Bruins

Celtics 'athletic' with Garnett at center

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Celtics 'athletic' with Garnett at center

BOSTON Before the season began, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers talked about playing Kevin Garnett "some" at center this season.

But with Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) out indefinitely, Garnett's minutes in the middle are more than either Rivers or Garnett expected.

And the Celtics are a better team for it.

As much as Garnett cringes at the idea of being a center after a Hall of Fame career at the 4-spot, he knows as well as anyone that the C's seem to play better when he's at center.

You can add Friday's 10794 win over New Jersey as yet another piece of mounting evidence to support that theory.

Garnett had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the win, giving him his team-leading ninth double-double this season.

And he did most of his damage . . . as a center.

When it comes to playing center, it's like most topics with Garnett he doesn't mince his words.

"Preference-wise, I don't like it," he said. "I'm a 4 (power forward). I don't like you know, it is what it is. I'll do whatever this team needs me to be, other than a cheerleader with pom-pons and some short-shorts."

Although having Garnett play almost exclusively now at center is out of necessity, the benefits of him at center cannot be ignored.

"Garnett looked like he was 21 years old tonight," said Nets coach Avery Johnson.

Indeed, Garnett does appear to have a bit more spring in his step at the center position.

"Kevin at the five has been very good," Rivers said. "We're athletic all of a sudden. You put Kevin and Brandon (Bass) on the floor at the same time. With Rondo. All of a sudden we're flying down the floor and we're getting low posts, we're scoring."

Boston has been among the NBA's lowest scoring teams all season.

The C's are ranked 26th in the league in scoring, at 89.7 points per game.

During their current three-game winning streak, Boston's scoring is bumped up to 98.3 points per game.

And while there are a number of Celtics who have contributed to that recent surge offensively, Garnett's scoring around the basket has been a big part of the turn-around.

Whether he's a four or five-man, Garnett only cares about doing whatever he can to help the Celtics win games.

"I have a lot of confidence in myself when it comes to playing basketball, and positions is just numbers to me," Garnett said. "But, you know, if it comes to preference I enjoy the 4. There's a lot more versatility in the 4. You know, the 5 you're kind of stuck in the mud and cement and you know things are as written.

Garnett added, "but this is what it is and I'm enjoying it and I'm adapting and doing whatever I can to get my team ahead."

Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

#FridayBag: The difference between Kraft and Jones

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#FridayBag: The difference between Kraft and Jones

Each week, Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry and Mike Giardi answer your Patriots questions in a joint mailbag, or FridayBag as they call it. Got a question for the trio? Tweet at them using the hashtag #FridayBag. Now, on to this week's submissions:


 

TC: Hey Bryan,
No, I haven’t asked directly but there are a few reasons Kraft wouldn’t fall in line with Jones. First, by “on this” I’m not sure if you mean the compensation package or the Elliott investigation/suspension mess. Jones, of course, has been using the compensation package as a front to attack Goodell’s competency in general which he now bemoans because A) Elliott got suspended and B) Jones assured everyone Elliott wouldn’t be suspended. Kraft wouldn’t support Jones on Elliott because the accusations against him revolve around violence against women. Even if some accusations seem conflated, unsubstantiated or have a whiff of retribution, Kraft isn’t going to rally for Elliott on this. No upside to it. And if it’s an over-the-top penalty levied by the league in an effort to “make up” for past domestic violence investigations the league’s butchered, well, Kraft knows a thing or two about being on the receiving end of an agenda-laden punishment handed down by 345 Park Avenue. Kraft didn’t exactly suck it up and take the punishment. In fact, his reaction in August of 2015 and the organization’s continued effort to chastise the NFL with the Wells Report in Context website are in stark contrast to Kraft’s May 2015 pledge to stand down on Deflategate for the good of the league. Kraft gave plenty of pushback. But he stopped short of putting Goodell on the spit because he believes it hurts the overall brand and he’s more conciliator than divider. The feeling in Foxboro has been – and I’m sure continues to be – that the problem isn’t Goodell but his minions. The league needs an enema.



TC: Rich, they are running out of options. He is their White Whale. How hysterical would it be if – at the end of it all – he signs a one-day contract to retire as a Patriot? Gotta make this happen.https://twitter.com/MrQuindazzi/status/931295571264131072

TC: Great question, Q. Of all the guys running the option routes, Burkhead seems to be the most sudden in his cuts while also being able to gain quick and wide separation out of them. It’s lateral quickness and explosiveness that makes Edelman a unique cover for any defense. All the wideouts are quick, but being able to disguise the route, set up the move and then – when making the cut – cover a lot of ground with the first steps is what sets Edelman apart as evidenced by his short-shuttle time. I agree with you.

PP: Jeff is a CHRONIC Quick Slants the Podcast listener, and we thank him for that. He's right in that the Patriots took advantage of Denver on a couple of occasions when they tried to substitute last weekend, and that's something they'll pounce on every week if they could. We highlighted just how good they've gotten at that whole operation here. When it comes to the Raiders, I think you'll see the Patriots exploit their linebackers in coverage as often as possible. (You'll remember, they did that against the Broncos, too.) Oakland is one of the worst teams in the league at defending tight ends and running backs in the passing game, and the Patriots will have no problem recycling their offensive game plan from Mile High for Mexico City.

PP: Mike, I'll mention the classics here even if you've already thumbed through them more than once: David Halberstam's The Education of a Coach and Michael Holley's Patriot Reign are both very good looks at Belichick and how he came to run his operation the way he does. But you already knew that. When it comes to one book specific to Belichick, specific to his leadership style? May have to wait on that one. For now, though, watch this. Good interview with CNBC's Suzy Welch from last offseason. Belichick discusses the tenants of his leadership style, the value of surrounding yourself with dependable people, and why he doesn't like social media (it's not just because he's 65). I'd also suggest this podcast that Belichick recorded with lacrosse buddy Paul Rabil. Interesting back-and-forth on why Belichick likes to keep the numbers on his coaching staff small, team culture, short-term focus and frequency of organizational meetings. 

PP: It could, Riz. Precision is paramount in the red zone. Space is at a premium. Accuracy is critical. And having big targets who don't need all that much room to create room for themselves -- like Gronkowski, Bennett or Dwayne Allen, who scored while well-covered in Denver -- makes life that much easier. 

PP: Thanks, Rich. For anyone who hasn't seen that one, which lays out how Patriots players feel like they have an All-Star special-teams unit, here's the link. I'd say the biggest weakness is still what I thought it was back before the trade deadline: pass-rush. They'll try to scheme up what they can by disguising who's coming and who's dropping into coverage, but at some point, they'll need pass-rushers to win one-on-one battles and disrupt good quarterbacks. I think Trey Flowers can do that. I think Kyle Van Noy can do that from time to time. I think Deatrich Wise has shown he has the potential to do that. After that, I think the Patriots are lacking in that area. They'll need their secondary to be lock-down to help cover-up for any deficiencies they have up front. 

PP: Bilingual Shimon checking in! I believe that says something about bombs to Cooks? Yep. That's in play. The Patriots really should be able to do what they want against this Raiders defense. Their secondary is in shambles as NBC Bay Area's Scott Blair told me on one of our podcasts this week. I still think the Patriots will turn to their backs in the passing game because I'm not sure they'll want to turn Khalil Mack loose on many Tom Brady seven-step drops. But there will be opportunities on all areas of the field -- short, intermediate and deep. 

PP: Interesting question on Gillislee. Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis did nothing the other night that would suggest they'll see their roles diminished in any way, but the injury to Matthew Slater could open up a game-day roster spot for the Patriots to activate five backs in Mexico. Even if Gillislee is active, though, I wouldn't expect a huge role for him so long as Lewis and Burkhead are healthy. Right now he looks like valuable insurance and a potential cold-weather hammer against teams that won't want to tackle a 219-pound back who runs hard. 

PP: Big two-year-old birthday party for my nephew on Saturday, Shy, so it's going to be more of a Mickey Mouse weekend for me. Then on Sunday, of course, we'll be working. You're going to want to watch Pregame Live, coming at you at 2:30 p.m. Then right after the game you'll have an epic Postgame Live and an equally-enjoyable Sports Sunday. See you then. 

MG: The Patriots have been more committed to running the football of late -- 32 rushes versus the Chargers and 26 against the Broncos in a game in which they lost a possession because of excellent special-teams work and had a short field on another. That commitment has revolved heavily around the two players that are running the ball the best right now: Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead. James White is still a valuable piece and will have plenty of big moments from here until the end of the season, though I will tell you, he’s still kicking himself for that missed blitz pickup of Justin Simmons down in the red zone Sunday night.

MG: They blew one of their two eligible to return spots on Shea McClellin, who appeared to be ready to return from those concussion symptoms but then had a setback in his final week of practice before he needed to be put on the active roster. That leaves two players for one spot (assuming both are healthy): DT Vincent Valentine or WR Malcolm Mitchell. The Pats' interior defensive line hasn’t been as good as it needs to be, which leads me to think Valentine might be the play; however, depth has really been challenged at wide receiver, and by the end of Sunday’s game in Denver, the Pats had just three healthy wideouts (Cooks, Amendola and Dorsett). Mitchell just began running a few weeks back, though, as he recovered from training camp knee surgery, so who knows how that’s responded to date

MG: Negative, though don’t take that as a bad thing. I think Dorsett has tremendous speed but is still learning the playbook and earning Tom Brady’s trust. He may never have a breakout game this season but when he’s on the field, opposing teams have to respect his ability to go vertical. That can open up stuff underneath or if they flood a zone. He still has a purpose and can be a useful player. 

MG: Pete! I worked out and was so wobbled at the knees I thought I was having the big one (Elizabeth), but a gallon of water cured what ailed me at this high altitude. Anyway, I think you’re already seeing a greater commitment to the run game. The offensive line is blocking it up better, they’re controlling down and distance, and it’s allowed the play-action pass game to thrive (see the 26-yarder to Gronk versus Denver). Belichick said Tuesday they’ll do whatever they have to do to win, but right now, the steady balance is keeping Brady upright and putting opposing defenses in a quandary. 

MG: Landry, I knew you couldn’t quit me . . . Look, I don’t have any Gilislee theories right now, nor have I heard anything on the rumor mill. What I think is that Lewis and Burkhead are just running it better, so why waste a roster spot on Gillislee if he’s just going to get a handful of plays or touches? I wouldn’t say he’s going to be married to the pine the rest of the way. Hell, we know about Lewis and Burkhead’s injury histories, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he is in street clothes again Sunday.

MG: John Lynch is saying stupid things. Jimmy is the big dog and Lynch knows it. And if he keeps up with this nonsense, I may have to make a pit stop in San Fran and set him straight #FreeJimmyG