Red Sox

Celtics fall to Knicks in season opener, 106-104

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Celtics fall to Knicks in season opener, 106-104

NEW YORK Most would agree that the Boston Celtics' reign atop the Atlantic Division is near its end.

But before you call in the pastor to read the Celtics their last rites, they have a message for you they're still very much alive and kicking.

Still, their fight was not enough as the New York Knicks rallied in the fourth for a 106-104 win.

Carmelo Anthony led all scorers with 37 points, including a pair of game-winning free throws with 16.3 seconds to play.

The down-to-the-wire finish was a bit surprising when you consider the Celtics trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half before rallying to take control in the third and most of the fourth quarter.

"We were as soft as we could be in the first quarter, and then I thought we joined into the 2011-2012 season," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "From that point on, I was pretty happy with the way we played. I thought we competed well."

So well, that even after the Knicks gave up a big lead and the Celtics in turn did the same in the fourth, the C's were well positioned to still escape with the victory despite not having their leading scorer, Paul Pierce (right heel), available to play.

After Anthony's free throws gave the Knicks the lead with seconds remaining in the fourth, Marquis Daniels launched a potential game-winning 3-pointer that was off the mark.

Fortunately for Boston, Rajon Rondo -- the best player on the floor for Boston all game -- was able to haul down the loose ball and call a timeout with 4.4 seconds to play.

He finished with a team-high 31 points to go along with 13 assists, the most assists by a Celtics player on Christmas Day.

The previous record holder?

That would be Rondo, who set the mark of 12 assists in 2008 at the Los Angeles Lakers' Staples Center.

Boston had one more shot at forcing overtime or winning it with a 3-pointer.

Kevin Garnett, defended by former Celtic Billy Walker at the time, pulled up for a lightly contested jumper that was off the mark as time expired.

Garnett and Walker exchanged some words after the game, and Garnett grabbed Walker's neck briefly as players separated the two.

It is unclear if the NBA will fine or suspend Garnett for his actions, but they are expected to review the incident on Monday.

"Next question!" was Garnett's response after the game when asked about the incident involving him and Walker.

As for the actual game played, the Celtics almost came up with a Christmas Day miracle if they were able to win without Pierce.

Keeping the Celtics in the game was Rondo, who proved the Celtics don't need a 'Paul' -- Pierce or Chris Paul -- to at least compete.

Rondo led all Celtics with 31 points. He also tallied 13 assists and five steals.

Boston also got a strong game from Brandon Bass, who was making his Celtics debut.

The 6-foot-8 forward finished with a double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds.

But the Knicks, having squandered a lead that peaked at 17 points in the first half, were on the comeback trail in the fourth.

Leading the way was Anthony, who was limited in the third quarter because of foul trouble.

He scored the first five points of the fourth, which cut the Celtics' lead to 89-84.

But the Celtics countered with a 3-pointer from Ray Allen to give them some added cushion.

The Knicks continued to surge back into the game, and went ahead on a running jumper by Anthony that gave New York a 104-102 lead.

Sunday's loss was Boston's first to open a season since 2006. And the schedule doesn't get any easier with road games at Miami on Tuesday and New Orleans the following night.

"We're not gonna go down because we lost," said Celtics forward Sasha Pavlovic, who got the start in place of Pierce. "It's just gonna make us stronger."

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

As Red Sox manager, Cora must keep conviction, honesty that got him job

BOSTON -- Just as a batter can subconsciously play to avoid losing, rather than to win, a manager can operate with a fear of failure. Such an unwitting approach may have contributed John Farrell’s downfall, and is an area where Alex Cora can set himself apart.

A lot has been written about the value of authenticity in leadership. It’s one thing to have the charisma and conviction needed to land a position of power. It’s another to take over a pressure-cooker job, like manager of the Red Sox, and carry the fortitude to stay true to yourself, continue to let those qualities shine.

Cora did not appear to pull any punches in his days with ESPN. The 42-year-old engaged in Twitter debates with media members and fans. And throughout his baseball life, he showed his colors.

Via Newsday’s Dave Lennon, here’s a scene from 2010 when Cora was with the Mets: 

Last year, Cora spoke out against the league office's rule requiring minorities always be interviewed.

Perhaps most interesting of all, when Chris Sale cut up White Sox jerseys, Cora was Dennis Eckersley-like in his assessment:

“What he did is not acceptable,” Cora said of Sale. “If I’m a veteran guy, I’m going to take exception. if I’m a young guy, I’m going to take exception. Because as a young guy on a team that is actually struggling right now, somebody has to show me the ropes of how to act as a big leaguer. And this is not the way you act as a big leaguer. Forget the trades, forget who you are.

“What you do in that clubhouse, you got to act like a professional. And that’s one thing my agent, Scott Boras, used to tell me when I got to the big leagues: act like a professional. Chris Sale didn’t do it. He’s not showing the veterans that you respect the game. He’s not showing the rookies how to be a big leaguer, and that’s what I take exception to.”

Take out Chris Sale’s name from the above quotation and insert David Price’s. Describes Price's incident with Eckersley perfectly, doesn't it? 

Now, no manager can say what they’re really thinking all the time. Cora’s not in the media anymore. His new job description is different. 

But when you consider the great success of Terry Francona -- and why he succeeded in this market beyond simply winning -- what stands out is how comfortable Francona appears in his own skin. How genuine he seems. 

There is a way to acknowledge, as a manager, when something is off. A way to do so gently but genuinely. A way to say what you feel -- and a way to say what you feel must be said -- while operating without fear of the players you manage. 

Ultimately, most every comment Francona makes is intended to shield his players. But Francona shows his personality as he goes (or if you want to be a bit cynical, he sells his personality marvelously). Those little self-deprecating jokes -- he charms the hell out of everyone. The media, the fans. The Cult of Tito has a real following, because he feels real. Because he is real. 

Farrell was not fake. But he did have a hard time letting his personality come across consistently, to his detriment. He was reserved, in part because that just appeared to be his nature. But the job must have, with time, forced him to withdraw even further. As everything Farrell said (and did) was picked apart in the market, it likely became easiest just to play it safe in every facet -- speaking to the media, speaking to players.

The Sox’ biggest undertaking in 2017 seemed to be a nothing-to-see-here campaign. It was all fine. No David Ortiz, no home runs, no problem. Manny Machado was loved. The media was the problem, not any attitude or attitudes inside the clubhouse. Base running was a net positive -- you name it, none of it was ever tabbed as a problem publicly by the manager, or anyone else.

A perpetually defensive stance was the public image. Issues were never addressed or poorly defused, so questions always lingered.

Maybe Cora cannot admonish Sale as he did a year ago now that he’s managing Sale. Not publicly, anyway. But even as a quote-unquote player's manager, the job still requires authority, which should be doled out just as it was earned: through authentic comments and actions.

"My job as the manager is to set the culture, the expectations, the standards, the baseball," Cora’s present boss, Astros manager A.J. Hinch, said the night the Astros clinched the pennant. "It's the players' job to develop the chemistry.

“And obviously good teams always say that, we want chemistry, and what comes first, the chemistry or the winning. But when you have it, you want to hold on to it as much as possible . . . We've got a good thing going because we have one common goal, we have one common standard, and that's to be your best every day."

Cora has to remain true to his best, too -- not what he thinks, and hears, and reads, people want his best to be.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

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EX-PATS PODCAST: Why does it seem Patriots secondary is playing better without Gilmore?

On this episode of The Ex-Pats Podcast...

0:10 - Mike Giardi and Dan Koppen give their takeaways from the Patriots win over the Falcons including the defense coming up strong against Atlanta but New England still taking too many penalties.

2:00 - Why it felt like this game meant more to the Patriots, their sense of excitement after the win, and building chemistry off a good victory.

6:20 - Falcons losing their identity without Kyle Shanahan as offensive coordinator and their bad play calling and decisions on 4th downs.

10:00 -  A discussion about Matt Ryan not making the throws he needed against the Patriots and if he has falling off the MVP caliber-type player he was last season.

14:00 - How and why the Patriots secondary seems to be playing better without Stephon Gilmore and why Malcolm Butler has been able to turn up his play as of late.