Red Sox

Celtics use road trip to bond on and off the court

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Celtics use road trip to bond on and off the court

CHICAGO Bonding on the road during the preseason is one thing.

But in the regular season when the games actually count?

Even better.

That's what the Boston Celtics are taking away from their two-game road trek to the Midwest with wins in Milwaukee and Chicago, respectively.

The victories by themselves were impressive.

But more than that, they gave tangible evidence to each and every player that the effort they put into becoming a better team, a championship-caliber team, is starting to pay off in victories.

Making it even better is that both road wins involved the Celtics having to overcome some type of adversity, whether it was Rajon Rondo having to leave the game briefly in Milwaukee because of a leg injury or Brandon Bass suffering a dislocated right ring finger injury on the way to his most complete game of the season.

"I definitely think adversity on the the road is good," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "This is a competitive group of guys and they want to find a way to win."

And they want to do it the Celtics way, which involves being a defensive team first.

It's still relatively early in the season, but Boston's defense has stood out - and not in a good way.

Boston is giving up 98.9 points per game which ranks 20th in the NBA. Teams have been able to break them down repeatedly with dribble-penetration that far too often resulted in easy baskets and easy assists which is evident by the Celtics opponents averaging 23.9 assists per game which ranks 28th (out of 30 NBA teams) in the league.

However, the Celtics and their problems defensively took the weekend off and were instead replaced by an improving brand of defensive-minded basketball that's not quite as good as past Celtics teams defensively - but definitely trending in that direction.

Indeed, Boston's defense played a pivotal role on the path towards victory in Saturday's victory over the Bucks as well as Monday's 101-95 win over the Bulls.

Boston's defense was especially impressive down the stretch in both games.

In Milwaukee, the Celtics limited the Bucks to just 36.8 percent shooting in the fourth quarter while connecting on 54.5 percent of their shots during that same span. In addition, the C's didn't commit a single turnover in the fourth quarter.

On Monday, Boston led the Bulls the entire game but saw their comfortable lead become kind of cramped in the game's final minutes.

After Joakim Noah scored on a lay-up with 3:33 to play to cut Boston's lead to 91-88, the Bulls would only make one more field goal the rest of the game. During that final 3:33, Boston had three baskets - two lob dunks by Kevin Garnett and another dunk by Brandon Bass.

Strong play at both ends of the floor in the game's closing moments was just what the Celtics needed to rack up a couple of important road wins.

But even before the Celtics left town, Paul Pierce talked up the benefits for him and his teammates of hitting the road for multiple games for the first time this season.

"It gives guys a chance to get together and to talk about problems and other situations," Pierce said. "It can be the start of something special and begin to develop a chemistry between us all."

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.