Patriots

Celtics-Bucks preview: What to look for

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Celtics-Bucks preview: What to look for

BOSTON For years, the Boston Celtics have been a confident bunch that believes they can win regardless of where a game is played.

But there's little doubt that the pathway to success is always a lot smoother when they take care of business at the TD Garden.

And the need to not just do well - but dominate - at home is not lost on the players as they prepare for their home opener tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks.

"We're excited to be at home, especially after taking a loss in the first game," said C's Captain Paul Pierce. "Hopefully we can come back home and establish ourselves. That's going to be the emphasis this year, establishing ourselves at home."

Last season, simply getting an opportunity to play games was the primary objective for most teams after the lockout forced the league to play a condensed 66-game schedule that did not begin until Christmas Day.

Boston finished a respectable 24-9 at the Garden, good enough for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference, sixth overall in the NBA.

The Celtics know they will need to do better than that in order to have a home court edge when it counts - the playoffs.

Last season's team advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. But they were unable to finish with a good enough record for home court in their series with the Miami Heat, a series that ended with the C's losing Game 7 in Miami.

That series included the Heat winning Game 6 in Boston.

"No team should be able to come in here and get any wins," Pierce said. "Our goal is to keep our home court clean so it can be an intimidating factor when they (teams) come to the Garden."

Several factors will come into play for Boston to have the kind of success at home that it is seeking. Here are a few to keep an eye on as the C's play their first game at home this season against the always-scrappy Milwaukee Bucks.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Bucks have one of the most explosive backcourts in the NBA with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Rajon Rondo and Courtney Lee will have their hands full keeping these guys in check.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jeff Green vs. Mike Dunleavy: Both of these guys will come off the bench even though they have the skills to be starters for a lot of NBA teams. After an underwhelming performance against Miami, Green will look to be more assertive and aggressive tonight.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass had 15 points and 11 rebounds against Miami. No one expects him to necessarily put up similar numbers against the Bucks, but he does need to continue making his presence felt on the boards. It's the best way to keep himself in the game and Jared Sullinger on the bench.

STAT TO TRACK: With the additions made by Boston, bench scoring should not be an issue. And yet despite having what most believe is one of the deepest teams in the NBA, Boston still managed to be outscored 32-29 by the Miami Heat in the season opener. You can bet Jason Terry and the rest of the second unit will be on a mission to make sure that what happened in South Beach, stays in South Beach.

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

FOXBORO -- Here are some quick-hitting thoughts on the Patriots' 23-7 victory over the Falcons on Sunday night.

1) If the Patriots attacked this game believing that the best defense is a good offense . . . they were right. 

They controlled the ball for more than 18 minutes in the first half and ran for 92 yards on 18 carries (a 5.1 yards per attempt average) with four backs sharing the load. Rex Burkhead gave the team a spark with his speed and vision in his first game back since suffering a rib injury in Week 2. The success the Patriots had running the ball had the added benefit of opening up the play-action pass game and it helped protect Tom Brady. After taking two sacks in the first quarter and a monster hit (penalized for roughing the passer) from Adrian Clayborn in the second, Brady was fairly well-protected. 

PATRIOTS 23, FALCONS 3

2) Tom Brady lamented the fact that he hadn't been more accurate in the red zone of late, but he was better in that area to help the Patriots pad their early lead. 

The Patriots went 2-for-3 in the red zone through the first half, with Brady hitting on touchdown passes to Brandin Cooks (which looked more like an end-around hand-off) and James White. Brady still had moments of inaccuracy. The pass he lofted before being croaked by Clayborn was a bad one that was intercepted. (The pick was wiped after the penalty was enforced.) He threw behind Chris Hogan on multiple occasions. He also had an odd throw float well out of bounds that was intended for Rob Gronkowski. But for the most part he was on point, completing 21 of his first 29 throws for 241 yards. 

3) The Patriots defense showed up in critical moments time and time again in this one. 

They stopped the Falcons twice on fourth down, and they allowed Matt Ryan and his offense to convert on just two of their first nine third-down plays. The Falcons coaching staff deserves plenty of criticism for going for it when they did, but with a banged-up secondary, going against the reigning MVP and one of the best receivers in the league, the Patriots responded.

4) Bill Belichick's run defense was particularly impressive in the first half on Sunday night, helping keep the Falcons from getting anything going until it was too late. 

They allowed just 30 yards on nine attempts in the first two quarters (a 3.3 yards per attempt average), with Malcom Brown, Trey Flowers, Kyle Van Noy, Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise all making impressive stops at, near or behind the line of scrimmage. 

5) The Patriots suffered a handful of injuries to key players that will be worth keeping an eye on moving forward. 

Malcom Brown left the game in the second half with an ankle injury. Their top defensive tackle this season, Brown's absence may be one reason for why the Falcons were able to pump up their rushing yardage to triple digits by midway through the fourth quarter. Dont'a Hightower also left the game and was announced as questionable to return with a shoulder injury. Hightower has had a history of shoulder issues and so perhaps this is an older injury that was re-aggravated. Chris Hogan also left the game briefly and was evaluated for a concussion, according to NBC's television broadcast. He later returned.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE