Celtics

Bard makes his final pitch to join the rotation

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Bard makes his final pitch to join the rotation

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Daniel Bard has made his final Grapefruit League start, but still, the Red Sox won't say where's he headed -- to the rotation or back to the bullpen.
What they will say, however, is how far Bard has come this spring in his attempt to make the transition from reliever to starter.
"Basically, he's where we hoped he could be,'' said Bobby Valentine after Bard allowed three runs on four hits over six innings with seven strikeouts and three walks in a 9-7 win over the Minnesota Twins on Friday at Hammond Stadium, "and where he hoped he could be. He wanted to come here and build and figure out all those nuances. I don't know that he figured them all out. You still have learning pains and growing experiences. But physically, he got to where he wants to be and he's a smart kid.''
Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, caught Bard's first start earlier this spring, then didn't catch him at all until Friday afternoon in his final Grapefruit League outing.He, too, noticed a progression over the course of the spring.
"I think he's slowing things down a bit,'' said Saltalamacchia. "He's really slowing down and thinking about why he's throwing a certain pitch rather than just kind of throwing it.''
Saltalamacchia also has seen Bard ramp up his aggressiveness over the last few weeks.
"He's more comfortable with wanting to throw the ball over the plate,'' said Saltalamacchia. "He's not afraid for them to swing. He knows he has good stuff. He knows that they have do everything right to hit his pitch. He went out there today and basically said, 'Here I am -- see what you can do.' I think it's a boost of confidence.''
Added Bard: "I really do feel like I've gotten better with each start.''
Still, the mystery about Bard's role remains. Valentine said he wasn't ready to say he had made the rotation. Asked what Bard's potential was as a starter, Valentine equivocated some.
"No idea,'' he said. "You have to see him into a season before you figure that stuff out. I think he can start.''
Whether he will start the fourth game of the season for the Red Sox is still unclear, though it would seem a decision could come as soon as Saturday.
After being nicked for a run in the first on a double to the left-center gap by Justin Morneau, Bard faced one batter over the minimum from the second through the fifth before encountering some fatigue in the sixth. He needed 27 pitches to get through the final inning, allowing two runs in the process.
"I really was cruising until the sixth,'' he said. "Getting out the lineup for the third time. I kind of got that feeling, 'They've seen everything I've got,' because I really was mixing it up a lot. I tried to be a little too perfect with some of the pitches. But I was able to limit the damage.
"Focusing on the big picture, I thought it was a good outing.''
For now, however, Bard waits to learn his fate. He acknowledged it was "hard'' to keep out of his mind that Friday's outing would be his last until a decision is reached.
"At the same time,'' he said, "that's no different than pitching in a big game. There was something riding on it. For me, it was more personal and what my role's going to be. But at some point this year, hopefully I'm pitching in a big game and there's a lot more riding on it and it's team oriented.''
At the very least, Bard proved to himself that he could start.
"If the situation arises and I end up in the bullpen,'' he said, "and we need a starter down the road, maybe they'll look to me. Hopefully, I won't go there. But we'll see what happens.''

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”