Bruins

Celtics win wild one in OT, 97-92 over Rockets

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Celtics win wild one in OT, 97-92 over Rockets

BOSTON Courtesy of a last-second gaffe in regulation, the Boston Celtics needed a few extra minutes to finally put away the pesky Houston Rockets, 97-92, in overtime.

The Celtics (20-17) seemingly had the game put away with an 84-82 lead with less than 20 seconds to play in the fourth quarter.

Houston's Luis Scola's shot was off the mark, Paul Pierce grabbed the rebound and tossed it down court to Rajon Rondo who had nothing between him and the rim but air.

And then . . . he missed the lay-up.

Houston made the most of its late- game reprieve, as Goran Dragic tied the game with a long jumper with three seconds to play.

Boston had a chance to win it in regulation, but Ray Allen's off-balance jumper rimmed in and out as time expired.

In the overtime period, the Celtics led by as many as five points but committed more end-of-the-game mistakes that gave the Rockets life.

Kevin Garnett, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds, missed a pair of free throws in the final minute.

And after Houston's Kyle Lowry missed a running shot in the lane, Paul Pierce was called for an eight-second violation courtesy of some tight defense by Courtney Lee.

But another missed shot by the Rockets resulted in another rebound for the Celtics.

Moments later, the ball found its way into the hands of Ray Allen who put the game away with a pair of free throws with 18 seconds remaining.

The two went back and fourth in the first half, but Boston began to pull away in the third and led, 57-47, after Paul Pierce made a pair of free throws with 7:58 to play in the quarter. However, Houston responded with a 21-6 run to close out the quarter.

HOT SHOT: Paul Pierce goes off for a game-high 30 points which included seven of Boston's 13 points in overtime. For Pierce, it was the second straight game he has scored at least 30 points. Pierce made no secret about wanting to take over down the stretch. "I was, especially in the fourth quarter, trying to give us some life with the crowd and everything," he said.

IN-N-OUT: Kyle Lowry shared team-high scoring honors with 18 points, but he shot 4-for-17 in doing so. In addition to the poor shooting, he also turned the ball over six times.

SUPER SUB: Boston rookie Greg Stiemsma is not in the regular rotation, but that hasn't stopped him from being ready when called upon. With Brandon Bass re-aggravating an ankle injury from Sunday against the New York Knicks, coupled with Chris Wilcox being in foul trouble, Stiemsma was on the floor for 13 minutes and produced in a big way with eight points on 4-for-6 shooting from the field.

TURNING POINT: Leading 95-92 with 30.3 seconds to play in overtime, the Houston Rockets were looking to tie the game after Paul Pierce turned the ball over on an eight-second violation. Kyle Lowry pass was stolen by Pierce with 24.9 seconds to play. The ball wound up in the hands of Ray Allen soon afterward. Allen made a pair of free throws with 18 seconds to play that would be the game's final points scored.
BY THE NUMBERS: 79: That would be the number of minutes played by Kevin Garnett in Boston's last two games, way more than the C's would like to see him play this season.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "We're starting to play good basketball and we're starting to win basketball games when we don't play good basketball, and that may be more important." - Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

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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