Bruins

Doc Rivers State of the Celtics

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Doc Rivers State of the Celtics

WALTHAM -- Doc Rivers knew there would be challenges in finding consistency with a team that had been newly pieced together this summer. Unlike past years in which several key members returned from the previous campaign, less than half of this season's team suited up on the 2011-12 squad.

The Boston Celtics are at .500 (13-13) as they depart on Monday for a four-game road trip to wrap up 2012. Following their final home practice of the calendar year on Sunday, Rivers addressed the state of his team, from clicking on the court to establishing swagger, using the word 'soft' to fixing everything at once.

"Soft" is hard-hitting: Following the Celtics November 28 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in which Rajon Rondo was ejected for getting involved in an altercation with Kris Humphries, Rivers did not hide his frustration -- "Were a soft team right now," he said at at the time. "We have no toughness." How does he think the Celtics have responded since then?

"I think we're playing better, we're just not winning," said Rivers. "But we are definitely playing better. I haven't used that word again, so I think I like where we're trending as a team. But the facts still say we're a .500 team right now and we have to do a lot of things better."

The Celtics fear factor: The Celtics quickly became the team to beat when "The New Big Three" was established in 2007. For years, opponents would mark their calendars for when the Celtics would come to town, and the C's traveled around the league with a target on their backs. When asked if the Celtics still have that swagger on the road, Rivers has sensed a change since then.

"We may, but I don't know if the other team senses it yet," Rivers said. "You've got to earn that. You've got to earn it every year, and we haven't earned that right yet. Our record suggests no. I think every year, teams don't go into the next year thinking about the team you had last year. They go in trying to beat this year's team. Until you go on a roll and start playing well and getting people's notice, no, I don't think anybody fears us right now."

Time is ticking on clicking: The Celtics jump-started their chemistry building process this summer when Rajon Rondo organized an offseason team trip to Los Angeles for workouts. A month later, the C's traveled to Europe for training camp where they furthered their bonding experiences. They have their cohesion figured out off the court, now it is a matter of finding it during the games that is an area of concern for Rivers.

"You feel that every year, you really do," Rivers said of being worried if the team will mesh on the court. "That's a fear, even when you're playing well. You may have a good record but your eyes tell you something different or your feel tells you something different. I think this team wants to and I think they have to learn how to. I've had teams here in the past that we've won with. Early on, I didn't feel like they wanted to and somehow they did it, they got there.

"I think our minds are in the right place, I think our heads are in the right place, it is a good group of guys that wants to win. There are a lot of guys from different places bringing a lot of different habits, and their habits show under pressure right now and it breaks down things we do offensively and defensively. That's what we're trying to focus our guys on, and it's staying in good habits, in our habits."

A Work in Progress: If only it were as simple as improving defense or offense or one area in particular of the Celtics performance. But Rivers is tasked with improving multiple facets of the C's play, which presents a unique set of challenges.

"Usually with teams one area takes off and the other lags behind," said Rivers. "This has been a team that has gradually just gotten better in each area, and unfortunately that doesn't a lot of time translate into wins. It's usually when one side, like even defensively you're getting way better and it explodes and it can carry your offense for a while, or the other way even sometimes. Right now it's a little bit of everything."

Talking Points: Signs point to Pastrnak busting out of mini-slump

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Talking Points: Signs point to Pastrnak busting out of mini-slump

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak netted the game-winner in the third period after getting freed up for a breakaway chance, and then throwing a double-move at Matt Murray before tucking one under his glove hand. It was the first goal in six games for Pastrnak, and it capped off a day when he topped 22 minutes of ice time, had a team-high five shots on net and battled through some physical play from the Penguins to get toward his offense. The 21-year-old continues to set the pace for the Bruins offensively, and has shown all the signs in the last couple of games that he’s busting out of whatever mini-slump was holding him down. Everybody knows that Pasta isn’t good for Thanksgiving, but it is certainly good for Black Friday.

BLACK EYE: A tough afternoon for former Boston College standout Brian Dumoulin, who got rocked by a couple of heavy Noel Acciari hits later in the game, finishing with a minus-2 rating while sitting on the ice for a couple of goals against. Dumoulin finished with three giveaways in 20:03 of ice time, managed only a single shot on net and was one of the weaker links on the ice for Pittsburgh in a game where they didn’t play too badly in the final 40 minutes. Dumoulin seems to struggle a bit when he comes back to Boston, and Black Friday afternoon was no exception.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were outplayed in the second period despite outshooting the Penguins by a 14-8 margin, and they watched as Pittsburgh pressed them for three goals in the middle 20 minutes. But in what turned out to be a very important play in the game, Matt Grzelcyk finished off a broken play in front of the net to score his first NHL goal on the Garden ice where he grew up skating. That goal allowed the Bruins to move into the second intermission with a tied hockey game, and set things up for the third period heroics where David Pastrnak scored the game-winner on a breakaway strike.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jake DeBrusk put together another strong performance, and his line played a giant role in the Bruins jumping out to a 2-0 lead after the first period. He set up the David Krejci goal that got the Bruins up and rolling in the first period, and then he also fed Krejci again in the second period on a shot attempt he fanned on in the slot. The puck drifted over to Matt Grzelcyk for Boston’s third goal, and it capped off a day where the rookie winger topped 18 minutes of ice time, had two assists and a plus-1 rating, finished with four shots on net and had a couple of hits in there for good measure.

BY THE NUMBERS: 3 – the placement the Bruins now have in the Atlantic Division after winning four games in a row, which puts them back into a playoff spot on the day after Thanksgiving. What a stunning turnaround it’s been over the last couple of weeks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “it’s exciting. You’re on NBC, you’re playing against the Stanley Cup Champions, everyone is watching, let’s put our best foot forward. I know it’s one of 82, but it’s a bigger one of 82 the way I look at it, and I think they felt the same way coming out [in the first period].” –Bruce Cassidy, on the strong start from the Black and Gold. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic

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Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics will turn to a familiar starting lineup as they try to get back on their winning ways following Wednesday’s loss at Miami.
 
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Marcus Morris will be in the starting lineup tonight against Orlando, joining the usual Celtics foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

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Morris’ availability tonight was not a given, similar to it being in question prior to Wednesday’s game against the Heat.
 
Morris has been dealing with soreness in his left knee which kept him out for the first eight games of the season and has limited his playing time since then.
 
Stevens said Morris will likely not play against Indiana on Saturday but no final decision has been made. Since returning to the lineup, the Celtics have played Morris with a minutes restriction in addition to not allowing him to play in any back-to-back games.

Morris has made it clear that he does not like having his playing time limited while not playing in any back-to-backs, but has repeatedly he understands why it is being done and won’t fight what the coaching and medical staff believe is best for him and the team.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE