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Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

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Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

BOSTON There appears to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the Boston Celtics' biggest problem right now, which is figuring out how to squeeze a few more wins under their belt.

The numbers don't lie.

Holding opponents to less than a 100 points is as close as there is to a guaranteed C's win.

Boston comes into tonight's game against Oklahoma City as a .500 team with a record of 6-6.

But in games in which their opponent has scored less than 100 points, the Celtics are an impressive 6-1.

That has a nice ring to it, huh?

It sounds pretty easy to do as well.

But when it comes to the Boston Celtics this season, nothing is nearly as simple or easy to come by as it might appear to be.

Boston has lost three of its last four games, giving up triple digit points in each defeat.

And for all the talent Danny Ainge assembled this summer, this group for whatever reasons is just not clicking defensively.

"We pride ourselves on defense," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "And we're just not getting it done."

The C's are having the kind of defensive breakdowns and miscommunications that you seldom see from a Doc Rivers-coached team, even this early in the season.

Rivers is doing his best to put on a brave face and not let the defensive problems sour his mood too much, or come across as though it's something he's extremely worried about.

He reiterates that the issue isn't so much effort as much as it is execution.

"We've got to do our coverages better; bottom line," Rivers said. "(Talk about playing) harder and all that, that sounds great. That's what everyone says when you lose; 'you've got to play harder.' Well, we've got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint."

Keeping a scoring lid of sorts on Oklahoma City - the league's No. 2 scoring club averaging 103 points per game - will be important in Boston's quest to get back on a winning track. Here are a few other keys to victory for the C's.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Thunder are used to jumping on teams and not looking back. They average 26.3 points scored in the first quarter this season which is the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, while limiting opponents to just 21.8 points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook: Both are among the NBA's best point guards, while getting the job done in their own unique but highly effective way. Rondo and the C's are doing their best to take some of the attention off his double-digit assists streak which is a good thing considering the C's are a .500 club and all the talk should be more about winning than ways in which Rondo can continue to rack up 10 or more assists every night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce needs to play better in every sense of the word if the C's are to have any shot against the Thunder. Scoring will be important, but his defense against Kevin Durant and rebounding might be even more valuable. The Celtics are coming off a loss to San Antonio in which Pierce scored 19 points while not hauling in a single rebound. It was only the sixth time in his career he scored 15 or more points without a single rebound to his name.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Thunder off the free throw line will be one of the more difficult challenges for the Celtics. Oklahoma City shoots an NBA-best 84.4 percent from the line, and have shot 80 percent or better from the line in each of the last three seasons. Even more impressive is they also lead the NBA in free throws made per game (23.4) and rank second in attempts (27.8).

Bruins spoil Julien's return to Boston with victory over Canadiens, 4-1

Bruins spoil Julien's return to Boston with victory over Canadiens, 4-1

BOSTON – It was a nice night for Claude Julien in his return to Boston with a well-done video montage and a warm ovation from the still-appreciative Bruins fans. But that’s where it ended for the Habs coach as his hockey club pretty much no-showed for the game and rolled over in a 4-1 win for the Bruins at TD Garden on Wednesday night. 

The Canadiens scored the game’s first goal just 31 seconds into the game when a Jakub Jerabek perimeter shot bounced off Zdeno Chara in front and skipped past Tuukka Rask. But it was all Black and Gold after that with David Pastrnak tying things up six minutes later, and the Bruins outshooting the Habs by a 13-7 margin in the second period while extending their lead. 

This time it was Ryan Spooner taking the puck to the net and watching as his centering pass attempt bounced off Jonathan Drouin’s skate and into the net. It was three goals in his last four games for Spooner, who had to feel a pretty big sense of satisfaction at netting the game-winner against a coach he clearly didn’t see eye-to-eye with early in his B’s career. 

Brad Marchand added a necessary power play strike in the third period to give Boston the insurance marker that they needed, but it didn’t really matter against a Canadiens team that was pretty lifeless for long stretches of the game. 

Tuukka Rask stopped 21 shots and went into lockdown mode after the first goal allowed, but truth be told the Canadiens didn’t have much in the way of quality chances throughout the game. David Krejci added the empty net goal late in the third for icing on the cake in a pretty one-sided affair for a Boston/Montreal rivalry game. 

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Isaiah Thomas likes video of Jalen Rose calling Paul Pierce 'petty'

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Isaiah Thomas likes video of Jalen Rose calling Paul Pierce 'petty'

Just when all the video tribute controversy between Isaiah Thomas and Paul Pierce seemed to be dying down, Jalen Rose heated it right back up.

Live on ESPN's "NBA Countdown," Rose called Pierce "petty" for his comments on the Celtics potentially holding a video tribute for Isaiah on Feb. 11 when Pierce gets his jersey retired.

Jalen Rose called Paul Pierce petty right to his face... 😳

A post shared by DIME on UPROXX (@dimemagazine) on

Thomas tweeted on Tuesday that he (again) declined the Celtics' offer to hold the tribute for him so it wouldn't interfere with Pierce's night. But if you look at the likes on the Instagram video above, posted by dimemagazine, you'll see Thomas appears to agree with Rose on the matter.

It doesn't look like the video tribute drama is going to end until the Feb. 11 matchup between the Celtics and Cavaliers is over with.