Bruins

Celtics 'worst loss of the year' could be wake-up call

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Celtics 'worst loss of the year' could be wake-up call

CHICAGO Whether it was mere end-of-the-season motivation or a sincere concern that the wheels are indeed coming off, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't mince his words following the C's 93-86 loss to the Chicago Bulls.

He was upset; about as visibly upset after a loss that we've seen this season.

And within seconds of his post-game press conference, he put the defeat into a category that you wouldn't expect from a team that has had so many head-scratching losses this season.

"I thought it was the worst loss of the year for us, the way we approached the game," Rivers said. "I just thought in the second half, Chicago, they're just too tough for us."

Now keep in mind that the Celtics led by as many as 13 points in the first half, and took an 11-point lead into the half.

It didn't matter.

Rivers had seen a side of his Celtics team that frankly, was disturbing when you consider 1) there's less than a month left in the regular season and 2), how much they have overcome to be where they are now which is on top of the Atlantic Division.

"This team has shown great resolve," Rivers said. "But right now we're not going to go a lot of places playing with that kind of mental toughness."

There was little doubt that the C's crumbled under the Bulls ratcheting up their pressure defensively and overall, just playing more aggressively.

But the worst loss of the season?

A 19-point loss to New Orleans? Two losses to Detroit? Defeats at the hands of Toronto, Sacramento and Cleveland?

It's a bit hard to buy that losing to the best team in the Eastern Conference, even without their best player in Derrick Rose (groin), trumps those set-backs against teams that were then - and still are - not very good.

And judging by the comments of some of the C's players, they're not buying Thursday's loss as the worst one this season, either.

"I don't know if it's that," said Paul Pierce. "Everybody's frustrated that we lost. Who can re-count all (54) games? At this point, when you got frustration going on, I don't know if it's the worst loss, but you're always disappointed when you lose."

Rivers' disappointment stems from what he believed was his team approaching the game too casually, even when they seemingly had control of the action in the first half.

While Rivers ripped into his team as a whole, he also put the blame initially on himself for not having them as prepared as they needed to be, effort-wise.

"That's on me first. I did something where I didn't see something," Rivers said. "It's always on the coach. That's an unacceptable effort for us. I don't say that very often. That was a crime."

Rivers added, "We were the cool Boston Celtics. It was a joke. We were the cool Celtics. You don't play basketball cool."

The words Rivers used to describe his team are in striking contrast to what the C's have done of late, and have been about since the Big Three era began in 2007.

When discussing a lack of effort, Kevin Garnett is one of the few Celtics players where this never really seems to be an issue or question.

"When I'm out there on the floor, I'm going as hard as I can," Garnett said. "I don't think nobody is out there half-assing. Maybe he (Rivers) saw something different. It's the coaches job to obviously get us going, put us in the right position. Players obviously (have) to go out and execute the game plan. If that's what he saw, that's what he saw. I can't go off that. I have to prepare myself to go as hard as I can and be ready to play."

And that right there is what this is really about.

Being ready to play, for 48 minutes.

The C's weren't, and the Bulls were.

And when that happens against quality teams with title dreams like Chicago, the Celtics will get the kind of results seen in Thursday's loss.

So the loss itself wasn't necessarily the worst of the season.

But it does serve as a cautionary tale as to what can happen when the kind of consistent mental toughness needed to beat elite teams, isn't there.

And that is an important message to take heed of coming down the final stretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.

Boston has already proven to be a better team this year than many anticipated. However, losses like Thursday's to Chicago only reinforce the belief that the C's can't crack through and beat the elite teams in the East with any kind of consistency.

As strange as it sounds, Thursday's loss to the Bulls - and Rivers' reaction to it - just may be the wake-up call this team needed in order to avoid a similar letdown happening in the playoffs where there's a good chance that the Celtics will see either Chicago or Miami at some point.

"We got three weeks, because the way we're playing, we'll be playing one of those guys in the first round," Rivers said. "And we gotta get better. That was unacceptable."

Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

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Bruins demoralize Habs in three game set

MONTREAL – The Boston Bruins weren’t about to dance on any Montreal Canadiens’ graves after it was over and done with, but they effectively closed the door on any flickering playoff hopes for the Habs this week. It all ended with Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre that finished off the sweep of all three meetings between the two arch-rivals over an eight day span, and with the reeling Montreal a stunning 13 points out of a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

It was a close game nearly all the way through in Montreal until David Pastrnak and Riley Nash scored in the final few minutes of the third period, but the Bruins outscored the Habs by an 11-5 margin while clearly establishing they were the better team in all three contests. It all makes sense given the opposite directions that the two hockey clubs are headed at this point in the season, and because of that the Bruins were playing it pretty cool after burying the Habs.

“It was kind of a crazy week because we were playing them three times, so we obviously wanted to play good hockey,” said Tuukka Rask, who won all three games vs. the Habs while improving his lifetime record vs. the Habs to 10-15-3 in the process. “[We wanted to] get as many points as possible, and won all of those games along with the one on Long Island. So it was a great week for us.”

Certainly it seemed like there was more genuine emotion from the Bruins in Claude Julien’s return to Boston midweek, and perhaps a little more adrenaline in last weekend’s first game at the Bell Centre where rookies like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy and Danton Heinen were dipping their toes into the storied rivalry for the first time.

But on this Saturday night it was more about a complete dismantling of the Bleu, Blanc and Rouge even as the Bruins initially fell down by a goal after a bad McAvoy turnover. Instead it was Boston’s Perfection Line that went to work with an efficient, dominant performance as David Pastrnak scored the game’s first goal and insurance third goal in the third period. They also accounted for the game-winner when Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak hemmed Montreal’s fourth line in the defensive zone, and Torey Krug eventually stepped up and rifled one short side on Carey Price.

Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak combined for two goals, six assists and a plus-8 in the resounding victory over the Habs, and had a dominant 12 of Boston’s 31 shots on net when the final horn had sounded. They simply overwhelmed Montreal with their depth, the high end quality of their lineup and the fact that Boston was rested while the Habs had to play in Washington DC on Friday night in a three games in four days stretch.

All of that allowed the Bruins to drive the final nail into Montreal’s coffin when the game was over, and it furthermore allowed Boston to keep worrying about the teams they’re trying to catch (ahem…Tampa Bay Lightning) rather than Eastern Conference bottom-feeders like the Canadiens.

“We talked about doing the job against them and finding a ways to push teams down while gaining ground on the teams above us,” said Patrice Bergeron. “I thought it was a great effort again. We knew that they would be ready for us, but we also knew that they had played last night. So maybe if we had a good start we could jump on them. I thought we had a good game.”

Clearly there have been ebbs and flows to the Bruins/Habs rivalry over their long history together, and both Boston and Montreal have been in the catbird at different times even in the recent editions of their history. But right now Boston is beating the Canadiens badly at their own skill and speed game and dominating thing with pure hockey rather than bullying, and that’s got to sting for a Habs group that simply couldn’t compete with the Bruins in three different chances to do so this week. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting … shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem – guys making shots – that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE