Patriots

Spurs continue streak, best Celtics, 87-86

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Spurs continue streak, best Celtics, 87-86

BOSTON The Boston Celtics had their chances. But in the end -- literally -- it just wasn't meant to be, as Paul Pierce's last-second jumper hit the back of the rim and rolled out, which secured San Antonio's 87-86 win.

With the loss, Boston's five-game winning streak was snapped while the Spurs continue to roll along, now having won a season-best nine in a row.

Fortunately for the Celtics (30-23), the loss won't have an impact on their quest to win the Atlantic Division with the Sixers getting thumped by 21 points at home by Toronto.

After spending most of the game trailing, Boston finally broke through in the fourth when Pierce connected with Avery Bradley doing what he does best -- cutting to the basket.

The end result was a lay-up that put the Celtics ahead 81-79, their first lead since about midway through the first quarter.

But the Spurs responded with an 8-0 run, capped off by a buzzer-beating jumper from Matt Bonner to give San Antonio an 87-83 lead with 46.5 seconds to play.

But Ray Allen, returning to the starting lineup after missing the previous six games with a right ankle injury, drained a 3-pointer to make it a one-point game.

After getting a defensive stop, the Celtics' Rajon Rondo got the ball past halfcourt, seemingly in attack mode.

He didn't see anything initially, so the C's called a time-out with 7.9 seconds to play.

After San Antonio's defense prevented them from in-bounding the ball when they wanted to, Rondo called a second time-out, which set up Pierce's last-second shot that hit the back of the rim before rolling out.

Boston seemed on the verge of getting blown out behind a strong second quarter by the Spurs bench which pushed their lead to as many as 17 points. But the C's began to make it a game in the third quarter, limiting the high scoring Spurs to just nine points.

However, the Celtics weren't that much better at scoring the ball in the third, which was why they went into the fourth trailing 68-64.

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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