Jefferson: 'It's always good to come back'

Jefferson: 'It's always good to come back'

BOSTON -- On March 28, 2007, the Boston Celtics beat the Orlando Magic in double overtime at TD Garden for the 22nd victory of their 24-win season. Captain Paul Pierce led the team with 32 points, seven rebounds, and five assists while up-and-coming big man Al Jefferson posted a double-double with 23 points and 13 rebounds. Rookie Rajon Rondo added six points, five rebounds, and five assists.

Fast forward to March 28, 2012.

The Celtics beat the Utah Jazz, 94-82, in regulation on the parquet. Captain Paul Pierce scored 20 points and six rebounds while the now-All Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, dished 14 assists along with six points and four rebounds. On the opposing end, Jefferson, currently in his eighth season and third NBA team, posted a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds.

The trio were the only members from the 2007 Celtics squad on the court together five years later.

As Jefferson made his return to Boston, he still found a sense of familiarity in the place he called home for the first three seasons of his career.

It seems like many years ago, many, many years ago, but its only been, what, five, six years ago, he said after the game. Every time I come back, its always good to come back and play on this court.

Jefferson was the centerpiece of the multi-player deal which sent Kevin Garnett from the Minnesota Timberwolves to the Celtics in the summer of 2007. The Cs went on to win a title that season. Jefferson, on the other hand, spent three seasons on losing Timberwolves teams before being traded to the Jazz in 2010.

On Wednesday night, Jefferson and Garnett were called for double technical fouls against one another. But there are no feelings of bitterness on Jeffersons end. Double techs or not, he respects the future Hall of Famer he was sent to Minnesota for.

That was Kevin being Kevin, Jefferson said. Hes been here long enough to know how he operates. Its just him. But I got mad respect for Kevin, great player. He made a way for me, being drafted out of high school, thats all I have to say about that.

He continued about the trade, It was an honor. Thats something Ill tell my grandkids one day, that I got traded for one of the best players to ever play the game. Thats the way I look at that.

Jefferson was not only impacted by the player he was traded for, but also the ones still in Boston. Entering the NBA as a teenager following his senior year of high school, Jefferson tried to soak up everything he could learn from Pierce. The veteran leader of a young squad, Pierce pulled off moves his teammates would need years to perfect.

Playing with Paul Pierce was an honor because I watched him growing up, said Jefferson. I always thought he had -- Joe Johnson had that same kind of game. He doesnt move up or speed up for anybody. Paul plays his pace.

Everybody always asks me, Whered you get that ball fake from? I got it from Paul Pierce. I used to always watch how he set up that ball fake and thats where I stole it from him. So it was always an honor playing with him.

In addition to Pierces proven experience, Jefferson also saw something in the Celtics young point guard. He played just one season with Rondo, but it was enough time for Jefferson to realize Rondo would make a name for himself.

Rondo, when he was a rookie, you saw it, he said. You knew that he was going to be something special, just like I did in Kevin Love. Now, seeing him do what he has done, I guess Im not really surprised by it because I saw it. He was in a great opportunity and he turned out to be a very, very, very special player. Im glad I had a chance to experience that and have that little time with him.

Jefferson crosses paths with his former teammates who have since left the Celtics as he travels throughout the league. And regardless of how many of them are still playing in Boston, returning to the city where he started his NBA career makes him appreciate his place in the NBA.

Everybody is pretty much gone except for Paul, Rondo, and (head coach) Doc (Rivers), he said. But thats how it goes. It seems like every time I play a game, I see somebody I used to play with. But at the end of the day, its a blessing to still be in this league. It might not be with the same team, but at least youre still in the league.

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.