Patriots

Celtics-Sixers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Sixers preview: Keep your eye on . . .

PHILADELPHIA Even with the games coming at a dizzying and at times frenetic pace, there are some that are more than just etch-a-sketch memory that can easily be washed away and forgotten.

Boston's 103-71 loss at Philadelphia on March 7 was one of those games.

For C's coach Doc Rivers, a "butt whipping" is what he says he took from it.

Paul Pierce said he takes nothing from the blowout loss, the worst of the Big Three era.

"That's one of those games, you kind of throw out the window," he said. "I think we kind of got blown out that game, right? Can't take nothing from that."

As forgettable as they would want it to be, it's clear that the Celtics haven't forgotten and to some degree, will look to exact some revenge or at the very least, put forth a better effort than they did when the two played . . . when was that again?

Ray Allen is one who openly admits it was a game that, eight games later, he remembers all too well.

"They handled us pretty well," Allen said. "So we know going in we have some business we need to take care of. We don't need any motivation. We know what we gotta do going in; get a win."

There are a number of factors that will play a role in Boston's chances of beating the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers. Here are some of the keys to the game as the Celtics (25-21) face off against the Sixers (26-21) with the winner staking their claim to having the best record in the Atlantic Division.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - The Celtics came out playing very aggressive on offense against Milwaukee Thursday night, and they'll look to do more of the same against Philadelphia. The result was 35 points scored in the first quarter, a season-high for a Celtics team that averages 22.5 points in the first quarter which ranks 26th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixers are about as good a team defensively as you'll find to start games. Teams are averaging just 22 points against the Sixers in the first quarter which ranks No. 2 in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Ray Allen vs. Evan Turner: The second-year guardforward torched the Celtics for a career-high 26 points in the blowout win on March 7. But the 6-7 Turner has struggled recently, scoring a total of just 14 points in Philadelphia's last three games. As for Allen, the March 7 loss at Philadelphia was one of the worst games of his NBA career. He missed all five of his shots from the field, finishing with just two points. When you take that kind of game combined with Thursday night's 1-for-8 shooting performance against the Bucks, no one should be surprised if Allen has a big - BIG - night scoring tonight against the Sixers.
PLAYER TO WATCH - Like most of his teammates in the blowout loss earlier this month, Rajon Rondo will look to bounce back with a better performance. Rondo is putting together an incredibly strong stretch of play lately. Rondo has had at least a dozen assists in Boston's last five games which, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, is a franchise record. Look for him to try and get out in transition as much as possible to put the Sixers defense on its heals.

STAT TO TRACK - Balancing good ball movement with taking care of the ball has been essential to the Sixers' success this season. They have a 2.01 assists-to-turnover ratio which is tops in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics have been one of the NBA's best at forcing teams into a relatively low assists-to-turnover ratio all season. Opponents have a 1.181 assists-to-turnover ratio against Boston, which is the fourth-lowest in the league.

Jags safety says Gronk hit was unavoidable

Jags safety says Gronk hit was unavoidable

FOXBORO -- During the tail end of the season, Rob Gronkowski was probably the league’s most unstoppable skill player. If any team was going to beat the Patriots, it needed to stop Gronk.

The Jaguars stopped Gronk on Sunday. They still didn’t win.

PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20

The Patriots tight end was driven from the game by a helmet-to-helmet hit from Jaguars safety Barry Church. Gronk, running down the seam on a first-and-10 play with 1:28 left in the half, was hammered by Church, who really didn’t have a lot of options on the play. The throw was too up-for-grabs for Church to ignore the chance of picking it off. And by the time a pick was out of the question, the collision was inevitable.

“I just tried to dislodge the ball,” Church explained. “He’s a big dude and I was just trying to dislodge the ball but I gueess they felt it was too high of a hit. I hope he’s healthy. I know he didn’t come back so I hope he’s alright. It was a tough call but you have to go with what they call. It’s the toughest play in football.  If you go low for the knees you are considered a dirty player and if you go high, they throw the flag at you. It’s a bang-bang play and I was just trying to play football. I tried to lead with my shoulder.”

Gronk was slow to rise and when he did, he was unsteady. Teammate Chris Hogan kept Gronk steady until he got some assistance to the sideline. From there, we was squired to the locker room and into the concussion protocol. He didn’t return.

The hit, the flag and the fact the Patriots would soon score a touchdown to chew into the Jaguars lead caused the inevitable discussion of what Chruch was supposed to do on that play.

Church had the same debate himself.

“It’s tough, that guy s humongous,” said Church. “If you wait for him to catch it and bring it down, he might run you over. You have to go with it and try and hit him in the right target zone but, going 100 MPH, that is nearly impossible.”

Gronk wasn’t spotted in the locker room after the game. He’ll have checkpoints to pass before he’s cleared to play in Super Bowl 52. 

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First look at Tom Brady's injured thumb

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First look at Tom Brady's injured thumb

Apparently there was a miscommunication of sorts during Patriots practice this week.

Reports of gushing blood and Brady screaming in pain left many wondering what type of shape Tom Brady was in.

It turned out that he was just fine and ready to go, leading the Patriots to yet another comeback postseason victory.

But a first look at Brady's thumb was finally captured by an Associated Press photographer after tonight's game.

The collision occurred during a handoff and Brady needed 12 stiches, it also injured the collateral ligament in his thumb.

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