10 thoughts from a busy night in Boston


10 thoughts from a busy night in Boston

By Rich Levine

Ten random thoughts from a busy night in Boston, where the Celtics made a statement, and the Sox made another mess . . .

1. Jermaine ONeals been so very Jermaine ONeal
Over the last six months, Jermaine ONeals been the perfect stereotype of himself. He's been everything that Boston feared (and more), and for the most part thats been beyond frustrating.

But while his inability to stay on the court can drive you nuts, his performance when healthy has been just what the doctor ordered (before the doctors quickly pulled away to perform another MRI on JOs knee).

Now, it doesnt feel right to commend a guy on playing well in 21 of the teams 76 games. Not when hes make nearly 6 million a year and not when his absence stunted the Cs growth, and could have hurt the long-term effectiveness of both Shaq and Kevin Garnett. Who knows how much fresher those two would be today if ONeal had been there to grab 20-something minutes a night?

But, as ridiculous as it looks on paper (screen?), the fact remains that when JO has played, hes gotten the job done.

His offense isnt what it once was. Theres barely any lift, and even less explosiveness. But at the same time, he knows how to play. He can make an impact without scoring. He can block shots (on and off the ball), he can rebound, clear out space and deliver a message, if needed. At this point, the inept offense is by far the worst part of his game, but guess what? Perk was the same way.

And like Perk, JO is finding ways to contribute despite not being able to consistently score the ball. The Celtics are better when hes out there.

But then again, if he cant stay on the floor, that ability is wasted.

And with Jermaine ONeal, thats always the fear.
2. J.D. Drew, why am I not surprised?

Its impossible to sit here and blame the Sox loss on J.D. Drews inability to avoid a seemingly avoidable second-inning tag at the plate.

After all, it was early. It was sort of a bang-bang play. The Sox never scored again, while Cleveland scored three, so it wouldnt really seem to matter.

But for Drew, the play was a microcosm for all thats wrong with his underwhelming Red Sox career.

He can stand up in the clubhouse afterwards (and you have to respect the fact he did) and give all sorts of emotionless explanations for why he didnt get under or around that tag. He can tell you, listen, Im sorry I didnt happen but there are real, logical reasons for why I didnt:

At first I thought I was going to run right through the bag, he said last night, but as I started to see him come closer . . . at the last second I thought I might be able to run through it. Its kind of better to run through the plate and start sliding a little bit later instead of sliding way out there. Youre just slowing yourself down.

But no matter how many times you watch the replay, you cant help but think: Man, he could have done a little more.

For four-plus seasons, thats almost always how Drew leaves you feeling.

3. The Rondo Effect

For most of Rondos career, hes been pretty detached from the crowd during games. Regardless of how crazy they get around him, he very rarely shows the fans any emotion, or even bothers to acknowledge their existence.

For instance, hell make an amazing play like one at the end of last nights third quarter, where he drove the length of the court and threw in an unorthodox, full-speed floater as time ticked off the clock. The crowd will explode, and Rondo will remain unaffected. Maybe he slaps a few teammates high five, but hell almost never crack a smile, or let the excitement get the best of him or engage the crowd in any way whether its a triumphant fist pump, a Hulk Hogan-style open-hand to the ear, or anything that make them think, Come on! Lets do this together!

He never plays off what the crowd has to offer, and honestly, thats his prerogative.

Everyones got their own style.

But with Rondo, it just seems like the fans are dying to get inside his head. Or just see him let his guard down, or see him, just once, lose himself in the moment.

Imagine if its the playoffs: Late in Game 6 or 7 of some series and Rondo makes a huge play down the stretch. The other team calls a timeout and Rondo walks off pointing to the crowd, or motions for them to get off their feet or involves them in any which way . . .

The roof might blow off. Marv Alberts toupee might end up in the rafters.

The Garden, and the other team, would never recover.

4. Blame it on the bats!

The popular story on Wednesday will be to pin Tuesday nights loss on the bats. Cant blame the pitchers for this one! You cant win if you dont score! theyll say.

And fine. I guess that works.

But at the end of the day, no ones actually worried about the bats. No one was worried going in, and no ones worried now. We know that Jacoby Ellsbury wont hit .188, Carl Crawford wont hit .133 and Kevin Youkilis wont hit .182. Jarod Saltalamacchia? OK, he might actually hit .091, but theres enough guaranteed protection all around him to ward off the panic.

The lineup is fine, but whatever. If for one night everyone wants to change things up and make this about the lack of runs, all the power to them.

Its just that at the end of the day, we all know the real issue.

Its the starters. Despite the big names, they were the biggest question going in, and theyre the biggest question now. Not so much Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz; you have to believe theyll be there for 30 or so consistent starts over the next six months. The issue is either Josh Beckett or John Lackey needs to step up, and so far neither has left us feeling very warm and fuzzy inside.

Or maybe Lackey did, but that fuzziness quickly transformed into a sudden need to vomit.

5. Commercial Break, No. 1

Just want to take a quick commercial break to announce that this weekend Ill be heading over to Nick Varanos Famous Deli, where Ill attempt to pay for my lunch with an action figure and a gummy worm.

If this currency isnt accepted, there's going to be an issue.

A Saludo!

6. Moving forward from Philly

So, what do you take from the Celtics (eventually) convincing win over the No one wants to plays these guys! 76ers?

At the very least, I think the victory takes some pressure off the Cs heading into Chicago on Thursday night. I think a solid showing against a team everyone was starting to fear (and that every one seems to think is destined for a first-round matchup with Boston), will allow Doc and friends to potentially lose Thursdays game without the foundation of Celtics Nation crumbling under the panic.

With last nights win, and last Thursdays impressive showing in San Antonio, the Celtics have managed to build up a little good faith. After that one truly awful stretch, theyve shown the ability to bounce back, and still step up when the competition calls for it. Now, of course, if they go into Chicago and get blown out, no one will be happy. And no one will be feeling particularly optimistic about Bostons chances should they end up in Chicago for the Eastern Conference Finals.

But if they had lost Tuesday night against Philly, a loss in Chicago might set off a firestorm.

7. Speaking of a firestorm . . .

Or maybe just a sign of the times, but how about the Red Sox running ticket promos during broadcasts now?

How about the Red Sox needing to run ticket promos during broadcasts?

Don Orsillo: I know you guys probably just assumed theyre all gone, but there are plenty of good seats available for next week's three-game series with the Rays!

Really? Wow. Against Tampa, too?

I think everyone assumed that after last seasons dip in Sox interest that the additions of Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez would return the Sox to the hottest ticket in town, but it seems like it might take a little bit more time.

Tampa has Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and all sort of divisional and (at least very recent) historic implications, and Fenway isnt even sold out? Its only the second series of the season. Things are still supposed to be so fresh. Fans arent supposed to be able to wait to catch their first glimpse of Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez in a Sox uniform. If Fenways not selling out now, whats going to happen when teams like Seattle, Kansas City and Cleveland start rolling in?

Of course, it might help if they won a game.

8. Hey, Free Krstic!

Nenad Krstic played only 18 minutes against Philadelphia, scored only eight points and grabbed only six rebounds. But damn, wasnt it a beautiful sight?

Its pretty strange how everything went down with Krstic over the last week. He went down in San Antonio and every one, and I mean everyone, just assumed he was done. The injury looked bad, the initial reports were all bad. With the way the Celtics season has been going, a torn ACL almost just made sense. By the second half, wed all just written him off. The Nenad Krstic era was over!

But somehow Nenad dodged a bullet, and now, for the rest of the season, it feels like the Celtics are playing with Free Krstic.

And thats the best kind of Krstic.

9. Commercial Break, No. 2

I love the NBA "big head" ads. No matter how many times they air, I'm laughing every single time. But while laughing, a part of me is dying inside, knowing what a shame it is that this concept didn't exist during Popeye Jones playing career.

Nothing would make me happier than a Popeye Jones big head commercial. Or how about a big head clip of Popeye guarding Gheorghe Muresan?

January 4, 1996: Here's your game, NBA. Now find the footage and please give the people what they want to see.

And by people, I mean me.

10. No thanks, EA

This is a little off topic, but its a question that needs to be asked since it was all over Twitter last night, and has been for a few days:

Are Patriots fans really voting for Danny Woodhead to be on the cover of Madden 2012?

I mean, I get it. Its a cool story. It would be a nice honor for all hes accomplished and how far hes come in such a short period of time. Going from the practice squad to the most prestigious video game cover in sports? Thats unbelievable.

But seriously: Next time you see Woodhead, why not just cut out the middle man, and smash his kneecap with a lead pipe, or run him over with your car, or just sneak into his apartment in the middle of the night and snap his ACL while he sleeps?

Yes, it would be great to see Woodhead on the cover of Madden, but wouldnt you rather have him safe, on the field for the entire Patriots season.

Unless there isnt even a season, in which case, Boom! who cares?

All you, Danny.

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

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, 'happy he can move on'

BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10 years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title. 

Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has its back against the wall for a possible playoff spot. 

Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative. 

“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”

Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him. 

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?


Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

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Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.