Five Takeaways

Brady gets hit, but hits back in leading Patriots over Dolphins

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Brady gets hit, but hits back in leading Patriots over Dolphins

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from the Patriots' 35-17 victory over the Dolphins Sunday:

PATRIOTS 35, DOLPHINS 17

1) The Dolphins defensive line got to Tom Brady enough in the first half that the threat of another blow may have helped force Brady into his third interception of the season. Ndamukong Suh got Brady on New England's second drive. Cameron Wake got him hip-to-hip in the second quarter, and later on the same drive Charles Harris got his lick in after getting to Brady unblocked. Late in the second quarter, Kiko Alonso got to Brady. Two plays later, Brady was picked by Bobby McCain when Brady wasn't able to step into his throw. Brady was hit seven times, four of which came courtesy of Wake. Despite the pounding, he threw for four touchdowns, including a quasi-handoff to Brandin Cooks in the fourth quarter. 

"They got some good shots on me," Brady acknowledged after the game.

2) For the second straight week, the Patriots defense got a key turnover deep in their own territory. Last week it was Marquis Flowers punching the football loose when Seth Roberts got careless near the goal line. This week it was Stephon Gilmore in the end zone, intercepting a Matt Moore floater intended for DeVante Parker. Gilmore was targeted just three times in the game and allowed one catch for five yards. 

3) Nate Ebner left the game in the first quarter with a knee injury and he was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game. If he's forced to miss time moving forward, as it seems he will, the Patriots will have a significant void on their special-teams units. Ebner is widely regarded as one of the best in the business when it comes to his work in the kicking game. On the punt team, he serves as the personal protector, which is where he was just before he was injured. Fielding the direct snap from Joe Cardona, he ran around the right edge for a first down but was injured before he fell out of bounds. Jordan Richards replaced him as the personal protector. 

4) Dion Lewis continued to run effectively as the team's primary back, picking up a career-high 112 yards on 15 carries. He showed his typical blend of elusiveness near the line of scrimmage, and then once getting into the secondary, he finished strong, running through arm tackles. Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch yet again in this one, and if Lewis remains healthy and continues to run this well, it may be hard for Gillislee to get back in. 

5) Ebner was the only injury the Patriots suffered on the day. Trey Flowers left the game in the third quarter with a rib injury. LaAdrian Waddle injured his ankle in the fourth and left the game. Trevor Reilly left the game after a violent collision on a kickoff, and Kyle Van Noy came out with a leg injury after recording a sack in the fourth quarter. The Patriots training staff had its hands full. 

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Celtics need to let Morris continue feasting on seconds

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Celtics need to let Morris continue feasting on seconds

It gets harder to find problematic areas when a team wins 15 straight, like the Boston Celtics have.
 
But there are some. Boston’s inability to develop a consistent scoring threat when the second-unit players are on the floor hasn’t cost them a game yet, but you can see it coming if they don’t address this at some point.
 
Well, the answer to their second-unit struggles may be staring them right in the face – Marcus Morris.
 
While he does go back and forth as a starter, keeping him on the floor in the second quarter with the second unit makes sense for all involved.
 
Morris is a better scorer than many expected, but opportunities aren’t as plentiful with the first group. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are the top two options. The team’s young wings, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, probably stack up slightly higher in the scoring pecking order than Morris.
 
So for him to get quality looks with the second unit in the second quarter not only helps the team offensively, but it keeps Morris even more engaged than he already is.
 
We saw that in Saturday’s win over the Hawks.
 
Morris had 14 points, with 10 coming in the second quarter when he was surrounded primarily with players off the bench.
 
 “We need Marcus quite a bit,” said coach Brad Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back.”
 
Morris missed the first eight games of the season because of a sore left knee. Since his return, his minutes have been capped at around 25 or less, in addition to not playing back-to-back nights..

But as he continues to play a more significant role, look for his minutes -- and his role as a primary scorer in the second quarter -- to increase.
 
“He brings us scoring," Stevens said. "He brings us defense, he brings us toughness, and we really needed his scoring (against Atlanta), his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
 
Here’s a look at five other takeaways from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta to extend the team’s winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history.



 
JAYLEN BROWN'S EMERGENCE

The improvement in Jaylen Brown has been evident all season, but it's really spiked the last two games. The second-year wing player dropped 22 points on Golden State Thursday, then followed that up with a career-high 27 Saturday. Conventional wisdom tells you not to bank on Brown delivering like that on a consistent basis. But as a former No. 3 overall pick who works as hard as Brown does . . . would anyone be surprised if this becomes a new-norm when it comes to Brown?


 
HORFORD STREAK CONTINUES
 
Early foul trouble and an overall lack of flow offensively had Al Horford looking at having his first game of the season with a negative plus/minus. At the half he was at -16. Then came the Celtics’ second half surge which saw them turn a 16-point deficit in the first half into a double-digit victory. And Horford’s plus/minus? For the game he stood at +2, keeping his streak alive of having a positive plus/minus in every game played this season.

KYRIE IRVING
 
An efficient scoring Kyrie Irving is an NBA team’s worst nightmare. One of the league’s well-established scorers, Irving was just too much for the Atlanta Hawks to handle. And the end result was one of the most efficient scoring nights in Irving’s career as he tallied a game-high 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting.


 
TATUM'S SECOND-HALF SURGE
 
For the second straight game, Jayson Tatum did not begin playing his best basketball until the second half. Against the Hawks, Tatum scored all of his 14 points in the second half. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, 10 of his 12 points came in the second half. “For whatever reason he was pretty tentative (in the first half),” said Stevens. “He’s a good player, so struggles aren’t going to last long. He’ll figure it out.”


 
SMART'S SHOOTING (SLIGHTLY) BETTER
 
There’s plenty of room for improvement when it comes to Marcus Smart’s shooting. Against the Hawks, he had 10 points on 3-for-8 shooting. Now the numbers won’t wow you, but they are a huge step in the right direction in comparison to how he has been chucking up shots lately. In Boston’s previous five games, Smart was a face-cringing 10-for-52 shooting, or 19.2 percent from the field. Even with all the impact he makes consistently with his defense and effort, that number has to continue to improve if Boston is able to continue along its winning ways.

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