NFL superstar continues to play through pain

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NFL superstar continues to play through pain

From Comcast SportsNetALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Calvin Johnson didn't practice for the Lions on Thursday -- and that's a report Detroit fans may need to get used to.Doesn't mean he'll be any less of an asset Sunday."Calvin at any percent ... is a bonus for me or anybody else," offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said.Johnson toughed out Detroit's 31-14 victory over Jacksonville last weekend, catching seven passes for 129 yards after getting a pain-killing shot in his left knee. The All-Pro receiver is still banged up, but even if his practice time remains limited, he's a big part of the Lions' offense.Up next is a trip to Minnesota. The Vikings beat Detroit on Sept. 30, knocking Johnson around in the process. The 6-foot-5 Johnson was hit in the head and neck area by Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway. He was also hit in the end zone in that game, failing to hold on to a potential touchdown.Although he says he's feeling better now, there were some lasting effects from those collisions."Actually had some nerve damage," Johnson said. "Taking those hits, man, they're real violent. They definitely have a lot of lingering impact. ... Stuff shooting down your arms and stuff like that."Now it's the knee that's a concern."It's coming along. Definitely feels better than it was at this point last week," Johnson said. "I've just been doing a lot of stuff in weight room, just to strengthen the muscle around it."The rest of the NFL could barely contain Johnson last season, when he caught 96 passes for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. This season, he's on pace to post similar numbers -- except that he's only caught one TD pass.Last weekend it wasn't clear how effective he could be because of the knee, but he ended up playing one of his best games of the season."I always expect the ball," he said. "The production I had, it was actually very good considering what I was dealing with."Detroit needs Johnson to be a force, especially with receiver Nate Burleson out with a broken leg. The Lions (4-4) are in last place in the NFC North, but they're very much in the hunt for a wild card. The remaining schedule is tough, with two games against Green Bay and one each against Houston, Atlanta and Chicago.This weekend's game starts a stretch of three in 12 days for the Lions, including their annual contest on Thanksgiving."It's a tough stretch for everybody, whether you're hurt or not," Johnson said. "It's going to be a grind."One encouraging sign last weekend for Detroit was the emergence of the running game.Mikel Leshoure rushed for 70 yards and three touchdowns, and Joique Bell ran for 73 yards and a TD. The Lions set a season high with 149 yards on the ground -- exactly what the offense needed with Johnson on the mend and the passing game not looking quite as explosive as expected."We'd like to build on it," Linehan said. "It's going to be a tough challenge for us, but we feel confident in our ability as we're moving forward in our run game and having some things that we're doing. Backs are getting confidence, they're running good."Meanwhile, Johnson is managing his recovery carefully.Sitting out practice is not an ideal situation, but if it's necessary, he can adjust."I do know what I need to do by Sunday," Johnson said. "Experience helps with that."

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

Blakely: Game 4 loss shows just how much Celtics miss Isaiah

CLEVELAND --  Down the stretch in Game 4, the Celtics were desperate for someone, anyone, who could slow down Kyrie Irving.
 
But short of that, Boston could have used an offensive closer, too. You know, someone like Isaiah Thomas.

GAME 4: CAVS 112, CELTICS 99

 

The Celtics have relied on the two-time All-Star to carry much of the offensive burden this season, but he was almost always at his best in the fourth quarter.
 
A right hip injury knocked him out of this series after 1 1/2 games. Still, Boston managed to win Game 3 without him and, for large chunks of Tuesday night, seemed poised to beat the Cavs again on their home floor.
 
But as much as Game 4 was a reminder of just how special a talent Irving is (42 points, 21 in the third quarter when the game’s momentum swung in Cleveland's favor), it also provided a clue to the clueless who thought the Celtics were actually better without Isaiah Thomas.
 
Defensively?
 
Absolutely.
 
It’s no secret that teams go to great lengths to try and use his 5-foot-9 stature against him. And as we have seen, the deeper we get into the postseason the more trouble he and the Celtics seem to encounter from a defensive standpoint.
 
But just as we praise Irving for being such a special talent, Thomas has shown that he, too, has offensive gifts that, throughout this season, have left many fans, media and defenders befuddled as to how “the little fella” keeps coming up with one big play, one big shot after another.
 
But as we have learned, he has been dealing with a sore right hip injury for several weeks. The pain and discomfort eventually became too much to bear and so the Celtics did the right thing and shut him down.
 
Without him, the C's are still a good team that on any given night can knock off anyone, even the defending champs.
 
But as Game 4 reminded us, they need Thomas in order to be their best.
 
When Irving torched Boston’s entire defense with jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers, Euro-step lay-ups and free throws, the Celtics had no one to turn to who could maybe, just maybe, go back at Irving at the other end of the floor.
 
That's what Thomas does that makes him such a special, unique talent in this league.
 
He can score in a variety of ways, with the best in the NBA.
 
We saw that this past season, when he led all players in the Eastern Conference in scoring with a 28.9 points-per-game average.
 
Boston’s excellent ball movement and high assist numbers are certainly important to the team’s success. But to make a deep and meaningful playoff run, you need one or two guys who can just go get buckets regardless of what the opponent does defensively.
 
That’s not Avery Bradley.
 
That’s not Al Horford.
 
That’s not Kelly Olynyk.
 
You can search, poke and prod this roster all you want, and you'll come up empty when it comes to finding a player like that . . . other than Isaiah Thomas.
 
The fact the Celtics were able to avoid getting swept is a victory of sorts in itself. Boston’s coaching staff, as well as the front office, has repeatedly said that as talented as their team is, they aren’t on the same level of the defending champion Cavaliers.
 
And yet here we are four games into this series and the Celtics are basically a bad half of basketball away from being tied, 2-2.
 
It says a lot about their mental toughness, their ability to handle and navigate past adversity to give themselves a chance to be competitive against any team -- including the Cavs.
 
But their success this season has always been about the collective group, regardless of how many late-game shots Isaiah Thomas knocks down.
 
And while he has his shortcomings defensively, not having him available is going to hurt them in those late-game moments when they need a closer. It’s not a coincidence the Celtics were just 2-4 when he didn’t play during the regular season.
 
So as cool as it was for them to win Game 3 without Thomas, he’s still the straw that stirs the Celtics emotionally, bringing them to levels few think they're capable of reaching.
 
They were able to get by for one night without him, but remember this: It took Marcus Smart having an Isaiah Thomas-like game of 27 points and seven made 3’s, for them to win.
 
No one did anything remotely close to that Tuesday night.
 
They looked like the Isaiah Thomas-less Celtics, which is a look they don’t need this time of year.
 
Because that look is so not about winning.