Patriots

Garnett: "I didn't mean to get Hansbrough in the face

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Garnett: "I didn't mean to get Hansbrough in the face

BOSTON -- Kevin Garnett bent over near center court, taking a moment before walking off the floor.

There was still 8:24 left on the clock, but his night was over. Garnett was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul against the Indiana Pacers Tyler Hansbrough.

"I was firm," said Garnett following the game. "I didn't mean to get him in the face like that. I was actually trying to swipe the ball, but it was a physical game and they called it the way it was. Part of the game."

Garnett received a standing ovation from the TD Garden crowd as he exited for the locker room. If he had played the entire game, his performance Friday night would have received an applause anyways for his contributions in the Celtics 94-75 win.

Moved back to the starting center position on Friday night, Garnett scored 18 points (8-16 FG, 2-2 FT) and grabbed seven rebounds in only 24 minutes.

Even though Garnett's numbers have dropped slightly this season (down to 14.8 points and 7.0 rebounds from 15.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season), the Pacers knew what to expect from the 36 year old.

"They're still a very talented team," said starting center Roy Hibbert. "They're gritty. Paul (Pierce) and Kevin have been through years, so you respect their game even though they've gotten a little bit older. To tell you the truth, just push up a little bit more, just try to make them score over me. At the same time, I know what Kevin's capable of. He's still a great player."

The Celtics have struggled the entire season when Garnett has been on the sidelines. Now in his 18th season, he is averaging 29 minutes per game. Doc Rivers has to be able to rest his veteran leader without squandering a lead. On Friday, the Celtics maintained a 23-point lead after Garnett's ejection.

"We're a really bad team if we couldn't hold a lead in the fourth quarter, and they didn't have their starters in either," said Rajon Rondo. "But nevertheless, I don't want to discredit our bench. Courtney (Lee) played great for us tonight, LB (Leandro Barbosa) came in and gave us some energy, and (Jared Sullinger) Sully fouled out but he played big in the stretch when he was in the game. It was a collective team effort tonight. We played great as a team and we've got to continue to build on this win."

Garnett missed Gino Time, the Celtics on-court celebration during blowout wins. For those who looked forward to see him dancing on the sidelines, he pointed out he still enjoyed the victory in the locker room.

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

Energized Patriots defense forces 'critical swings' with turnovers

“We’re a blue-collar team…”

Devin McCourty didn’t hesitate when asked about the Patriots’ identity. Moments prior, McCourty and his teammates had just stomped the Oakland Raiders in Mexico City, 33-8, to run their win streak to a half-dozen games. The Pats are tied for the best record in the AFC with the Steelers

“We played at a high level,” said McCourty. “They made some plays, but I thought we executed our game plan and did exactly what we wanted to do today.”

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After surrendering a 100-points per game through the first month (ok, it was only 32), the Pats defense has flexed their muscle during this stretch, allowing 12.5 points per game, which would be the best in the NFL were this a season-long thing. We’re not looking at the same unit even though the personnel is largely the same. If anything, from a talent-level, this defense has less skill than it did when the season started. Their best player, Dont'a Hightower, is out for the year, lost during the first win of this 6-game streak. They’ve also survived three-game absences from $31-million cornerback Stephon Gilmore and their most consistent interior defender, tackle Malcom Brown. Yet the defense keeps showing up, keeps improving and its confidence is growing by leaps and bounds.

“We’re just playing together…we’re kind of figuring that out,” said McCourty. “We’re understanding how we need to prepare, how we need to practice, whether it’s a hard, full-padded practice, whether it’s a walkthrough, we know what we need to do on each of those days and when we do that, we give ourselves a chance. You’re seeing that on Sundays. Everyone running around, everyone knows their job and it’s all about execution.”

“I thought our players gave a great effort tonight,” said Bill Belichick. “We came out and performed well early, throughout the game and played really good situational football.”

The Pats were opportunistic, forcing three turnovers, including one in a huge spot, when Marquis Flowers stripped the ball from wideout Seth Roberts as the Raiders were knocking on the door. It was 14-0 at the time, and Oakland had life. Second-year cornerback Jon Jones battled Roberts, Flowers popped the ball free and safety Pat Chung pounced on it. Instead of milking the clock and heading into halftime up two scores, the Pats turned that fumble into points, driving to midfield before Steven Gostkowski kicked a career-long 62 yarder. That further energized a Pats team that was already surging.

“It’s something we talk about every week,” said McCourty. “We’re playing solid defense, executing the game plan, but changing the game with turnovers - you know, even Duron’s interception was a third down so it was kind of like a punt. The energy that brings - when the offense takes the field after we get a turnover - that’s huge. And then with them driving again in the red area before the half is what we talked about, getting that stop.”

“We had some real critical swings with those turnovers,” admired Tom Brady, a chief beneficiary of those change in possessions.

Earlier this week, I asked McCourty if he got a sense that the team was coming together at the tail end of their stay in Colorado Springs. He smiled and joked initially, but you could sense the veteran safety can see and feel what the rest of the league is now a witness to.

“I hope so. I mean, it’d probably be terrible if I say yeah and then we go on a five-game losing streak. I can see the headline: ‘McCourty was wrong.’ So, no, I think we understand how the season starts to pick up. You know, each game means more. We understand that seven wins (now 8) doesn’t mean anything. We have to continue to get better. So, I think why we end up usually improving is because it’s the understanding of there’s no tomorrow.”

The defense ordered that Code Red after losing to Carolina in Week 4, and since then, they have worked harder, worked longer and cleaned up so many of the issues that ailed them that opening month. It’s a credit to the players, “they won’ the game tonight,” said Belichick, and the coaching staff as well. if you’ve followed this team over the years, you know even now, they’re not satisfied. There are “things to work on” added Belichick and they’ll start that work on the flight home from Mexico City to Foxboro. 

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