Patriots

Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

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Celtics-Bulls preview: Stopping transition

CHICAGO There were plenty of feel-good moments in Boston's win at Milwaukee on Saturday. But arguably the most impressive aspect of the victory was that the Celtics' defense limited the always-on-the-run Bucks from going buck wild in transition.

The 15 points given up by the Celtics on fast-break points only tells a part of the story of what was a strong night for their transition defense.

A big part of limiting opponents in transition has to do with cutting down on turnovers, something the Celtics would love to do tonight against the Chicago Bulls.

In Saturday's 96-92 win over the Bucks, the Celtics played a nearly flawless fourth quarter, shooting well over 50 percent from the field without committing a single turnover.

By not turning the ball over, that allows Boston's defense to set itself up which in turn makes it tougher -- a lot tougher -- for opponents to generate points.

"The games that we lost, transition defense has been our Achilles heel," said Celtics guard Jason Terry. "(Saturday) we made it a point. For the most part, we were able to control our turnovers."

Boston will not have an easy time continuing that trend of limiting turnovers against a Bulls team that has been among the NBA's best squads defensively under former Celtics assistant coach Tom Thibodeau.

The Bulls have been especially strong in forcing turnovers this season, with opponents coughing it up 16.7 times a game which ranks seventh in the league.

But the C's come into tonight's game with the confidence that comes about from having seen tangible growth in what has been one of their greatest weaknesses - transition defense.

And to do it against a Bucks team with such dynamic open court scorers like Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, only adds to that positive vibes they are feeling right now.

"If you can stop it against (Milwaukee), you can do it against anybody," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "This team is as good as you're going to find, this and Miami, at just breaking you down with multiple players."

Transition defense is just one of the many concerns Boston has heading into tonight's game against the Bulls. Here are a few other keys to the game as the Celtics try and snap

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Rajon Rondo has been shredding defenses apart all season with an array of pin-point passes resulting in double-digit assists every game. He's the primary reason why the Celtics rank among the top-five this season in assists per game. But the Bulls have made it tough on opponents when it comes to getting assists. In fact, they are only giving up 19.8 per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah. There's no love lost between these two, which only adds more intrigue and suspense to this matchup between two of the better teams in the East.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green had a breakout game at Milwaukee on Saturday with 12 points and strong play defensively. It'll be interesting to see if he can build off of that performance or whether he'll return to Struggelesville, which he has called home for most of this year.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has had its share of problems limiting opponents scoring in the paint. They currently rank 27th in the league with foes churning out 45.7 points in the paint per game. The Bulls may be just what the Celtics need right now. Chicago comes into tonight's game among the NBA's worst at scoring around the basket. The C's would do themselves a world of good in keeping the Bulls around their 38 points-in-the-paint per game average which ranks No. 23 in the NBA.

Five quick thoughts: Patriots put it all together against Falcons

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.

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