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

Grousbeck: Celtics want Thomas longterm, but would draft a point guard

Grousbeck: Celtics want Thomas longterm, but would draft a point guard

The Celtics didn’t know when they traded a late first-round pick and Marcus Thornton for Isaiah Thomas that they were getting their next star player, but that 2015 trade deadline move has proven to be a pleasant surprise. 

Appearing on Felger and Mazz Friday, Celtics CEO and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck said that he sees Thomas, who will be a free agent after next season, in the team’s longterm plans. 

“Every one of these seasons is different. It’s like a movie and you have a cast of characters and the cast changes a little bit every season,” Grousbeck said. “We’d love to have Isaiah here for a long, long time. He’s a phenomenal player and he loves being here.” 

The Celtics stand a strong chance of picking first overall in June’s draft since they own Brooklyn’s first-round pick. Asked whether Thomas’ status would prevent the team from taking a point guard (which the draft’s two prospects play), Grousbeck said the team doesn’t need to decide that now, but suggested it wouldn’t.

“Especially if it’s a very high pick in the draft, you’ve got to draft the best player,” Grousbeck said. “You probably wouldn’t draft for fit as much as just you see if there’s a transformational player that you can have for 10 or 15 years there. If you see a guy like that, you’ve got to make everything else work, I would think.” 

It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

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It's official: Patriots nab third-round compensatory pick in Collins trade

The Patriots received a conditional fourth-round pick in 2018 from the Browns in return for Jamie Collins. That's how the trade was described on the league's transaction wire. 

The "condition" of that fourth-rounder? Well, if the Browns received a third-round compensatory pick in 2017, the Patriots would nab that pick instead. 

On Friday, the NFL announced that the Browns had in fact been awarded a third-round compensatory pick, which meant that almost three full weeks after Super Bowl LI, everything was still coming up Patriots.

In actuality, the odds were pretty good all along that the Patriots would get what they got

Cleveland lost Pro Bowl center Alex Mack in free agency last offseason when he opted to sign with the Falcons. Because compensatory picks are based on free agents lost and free agents acquired, and because the Browns did not sign any similarly-impactful free agents, there was a good chance Mack's departure would render a third-round comp pick that would be shipped to New England.

Had Mack suffered a significant injury that forced his play to drop off or limited his time on the field, a third-rounder may have been out of the question, but he played well (named a Pro Bowler and a Second Team All-Pro) and stayed healthy -- lucky for the Patriots -- missing just 17 total snaps in the regular season. 

The Browns comp pick that will be sent to New England is No. 103 overall. The Patriots were also awarded a fifth-round comp pick, No. 185 overall. That was a result of the league weighing the departures of Akiem Hicks and Tavon Wilson against the arrival of Shea McClellin.

The Patriots now have nine selections in this year's draft: One first-rounder; one second-rounder; two third-rounders; one fourth-rounder*; two fifth-rounders; two seventh-rounders.

* The Patriots forfeited their highest fourth-round selection in this year's draft as part of their Deflategate punishment. They acquired a fourth-round pick from the Seahawks last year. Because that would have been the higher of their two selections, that's the one they'll lose. They will make their own fourth-round pick at No. 137 overall.