McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

884783.jpg

McDaniels hitting groove but still tweaking offense

Thursday night's game got so weird, so fast that the methodical beating the Pats seemed about to apply turned into a pie-in-the-face mess.

But it was clear on Thursday night that the Patriots offense - which had its moments of doubt and pain earlier in the season even as it put up points at a solid clip - is closer to becoming fully evolved.

Even without Rob Gronkowski, even with Aaron Hernandez coming back from his ankle injury (again), even on a short week, the Patriots ran some schemes against the Jets offensively that stretched New York to its breaking point. And past.

The slapstick nature of points 14 through 28 overshadowed the first 14 points the Patriots scored and the drive preceding on which Hernandez re-entered the Patriots offense with a 28-yard reception. But there were plays that showed offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is understanding how all his gadgets work.

"Obviously, the more time we spend together, the more you get to learn about different phases of each receiver's game and then how they all work together collectively," McDaniels said. "Whether it's the plays or the performance we're looking for from them, it's all tied together. Really what we try to narrow it to is, hone in on what we feel are the strengths of those groups of players that are working together. Whether that's throwing the ball between Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd. Whether that's a certain blocking combination on the edge with tight ends. Whatever it might be, we're trying to maximize the strengths of their games at the same time."

Thursday night, Shane Vereen was employed on two plays of note - a third-and-1 toss that looked like it was ripped from a high school playbook and gained 7. Vereen was also the recipient of a pass in the flat that went for 83 yards when the Patriots schemed it up perfectly to get a matchup of Bart Scott on Vereen.

In the course of asking McDaniels about getting comfortable with his weapons, I alluded to Brandon Lloyd and Tom Brady. McDaniels circled back to that tandem as being one that can still improve.

"We need to work on the weak points that maybe we're not doing as well that we need, NEED, to improve on as we go forward," said McDaniels. "I think with Brandon and Tom specifically, there's definitely some real good and then we're always going to try to find some things that we didn't hit positive as we go forward. I know that those two guys have tried extremely hard to try to get that done and hopefully we're gonna see more and more results as we go down the stretch here."

The first time the Patriots and Jets met, Lloyd was a focal point of the game plan and was targeted downfield outside the numbers. Eight throws went his way, he caught 1 for 6 yards.

Thursday, the Patriots featured the running game more and a lot of perimeter attacking based on scheming things and stretching coverage as opposed to beating guys 1-on-1. 

That, McDaniels said, is an outgrowth of the offense expanding.

"There's always things that you need to take and add to (the base offense) as you go based on the defense that you're seeing that week," McDaniels explained. "It may not be a brand new protection but maybe it's a route combination that we've never used from that protection off of a formation that we've used previously. I think those are the little things that we're sensitive to.

"You've heard the term "self scouting" before," McDaniels noted. "A lot of that has to do with looking at yourself and seeing what other teams are seeing and then go forward and either perfect things that are going well or give them something to think about as we go forward."

The Patriots will face two of the NFL's toughest defenses in the next month - the Niners and Texans. It will be interesting to see what New England hatches for them that neither team has seen on film. That will be evidence of what McDaniels is referring to.

"I don't think there's a period of time where you just come to a point in the season where you stop (adding to the offense)," he concluded. "I always think you can make yourself better by complementing some of the things you do well and hopefully that's what will continue to do for the last five weeks of the season."

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.