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Monday, December 31, 2007

California Love

California specifically Los Angeles is a very unique place. It's filled with fake boobs and utterly fake people. Even the Lakers towel boy wears a head band. Get a life buddy, nevertheless everybody believes they're somebody in LA.

In the ultimate sign of substance winning over style, the Celtics took care of the Lakers for the second and final time this season, 111-91.

With numerous celebrities and pseudo-celebs sitting courtside, the Lakers (19-11) made the interesting decision to not only wear the throwback jerseys but also rock the 80's short shorts. Really, it happened in a 2007 NBA game.

A bizarre idea, quickly looked stupid as the Celtics proved to be the far superior team led by Paul Pierce (game-high 33 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists), Kevin Garnett (22 points, 12 boards, 6 assists, 3 blocks, 2 steals) and Ray Allen (19 points, 6 rebounds).

The unlikely hero for the C's (26-3) was Tony Allen, who started in place of Rajon Rondo (hamstring). Tony has looked terrible since he came back from that knee injury but last night was his reemergence as he submitted 16 points and four assists from the point guard position. He even dunked after a foul call (although it didn't count). Something he seemingly hadn't been able to do until then. James Posey had eight points and eight rebounds while Kendrick Perkins had seven points and seven boards.

For once, the crowd in LA was there before the tip-off, giving this a playoff-like atmosphere. Both teams came out hard with chippy play evident all night. However, only Boston could focus and execute through all of the Lakers talking and cheap plays.

Kobe Bryant was off all night, going 6 for 25 from the floor but making 10 of 11 free throws for 22 points. Lamar Odom had 14 points and 10 rebounds but he wasn't much of a factor besides his ridiculous play late in the game. For the second time this season against Boston, Lakers center Andrew Bynum was completely shut down. He had only eight points and two boards before he fouled out.

Boston outscored LA, 32-23 in the first quarter then the Lakers got one more than the C's in the second, making it 53-45 at the half. Late in the first half, Garnett's face was bloodied as he got elbowed by Bynum down low and somehow KG was called for a foul. Garnett went back to the locker room, got two stitches and a bandage and soon returned without skipping a beat. The guy is an animal.

The Lakers changed into their regular shorts at the break but that didn't seemed to change anything, they're still not quite ready for prime time.

Playing in his hometown where he always plays great, Pierce did not disappointment as he went on a 10-0 run in the third quarter, effectively putting the game out of reach. After nailing a three-ball, he was blowing his fingers (like guns) while he jogged down court. Only in Los Angeles.

Things got crazy in the fourth quarter as the Boston lead got up to as much as 25 points. Most "fans" left before seeing something straight out of the old Lakers-Celtics rivalry. After Garnett blocked a Odom shot late in the fourth quarter (when he could be heard yelling "get that shit outta here!"), Odom responded by tackling Ray Allen into the Celtics bench. Lamar was assessed a flagrant foul and he'll likely get fined and/or suspended by the league. It was a complete bush league play.

The Celtics shot 46.3% from the floor and held the Lakers to 35.4%. Boston also grabbed eight more boards (49-41) and had five more steals (11-6).

There were six technicals in the game, three on the Lakers (Trevor Ariza, Kwame Brown and Kobe) and three on the C's (KG, Perkins and Doc Rivers). Ariza baited KG in the first half while Perkins got a dumb technical for staring down the Lakers after he dunked. Kwame, Kobe and Doc all got theirs from talking back to the refs.

So there you go. The first West Coast trip of the season and the Celtics passed it with flying colors (4-0). They come back home and next play the Rockets on Wednesday. Houston has been up and down but with Yao and T-Mac (who's been out lately), they certainly present a challenge. Happy New Year to the best team in the NBA, the Boston Celtics.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sorry Mormons

Full disclosure: since a certain football team was trying to go 16-0 last night, I didn't see much of the Celtics game at the Jazz. I flipped back and forth a couple times during commercials and it seemed like an exciting contest but I couldn't focus on it for very long. Turns out, Boston (25-3) came away from Salt Lake City with a 104-98 win over the Jazz.

Paul Pierce somehow was scoreless in the first half but woke up in time in the second half, scoring a game-high 24 points to go along with six rebounds, four assists and two steals. Ray Allen was another standout, scoring 23 points with four boards and three assists. KG had 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists while Kendrick Perkins (11 points, 9 rebounds) and Tony Allen (10 points) were the other double-figure scorers. Eddie House had nine points off the bench and Rajon Rondo had seven points, seven assists, three steals and three boards.

Utah (16-16) led 56-49 at the half but only by two heading into the fourth. As expected Deron Williams (22 points, 11 assists but 7 turnovers) dominated Rondo. The guy is a beast, easily one of the best point guards in the game. Meanwhile, the Jazz had five other guys in double figures: Carlos Boozer (19 points, 11 rebounds), Mehmet Okur (14 points), C.J. Miles (11), Matt Harpring (11) and Paul Millsap (10). Andrei Kirilenko didn't play, he was out with a strained bicep, possibly caused when he was applying his hair gel, who knows?

Utah shot 54.8% from the field but the Celtics survived a 46.3% shooting night by making more threes (10-5) and more free throws (10-5). They also owned the boards, 41-30.

Tonight is the last game of their four game West trip. Going 3-1 would be perfectly acceptable but at this point, you want 4-0. It won't be easy as the Lakers have been playing great basketball lately. Andrew Bynum is quickly becoming a star and Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player on the planet, no question. It should all make for an awesome atmosphere as this used to be the biggest rivalry in the NBA. Expect the usual celebrity-infested crowd in Los Angeles to be filled with even more A-listers than usual. Maybe they'll be filming a scene for Entourage with a cameo by Brian Scalabrine?

Straight Cash Homey: 16-0

The 2007-2008 Patriots further cemented their place in history last night as they completed the first ever 16-0 regular season with a 38-35 comeback win over the New York Giants.

The win was made even more special given the circumstances: all the records broken and the fact that they took place in a tight contest rather than a blowout filled with both teams backups.

In a game that meant nothing to the Giants (10-6), New York chose to play the starters all game and as a result, they almost pulled off one of the great upsets in NFL history. With Eli Manning at the helm however, one had to feel like that was quite unlikely. After playing the first half of his life, Eli made a couple of his now routine blunders (a long sack and bad pick) in the second half to ensure that nobody would remember this edition of the Giants in the future.

In the process of going 16-0 last night at the Meadowlands, the Pats set the three biggest records in the NFL (the perfect record obviously trumping everything): Tom Brady threw two touchdown passes to go to 50 on the season, one more than Peyton Manning. Randy Moss caught both touchdowns, giving him 23 on the year and also putting him one ahead of the great Jerry Rice. As a team the Patriots also set the scoring record for a season since all they needed was six points to top the '98 Minnesota Vikings.

From the opening kickoff, the Giants showed that they weren't going to be pushed around in a game in which nobody gave them a chance. They were just the second team all season (Pittsburgh) to score on the first drive against New England and first to make it a touchdown as Eli found Brandon Jacobs on a 7-yard pass for a score. The big play of the drive was a 52-yard bomb from Manning to Plaxico Burress who was "covered" by the Patriots single weakest link, cornerback Ellis Hobbs.

New England moved the ball on their first possession but were forced to settle for a 37-yard field goal by Stephen Gostowski. It was 7-3 Giants after the first quarter.

The touchdown passes and catches record were tied with the first play of the second quarter as Brady found Moss on a 4-yard pass. Moss got a taunting penalty after the score which was key as the Pats had to then kickoff from their own 15-yard line.

Wouldn't you know the Giants returned that kick for a touchdown. Domenik Hixon (most famous for temporarily paralyzing the Bills Kevin Everett) took it 74-yards to the house.

New England started to get stops on defense but could only cash them in for three points, on 45-yard and 37-yard kicks. Any thoughts of the Pats going into halftime with the lead were erased when Manning found rookie tight end Kevin Boss on a 3-yard toss just before the break. 21-16 G-Men at halftime. It was the second time all season (Indy) that New England trailed at the half.

New York scored first in the second half as Manning found Burress with a nice 19-yard pass. The 12-point deficit was the largest New England had faced all season.

The Pats chipped away, getting seven points back on a 6-yard run by Laurence Maroney (19 carries, 46 yards).

That started a run of 22 straight points for New England as Brady fittingly found Moss on a 65-yard touchdown in the start of the fourth quarter. Amazingly enough, the score came one play after Moss had dropped a big gain (it was underthrown but you never see him do that). What a way for him and Brady to shatter their respective records.

The crowd that had been so fired up all game, suddenly realized the window was closing, the Patriots weren't letting this one get away. Manning obliged New England by throwing an interception to Hobbs (his first of the season). Maroney scored from five yards out on the ensuing drive and 16-0 was firmly in their grasp.

Burress added another touchdown, from three yards out but Mike Vrabel snared the onside kick and with that, the Patriots were perfect.

Wes Welker had a huge game (11 catches, 122 yards) and he also broke Troy Brown's team record for catches in a season. Another unsung hero was Kevin Faulk (8 catches, 64 yards) who made two clutch first downs in the second half for the Pats, plays which he has been making his whole career in New England. Brady finished 32 of 42 for 356 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the NE single-season passing record as well.

Who would have expected that type of performance from Eli (22 of 32, 251 yards, 4 touchdowns, 1 INT)? I wouldn't say it's anything but a fluke until he proves me wrong by doing it next week against the Bucs in the playoffs. Jacobs had some good runs (15 carries, 67 yards) and Burress (4 catches, 84 yards) was great when they called his number.

The Patriots have the top seed in the AFC playoffs and home-field throughout. All they have to do is win three games in five weeks, to go 19-0 and truly be hailed as the greatest NFL team of all-time. There's plenty of things to sure up (the passing defense and special teams foremost) but for now, they have a few days to sit back and enjoy the unbelievable season they've already had.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Most Meaningless Streak in College Football Continues

With a 24-21 win over Michigan State yesterday in the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, FL, Boston College has now won eight bowl games in a row, the longest streak in the country. That streak much like BC football is a joke.

When you look a little closer at the eight bowls, you'll realize there weren't any BCS games and none fell on New Years Day or later. In other words, the Eagles (11-3) have been beating up on garbage teams exactly like Michigan State (7-6) for the last eight seasons.

The Spartans had five players suspended going into the game and it's not like they were LSU to begin with. Michigan State was 3-5 in the Big Ten this season which tied them with three other pathetic teams (Purdue, Indiana, Northwestern) at the bottom, only ahead of winless Minnesota (1-11, 0-8). But I digress.

This game played out pretty much exactly as you'd expect. It was mostly a slop-fest as both teams hadn't played since Nov. 17 (MSU against Penn State) and Dec. 1 (BC against V-Tech in the ACC Championship) respectively. It goes against all reason that almost any bowl will be exciting after teams sit for so long after the season, making the play more choppy and players more susceptible to injuries.

Michigan State went up 7-0 early but BC answered with a touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to backup tight end Jon Loyte. Another Ryan TD pass-to WR Rich Gunnell-in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 14-10 halftime advantage.

The teams traded field goals in the third quarter and then fittingly the fourth quarter was the most exciting as BC seemed to put the game away before Michigan State came back but ultimately choked. Gunnell (6 catches, 138 yards) hauled in another TD pass (this one 68-yards) putting the Eagles up 24-13.

Michigan State scored on a ridiculous rollout, a 14-yard pass from QB Brian Hoyer to receiver Deon Curry. Hoyer hit tight end Kellen Davis for the two-point conversion and Sparty was in business, down only three with plenty of time and all the momentum on their side.

Their defense got the ball back but Hoyer had one last mistake in a game that was filled with them. He forced a ball down the sideline that was picked off by BC safety Paul Anderson. Game over, your 2007 Champs Sports Bowl Champions, the Boston College Eagles!

BC was led by their two best players, seniors who were playing in their last games for the Eagles. Ryan was 22 of 47 for 249 yards for three touchdowns and one interception. Strong Safety Jamie Silva had eight tackles and two picks, both in the first half, to earn the game MVP honors.

Hoyer was a horrid 14 of 36 for 131 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Michigan State had 13 turnovers all season yet had five yesterday.

Let's never speak of BC football, this terrible bowl game or the stupid streak until next September. Deal?

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Celtics Equal their Win Total from Last Season

The Boston Celtics utterly forgettable past (Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak) and glorious present (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen) were both on display last night in Seattle and after the Celtics beat the Supersonics, 104-96, it was clear that fortune was clearly on the Boston's side last June when they didn't get the No. 1 or No. 2 pick.

Kevin Durant will be a star in the NBA, the same is probably true with Greg Oden once he comes back next year healthy. However, getting one of those guys wouldn't have changed much around here for the next couple seasons. It was a blessing in disguise for the C's to get the No. 5 pick which they promptly traded to Seattle with Wally and D-West for Allen and Glen Davis. That move was trumped by the monster move to get Garnett from the Timberwolves.

Did I think the Celtics would be good? Certainly. But this much, so soon? Who could have dreamed of a 24-3 start. Granted it's been somewhat deceiving given the cake schedule but when you talk about the best teams in the league at this instant, Boston has to be on the short list.

In Allen's big return to Seattle, he struggled. He shot only 4 of 13 for 10 points. He was forcing shots left and right, something that he's never prone to do. It didn't matter since Paul Pierce went off with a game-high (and season-high) 37 points, six rebounds and four assists while KG had 23 points, 14 boards, two assists, two blocks and two steals. Kendrick Perkins had eight points and eight rebounds while Eddie House (13 points) and James Posey (10 points) provided timely hoops and defense off the bench. House hit a couple of long twos including one where he got fouled that was straight out of a video game.

In a TNT contest, Rajon Rondo was invisible (1 point, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) prompting the national commentators who haven't seen him that much this season to rip him. What do you expect? It's his second year and he can't put up 15+ points every night.

Durant led the Sonics (8-21) with 25 points and five boards and Chris Wilcox had 13 points and eight rebounds. Off the bench, D-West (19 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds) and Wally (14 points) played inspired ball. They obviously wanted to beat their old team. Watching Delonte fearlessly drive to the hoop and hit shot-clock beating shots, I was quickly reminded how fun he was to watch the last few seasons. He's a guy that is always giving his team everything he's got-which is sadly why he's usually battling injuries-and he could be valuable on the C's this year. Unfortunately, you gotta give up something (Al Jefferson?) to get something.

Boston shot 39.5% for the game while Seattle was 45.7%. The reason that the Celtics could have such an off-shooting night and bad performance on the glass (Seattle had 50 rebounds to Boston's 42) was solely because they had four turnovers. Four. That's unbelievable in an NBA game. They had one in the first half. Boston also was 27 of 36 at the line while Seattle was 18 of 23. It was an uneven performance from the C's but enough to beat the Sonics, one of the worst teams in the league.

Playing the second night of back to back games, Boston looked tired so they'll need today to rest before their game in Utah tomorrow night. The Jazz have played terribly lately but with Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Andrei Kirolenko among others, Utah is a formidable opponent which should make for an exciting game to flip to during the Pats-Giants game Saturday night.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Tale of Two Quarters

Let's face facts people, the Sacramento Kings (without Kevin Martin or Mike Bibby) could play the Boston Celtics 100 times this season and they might lose 99 of them.

Without those two guys, Boston just has way too much talent for the Kings. This was illustrated by last night's ugly 89-69 win by the Celtics in Sacramento. The C's only had to play two good quarters (the second quarter was exceptional) to beat the Kings by 20.

The win was Boston's first in over 11 years in Sac-town and also a great way to kick off its four games in five nights West Coast trip.

Both teams struggled to find the basket in the first quarter as the Celts held a tight 18-16 lead after one. In the second quarter, the theme of crazy runs began. Boston had an 11-0 spurt to start the quarter and eventually found themselves in the midst of a 33-5 run before halftime. As a reward, Boston (23-3) carried its largest lead of the season-24-into the half (53-29).

Roles reversed in the third quarter as the Kings kept scoring and Boston couldn't buy a bucket. The Kings (11-16) valiantly cut it to five early in the fourth but it takes way too much energy to come back from a hole that big. NBA announcers like to say ad nauseum that in the NBA everybody makes a run but you have to admit it's true. Of course it also helps when you're up as much as Boston was, therefore you can play like garbage for a quarter and change and still roll.

Ray Allen led the way for Boston with 17 points, three steals and three rebounds. Paul Pierce added 16 points, six assists and four rebounds while Kevin Garnett (14 points, 10 boards), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 4 boards, 4 steals, 3 assists) and James Posey (11 points, 6 rebounds) all played well at times. Eddie House notched nine points off the bench.

Three-pointers were one of the main reasons for the big margin of victory since the Celtics hit 11 of 22 while the Kings mustered 2 of 15. The Celts only shot 40.8% overall but they held the Kings to their lowest point total of the season, as they were 38.2%. The Celts continued to exhibit many staples of winning teams-outrebounding Sacramento 45-36- and sharing the basketball-19 assists.

Ron Artest was the high-scorer for the Kings with 15 points while John Salmons (13) and Francisco Garcia (12) were the only other players in double figures. Brad Miller had seven points and 11 rebounds as he's quickly fallen off the NBA map.

Tonight Ray Allen returns to Seattle as the Celtics take on the Sonics, in a 10:30 game on TNT. It should be an emotional night for Sugar Ray as he returns to the team where he became a star, albeit in anonymity. It'll be strange to see Wally and Delonte West in Seattle uniforms since they were big parts of the disaster that was the Celtics the last few seasons.

The Sonics are extremely young and they give up 105 points a game so look for the Celtics to put up a three digit number and coast to a win.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Santa Claus came early this year for Rajon Rondo

How good is Rajon Rondo? I'd say that Celtics GM Danny Ainge knew this all along when he drafted Rondo two years ago out of Kentucky and watched him struggle through a terrible Celtics season last year but come on. Ainge has to be as surprised as the rest of us. Last night at the Garden, Rondo and the Big Three all scored 21+ points as the Celtics (22-3) exacted revenge on the Orlando Magic, 103-91.

Rondo put an exclamation point on the end of the first half as he swished his first three-pointer of the season, giving the Celtics a 49-42 lead that they would extend to 19 and never relinquish in the second half.

Rajon added another three-ball in the third quarter, on his way to 23 points, six assists, four rebounds and four steals. Most impressive these days is his shooting. He went 8 of 11 from the floor and 5 of 6 at the line. Center Kendrick Perkins will clearly never be anything special (which is OK) but Rondo really could be something, you don't have to be a bat-shit crazy homer like Tommy Heinsohn to say that. There's options outside of the Big Three, who knew?

Paul Pierce continued his recent strong play as he submitted a game-high 24 points and six assists. Ray Allen similarly has looked great since he came back, he had 22 points and four assists. Kevin Garnett had 21 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Perk even had a respectable six points and 12 boards.

The Magic (18-11) got a strong game from Dwight Howard (23 points, 14 rebounds) but somebody has to teach the kid how to shoot free throws. Then again, he might suffer from the Shaq-syndrome of having hands that are too big to shoot free throws. Howard was a brutal 5 of 16 from the line. He's a force around the basket but if it's a close game, late in the fourth quarter, smart teams will foul him every time. Hedo Turkoglu (19 points) and Rashard Lewis (15 points) scored but are not anywhere near the level of Pierce, Allen and KG.

Boston shot 52.1% from the field and 19 of 24 from the line. Almost a third into the season, the Eastern Conference is clearly Boston, Detroit and everybody else. The C's get the next few days off for the holidays then travel to Sacramento for a four game in five nights West Coast trip. Boston faces the Kings, Sonics, Jazz and then Lakers. Nothing less than a 2-2 trip will be acceptable. The Jazz and Lakers will be tough on the road but the Celtics could beat anybody right now with the way they're playing.

Happy Holidays Big Three, Celtics fans have many things to be thankful for this season.

Merry Christmas to the first NFL team to start 15-0 in the regular season

Another week, another win for the New England Patriots. This one had some historical significance too as the the Pats are now the first NFL team to start a regular season 15-0. This one was never much of a game as the visiting Dolphins (1-14)-the league's worst team-found themselves down 28-0 at the half.

For the first half at least, Tom Brady (18 of 33, 215 yards, 3 TD's, 2 INT's) and Randy Moss (5 catches, 50 yards, 2 TD's) both looked poised to break some lofty records (touchdown passes for a season and touchdown catches for a season respectively). New England forced a Dolphins three-and-out on its first drive before Brady found Moss for an 11-yard touchdown pass. Then early in the second quarter, after a Laurence Maroney 51-yard rush, Brady hit Moss with a one-yard slant to put the Patriots up 14-0.

Things went from bad to worse for Miami as they couldn't get any first downs and on the next Pats possession, Maroney went untouched for a 59-yard rushing score. It was third-and-1 and Miami gambled that the Pats would run. They guessed right but the Pats jumbo set blew up any Dolphins trying to tackle Maroney, who had nobody within 20 yards of him (besides the ref) as he eased into the end zone.

Maroney had his second straight 100-yard game, third of the season and fourth of his career. He carried the ball 14 times for a career-high 156 yards. He's gaining plenty of momentum as the Pats go into January, when they'll undoubtedly rely on him more than they have so far this season.

Patriots icon Troy Brown saw his first action of the season as he returned six punts for 55 yards including a 28-yard return in the fourth quarter. Brown received a memorable standing ovation before his first punt return but also had a lowlight of having a punt hit him right off the facemask for a fumble which Miami recovered. No worries though as the hapless Dolphins couldn't do anything with the short field.

The final score for the Pats in the game was the craziest. Brady found Jabar Gaffney (5 catches, 82 yards) for a 48-yard touchdown pass after Miami safety Lance Schulters somehow had the sure-pick go right through his hands and into Gaffney's. It's been that type of season for the Dolphins.

Typifying that even more was when Miami quarterback Cleo Lemon went out of bounds right before the goalline on fourth and goal at the end of the first half. All he had to do was dive into the end zone but instead he tip-toed out just before the line.

The second half was basically extended garbage time as the Patriots tried to get Brady and Moss their records before the home crowd but it was not to be. Brady was intercepted twice as he forced the ball downfield a couple times (something that you never see from him). The Dolphins finally scored a touchdown but Lemon was sacked seven times for the game by the relentless Patriots defensive line.

New England had another goalline stand as Tedy Bruschi broke up the fourth down pass.

The Patriots set the record for touchdowns in a season (71) with the win. They also tied their own record from '03-'04, having now won 18 regular-season games in a row. They finished undefeated (6-0) in the AFC East for the first time and set the franchise mark for total net yards in a season (6190). They also set the team record for first downs in a season-366-while Wes Welker (5 catches, 49 yards) tied Brown's single season record for catches (101) and Mike Vrabel's two sacks helped him reach 11.5 for the season, the most for a Patriot since Andre Tippett in 1987.

Their final regular season game is next Saturday night at the Meadowlands against the Giants (10-5). The G-Men clinched their playoff spot so they really won't have much to play for besides trying to keep New England out of the record books even more. The Patriots on the other hand, have three huge records to try and achieve: the first 16-0 season, Brady's touchdown record (he has 47, he needs two to break it) and Moss's touchdown record (he has 21, he needs two to break it).

Getting a perfect 16-0 season would be amazing and that is the focus for the next week but as soon as that game's over, the Patriots will start thinking about the bigger task: going 19-0 and taking home another Super Bowl. Let's face it, 16-0 would be awesome but anything less than a Super Bowl this season will be seen as a disappointment, that's how ridiculous the Patriots have made their own standards.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Remember when the Bulls looked like an Eastern Conference power?

After the tough loss to the Pistons on Wednesday, some might worry the Celtics would go into a tailspin after not losing much so far this season. That shaky assumption was proven to be completely invalid as the Celts crushed the Bulls, 107-82 last night at the Garden.

Boston (21-3) used defense and balanced scoring-two hallmarks of this team-to put away the woeful Bulls (9-15). Six C's scored at least 11 points led by Paul Pierce (22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists) and Ray Allen (18 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists) while Kevin Garnett (7 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals), Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen (5 rebounds, 3 steals) had 12 points apiece.

James Posey scored all 11 of his points in the first half as the Celtics jumped out to a 56-41 halftime lead and coasted to the comfortable win, giving the big three plenty of rest in the second half.

What is up with Chicago? They have so much young talent (Luol Deng, Kurt Hinrich, Ben Gordon) and this year was supposed to be another step in becoming contenders but thus far they've been pathetic. Their biggest weakness is the lack of an inside scoring option. Ben Wallace and Joe Smith are hopeless and the fact that rookie center Aaron Gray (14 points, 6 rebounds) has been getting quality minutes lately and producing tells you all you need to know about the current Bulls.

Gordon had a team-high 19 points and Chris Duhon was the only other Bull in double figures with 10 points. Chicago shot a meager 35.5% from the floor, 4-11 for three-pointers and 15-26 from the line. Boston shot 44.3% from the field, made 12 of 26 threes and 33-42 from the line.

Besides getting to the line, another great trend for the Celtics is their infectious habit of sharing the ball. They recorded a whopping 25 assists on 31 baskets.

The Magic come to Boston tomorrow night in a rematch of the Celtic's first loss of the season. After starting the season on fire, Orlando has quickly come back to earth as they've been exposed for what they are: a team with one outstanding player (Dwight Howard) and a bunch of role players. The Magic don't have the type of depth to make noise in the playoffs. Giving all that money to Rashard Lewis was a joke and Jameer Nelson while a nice player will never be a star in the NBA.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Chauncey Ba-Ba-Ba-Billups

The Detroit Pistons have been to five straight Eastern Conference Finals. During that impressive run, they've taken home an NBA Championship and lost in another Final. With most of that same championship nucleus (Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince) back, the Pistons are still the team to beat in the East. The Celtics have gotten off to an amazing start (20-2) but as last night showed, they're not the Pistons. Not yet at least. Detroit won 87-85 at the Garden as Billups drained two free throws with 0.1 seconds left to ice it.

The loss snaps Boston's (20-3) nine game winning streak while also handing them their first defeat at home (12-1). It was a classic back and forth contest that resembled a playoff game even though it was mid-December. The Celtics jumped out to a 29-25 lead after one and a 52-45 advantage at the half. In the process, Celts second-year point guard Rajon Rondo played the half of his early NBA life. He had 14 points in the first half, including a sick ball-fake and hook shot around Rasheed Wallace and he also made an impossible off-balance layup while getting fouled. Predictably, he was completely shut down in the second half as he picked up five fouls and finished with 14 points, seven assists, three rebounds and three steals.

Boston's shots weren't falling in the third quarter (13 points) and some costly turnovers killed them in the final frame. Meanwhile, Billups (game-high 28 points, 8 assists) and Hamilton (21 points) were seemingly draining every shot. They couldn't miss. Antonio McDyess had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

On the other side, Kevin Garnett played one of his best games as a Celtic, submitting 26 points, 12 rebounds and 2 steals. He was consistently knocking down jumpers while teammate Ray Allen (fresh off sitting the last two games) had his most complete game of the year. Allen has made two game-winning shots but last night he was locked in as he had 24 points (on 9 of 13 shooting) and five boards.

The Celts found themselves down 78-71 after Pistons guard Lindsey Hunter made a three. Ray Allen had the highlight of the game as he drove to the hoop and threw down a reverse jam, something that nobody in the building expected (or would have believed). Soon after, Boston came back as Eddie House made a three to cut it to a three point deficit. After a Kendrick Perkins block, Allen calmly drained a three-pointer around two guys to tie it up. Billups had the ball stolen away by KG and it looked like Boston would have the last shot, the worst case scenario being that they miss and go to overtime.

The first mistake was that Paul Pierce got the last shot. Pierce struggled shooting all night (11 points on 5 of 16 shooting, 4 boards, 4 assists, 2 steals) and he bricked a medium range jumper. Even worse, Wallace controlled the rebound and Detroit had the ball with 1.7 seconds left after a timeout.

Everybody in the building (myself included) and watching on TV knew it was going to Billups and he didn't disappoint as he pump-faked Tony Allen and Allen couldn't help but crash into him. Chauncey is only a 90% career FT shooter so this one was over.

For the game, Boston shot an impressive 49.3% from the floor to the Pistons 40.3%. The C's couldn't buy threes though as they shot just 4 of 14 from beyond the arc. Detroit was 9 of 20 for three. The Pistons were 20-23 from the line while Boston struggled, shooting 13-21 as a team. Detroit's bench outscored Boston 14-5. Celtics super subs Eddie House (5 points) and James Posey (0 points) each had their worst games in recent memory.

All in all it was a real exciting game that was hopefully a precursor of things to come in May (albeit with a different ending). The Pistons are still ridiculously efficient and calm under pressure. As proof of that, their head coach is bozo Flip Saunders. Even he couldn't mess this team up. The Celtics can only gain from a big game like this. Too many times already this season, they've simply overmatched scrub Eastern Conference and a few terrible Western Conference teams. You can only get better after facing a team like Detroit.

The Bulls come to Boston tomorrow night and who knows what to expect from them. Chicago is a talented team but they rarely have seemed to show up this year. The C's beat them a few weeks back in Chi-town.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Winter Weather in New England, the Great Equalizer

After a substantial snow storm on Thursday, New England was hit hard yesterday with a wintry mix of snow, rain and extreme wind. Of course, it all happened during the Patriots-Jets game at Gillette as the storm system seemed to center around the stadium. Pregame talk of how much the Pats were going to beat the Jets by looked silly as the terrible conditions rendered this a survival game. The Pats (14-0) did enough to win, 20-10, and are now just the second team in NFL history (you know the other) to start 14-0.

New England punted on its first possession but backed the Jets up against their goal-line as special-teamers Kelley Washington and Willie Andrews downed the ball at the 3-yard line. Two plays into the drive, Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour broke free and planted Jets QB Kellen Clemens just when he let go of the ball. The pass was a duck and Pats safety Eugene Wilson came off local milk cartons and made the easiest 5-yard interception return for a touchdown that you'll ever see. Wilson became the 21st different Patriot to score a TD this year, tying the '87 Rams and '00 Broncos for the record.

With the intense wind and slippery conditions, it was clear from the start that the Pats vaunted passing attack would be subdued. A good result of this was that the running game was finally a factor. Running back Laurence Maroney had a career-high 26 carries for 104 yards and a touchdown. It was enough to offset Tom Brady's (14 of 27, 140 yards, 1 INT) worst game of the year.

It will sound arrogant (which it probably is) but you just had the feeling, even when the Jets were down by a single score in the fourth quarter that they just had no chance to win. The elements helped them hang around but ultimately, they have way too many bums to take out the Patriots this season. Whipping boy Chad Pennington played most of the game for the Jets and actually was pretty decent (25 of 38, 186 yards). If you thought he had a rag arm before, you should have seen him dink and dunk yesterday. It was amazing the ball even made it the requisite five yards on his normal patterns. The guy is a joke. Even more hilarious, the Jets used Brad Smith (an option QB at Missouri) at quarterback to give the Patriots a different look. It worked the first time as Jets running back Leon Washington took an option pitch 49-yards but after that it was a lame gimmick used by a desperate coach.

After a Stephen Gostowski 26-yard field goal put the Patriots up 10-0 early in the second, two bizarre plays happened less than seven minutes apart that you'll probably never see back-to-back again in an NFL game. First the Jets blocked a Chris Hanson punt and David Bowens returned it 26-yards for a score. On the ensuing Jets drive, after stalling near their end zone, Washington came around the corner and blocked the Jets punt, giving the Pats the ball at the Jets 3. Maroney slammed it in from a yard out to give the Patriots a 17-7 lead at the half.

Other than the running game, the other biggest positive for New England to take from this game was that their red zone defense was spectacular. The Jets had four trips inside the Pats 20 and came away with three total points. A missed field goal, turnover on downs and forced fumble were the costly mistakes.

Linebacker Adalius Thomas has been justifiably criticized much of this season since he's disappeared in most games. Yesterday, however was his best game of the year by far. He had nine tackles, 1.5 sacks and he forced the fumble (which was recovered by Wilson). Fellow linebacker Junior Seau was also great with nine tackles and two sacks. Does any defensive player in the league celebrate more than him?

The scoring in the second half was limited to a field goal for each team in the fourth quarter. The Jets appeared to have a touchdown with 2:30 left in the fourth but Justin McCareins was ruled to be juggling the ball when he caught it in the back of the end zone. True to form of a bad team, the Jets missed the field goal try after that and the game was effectively over.

Moss had five catches for 79 yards while Wes Welker was held in check with three catches for 30 yards. Welker did go over 1000 yards for the season though as he and Moss are the first Patriots duo since Stanley Morgan and Harold Jackson (in 1979) and only the second in history to accomplish that feat. Brady also surpassed his career-high for passing yards as he now has 4235. His previous best was 4110 in 2005.

Miami finally got a win yesterday, 22-16 in overtime so they won't come to Gillette next Sunday winless. The Pats should have no problems with the hapless Dolphins but as yesterday proved, the winter weather can bring the Pats down a few notches. We'll have to see what Mother Nature has in store for Sunday.

North of the Border, the Celts home home with another win

Playing without Ray Allen for the second game in a row, the Celtics had no problem with the Toronto Raptors, winning 90-77 in a Sunday afternoon game in Toronto. With the win, Boston (20-2) has won nine in a row (its longest win streak in 14 years) and now can focus on a huge Eastern Conference showdown Wednesday as the Pistons come to the Garden. The last time the Celts started 20-2 was in the '63-'64 season and they went on to win the NBA championship that year.

The Celts used some lockdown defense to hold the Raptors (14-11) to their lowest point total of the season. In the process, the Celts also took a commanding 3-0 series lead over Toronto this season with one game remaining.

Six Celtics scored in double figures, led by Paul Pierce (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Kevin Garnett (16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists) and Rajon Rondo (14 points, 4 assists).

Toronto was playing without star guard T.J. Ford, who had burned the Celtics in the earlier meetings. Chris Bosh had a double-double (17 points, 13 rebounds) but he shot only 4 of 12 from the floor. Jamario Moon (13 points) and Kris Humphries (12 points) were the other standouts for Toronto.

Boston played great in the first half, comfortably leading 50-36 at the break. Tony Allen (10 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals) played well in his second straight start. James Posey (10 points, 7 boards) and Eddie House (11 points) brought their usual energy off the bench.

For the game, Boston shot 49.3% to Toronto's 38.9%. The other final number that jumped out is that the C's only committed nine turnovers while Toronto had 17.

The beat goes on for the Celtics. I'm psyched to be going to the game on Wednesday against the Pistons. It's on ESPN and Detroit (17-7) has quickly pushed itself to the top of the Eastern Conference, presumably posing the biggest threat to the C's while the Magic have faded (5-5 in their last 10 games). Boston and Detroit each have the next two days off (other than practice) and Ray Allen should be back for the game so everything is lining up for a classic.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

No surprise, Ray Allen proves to be the most expendable of the big three

With Ray Allen out (to rest his ankle), the Celts still rolled over the Bucks last night at the Garden, 104-82. With the win, Boston ties the franchise best start of 12-0 at home (duplicated by the '84-'85 squad) and now has a chance to set the mark on Wednesday when they take on the Pistons (finally another good team!).

This game followed the Celtics (19-2) recent pattern of letting an inferior opponent hang around in the first half before stepping on their throat's in the third quarter and burying them by the fourth quarter.

The C's led 46-44 at the half. In Ray Allen's place, Tony Allen (no relation) started and played his best game of the young season. Tony had 11 points, four steals, three rebounds and two assists. His crowning achievement of the night was holding Bucks star Michael Redd to just seven points. At the end of the half, the play of the game was provided by Allen, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. Allen stole the ball from Mo Williams and then raced up court in a three-on-one with Rondo on one side and KG trailing. Allen passed to Rondo, who passed it back to him before leaving it for KG, who slammed it home with authority.

In the third quarter, Boston outscored the Bucks (9-13) 32-15. With Redd totally neutralized, nobody else on Milwaukee stepped up on the offensive end. Williams led the team with 14 points.

For the Celts, Paul Pierce played great (32 points) and Rondo (17 points, 8 assists) was excellent after going scoreless against the Kings. Garnett had an efficient 15 points, seven boards, four assists and two steals. Kendrick Perkins was back but pretty invisible (4 points, 5 boards). Eddie House notched nine points and Leon Powe and Gabe Pruitt both had seven in very limited minutes.

Once again, Boston dominated at the free-throw line, shooting 26 of 30 while the Bucks were 10 of 13. The Celtics had 13 turnovers and the Bucks had 20.

Boston travels to Toronto for a matinee against the Raptors (the third time already the teams have met) tomorrow. Ray Allen is expected back but there's no rush as Boston proved they can certainly win without him. Ray has been a good addition chemistry-wise but so far his game has been a little suspect. He's a great shooter but we haven't seen that side of him yet. There's plenty of time left for him to find his game and get back to full health.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Big Baby eats two Kings and helps Celts stay unbeaten at home

A sign that this Celtics team is good: you already expect wins most nights they play. Boston improved to 18-2 (best record in the NBA) last night with a 90-78 win over the Sacramento Kings at the Garden. The Celts also saw their home record go to 11-0.

Paul Pierce led the way with a game-high 26 points, six boards, four assists and two steals. Kendrick Perkins was out because he dropped his bed on his toe the other day. Uh OK. Anyways, in his place rookie Glen Davis got his first NBA start and didn't disappoint as he notched 16 points (including 10 of 10 from the free throw line) and nine rebounds. Ray Allen is still struggling to find his shot but he added 15 points, including two key back-to-back threes in the third when the Celts started to put the Kings away. Kevin Garnett had a very quiet night with 11 points and six rebounds while James Posey and Eddie House both scored eight.

The Kings are nowhere near the halcyon days of C-Webb, Bibby, Christie and Vlade. Their top scorer is Kevin Martin but he's currently out with a groin problem. Bibby is also out with an ankle injury. In their place, Ron Artest is the leader which quite obviously is never a winning formula (in either basketball or the music industry).

Ron Ron and point guard Beno Udrih led the Kings with 16 points each. Brad Miller added 14 points and seven boards.

The Celts jumped out a 25-17 lead after the first quarter and all things pointed to a blowout. The Kings though played well in the second quarter and actually led the C's by one (45-44) going into the half.

The teams reverted back to form in the second half as the assorted bums on the Kings (Mikki Moore, Francisco Garcia, John Salmons) started to brick shots while the Celts played good defense and made their shots.

The story of the game was the free throw line. The C's made a ridiculous 30-32 at the line to the Kings meager 11-12 total. Sacramento was content to take jumpers and the Celtics kept driving to the hole. It wasn't a classic game by any means but Boston did enough to overcome a sluggish start and a bad overall shooting night (39.1% as a team).

Boston looks to stay hot as they host the Bucks tomorrow night. Outside of Michael Redd there is nobody on the Bucks that scares you in the least bit.

This can't be right, can it?

Lost amidst all the year-round Red Sox hysteria, breathless Patriots coverage (as ESPN's bottom line has dubbed it, Pursuit of Perfection) and the Celtics amazing start, the Boston Bruins are currently the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference and they have the third best record in the entire league. Saying they are under the radar is a severe understatement. I love hockey but the NHL is just barely above WNBA and MLS in terms of excitement (other than the NHL playoffs which are great).

I won't lie and say I've watched every Bruins game or been to a bunch of games at the Garden. Rather, what I've seen of the Bruins has happened while other more important contests/shows are on commercial breaks. Boston is 17-10-3 (overtime losses) after last night's 5-3 win at Atlanta. What makes this season so surprising so far for the B's is that the free agent goalie they brought in (Manny Fernandez) has predictably been a flop and is now out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Backup goalies Tim Thomas and most recently Alex Auld (acquired from Pheonix) have played very well for the most part. Monster defenseman Zdeno Chara, who had a disappointing first season in the Hub has played well this year, notching four goals and 14 assists while sporting a plus-minus of nine.

The Bruins franchise player is 22-year-old center Patrice Bergeron, who has been out since mid-October with a nasty concussion. His status is really up in the air, the Bruins understandably are cautious with their offensive star and therefore he might not even see the ice again in a game this season. In his absence, center Marc Savard has been superb. Savard has 36 points and his 29 assists lead the NHL. Winger Chuck Kobesaw (a former BC standout) leads the team with 12 goals while center P.J. Axelsson leads Boston with plus-minus of 11.

So what does this all mean? Nothing really at the moment. The NHL is dangerously close to doing something drastic (moving all the teams to Canada or folding) since it's not even considered the fourth most popular sports in the States anymore. The Bruins have been awful the last two years and in their last two trips into the playoffs, they've choked in the first round. Their best hope is that once the Pats season is over and before the Sox have started the regular season, they can steal a little of the spotlight. The Celtics are definitely going into the playoffs so the Bruins need to follow suit or else this great start will mean nothing as the NHL quickly fades from the local sports scene.

Monday, December 10, 2007

File this under: some people will never learn

Through the past seven years while the Patriots have won three Super Bowls and been the model franchise in the NFL, they have taken every tiny criticism against them and used it as rallying points. The no respect act gets tiresome but you certainly can't argue with the results. Make no mistake, this isn't high school football. Bulletin-board material doesn't win or lose the games since they're all highly-paid professionals but nobody takes more pleasure in opponent's absent-minded trash talk then the Pats.

Enter Anthony Smith, a second-year safety out of Syracuse, who is currently starting for the Steelers only because Troy Polamalu is out with an injury. For some reason (probably to get famous), Smith guaranteed a victory against New England last Tuesday. Therefore this game was won back on Tuesday. It was the perfect motivational tool the Patriots needed after coming out flat and barely surviving against the Eagles and Ravens the past two weeks. There would be no letdown yesterday at Gillette as the Pats picked up a well-deserved 34-13 thrashing of Pittsburgh.

Now the Patriots (13-0) only have three regular season games left in their quest for perfection and with this win they gave head coach Bill Belichick his 100th career victory. Pittsburgh (9-4) came out sharp as they held New England to a three-and-out on their first possession. Next, the Steelers went 59-yards in 15 plays (taking 8:14 off the clock) before stalling in the red zone and settling for a 23-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

New England quickly responded as kick returner Chad Jackson (remember him?) returned the kickoff 39-yards to the Patriots 48. Tom Brady (32 of 46, 399 yards, 4 touchdowns) drove the team 52-yards in nine plays which ended with a four-yard pass to Randy Moss (7 catches, 135 yards, 2 touchdowns) in the back of the end zone. Need proof that the Pats relished Smith's wake up call? After the first TD, Brady sought out Smith and was jawing with him, something that Moss also did on multiple occasions.

After a Pittsburgh three-and-out, the Patriots caught the Steelers secondary off-guard as Brady hit Moss in stride on a perfect, play-action pass, 63-yards for another score at the start of the second quarter.

The Steelers are a solid team (probably the third-best in the AFC) and they didn't fold as they came back with a touchdown of their own. Running back Willie Parker was sprung for a 30-yard gain and later on the drive, Ben Roethlisberger (19 of 32, 187 yards, 1 touchdown) found backup running back Najah Davenport in the end zone for a 32-yard TD pass. Somehow, Davenport did a wheel route down to the goal-line and Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs couldn't get over quickly enough to fully cover him.

The Pats caught a huge break as they recovered their own punt after the next drive. They had first-and-10 at the Pittsburgh 34-yard line but could only gain four yards in three plays. Stephen Gostowski missed a 48-yard field goal as the Steelers dodged a big bullet.

Pittsburgh later added a 44-yard field goal by Reed on a drive where they converted twice on fourth down. Gostowski had a 42-yard kick with less than a minute before the half to give the Patriots a 17-13 lead.

The Steelers took the kickoff to start the second half but couldn't do anything after Parker gained 19-yards on the first play. It was an omen of things to come as they were shutout in the second half.

The Pats took over as Brady hit Moss (22 yards), Donte' Stallworth (9 yards) and Kyle Brady (7 yards) with passes before the play of the game. With 1st-and-10 at their own 44, Brady threw a lateral to Moss on the right. Moss fumbled the bad pass then tossed it back across the field to Brady. By that time, Jabar Gaffney (7 catches, 122 yards) was wide open down the field. Brady hit him just in time as he caught the 56-yard bomb in the end zone, right in front of our boy Smith.

The Pats stepped on the gas and went up 31-13 as Brady finished another drive with a two-yard pass to Welker. Wes had been held in check until then but he was on fire early in the fourth quarter as he caught five passes in a row at one point before Gostkowski notched a 28-yard field goal, the final score. At any level of football, have you ever seen five catches in a row on the same drive by one player? The Pats had broken the Steelers will.

The last signature moment of the game was provided by the Patriots defense as they stuffed the Steelers on a goal-line opportunity. For some reason, Pittsburgh chose to give a handoff to Hines Ward on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Pats safety Rodney Harrison (9 tackles, 2 assists) corralled Ward and also had a key deflection in the end zone on the preceding play: a fade to Santonio Holmes in the corner. It was a great game for Harrison, who had a tough season up until then. Since returning from the four game suspension, Rodney had looked a step slow. He's still the emotional leader on a gritty, veteran Patriots defense. Vince Wilfork (7 tackles, 1 sack) was another guy, who seemed to have his best game. He's usually battling multiple blockers in the trenches but he got some glory yesterday, even recording a sack of Big Ben in the third quarter. Vince fittingly celebrated with the Superman (thanks Soulja Boy) which finally made me realize that's what Moss has been doing all season after TD's.

Parker had 124 yards rushing but it didn't really matter as the Steelers passing game was never much of a factor. The Pats only ran nine times the whole game but that seemed to be a function of the game-plan. The Steelers came in with the top-ranked defense and the long ball was their obvious weakness in the secondary so the Pats went repeatedly for the kill with much success.

The numbers for the Pats are staggering. Brady has 45 TD's, four shy of Peyton Manning's record. Moss has 19 TD's, his personal best and a Pats record. He's three shy of the NFL record set by Jerry Rice. New England has 503 points (the 11th team in history to top 500), the record of 556 from the '98 Vikings is well within reach. Ditto for the touchdown record: the Pats have 65 and the '84 Dolphins had 70. Finally, Welker has 93 catches (4th best in Pats history) and is only eight behind Troy Brown's record.

The Jets (3-10) come to Gillette next Sunday and honestly, the Pats are going to bury them after all the Spygate drama from the season-opener. The Jets are a garbage team and New England could put up 50 or 60 next Sunday, look out.

Superman that Ho!

When all is said and done with the 2007-2008 NBA season, I have little doubt that Kevin Garnett won't win the MVP. The recognition is mostly a numbers award and while KG has done so much to turn the Celtics from laughingstock to title-contender, he's too unselfish to ever put up MVP numbers again (he did it in 2004 in Minnesota). Like we've seen locally with David Ortiz in 2005 and Tom Brady in 2004, just because they don't win the prize doesn't mean they aren't the best. You can have your LeBrons (who I love), Dwight Howards, Kobes and Steve Nashs (won two, should have been three already), I'll take Garnett any day of the week.

Last night, Boston (17-2) did enough to beat the Chicago Bulls (6-12) at the United Center, 92-81. Garnett led the way (16 points, 9 rebounds, 7 blocks, 3 assists) but he had plenty of help from Ray Allen (21 points), Rajon Rondo (18 points, 7 boards, 5 assists) and James Posey (11 points). Paul Pierce was just 1-of-8 from the floor but made all eight free throws to finish with 10 points. Crazier than that was Rondo, who was 9-of-13 from the floor.

The Bulls have been the league's biggest disappointment so far this season. A young team with a solid nucleus (Ben Gordon, Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich), they simply haven't put it together for whatever reason.

Coming into last night, Chicago was the league's top rebounding team but the Celts beat them at their own game. Glen Davis was a beast under the hoop with eight points and 12 rebounds. Boston owned the glass (45-37) and shot 51.6% from the floor. These strong performances helped offset a night when Boston was uncharacteristically careless with the ball (17 turnovers).

The Celtics owned every quarter: 21-18, 26-25, 22-16 and 23-22. The Bulls shot a pitiful 3-for-16 from three-point land. Andres Nocioni led the way with 18 points while Hinrich (16 points, 6 assists), Deng (15 points, 7 rebounds), Gordon (13 points) and Joe Smith (10 points) all scored in double figures. Ben Wallace had eight points and 14 rebounds but he barely resembles the player with the Pistons, who won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards. Why did the Bulls shell out that huge contract for him?

Boston has a few days off before hosting Sacramento on Wednesday. Without leading scorer Kevin Martin, the Kings will offer a very winnable game as the C's look to stay unbeaten at the Garden.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Sweet Sixteen

In your wildest dreams, did you ever expect the Celtics to start the '07-'08 season say 16-2? Me neither but we have to get used to the fact that the Celtics are a great team in a once again sub-par conference. The funny thing about this team is that we'll never really get a good read on them until their post-Christmas West Coast trip. The other main contenders in the East (outside of the C's) appear to be Detroit, Orlando and who else?

Last night, the Celtics took care of a depleted Raptors (10-10) team (minus Chris Bosh and Andreas Bargnani), 112-84 at the Garden. The 28-point victory tied a team-record against Toronto. This one was never close as the Celts were up by as much as 39.

Five Celtics were in double figures, led by Kevin Garnett (23 points, 6 rebounds), Paul Pierce (18 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Ray Allen (13 points, 6 rebounds). Eddie House had 13 points and James Posey notched a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards. Most importantly, the big three got limited minutes which will come in handy as the team faces the Bulls in Chicago tonight.

In the win, Boston shot 52.7% and made nine 3-pointers plus 25-30 free throws. They also had 12 more rebounds than Toronto and 10 more assists, the numbers all pointed to a blowout.

Other bright spots in the win included Rajon Rondo (7 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) and Tony Allen (9 points, 5 assists).

Tonight should be a test for the C's as the Bulls have underachieved all season but played well lately, winning three of their last four including an upset of Detroit last night.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Best Team in the NBA Resides Where?

After last night's 113-103 win over the Philadelphia 76ers, your Boston Celtics (15-2) have the best record in the NBA. Detroit (13-5), Orlando (16-4), Phoenix (15-4) and San Antonio (16-3) are the other top contenders but for a brief moment, you can legitimately say the Celtics are the top dogs. Does this mean anything? Not really but after the nightmare of the last few seasons, this team's immediate success is nothing short of remarkable for a city that had gotten way familiar with losing seasons.

Philly (5-13) actually made this a contest for almost the whole game. The Sixers led 32-26 after one quarter and 57-52 at halftime. The alarming thing for the Celtics was that they've played such good defense in the beginning of the season and they made the Sixers look like the Warriors or Suns for the first half.

On queue, the C's defense came alive in the second half as they outscored the Sixers, 61-46. Two of Boston's big three played well: Kevin Garnett (22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 steals) and Paul Pierce (22 points, 12 assists) led the way while teammate Ray Allen (12 points) shot 3 for 12. One of the most surprising parts of this team thus far has been the supporting players. Nobody knew James Posey and Eddie House were this good, right? Posey (17 points, 5 rebounds) and House (15 points) consistently bring a great effort off the bench, making it easier for KG, Pierce and Allen to play their games without worrying about doing everything (like they had all been used to with their old teams). Tony Allen and Kendrick Perkins both scored eight while Rajon Rondo and Glen Davis notched six points.

Andre Miller (26 points, 12 assists) and Andre Iguodala (24 points) were impressive but the Sixers folded in the second half after playing probably their best half of the season.

The key for the C's was that they made 10 3-pointers (Philly had 4) while also making 12 more free throws (23-11). Boston made the tough shots and they also earned the points by getting to the line. Once Philly's shots stopped falling, they were done. Nobody outside of Iguodala and Miller can get to the hoop.

Boston hosts Toronto on Friday. It'll be the return battle after Boston stole that overtime win in Toronto the first week of the season. The Raptors will be without their best player Chris Bosh, who is injured.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ravens Choke, Patriots Move to 12-0

For the second straight week, the Patriots let a bad team hang around (and lead in the second half) before eventually escaping with a heart-pounding win. This week's choke job was provided by the Baltimore Ravens (probably one of the most unlikable teams in professional sports and yes I know the Pats are near the top of that same list these days for many people). It was a boxing match all night as the team's traded body blows and the Pats looked to be on the ropes in the fourth quarter but just like A.J. Feeley and the Eagles last week, the Ravens led by bust QB Kyle Boller did just enough to lose, 27-24 at a fired up M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

The Patriots (12-0) looked uncomfortable from the start as they had to settle for a field goal on their first possession as tight end Ben Watson had one touchdown catch deflected away by Ravens spiritual leader/middle linebacker, the insufferable Ray Lewis. Watson also dropped a sure touchdown on the same drive.

Surprisingly, the Ravens (4-8) marched down field on its first possession, topped off by a 4-yard pass from Boller to Derrick Mason. Baltimore added a field goal in the second quarter to go up 10-3.

As the Patriots advanced downfield later in the second quarter, they caught a huge break as Tom Brady was picked off by Ravens all-world safety Ed Reed. Reed returned it 32 yards into New England territory but he was hit by Kevin Faulk and stripped by Faulk, who recovered it for a crazy Pats first down. New England would go on to score on that second chance as Heath Evans bulldozed in from a yard out to tie it at 10 going into the half. That Faulk play (which was eerily reminiscent of Troy Brown's strip against the Chargers in last year's playoffs) was one of the key plays people will look back and most remember since the Pats somehow ended up winning this game.

Any thoughts of the Pats waking up at halftime and blowing out this terrible Ravens team were quickly put to bed as Baltimore came out and scored on its first drive of the second half. The Pats couldn't stop Ravens running back Willis McGahee (30 rushes, 138 yards; 4 catches, 21 yards) and that drive was when he really stepped up. He rumbled in from 17 yards to put Baltimore back on top, 17-10.

New England answered with a nice drive, capped off by a 3-yard touchdown from Brady to Moss. With that score, Brady became just the fourth QB (Kurt Warner, Peyton Manning, Dan Marino) to throw 40 touchdowns in a season. Moss also made some history as he tied Curtis Martin's Patriot record of 17 touchdowns for a receiver or running back.

The game entered the fourth quarter with the teams tied 17-17 and the Ravens clearly playing inspired ball. Boller hit tight end Daniel Wilcox for a 1-yard score to open the final quarter and the Ravens suddenly led 24-17.

The Pats moved the ball to the red zone on the next drive but stalled and Stephen Gostowski hit a 38-yard field goal to cut the lead to four.

After forcing two Baltimore three-and-outs, sandwiched around a Patriots punt, New England stepped up with the predictable but still damn exciting, 13-play, 73-yard drive that ended with Jabar Gaffney catching a 8-yard pass in the corner of the end zone. There were just 44 seconds left in the game when he caught the pass so the call for the instant replay came from the booth. Luckily, the catch was upheld and the Ravens got the ball back with under a minute left (and they had to score a touchdown).

On the game's final play, Boller completed a 52-yard hail mary to receiver Mark Clayton but he was stopped by a gang of Patriots at their 3-yard line. The Pats had escaped with another win that they probably didn't deserve.

The Pats final drive was absolutely nuts as they had three cracks at a fourth-down conversion. It was fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 30 when Brady was stuffed on a sneak. The play didn't count though as the Ravens for some inexplicable reason, called a timeout right before the snap. Next, the Pats had a false start on Ross Hochstein that wiped out Evans being stopped once again on a run. Finally, on fourth-and-6, Brady had tons of time and ended up running 12 yards for the first down. Baltimore also got a 5-yard penalty on an illegal contact call. Later in the drive, the Ravens were flagged for defensive holding (5-yard penalty) which moved the ball to the 8 and set up Brady for that final dagger.

The Ravens showed their true colors after the final touchdown as Bart Scott (a Pro-Bowl player) got two penalties for unsportmanslike penalties. He was frustrated with all the calls against his team on the drive so he picked up a ref's flag and threw it into the stands in a WWE-like spectacle of stupidity. On the ensuing kickoff, the Pats kicked off from the Ravens 35-yard line (which I've never seen before).

Brady had his toughest night of the season by far, he was 18 of 38 for 257 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Moss (4 catches, 34 yards) outside of his TD and Wes Welker (3 catches, 18 yards) were pretty much non-existent. Dante' Stallworth (3 catches, 68 yards) and Laurence Maroney (13 rushes, 44 yards; 2 catches, 79 yards) helped fill the stat sheet.

Outside of McGahee, Mason (6 catches, 67 yards, 1 TD) was the only consistent weapon for the Ravens. Kyle Boller (15 of 23 for 210 yards, 2 TD's, 1 INT) played very well (especially for him) except for like Feeley, he made an awful decision when it mattered most. With the Ravens up 24-17 and deep in New England territory he threw a pick by the goal-line when there were three Patriots around one Baltimore receiver. Pats safety James Sanders returned that 43 yards and that's when Gostowski later hit the field goal to make it a four-point deficit.

The Patriots are the sixth team in history ('05 Colts, '98 Broncos, '85 Bears, '72 Dolphins and '34 Bears) to start 12-0. Still, there are lot of worrisome things with the Pats performances the last few weeks. They've held on and won both games which is a testament to how mentally strong they are (and conversely, how inexperienced/shitty the other team's QB's are) but it's clear that they can't keep this up in the playoffs. Playing like they did last week or last night against the Colts, Steelers, Jaguars or Cowboys won't get it done. Common sense said that after the game against the Eagles, the Patriots would come out and throttle the Ravens, who had nothing to play for but pride but that never materialized.

The Patriots defense has looked pretty poor these last two games and their running game has proven to be a real weakness. New England won't be able to pile up the early season ridiculous passing numbers in the playoffs. The postseason is dictated by defense and the running game, currently the Pats two biggest question marks.

The Steelers come to Gillette next Sunday for a 4:15 game. Outside of the Colts, the Steelers are the next best team in the AFC so they should provide a real test for a Patriots team that has to right itself before the games really start to mean something.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A 12:30pm start, Really?

The scheduling gurus for the NBA came up with a dozy for the Celtics and Cavaliers on Sunday as they forced the two teams (who both played away on Friday night) to tip-off at 12:30pm local time. With LeBron out (dislocated finger), the C's (14-2) and Cavs (9-9) obliged the zombie fans in attendance with a garbage game. Boston won 80-70 in a game that surely won't be on ESPN Classic anytime soon.

The Celtics are now 9-0 at the Garden and just three games away from tying the best franchise start at home (from '84-'85). It's a safe bet to say that without James, the Cavs are a fringe NBDL team. Ray Allen (20 points) led the way for the Celtics, who only had one other double-digit scorer, Rajon Rondo added 12. Kevin Garnett had nine points and eight boards while Paul Pierce managed just seven points. Big Baby Glen Davis had a nice game off the bench with nine points and seven boards before he fouled out. James Posey added seven points and Eddie House had six.

Zydrunas Ilgauskas led Cleveland with 12 points and 13 rebounds. Sasha Pavlovic (11 points) and Drew Gooden (10 points, 11 boards) were the other standouts.

Boston travels to Philly on Wednesday to take on the struggling Sixers.

Would They Have It Any Other Way?

There are a few things you can count on in life: death, taxes and Boston College football going to a second or third-tier bowl game. BC got their rematch with Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship but they fell in typical Eagles fashion, 30-16 on Saturday in Jacksonville.

BC (10-3) was up 10-0 and 16-7 but didn't score in the second half and saw the Hokies (11-2) reel off 23 straight points to send them to Miami for the Orange Bowl against Kansas. BC is relegated to the Champs Sports Bowl on Friday, Dec. 28 vs. 7-5 Michigan State. I could go on and on about what frauds BC are but I've been saying that for the last few months. I'd hate to be redundant. All you need to know is that a team that started 8-0 finished 2-3 against a pretty easy schedule. To quote former Cardinals coach Dennis Green, "they are who we thought they were."

Matt Ryan will be a solid NFL quarterback but his Heisman campaign is an afterthought. He probably won't even be invited to NYC. Florida QB Tim Tebow, Missouri QB Chase Daniel, Arkansas RB Darren McFadden, West Virginia QB Pat White and Hawaii QB Colt Brennan all have much better resumes and deserve the recognition over Ryan. Must be depressing too for the Superfans knowing that this was their one shot. Losing 22 seniors (including Ryan) who are so instrumental means that next season has rebuilding year written all over it. See you in Orlando.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Sharapova Likes What She C's

With my favorite leggy, 21-year old professional tennis player (Maria Sharapova) sitting courtside, the Celtics worked over the Heat for three quarters in Miami tonight. Up 22 going into the fourth quarter, the Heat staged a furious comeback but ultimately fell short, 95-85.

Paul Pierce led the way with a game-high 27 points (he had 18 in the first quarter), seven boards and six turnovers. Kevin Garnett (23 points, 9 rebounds) and Ray Allen (17 points) had deceptive games. KG could have had more if the Celts tried a little harder in the fourth quarter to get him the ball. Allen shot 3 of 17 overall after hitting his first two shots. He made a tough shot off the glass late that was key but mostly he made his living at the line. He was 10 of 11 shooting foul shots as the Celts continually let him dribble down the stretch and the Heat didn't realize they should double him and make someone else go to the line. Rajon Rondo only took one shot (he made it) and a free throw for three points, six assists and five steals. Eddie House had nine points and James Posey played well although his modest numbers (6 points, 5 rebounds) don't really reflect it. Posey made a steal in the fourth that iced it for the C's.

Recently Heat coach/used car salesman Pat Riley has started Penny Hardaway and Chris Quinn but then sits them for most of the game and lets Jason Williams and Ricky Davis play. Williams had a team-high 22 points (6 of 12 on threes) but Davis was a non-factor with six points.

Dwyane Wade had an even tougher night than Ray Allen, he finished just 2-11 from the floor and 6-11 from the free throw line for 10 points, five boards, three steals, two blocks and six turnovers. Shaq had a double-double with 13 points and 11 boards but he is nowhere near the player he used to be. You have to love Wade's game but at the moment it's simply not clicking. He's not 100% recovered from his various injuries and truth be told, he's just not a great shooter. He lives on getting to the hoop and getting the superstar (sometimes phantom) foul calls. Udonis Haslem quietly had the most efficient night for the Heat with 18 points and 10 boards. Still, if Williams is their leading scorer, they're probably not going to get many wins.

Boston led 59-41 at the half and it looked like it was going to be a laugher. After outscoring the Heat by four in the third quarter, the C's let up in the fourth as they couldn't hit any shots. Luckily, the Heat obliged them with a bunch of one shot (miss) possessions which the Celtics rebounded and cleared out.

The Heat are the second best defensive team in the league but didn't show that ability until the fourth when they held Boston to 12 points. For the game, Miami shot 45.7% to Boston's 39.7%. The C's made 16 more free throws (27-11) which was the story of the game. The Heat also committed 24 turnovers while Boston had 17.

It wasn't the prettiest game but they'll take it given the tough circumstances (back-to-back games, on the road). The Celts meet the Cavs again, this time Sunday afternoon at the Garden. LeBron is expected back after injuring his finger the other night.