Blackhawks

Paul Pierce tops Bird on Boston's scoring list

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Paul Pierce tops Bird on Boston's scoring list

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- Paul Pierce knew what was on the line with every shot. The pressure was quite clear to Pierce and anyone else in the arena as he stood on the verge of passing Larry Bird for No. 2 on Boston's career scoring list. He needed only 10 points to overtake Bird when the Celtics hosted Charlotte on Tuesday night and those final three seemed as if they would never come. They did early in the third quarter, then Pierce and the Celtics celebrated the milestone by increasing their season-best winning streak to five with a 94-84 win over the Bobcats. "It was a relief. So much was hanging over me the last couple of days. Just hearing about it and knowing that you've got a game to play," said Pierce, who finished with 15 points. "Just to be mentioned with him, with this organization, is a great honor." Pierce now stands alone at No. 2 -- and it is quite a list -- with 21,797 points, six more than Bird's total of 21,791. Only John Havlicek has scored more in team history with 26,395 points. Pierce didn't even try to calculate the gap or how long it could take him to reach Havlicek. "I think the fans would really appreciate another championship more than me passing Hondo," Pierce said. Pierce nearly celebrated with a triple-double, coming up just short with nine assists and eight rebounds. Rajon Rondo added 14 assists and 10 points, Kevin Garnett scored 22 and Ray Allen finished with 17 points on a night that clearly belonged to the team captain known as "The Truth" -- which Mickeal Pietrus had written in big letters on a towel he waved for Pierce. "I thought they tried so hard in the first half. I thought it was never going to happen," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "I mean, it was unbelievable how our guys were passing out shots. They were doing everything to try to get this thing." Derrick Brown went 10 for 10 from the field for 20 points for Charlotte, but the biggest shooter Tuesday was Pierce on what normally would have been an off shooting night for him. He had seven points at halftime, then got his big moment out of the way with 10:23 left in the third on a 3-pointer from the top of the key. "I'm not going to lie. It was hanging over my head too much," Pierce said. "You kind of just felt it. It was hard to really ignore it and just focus on the game." Reggie Williams scored 21 for the Bobcats, who lost their 12th straight despite staying within 11 points through the first three quarters. Kemba Walker had 16 points and seven assists for the Bobcats, who kept it close before Boston opened the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run. "When you have to play your main guys for as long as we do, it gets kind of tough," Charlotte coach Paul Silas said. "We've just got to keep battling." The outcome never seemed in doubt and fans focused on Pierce making history for a franchise loaded with it. There was no announcement -- or need for one -- as everyone seemed to know what Pierce's shot from the top of the key meant in addition to giving the Celtics a 48-40 lead early in the third quarter. Pierce knew he had it, raising his arms as Boston fans gave him a standing ovation. The applause lasted for several minutes as teammate Garnett waved the crowd on for more. The official announcement finally came during a time out with 5:14 left in the third and Pierce went to midcourt, blew a few kisses and bowed during another round of applause. There was one more when Pierce -- a Celtic his entire NBA career -- went to the bench with 3:57 left in the period. "Paul had a chance to leave us when we were bad and instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed," Rivers said. "And he said, I simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that we're going to win a title someday.'" Brandon Bass scored 13 and Garnett added seven rebounds for the Celtics. Boston led 45-38 at halftime and after an even third quarter, the Celtics pulled away in the fourth, leading by as much as 18 against the weary Bobcats. With Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers coming to town Thursday, the Celtics were especially relieved to have Pierce's accomplishment out of the way. "You've got to play some amazing basketball," Rivers said. "Passing Larry Bird -- that's impressive." Notes: Boston's five-game winning streak is its longest of the season. ... Rondo played his third straight game after missing eight with a sore right wrist. ... Charlotte last won on Jan. 14, beating Golden State 112-100. ... Charlotte (3-22) has the worst record in the NBA and fell to 1-14 on the road.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.