Celtics

Lester: We're leaving everything on the field

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Lester: We're leaving everything on the field

TORONTO -- In spring training, the Red Sox talked about turning the page on the team's nightmarish September, when the Sox coughed up a 9 12 game lead for the wild card spot and were eliminated from the post-season on the final night of the season.

Worse, there was the residual ill will that came after details about the team's clubhouse comportment, none of which endeared them to the club's loyal fan base.

But while focusing on purging the memories from last fall, the Sox have stumbled out of the starting gate again, unwittingly inviting comparisons to another part of the 2011 season -- the beginning.

A year ago, the Sox endured the worst start to a seasson in franchise history, returning home from their first road trip winless at 0-6.

This year, they come back to Boston only marginally better at 1-5.

That hardly qualifies as improvement or a step forward.

"We're not playing good right now," lamented Jon Lester, who took the loss Wednesday, but deserved better. "We haven't put it together right now. Nobody in this clubhouse wants to start slow, regardless of years past. We said last year, it's a long season.

"We're going to show up on Friday and keep grinding it out. That's all we can really do. Obviously, this isn't the way we wanted to start. Nobody wants to start this way."

It's scant consolation, but the Sox are at least more competitive on their first trip than they were a year ago. The Sox had a chance to win three of the five, which wasn't the case last April.

"It's just as frustrating,"sighed Adrian Gonzalez, who hit two balls to warning track Wednesday, but was hitless. "It's a whole different season, a different team than last year. But yeah, (we've been more competitive). Two of the three games in Detroit we were right in them. If I remember correctly, we got beat pretty bad in Texas.

"We've been in games. We've been right there at the wire and haven't been able to overcome it. We've got to get that key hit, that two-out RBI, whatever it is, to get us over the hump."

After a day off Thursday, the Sox have their home opener, hosting the Tampa Bay Rays in the first of nine games on the homestand.

It's unclear what sort of reception they'll get Friday from a fan base still smarting from last fall's debacle and further frustrated by the results of the first trip.

"I don't know,"said Lester when asked what he expected. "Hopefully it's good. Hopefully they see that we're grinding it out and leaving everything on the field. Nobody's half-assing anything here. Nobody's half-assed anything in the past. Hopefully, it will be a packed house and they'll get the same things they've gotten in the past (from the team)."

"I think we have the greatest fans in the world," said manager Bobby Valentine. "We'll find out."

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
 
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.

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And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
 
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
 
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
 
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

KYRIE FOR MVP
It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.


 
TURNING DOWN THE HEAT
The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.
 

DUKE CONNECTION
College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.


 
JUSTISE WINSLOW
Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.
 

THREE-POINTERS
The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

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Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."