Celtics

Patriots advance to AFC Championship Game with 41-28 win over Texans

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Patriots advance to AFC Championship Game with 41-28 win over Texans

FOXBORO -- Three months ago Monday, it was hard to imagine the Patriots being where they are today.

Three months ago Monday, they squandered a 23-10 lead in the final nine minutes of the fourth quarter and lost a 24-23 heartbreaker to the Seahawks in Seattle that dropped their record to 3-3 . . . the first time they'd had a .500 record that late in a season since 2002.

Today -- 10 wins in 11 games later -- they're in a far, far different place.

A three-touchdown performance from Shane Vereen sparked the Patriots to a 41-28 divisional round victory over the Texans on Sunday evening that put them in their second consecutive AFC Championship Game. Like last year, they'll be hosting the Ravens at Gillette Stadium, with the winner going to the Super Bowl.

Box score

"Oh, man, this is what you play football for," said cornerback Aqib Talib, whose midseason acquisition helped stabilize the defense and sparked the team's hot streak. "You don't play football to play 16 regular-season games and go home. You play to get in the tournament and try to get the trophy."

This step didn't figure to come as easy as their last meeting with the Texans -- when they spanked them, 42-12, on national television -- and Houston was able to set a different tone on the opening kickoff. Danieal Manning fielded the kick six yards deep in the end zone and proceeded to take it 94 yards downfield before finally being hauled down from behind by Devin McCourty at the Patriots' 12.

"That was a huge play by Devin to end up saving four points," said coach Bill Belichick of McCourty keeping Manning out of the end zone.

It saved points because the Patriots -- helped by a horrific Matt Schaub overthrow of Andre Johnson on third down -- prevented the Texans from scoring a touchdown. Houston had to settle for a 27-yard Shayne Graham field goal and a 3-0 lead.

"Our defense went in there and had a big stop," said Belichick. "That was really a huge series in the game."

Still, it was obvious this one would play out differently than the last meeting, at least for a while . . . especially when the Patriots' offense, battered by the dual losses of Danny Woodhead (wrist) and Rob Gronkowski (arm) in the first two series, took a bit of time to get untracked.

"We had a whole plan built for Gronkowski and Woodhead," said Tom Brady, who became the winningest postseason quarterback in NFL history with his 17th playoff victory. "We run the first series of the game and all those plans change . . .

"But we seemed to settle in there midway through the first quarter and put together a pretty good game."

That they did, and it looked as if they'd gotten command of things when a pair of touchdowns from Vereen (1-yard run, capping a 65-yard drive, and 8-yard pass from Brady, finishing an 80-yard march), sandwiched around a 37-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, put them in front, 17-3, with 3:43 to play in the first half.

Then, however, the Texans did something few teams do: They took control away from the Patriots at the end of a half.

First, after another long (35 yards) kick return by Manning, with 15 yards tacked on for a horse-collar tackle by Gostkowski, Houston went down and scored in 2 minutes and 23 seconds; Arian Foster bulled over from the 1 to finish the drive. The Pats went three and out, the Texans took possession on their own 38 with 24 seconds left, and Schaub was able to move them into position for a 55-yard field goal by Graham as time expired in the half, making it 17-13.

But the Pats regained control for good in the second half. Brady directed a 7-play, 69-yard scoring drive off the kickoff that culminated with an eight-yard TD run by Stevan Ridley and a 24-13 lead. Later in the quarter, Rob Ninkovich choked off a Texans threat with an interception, and the Pats capitalized with a five-yard TD pass from Brady to Brandon Lloyd that made it 31-13.

"That was a huge play for us, big stop," Belichick said of Ninkovich's interception. "We were able to convert that into points offensively, so that was a key play in the game for us."

In the fourth quarter, the teams traded long touchdown passes -- 33 yards from Brady to Vereen, and 25 yards from Scaub to DeVier Posey -- before a one-yard scoring pass from Schaub to Foster and a 38-yard field goal by Gostkowski accounted for the 41-28 final.

And now it's back to the AFC title game against the Ravens.

"As a guy two years in the league, I guess just assume it happens every year," said second-year offensive tackle Nate Solder. "But I know that's not the case, so I feel honored and blessed to be here."

Especially since three months ago, another trip to the conference championship was anything but assumed.

Reports: Cavs players aren't happy with roster

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Reports: Cavs players aren't happy with roster

As the Cavaliers fall further and further behind the Celtics, it appears there's some internal grumbling that the problems that have led to eight losses in their past 10 games aren't fixable with Cleveland's current roster.

Multiple reports indicate that a number of "prominent" Cavs  (and there's no more prominent player in the NBA than LeBron James) shared those thoughts with ESPN, Cleveland.com and TheAthletic.com.

After their loss to the NBA-champion Golden State Warriors Monday night in another Finals rematch, the third-place Cavs have dropped 7 1/2 games behind the Celtics and 3 1/2 behind the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference.

The complaints are a clear message to management that a change will be necessary at the trade deadline and, according to Cleveland.com, the offseason acquisition of Isaiah Thomas isn't going over too well. Thomas, who was out until Jan. 2 while he recovered from hip surgery after he was acquired from the Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade, is shooting 36 percent and is averaging almost as many turnovers (2.4) as assists (3.4). But it's his defense that's hurting the Cavs more. Here's what Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon reported a "league source" told him:

“Rotations are awful. IT is so much worse than Kyrie defensively it’s insane. There is not a great feeling anywhere. They need to limp into the All-Star break and get away from each other.”

Meanwhile, the guy Thomas was traded for has led the Celtics to an East-leading 34-10 record and become a leading MVP candidate.

The Case Against Anthony Davis to the Celtics

The Case Against Anthony Davis to the Celtics

Let’s get this out of the way: the Celtics should absolutely try as hard as possible to land Anthony Davis. Danny Ainge’s track record means any deal that ultimately lands “The Brow” would, at worst, be fair, and at best, be a steal.

That said, there are arguments to be made against an Anthony Davis trade. Here they are:

1. GARY TANGUAY CAN'T BE RIGHT
This is more important than anything else. Gary Tanguay cannot have this win. We can’t validate his reckless speculation with a Davis-to-Celtics deal. Banner 18 is not worth the years of Gary telling us he was right about this. All joking aside, let’s give Tanguay some credit for predicting this, even if it was luck.

2. ACQUISITION COST
Freedom isn’t free and neither is a 24-year-old mega-star. It’s important to realize that the Celtics are not the only team making this trade. The Pelicans will, justifiably, need one of the biggest return packages in NBA history in order to move Anthony Davis. For starters, say goodbye to Jayson Tatum. The C’s wunderkind looks like a future star and there’s just no way New Orleans makes this deal without him. Ditto for the Lakers/Kings pick acquired from the 76ers this summer and at least one more future first-rounder. Did we mention Al Horford yet? His salary is almost a must in any deal for Davis. 

MORE CELTICS:

I’m not positive a package of Tatum, Horford and every future pick of value is enough to convince the Pelicans to trade Davis. If I’m New Orleans, I’m asking for Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Horford and the LAL/SAC pick for Davis and the ridiculously expensive corpse of Omer Asik. So yeah, the Celtics have positioned themselves to pull off a deal of this magnitude, but it’s sure gonna cost them.

3. FINANCIAL COST
Including Horford in a deal for Davis lessens the blow of adding another max player; however, the Celtics will also be trading at least one of their rookie-scale starters, and that cannot be overlooked. Tatum and Brown aren’t just potential All-Stars, they are cost-controlled starters who the Celtics are paying a combined $10.6 million this season. The other seven Eastern Conference playoff teams (as of Tuesday) are paying an average of $36M for their starting SG/SF combos. Losing one or both of Tatum and Brown means the C’s will be pinching pennies to try and fill out their starting lineup. The calculus gets much harder when Kyrie Irving opts-out of his deal after next season.

4. INJURY CONCERNS
Davis is an absolute stud when he’s on the floor. The problem is he’s often sidelined with injuries. Davis has never played more than 75 games in a season, averaging 67 games through his first five years in the NBA (he’s already missed seven games this year). Davis’ alien-like size/athleticism combo make him a devastating two-way force, but might also make him injury prone for his entire career. Similar to Joel Embiid of the 76ers, Davis sometimes seems too big and fast for his own good, crashing to the floor at a rate rivaled only by Kelly Olynyk.

5. DOES HE MOVE THE NEEDLE ENOUGH?
Is Davis good enough to overcome reasons 1-4 on this list? Going by individual stats, absolutely. Davis has the third-highest career Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in NBA history, trailing only Michael Jordan and LeBron James. But that individual success has only led to a 165-206 record and one playoff appearance for the Pelicans franchise. Before this season, the Davis-led Pelicans boasted a top-10 offense once in five seasons. It’s the same on the defensive end, with one top-10 finish in Davis’ first five years. If Davis is such a game changer, how come he hasn’t been able to impact winning at a greater clip? Most of that can probably be blamed on Pelicans management for doing a terrible job building around him, but it should be a question the Celtics ask before trading just about everything to acquire him.

The Celtics would be crazy turning down the chance to add Davis to a core of Irving, Gordon Hayward and Brad Stevens, even if it does mean Tanguay can brag for the rest of his life. Ainge has assembled a super team before and you better believe he’s on the phone right now trying to do it again.

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