Boston Celtics

Patriots defense satisfied after shutout

972823.jpg

Patriots defense satisfied after shutout

FOXBORO -- Sunday marked the Patriots' first shutout since 2009.

It came at a crucial time of the season, in a Week 17 divisional game that would decide their first-round playoff fate.

New England already had clinched the AFC East, but because the Texans lost earlier in the day, the Patriots had an opportunity to move from the No. 3 seed in the AFC into one of the top-two seeds, securing a first-round bye. But they needed to beat the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

Not only did they do that, but they did it by recording a season-high seven sacks, forcing an interception and recovering a fumble. In the process, they allowed zero points, their first shut out since 2009.

"Anytime you can look up at the end of the game and see that zero up there on the scoreboard, that's a good thing," said Patriots safety Steve Gregory, whose first quarter interception led to a Wes Welker touchdown reception two plays later, giving the Patriots an early 7-0 lead.

The Dolphins came close to scoring twice on Sunday. Kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 41-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and then Dont'a Hightower recovered a Miami fumbled hand-off at the Patriots' 1-yard line late in the third quarter.

Other than that, New England's defense didn't allow the Dolphins to do much. And when they did, they made up for it with three sacks from rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis and one sack each from defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, and Trevor Scott, and safety Derrick Martin.

All of that made up for losing Rob Ninkovich to an injury mid-game.

"We rallied, man," said starting cornerback Kyle Arrington. "We did our best to rally for Rob Ninkovich. He's been big for us all year, making huge plays. So to see him go down like that, we just tried to do our best to pick up where we left off."

The Patriots were also missing cornerback Aqib Talib and inactive defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner, and Marquice Cole on Sunday, making the shutout -- and the defensive statistics to go with it -- that much more impressive.

"It feels good when you can shut out a team, especially a division rival," said Wilfork. "Going in and doing what we did tonight was some pretty good stuff. We played well together as a team. We made some plays. We executed very, very well. I'm very proud of that . . . I think we did a lot of things well tonight that can win some ballgames for us.

"That's always awesome when you walk away with a goose egg on the scoreboard," added Wilfork. "That's very, very satisfying."

But is it a statement to the rest of the league, and anybody who ever doubted this Patriots defense, entering the playoffs?

"It's definitely a good momentum builder," said Arrington. "There's still some things to work on that we can improve. Always reaching for the sky."

So Arrington was asked again, is it a statement?

"The goal is always to keep the opposing team from scoring," he said.

That is true. But Arrington was reminded that this was the first New England shutout in three seasons.

"It's definitely a confidence-builder, I'll tell you that, at least," he said.

Yes, but once again, is it a statement?

"Like I said, it's always our goal to stop a team from scoring points," said Arrington. "That's our job. So we didn't really do anything but go out there and try to do our job the best we could."

Bill Belichick agreed.

"Today they did a good job," said the Patriots' coach. "Anytime you can hold a team to no points in this league, you have to be doing something right."

No longer the little team that could, Celtics may need time to jell

No longer the little team that could, Celtics may need time to jell

Fireworks have been ablaze in the NBA all summer long, with the latest electrifying salvo being tossed by the Boston Celtics in trading for Kyrie Irving from Cleveland in exchange for a package of playerscentered around Isaiah Thomas and a first-round pick centered around Isaiah Thomas. Without question the Celtics were among the biggest winners this offseason as they went about transforming their roster significantly despite having the best record in the East while advancing to the conference finals. But good wasn’t good enough, a similar mantra by a number of teams in the NBA. We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin!

BOSTON – Expectations for the Celtics this season are the highest they've been in the Brad Stevens Era.
 
The past couple of years, Stevens’ crew was seen as a scrappy bunch.
 
That all changed Tuesday night when the Celtics pulled off a blockbuster trade in acquiring Kyrie Irving from Cleveland for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the rights to the Brooklyn Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

MORE ON THE KYRIE IRVING BLOCKBUSTER:

 
Acquiring the four-time All-Star would have made this offseason one of the best ever for the Celtics. But prior to landing the 25-year-old point guard, Boston was able to sign Gordon Hayward to a four-year, $127.8 million contract after he spent his first seven seasons in the NBA with the Utah Jazz.
 
The new guys join a Celtics team that returns just four starters, a group led by Al Horford, who stands as the lone returning starter from last season’s squad which finished with the best record in the East (53-29) while advancing to the Eastern Conference finals before losing in five games to Cleveland.
 
Adding a pair of All-Stars to the mix will certainly benefit the Celtics for this upcoming season. But for their continued growth, they will also need to get more from their youngsters.
 
Second-year forward Jaylen Brown had a strong offseason and is poised to build off of a rookie season in which he was named to the All-Rookie second team. Boston will also look to get quality play from rookie Jayson Tatum who was selected by Boston with the third overall pick in the NBA draft.  
 
For Boston, the biggest concern has to be chemistry.
 
There’s no question there’s more talent on this roster from top to bottom.
 
But with this being the first go-around for most of the players, it remains to be seen just how long it will take for all of the core players to get on the same page and find success.
 
That challenge won’t be easy, especially with the Celtics opening with seven of their first 11 games on the road.

Even with all the new faces and a challenging schedule out the gates, that won’t diminish the heightened level of expectations for a team that will surely have a bull’s-eye on its back all season for a journey that should result in yet another deep playoff run.
 
Key free agent/trade additions: Kyrie Irving (from Cleveland); Gordon Hayward (from Utah); Aron Baynes (from Detroit); Marcus Morris (from Detroit).
 
Key losses:
Avery Bradley (traded to Detroit); Amir Johnson (Philadelphia); Jonas Jerebko (Utah).
 
Rookies of note:
Jayson Tatum; Semi Ojeleye.
 
Expectations:
60-22 (First in the Atlantic Division, first in the East)

CSNNE SCHEDULE

BST PODCAST: What grade would you give the Celtics trade for Kyrie Irving?

best_of_bst_podcast.jpg

BST PODCAST: What grade would you give the Celtics trade for Kyrie Irving?

0:41 - What grade would you give the Celtics for their trade for Kyrie Irving? Michael Holley, Kayce Smith, Tom Curran, break it down and give their grades.

4:32 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakley discuss how Kyrie Irving will fit in the Celtics system and how Brad Stevens will handle the roster with new egos.

8:50 - We take a look back at the Pierce and Garnett trade to the Nets that landed the Celtics multiple 1st round picks. Are you pleased with how the Celtics used those picks? Is Danny Ainge a Hall of Fame executive? Michael Holley, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Tom Giles discuss.

14:30 - Our BST crew talk about the Red Sox getting the win over the Indians, Eduardo Nunez being hit intentionally by Corey Kluber, and if Chris Sale will retaliate.