Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan

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Thoughts from a fairweather hockey fan

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

I don't know much about hockey.

I didn't grow up playing it. The Bruins were awful for most of my childhood, so I was never inspired to follow it. My high school didn't even have a team, so there was never a reason to care.

That apathys extended into adulthood, and will probably stick around until I die.

Ahh, thats uplifting stuff.

I dont have anything against the sport itself. And not counting people from Montreal, I have nothing against those who love it. Its just that personally, hockey doesnt affect me like basketball, football and baseball do. And it never will.

But Im from Boston, so every year around this time, I hop on the bandwagon, watch most of the games and root like hell for the Bruins. Maybe that makes me a fair-weather fan. Okay, fine. It definitely makes me a fair-weather fan. But whatever, Ill never claim to be anything else.

Watching hockey is a humbling experience, though.

Do you remember the Seinfeld episode The Parking Space"? Its the one where George pulls into a spot at the same time as that character Mike (in another episode, hes the guy who wont pay Jerry for winning the Reggie Miller bet), and they spend the show arguing over who should get it. Anyway, theres a scene at the beginning where Elaine accuses George of being a bad driver, and he goes off:

Nobody drives like me! he says. Nobody! I'm doing things in this car, you have no idea they're going on!

Thats what I feel like watching hockey. I know that there are things going on that I have no idea about. That there are strategies, techniques and side stories unfolding that are completely over my head. When I watch the Bruins, I feel like Im my mom at a Patriots game. I cheer when they score but have no idea how they did. The only difference is that afterward I dont yell at myself for not wearing a jacket. Honey, its freezing! Did you ever even get that flu shot?!

Okay, sorry. But its a strange feeling. Its just not an easy follow. When theres a big hit or a flashy goal (or any goal), Im right there screaming along with Jack Edwards, but otherwise Im lost. My mind wanders, and I spend most of the game wondering about things like how badly it would hurt to take a slap shot to the face, or how many saves Id be able to make in a shootout or how funny it would be if the Bruins traded for that guy with the last name Semin. It's definitely different.

So, just to tie a bow around the message Ive beaten into the ground these last few hundred words: When it comes to the Bruins, Im clueless.

But heading into Thursday nights game in Montreal, there was one thing that even a hockey-atric fan like myself could understand:

Michael Ryder was a bum.

He was useless. He had no business being on the ice, and if the Bruins lost, his presence would be a major factor. I got this from the experts. From everyone on the web, TV and radio. Basically, since the start of this series, anyone who had anything to say about the Bruins, believed that Ryder was either a problem or THE problem.

Everyone was calling for his head.

Obviously, everyone was wrong.

Thats not a personal attack on the anti-Ryder camp, because it was a belief that was held across the board. Still, everyone was wrong. His performance last night was proof that he did serve a purpose. It was validation for Claude Julien stubbornly leaving Ryder in the line-up.

It was also, in a way, a metaphor for the entire Bruins franchise.

It was indicative of everything Boston goes through every year with this team.

Succeeding when everyones counted you out? Failing when they believe the most?

Its called Bruins.

If its the playoffs, you never know what youre going to get. Actually, you do. Its going to be the exact opposite of what you think you know. They do it every year, finding different ways to surprise and disappoint you along the way.

Is anyone entirely sure what theyll do next? Can you ever be completely confident in what you believe? No way. All you can do is sit back, think about slap shots, shootouts and guys named Semin, and expect the unexpected. Because thats always whats on the way.

Ryder showed it on Thursday night, coming back from the dead and helping the Bruins officially do the same.

For now.

But then again, what do I know?

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics set to face a number of potential first-round foes

Celtics set to face a number of potential first-round foes

BOSTON – Beating the Indiana Pacers 109-100 on Wednesday was about more than padding the win column while improving their position near the top of the East standings.

It was also a potential preview of who they might face in the first round of the playoffs, a scenario that will play itself out several times in the Celtics’ last 10 games of the regular season.

In fact, five of Boston’s remaining games (Miami, Milwaukee twice, Atlanta and Charlotte) are against teams that are likely to be the pool of potential first-round foes that the Celtics will face next month.

And of those five games, three (Miami and Milwaukee twice) will be at the TD Garden which has given rise to optimism that the Celtics can finish the season strong enough to potentially catch the Cleveland Cavaliers for the overall top seed in the East.

Boston’s win over Indiana coupled with Cleveland’s 126-113 loss at Denver moves the Celtics within 1.0 game of the Cavs.

“It’s going to be good for us,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley, referring to playing potential playoff foes to close out the regular season. “Every team is playing hard right now and it’s our job to continue to keep playing the right way and trying to prepare for the playoffs.”

The Celtics did just that on Wednesday against the Pacers, establishing a defensive presence early on that soon morphed into solid play offensively that enabled Boston (46-26) to emerge victorious for the fifth time in their last six games.

And doing so against a potential playoff opponent made the victory that much sweeter.

“It’s very important,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “Every win is big, every game is big. But especially against those teams we might end up facing (in the playoffs). We have to control what we can control, especially at home. We have to take care of business.”

Wednesday’s victory was the latest success story at home for Boston which has won 12 of its last 13 at the TD Garden.

But as well as they have played, the Celtics have left themselves plenty of room for improvement.

They came into Wednesday’s game averaging 13.2 turnovers per game which would be a franchise-low if they can maintain that through these last 10 games.

But on Wednesday, they had 14 turnovers by halftime.

“There were moments in the first half where we were careless,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And then there were moments that it was just like one of those nights where for whatever reason we missed a few catches, we missed a few, probably, easy passes. For whatever reason those nights happen.”

But the Celtics were a completely different team in terms of turnovers in the second half, courtesy of a stern tongue-lashing by Stevens.

The second-half turnaround by Boston turning the ball over – they only had three in the second half – shows both the potential problems and the promise of figuring it out on the fly that makes this Celtics team one to watch come playoff time.

“We’re almost there,” Bradley said. “We’re close.”

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens' strategy key to win vs. Pacers

Stars, studs and duds: Stevens' strategy key to win vs. Pacers

BOSTON – For as long as the Boston Celtics have been winning under Brad Stevens, the team’s depth has been critical to that success.

It affords him the luxury to throw wave after wave after wave at opponents, a tried and true strategy of wearing teams down over time.

But there are times when head coach Brad Stevens will look to match his depth with certain matchups, and that at times results in more players watching from the bench … all night.

That was indeed the case on Wednesday night against Indiana, but you can’t knock the game plan considering how crucial that strategy would be to Boston pulling away for a 109-100 win over the Pacers.

Rotation regulars Terry Rozier and Jonas Jerebko did not play (coaches decision), as did Gerald Green whose status has fluctuated in and out of the rotation most of this season.

Stevens said the decision to shorten the player rotation was purely about matching up best with a physical Pacers team which is why 7-foot center Tyler Zeller saw more action than usual.

“This team was bigger,” Stevens said following the win. “The rebounding was a scary thing. Obviously, they hurt us on the glass big-time in the second half and I wanted a little bit more size.”

Having the ability to go deep into the bench and cater the rotation to a specific opponent is a luxury few NBA teams have at their disposal.

“We’re deep. We’ve been deep since I’ve been here,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “That’s one of the strengths but it’s also … it’s tough for Brad. You obviously want to play everybody and he can’t.”

Stevens knows all too well that the players that did not see action on Wednesday, aren’t happy about not playing.

But to their credit, each of them has been down this road before and while disappointed, they continue to prepare as though they will play the next time out.

“And I respect that,” Stevens said. “And that’s hard. But we’re going to need all those guys and we’re going to need them to be playing great.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday’s game between Boston and Indiana.

 

STARS

Paul George

It was another dominant scoring night for George who reminded us all that he was indeed the best player on the floor. He led all scorers with 37 points on 11-for-26 shooting with five rebounds and three steals.

Isaiah Thomas

The contributions of others is allowing Thomas to play more manageable minutes and just as important, rest for long stretches in the fourth quarter. He still managed to lead the Celtics with 25 points on 9-for-21 shooting with five assists, a steal and a blocked shot.

 

STUDS

Jeff Teague

Isaiah Thomas had problems early on keeping up with Teague, and that seemed to be just what Teague needed to get going and frankly, not slow down. He had 25 points on 10-for-15 shooting with six assists and a steal.

Avery Bradley

One of the triumvirate of defenders used by Boston on Paul George, Bradley had 18 points on 7-for-13 shooting with eight rebounds and two assists.

Kelly Olynyk

The big nights for Olynyk are starting to become the rule and not so much the exception. He had a near double-double with 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting to go with eight rebounds and four assists.

Tyler Zeller

Six points and three rebounds may not seem like that big a deal. But Zeller’s play once again, even in limited spurts, was one of the keys to Boston coming away with the win. Despite playing fewer minutes than any Celtic off the bench, he had a plus/minus of +8 which was second among reserves only to Kelly Olynyk (+12).

 

DUDS

Celtics turnovers

Boston did a much better job at limiting turnovers in the second half, but the damage had already been done with 14 – that’s more than their season average of 13.2 – in the first half.

Celtics defensive boards

Boston was very fortunate that second-chance points didn’t become a bigger factor considering the Pacers had 18 offensive rebounds but only got 15 second-chance points compared to the Celtics who grabbed 10 offensive rebounds which led to 12 second-chance points.