Celtics

Bruins reminded wins aren't automatic

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Bruins reminded wins aren't automatic

DALLAS Some nights you just dont have it.

Even if youre the Stanley Cup champions that have been on a path of destruction for the last two months, nobody will be perfect through an 82-game season.

Everybody around the Bruins has gotten used to winning nearly every game they suit up for, but sometimes the legs arent there and the breaks dont go the way theyre supposed to. The Black and Gold were able to eke out a win against the Phoenix Coyotes when they probably didnt deserve it, but that finally caught up to them deep in the heart of Texas.

Sometimes theyre just not the better team when the 29 other NHL clubs bring their A game for the Cup-hoisting champs on any given night. Thats exactly what happened when the Dallas Stars basically smacked the Bs in the mouth to a 4-2 tune at the American Airlines Center, and gave Michael Ryder the last laugh in his first game against the Bruins.

Obviously we didnt play the way we wanted to in the first two periods. If we played a lot more like we did in the third period than we did in the first two periods than we would have given ourselves a much better chance to win, said Milan Lucic, who scored a third period goal in an attempt to energize the Bs. We usually win most of the battles and have heavier sticks, but it seemed like they were winning most of those battles.

Sure there might have been a questionable call or two that went against the Bruins over the course of a rough first 40 minutes, and that was at the heart of a sequence that turned things away from Boston. With the game tied at 1-1 after a nice Tyler Seguin skirmish in front of the Dallas net turned into his 15th goal of the season, Tom Wandell decided to become the hockey version of vice grips. The gritty Dallas pivot clamped down on Milan Lucics right arm and stick as the Bs left wing carried the puck in the attack zone, and he locked on like a wrestler applying a signature move.

It was an unfortunate play, said Lucic. I felt like there was nothing I could do to get my stick out of that thing.

Wandells hold eventually stripped the puck from Lucic without a penalty kill, and the Stars were able to run a 4-on-2 rush into the Boston end when the Bs left winger looked to throw a hit and missed his target. Within seconds Trevor Daley scored on a shot that eventually bounced off the back of Tim Thomas and into the net, and the Stars had all of the momentum theyd need.

Claude Julien was steaming as he watched the Stars capitalize multiple times on six power play chances throughout the lopsided defeat, but afterward calmly admitted his squad simply didnt deserve to win. If it were the Winter Classic Julien would have tipped his 40s style fedora toward the Dallas bench, but alas everybody had to settle for the verbal version of tipping his cap to a dominant Stars squad.

It was maybe a tough night of officiating for us, but more than that it was us. We didnt play a very good game from the get-go, said Julien. From the first guy to the last guy tonight I dont think we had a very strong game. Its unfortunate, but those are things that will maybe make us better in the upcoming game. We know that we have to bounce back.

We could talk about a lot of things. Id rather look at us. We didnt get much help, but we werent a very good team tonight. They were. They played extremely. They were physical, they were on top of us and they were playing well. They were, without a doubt, the better team tonight.

The Bs didnt win enough puck battles, couldnt match the physicality of a Stars team that belted out 36 hits to Bostons 15 registered body checks and didnt come close to necessary grit in the offensive end while totaling a pitiful 11 shots on net in the first two periods.

David Krejci was pounded in the face-off circle by Steve Ott throughout the game, the Stars exploited the holes in Joe Corvos defensive game and Brad Marchand was the invisible brat for a Bs team that need some emotional spark. They werent the only ones, however, as there really wasnt a single Bs player that deserved back slaps or accolades when it was all over.

Things got a little better in the third period after Claude Julien implored his team to man up for the final 20 minutes, but thats not good enough to take down a playoff-caliber team spotted with a two-goal lead. Theres no need to point fingers or rake any particular unit over the coals after one singular loss amid an avalanche of points and victories.

But the defeat speaks to how delicate the winning formula can be even when the Bruins are seemingly sitting on top of the world. Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan joked before the game that his coaching staff had to make some stuff up when looking for weak spots on the Bruins given the way they were playing.

But whatever they concocted seemed to work to a tee.

A little emotional detachment, an injury to a key player or simple tired legs from too many games in too few nights can drag a good team into the morass of mediocrity and a humbling reminder of those inalienable hockey facts can never hurt.

Nobody will ever admit that a loss is a good thing in the realm of pro sports except for perhaps the odd columnist or two that thinks its a good idea to end a winning streak before the playoffs to get the loss out of the way but the Bs hatred of losing will be stoked by a one-sided loss to Dallas.

One loss to a Western Conference opponent on New Years Eve isnt the end of the world, but it could be the start of it if the Bruins dont learn their lessons well. The rings resting in their safety deposit boxes stand as proof that they will, and theyll be a better team for it.

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.”