Bruins

Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

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Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

LOS ANGELES Paul Pierce couldn't make a shot. The Boston Celtics couldn't grab a rebound.

And there were the C's, down by just two points at the half.

It was Boston's ability to force turnovers that kept them in the game when they struggled mightily in every other phase of play.

But it would have taken more than an unusual high number of Lakers mistakes to win this one, as the Lakers escaped with a 97-94 win.

After trailing for most of the game, the C's seemed in good shape when a Ray Allen 3-pointer put the Celtics up, 94-89, with about two minutes to play. But a short jumper in the lane by Kobe Bryant and an alley-oop lay-up by Andrew Bynum cut Boston's lead to 94-93 with 1:17 to play.

From there, a Celtics time-out produced a running bank shot by Allen that was off the mark, setting the stage for Bryant to once again deliver in the clutch.

And he did, draining a short jumper that put the Lakers ahead, 95-94, with 41.7 seconds to play.

Again the C's called a time-out and got the shot they wanted - a wide open look for Brandon Bass.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, he missed it and like most of the missed shots on Sunday, it wound up in the hands of the Lakers who managed to hold on for the win and in the process, sweeping the regular season series.

Boston then fell behind by three points on a lay-up by Andrew Bynum.

Down three with 15.5 seconds to play, the C's called a 20-second time-out to bring on its 3-point bombers.

The C's Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo each missed, as the Lakers managed to hold on for the victory with an 8-0 run to finish the game.

The third quarter featured strong runs by both teams, with the final points of the quarter being a tip-in by Matt Barnes that gave the Lakers a 72-70 lead going into the fourth.

His rebound and subsequent lay-up, in many ways, spoke to what was arguably the Celtics' biggest concern - rebounding and second-chance points.

The Lakers controlled the glass, for sure.

But the C's countered by forcing the Lakers into 15 turnovers at the end of three quarters. The 15 turnovers equalled what the Lakers averaged this season.

The two continued to exchange one big play for another in the fourth, with the bulk of the quarter being just a one-possession game.

A down-to-the-wire finish didn't seem to be in the making by the way the game began.

The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the first half, in large part by making the most of their one true advantage - their size.

Andrew Bynum had a double-double by the half, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Pau Gasol wasn't too far behind with seven points and seven rebounds at half.

In addition to the 12 first-half turnovers by the Lakers, Boston also got a boost from Rajon Rondo who was still bothered somewhat by the poke in the eye he suffered in Friday's win over the Trail Blazers.

He came on to the floor wearing dark shades with a strap attached to the back, the kind of strap that would have allowed him to play with them. Apparently it hadn't been giving the green light by the NBA, so Rondo had to play without them.

It certainly didn't affect him as a scorer. He led all C's with 10 points in the first half, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer - his first 3-pointer made since Feb. 15 against Detroit.

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, "happy he can move on"

Julien thankful for B's video tribute, "happy he can move on"

BOSTON – It was the final piece of closure for former Bruins coach Claude Julien when he made his return to TD Garden for the first time as the bench boss for the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night. Julien stood on the visiting bench, watched a first period video tribute of appreciation for his 10-years guiding the Bruins and then received the warm, thankful ovation from the B’s fans that still very much appreciate his efforts that resulted in a 2011 Stanley Cup title. 

Unfortunately for him and the Canadiens he also presided over a lifeless, limp effort from his Montreal club in a 4-1 loss to the Bruins where his team simply couldn’t derive any emotion or juice from his return to Boston. Julien said in both French and English that that his Habs simply “laid an egg” on the road, and that was disappointing for him given that Montreal already has their backs against the wall for a possible playoff spot. 

Instead Julien’s biggest bright spot in the game turned out to be the video tribute from the Bruins midway through the first period, for which he was greatly appreciative. 

“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it’s a little emotional, and at the same time [you’re] trying to keep your emotions intact there so you can coach a game and stuff like that. But, you know, I appreciate what they did for me,” said Julien following his second loss to the Bruins in five days. “As I said, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here. At the same time I’m kind of happy it’s over so we can move on now, but that doesn’t mean you forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you. But now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career, and I’ve got to think about that.”

Julien’s counterpart, Bruce Cassidy, called the video tribute a “classy move” by the Bruins organization after the game had been settled, and there’s no doubting it was the right move for a coach that won over 400 games during his 10 years leading the Bruins. It was also the final chapter in his Bruins book as Julien now has completely moved on to his new gig guiding the Canadiens where it seems like his work is most definitely cut out for him. 

Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

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Will the real Jaguars defense please stand up?

FOXBORO -- Are we giving the Jaguars defense too much credit?

The numbers, on the surface, paint Jacksonville's defense as one of the best the NFL has seen in years. They finished the season as the league's top passing defense in terms of yards allowed, and they were second when it came to points allowed, total yards and sacks.

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Then there are the postseason awards that have been bestowed upon their defensive regulars. Jalen Ramsey, AJ Bouye, Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson have all been named Pro Bowlers. Ramsey and Campbell are First-Team All-Pros, while Bouye and Telvin Smith are Second-Teamers. Campbell is in the running for Defensive Player of the Year. 

So why, then, is there this lingering feeling that the Jaguars defense isn't all it's cracked up to be? They allowed Ben Roethlisberger to heave his way to 42 points in the Divisional Round. In Week 16, they gave up 44 to Jimmy Garoppolo and the Niners. Hell, Blaine Gabbert and the Cardinals put up 27 and beat them in Week 12. 

Those results don't exactly scream "all-time defense." So what is Jacksonville? Overrated? Properly rated? 

One thing is for certain: The Jags played an easy schedule. The combined winning percentage of their opponents in 2017 was a league-low 44 percent. And when it comes to the defense in particular, they had the second-easiest schedule in the league, according to Football Outsiders. It didn't hurt that they were able to play the Colts with Jacoby Brissett, the Texans before Deshaun Watson became a star and after he got hurt, and the NFL's No. 23-ranked Titans offense. Twice. Each. They also got the Ravens (No. 27 offense), Jets (No. 28), Bengals (No. 32), Browns (No. 24) and Cardinals (No. 22). Add it all up and that's nine games -- more than half their schedule -- against bottom-third NFL offenses. Two more games came against a Houston offense that featured starting quarterbacks Tom Savage and TJ Yates. 

When you dig into the analytics it's harder to find ways to poke holes in Jacksonville's credibility as a top-tier defensive unit. Pro Football Focus grades the Jags as their No. 1 defense, and it's really not close. Football Outsiders calls them their No. 1 defense in terms of DVOA. Even when you factor in some of its recent performances -- like letdowns versus the Steelers and Niners -- Jacksonville is still the league's No. 4 defense in weighted DVOA, which is adjusted so that games that were played earlier in the season are gradually less important. 

At the same time, the analytics can be occasionally unkind to the Jaguars. Football Outsiders has them ranked as one of the most inconsistent defenses in the league. According to their variance statistic, Jacksonville is the fourth most inconsistent defense in football. A deeper dive into the numbers has also located an apparent soft underbelly of the Jaguars defense. Per Warren Sharp of Sharp Football Analysis, the Jaguars are dominant against three-receiver sets -- No. 1 in the league, in fact -- but they're the No. 23 defense in the NFL when it comes to defending personnel groupings that feature one or two wide receivers. That would explain, in part, why the Titans (who Sharp rated as the least-likely team to employ three-receiver sets this season) and Niners (who went with more "21" and "12" personnel looks late in the season) were able to beat the Jaguars. 

The most difficult argument against the legitimacy of the Jaguars' defensive rankings is the talent they put on the field on a weekly basis. Their roster, defensively at least, stacks up with some of the most imposing defensive units in recent memory. The Seahawks had four First and Second-Team All-Pros on their defense in 2014. The Broncos defense had five Pro Bowlers in 2015. The Jaguars have five players who were named either All-Pros or Pro Bowlers or both this year, and they probably should've had a sixth in pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue, who recorded 12 sacks (eighth in the NFL) and a league-best six forced fumbles. 

The verdict? The Jaguars defense is loaded with blue-chip players. It will be the best unit the Patriots offense has seen this year. But they have been inconsistent, they have holes -- which we touched upon in this week's Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo -- and there remains the very real possibility that Tom Brady and his teammates will light up the Gillette Stadium scoreboard on Sunday. 

Now, is Brady healthy? Good question. Will he have enough time to throw? We'll see. But if the answer to both of those questions is "yes" (or "enough"), then the Patriots should be headed to Minnesota. This Jaguars defense is very good, but it's far from inpenetrable.

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