte’s Web reference is a devastating classic from Marchand, a noted longtime fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes it’s just telling a quick story in a tweet that gives you an inside look at the kind of chirping that goes on when Marchand is on the ice:

A social media platform like Twitter was made for a personality like Marchand, and a stepped-up presence is good for him and good for hockey fans. So why all of a sudden is No. 63 tweeting with greater frequency over the last few days?

It sounds like it’s a combination of training camp boredom and a genuine interest in amplifying his voice on all manner of subjects.

“I’ve just been kind of lying around with nothing to do and I jumped on [twitter]…thought it was kind of funny,” said Marchand. “I thought I’d get a little more involved. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough time to do it every day, but it’s fun.”

As fun as it’s been for Marchand, it’s no doubt even more fun for the fans that might get a chance to interact with him even if it’s as the unwitting foil for one of his well-placed chirps. 

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