McCourty very familiar with Rice's skills

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McCourty very familiar with Rice's skills

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty wasn't with the Patriots when Ray Rice stomped on New England's plans to make the AFC title game two seasons ago.

Rice rumbled for an 83-yard touchdown on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage against the Patriots in their AFC Wild Card Playoff game that year. The run took the wind out of Gillette Stadium and kick-started the Ravens' 33-14 win.

McCourty, who was drafted by New England the following spring, wasn't in the secondary or on the sideline for that Patriots gut punch. But he still knows just how dangerous Rice can be. He knew long before that 83-yard score.

McCourty and Rice were teammates at Rutgers University for three seasons (2005-2007), and McCourty became well acquainted with Rice's skills while going up against the compact running back in practices.

"In practice he made play after play," McCourty said of Rice. "It's his versatility. He plays hard. He has good balance. I see the same things watching film on him now that I used to see up close in practice. I always knew he was going to be a great player."

Few could have known just how great Rice would be. He's become one of the NFL's premier running backs, and perhaps its most versatile. He had 1364 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing, 704 yards and 3 touchdowns receiving this season.

Still, McCourty emitted confidence on Friday when he remembered their one-on-one battles in college.

"A couple times we went against each other," McCourty said with a smile. "I won them all."

If McCourty has to make many tackles on his former teammate, it's not a great sign for the Patriots defense. In all likelihood, they would like to keep Rice bottled up somewhere closer to the line of scrimmage than McCourty's area in the secondary.

Rather, McCourty will be more concerned with limiting Baltimore through the air. The Ravens have receivers who can go downfield -- Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin are two guys who have done that in the NFL for years. But Torrey Smith, a rookie receiver from Maryland -- the Patriots actually scouted him and ran him through a private workout -- has emerged as their most consistent big-play guy.

He made 50 catches for 841 yards and 7 touchdowns over the course of the season, and the Patriots have taken notice. His 16.8 yards per catch average trails that of only Lee Evans (18.5), who made just four regular-season grabs.

"He flies down the field and runs by guys," McCourty said. "I think the biggest thing, why Joe Flacco has confidence with him, is that he comes down with the catch. We really gotta be ready to cover himdown the field, but he also makes plays after the catch. He's dangerous with the ball in his hands. We just have to be ready."

They'll have to be ready from the very beginning, ready to guard against that game-opening gut-punch, or else they could be staring at a repeat of their 2009 nightmare.

Clutch plays down stretch help Celtics hold on for 104-98 win over Pistons

Clutch plays down stretch help Celtics hold on for 104-98 win over Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The fourth quarter rolled around and the Boston Celtics got something they seldom get at that time – big plays made by someone not named Isaiah Thomas.

A 3-pointer from the corner by Jaylen Brown and a hustle play by Marcus Smart proved to be the difference for Boston as they held on for a 104-98 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Trailing 96-95, Brown drained a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play.

On the miss, Smart grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

Smart, who had 14 points and five assists, made both free throws that put Boston up 100-96 with 37.3 seconds to play.

The Pistons would never get any closer as the Celtics (38-21) snapped a two-game losing streak and just as important, won the head-to-head series three games to one.

While it’s unlikely these two will finish the regular season with an identical record, the Celtics need to win as many head-to-head battles in the East as they can just to make sure they don’t run into a situation like they did last year when they finished in a four-way tie and ultimately wound up as a fifth seed.

Despite winning three of the four meetings this season, the Pistons (28-31) never make it easy.

A strong finish in the third quarter had Detroit trailing Boston by just five points going into the fourth. It soon became a one-possession game after Jon Leuer short jumper.

Smart got the Celtics on the scoreboard in the fourth by draining a jumper while being fouled by Andre Drummond. The 3-point play put the Celtics ahead 82-76 with 9:41 to play.

Detroit responded with an 8-2 spurt to tie the game at 84-all following a lay-up by Jon Lauer with 6:03 to play.

Boston scored four of the next five points to regain their lead, but there was no mistaking the Pistons were not going away anytime soon.

Throughout the fourth, Detroit began to get more of the 50/50 balls, resulting in second and third-shot opportunities which for several stretches proved to be the best play call for the Pistons.

Boston’s biggest weakness against Detroit, rebounding, was alive and well and as problematic as ever.

But the Celtics did just enough when it mattered to more than hold their own on the boards.

They finished +6 (51-45) on the boards against Detroit, leading after each quarter of play.

Detroit tied the game at 88 on a 3-pointer from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that rattled in with 3:55 to play.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics got the ball in Isaiah Thomas’ hands and he soon put Boston back on top 90-88 following a pair of free throws.

Detroit went ahead 93-92 following a trio of free throws by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only for a Marcus Smart put-back basket put the Celtics back on top.

Caldwell-Pope wasn’t done. He drained a 3-pointer that put the Pistons (96-94) back on top with 2:08 to play.

Boston led by as many as 15 points, but saw their lead all but wiped away by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.

Detroit, picking up its overall aggression and efficiency scoring the ball, were within 70-66 in the third before a turnover led to a Jae Crowder lay-up with about three minutes to play in the quarter.

Boston began to surge away with Terry Rozier draining a 3-pointer followed by a pair of free throws that put the Celtics ahead 78-69 with 1:32 to play in the third.

It was yet another example of the ‘Next-Man-Up’ mantra that has been instrumental to Boston being able to sustain one injury after another.

Rozier’s role was increased in part because of his play, but also because of Gerald Green’s heel injury. He would finish with 13 points off the bench.

But the Pistons continued to prove to be pesky bunch as they chipped away at Boston’s lead which stood at 79-74 going into the fourth quarter.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Rough start for Al Horford

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Rough start for Al Horford

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in which the Celtics lead 54-50.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

At the half he led all scorers with 16 points coming on 6-for-10 shooting from the field.

Reggie Jackson

The former Boston College star has been a main cog in the Pistons’ offense tonight, leading them with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting with five assists.

 

STUDS

Marcus Morris

He was relatively quiet most of the first half, but came up with a last-second 3-pointer that sent the Pistons into the half with some momentum to cap off a 15-9 run to end the quarter.

Jaylen Brown

Boston is looking for a steady No. 2 scorer to compliment Isaiah Thomas, and Brown was that guy throughout most of the first half. He finished with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting to go with three rebounds.

Amir Johnson

The former Piston looked very much at home around the rim in the first half, scoring just four points but grabbing seven rebounds in addition to dishing out two assists.

Andre Drummond

He had six points and six rebounds in the first half, but didn’t really dominate the way you would expect from the best big man in the building. Boston didn’t give him too many looks at the basket, and when they did they fouled him. He went to the line for five free throws in the half, and missed all of them.

 

DUDS

Al Horford

Boston has made getting him the ball tonight a priority, and the four-time All-Star is simply not finishing off plays. Credit Detroit’s defense which has contested most of Horford’s shot attempts. That said, he has to deliver more offensively than the two points he scored while missing eight of his nine field goal attempts.