Red Sox

Celtics gearing up for Spurs, Thunder

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Celtics gearing up for Spurs, Thunder

BOSTON Even the Celtics find themselves from time to time taking a verbal dip into the "take things one game at a time" mantra that far too many coaches and players adopt as a primary talking point.

But with a potent 1-2 punch from out West (San Antonio followed by Oklahoma City) invading the TD Garden this week, it's hard to imagine Boston's focus will totally shift on one and not both of their next opponents.

Moments after Boston's 103-83 loss at Detroit on Sunday, this became abundantly clear in the Celtics' post-game comments.

"This is one of those games you just throw away; don't even look back at it," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "And just move on from it. We got a couple day's rest. We got two great teams coming into our building, so hopefully we can get back on track and get some good wins at home."

And while Boston clearly recognizes the quality of opponents that will be coming into town this week, their focus for the next two games isn't any different than it would be for any other regular season matchups.

"We're going to take (today) off and do very little on Tuesday," Rivers said. "That's why I always tell you guys, you want to win every game. But you can't. You can learn a little from all these games. But it's not like this is a playoff game coming up on Wednesday and we would be practicing hard, you know what I mean?"

Considering the Celtics just completed what will arguably be the most physically and mentally challenging portion of their schedule -- seven games in 10 days -- Rivers plans to give his team as much rest as possible heading into this two-game set of talented teams coming to town.

"When you come off this kind of stretch, and you go into these two games with fatigue, you just have to be very careful," Rivers said. "We're going to do something Tuesday, but it's not going to be a lot of work."

In addition to preparing to do battle against two of the NBA's top teams, the C's are also battling the fatigue that comes with having so many games so close behind one another.

"Our guys, half of them . . . are sick, half of them are tired," Rivers said.

Rivers got a call on Sunday morning from team trainer Ed Lacerte who informed Rivers that, the C's had "six guys with head colds and not feeling good."

Rivers added: "That's probably because of the stretch, in and out of weather and all that."

The schedule will indeed soften up in terms of travel this week.

But the caliber of opponents? Major upgrade.

And it doesn't matter which team is on the docket first. Because for this week, taking things "one game at a time" is not an option, not with a talented San Antonio team serving as the opening act for the NBA Finals runner-up Oklahoma City Thunder less than 48 hours later.

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.

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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.