Talking Points: Celtics snap skid, beat Cavs, 86-83


Talking Points: Celtics snap skid, beat Cavs, 86-83

CLEVELAND Kevin Garnett has been a guy who plays - not pontificates - his point most of the time when it comes to the game of basketball.

Following the team's last game - a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder - he urged his teammates - every last one of them - to step their game up in the second half of the season which began Tuesday night.

And in typical Garnett fashion, it was his play that ultimately had the final word as Boston managed to squeak out an 86-83 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Garnett led the way with 18 points, which included a pair of free throws with 3.9 seconds to play.

Not only did his free throws put the C's in great position to win, but it also pushed him past Charles Barkley for the No. 18 spot among the NBA's all-time leading scorers with 23,758 points.

Cleveland, though, had a chance to force overtime.

After a Cavs time-out, Cleveland in-bounded the ball to Kyrie Irving who was immediately fouled on a long two-pointer.

Irving, who had made his previous three free throw attempts, made both to cut Boston's lead to 84-83 with 3.5 seconds to play.

After a Celtics time-out, the ball wound up in the hands of Ray Allen who put the game away.

Cleveland's last gasp was a 3-point attempt by Anthony Parker that hit the front of the rim as time expired.

After controlling the game for the better part of the first half, the Cavaliers began to take over in the third which ended with Cleveland clinging to a 66-64 lead.

The two went back and fourth in the fourth, exchanging basket for basket, turnover for turnover.

After the way the game started, this game didn't seem as though it would be another nail-biter like the first two meetings with the total margin of victory in those games being a (not-so whopping) four points.

The Celtics got off to the kind of start you would expect from a team that was motivated to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the problems of the first half of the season.

Ray Allen, who usually starts games relatively slow offensively, reached double figures scoring in the first half, with 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting. He finished with 22 points.

His play along with Garnett's inside scoring (12 first half points) were instrumental in the Celtics leading by as many as 16 in the first half before having to settle for a 43-38 halftime lead.

But the Celtics, as we've seen so many times this season, found a way to squander control of the game.

And the mode of self-destruction tonight was turnovers, with most being unforced miscues.

Rajon Rondo, doing his best Jeremy Lin impression minus the points scored, had five turnovers in the first half. He was scoreless with 11 assists and did not turn the ball over at all in the second half.

Even with all the turnovers (the C's had 18 which led to 20 points), Boston still spent most of the game playing with the lead.

HOT SHOT: Kevin Garnett delivered the kind of all-around game that the Celtics desperately needed to kick off the second half of the season. He scored 18 points, including a pair of free throws with 3.9 seconds to play that ultimately would prove to be the game-winning points. Garnett also grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, one of which was an offensive rebound of his own miss that set up his game-winning free throws. "He's been the model of consistency for us the whole year," said Paul Pierce. "Inside, doing all the little things, defensively; offensively, he's really picking it up over the last month. When he's playing well, we're tough to beat."

IN-N-OUT: It was one of those kind of nights for Rajon Rondo. While he's not known as a shooter, 0-for-6 is bad even by Rondo standards. And when you throw in the five turnovers in the first half, Rondo and the Celtics will just as soon take this win and start looking ahead to their next game. Celtics Doc Rivers thought Rondo got down on himself because of the turnovers. Said Rondo, "not necessarily down. I just wanted to take better care of the ball. I'm the point guard and it starts with me. I just wanted to do a better job of taking care of the ball." He did that in the second half as he played just under 15 minutes and did not have any turnovers. "I didn't have a lot of assists, either. I just tried to keep it as simple as possible. It worked. We got the win."

SUPER SUB: With Rajon Rondo struggling, the Celtics got a major boost from Avery Bradley's play. He played around 16 minutes, scoring six points to go with three assists. When the C's were struggling in the third quarter, Boston went through a stretch in which Bradley either scored or had an assist on nine straight points for the C's. "I just felt, the bench, when you come in you have to do your role," Bradley said. "You have to play hard."
TURNING POINT:Leading 82-81 with the ball, Kevin Garnett missed a 16-foot jumper with 4.9 seconds. One second later, Garnett fought off a couple of Cleveland big men for the offensive rebound - it was only Boston's fifth of the night. He was fouled on the play, and made both free throws with 3.9 to play. Those free throws would prove to be the game-winning points for the C's.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23,758: That would be how many points Kevin Garnett has scored in his career which now has him No. 18 all-time after surpassing Charles Barkley by one point on Tuesday.

QUOTE OF NOTE: "It was a win. That's all it was for us. We'll take the win. We needed the win."- Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault


Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.


Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

Belichick getting the most out of his veteran safeties

AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Bill Belichick’s never been shy about getting the players who play the best on the field as much as possible. 

So, when he looked at a crowded secondary this summer, the Patriots’ coach didn’t view every spot as a defined position. Instead, he analyzed the skill set of his players and decided that the Pats needed their top three safeties - Devin McCourty, Duron Harmon and Pat Chung - on the field as much as possible. Just past the midway point of the season, Belichick and his defensive coaching staff have managed to do that quite a bit.


McCourty missed one defensive snap all season, the last play of the opener (590). Harmon has often times found himself as that single-high safety (479) while - as illustrated earlier - Chung has played 83 percent of the snaps, although about a third of those designated as a cornerback (494 total/333 as safety). There are only two other teams in the NFL that play three safeties as often as the Patriots: the Chiefs (Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray) and Broncos (Justin Simmons, Darian Stewart and Will Parks). 

When I asked Belichick about all that the responsibilities he puts on that safety trio, the coach wouldn’t single out just those three. He also highlighted veterans Nate Ebner and Jordan Richards.

“That’s good group really with Pat, Devin, Duron, Jordan, Nate gives us a lot in the kicking game. That’s five guys that all help us in a lot of different ways…they all are pretty versatile,” said Belichick. 

Versatility is a critical element to the Patriots being able to put those players on the field and keep them there, no matter what the opposition throws New England’s way.

“You see Jordan play strong safety, you see Jordan come in in multiple defensive back sets. You see Chung play a corner type of role sometimes. I play a corner type of role. I  think it allows us to say ‘if they come out in this personnel, we’ll be ok’” said Devin McCourty. “We’ll just match up these guys in whatever different role in the defense and it’ll work.”

Of course, sometimes that’s easier said than done when you consider what personnel the opposing team can employ. In the opener against Kansas City, the Pats tried and failed to match up with an explosive grouping that including Tyreek Hill and DeAnthony Thomas, wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and take a handoff as well. 

The opponent Sunday, Oakland, doesn’t have those kinds of pieces, but the Raiders still have players in place that can keep defensive coordinators up at night. The suspicion here though is that Matt Patricia sleeps better than most, in part because of his secondary.

“A team like Oakland will come in what we call ‘oh 1’ personnel where they have four receivers and [tight end Jared] Cook on the field, which is kind of like a fifth receiver,” noted McCourty. “We can easily stay in different groups and say ‘all right, this is how we want to match that.’ Where if we didn’t have that versatility we’d have to start to run corners on and then they keep [Marshawn] Lynch on the field in place of Cook and run the ball. There’s so many different things that the offense can do to mismatch personnel. Having the versatility and players who understand different roles allows players to stay calm and match up.”

There’s also an unseen element to what this safety group brings to the field every week. That’s their experience, not just in the NFL, but together. There’s comfort in knowing the guy next to you has seen the same things you have and can go through their mental Rolodex to recall and adjust to personnel groupings and formation changes that maybe weren’t prepared for during the week (yes, even with Belichick as the coach that happens).

“I’ve been playing with Pat and Dev - all of us being together - this has been four years and you don’t catch that too often, especially three safeties,” said Harmon. “I just think us being able to be in a whole bunch of different positions, being able to learn from each other and playing together has allowed us to even been more versatile with each other and be able to run more things, have a better feel for the defense and put ourselves in maybe different positions that you wouldn’t put anyone else in.”

“We don’t have many groups like us that have been together for the last four or five years,” said McCourty. “We don’t always break things down as the strong safety, free safety, the money back, like a lot of things we did, it’s just a position, a spot on the field. I think we all understand that all three of us or all four of us on the field at any time can play at any of those positions. I think that allows us to say, ‘Remember last time we did this, in this game, you were here and you were there’ but this time because this is what they like you go here and I’ll go there. This that allows us to understand what we do defensively but also match it to whatever the offense does. Obviously, that’s what the coaches want to do. When the players can do that, it always helps.”

Belichick knows this and it’s pretty clear this trait - the ability to adjust on the fly - is something he appreciates a great deal. That’s why over the past five games, you haven’t noticed nearly as much movement and - let’s face it - confusion as there was in that first month. The players have shared history to fall back on and it’s smoothed out the communication and led to a much higher level of play.

“We can definitely go back to things that maybe we haven’t done in a while, talk about how we used this against Tampa or we used this against Buffalo or somebody and there’s good recall and good application of it,” Belichick said. “Yeah, there’s times where that definitely helps. Same thing on the offense, with guys like Tom [Brady], James White, Rob [Gronkowski], Danny [Amendola]  - guys that have done things together for multiple years. You got a situation that’s similar to a situation you had awhile back, you can go back and refer to that. You’re not going to be able to do that with Deatrich Wise or [Jacob] Hollister. They just haven’t had that kind of experience. But with experienced players, sure, that comes up from time to time. That’s a good reference.”

So, don’t be surprised Sunday in Mexico City if you see Harmon shaded over the top of Amari Cooper, or McCourty in the box providing an extra run fit, or Chung playing slot corner or linebacker. It’s old hat for a group that is asked to do more and routinely responds well to those challenges.