Celtics

Francona feels 'a little awkward' in first visit with Red Sox

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Francona feels 'a little awkward' in first visit with Red Sox

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- As Terry Francona stood in front of the home dugout at Jet Blue Park Thursday afternoon and answered questions from reporters as his former players took batting practice, there was no escaping the obvious.

"It's a little awkward for me,'' acknowledged Francona.

Francona was at the ballpark in his new role as ESPN color analyst, getting ready for a telecast which involved the Red Sox, the team he managed for the previous eight seasons.
"Everything right now is a little different,'' said Francona. "If I sat here and said, 'Yeah, this is just another day at the office . . .', that wouldn't be true. I'm excited to do the game. But I'll be glad when the day is over.''

In his first few weeks as a professional broadcaster, Francona is still learning on the job.

"I'm just trying to do the best I can," he said. "It's the same thing as being a manager -- you wake up and try to be prepared. It's certainly different. But I've enjoyed it.''

In his new role, he said he'll be careful about what he says on the air -- about the Red Sox and others.

"I don't think I've ever set out to be critical of anybody,'' he said. "I think there's a way to say what's going on without being a bad person. I'll just be myself.''

Francona took some ribbing from reporters who heard that, while driving colleagues Dan Shulman and Claire Smith to dinner Wednesday night, he ran out of gas and. He and Shulman had to push the car down an off-ramp from Interstate I-75.

Asked to put his departure from the Red Sox last fall into perspective, Francona said: "When you go 7-20 in September, you open yourself up to criticism. You probably deserve to be criticized. I thought I tried to take some responsibility in that last press conference. I thought there things that needed to be done and it wasn't necessarily my voice that was doing the best job at that point. I thought I was pretty open and honest about that.

"What happened after that (including a story in the Boston Globe that divulged some off-field issues), hurt me a lot. It probably always will. But the best thing to do is try to move on. But I spent eight years there and we did a lot of good stuff. So that hurt me a little bit.''

In analyzing the American League East race, Francona said the season would "come down to whatever pitching staff stays the healthiest . . . That's a lot of good teams in one division.''

Francona still harbors a desire to return to the dugout, but won't rush back for any opportunity.

"My passion is being on the field,'' he said. "But I think it will be really healthy for me to step back and look at baseball without as much emotion. I think that will be good for me. I was pretty worn down by the end of last year.

"There's not too many managing jobs out there. But if it ever comes about and it makes sense, I would certainly (consider it). But it would have to make sense. I don't want to manage just for the sake of managing. I said that last time after being fired in Philadelphia. But I got this Red Sox job and it was a good one and it lasted a long time."

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”