Patriots

Ainge standing pat with current Celtics . . . for now

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Ainge standing pat with current Celtics . . . for now

The rest of Celtics Nation may be hitting the panic button and calling for a major shakeup, but the man with the power to do something isn't.

Danny Ainge is sticking by his team, even if they aren't doing anything to make him look good right now.

The Celtics fell to 14-17 on the season after a 93-83 loss to the Grizzlies Wednesday night. That, of course, came after a disastrous west coast trip in which the Celtics were smoked by the Clippers, Warriors, and Kings. Yes, the Kings.

"Well I think our team is not playing well, obviously, but I see some good signs," Ainge told WEEI on Thursday. "I thought last night was a step forward. We don't have moral victories, but I thought our effort was better. We're still out of sync offensively. I think defensively has been the biggest problem throughout the course of the year, but last night I think our problems came more with the halfcourt offense.

Ainge is right; the defense has, in a word, stunk. Boston is giving up an average of 97.9 points per game this season (17th in the NBA), 8.6 points more than the 89.3 they allowed last season (2nd in the NBA). He feels that while the defense hasn't been up to par, "that can be fixed with attitude and health and practice time. I really do believe that."

Pressed further to touch upon Rajon Rondo's defense specifically, Ainge mentioned that he's like more consistency, but wasn't about to point a finger only at Rondo.

"I think that Rondo needs to get more consistent effort defensively like all of our guys," Ainge said. "I always hate to pinpoint one guy, but the ball at the point of attack is huge for us, and Rondo has a lot of offensive responsibility. But I do think we need to give a better effort all around, not just Rondo."

That means the starters as well as the revamped bench. Nobody, except maybe the rookie Jared Sullinger, has played up to Ainge's standards this season.

"For whatever reason, I'm not sure if they're incapable or not, or if they can't physically, but time will tell. The reality of it is that they haven't. And it's not just the new guys. I don't think that the veteran guys who have been here have played to the best of their capabilities either."

So does that mean Ainge is ready to shake things up as he's done in the past? Not quite. We may not see the same starting lineup in the next few games, but we'll most likely see the same players. With Avery Bradley back, Ainge wants to give it a shot.

"We're just looking at what we're capable of becoming," Ainge said. "I think we haven't found the right pieces. I think that Doc is probably going to tweak the lineup again and try to do some things different. We'll just try to be patient with this team as long as we can."

I think it's up to the players now. I think that Doc has certainly given them the right words and the right tools to play better. I think these next couple weeks are going to be huge to see where we are. We're starting to get healthy. I think that Rondo is still not healthy. I think he's played the last few games banged up and we're not the same when he's not 100 percent. And that's clear."

It's also clear that time is running out for this Celtics team that needs to prove it belongs together, or face the consequences of underachieving.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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