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.

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

Avery Bradley (Achilles) returning to Celtics lineup vs. Hawks

BOSTON – The wait is finally over for the Boston Celtics and Avery Bradley.

Bradley will return to the Celtics starting lineup tonight after having missed the previous 18 games (and 22 out of 23) with a right Achilles injury.

“I’m excited to be back out there,” Bradley said. “I can’t wait for the game to start.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Bradley will play with a minutes restriction for the first week, and adjust accordingly.

“I wanted to come back four weeks ago,” Bradley said. “But I have to do what’s smartest. Those (medical) guys know better than me. It was tough listening to them. But we came to a compromise I guess you could say and I can play tonight. I’m happy with that decision.”

Bradley said the training staff wanted him to get more practices playing at the level he’s accustomed to, prior to returning to action.

But with the Celtics’ schedule, practice time would be few and far between so limiting his minutes initially is indeed a compromise of sorts.

Although rookie Jaylen Brown has done a solid job filling in for Bradley with the first unit, Stevens had every intention of Bradley returning as a starter.

“He’s our starting two-guard,” Stevens said. “We started the year really well as far as that group playing together. We haven’t had that group playing together very often. Jaylen and Marcus (Smart) are both able to give us a lot off the bench as well as if we need to plug them into a (starting) lineup later on. We feel good about that.”

As far as handling Bradley’s minutes this week, Stevens has a very simple approach to what he needs to do.

“I’m just going to play him in the first couple of stints,” Stevens said. “And when his minutes run out he won’t play anymore. It is hard if you’re trying to save minutes for the end. I’m not sure that makes a lot of sense with getting stiff, sitting for a long time, coming off a long lay-off.”

Bradley is the Celtics’ second-leading scorer at 17.7 points per game along with a team-high 6.9 rebounds. A first-team All-NBA Defender last season, Bradley is also shooting a career-high 40.9 percent from 3-point range.

Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

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Arizona Cardinals place franchise tag on Chandler Jones

PHOENIX - The Arizona Cardinals, in an anticipated move, have placed a non-exclusive franchise tag on outside linebacker Chandler Jones after failing to reach a long-term deal with the player.

The non-exclusive tag allows the Cardinals to continue negotiating with Jones through July 15. If another team makes him an offer, Arizona can either match it or receive two first-round draft picks.

It's unlikely that any team would express interest in Jones, however, given what it would cost.

Under the franchise tag, Jones would receive about $15 million for the coming season.

Acquired in a trade with New England a year ago, Jones had 11 sacks, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 15 tackles for loss last season

Jones has 25 1-2 sacks over the past two seasons, third-most in the NFL over that span.

The Cardinals' move came two days before the NFL deadline for making franchise designations.

It also came on Jones' 27th birthday, prompting teammate David Johnson to tweet "Happy BDay to `The Man,' `Mr. Franchise' himself.....The one and only."

The franchise tag move came as no surprise.

Club President Michael Bidwill has stated all along that Jones would not be going anywhere, that the team didn't make the trade - sending guard Jonathan Cooper and a second-round draft pick to New England - to keep him just for one season.

"We're not going to mess around with that," Bidwill said in a recent interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. "He's a great pass rusher, but if we can't agree to terms that work for us, we're just going to franchise him, and his people know that."

Jones immediately upgraded what had been an average Cardinals pass rush at best. His fellow outside linebacker Markus Golden had 12 1-2 sacks and seven tackles for loss. Together they form one of the better outside pass rush combinations in the NFL.

By all accounts, the contract talks with Jones have been cordial and Jones has said he wants to stay in Arizona.

"I love it here," he said near the end of last season. "I love the vibe that the people give off and I can see myself being here for a long time."

Chandler heads a long list of free agents that the Cardinals must either re-sign or let go. That group includes starters defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Tony Jefferson and inside linebacker Kevin Minter.