From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- The Atlanta Falcons can forget about perfection, thanks to their resurgent rivals from the City that Care Forgot.Of all the teams to end Atlanta's unbeaten run, it had to be the New Orleans Saints. And it had to be a memorable, drama-filled game that left the Falcons frustrated by the 1 meager yard they could not get to take a lead inside the final 2 minutes of a 31-27 loss Sunday."It's very frustrating," said Falcons coach Mike Smith, who is 2-7 against the Saints and 49-15 against the rest of the NFL in his four-plus regular seasons as Atlanta coach. "We were close. ... This will be something we will learn from."If the Falcons (8-1) want to beat the Saints (4-5) in their rematch in Atlanta on Nov. 29, it would help to learn how to stop dynamic young tight end Jimmy Graham, who caught seven passes for a career-best 146 yards and two touchdowns.Still, Atlanta might have pulled it out, but Jabari Greer made a diving, touchdown-saving pass breakup on a late fourth-down pass intended for Roddy White."It's not like they came out here and won a game today," White said. "I think we kind of gave it to them. ... We play them in three weeks and we'll be ready."Greer's play represented a measure of redemption for the veteran, who'd given up two long passes earlier in the game that led to Atlanta scores."I was kind of depressed before that play," Greer said. "I saw my name on the waiver wire. ... Being able to go out there and make a play for our team and be able to celebrate after everything that happened and just to win that way, it's a gift."Matt Ryan was 34 of 52 for a career-best 411 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The game was there for him to win when his 9-yard pass to Harry Douglas gave Atlanta a second-and-goal at the 1. But Ryan could not connect on a second-down pass for tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Saints stuffed Michael Turner for a 1-yard loss on third down, and then came Greer's play."I could put that ball in a better spot -- a little higher and more in front of him to give him a chance to catch it," Ryan said. "We've always played them tough and haven't had the outcomes we wanted."Both Graham and his Atlanta counterpart, Gonzalez, were superb in a game that showcased all the intensity and momentum changes expected from such a passionate and longstanding rivalry."Tony, he kind of paved the way for me," said Graham, who like Gonzalez had a college basketball background. "It seemed like every drive I'm kind of going up against the things that he did the last drive."Gonzalez finished with 11 catches for 122 yards and two scores for Atlanta, becoming the first tight end to catch 100 touchdown passes.Brees threw for 298 yards and three TDs as the Saints won for the fourth time in five games, keeping alive hope of getting back into the wild-card race after an 0-4 start. It was also New Orleans' 11th win in 13 games against Atlanta since Brees joined the Saints in 2006.The Saints can even their record with a win at Oakland next weekend."That's something we feel like we're capable of and we envisioned being able to do that, because we know the type of team we have," Brees said. "We knew we dug ourselves a hole. We knew we had a mountain to climb, but we also knew we have the right type of people."The Saints still had to punt the ball back to Atlanta with about 40 seconds left, but Gonzalez could not handle a fourth-down throw in tight coverage along the sideline."No one is going to go around crying or panicking or anything like that," Gonzalez said. "We're a good team. Our confidence hasn't changed."Although the Saints came in allowing a league-worst 176.5 yards rushing per game, they held Atlanta to 46 yards on the ground.New Orleans rushed for 148 yards, highlighted by Chris Ivory's career-long 56-yard scoring run that gave the Saints a spark after Atlanta had a 10-0 lead.Ivory used a hesitation move to get to the corner past Asante Samuel, slipped a tackle by Thomas DeCoud, kept his balance, cut back and then stiff-armed Dunta Robinson before trotting into the end zone.The Saints' largest lead was 28-17 on Brees' scoring strike to Marques Colston, the 55th of Colston's career, tying Deuce McAllister for first in Saints history. The touchdown capped an 81-yard drive which started with rookie Corey White's interception.The Falcons pulled to 28-27 on Gonzalez's second TD and Matt Bryant's field goal after New Orleans' second red zone stand of the game.New Orleans briefly interrupted Atlanta's momentum when Graham's 46-yard catch set up Garrett Hartley's 31-yard field goal.Atlanta opened the game with an 80-yard scoring drive, highlighted by White's 49-yard reception to the New Orleans 1, setting up an easy TD toss to eligible offensive tackle Mike Johnson.Samuel then made a diving interception of Brees' first pass and returned it to the Saints 12. However, Samuel drew a penalty for taunting fans, moving the Falcons back to the 27 and Bryant kicked a field goal.New Orleans vaulted into the lead with touchdowns on two straight possessions, the first on Ivory's long run and the second on Brees' first TD connection with Graham from 29 yards.The Falcons pulled back in front on Gonzalez's 1-yard catch, capping a drive on which Atlanta converted three times on third down -- all on Gonzalez catches.Then Graham helped New Orleans regain the lead before halftime, making three catches for 47 yards, the last a 14-yard TD to make it 21-17 at halftime.Notes: Ivory's 56-yard run was the longest from scrimmage by a Saint since Oct. 8, 2006, when McAllister ran 57 yards vs. Tampa Bay. ... Ivory's previous career-long run was a 55-yard score at Cincinnati in 2010. ... Brees has now passed for touchdowns in 52 straight games, extending an NFL record he set earlier this season. ... Julio Jones missed much of the first half after an undisclosed leg injury, but returned in the second half. ... Gonzalez now has 101 career TDs, one of only eight players ever with 100 or more. ... All 55 of Colston's TD passes were thrown by Brees, tying the tandem for ninth with Joe Montana and Jerry Rice with San Francisco and Dan Marino and Mark Duper with Miami. ... The performances by Graham and Gonzalez marked the first time in NFL history two tight ends had at least 120 yards receiving and two TD catches in the same game.
BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.
NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE
The streak is over! The streak is over!
We now return the Boston Celtics to their regularly scheduled pursuit of success without the growing pressure that comes with a historically relevant winning streak.
The 104-98 loss at Miami on Wednesday night brought an end to what had been one of the more unlikely winning streaks we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time.
Boston reeled off 16 straight wins, many of which were the come-from-a-double-digit-deficit variety. In the end, the Celtics’ winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in this storied franchise’s history.
“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said following the loss. “But we do have a lot of resolve.”
That resolve will surely be challenged with the Celtics taking Thanksgiving off, only to return and play three games in the next four nights beginning with Orlando on Friday, followed by a road game at Indiana on Saturday and a home date against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.
Here are five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak.
KYRIE FOR MVP?
When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving during the offseason, there was a sense that his presence would be a plus in some capacity, at some point. But few envisioned Irving would not only have a relatively seamless fit with the Celtics, but deliver in such a way that would catapult them to the top of the NBA standings and in doing so, establish him as one of the early front-runners for the league’s MVP award. This season, Irving is averaging a team-best 22.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field but most important, the Celtics (16-3) have the best record in the NBA.
WANTED: BENCH SCORER
If you are a fan of good defenders, you probably love the Boston Celtics’ second unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are both ball-hawking defenders who can make some miserable times for opponents when they are on top of their game. Daniel Theis provides great energy on the glass and defensively. But the second unit needs a jolt offensively. Because as good as they can defend collectively, the Celtics have to have at least one starter on the floor most of the time because the bench doesn’t have an adequate collector of buckets that they can rely on consistently. Marcus Morris looks like an ideal choice for that role, but the left knee soreness that kept him out for eight games seems to be flaring up from time to time. Whether they address this with a trade or possibly with a player bought out, the lack of a second-unit scorer is very much an issue for this team.
BROWN EMERGES AS TWO-WAY TALENT
The plan was for Jaylen Brown to be an elite, shut-down defender this season. He has shown himself to be a good defender this season, but what has really made him stand out is the growth in his game offensively. The second-year wing has scored 20-plus points in three of Boston’s last four games. Doing that along with continuing to play good defense has him looking like one of the NBA’s promising young two-way talents.
TATUM’S GROWTH A SILVER LINING IN HAYWARD INJURY
You never want to see the Boston Celtics or any team for that matter, lose a player for the season let alone one who meant as much as Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. But if there is a silver lining in his ankle injury which is expected to keep him out all season, it is the opportunity it created for Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been arguably the best player from last June’s draft class, playing major minutes with a major role for the team with the best record in the NBA. The opportunity to play around 30 minutes a game would not have been there for Tatum if Hayward didn’t get hurt. The challenge for Tatum going forward is to stay consistent, because now that teams have seen him for almost a quarter of the season, you can expect they will make some adjustments in how they defend him as well as try to attack him when he’s defending.
WE TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE
During Boston’s 16 game winning streak, the Celtics played the last eight games in 16 nights. That’s a game every other night for more than two weeks. In that time, there’s little to no time for practice which has been a factor in Boston not being quite as sharp in the last few games, as they were at the start of the streak. After Thanksgiving, Boston plays three games in four nights with a pair of days off to follow before they return to action. There’s a very good chance that the Celtics will use one of those two days to practice, something this team desperately needs to clean up some of the minor mistakes that were big problems in their loss to the Heat on Wednesday.