Preview: Celtics vs. Pacers

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Preview: Celtics vs. Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS The Indiana Pacers' bench doesn't always put up huge numbers. But their impact has been a big reason why the Pacers have had so much success this year and why the Boston Celtics will have their hands full when the two square off tonight.

"We got nine, 10 guys deep on our bench that can come in and play, and have really helped us out," said Pacers swingman Danny Granger. "It's a luxury to have, that we have so many guys that are able to contribute."

The Celtics' second unit is in transition now with Avery Bradley in the starting lineup and Ray Allen coming off the bench. And like the Pacers, they too are counted on to contribute.

While most of the attention given to bench play has to do with scoring, the defense played by both second unit's has been among the best in the NBA.

According to the website HoopsStats.com, the Celtics' bench gives up an NBA-low 26.4 points per game. The Pacers' second unit defensively has been pretty good as well. Teams are scoring 29.6 points per game against them which ranks sixth in fewest bench points allowed per game. In Indiana's 103-98 win over Oklahoma City, the Thunder bench tallied 18 points - more than 13 points below their season average.

Bench play will indeed be a factor in tonight's outcome. Here are a few other keys to tonight's game with the C's needing to win it in order to tie the head-to-head series up at two games apiece and potentially, get home court advantage if the two finished the regular season with an identical record.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR The Boston Celtics got a rare day off on Friday, having played back-to-back games against San Antonio and Chicago, respectively, the two previous nights. They day off could not have come at a better time. Not only do the C's look as though they could have used the rest, but playing with one day off between games has usually been a good sign of things to come for Boston. This season, the Celtics are 20-10 in games in which they have one day of rest. That is far and away their best winning percentage in terms of how they perform following off days. You can count Paul Pierce among the C's who believes the day off will bode well for the Celtics' chances of winning tonight. "This is a tough schedule at this point," Pierce said. "We need the rest; we need to try and regroup ourselves and bounce back from two tough losses."
MATCHUP TO WATCH - Avery Bradley vs. Paul George: Avery Bradley is used to guarding bigger players, but Paul George will be a handful, for sure. Besides the six-inch height difference, Bradley's also dealing with a guy that's more than 30 pounds heavier. On top of that, George is coming off a career night in which he grabbed 16 rebounds. It was the most rebounds grabbed by an Indiana guard since 1977 - a span of 35 years. And it was the second-highest rebounding total for a guard in a game this year. The top spot belongs to Rajon Rondo, who grabbed 17 rebounds as part of a triple-double of 18 points and 20 assists in Boston's 115-111 win over New York on March 4.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett hasn't been his usually consistent self lately. In the month of April, Garnett has shot just 36.1 percent from the field - that's about 15 percent points below his season average. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said he will give some thought during this current stretch coming up, to sit a player or two. Don't be shocked if Garnett misses a game in the coming days that's non-injury related.

STAT TO TRACK - When you look back at what went wrong in the Celtics' loss at Chicago on Thursday, without question it was their struggles defensively in the third quarter. Tonight they face an Indiana team that is at its best in the third quarter of games. The Pacers average a league-best 25.8 points per game in the third quarter. Boston will try and counter with a defense that has been very strong in the third quarter, giving up just 21.8 points in the third which ranks second in the NBA and has been the C's best quarter defensively in terms of limiting opponents scoring.

Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

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Weird umpire replay mistake helps Red Sox to record-tying 20 Ks

New York’s mistake helped the Red Sox, and they weren’t playing the Yankees.

The Red Sox struck out 20 in a game for the third time in franchise history on Thursday night, and they were able to do so only after MLB’s replay team — based in Manhattan — gave Craig Kimbrel an extra batter to strike out in the ninth inning.

A 6-2 win over the Rangers featured 16 strikeouts for Red Sox pitching heading into the top of the ninth at Fenway Park. Kimbrel came on for a non-save situation because he had five days off previously.

There’s always that outside chance for a four-strikeout inning, and it happened. Even for a four-strikeout inning, however, this was bizarre.

The first batter, lefthanded hitting Nomar Mazara, swung and missed at a back-foot breaking ball for strike 3 — a literal back-foot breaking ball, because it hit him in that foot after he whiffed on the pitch.

On a swing and a miss with a pitch that hits the batter, the ball should be dead. He should not have been able to reach first base. But the umpires didn’t catch the ball hitting Mazara, and instead saw it as a wild pitch. 

Sox manager John Farrell asked for a review and the umpires went for one, but came back empty-handed. The crew was told, erroneously, that the play could not be looked at and the batter was awarded first base.

“It was just a swinging strike three, ball that go away and he obviously reached first base,” crew chief Alfonso Marquez told pool reporter Tim Britton of the Providence Journal. “The only thing that I can tell you, and the only thing I will say is, this was a replay issue. New York will come out with a statement.”

You could say it worked out just fine. Kimbrel went on to strike out the next three, and got the Sox to 20 Ks.

Kimbrel and Tim Wakefield are the only Red Sox pitchers to fan four batters in a single inning. Wakefield did it in the ninth inning on Aug. 10, 1999. 

Kimbrel did it once before as well, when he was with the Braves on Sept. 26, 2012.

No one has struck out five in a major league inning, although Kimbrel has as good a chance as anyone.

“The guy strikes out the world,” Matt Barnes said. “It’s ridiculous. … His fastball is seemingly unhittable. Complement that with the breaking ball he’s got, which comes right off that same plane, when he’s commanding it like he is, the numbers kind of speak for themselves. It’s kind of ridiculous. It’s fun to watch.”

The Sox have struck out 20 in a nine-inning game three times since 1913. Roger Clemens' two 20-strikeout games are the other two.

Red Sox win 4th straight behind stellar outing from Pomeranz, 6-2

Red Sox win 4th straight behind stellar outing from Pomeranz, 6-2

BOSTON - Drew Pomeranz pitched six strong innings and tied his career high with 11 strikeouts to lift the Boston Red Sox to a 6-2 victory over the Texas Rangers on Thursday night.

Xander Bogaerts and Deven Marrero hit their first home runs of the season helping Boston to their fourth straight win.

Pomeranz (4-3) made it as far as six innings for the third time this season and beat Texas for the first time in nine career outings.

Elvis Andrus homered and Nomar Mazara had two hits and an RBI for Texas, which has lost four of five overall and has lost 15 of 21 on the road.

Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland had RBI singles in the first inning as Boston got to Rangers pitcher Nick Martinez (1-3) early.