Veteran offense allows Celtics to hang on late


Veteran offense allows Celtics to hang on late

Doc Rivers said before Monday nights tilt with the Bulls that he hoped his Celtics team could play a solid, 48-minute game.

Rivers didnt get his wish, as the Celtics nearly lost a 13-point fourth quarter, but their veteran leadership and ability to regroup late wouldnt let them falter down the stretch in their 101-95 win in Chicago.

The Celtics had moved through three quarters without any hiccups, scoring 82 points against a Bulls defense that hadnt allowed 100 points in 15 straight games. But following a Kevin Garnett jumper at the 10:08 mark of the fourth quarter, the Celtics went more than five minutes without scoring. They missed nine shots and allowed a 10-0 Bulls run that pulled Chicago pull within three with five minutes to play.

But Rivers group righted the ship down the stretch, connecting on five of their last eight shots to end the game. Jason Terry, who had six of his 13 points in the final quarter, ended the Celtics scoreless streak with a jumper and said Monday night was a position many of the players in the Boston locker room dont mind being in.

We're a veteran ball club and we thrive in situations where it's a tight ball game, he said. We've all been in that situation plenty of times. We know what we have to do to close games out. On one end it's get stops defensively, and offensively make or miss the shot that we want and we were able to do that.

Fourth quarter is my time of the game, and I'm just happy to be out there with players that feel the same way, Terry added. So it gives us multiple options.

The Celtics entered the fourth quarter with momentum, following a Jared Sullinger 3-pointer to beat the buzzer at the end of the third. It gave Boston an 82-70 lead, and Paul Pierce said he thought the Celtics could have pulled away with a good start to the quarter.

I thought a few times, when we were up 12, 14 points we had a chance to push the game to 20 but we didn't, Pierce said. That just shows you that they're a resilient team, well-coached, and they have players that are more than capable.

The Celtics didn't pull away, following the stagnant offensive stretch, but Kevin Garnett, who scored six in the fourth quarter, was happy with how the Celtics moved the ball late against to get the offense back in rhythm. Boston assisted on each of their final five baskets.

I thought we did a good job of moving the ball tonight, Garnett said. Against a great defense you have to do that, and I thought we shared the wealth tonight.

Rajon Rondo had four assists in the quarter, including three in the final two minutes to keep his streak of games with 10 assists or more alive at 31, and efforts from a clutch Terry late and even Chris Wilcox, who added two crucial free throws in the final minutes, drew praise from head coach Doc Rivers.

Overall I just told them I thought it was a good team win, Rivers said. I thought every single guy did something, from Jared's 3 to Chris Wilcox's 3-point play and Jason Terry comes off the bench when they're making a run.

It was just a lot of great efforts tonight.

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?

Three questions for Bears pass rush: What is Leonard Floyd's ceiling?


Pre-camp depth chart

1. Leonard Floyd
2. Isaiah Irving
3. Kylie Fitts
4. Elijah Norris
5. Josh Woods

1. Sam Acho
2. Aaron Lynch
3. Kasim Edebali
4. Andrew Trumbetti

1. What is Leonard Floyd’s ceiling?

Floyd’s career to this point has been limited by injuries, but in the 22 games in which he’s played he’s only averaged one sack every 97 snaps. That’s essentially what Pernell McPhee provided last year (one sack ever 96 snaps), for comparison’s sake. The point being: Not only do we not know if Floyd can stay healthy for a full year, we might not know if he can live up to the expectations for a top-10-picked pass rusher.

Coaches and Floyd felt like they fixed the reason for Floyd’s concussion issues from his rookie year, which they believed was the product of poor tackling form. Floyd’s season-ending knee injury last year was a freak, unavoidable one, to be fair — but he’s still missed a total of 10 games in his two-year career.

The Bears haven’t lost confidence in Floyd’s potential, though — if that were the case, Ryan Pace likely would’ve added more to his team’s outside linebacking corps. In the short term, Floyd is a key player to watch in Bourbonnais — impactful practices are important for building up his mental confidence in his knee. In the long term, the Bears’ bet on Floyd needs to pay off, otherwise this pass rush may not be good enough in a quarterback-centric division.

2. Can Aaron Lynch be a diamond in the rough?

Lynch had a productive rookie year under Vic Fangio in 2014, recording six sacks and looking like a nice fifth-round find for the San Francisco 49ers. After Fangio was passed over for the 49ers’ head coaching job and left for the Bears, Lynch still notched 6 1/2 sacks in 2015.

But he only appeared in 14 games in 2016 and 2017 due to conditioning and injury issues, as well as a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on substances of abuse. When Lynch did play, he wasn’t effective, with only 2 1/2 sacks in those 14 games covering 379 snaps.

So that’s why Lynch signed for only one year and $4 million, with only $1.25 million of his salary guaranteed, according to Spotrac. The Bears hope a fresh start and reunion with Fangio will benefit Lynch, but the prove-it nature of his contract doesn’t guarantee him anything more than a chance.

“It’s exciting getting back with Vic, you know, he drafted me,” Lynch said. “I know his defense. So being it's something I'm used to and the fresh start like I mean, I've had my ups and downs in this league and it's just nice to come here to people with open arms that believe in me so now I've just got to come here and play football so it feels amazing.”

Getting six or so sacks out of Lynch would be huge for the Bears’ defense, but those efforts begin with the 25-year-old staying healthy. That Lynch suffered hamstring and ankle injuries during the offseason program was a little concerning, even if they weren’t characterized as anything but minor knocks.

3. What are fair expectations for Kylie Fitts?

The 6-foot-4, 265 pound Fitts is an intriguing prospect in that he tested well at the NFL Combine and, before injuries limited his junior and senior years, posted an eye-popping 2015 (seven TFLs, seven sacks, 10 pass break-ups, four forced fumbles). Fitts doesn’t believe the injuries he suffered at Utah (Lisfranc/foot, ankle sprain, shoulder sprain) will linger or pop back up in his pro career, though.

“I think I got all my injuries over with,” Fitts said. “I think it’s just a run of bad luck and it’s over now. I’m healthy, feeling good now, and I’m banking on remaining healthy and playing good.”

Still, every team in the NFL passed on Fitts until the Bears used the 181st pick to draft him in April. That doesn’t mean he won’t have success — Jordan Howard was the 150th pick in the 2016 draft, after all — but he’ll head to Bourbonnais with plenty of work to do to earn a role in Fangio’s defense. The Bears’ outside linebacking depth chart may not look strong, but that doesn’t mean Fitts will waltz into a prominent role. What he does in practices and preseason games will go a long way toward determining his outlook for 2018.

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

Bears' pass rush is one of NFL's worst, says PFF

The Chicago Bears play in a division with Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford, so it's pretty obvious that a key to this season will be the defense's pass rush.

Unfortunately, getting after the quarterback doesn't appear to be a strength of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio's unit. According to Pro Football Focus, the Bears have one of the worst group of pass rushers in the NFL.

Right now, expectations for what the Bears can expect off the edge pass-rush wise should be very low. Injuries have slowed Floyd’s development after he was drafted with the ninth overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, leading to just 72 total pressures through three seasons. Starting opposite him will likely be Acho, with Lynch in on nickel pass-rushing packages. Lynch has averaged four sacks, and just over six hits and 21 hurries per season in his four-year career. The Bears top pass-rusher right now is Hicks on the defensive interior, and after producing 49 total pressures in 2017, he will likely need to be their top pass-rusher again in 2018.

If Sam Acho ends up starting opposite Leonard Floyd, then Aaron Lynch will go down as a free-agent bust. He was signed to start, not to be a rotational pass rusher. In fact, it's Acho who's better equipped to rotate into the lineup and provide a burst of energy when needed. 

Sixth-round pick Kylie Fitts is another candidate to bring pressure off the edge for the Bears, but he too is a great unknown. His college resume is littered with injuries and more potential than production. Chicago is high on him, however, and he could be another day-three steal to add to Ryan Pace's draft catalog.

Ultimately, the Bears' pass rush will come down to Floyd and whether he can become the elite sack artist he was drafted to be. In fact, he's entering something of a make-or-break year. If he doesn't prove he can stay healthy enough to register 10 or more sacks this season, Chicago may have to re-think its plan at edge rusher.