Rondo: 'We're making the same mistakes in our defense'

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Rondo: 'We're making the same mistakes in our defense'

BOSTON Lay-ups. Dunks. Jumpers out of the pick-and-roll.
You name a means of scoring, and there was a very good chance the San Antonio Spurs found success with it against the Boston Celtics.
And the end result was a 112-100 Celtics loss, a game whose score offers a glimpse into how problematic things are right now for the Celtics defensively.
"We pride ourselves on defense," said C's point guard Rajon Rondo. "And we're just not getting it done."
And it has left C's coach Doc Rivers searching for answers as to what it will take to remedy the defensive struggles his team continues to find itself in on a seemingly game-by-game basis.
It was suggested that maybe the Celtics simply need to play harder to snap out of their defensive doldrums.
Rivers shot that theory down quickly.
"We've got to do our coverages better; bottom line," Rivers said. "Harder and all that, that sounds great. That's what everyone says when you lose; 'you've got to play harder.' Well, we've got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint."
Still, the C's do tend to allow players too much freedom and comfort when they attack the rim.
"We're not taking away anything," Rondo said. "We have to do a better job -- not to hurt anyone -- but not let guys finish at the rim. We have to make them go to the line. It's a collective team effort. It starts with me. I have to do a better job on pick-and-roll coverage and try to get back and help my bigs rebound."
Many of the C's breakdowns came about in their pick-and-roll defense that the Spurs essentially picked apart all game long.
San Antonio had 58 points in the paint compared to Boston's 34. When it came to second-chance points, the Spurs crushed the C's, 17-2. The second-chance points discrepancy spoke volumes about how lopsided the game was on the boards with San Antonio holding a 41-25 advantage.
"It's tough, it's tough," said Kevin Garnett when asked about seeing such lopsided numbers put up against the C's defensively.
Garnett said Wednesday's game was indeed a blow to the Celtics' defensive identity.
It's hard to argue otherwise when you consider they've given up 100 or more points in five games this season, and three of the last four.
"But you know what? It's not going to be the first time (the C's give up a lot of points)," Garnett said. "But it is some positives to this. I'm sure Doc will pull them out and we'll pull them out as a team as we gather and get ready for our next game."
Maybe so, but for those who were a witness to the C's being dismantled in just about every way imaginable on Wednesday, finding anything positive moving forward is a lot easier said than done.
If Tony Parker wasn't dropping a soft floater from the middle of the paint, he was finding one of his big men open around the basket for a lay-up or dunk.
When Boston took those away, San Antonio shooters were relatively open for corner 3s.
"We've been a little out of sync on offense the last 2-3 games, but I thought tonight we played well offensively," said Tony Parker who had a game-high 26 points to go with six assists. "We moved the ball and shared the ball and defensively we were pretty solid."
And there was little the C's appeared capable of doing about it.
"They did a good job at everything," Rondo said. "We didn't take away anything we wanted to tonight."
And yet with all the problems Boston was having with its defense and rebounding, they were trailing by just six points (104-98) with 3:16 to play courtesy of a 10-2 run fueled in large part by Rondo who led the C's with 22 points and 15 assists.
"We were right there because nobody could stop anybody on either team," said Rivers, whose team shot 53 percent compared to the Spurs who connected on 58 percent of their shots from the field. "To me, that was fool's gold, because the way we were playing defense you're not going to get a stop, you're not going to win a game."
And sadly for the C's, the problems defensively have been pretty consistent all season.
"We're making the same mistakes in our defense, night in and night out," said Rondo. "We have to do a better job of focusing in during our shoot-arounds in the morning, when we're given an assignment."
The C's will take Thanksgiving off and get right back at it on Friday against Oklahoma City which will pose as big -- if not a bigger -- a challenge than San Antonio.
For Rivers, there's plenty to work on and review between now and Friday night's tip-off against the Thunder.
Picking apart what the C's need to do specifically to improve is not easy, not when there are so many areas defensively that need to be shored up sooner rather than later.
"You know, offensively you score 100 points, 53 percent (shooting from the field), you're pretty happy," Rivers said. "But we just let a team shoot 58 percent against us. We let a team shoot 50 percent from the three against us. And it's tough to win a game. You shouldn't win a game, if that happens."

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.