Celtics

Valentine focuses on keeping opposing runners at first

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Valentine focuses on keeping opposing runners at first

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Jon Lester spent a good chunk of time Sunday morning working to perfect his pickoff move to first and it would surprise no one is the rest of the Red Sox pitching staff was instructed to do the same over the next few weeks.

Manager Bobby Valentine believes the Sox' pitchers need to do a better job controlling the running game.

Asked, based on video and reports, how well the Sox did in that regard last seasons, Valentine didn't mince words: "Not very well," he said without hesitation.

"Statistically, it would be fair to say, we were the worst in our division, 14th in baseball and eighth in the American League. It depends on how you determine that."

Valentine singled out lefty reliever Franklin Morales (four pickoffs) and Lester (four) as two Boston pitchers who did well. Others, such as Josh Beckett, against whom opposing base stealers were 31-for-34 despite 83 throws over to first.

Speaking about the team's success rate as a whole, Valentine concluded: "I would say it could be worked on. It's part of this program, spring training."

Valentine said improvement is essential, since two division opponents -- Tampa Bay and Toronto -- ran with abandon last season and aren't likely to be any less aggressive this season.

"There are a couple of other teams in the Central who can advance 90 (feet)," he said. "I'm all with guys (who say), 'Hey, you don't get any points for getting to second -- I'm getting the hitter out.' I get that."

Indeed, former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was just such an advocate, arguing that it was more important to focus on the batter rather than be distracted by being pre-occupied with the runner. Farrell advised against using the slide step for some pitchers, worrying that the quality of the pitches suffered as a result.

"I don't like anything," Valentine said, "including a divided concentration, that would limit or minimize in any way the pitchers' ability to get the hitter out. Most bio-mechanical studies say that if you pitch out of the stretch quickly and correctly, your stuff will not be diminished.

"Part of the whole program is that you will vary your look to the plate, but never diminish your stuff."

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Could Gordon Hayward return this season?

0:41 - Kyle Draper, Brain Scalabrine, Tommy Heinsohn, and Mike Gorman break down the Celtics loss to the Cavs and Gordon Hayward’s injury.

4:22 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions to the gruesome injury to Gordon Hayward and how it impacted the game.

9:39 - Dr. Chris Chihlas joins BST to give his medical opinion on Gordon Hayward and if he thinks there is a chance Hayward could return this season. 

13:40 - Chris Mannix and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss what the feeling was like in the arena when Hayward went down but how there is actually a 'cautious optimism' surrounding the injury.

Jayson Tatum flashes potential with double-double debut

Jayson Tatum flashes potential with double-double debut

CLEVELAND – Jayson Tatum has seen plenty of games featuring Cleveland’s LeBron James.

And in the Boston Celtics’ preparation for Tuesday night’s matchup, the 19-year-old rookie had seen plenty of James on film.

But facing him, up close and personal, was something entirely different.

“He’s way bigger than I thought,” Tatum said. “He’s way better than I imagined. That’s the reason why he is who he is.”

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James’ play was among the key factors in Cleveland handing Boston a 102-99 loss on Tuesday night.

But Tatum showed he too has some big-time potential by finishing with a double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds which included some nifty drives to the basket as well as showing the ability to hold his own on the glass in terms of rebounding the basketball.

The last Celtics rookie to post a double-double on opening night?

That was Larry Bird back in 1980, helping the Celtics to a 114-106 win over the Houston Rockets.

What’s even crazier?

Bird had 14 points and 10 rebounds in that Rockets game, too.

Tatum’s solid performance didn’t seem in the making in the first half when Tatum had missed all five of his shot attempts while tallying just two points.

But as the Celtics mounted their comeback, Tatum’s play was a key to the team’s improved play.

“Just being more relaxed” was how Tatum described his improved play in the second half.

Tatum added, “first half, I think I was nervous and anxious. And then the game slowed down for me. That helped out a lot.”

And the Celtics will need even more from Tatum going forward after Gordon Hayward’s left ankle injury that will keep him sidelined indefinitely.

There was plenty of room for him to improve upon following Tuesday’s game.

But for the most part, head coach Brad Stevens liked what he saw from the rookie.

“Jayson was pretty good,” Stevens said. “He did a pretty good job for a first game. That’s pretty hard to do, to be thrown into this environment, first game and play that well.”

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