Celtics

Patriots defense 'is what it is'

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Patriots defense 'is what it is'

FOXBORO -- In New England, everything "is what it is." The saying is a Bill Belichick favorite, a standard retort to nearly any question regarding his football team.
And it kind of works. The Patriots defensive effort Sunday night? It is what it is.
New England surrendered 425 yards to the Texans in this weekend's Divisional Playoff. Matt Schaub completed 34 of 51 passes for 343 yards (just the second time he passed the 300-yard mark in 18 games this year), two touchdowns, and one interception.
But Houston lost, 41-28, so all that offense is what it is: A bunch of numbers that don't add up to making Schaub feel better about the day.
It is another night the Patriots gave up a bunch of scores and didn't lose.
"I think guys have that attitude that no matter what happens, usually we're on the end where our offense is putting up a lot of points," cornerback Devin McCourty said after the game. "If things go wrong, somebody returns a kick of anything like that, we just want to hold guys out of the end zone. We want to make plays down there and just try to play great defense. We know if we can hold teams to three points our offense will do the job and put seven on the board."
McCourty was referencing the opening kickoff.
Texans safety Danieal Manning was back to receive. After the catch, Manning took off and ran 94 yards before being brought down by a sprinting McCourty. It was a nightmare open to the game.
But Houston couldn't capitalize. Running back Arian Foster got the only gain on the drive -- a 3-yard run -- before Schaub burned the final downs on incomplete passes. The ensuing field goal provided Houston's only points for nearly two full quarters.
And there -- a positive for the Patriots defense: The Texans punted on four straight drives in the first half.
Another positive: Houston converted just four of 15 third down attempts.
"It just comes down to team defense good pass rush, good coverage and keeping the yardage longer by playing better on first and second down," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork. "I thought we did a good job in the running game until we got to the last drive in the second quarter and running back Arian Foster hit a couple long runs to the weak side on us. They scored right before the half. Because we were able to hold off a few of those runs, that put them in some third-and-long situations."
"It was good team defense; I dont think its any one guy. Third down obviously is critical for us and our red area stop was big too."
The third down numbers, the red zone stop, those are the things that surface in the wake of a win. All those yards surrendered -- 90 rushing and 63 receiving to Foster; 95 on nine catches for receiver Andre Johnson -- will come out later in the film's dissection.
Before facing Baltimore in next weekend's AFC Championship, those things will be addressed. The Patriots will look at why Houston went three-for-four on fourth (two of which conversions eventually led to touchdowns) and try to fix what went wrong.
It's not like the defense thinks it's perfect. It is grossly opportunistic.
The Patriots entered Sunday's game at a plus-25 turnover differential. They forced 41 turnovers (21 fumbles, 20 interceptions) in the regular season's 16 games.
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich added another big play to the pile with a third quarter interception. It was on one of those third-down plays that Houston left on the field.
New England made the most of the pick, as it tends to do. Just like McCourty said, once the ball was back in Tom Brady's hands the offense put up seven more points, and the Texans looked a little less threatening on their next drive.
Bend, Don't Break isn't a perfect plan. It does work for New England most of the time, however.
Vince Wilfork was asked if he thinks the defense, as it stands, is good enough for what's ahead.
"No," the nose tackle answered. "We can get a little better. We can get a lot better.
"But overall, this defense is taking the right steps. That's the only thing you can ask for is taking the right steps, especially in this point in time. The goal, right now, is to win. No matter how you win, that's the goal. You lose, you go home."
That is exactly what it is.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's 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.”