Celtics

How did Cup champions fare in their opener?

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How did Cup champions fare in their opener?

From Comcast SportsNetLOS ANGELES (AP) -- The Chicago Blackhawks raised their own Stanley Cup championship banner just two seasons ago, so their core players already know it's tough to go back to work after a pregame party.When the Los Angeles Kings were finished raising their banner and receiving their rings Saturday, the Blackhawks reminded the champs that what happened last year won't help the Kings in this shortened NHL season.Marian Hossa had two goals and an assist, Corey Crawford made 19 saves, and Chicago crashed the Kings' Stanley Cup celebration with a 5-2 victory.Captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane each had a goal and an assist for the Blackhawks, who jumped to a 3-0 lead on Michael Frolik's goal less than 15 minutes in.With superior speed and skill, Chicago ruined the festivities shortly after the Kings hung their first championship banner in the Staples Center rafters."We wanted to have a good start, and whether they were going to be on their game or not didn't really matter to us," said Toews, the Conn Smythe Trophy-winning hero of Chicago's 2010 title run."We tried not to focus on what was going on out there before the game. We were in (the locker room), just getting ready and doing our thing. We had a great first period, and when you come out in the first 20 minutes like that, you want to keep it going, and that's what we did."With every player who touched the ice in last season's playoffs returning to defend the title, the Kings received their championship rings during a stirring pregame ceremony that included each player passing the Cup around the boards. The Blackhawks didn't watch it, but they seemed fired up from the opening faceoff."The season after you win the Cup, everyone is going to play their best game against the Cup champion, because that's the game where you want to prove yourselves and make a statement," said Kane, whose 5-on-3 goal started the rout. "So I think that's what we were kind of feeling today."Rob Scuderi and Jordan Nolan scored and Jonathan Quick stopped 17 shots for the Kings, who are definitely done celebrating last season's achievements as the first eighth-seeded playoff team to win the Stanley Cup.Quick gave up five goals just once last season while making his first All-Star team, but he wasn't much better than his teammates in his first game since winning the Conn Smythe Trophy and getting a 10-year, 58 million contract extension."You have to get used to getting knocked down and getting back up," Quick said. "As the ceremony was going on, most of our guys were thinking about the game, but obviously you're going to take a moment, and it's a special moment for the team and fans."While the Kings learned they've got work to do, the Blackhawks showed why they've got a shot at repeating their 2010 championship run. Kane seemed particularly sharp after spending the lockout playing in Switzerland.Hossa was the Blackhawks' leading scorer last season, but he left his final game on a stretcher after a hit by Phoenix's Raffi Torres, who got a 25-game suspension. The lockout was a benefit to Hossa's recovery, and the 11-time 25-goal scorer is off to another big start."I haven't played in a long time because of the concussion, so I tried to keep it simple, especially at the beginning," Hossa said. "Nothing too fancy. They gave me short shifts and I tried to get into it. Obviously my timing is not there yet, but it's going to come with the more games we play. My head is clear, otherwise I wouldn't be playing if there were still some issues."Los Angeles began the season without two key players: Leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who hurt his knee while playing in Sweden, and defenseman Willie Mitchell, who had knee surgery.Both players wore their uniforms and skates while participating in the pregame ceremony, but the Kings' good pregame feelings got erased about two minutes in when Matt Greene and Trevor Lewis went to the penalty box 43 seconds apart. Los Angeles killed most of the 5-on-3, but Kane scored with 8 seconds left in the advantage.Hossa, who set up Kane's goal, then got credit for a score when his centering pass hit Drew Doughty's skate and ricocheted past Quick. Just 74 seconds after that, Frolik put a pall over the celebratory crowd with the Blackhawks' third goal on eight shots.When Toews, who spent the week ailing with a cold, alertly scored 1:16 into the second period, a few scattered boos came down from the sellout crowd. The Kings' defense appeared to miss Mitchell, while Kopitar's absence has forced coach Darryl Sutter to shuffle the lines that worked so splendidly in last season's playoffs."I think most people expected to be a little rusty, and both teams were," said Scuderi, who scored midway through the second period. "We made a few mistakes, but we're not taking it as an excuse."NOTES:Scuderi matched his entire goal total from 82 games last season. ... Chicago scratched veteran RW Jamal Mayers and new D Michal Roszival. ... Los Angeles scratched new RW Anthony Stewart after acquiring him from Carolina earlier in the week.

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.”