Boston Celtics

Youkilis to bat leadoff in Thursday's game

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Youkilis to bat leadoff in Thursday's game

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bobby Valentine has shown a willingness to experiment with lineups, and Thursday's lineup is an example of that, with third baseman Kevin Youkilis serving as the Red Sox' leadoff hitter.

Valentine was asked whether he could envision have Youkilis hit first during the regular season.

"I don't want to rule anything out," said Valentine. "But probably not. That's more on the idea of getting him a couple of quick at-bats."

Valentine has a history of using non-traditional leadoff hitters over his major league career. He had Benny Agbayani with the New York Mets and catcher-turned-DH Brian Downing in Texas.

"Downing is the best leadoff hitter I ever had," said Valentine.

He recounted spring training in 1991, when the Rangers lured Downing, 40, out of retirement to serve as the club's leadoff man.

With about a week's worth of Grapefruit League games, Downing went on to compile a .377 on-base percentage in 1991 and .407 in 1992 before retiring.

"I had a lot of guys who could hit (with the Rangers)," recounted Valentine. "Young guys -- Ruben (Sierra), Juan (Gonzalez) -- and none of them could quite take a pitch. None of them understood the value."

As for Youkilis, Valentine termed him a "very productive hitter," but noted Boston's lack of "other righthanded hitters" in the lineup as a reason not to use Youkilis at the top.

Indeed, many of the Sox' best hitters are lefthanded, including David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

Youkilis is hardly a speedy runner, but Valentine said that part of a player's game is overrated when it comes to being at the top of the lineup.
"My opinion is," he said, "if you have guys who can't run (well), and can get on, they should be on before guys who can hit it over the fence because then we don't ask them to run; they're allowed to
trot.

"Guys who can't run at the bottom of the lineup with guys who don't hit it over the fence cause a problem in scoring the run, which is the ultimate concern. (Slow guys at the top) clogging the bases? I get that one. But again, it's easier to run around the bases when it's an extra-base hit instead of singles."

Cavs expect Isaiah Thomas playing in games by January

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Cavs expect Isaiah Thomas playing in games by January

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — Isaiah Thomas could be running the point for Cleveland by the end of the year.

The All-Star point guard, acquired from the Celtics this summer in a blockbuster trade, has made progress with his hip injury, and the Cavaliers expect him to be playing games by January.

Thomas has begun running and doing on-court activities as he rehabilitates the injury, which prematurely ended his postseason with the Celtics. Cleveland acquired him in a trade that sent All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving to Boston, its biggest challenger in the East.

Thomas doesn’t need surgery. While the Eastern Conference champions have been encouraged by his recovery, they will not rush him back. While he gets healthy, Derrick Rose, another summer acquisition, will start at point guard.

Thomas averaged 28.9 points last season for the Celtics, who sent him along with forward Jae Crowder, center Ante Zizic and a 2018 first-round draft to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers were concerned with Thomas’ injury, so the Celtics added a second-round pick to complete the deal.

When they introduced Thomas at a news conference, the Cavaliers were vague about a timeline for his return, mainly because they hadn’t yet worked with him. It’s now possible Thomas could be back and playing by Christmas, when the Cavs visit Golden State.

Thomas is only under contract for the upcoming season and has said in the past he wants a maximum contract.

Copyright The Associated Press.
 

Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

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Tom Brady on pace to dwarf deep-ball passing numbers from 2016

FOXBORO -- When the Patriots traded their first-round pick in the 2017 draft for Brandin Cooks, they gave Tom Brady one of the most productive deep-ball receivers in the NFL over the course of the last few seasons. 

The Cooks acquisition not only made the Patriots offense more versatile, it also may have signaled an acknowledgement that the team needed more pass-catchers who could produce down the field and outside the numbers.

In the playoffs last season, against Houston's and Atlanta's defenses -- both of which were effective at times in taking away the short-to-intermediate areas of the field -- the Patriots could have benefited from someone like Cooks. In both games, the Patriots were able to hit on throws deep and on the outside in critical moments with likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell. 

Now after three weeks, and after having faced two defenses in Houston's and Kansas City's that were intent on packing the middle of the field with defenders, it's clear that the move to grab Cooks is paying dividends. 

In Sunday's win over the Texans, 36-33, Brady threw eight passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and he completed five for 185 yards and three scores, according to Pro Football Focus. On the season, Brady leads the league with 22 attempts of 20 yards or more, per PFF. He's completed 11 of those for 368 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating on deep attempts (135.4) is second in the league. 

Compare that to last season's totals for Brady on deep passes -- 23 completions for 834 yards and eight touchdowns -- and he's on pace to blow those numbers away. Whereas he only attempted deep passes on just over 11 percent of his throws last season, according to PFF, so far this year one in every five of his throws is traveling 20 yards or more.

The biggest beneficiary of the new approach? Cooks, of course, who Brady has dubbed "Cookie." 

PFF says Cooks is leading the league in deep-ball receiving through three weeks, with 187 yards on five deep catches. Three of those came on Sunday and they resulted in 111 yards and two scores. In Week 1, Cooks had three catches for 88 yards -- including a 54-yarder -- and he drew three penalties that resulted in an additional 38 yards. In Week 2, Cooks had two catches for 37 yards -- including a 22-yarder.

Last year? The leading receiver for the Patriots on passes that traveled 20 yards or more was Hogan (10 catches for 397 yards). 

One more indication that the Patriots offense has shifted with Cooks in and Edelman sidelined: Cooks leads the NFL in yards per catch through three games (25.6 yards per reception), while Danny Amendola (16.4 yards per reception, seventh) and Rob Gronkowski (14.9, 13th) are all found among the league leaders in that category.  

Opposing defenses may continue to play the Patriots as the Texans and Chiefs did this season: Flood the middle of the field and pressure Brady with just three or four linemen. They may be content with allowing Brady to attempt lower-percentage throws down the field as opposed to letting him slice them up with shorter tosses. 

It worked well enough for the Chiefs to win, and it nearly worked well enough for the Texans. Perhaps "the blueprint" is still the blueprint. But with the addition to Cooks, Brady and the Patriots have proven that they've evolved to more efficiently combat those schemes.

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