From Comcast SportsNetMETAIRIE, La. (AP) -- Now that New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis has returned to work, the Saints need his crisis-management skills to be sharp.The organization continues to be rife with unsettled issues, some of which have made its fan base uneasy.So there was no time for Loomis to ease back into a routine Tuesday after serving his eight-game suspension in connection with the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints.His immediate tasks include clearing up the status of Sean Payton's contract extension through 2015, which NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has so far refused to approve since the coach signed it in 2011.Recent revelations that Payton is still not officially under contract beyond this season have only pushed anxiety-ridden Saints fans closer to panic. New Orleans has struggled while Payton has served his season-long bounty suspension, which, in the minds of many, has only strengthened the fiery and innovative coach's value.Loomis also will have to oversee contingency plans in the event that defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma have to serve their own bounty suspensions, which so far have been delayed by legal moves.The GM kept a low profile on his first day back.The Saints did not make him available to reporters and he did not immediately respond to requests for comments about his return to his Saints duties.Assistant head coach Joe Vitt said even he did not have much time to chat with Loomis when they met Tuesday morning, but Vitt stressed that people throughout the organization were comforted by knowledge that the GM was back for the last half of what has already been an extraordinarily eventful season."Listen, Mickey and Sean are the leaders of this building. It's not only great for Mickey to be back for our players and our coaching staff, but every person in our building," Vitt said. "Slowly but surely we're starting to get people back. Everybody knows here what Mickey means to me, but he also means just as much to everybody else in our building and our football team."Vitt also sounded skeptical of the idea that Payton would leave."Our football team loves Sean Payton. Sean Payton loves this football team," Vitt said. "Sean Payton loves this city. And this city loves Sean Payton. That goes a long way. That's what I know."At 3-5, the Saints are playoff longshots as they head into next Sunday's showdown in the Superdome with undefeated NFC South Division leaders Atlanta (8-0). Yet a sense of hope permeated team headquarters after a 28-13 victory over Philadelphia on Monday night that marked New Orleans' third victory in four games."I love this football team. I love the resolve. I love the togetherness. I love their work habits," Vitt said. "All that being said, we've got to get better this week."If the Saints are to get better, such strides will have to be made in an environment of uncertainty.Two people familiar with Payton's contract situation told The Associated Press that the Saints and Payton still see nothing wrong with a provision in the coach's extension that would allow Payton to opt out of his contract if Loomis -- who hired Payton in 2006 -- were to leave the club. The people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the NFL and Saints have declined public comment on the matter, say the Saints and Payton believe the provision is similar to one that allowed Bill Parcells to leave his post as executive vice president with Miami if ownership changed.Goodell has not publicly specified his problem with Payton's extension, which pays more than 6 million a year. The NFL has said the commissioner has not made a final determination about Payton's contract status for next season. Goodell has said, however, that he has discussed his concerns with the Saints and asked the club to rework part of the deal.Although Payton is suspended, he and the Saints currently may address Goodell's concerns with the extension, providing some hope of resolving the matter before the coach effectively becomes a free agent.Another major area of uncertainty involves ongoing challenges to players' bounty suspensions.Although Goodell has recused himself as arbitrator for four current or former Saints players' appeals of their bounty suspensions, the players -- Smith, Vilma, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove -- objected to Goodell's decision to appoint former commissioner Paul Tagliabue to handle the matter. The players say Tagliabue has a conflict because he works for the law firm that has represented the NFL in bounty-related matters. Tagliabue has given no indication he intends to step down, leaving the matter for a federal judge in New Orleans to decide.In the meantime, Smith and Vilma keep playing, and Saints coaches make weekly game plans on the assumption they'll have the two defenders in the lineup."You have to have a little bit of foresight should something happen. We've kind of just been under that thing all year long," defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. "Once we know the week is set the way the week is, we just move on and worry about the opponent we're playing."The Saints won't want to lose Smith and Vilma, given their leadership roles on a unit that needs help. The Saints are last in the NFL in yards allowed (471.3 per game) but did come through with clutch plays against the Eagles, including Patrick Robinson's interception return for a touchdown, a fumble recovery and seven sacks. Smith had two sacks and Vilma had two tackles for losses.If the suspensions are upheld, Smith will have to serve four games and Vilma the rest of the season.Saints linebacker Scott Shanle said he hopes that won't happen, but added that the Saints know worrying about it won't do any good."We're at the point now where it seems like every week there's something new to distract us, so people are like, The hell with it. We'll wait to figure it out when the time comes,'" Shanle said. "We're trying to fight our way back into something and with all the distractions we've had week in and week out, I think guys just kind of put blinders on."
CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.
He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.
In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.
But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.
“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.
“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”
Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.
“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”
The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.
So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.
“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”
Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs.
After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.
This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.
That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.
But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.
“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”
That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.
“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”
And we get that message, loud and clear!
CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.
Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.
“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah. He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”
He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.
Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.
“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”
Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.
And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.
Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.
“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”
Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.
“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”