Patriots

Pierce out for Celtics opener

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Pierce out for Celtics opener

NEW YORK Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce arrived a few minutes ago, donning a blue suit with a red tie.

It's a look that unfortunately for the C's, he'll still have when the season tips off today against the New York Knicks.

The sore right heel injury that has kept him sidelined for most of training camp will keep him out for today's game as well.

"If there was a slight chance I could play, I'd definitely be out there," said Pierce, who added that an MRI recently revealed he has a bone bruise and remains questionable for Tuesday's game at Miami.

Not having their best scorer is certainly a blow; even more so when you consider what he has done on Christmas Day games.

Pierce has averaged 21.7 points in his three Christmas Day games, more than any player in franchise history. Trailing him are former Celtics legends Bill Sharman (20.8 points in 9 games); John Havlicek (20.67 games); Bob Cousy (20.311 games) and Jo Jo White (20.34 games).

If Pierce is unable to play, the C's are likely to go with Sasha Pavlovic or Marquis Daniels. Rivers is inclined to go with Pavlovic primarily because he likes the look of the second unit when it includes Daniels.

Newly acquired Mickael Pietrus will not be with the team for today's game. He told NBA.com that he hoped to join the C's in Miami for Tuesday's matchup with the Heat, but it's more likely that his first action with the Celtics won't come until the home opener Dec. 30 against Detroit.

Other Celtics-related notes:

Pierce isn't the only record-setting Celtic on this current team. Point guard Rajon Rondo holds the team record for assists in a Christmas Day game, tallying 12 against the Lakers in 2008.

That performance broke a franchise record that had stood for 41 years. The previous record holder was Havlicek who racked up 10 assists in the 1967 at the old Madison Square Garden.

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers had one of his best Christmas Day performances in 1987 with the Atlanta Hawks.

But that game, like many with Atlanta, was one in which one of his teammates -- Dominique Wilkins -- was even more impressive.

In Atlanta's 106-100 win over Philadelphia at the Spectrum, Rivers had 19 points and 11 assists.

But the star that night was Wilkins, who scored 45 points in 41 minutes of work.

Jermaine O'Neal will start at center, and the C's will look to him offensively more than they did last season. If that's the case, O'Neal may have a shot to do something a Boston center hasn't done in a while on opening night -- score in double figures.

Not since Mark Blount scored 19 points in 2005 did a C's starting center reach double digit points on opening night. The last time a Celtics starting center scored 20 points was Robert Parish in 1993 against today's opponent, the New York Knicks.

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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