Pierce finally finding his rhythm

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Pierce finally finding his rhythm

BOSTON Paul Pierce has to go.

He's too old, too slow, too out of shape to give the Boston Celtics what they've come to expect from him.

Go out and get Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Atlanta's Josh Smith, somebody -- anybody -- before Pierce's trade value dips any lower, some said.

The rumblings to make a major change steadily grew as the Celtics losses mounted, but coach Doc Rivers remained committed. When Pierce's health and conditioning improved, Rivers said, he would start playing like the Paul Pierce fans have come to love.

That time appears to have arrived, as the Celtics (7-9) are in the middle of their best stretch of play this season.

Monday night's 31-point beatdown of the Orlando Magic was Boston's second straight win, and third in the last four games.

And the key to that success? Paul Pierce.

In the last four games, Pierce has averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 assists and five rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field.

But the numbers only tell part of the story about how Pierce has willed this Celtics team back into, at the very least, what looks like a playoff contender.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, was not surprised that Pierce struggled to start the season.

"He had zero training camp," Ainge told CSNNE.com, referring to the right heel injury that forced Pierce to miss all but one practice in training camp as well as the first three regular season games.

"And even when he came back, he wasn't 100 percent. It's a credit to Paul that he's out there playing, and he's trying to get himself in shape and trying to do what he can to help our team."

Making matters even more complicated was a report that teams were calling the C's to see about Pierce's availability.

"You can't pay attention to that," Pierce said. "That's part of the business. You just gotta do your job as a professional each and every day. That's about it."

Lately, that's exactly what the Truth has done for the Celtics who will face Orlando Thursday -- a team that they embarrassed in every way imaginable on Monday.

The Magic scored a franchise-low 56 points, the kind of performance nobody saw coming when you consider the Celtics were without their starting backcourt of Ray Allen (ankle) and Rajon Rondo (wrist), along with three key reserves.

"They came out and just absolutely dominated us with their energy and their defensive intensity," Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the loss. "That's the most dominating defensive performance I have ever had against me.

Van Gundy added, "It's the first game in my career I've been through where not one guy played well. We didn't have one guy. That was an absolute beat-down, and in most senses it was much worse than the score indicated."

And while it was the C's defense that carried the day, Pierce's play was once again instrumental in Boston getting its first win of the season over a team with a winning record.

"Throughout this short season, it's funny how people expect you to start off perfect," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "It's really a testament to Paul, who he is and what people know him to be. You have no idea how hard it is to get ready for an NBA season, to prepare, drills, sand hills, sand dunes, lines, running, weights, beach, 4:30 a.m. workouts, two-a-days it's still not an NBA game.

Garnett added, "You can do all that stuff, you can do all the conditioning and stuff and all the shooting that you want; it's still not an NBA game."

As far as Pierce's early struggles, Garnett reiterated Ainge's thoughts on Pierce playing through the right heel injury.

"People wrote him off, which was funny," Garnett said. "But it gave some clarity to how people see him. He's in a rhythm now. He's never shy of confidence. He's the Truth. It's good to see him playing good basketball. He's always been our leader since I been here, and he will always be our leader. That's what it is."

Brandin Cooks ready to bring back arrow celebration after NFL rule change

Brandin Cooks ready to bring back arrow celebration after NFL rule change

Tuesday’s announcement from Roger Goodell that the NFL is “relaxing” its rules on celebrations is good news for at least one Patriot. 

That would be Brandin Cooks, who began celebrating the rule change on Twitter not long after the league made its announcement. 

Cooks, whom the Patriots acquired from the Saints this offseason in a trade that sent first and third-round picks to New Orleans, lost his favorite celebration last season when it was made clear that miming archery was off-limits. Josh Norman was fined $10,000 last season for such a celebration. 

Following Norman’s fine, Cooks lamented the league’s decision to punish what Cooks had previously done in reference to a Bible verse (Psalms 144:6). 

"Send forth lightning and scatter your enemy, and shoot your arrows and rout them," Cooks told the New Orleans Advocate. "I just remember it sticking with me for such a long time, I remember thinking, maybe I can do something with this."

Added Cooks: ”I’ve been doing it for three years now, and there was never a complaint about it. Now, all of a sudden, there is. It just reminds me that, it's almost as if they try to take so much away from us, but for something like this, that means so much to someone that has nothing to do with violence, it's frustrating. I'll definitely continue to speak my opinion about it, and if they have a problem with it, so be it."

When Tuesday’s news emerged, Cooks and former Saints teammate Mark Ingram were quick to react. 

 

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

Napoli: Red Sox and his agent only had 'small talk' about reunion

BOSTON -- Of course, the Rangers' Mike Napoli didn't mind the idea of replacing David Ortiz. He loved playing in Boston.

There just was never much chatter that way last offseason, when Napoli was a free agent after his Indians took the Cubs to seven games in the World Series.

"I think my agent had maybe a small talk or something [with the Red Sox], but I don't think it ever would have happened," Napoli said Tuesday afternoon as he returned to Fenway Park with Texas. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I would have loved to come back. But, I mean, it all worked out. I'm glad to be where I'm at now. Because I knew everybody here [with the Rangers]. I didn't have to start over again."

Napoli played with the Rangers in 2011 and '12, and was traded by the Sox to Texas for the last few months of the 2015 season.

He was hopeful the Sox -- his team from 2013 to midseason 2015 -- would be among the clubs to come calling last winter.

"Oh, yeah," he said.

But he wasn't optimistic it was going to happen. And it didn't.

"To be honest with you . . . Cleveland was my first priority," he said. "I just had a World Series run [with the Indians] and we didn't win it. And then Texas was there [in the bidding, along with] Minnesota."

The Rangers wound up giving Napoli, 35, a one-year deal for 8.5 million with an $11 million club option for next season or a $2.5 million buyout. He's hitting just .188 entering Tuesday, a subpar figure, but has 10 home runs.

"We started off pretty slow, but winning 10 straight will help," Napoli said of the Rangers' recent tear. "[Winning] 11 of 12, we've been playing better. I think we kind of lost track of who we are. We got some guys struggling, still trying to find themselves and kind of got away from doing it together as a team, but we got back to doing that. It's been going pretty well."

Part of the World Series championship team of four years ago, Napoli loved being in Boston in 2013, and he enjoys being back now.

"What we were able to do in 2013, obviously, it's something I'l never forget and something I cherish," Napoli said. "I love coming back here to play."

When it was noted there's been so much turmoil since Napoli left -- the talk of Tuesday was manager John Farrell's job security -- he was unsurprised.

"You got to have thick skin to play here," Napoli said. "You're expected to win a championship every single year. But that's what I loved about playing here, is that people were on you. For me, I loved it. A lot of people probably couldn't do it.

"I knew it in my heart that I went out there and I played as hard as I possibly could every single time . . . I know you're not going to be perfect and live up to everyone."