Saints GM returns from bounty suspension

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Saints GM returns from bounty suspension

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."

Clutch plays down stretch help Celtics hold on for 104-98 win over Pistons

Clutch plays down stretch help Celtics hold on for 104-98 win over Pistons

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – The fourth quarter rolled around and the Boston Celtics got something they seldom get at that time – big plays made by someone not named Isaiah Thomas.

A 3-pointer from the corner by Jaylen Brown and a hustle play by Marcus Smart proved to be the difference for Boston as they held on for a 104-98 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Trailing 96-95, Brown drained a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play.

On the miss, Smart grabbed the rebound and was fouled.

Smart, who had 14 points and five assists, made both free throws that put Boston up 100-96 with 37.3 seconds to play.

The Pistons would never get any closer as the Celtics (38-21) snapped a two-game losing streak and just as important, won the head-to-head series three games to one.

While it’s unlikely these two will finish the regular season with an identical record, the Celtics need to win as many head-to-head battles in the East as they can just to make sure they don’t run into a situation like they did last year when they finished in a four-way tie and ultimately wound up as a fifth seed.

Despite winning three of the four meetings this season, the Pistons (28-31) never make it easy.

A strong finish in the third quarter had Detroit trailing Boston by just five points going into the fourth. It soon became a one-possession game after Jon Leuer short jumper.

Smart got the Celtics on the scoreboard in the fourth by draining a jumper while being fouled by Andre Drummond. The 3-point play put the Celtics ahead 82-76 with 9:41 to play.

Detroit responded with an 8-2 spurt to tie the game at 84-all following a lay-up by Jon Lauer with 6:03 to play.

Boston scored four of the next five points to regain their lead, but there was no mistaking the Pistons were not going away anytime soon.

Throughout the fourth, Detroit began to get more of the 50/50 balls, resulting in second and third-shot opportunities which for several stretches proved to be the best play call for the Pistons.

Boston’s biggest weakness against Detroit, rebounding, was alive and well and as problematic as ever.

But the Celtics did just enough when it mattered to more than hold their own on the boards.

They finished +6 (51-45) on the boards against Detroit, leading after each quarter of play.

Detroit tied the game at 88 on a 3-pointer from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope that rattled in with 3:55 to play.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics got the ball in Isaiah Thomas’ hands and he soon put Boston back on top 90-88 following a pair of free throws.

Detroit went ahead 93-92 following a trio of free throws by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope only for a Marcus Smart put-back basket put the Celtics back on top.

Caldwell-Pope wasn’t done. He drained a 3-pointer that put the Pistons (96-94) back on top with 2:08 to play.

Boston led by as many as 15 points, but saw their lead all but wiped away by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.

Detroit, picking up its overall aggression and efficiency scoring the ball, were within 70-66 in the third before a turnover led to a Jae Crowder lay-up with about three minutes to play in the quarter.

Boston began to surge away with Terry Rozier draining a 3-pointer followed by a pair of free throws that put the Celtics ahead 78-69 with 1:32 to play in the third.

It was yet another example of the ‘Next-Man-Up’ mantra that has been instrumental to Boston being able to sustain one injury after another.

Rozier’s role was increased in part because of his play, but also because of Gerald Green’s heel injury. He would finish with 13 points off the bench.

But the Pistons continued to prove to be pesky bunch as they chipped away at Boston’s lead which stood at 79-74 going into the fourth quarter.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Rough start for Al Horford

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Rough start for Al Horford

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons in which the Celtics lead 54-50.

 

STARS

Isaiah Thomas

At the half he led all scorers with 16 points coming on 6-for-10 shooting from the field.

Reggie Jackson

The former Boston College star has been a main cog in the Pistons’ offense tonight, leading them with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting with five assists.

 

STUDS

Marcus Morris

He was relatively quiet most of the first half, but came up with a last-second 3-pointer that sent the Pistons into the half with some momentum to cap off a 15-9 run to end the quarter.

Jaylen Brown

Boston is looking for a steady No. 2 scorer to compliment Isaiah Thomas, and Brown was that guy throughout most of the first half. He finished with nine points on 4-for-5 shooting to go with three rebounds.

Amir Johnson

The former Piston looked very much at home around the rim in the first half, scoring just four points but grabbing seven rebounds in addition to dishing out two assists.

Andre Drummond

He had six points and six rebounds in the first half, but didn’t really dominate the way you would expect from the best big man in the building. Boston didn’t give him too many looks at the basket, and when they did they fouled him. He went to the line for five free throws in the half, and missed all of them.

 

DUDS

Al Horford

Boston has made getting him the ball tonight a priority, and the four-time All-Star is simply not finishing off plays. Credit Detroit’s defense which has contested most of Horford’s shot attempts. That said, he has to deliver more offensively than the two points he scored while missing eight of his nine field goal attempts.