Celtics

Curran: Peyton Manning cloud hangs over Indy

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Curran: Peyton Manning cloud hangs over Indy

INDIANAPOLIS - This heartland city is ready for its closeup.The most important one-day sporting event on the planet is here, America's unofficial national holiday, the Super Bowl. And in what state is the local NFL entrant? Utter and complete disarray. It's transcendent superstar, Peyton Manning, the man who made Indianapolis matter and put the city on the country's lips, is on his way out. The Colts paid Manning 26 million in 2011 and he was unable to play a snap because of neck surgery just before the season. The Colts are on the hook to pay him another 28 million on March 8. He's 36. His body may not allow him to play again. The Colts hold the first pick in the draft and Stanford's Andrew Luck is getting "can't miss" hype that hasn't been seen since 1998 when Peyton Manning was coming out. It's not a matter of "if" Manning and the Colts divorce occurs. It's "when." Bob Kravitz, an excellent columnist for the Indianapolis Star, spoke at length to both Manning and Colts owner Jim Irsay. He was the media's Mills Lane in an eye-opening dustup between quarterback and owner. I asked him Monday about the strange dynamic in which the world is being invited over for dinner in Indy while family problems are raging. "It's a really strange time because this is the big celebration and there's this sort of cloud that hangs over it," said Kravitz. "When's the other shoe gonna fall? When are we gonna find out that Peyton's either gonna retire or be cut? I don't think it's gonna happen during Super Bowl week . . . I know for a fact Peyton's gonna go underground during Super Bowl and Jim Irsay's smart enough to not open his big yap again."It won't be this week but the question is whether or not it happens before the Combine (also held in Indianapolis in late February)," said Kravitz.When Indy was awarded this Super Bowl, it wasn't far-fetched to think the Colts would be the first team to play for a title in its own stadium.But without Manning, the Colts went 2-14 and a housecleaning in which longtime team president. Bill Polianand his son, Chris, the team's GM, were fired soon followed. Then head coach Jim Caldwell was given the gate. Now Indianapolis has to smile and hold the door for the hated Patriots and their fanbase. And New Yorkers too? That's a brutal pill to swallow if you're from here. Kravitz says the event has seemed to trump the partisan football inclinations, though. "Even though (the disarray of the Colts) is a cloud in the minds of fans, I don't think it diminishes what's happening here," he pointed out. "What's been great here has been the community involvement. They needed 8,000 volunteers and they got 13,000 people sign up. They've really not used public money on this, it's all been private money. Really all corporate cash. This is their moment in the sun and they're gonna revel in it. I think (Peyton Manning) is on everybody's mind but I don't think it diminishes from what we've got going on."The demise of the Colts came faster than anyone expected, said Kravitz. "Everybody came into this year thinking they had two or three more years (of elite play) under Peyton," Kravitz theorized. "With Peyton, Reggie Wayne, Joe Addai, Dallas Clark. Everyone wondered how close the window was to 'closing' but we all thought two or three years. And then Peyton gets hurt. And it just keeps getting worse. And there hasn't been any good news that's come out of this thing in months. I think people realize that the glory days are gone."I asked Kravitz if the city is going to have a tough time entering football irrelevancy for a spell after being so prominent for more than a decade. "Once they get through the mourning of Peyton Manning, once the grieving process is done, they're really gonna embrace Andrew Luck because he's the next Peyton Manning," said Kravitz. "I think people are starting to understand how incredibly bleeping lucky they are," he stressed. "When you look at Miami and how long they've waited for another quarterback after Dan Marino, when you look at Denver and how long they've waited after John Elway. And we're gonna have in this city one bad year. And we're gonna go from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck and that's extraordinarily fortuitous."It is an amazing brightside to have. The curtain will fall on one superstar. And a new one will be born. Maybe Indy won't wind up irrelevant after all.

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

BOSTON –  The NBA has seen its share of early-season injuries, some resulting in guys out for the season (Gordon Hayward) while others missing just a couple games (Al Horford out two games with a concussion).

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And then there’s Kyrie Irving, who suffered a facial fracture that kept him for one game. He was supposed to wear a plastic protective mask for a couple weeks. Instead, it lasted one game and part of another before Irving decided to ditch it.
 
Kyrie’s mask got me to thinking … who are the best masked men in the NBA?
 
Today's Starting Five will include the top 5 masked men in the annals of NBA history, in addition to the top 5 teams, MVP candidates, rookies and defenders:
 
TOP 5 MASKED MEN


1. Rip Hamilton, Detroit – Worn initially for protection, his mask became an iconic look for the three-time All-star.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Mask worn in 2012, the last year Bryant appeared in the playoffs.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – He looked and played like a superhero in his first game with a mask in 2015, tallying 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Philly.

4. LeBron James – Ever the fashion-forward one, James wore a black, carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose in 2014.

5. Kyrie Irving - He played with a mask for 19 games in 2013, averaging 24.5 points and 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES


1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – The addition of Eric Bledsoe has helped rack up some wins, strengthen Antetokounmpo’s chances atop the MVP leaderboard.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – Shooting better than 50 percent from the field, Durant has stepped his passing game (career-high 5.0 assists now) up this season while continuing to pile up the wins.

3. James Harden, Houston – Not having Chris Paul around most of this season and still winning, is a reminder of how Harden has played at a consistently high level against all comers.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland – Three straight wins and the Cavs are well on their way to getting back into the thick of things, with LeBron leading the way.

5. Al Horford, Boston – In his last three games, he’s shooting 76.6 percent and has been a central figure in Boston’s rise to the top of the NBA standings.
 
TOP 5 ROOKIES


1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - He has eight double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to his credit this season. He’s the rookie everyone is chasing now.

2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas - You have to watch this guy play. Would be getting a lot more pub if the Mavs had a better record.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston - Had a rough start against the Warriors, but bounced back and made key plays down the stretch helping Boston get the win.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers - The late first-round pick has been an absolute Godsend to the Lakers, able to contribute in a multiple of ways.

5. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers - He has been up and down like most rookies. But his court vision alone will keep him on the floor for many years to come.
 
TOP 5 DEFENDERS


1. Al Horford, Boston - He’s the best defender on the NBA’s best team defensively. It makes sense for Horford to be the pace-setter in this category.

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah - A towering presence, this 7-foot-2 big man will once again be a top-3 finisher when it comes to the league’s highest defensive honor.

3. Draymond Green, Golden State - The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Green is the rare player who can defend all five positions at a fairly high level.
 
4.  Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City - His ability to defend guards as well as switch out defensively is a huge plus to the Thunder.
 
5. Aron Baynes, Boston - You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who utilizes the NBA’s rule of verticality  better than Baynes.
 
TOP 5 TEAMS


1. Boston – Winning 14 games, that’s one thing. But to beat Golden State along the journey? That’s special.

2. Golden State – Loss to Boston be damned, the Warriors are still the team everyone emulates … even now.

3. Houston – Can score with the best of them, but until they defend at a high level their success will remain limited primarily to the regular season.

4. Minnesota – It’s still early, but it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves going anywhere but up the Western Conference standings.

5. Detroit – Outside of Boston, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA thus far than Detroit.