Boston Bruins

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.

Bruins have just as good a chance as the Celtics do this season (which is small)

Bruins have just as good a chance as the Celtics do this season (which is small)

Dan Shaughnessy ran a piece this week calling the Bruins the No. 4 team in town these days. He wasn’t wrong. They are. 

Of course, the claim isn’t really a discussion about the Patriots or Red Sox, as they’ll always be the two most popular teams in town. It’s about the Bruins being behind the Celtics, which again, they are. 

Yet while the general premise of the story was correct, there was an issue to be taken with the piece. Shaughnessy wrote that, “In terms of overall interest and championship hopes, [the Bruins] are a distant fourth.”

That’s where he’s wrong. Nobody would argue against the Celtics garnering more interest (even if the Bruins might have a stronger fanbase), but championship hopes? The teams are deadlocked. 

The Celtics are one of the top teams in a league in which only one team (the Warriors) has a chance. The Bruins are a middle-of-the-pack team in a league in which the literal last team in the playoffs (the No. 16 seed Predators) went to the Stanley Cup Final last season. 
 
This isn’t about which team is better, because that’s not close. The Celtics have three All-Stars in their starting five and the third overall picks from each of the last two drafts. They’ve also got one of the best coaches in the league. 

It’s also not about who will likely go farther. The Celtics will at the very least reach the Eastern Conference finals. The issue is that they’ll then either be eliminated by the Cavaliers or earn the opportunity to perhaps get swept by the Warriors in the Finals. 

That leaves the Celtics with a certainty of a very good season, but also close to an impossibility of a championship season. 

As for the Bruins, they probably won’t be much better than they were last season, if at all. This season was always the one to watch in the Sweeney era, as it will see the biggest implementation of the young players drafted. There should be at least four Sweeney draft picks on the team this year (Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson), plus youngsters from the Chiarelli era still pushing for jobs. 

The biggest change figures to be on the back end, where the Bruins should have the best top-four they’ve had since Sweeney dealt Dougie Hamilton. A lot of that rides on McAvoy, but there remains hope on the back end in future seasons with Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril trying to eventually break in. 

Will the Bruins rule their division the way the Celtics will? Most likely not. The guess here is that Tampa and Montreal will finish ahead of teams like Boston, Ottawa and Toronto. 

Yet there isn’t a Cleveland or a Golden State waiting to swallow up whoever does emerge throughout the playoffs, and that’s what leaves the Bruins and Celtics with equal chances at a title. The Penguins have won back-to-back titles, but the Bruins have gone 4-1-1 against them in the regular season the last two years. They’re hardly the unstoppable force that exists in Golden State. 

So in terms of buzz, offseason moves and anticipation for a new season? Sure, the Celtics have it all over the B’s. I’m certainly way more excited for basketball season. When it comes to championship hopes, however, the B’s and C’s are no different. 

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

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THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Rams hold off 49ers for wild 41-39 win

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Coach Sean McVay walked into the postgame news conference and immediately asked, "Anyone have a beer?"

He probably wasn't the only person who wanted a drink after watching a surprisingly thrilling Thursday night shootout between his Rams and the San Francisco 49ers that wasn't decided until Los Angeles prevented a potential game-tying 2-point try and then delivered a rare defensive stop after blowing the onside kick in a 41-39 victory.

"We talk about mentally tough, be your best regardless of the circumstance," McVay said. "I thought the players did that. They found a way in spite of some of the ups and the downs to come away with the win."

While the defense came up big late, it was the offense that carried the day for the Rams (2-1), who have gone from the lowest-scoring team in the NFL a year ago to a dynamic one through three games under McVay.

Jared Goff threw for 292 yards and three touchdowns, Todd Gurley ran for 113 yards and scored three TDs and Robert Woods (108) and Sammy Watkins (106) each topped the 100-yard mark receiving in Los Angeles' second 40-point performance of the season. The Rams have 107 points in all so far, the second-most in franchise history after three games to the 119 by "The Greatest Show on Turf" squad in 2000.

"Since I've been here we haven't been able to do that," Gurley said. "Hopefully we can keep putting points together, keep working together and keep learning from this. I think we left a lot more points off the board."

This win didn't come easy as the Rams nearly blew a 15-point lead, giving up two late touchdowns, fumbling a kickoff return and failing to recover an onside kick. But Los Angeles managed to stop a potential game-tying 2-point conversion on a deflection by Troy Hill and then used an offensive pass interference penalty against Trent Taylor and a fourth-down sack by Aaron Donald to stop the Niners after the onside kick.

The 49ers (0-3) scored five touchdowns after failing to get any the first two weeks but still came up short in part because a missed extra point by Robbie Gould forced them to try for 2 on their late touchdown.

"I just rushed it, I missed it, I made a mistake," Gould said. "Obviously, I wish I didn't do that, or we'd probably be playing in overtime right now.""

This time it was a tired defense that hurt San Francisco. After facing 79 plays in a 12-9 loss at Seattle on Sunday, the 49ers appeared to run out of gas on the short week as Goff frequently had wide-open receivers, especially on third down.

The Rams were 8 for 12 on third down, including all three of Goff's touchdown passes.

The Rams needed all that offense on a night where Brian Hoyer threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score.

QUICK START: The Rams took just 12 seconds to get on the board as Nickell Robey-Coleman intercepted Hoyer on the first play from scrimmage and returned it to the 3-yard line. Gurley ran it in on the next play to give the Rams a 7-0 lead.

"I just told him to start over," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "Got to go back to work. We didn't change anything, went right on with the script. But it was a tough way to start out."

DROUGHT BUSTER: The 49ers came into the game without a touchdown on the season but broke through in the first quarter with some help from the Rams. After Blake Countess jumped offside on a punt, the Niners took advantage of the second opportunity and drove to score on Hoyer's 9-yard run 126:43 into the season. That was the longest it took a team to score its first TD since 2006 when both Tampa Bay (143:03) and Oakland (127:10) took more time.

FOURTH DOWN CALLS: Both teams drove to the opposing 1 on their opening drives of the second half with help from a Willie Mays-style basket catch by Watkins and a perfect toe drag on the sideline by San Francisco's Pierre Garcon. But the Rams opted to kick a short field goal, while the 49ers went for it and converted on Carlos Hyde's 1-yard run that cut Los Angeles' lead to 27-20. Hyde added a second 1-yard run on fourth down in the fourth quarter.

INJURIES: Rams S Lamarcus Joyner left the game in the first half with a hamstring injury. ... Los Angeles C John Sullivan injured his groin in the second half and Watkins and Tavon Austin left with concussions. ... 49ers S Jaquiski Tartt (concussion), FB Kyle Juszczyk (neck), DL Tank Carradine (ankle) and LB Brock Coyle (concussion) all left with injuries in the second half.

UP NEXT: The Rams travel to Dallas on Oct. 1. The 49ers visit Arizona.