Francona speaks his mind

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Francona speaks his mind

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Terry Francona was angry as hell on Wednesday afternoon.

Well, at least by Terry Francona standards.

For instance, had it been Bill Belichick giving that interview with Dale and Holley (listen here, if you haven't) snapping at jokes, calling out the media, reacting to questions as if someone had just spit in his face you'd have probably thought, "Hey, the coach is in a decent mood today!" But because were talking about Tito a light-hearted guy who's far more likely to crack a joke at his own expense than he is to speak out against anyone else, a guy who's so naturally uncomfortable with being a jerk, that its sometimes hard not to laugh when he tries Wednesdays performance definitely qualifies as pissed off.

But more interesting than the anger itself, was where and to whom it was directed.

How much do they really know?

It's a question I ask myself a lot when it comes to professional athletes and coaches.

And for the sake of the column, I guess I'll get more specific.

I wonder how much they know about what's being said in the public sector; how aware they are of their reputations among the fans, what's written about them online, or screamed about them on TV.

When Adrian Wojnarski tears LeBron five new orifices in a scathing 2,000-word column, does LeBron ever get wind? As Felger calls Rasheed Wallace useless and pathetic for six straight months, is 'Sheed ever lying in bed watching TV with his wife and maniacally plotting Felger's death? Does Kevin Durant read through every mention he gets on Twitter? Do these guys know what's really going on, or do the columns, shows and tweets that dominate the periphery of professional sports not really exist within the walls?

It's not a terribly important question; it's not going to decide the outcome of any game or season or title. But if you're a sports fan, its no less interesting.

Does KG realize that everyone jokes about him being crazy? Is J.D. Drew aware of the eruption of jokes on the Internet every time he strains a hamstring? Does Manny Ramirez even know the Internet exists?

I think the answer varies from player to player. There are athletes who are in tune with everything that's going on and being said. While none of them would ever admit it, I'm sure there are tons of pros who Google themselves every day, click through message boards and want to know every little thing that's typed about them.

And I'm sure there are guys who've never Googled themselves. Guys who are confident enough, or just don't care enough to wonder what anyone else says. But while I respect and envy that crew, theres something about the players and coaches in that first group the ones who take it personally, and make you feel like they care as much as you do who are so much more fun to root for. Who provide fodder, and personality, and make sports just that much better.

Which brings us back to Wednesday's interview with a pissed-off Terry Francona, a man who no doubt sits among that first group. A man who's well aware of all the stories and drama and the public perception of his team.

He hears the calls for Papelbon's head:

"Every time Pap gives up a run," he said, "I hear the clamoring about exchanging him and I think sometimes, I don't know why, maybe it's because you're fans . . . "

He knows what people are saying about Jacoby Ellsbury, the questions theyre asking about his toughness, and, likely, the tweet from a local radio show that called him a five-letter p-word.

"I think for anyone to ever say that he's soft, especially for a radio host, is very disrespectful," Francona said. "Talking tough on the radio is a lot different than running into a wall or getting hit with a pitch. It's easy to be a tough guy when you get away from the field."

Hell, he even admits to reading Dan Shaughnessy:

"I don't want to put words in your mouth," Holley began a question, to which Tito responded, "Shaughnessy does it all the time." It was playful, if not unprovoked. Obviously not a big deal, but for Francona to come up the line as quickly as he did, it's clearly something he'd been thinking about. You can almost imagine him sitting in his office perusing Shaughnessy's column and wanting to reach through the pages and strangle him.

The point is he's reading. He's watching. He's in-tune. He cares.

There's no doubt that his players appreciate that. And fans should, too.

Now if only that appreciation could shave off a few games in the Wild Card.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

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.