Celtics

Andy Reid: One step closer to unemployment?

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Andy Reid: One step closer to unemployment?

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Now the Cincinnati Bengals can focus on that other Pennsylvania team.Andy Dalton threw a touchdown pass and ran for another score, an opportunistic defense forced five turnovers and Cincinnati beat the Philadelphia Eagles 34-13 on Thursday night.The Bengals (8-6) took a half-game lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers for the last playoff spot in the AFC. But their game at Pittsburgh next week is far more important in the standings than this one."We've got nothing to celebrate here," coach Marvin Lewis said. "But we won and we do have some time to get ready for Pittsburgh."The Bengals would clinch their second straight playoff berth with a win over the Steelers if Pittsburgh loses at Dallas this Sunday. A loss to the Steelers, though, likely would ruin Cincinnati's chances because it would lose the tiebreaker."Our goal is to win games. Period. We did that. Doesn't matter how we got there," cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones said. "We can be better. We can be higher. And that's what we take from this game. Listen, we all know we need to play better as a defense next week. Because we have ourselves a big one next week."The Eagles' season was lost a long time ago. They fell to 4-10, losing double-digit games for the first time since 2005, the year after losing the Super Bowl to New England.There were plenty of empty seats at the Linc, where fans are hoping this is Andy Reid's final season as coach. Reid led the Eagles to nine playoff appearances, six division titles and five NFC championship games in his first 13 years. But the Eagles will miss the playoffs for the second straight year and owner Jeffrey Lurie already said 8-8 would be "unacceptable.""Five turnovers, 31 points. That says it all," Reid said. "Guys played hard, but you can't have those turnovers. You have to take care of the ball. Guys have to do it. I take full responsibility for them."An interception by Leon Hall set up Dalton's go-ahead 11-yard TD run in the third quarter. Then Wallace Gilberry picked up Bryce Brown's fumble and ran it back 25 yards for another score and an 11-point lead.BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 106 yards, including a 1-yard TD run in the first quarter for Cincinnati. Dalton tossed a 5-yard TD pass to A.J. Green in the fourth to cap a 24-point outburst in a span of 3:23."We realize what's at stake here, and we know we needed to put some football plays together," Lewis said. "We put ourselves at risk tonight, but we made plays when we needed to. We were able to get some things going with the turnovers and that definitely helped. We redirected some things at halftime and got everyone on the same page."The Eagles committed three turnovers on three straight possessions at one point and then fumbled a kickoff when defensive lineman Cedric Thornton let the ball fall through his hands on a short kick.After beating Tampa Bay on a last-second TD last week to snap an eight-game losing streak, the Eagles tried to make it two in a row. Turnovers got in their way again. They've committed an NFL-high 34 and forced just 12 all season.The Eagles snapped a drought of 22 quarters without a turnover by recovering two fumbles in the second. Both led to field goals by Alex Henery, helping Philadelphia to a 13-10 halftime lead.Rookie Nick Foles made his fifth straight start for Michael Vick, who just returned to practice this week after sustaining a concussion on Nov. 11. Foles threw for 182 yards, one TD and one interception.Down 13-10, the Bengals started their rally with a turnover.Hall intercepted Foles' deep pass and returned it 44 yards to the Eagles 40. Foles underthrew Jeremy Maclin, who was a few steps behind Hall."I feel really good anytime I have one of our receivers vertical on a guy," Foles said. "I just have to get the ball out there and make a better throw."Green made an acrobatic catch for an 11-yard gain on third-and-9 a few plays before Dalton ran for the score to put the Bengals up 17-13.Foles, who threw for 381 yards to lead that comeback against the Bucs, hit Riley Cooper on an 11-yard TD pass to cut it to 10-7. Foles connected with Maclin on a 46-yard pass during the drive.The Eagles then forced their first turnover since Nov. 5 against New Orleans. Brandon Graham sacked Dalton, the ball popped loose and Trent Cole recovered at the Bengals 29."We win as a team, we lose as a team," said Eagles defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who replaced Juan Castillo after six games. "We lost as a team today."Just two plays in, Maclin fumbled after a 6-yard catch. Carlos Dunlap recovered and the Bengals started at the Eagles 44. Green-Ellis ran 29 yards on first down and scored a few plays later for a 7-0 lead.It got uglier for Philadelphia on the next possession. Mat McBriar punted into his own blocker, Daniel Herron picked it up and ran 3 yards to the Eagles 11. But Graham sacked Dalton and Cincinnati settled for Brown's 24-yard field goal that made it 10-0.The Eagles were again without running back LeSean McCoy and tight end Brent Celek also sat out. Both players also are recovering from concussions. McCoy missed his fourth straight game, but returned to practice this week with Vick.NOTES:Green-Ellis surpassed 1,000 yards rushing for second time in his career. He did it with New England in 2010. ... The Eagles had a season-high six sacks. They have eight in two games since defensive line coach Jim Washburn was fired, and had 20 in first 12 games. ... Bowles confirmed he interviewed for the coaching vacancy at Temple, his alma mater.

Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

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Since joining Celtics, Irving has grown into complete player

BOSTON – For most of this NBA season, the narrative surrounding the Celtics has centered around the maturity of their young players.

Well, there's a much bigger tale of growth on this team. But we're not talking about rookie Jayson Tatum or second-year wing Jaylen Brown.

We're talking about Kyrie Irving, whose desire for growth fueled his decision to want out of Cleveland this past offseason.

And that growth has in turn sparked the Celtics to what has been an unprecedented run of success.

"He's doing things that we never saw when he was in Cleveland," one league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. "He always had great talent, but could he lead a really good team? I think we got our answer now."

The Celtics (16-2) boast the best record in the NBA, which is amazing when you consider Gordon Hayward broke his ankle less than five minutes into the season opener. Not to mention they lost their first two games.

Literally all they've done since then is win.

Boston's 16 straight victories is an NBA record after losing the first two games of the season. The winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in franchise history.

And while the pieces to Boston's success vary, the man whose growth has been at the epicenter of the Celtics' emergence as a title contender has been Irving.

You can count Mike Brown, Irving's former coach in Cleveland, among those impressed with the growth in Irving on all levels.

"To see Kyrie taking ownership of not only little things offensively, but even on the other end of the floor, leadership and all that other stuff ... I'm happy for him, I'm excited for him," Brown, now an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors, told NBC Sports Boston. 

While his numbers have taken a slight dip here in Boston, Irving seems to be better in tune with what he needs to do to positively impact the play of his teammates and the team as a whole.

In Boston's 110-102 overtime win at Dallas on Monday, Irving had 47 points, the most he's scored as a Celtic.

His scoring binge included 10 points in overtime. 

And when talking about his monster scoring night, Irving provides a clue as to how his approach to the game has changed over the years in terms of scoring.

Irving described his breakout scoring night as something that "was called upon," adding: "I don't think I needed to score over 20 or 25 in particular games. So I think if you would have asked me that question probably a few years ago, I would probably tell you that I would definitely be trying to get 40."

Earlier this season, Irving talked about developing some bad habits early in his career because his primary goal, like most high draft picks, was to get buckets. That frequently led to the ball sticking in his hands too long, or him having to force up shots and not getting his teammates involved as much as he should have.

While some chalked it up to him being a selfish player, Brown saw it differently.

"A lot of it was his youth, which is more than understandable," said Brown, who coached Irving in Cleveland during the 2013-14 season. "When he first came into the league, he had played 11 games in college. Before that with high school and AAU, for a guy that talented, it was pretty easy for him. He could go out and get 40 and win and not have to focus on anything else."

Brown recalls one of the early challenges with Irving was getting him to get his teammates involved more consistently.

"One of the things I used to always hit him with, he can score and finish in a crowd like no other, especially at his size," Brown recalled. "He draws a lot of attention. I always used to tell him, whether it's the strong-side or the weak-side, guys in the corners are wide open when you dribble-penetrate because you are such a dangerous finisher."

There would be film study to illustrate this point. It would show just how easily Irving would get to various spots on the floor by breaking his defender down or splitting an upcoming double team. But it would also show that when he made his moves in traffic, far too often his head would be down, which is why he wasn't finding teammates open.

Brown pointed this out as an area Irving needed to get better at if he were going to continue ascending up the point-guard stratosphere in the NBA.

"And you know, he got a little better at it," Brown said. 

Today?

"I tell you right now, he's a double-edged sword," Brown said. "Now, not only can he finish in traffic, now he's finding guys in the strong-corner. He's finding guys in the weak corner. And he's finding guys that are in the slots above the corner on the wing. To see him make that pass with such ease and precision right now, at least for me it's a joy. It's a joy for me because it's something I knew he could do. As a young man in high school and AAU, he's probably thinking, score, score, score. So that's not something he developed growing up, at least he didn't show to me. Now to see him do it, it's beautiful."

It certainly has been for the Celtics, who are off to their best start under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens. Stevens has found a way to blend his system, which is heavily predicated on ball movement offensively and the ability to switch frequently on defense, with Irving's immense individual talent. So far at least, has been a good fit for all involved.

"Kyrie is trying to do his role to the best of his ability," Stevens said. "Obviously, his role garners a lot of attention because he scores the ball and he has those moments where he mesmerizes everybody with his ability to score the ball and handle the ball and stuff. He's trying to do all the little things. It's a brand new system. There's going to continue to be an adjustment period for him. But he's done a good job."

Listening to Irving talk following the win over Dallas, it's clear there's a considerable amount of thought on his part given to how he'll attack defenses even though we're talking about split-second, on-the-fly decisions.

"It just happens," Irving said when asked about his best scoring night as a Celtic. "Just the flow of the game, understanding where spacing is, where the shot is going to come from, when it's time to put the foot on the gas pedal, being aggressive and take advantage of certain things I was seeing out there. But my teammates did a great job of continuing to pressure the basketball."

And he continues to provide both strong play and leadership, which have moved the needle closer to him achieving what he was seeking when he asked the Cavs to trade him during the offseason.

"This was literally a decision that I wanted to make solely based on my happiness and pushing my career forward," he said earlier this season.

Watching him inside the Celtics locker room and on the floor, it's clear that he's having a good time out there.

And his career going forward? 

Irving's impact on winning has positioned him to where a strong case can be made for him being a top-5 league MVP candidate.

Following the Dallas win, Irving was serenaded by fans chanting, "M-V-P! M-V-P'" which certainly brought a smile to his face and was somewhat unexpected considering Boston was on the road.

"It's pretty awesome," Irving said of the chants. "But we got a long way to go."

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