Celtics

Game info: Patriots vs. Dolphins

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Game info: Patriots vs. Dolphins

GAME TIME: 1 p.m. EST

TV NETWORK: CBS

TV ANNOUNCERS: Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf

RADIO NETWORK: Anchored by WBZ-FM (98.5 The Sports Hub)

RADIO ANNOUNCERS: Gil Santos and Scott Zolak

ALL-TIME SERIES BETWEEN THE TEAMS: Dolphins lead, 50-43

LAST MEETING: Patriots 27, Dolphins 24 on Dec. 24, 2011 at Gillette Stadium

The Patriots will clinch their fourth consecutive AFC East title with a victory. The Pats have won 9 of the last 11 AFC East championships (in the other two seasons, they finished tied for first but lost on tie-breakers) and 14 division titles overall.

If the Patriots win, they will earn their 12th straight winning season. Only the 49ers (1983-98) and Cowboys (1970-85), with 16 straight winning seasons, have had longer stretches than 11. New England enters this week tied with the Raiders (1970-80) for the third-longest streak in NFL history.

The Patriots are an NFL-best 41-5 in the month of the December since 2001.

Bill Belichick is 43-7 (.860) in December with the Patriots, the best record in December among head coaches with one team in NFL history (minimum 25 games). George Seifert (San Francisco) is second (27-6, .818).

Since the 2010 season, the Patriots are 19-0 in the second half. In both 2010 and 2011, the Patriots were 8-0 in the second half of the season. Their last loss was in the 2009 season-finale at Houston, a 34-27 loss, on Jan. 3, 2010.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Bill Belichick (200) needs one more win to tie Dan Reeves as the seventh-winningest NFL coach of all time.

With one touchdown pass against the Dolphins, Tom Brady will extend his streak to 44 straight games with at least one touchdown pass and continue his third-longest streak all time, behind Drew Brees (54) and Johnny Unitas (47).

Brady has 52 career 300-yard games in the regular season. He needs one more to break a tie with Kurt Warner for fifth place all time.

Brady (3,671) needs 16 completions to move past Fran Tarkenton (3,686) into ninth place on the NFLs all-time completion list. Vinny Testaverde is in eighth place with 3,787 completions.

Stephen Gostkowski (7-of-10 from 50 or more yards) needs one more 50-yard field goal to tie Adam Vinatieri (8-of-17) for most 50-yard field goals in Patriots history. Gostkowski has two 50-yarders so far in 2012 and can become the first Patriots player with three 50-yard field goals in a single season.

Jerod Mayo needs to have a 10-plus tackle game against the Dolphins for his 10th game in 2012 and his sixth straight game with 10 or more tackles.

Rob Ninkovich has a team-leading five forced fumbles, tying Mike Vrabel (2007) for the most forced fumbles for a Patriots player within the last 20 years.

Stevan Ridley (939) needs 61 yards rushing to reach 1,000 yards and give New England its 15th 1,000-yard rushing season. He will be the 12th Patriots player to reach 1,000 yards and first since BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2010.

Wes Welker (16) needs one more 10-plus catch game to break a second place tie with Marvin Harrison (15) and tie Jerry Rice (17) for the most 10-catch games in NFL history.

Welker (961) needs 39 receiving yards for his fifth career 1,000-yard season.

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

Kyrie Irving: Sitting out with shoulder injury 'just precautionary'

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving has long since understood the balancing act he must walk between embracing the moment while being mindful of the big picture. 

That’s why the decision to sit out Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia was one that, while certainly didn’t do Boston any favors against the Sixers on Thursday, it does provide him some much-needed downtime to rest his sore left shoulder.

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Sixers

The good news is that tests taken on the shoulder show no structural damage. And with the way the schedule is shaping up now, Irving will have plenty of time to rest and be ready to play when the Celtics return to the floor on Sunday to host the Orlando Magic. 

“Just precautionary stuff, making sure everything's alright from a strength perspective,” was how Irving described the injury. “Obviously a few days will put me where I need to be. And we'll just see what goes on for Sunday's game, but you know it's nothing too crazy, just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks and I've just been playing through it doing what's best in terms of preparing best for every single game. I thought it was best just to get a few tests and make sure everything's alright so, everything's cool.”

Irving said the tests came back negative which is a huge positive for the Celtics and Irving who was selected as an NBA all-star starter for next month’s game. 

As far as how it happened, Irving said there was no specific event or play in which he suffered a blow to the shoulder or anything like that. 

“Gradual soreness” is how Irving described the injury.  “You know, kinda going into my shot, driving left, just not feeling as confident as I would like to be and just thought it would be best just to take a day or two to get it evaluated, meet with our medical staff, meet with our strength conditioning coach and strengthen it up and then hopefully go on Sunday.”

The Celtics (34-12) have now lost two of the three games they played this season without Irving. It is a small sample size, but there’s no denying the impact that a healthy Irving has on this roster when it comes to impacting winning. 

“First off, I just had to make sure some of the major parts of my shoulder just weren't damaged,” said Irving who added, “And then at this point it's just a strength program and doing what's best with that.” 

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Bruins take down Islanders, extend point streak to 15 games

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Bruins take down Islanders, extend point streak to 15 games

GOLD STAR: Who else but Patrice Bergeron? The Bruins center finishes with three goals and his second hat trick in a span of six games, and now has 11 goals scored in his last 11 games during a wicked goal-scoring spree. Bergeron clearly wasn’t just about the goals as he also finished with four shots on net and won 12-of-18 face-offs in his 15:39 of ice time, but it’s amazing how he’s been able to get into so many great scoring positions while always facing the other team’s best defensive players. It speaks to just how good he is when he gets those chances in the slot, and how good both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are at getting the puck to him in the spots where he can do his offensive damage. Bergeron now has 19 goals on the season and continues to roll out some serious offensive numbers for a Bruins team that’s just destroying their opponents. Bergeron is the first Bruins player to score two hat tricks in the span of six games since Rick Tocchet did it in five games back in 1996 for the Black and Gold.  

BLACK EYE: The Barclays Center shouldn’t be housing NHL hockey games, and thankfully won’t be in the near future when the Isles move out of Brooklyn. That being said, it had to demoralize whatever fans have made the move to Brooklyn to see so many Bruins hats get tossed on the ice from Boston fans after Bergeron scored his third goal of the game. The Islanders games have always felt like de facto home games for the Black and Gold given the huge contingent of B’s fans that make the trip to New York for these games. But it’s all the more of a gut punch when it turns into those road warrior Bruins fans loudly and animatedly celebrating goals, wins and hat tricks in front of the Islanders players and coaches. That’s a tough spot for them to be in during what’s supposed to be a strong home ice presence, but that’s life at a Barclays Center that makes me pine for Nassau Coliseum. 

TURNING POINT: The Bruins gave up the first goal of the game on a bad Brandon Carlo turnover in the D-zone, and it could have gone against them in the second night of a back-to-back on the road. But the Bruins dug in, reversed the momentum and instead found the Bergeron line to lead the way with their first goal scored in the game. After that they just continued to pour on the hard work, the offense and the Bergeron goals as he scored three overall and the Bruins rode the momentum wave into five goals and a strong finish in the third period. In two straight games the Bruins have given up the first goal, and it doesn’t even cause them to bat an eyelash. 

HONORABLE MENTION: On the second  night of a back-to-back game Zdeno Chara logged 25:32 of ice time, blocked four shots including a couple during a penalty kill that left him shaking his right hand in pain on the bench and threw three hits while holding the high-powered Islanders to just a couple of goals in the game. It wasn’t a particularly dazzling night of work for the 6-foot-9 defenseman, but the Isles really had limited offensive looks thanks to Chara playing big, strong and powerful in the defensive zone. The big ice time number is perhaps most impressive of all coming after Chara also played a big role in Boston’s win over the Habs at the Garden on Wednesday night. We’re still a long way away from Chara proving he can do this kind of thing night after night in the playoffs as a 40-year-old, but he showed a little something on Thursday night. 

BY THE NUMBERS: 15 – the number of consecutive games with a point for the Bruins as they’ve posted an 11-0-4 record over those games, and matched a 15-game point streak from the 2011-12 season in the year after they won the Cup. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I like the way we closed out the game in the third period. In a back-to-back there were issues at the beginning and ending of the game, and we fought through it and didn’t let the game get away from us. In the third period in their building they were going to make a push, and I thought we were really, really good in terms of generating the offense and keeping the puck away from the front of the net. I was proud of the guys for that. That was a good, strong finish.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN postgame about what we liked most in the 5-2 win over the Isles. 

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