Pierce's leadership gets Celtics on track

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Pierce's leadership gets Celtics on track

ATLANTA It figures that it took the words from 'The Truth' to get the Boston Celtics to play the Atlanta Hawks honestly.

Trailing by 15 points at the half, the Celtics found themselves arguing with one another with some players frustrated with some of the words spoken by head coach Doc Rivers about what they needed to do.

"We're kind of bickering with each other at halftime about what to do defensively, and I just reminded the guys that the fight isn't against us, it's against the other team," Pierce said. "Once we remembered that, we stepped up and played the kind of basketball that we're capable of playing."

Pierce challenging his teammates seemed to do the trick as Boston took control in the second half before pulling away for an 89-81 win.

Pierce's team-high 26 points - 17 of which came in the third quarter - was huge, obviously.

But his words at the half had an even bigger impact.

"He was saying, 'this ain't us. Where we at? Where's our grit at?'" C's guard Jason Terry recalled. "'We come out of this locker room, let's show 'em."'

Did they ever.

The Celtics overwhelmed the Hawks with a gritty, physical defense, clutch shots and within minutes, Atlanta was playing catch-up on a night when they had led by as many as 19 points.

Boston played with the kind of defensive fire and intensity that during some tense moments inside the locker room, seemed to be directed at Rivers.

"I told our guys we have to accept coaching," Pierce recalled saying. "Doc was telling us what to do , and guys were getting angry with him, and I told them the ones we need to be getting angry with is the other team."

And Pierce to some degree was angry as well; not at his teammates but at the fact that the Celtics have dug themselves (again) a hole that they will continue to have to fight out of between now and the playoffs.

But the fight becomes a lot easier when they play how they did against Indiana on Friday and in the second half of Saturday's win at Atlanta.

"It's time now," Pierce said. "I'm tired of seeing flashes of it for six minutes here or there, and then take six minutes off. I'm tired of that now. I don't have too much left in the tank as far as my career, so this is it. I feel like the East is wide open, so there is a tremendous opportunity out there for us."

Backes: Bruins are back to playing 'winning hockey'

Backes: Bruins are back to playing 'winning hockey'

BOSTON -- It felt very much like a welcome return to the good parts of the Bruce Cassidy Era on Tuesday night.

The Bruins jumped out to a strong, early lead, utilized strong, disciplined defense and good goaltending and closed things out strongly in the third period in a 4-1 victory over the Nashville Predators at TD Garden. The win really allows last weekend’s big two points against the Islanders to be a turning point, and gives the Black and Gold a three-point cushion for a playoff spot over a Tampa Bay Lightning group that just doesn’t seem to be going away.

The victory also improved the Bruins to 8-3 in 11 games at home under Cassidy, and that’s a big key knowing that they’ll be playing 5-of-6 games at the Garden to close out this season’s playoff push.

“We had a couple of boo-boos there in front of our net where we probably got going a little too quick, but at the end of the day, [it was] more positives than negatives, and that’s kind of how we want to play everywhere, but particularly in this building,” said Cassidy. “Let’s establish the energy level, be on our toes, be ready to play, and again, that was something we weren’t pleased with the last game in here. I addressed that, and that was one of the most satisfying responses from [Tuesday’s] home game.”

So it looks and sounds safe at this point to say the Bruins are out of their mini-tailspin and this won’t be the same kind of epic collapse that doomed the Black and Gold in each of the last couple of seasons. The Bruins blocked 24 shots, they put four goals on the board and they never trailed in a game against a Western Conference playoff team.

Sure, they might still miss the cut when it’s all said and done. But they’ve got a 70.3 percent chance of making the playoffs with just six games remaining in the season, so that’s about as good a position as they could hope for at this point.

“It was certainly a vindication of how we were playing on the Island [New York], and it wasn’t highlight reel or pretty – maybe Pasta [David Pastrnak] had a couple nice moves coming down the wall,” said David Backes. “But we made a lot of hard plays, blocked a lot of hard shots when we needed it, and that’s winning hockey. It showed up tonight in droves from a lot of different guys. It’s no secret that’s how you win games this time of year. It was awesome to see from all the guys.”

Now the Bruins need to simply bottle up the compete level and execution they showed on Tuesday night, and repeat it six more times while looking to snap the two year spell that’s had Boston out of the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Drellich: Breaking down Hernandez vs. Selsky

Drellich: Breaking down Hernandez vs. Selsky

Who’s on first? A middle infielder, maybe.

Hanley Ramirez, Josh Rutledge and Mitch Moreland aren't fully healthy. So the 25th man on the Red Sox has become a matter of corner-infield triage.

Rutledge was gearing up to play some first base with Ramirez restricted to DH because of his throwing shoulder. But Rutledge is hurt now too, likely headed to the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, Sox manager John Farrell said Wednesday morning in Florida.

Here’s the easiest way to think about who takes Rutledge's place: Who would the Red Sox like to see less against left handed pitching, third baseman Pablo Sandoval or first baseman Mitch Moreland? 

If it’s Sandoval, then you carry Marco Hernandez, who can play third base.

“He’s a very strong candidate,” manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida on Wednesday. “He’s one of a few that are being considered strongly right now.” 

If it’s Moreland, than you carry Steve Selsky, who has a history playing first base.

“He’s a guy we’re having discussions on,” Farrell said. “Any guy in our camp that we feel is going to make us a more complete or balanced roster, Deven Marrero, they’re all in consideration.”

The additional wrench here is that Moreland has the flu. If he's not available at all for a few days to begin the season, then the Sox probably have to carry Hernandez.

Why? Because Brock Holt can play some first base if Moreland is out. But then, you’d need another back-up middle infielder, and Hernandez gives you that. 

Hernandez is also hitting .379 in 58 at-bats this spring entering Wednesday.

Moreland isn’t the only one who has the flu.

"It’s running through our clubhouse," Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida on Wednesday, including the Providence Journal’s Tim Britton. "Probably be held out for three days for a quarantine.” (LINK:http://www.providencejournal.com/sports/20170329/with-josh-rutledge-and-mitch-moreland-ailing-first-base-depth-compromised-for-red-sox)

That means the Red Sox won't have Moreland for their exhibitions against the Nationals on Friday and Saturday in Washington D.C. and Annapolis, Md. Moreland could still be ready for the regular season, but would likely be at less than full strength.

Having Ramirez available would sure make things a lot simpler for the Sox.

Both Sandoval at third base and Moreland could use right-handed bats to complement them. Or more specifically, they could use people who can hit left-handed pitching to complement them.

Hernandez is a left-handed hitter who might actually be able to hit lefties. But the Sox haven't used him at first base, and there's no indication they will.

“As we look at the upcoming games, there is the potential for two left-handed starters in Detroit,” Farrell said. “So there’s a number of things being factored right now.”

Early in spring training, Farrell was asked what player had started to catch his eye.

The guy he mentioned was Selsky, an outfielder and first baseman the Red Sox feel fortunate to have picked up off waivers because he still has minor league options remaining.

Now Selsky, who has already technically been cut from major league spring training, has a chance at making the opening day roster. He's 27 and hit .356 in 45 Grapefruit League at-bats.

Chris Young isn't going to have an easy time finding at-bats as it stands now, but the Sox aren't considering moving him to first base.