Patriots

Rockets soar past Celtics, 101-89

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Rockets soar past Celtics, 101-89

HOUSTON The Boston Celtics are tripped up on the first leg of their Texas two-step by the Houston Rockets who used a strong third quarter surge to take control before handing the C's a 101-89 loss.

The Rockets were led by James Harden's 21 points in addition to Greg Smith chipping in 20 points off the bench. Boston's Paul Pierce had a team-high 18 points while Rajon Rondo tallied 15 points and 13 assists.

Boston (12-10) doesn't have much time to think about what went wrong against the Rockets (11-11), not with a road game at Western conference power San Antonio Saturday night.

Houston for the most part owned the second half of this game, and with it came away with their second straight victory under head coach and former Celtic Kevin McHale who returned to the team recently after the death of his daughter.

The strong play by Boston in the second quarter was wiped out quickly in the third as the Rockets opened the quarter with a 20-9 run to take a 63-54 lead.

A 3-point play by Rondo made it a 63-57 game, but it was clear that the game's momentum had taken a major swing in favor of the home team.

Houston's start was fueled by their ability to score in transition. After tallying a total of 12 fast-break points in the first half, it took less than six minutes for them to register six fast-break points - equal to their average in the first two quarters of play. They would finish the game with 25 fast-break points compared to 11 for Boston.

For too many stretches of play, Boston looked very much like a team that still hadn't quite recovered from a double overtime thriller in defeating Dallas on Wednesday.

Houston is the youngest team in the NBA and looked a step (or two, or three or ) quicker than Boston most of the first quarter.

Even with a lineup change designed to bolster Boston's defense - Courtney Lee in for Jason Terry - the Celtics still had trouble keeping the Rockets from getting out in transition.

Boston tried to go to Kevin Garnett early, but Houston's Omer Asik did a nice job of not allowing Garnett to get too deep in the post while also contesting his perimeter jumpers which heavily factored in Garnett missing five of his first six shots from the field.

Garnett finished with 14 points and five rebounds with a large chunk of his points coming while guarded by Smith.

Houston led by as many as 13 points in the first, but the Celtics chipped away at Houston's lead to cut Boston's lead after the first quarter down to 27-19.

Boston played the Rockets to a near standstill during the first four or five minutes of the second quarter, which isn't a good thing when you're facing the kind of deficit they were looking.

But that soon changed as the Celtics began to string together defensive stops and timely baskets like the wide open corner 3-pointer by Jason Terry to tie the game at 32.

Following another stop, Rondo drove into the lane for a lay-up to give the Celtics their first lead of the game with 6:10 to play in the half.

It was all part of an 18-2 Celtics run in the quarter that eventually ended with Boston leading 45-43 at the half.

With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

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With Andrews out, who's next man up for the Patriots at center?

Continuity along the offensive line was one of the reasons the Patriots were able to have the season they had in 2016. They tossed aside the early-season experiementation that Bill Belichick favored at times in order to establish a starting five that could be relied upon, if healthy, start to finish. 

They attacked 2017 with the same approach, but because of injury the consistency simply has not been the same. Both starting tackles, Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon, have missed time injured this season, and Cannon will sit out again on Sunday as he continues to deal with an ankle injury. 

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The interior of the line has remained largely in place until this week when center David Andrews came down with an illness, missed two practices, and was ruled out. 

On a line where familiarity is key, where the center is the one making the calls, the one in constant communication with Tom Brady, what now?

The Patriots will likely turn to second-year man Ted Karras, who has the ability to play both guard spots and also backed up Andrews for the vast majority of training camp. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder was released at the end of camp, quickly signed to the Patriots practice squad, and then he re-signed to the active roster in Week 1 when Malcolm Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.

Karras, drafted in the sixth round in 2016 out of Illinois, was named a practice player of the week earlier this year and he earned some praise from Belichick before the Patriots took off for Mexico City.

"Ted works hard," Belichick said. "He loves football. He gets there early, stays late."

Belichick noted that Karras (nine snaps, all against the Broncos) hasn't played much this season, but he did see plenty of work early last season when he filled in for an injured Shaq Mason. He was the Week 1 starter at right guard in a win ver the Cardinals and he played 41 snaps in Week 2 against the Dolphins. 

The Patriots offensive line could also potentially turn to Joe Thuney at center. He's practiced there before and got some experience at the position during his time at NC State. This seems like the less likely move since the Patriots would then have to deal with two new players at different spots -- center and left guard (whether the player replacing Thuney would be Karras or rookie Cole Croston) -- which could have a domino effect on the rest of the line. 

However the Patriots choose to handle it, they'll face an interesting test south of the border. The Raiders feature a pair of talented pass-rushers in Bruce Irvin and Khalil Mack, who Belichick says play all over the offensive line, yet Oakland is tied for last in the league in sacks. 

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

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Bill Belichick takes time to admire yet another opposing punter

If the Patriots are about to go up against one of the more talented punters in the league, one way or another, you're bound to hear about it from Bill Belichick.

Sometimes Belichick will go into great detail on opposing punters in one of his weekly press conferences. Sometimes he'll go out of his way to highlight a punter during one of his "breakdowns" on Patriots.com. 

He went the latter route this week, gushing over Raiders punter Marquette King.

"We usually don't have the punters on the highlights here, but King's a very athletic punter," Belichick said. "He runs a lot of fakes, a guy you have to really be conscious of as a both holder on field goals and punts on fakes."

King is the No. 2 punter in the league when it comes to net punting (45.5 yards), and he's tenth in the league in terms of the number of punts dropped inside the 20-yard line. 

"King is an athletic guy," Belichick reiterated, "and he can change field-position big time."

Add him to the list of big-legged punters -- "weapons," if you will -- Belichick has praised in the past.

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