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Sunday, November 30, 2008

Manny Fernandez will haunt your dreams

After witnessing first-hand my second Bruins win in as many days (a 4-1 whitewashing of the defending Stanley Cup Champions from Detroit), I'd love to take credit for the wins (11-1-1 in November) but I had nothing to do with it.

This Bruins team (16-4-4) doesn't need any help, they're stacked as they proved last night at the Garden.

Detroit (15-4-4) dominated possession in the first 10 minutes of the game, putting constant pressure on Manny Fernandez (29 saves) but the Boston backup stood tall. He got the surprise start (his second in a row) after Tim Thomas was scratched with an illness.

Blake Wheeler (8th of the season) made Boston's first chance count as he took a pass from Michael Ryder (and David Krejci) and one-timed a snap-shot past Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin, 12 minutes into the first.

4:11 later, Phil Kessel doubled the Bruins' lead as he put a screened shot past Conklin. It was Kessel's 13th of the season, from Shane Hnidy and Zdeno Chara.

Patrice Bergeron dug a puck out of the corner in the second period and whipped a pass to Chuck Kobasew in the slot. Kobasew (5th of the season) put it past Conklin, who was promptly pulled in favor of Chris Osgood.

The Red Wings finally made some noise as Jiri Hudler (9th of the season) scored a power-play goal with 3:35: left in the second. Henrik Zetterberg and Mikael Samuelsson assisted on the lucky goal that Hudler bounced off Marc Savard's skate after a scramble in front of Fernandez.

The third period wasn't exactly thrilling (especially for the Red Wings fans in attendance) but the Bruins had one more highlight as Krejci (7th goal of the season) scored from Michael Ryder and Dennis Wideman. Krejci used his quick hands to fish out a loose puck in front of the Detroit goal.

Detroit outshot Boston, 30-19 and the Bruins were 0-for-1 on their only power-play opportunity.

The Bruins get a few days off before hitting the road for a game at Tampa Bay on Thursday night.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Celtics are making it look way too easy (and I'm fine with that)

Anything can happen over the next six months but will everyone admit that at this moment the Lakers and Celtics are head and shoulders above anyone else in the NBA?

Boston (15-2) won its seventh straight last night, 102-78, over the Philadelphia 76ers (7-9) last night at the Garden.

After giving up 100+ points in two consecutive games, Boston got back to its meat and potatoes style: defense, passing and smart shots.

Ray Allen had a game-high 23 points while Kevin Garnett added 16 points. Rajon Rondo had six points, six rebounds and 12 assists. Kendrick Perkins had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks.

Paul Pierce had another terrible night (6 points) but nobody will remember that as Leon Powe and Tony Allen each scored 10 off the bench.

Boston outscored the Sixers 22-16 in the first quarter and led 46-28 at the half. A 27-19 third by the Celtics allowed all the starters to sit out the entire fourth quarter.

Philly's scrubs outscored Boston's, 32-29 in the garbage-time fourth.

When the game was still somewhat competitive, Elton Brand (18 points, 8 rebounds) was the only Sixer who bothered to show up. Louis Williams scored 15 off the bench and Andre Miller had 12. Marresse Speights added 12 before he was booted with less than a minute left in the game thanks to a hard-foul on Brian Scalabrine (totally worth it).

Boston shot 51.3% to Philly's 41.6%. The C's took advantage of free throws (18-for-22) while the Sixers did not (12-for-21). It's hard to do but the Celts doubled up the Sixers on assists (30-15).

The C's travel to Charlotte tonight to take on a very beatable Bobcats team.

Let's be real: Nobody likes the Islanders

Thanksgiving night, my buddy Jim texted me with an offer to go to the Bruins-Islanders game yesterday afternoon (the annual day after thanksgiving noon start) and of course I said yes even though I'm going tonight too.

The Bruins (15-4-4) came out slow against the Islanders (9-12-2), down 1-0 after the first period but they blew New York out in the third period with a five-goal barrage, en route to a 7-2 domination.

With the games on back-to-back nights, Manny Fernandez got the start against the Islanders and true to form, he gave up a soft goal 1:46 into the game. Nate Thompson skated down the wall and wristed a shot past Fernandez's glove-side.

Chuck Kobasew tied it up 3:28 into the second on a power-play goal (his fourth of the year) from Marc Savard and P.J. Axelsson. Islanders goalie Joey MacDonald stopped the inital shot but Kobasew stuck with it and jammed it over the line.

A bad turnover in their own end by New York led to Michael Ryder's goal 15:16 into the the second. Ryder intercepted the puck and quickly loaded his stick before wristing it past MacDonald (his fourth of the season).

The third period was absurd, definitely one of the craziest 20 minutes I've ever seen for the Bruins as they scored five goals and got into two fights.

At 6:48, Blake Wheeler (6th of the year) scored from David Krejci and Mark Stuart. After winning the ensuing face-off, Krejci scored (his 6th of the season) from Wheeler and Zdeno Chara, just 10 seconds later.

MacDonald got the hook in favor of rookie Peter Mannnino, who was making his NHL debut.

Dennis Wideman tallied a power-play goal (6th of the season) from Matt Hunwick and Phil Kessel. Right after the goal, Milan Lucic and Islanders goon Brendan Witt fought in front of New York's goal.

22 seconds after that, Shane Hnidy and Tim Jackman also fought. Both fights were pretty even but it should be noted that the Bruins guys scored the takedowns.

Richard Park's power-play goal (from Andy Hilbert and Mark Streit) cut the Bruins lead to 5-2.

No matter though as Ryder got a power-play goal (from Wideman and Hunwick) and Kessel scored on a sick deflection of a Lucic pass across the middle (Savard started the play).

Things should be much more difficult tonight as the Detroit Red Wings, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, come to the Garden for an early-season showdown. It's the teams' only meeting of the season and it should be a good one, dare I say a Stanley Cup preview?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Cassel and Moss unstoppable as Pats beat Dolphins in Miami

A day that most thought would never happen has come: Matt Cassel is a solid NFL quarterback on a playoff contender. I can hardly believe it myself but such is the storyline after Cassel and the Patriots (7-4) won 48-28 yesterday at Dolphin Stadium in Miami.

Cassel was 30 for 43 with 415 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. His second straight 400+ passing yards performance was the fifth time in NFL history that has happened.

His two main targets were Randy Moss (8 catches, 125 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Wes Welker (8 catches, 120 yards).

The Patriots needed all of the offensive fireworks as once again, the defense was awful.

Miami (6-5) quarterback Chad Pennington threw for a career-high 341 yards and three touchdowns.

Stephen Gostowski began the shootout with a 30-yard field goal on the Pats' opening drive.

The Dolphins responded with a touchdown on their first possession. Pennington found wide receiver Greg Camarillo (6 catches, 75) with a three-yard TD pass.

In the second quarter, both quarterbacks ran for touchdowns on broken plays. Cassel's eight-yard run put New England up 10-7 while Pennington scrambled seven yards for a 14-10 Miami lead.

With a little more than two minutes left until halftime, Moss scored his first touchdown of the day on a 25-yard catch and run into the end zone.

On its first drive of the second half, the Dolphins once again moved the ball at will on the Pats terrible defense. Fullback Casey Cramer ended it with a 2-yard catch from Pennington, putting the Dolphins up 21-17.

Cassel hit Moss with a beautiful 8-yard fade in the corner of the end zone to give the Patriots a 24-21 lead.

Set up by Welker's 64-yard catch and long run, Kevin Faulk (53 yards rushing, 52 yards receiving) ran up the gut for a 21-yard score on the last play of the third quarter.

From there, the Patriots' composure and big game experience finally showed in the fourth quarter as the Dolphins (led by head idiot Joey Porter) accumulated penalties and gave up huge plays.

Ricky Williams had Miami's last score with a 13-yard fade from Pennington, making it 31-28 New England.

The Patriots scored 17 unanswered points to finish it off.

Moss' final touchdown was a 29-yard catch. For some reason, the Dolphins chose to single-cover Moss all day which obviously yielded great results for Moss and the Patriots.

Gostowski kicked another 30-yard field goal and BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored a garbage time 1-yard TD with 37 seconds left. As Gostowski put the last extra point through, Patriots left tackle Matt Light and Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder started punching each other and both were subsequently ejected. Light seemed to get the better of the fight as he pulled Crowder's dread locks and pummelled him. Good stuff.

Jabar Gaffney and Ten Ginn Jr. each finished with five catches for 88 yards while Davone Bess had five catches for 87 yards.

The Jets knocked off the unbeaten Titans yesterday and hung onto their one-game lead in the AFC East over New England. Buffalo and Miami are tied for third with matching 6-5 records.

New England is still on the outside of the playoff picture but at 7-4 with a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Pats are in a good position.

Their toughest remaining regular season game is next Sunday as the Pittsburgh Steelers come to Gillette Stadium. Pittsburgh can be great or Big Ben and his team can be awful. Who knows which version of the Steelers will show up?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sorry A.I., Rajon Rondo is the future

A few months back, when I purchased tickets to see the Detroit Pistons vs. the Boston Celtics at the Garden, I expected a tight early season meeting of the Eastern Conference's two best teams.

With that said, the result was surprising as the C's (11-2) absolutely dominated the Pistons (8-4) in a 98-80 romp last night.

Detroit started the game on a 13-2 run but as quick as you noticed that, the Celts were tying it up as the teams each had 21 in the first quarter.

Boston's bench was the key to the game as Tony Allen (13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks), Eddie House (11 points) and Leon Powe (7 points, 7 rebounds) gave the C's energy and production in extended playing time.

As a result, Boston took a 49-40 lead into the break and never looked back as they led 77-57 going into the fourth.

The Big Three had collectively as bad a game as you'll ever see from them: Kevin Garnett (15 points), Ray Allen (12 points) and Paul Pierce (9 points) got to sit out the entire fourth quarter though which is vital since they play tonight and Sunday on the road.

In a game full of so many stars, one player that you might not expect, totally stood out above the rest: Rajon Rondo. I can't decide who is more appropriate named Mr. Jekell and Hyde, between Rondo or Tony Allen but it's clear that when Rondo is on, he's one of the great young stars in the NBA.

Rondo had a game-high 18 points, eight assists and three steals. Kendrick Perkins added 10 rebounds.

The Pistons never seemed into the game. Allen Iverson paced Detroit with the quietest 16 points I've ever seen. Rasheed Wallace (13 points) and Richard Hamilton (12 points) didn't leave any imprint on the game before retreating to the bench for good.

Jason Maxiell had 10 points for the Pistons.

It's way too early to say whether the Chauncey Billups for A.I. swap was a success for Detroit or not but as of now, the early returns are not looking good. Sure, the Pistons beat the Lakers last week but A.I. is not at the point in his career where he can lead a team (while Ba Ba Ba Billups still can as he's showing in Denver). Iverson's game has been reduced to driving the lane, jumping in the air then passing back out. He's not a total bum by any means but it barely resembles the sure bet Hall-of-Famer in his Sixers days.

The Celts shot 49.3% to Detroit's 42.6%. Boston had five more rebounds (42-37), five more assists (22-17), four more steals (12-8) and four less turnovers (16-12).

Tonight is KG's first official visit back to Minnesota. Last year, he was out with the abdominal injury so he couldn't play. He still garnered an awkward pre-game ceremony but this game should be much more enjoyable for Garnett and the Timberwolves' fans.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This ain't Harry Sinden's Boston Bruins (even though he still has some pointless post)

In the last few years, the Boston Bruins have struggled to score goals, meaning that if they gave up more than one or two, you knew their chances of losing increased dramatically. That's part of the backstory that makes this season so enjoyable thus far.

The Bruins (12-3-4) smoked the Buffalo Sabres (9-6-3), 7-4 last night at the Garden as they scored five unanswered goals to recover from an early 4-2 deficit. This year's Bruins can win close, low-scoring games, high-scoring games, everything.

Marc Savard was all over the place with a goal and two assists. Zdeno Chara had two power play goals while David Krejci (1 goal, 2 assists) and Chuck Kobasew (2 goals) had the most productive nights.

It was a night of video game stats for the B's as rookie defenseman Matt Hunwick had two assists, Phil Kessel had a goal and assist and Patrice Bergeron added two assists.

What started out as a disastrous start (3 goals in the first 5:38) for backup goalie Manny Fernandez (25 saves), became a memorable game as the Bruins continually peppered the Buffalo zone and its outstanding goalie Ryan Miller (who was yanked after the 7th goal).

1:41 into the game, Jason Pominville scored off assists from Thomas Vanek and Craig Rivet.

At 2:59, Kobasew scored his second of the year (assists to Krejci and Blake Wheeler).

A minute and a half later, Derek Roy put Buffalo up 2-1 with assists from Toni Lydman and Drew Stafford.

29 seconds later, Vanek put the Sabres up 3-1 with helpers from Pominville and Jochen Hecht.

40 seconds after that, Krejci cut it to 3-2 with an assist from Shane Hnidy.

Vanek's power play goal later in the first period was ironically Buffalo's last goal (assists from Roy and Pominville).

The Bruins started their streak with Savard's seventh of the year, from Kessel and Hunwick.

In the second, Boston blitzed the Sabres with three more goals: Chara's two goals (both from Savard and Bergeron) were sandwiched around Kobasew's second of the night (from Hunwick and Krejci).

Kessel completed the madness with his ninth of the year in the third period, from Milan Lucic and Savard.

Boston hosts the lowly Florida Panthers tomorrow night (the first Friday night home game in 31 years).

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

NO KG, No problem (for one night)

With Kevin Garnett freaking out in his living room at home, the Celtics (10-2) held off the Knicks (6-5), 110-101 last night at the Garden.

KG was suspended for one game after he shoved Andrew Bogut of the Bucks in the face on Saturday (after Bogut had elbowed him in the face). The suspension was pretty lame but it was only one game so no use getting our panties in a bunch, it is November after all. Not May or June.

With Isiah Thomas gone and thinking of new ways to off himself (too soon?), the Knicks under new coach Mike D'Antoni have shown some life. This team always had talent but it seemed like bad chemistry coupled with the worst management this side of the Detroit Lions crippled them.

The C's had five players in double figures. Paul Pierce led the way with 22 points and eight assists. Kendrick Perkins had 16 points, eight boards, three assists and three rebounds. Ray Allen scored 15 points and dished out four assists while Rajon Rondo added 15 points, eight rebounds, seven assists and two steals.

In 28 minutes off the bench, Leon Powe was great with 14 points and seven rebounds.

New York actually had six players reach double figures. Wilson Chandler paced the Knicks with 23 points and seven rebounds. Zach Randolph had 18 points and eight rebounds. Chris Duhon posted 15 points and five assists.

Nate Robinson dropped 14 points, Quentin Richardson scored 13 and David Lee added 10.

New York outscored Boston, 28-26 in the first quarter. The C's responded with a nice 30-19 second quarter.

The game was played in the Knicks' favored style of run and gun as the Celts won the third 33-30. New York took the fourth 24-21 but the Celts got enough plays from everyone, including a clinching 3-pointer from Brian Scalabrine (8 points in a rare start) and Eddie House (8 points).

Boston shot 53.2% to New York's 43.5%. The C's owned the boards (45-36) and had six more blocks (8-2).

Detroit comes to town tomorrow night with Allen Iverson for a primetime TNT which I plan on attending.

As Tom Thumb smiles down from heaven, Dustin Pedroia collects AL MVP award

Fuck all the haters. Yesterday, Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia won the American League MVP in only his second full season in the big leagues.

After winning the AL rookie of the year last season, Pedroia has outdone himself the last few weeks with a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and now the biggest individual award of them all.

It's heady stuff for a guy that all lazy sportswriters and announcers will tell you (100 times each broadcast or column) is maybe 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds.

You know what, who cares how big Pedroia is? This award has already showed that he never has to prove himself again to anybody.

The ninth Red Sox player to be named AL MVP and first since Mo Vaughn in 1995, Pedroia captured 16 of 28 first-place votes, six second-place votes, four third-place votes and a fourth place vote for 317 total points.

2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau of the Twins came in second with 257 points. Sox first baseman/third baseman Kevin Youkilis finished a solid third with 201 points, including two first-place votes (did Joba have a say in this?).

In 157 games, Pedroia's 2008 season was straight up dirty: he batted .326 (second in the AL), ripped 213 hits (tied for first), 54 doubles (led the majors), led the AL in runs (118) and multi-hit games (61). He was fourth in total bases (322) and seventh in extra-base hits (73). He also had 17 home runs, 83 RBIs and 20 stolen bases. His OBP was .376 and slugging percentage was .493

Tip of the glass to the Sox scouting system, player development staff and minor league teams. Having two homegrown guys finish first and third in the MVP voting in the same season is incredible.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bruins snap 12-game losing streak to Canadiens

In a game they had no business winning (getting home at 3 a.m. from Chicago yesterday morning), the Boston Bruins (10-3-3) continued to defy logic this season as they handed the Montreal Canadiens (9-3-2) a 6-1 beating at the Garden.

Montreal is a good team and they had been waiting in Boston the night before while Boston went to a shootout to beat another quality team in Chicago.

The Bruins current win streak moved to five games while they broke a 12-game regular season losing streak to the Canadiens.

It was over early as Boston blitzed Montreal with three first period goals. One of the biggest surprises of the Bruins' season so far has been the play of its fourth line. The B's have more depth than almost any other NHL team.

This was on display as tough guy Shawn Thornton scored his first of the season off an assist from Stephane Yelle just 2:31 into the game.

Yelle scored his second of the season with three minutes left in the period. Thornton and Chuck Kobasew (who just returned from a broken leg) had the assists.

Marco Sturm (fifth of the season) scored a power play goal with seven seconds left. The assists were from Marc Savard and Michael Ryder.

3:44 into the second, Sturm added another power play strike, from Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara.

Montreal finally woke up as Saku Koivu scored with help from Alex Tanguay.

Boston put it away in the third as Milan Lucic (5th of the season; from Phil Kessel) and Yelle (from Kobasew and Aaron Ward) made the B's lead 6-1.

In between those goals, Lucic took care of the only other thing Boston had to do: he beat the hell out of Canadiens enforcer Mike Komisarek, who had a great series against the Bruins in last spring's playoffs.

Canadiens goalie Carey Price still looks like a fraud as he made 25 stops but gave up all six goals. Bruins backup goalie Manny Fernandez had his second good game in a row (which is a great sign since he's one of the team's biggest question marks) with 27 saves.

The first-place Bruins travel to the Northeast's top team, the New York Rangers tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden.

Matt Cassel accounts for 462 yards yet Patriots still lose to Jets in OT

A terrible start by the Patriots (facing a 24-6 hole in the second quarter) coupled with a defense that couldn't make enough stops led to a 34-31 overtime win by the New York Jets (7-3) last night at Gillette Stadium.

The win which vaulted New York into sole possession of first place in the AFC East was a gutcheck and while the Pats (6-4) admirably responded and forced overtime, they have nobody to blame for the loss but themselves.

New England wasted outstanding performances from Matt Cassel (30 for 51, 400 yards, 3 touchdowns; 62 yards rushing) and stud rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo (16 solo tackles, 4 assists).

All game, we waited for the inevitable Brett Favre (26 for 33, 258 yards, 2 touchdowns) backbreaking mistake but it never materialized.

Randy Moss forced overtime when he made a 16-yard touchdown catch with one second left in the fourth quarter. Moss somehow balanced himself in the corner of the end zone and snagged the pass while getting both feet inbounds. Ty Law was on his back the whole time but he was helpless to stop the play.

New York made a statement on its opening drive as they marched 62 yards and scored on a 7-yard catch and run by Leon Washington.

Stephen Gostowski kicked a 42-yard field goal to get the Patriots on the board on their first possession.

Jay Feely kicked a 22-yard field goal with six seconds left in the first quarter to give the Jets a 10-3 lead.

Once again, a promising Patriots drive stalled as they were forced to settle for three (a 31-yard Gostowski kick). This was magnified when Washington took the ensuing kickoff 92-yards for a touchdown.

Jerricho Cotchery's (5 catches, 87 yards) 15-yard catch and run for a score was an illustration of how bad New England's secondary is these days. They can't cover anybody and as the Jets (and Bills to a lesser degree on Sunday) showed, they can't tackle at all. In the off-season either through free agency or the draft, they have to address this glaring weakness.

Cassel and New England went into the locker room with some momentum as Jabar Gaffney (7 catches, 86 yards) hauled in a beautiful 19-yard TD pass with 15 seconds left.

The Jets finally made a mistake when Cotchery fumbled and Pats rookie linebacker Gary Guyton recovered it in the third quarter.

Making up for an earlier fumble in the third, Ben Watson (8 catches, 88 yards) caught a 10-yard score from Cassel as time ran out in the third. Gaffney pulled down the two-point conversion and the Pats were in business, down 24-21 headed into the fourth.

Gostowski tied it with a 47-yard kick. From there, New York worked the Pats defense over with a long drive that ended with a one-yard TD run by Thomas Jones (30 carries, 104 yards). The drive was filled with penalties and numerous mistakes by New England.

Facing fourth and 17 with two and a half minutes left, New England elected to punt (with one timeout left) but it paid off as they forced a Jets three and out.

They went 62 yards in eight plays with no timeouts. Wes Welker (7 catches, 108 yards) made some big gains on the tying drive.

With the crowd going crazy, the Jets won the cointoss and calmly moved down the field. The worst play for New England was third and 15 from deep in the Jets' territory. Dustin Keller (8 catches, 87 yards), who my buddy Curt said the Patriots look like Shannon Sharpe in his prime, gained 16 yards. If the Pats could have stopped the Jets on that play, they would have had great field position.

Feely clinched the win with a 34-yard kick that hooked left but stayed true.

The Patriots will have longer than usual to stew over this disappointing loss. They'll travel to Miami next Sunday for another huge AFC East game. The Dolphins smoked the Patriots earlier in the season and as they've proven since then, they're no longer a laughingstock.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

I love this team

The Boston Bruins (9-3-3) continued to make huge strides as they went into Chicago (7-3-4) last night and walked away with a 2-1 shootout victory at the United Center. The fourth win in a row put the Bruins atop the Atlantic Division.

This matchup featured two of the NHL's most up and coming teams featuring plenty of young talent and solid goaltenders. Despite the lack of goals, the portion of the game that I caught was extremely exciting.

With 54 seconds left in the second period, Bruins forward Marco Sturm broke the scoreless tie. He scored his fourth goal of the season, on a power play with assists from Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.

Nine minutes into the third, Blackhawks stud Jonathan Toews tied it up (second goal of the season) with a power play goal of his own from Patrick Kane and Cam Barker.

The two stars of this game were Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (31 saves) and Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (38 saves). Thomas stood on his head (as he's known to do) with 18 saves in the first period. After that, Boston woke up and outshot Chicago 33-14 through overtime.

Khabibulin made a couple of ridiculous saves in the extra session, forcing the shootout (one of the Bruins' biggest weaknesses).

Proving that this team is already turning the corner (from earlier in the season when they lost three shootouts in a row), the Bruins received a goal from Blake Wheeler before P.J. Axelsson won it on the third shot.

The Montreal Canadiens come to town tonight in what should be a great game. Unfortunately, the Patriots-Jets showdown happening tonight as well means few will see the B's after the football game starts.

Paul Pierce, proud owner of enormous onions

It's comforting to know that between his busy schedule of winning NBA titles, Finals MVP awards and hitting game-winners (not to mention throwing gang signs and getting stabbed in clubs) that Paul Pierce reads my blog. That much is clear after Pierce once again took over in the fourth quarter last night as the Celtics beat the Hawks, 103-102 at the Garden.

Things didn't look good for Boston as Marvin Williams (14 points) hit a 3-pointer with seven seconds left, putting Atlanta (6-1) up 102-101.

No worries though since we have the Truth. Pierce (game high 34 points, 6 rebounds) hit a turnaround, fadeaway jumper over Al Horford with .5 seconds left.

It's quite early in the season but Pierce could not be playing better basketball as the Celtics (8-1) won their sixth game in a row.

For whatever reason, the C's continue to play poorly in the first half (something that will have to change over the long run since you cannot count on performances like the last couple games).

The Hawks were up 31-24 after the first quarter and took a 16-point lead in the second quarter before Boston tied it up with an 18-2 run. The game was tied at 51 going into halftime.

For the rest of the game, the Celts continued to make plays while the Hawks stubbornly hung around and refused to go away. Atlanta took the third quarter, 26-25 before Boston eked out the fourth 27-25.

Kevin Garnett had a juicy double-double with 25 points, 12 rebounds and four assists. Ray Allen added 17 points and seven rebounds (five offense boards has to be a career-high) and Rajon Rondo dished out 10 assists. Kendrick Perkins continued to be solid with nine points and eight rebounds.

For the Hawks, Joe Johnson (28 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds) was the star while Mike Bibby scored 16 points. Veterans Flip Murray (14 points) and Maurice Evans (13 points) had strong games off the bench.

Atlanta shot a blistering 59% as a team on threes (13 of 22) while Boston (5 of 24) fired up plenty of bricks. Outside of Pierce, the main reason that the Celts won was because they got to the line and converted (34 of 42 to Atlanta's 27 of 33) and grabbed 11 more rebounds (43-32).

This budding rivalry is starting to get good after last night's epic early-season game. Even without star Josh Smith, the Hawks pushed the Celtics to the limit and it would not be surprising at all to see these teams meet again next spring.

In the meantime, Denver comes to the Garden tomorrow night with old foe Chauncey Billups leading the Nuggets while Allen Iverson took his place in Detroit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Paul Pierce is the most clutch player in the NBA, really

When interviewed in Spain this past summer, Paul Pierce declared that he was the best player in the NBA. Sure we all had a nice laugh but Pierce might have been onto something. I'm not dumb enough to say that he's the top player (LeBron and Kobe say hello) but I will submit that Pierce is the most clutch player in the league at this moment.

Who was the 2008 NBA Finals MVP? Pierce. Who stepped up when his team needed him most (being pushed to seven games in the first two rounds)? Pierce. Who's team crumbled while he did little to sway the momentum of the series? Kobe.

This is a long-winded way of saying that last night, Pierce's aforementioned clutchness was on full display as the Celtics came back from down 16 points, to defeat Toronto, 94-87 at the Garden.

The Celtics (7-1) have now won five games in a row, including a win in Detroit Sunday night against Allen Iverson and the Pistons.

In 45 minutes of action, Pierce scored 22 of his game-high 36 points (9 rebounds, 4 assists) in the fourth quarter as Boston shook off a slow start by finally hitting shots to go with their top notch team defense.

Kevin Garnett had 21 points and 10 rebounds while Ray Allen added 19 points.

Toronto (4-3) dominated the first two quarters as the C's couldn't put the ball in the hoop. The Raptors led 23-18 after the first quarter and 48-36 at the half.

Jermaine O'Neal looked like the early millennium O'Neal that dominated the C's when he was a Pacer. He had 23 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Mostly since they reside in Canada, the Raptors completely fly under the radar but they're a very solid team.

Anthony Parker had 15 points and Jason Kapono scored 14 off the bench. Jose Calderon dished out 10 assists.

The C's started to wake up in the second half as they outscored Toronto, 23-17 in the third. A sold out crowd at the Garden came alive in the fourth quarter (the game felt like a playoff contest) as Pierce exploded and carried the C's to the win.

Eddie House (7 points) and Ray Allen made key 3-pointers late in the fourth when the Celts finally grabbed the lead.

Getting to the line and converting was one of the differences in the game. Boston shot 24 of 27 from the line while Toronto was 13 of 18. The Raptors had eight more assists (25-17) but also five more turnovers (16-11).

In a great week of games, the unbeaten (5-0) Atlanta Hawks come to the Garden tomorrow night to renew the rivalry which began in the first round of last season's playoffs.

Josh Smith twisted his ankle last week so he won't be playing. It would be great to see the Celts bring the Hawks back to earth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Patriots pick up key AFC East win over free-falling Bills

If you heard that Matt Cassel ran for a 13-yard touchdown (along with going 23 for 34, 234 yards), BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for 105 yards on 26 carries including a touchdown, Ellis Hobbs had an interception and Deltha O'Neal also had a pick, what month would you think it is? August? Wrong, it all happened in November as yesterday the New England Patriots used another team-wide effort to dispose of AFC East foe the Buffalo Bills, 20-10 at Gillette Stadium.

I was a witness with five of my friends as the Patriots (6-3) methodically outlasted the Bills (5-4) and knocked them out of the three-way first-place tie in the division.

It's getting redundant to say it but Cassel continues to improve while his teammates around him also make plays and help the cause. He will never be a Pro-Bowler and he might not be a starter after this season (unless he goes somewhere else or Tom Brady continues to get Third-World quality medical care) but Cassel has been a more than suitable backup thus far.

After the New England D forced a Buffalo three-and-out on its first drive, Cassel drove the Patriots downfield and capped it off with a 13-yard run up the middle. It wasn't designed that way but he correctly improvised and used his decent running ability to get into the end zone.

In the second quarter, Stephen Gostowski hit a 32-yard field goal to put New England up 10-0. Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell ended the shutout as he booted a 25-yard kick on the next Bills drive that stalled in the red zone.

Bills quarterback Trent Edwards who looked so good early in the season (as Buffalo started out 4-0) made a couple costly mistakes yesterday. He badly overthrew a receiver which led to Hobbs' interception and in the fourth, he tossed another interception into double coverage that O'Neal caught.

Buffalo's other offensive weapon, running back Marshawn Lynch (14 carries, 46 yards) could never get started as the Pats defense held the Bills to 10 first downs.

In the second half, New England used a ball-control offense to put it away. Gostowski had a 37-yard kick in the third then Cassel and the offense went on a 19-play, 92-yard, seven minute drive in the fourth that ended with a Green-Ellis 1-yard TD plunge, giving New England the 20-3 lead.

It might have been the tailgating Bud Lights and Sam Adams talking but I seriously debated with my buddy Kev how Green-Ellis is more suited for the Pats' style than Laurence Maroney. He correctly pointed out that Maroney has much more talent but he wasn't utilized properly. Green-Ellis won't be going to Canton anytime soon but his simple, straight ahead running style is just what the team needed.

Edwards threw a garbage time 14-yard TD pass to rookie James Hardy with under two minutes left in the game.

Wes Welker finished with 10 catches for 107 yards while Randy Moss had five catches for 53 yards.

The Patriots have no time to enjoy yesterday's win since the 6-3 Jets come to Gillette on Thursday night. The Jets smoked the Rams, 47-3 yesterday and they've been playing good football lately (winning three in a row).

The Pats-Jets game in Week 2 seems like a year ago but expect another tight, low-scoring game Thursday night as one of the team takes sole possession of first place. Every divisional game is hard this year as the Dolphins moved to 5-4 with a win over Seattle yesterday.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Apparently the Bombers was too politically incorrect

You can have your Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, don't forget the Detroit Pistons and San Antonio Spurs while you're at it. I'll take the 2008-2009 Boston Celtics over any of these other overrated teams. I don't smoke crack so believe me when I say that this team is better than last year's championship squad. Whatttttttttt?

It's true, the C's probably won't pile up such a ridiculous regular season record but at the same time, they also will be better suited to cruise through the first couple rounds of the playoffs. ESPN and most other mainstream media doesn't care about teamwork, defense or selfless play but those staples of the Celtics are some of the biggest reasons why they should be favored to repeat.

It was fitting on a night around the NBA like last night (when Tony Parker scored 55, Amare Stoudemire dropped 49 and LeBron hung 41) that the Celtics (4-1) coolly dismantled the host Thunder (1-3), 96-83.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say no Celtics player will reach any of those marks in a single game this season. It's not for lack of talent as Paul Pierce, KG and maybe (once in a blue moon) Ray Allen could put up such totals.

Boston wrapped up its short road trip, 2-1. Aside from Saturday's no-show against the Pacers, the Green beat another supposed contender in Houston and took care of business against the very young and inexperienced Thunder.

Pierce led the way with 20 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Ray Allen had his second strong game in a row: 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two steals. KG had his usual 17 points and eight rebounds.

Another reason why the C's should be even better is the continued improvement of Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo, the other two starters. Perk had 10 points, nine boards and four blocks while Rondo dished out 11 assists. Leon Powe continued to solidify himself as the sixth man of the team with 11 points and four rebounds off the bench.

Tony Allen scored eight points and Eddie House added seven.

In its first year in Oklahoma City (from Seattle), the Thunder will continue to take their lumps but they have a very promising threesome: Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Russell Westbrook. Durant scored a team-high 17 points, Green had 14 points and six rebounds while Westbrook notched 13 points.

However, starting Nick Collison, Johan Petro and Earl Watson-as Oklahoma City did last night-is never a good sign.

The Thunder jumped out to a 29-21 lead after the first quarter but the Celts doubled them up in the second (30-15) to take a 51-44 lead at the half. Boston's defense (and the Thunder's terrible shot selection) meant Oklahoma City only managed 11 points in the third quarter while Boston scored 19.

Oklahoma City outscored Boston, 29-28 in the fourth but Doc Rivers was able to rest the Big Three after two nights in a row of solid effort.

The C's shot 43.4% to the Thunder's 36.9%. The other two stats that jump out in Boston's favor were assists (25-15) and steals (10-5).

Boston next hosts the new-look Milwaukee Bucks tomorrow night at the Garden.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Obama and Celtics provide great hope for the future

There's a reason I've never written more than a passing joke about politics. Nothing brings down a party like a biased political view. However, last night was a historic moment in American history and it cannot be ignored: Barack Obama, an African-American democrat was elected as the 44th President of the United States. He overwhelmingly defeated republican nominee John McCain (349-163 in the electoral college) to become the first black president in our nation's history.

The Boston Celtics (3-1) also beat the Houston Rockets (3-1), 103-99 at the Toyota Center in a game that will be quickly forgotten.

All five Celtics starters scored in double figures as Boston bounced back from an awful game Saturday night vs. the Pacers and knocked off a team that's getting a lot of undeserved hype.

Ray Allen led the C's with 29 points, five rebounds and five assists. Kendrick Perkins outplayed Yao Ming and posted 15 points, seven rebounds and four blocks. Kevin Garnett had 14 points and 11 rebounds while Paul Pierce added 13 points and nine rebounds. Rajon Rondo notched 10 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.

As it was much of last season, Boston's bench was fantastic last night. Glen Davis scored nine points and Eddie House tossed in eight.

With the addition of possibly the most overrated player in the NBA-Ron Artest-the Rockets have been many experts' pick to make some noise in the West. I guess they've conveniently forgotten that Tracy McGrady has never gotten out of the first round and Yao Ming is injury-prone.

McGrady did his part last night with 26 points and six assists. For one night, Luis Scola was second banana with 21 points and nine rebounds. Artest managed 15 points and seven rebounds while Yao was held to eight points and seven rebounds. Aaron Brooks had 12 off the bench for Houston.

Boston was up 28-22 after the first quarter and 58-53 at the half. The Rockets took the third (25-23) but the Celtics held on in the fourth (22-21) despite Ray Allen fouling out and Tony Allen fouling McGrady taking a three when the Celts were up by four late in the game.

The Green shot 51.9% from the floor and Houston shot 39.1%. Boston also had five more boards (46-41) and four more blocks (5-1).

Boston goes to Oklahoma City tonight to play Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Back-to-back games, especially on the road, are never easy but the Thunder are one of the NBA's worst teams.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mental mistakes by players and coaches cost Patriots a win

With the Indianapolis Colts fighting for their playoff lives (in Week 9), the New England Patriots let them off the hook and let Indy walk away with an 18-15 win last night at Lucas Oil Field.

Down by three (18-15) and driving late in the fourth quarter, the Pats (5-3) made a costly mistake. Tight end David Thomas committed a stupid personal foul penalty which moved his team back 15 yards (and out of field goal range). After failing to make any headway on third down, New England made a curious move by going for it on fourth-and-16. The Colts (4-4) blitzed, hit quarterback Matt Cassel (25 of 34, 204 yards; 20 yards rushing), who threw up a duck that was intercepted.

The Patriots got the ball back with 20 seconds left but with no timeouts and deep in their own territory, the win was virtually impossible. The fact that the Pats didn't have any timeouts remaining was another fatal error. In the third quarter, Bill Belichick had challenged that the Colts had 12 men on defense. It failed and the Pats lost a key timeout.

While we're on the subject of plays that would have changed the game in New England's favor, receiver Jabar Gaffney was wide open and would have had a sure touchdown in the third quarter but he dropped the ball.

It was that kind of night for New England. This is the type of game that we've grown accustomed to seeing them win over the last seven years but not anymore. Not with so many injuries to our running backs (LaMont Jordan and Sammy Morris were both out again) and our secondary.

Peyton Manning (21 of 29, 254 yards, 2 touchdowns) wasn't as great as his numbers would make you believe. Maybe, I'm just jealous because I know anybody could tear apart the Patriots' cornerbacks.

Anthony Gonzalez (4 catches, 55 yards) began the scoring with a 12-yard TD catch in the first quarter.

Two Stephen Gostowski field goals (29 yards and 35 yards) in the second quarter cut the Colts' lead to 7-6. Clearly, the Patriots wanted to play keepaway from the Colts offense. This made for a fast-moving game, that was dominated by long drives for both sides.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (15 carries, 57 yards; 1 catch, 8 yards) scored from six yards out, to put New England up 12-7 in the third. Kevin Faulk (10 carries for 60 yards; 5 catches, 38 yards) tried to run the two-point conversion in but he was stuffed right before crossing the goalline.

Gonzalez caught the other TD pass from Manning, this one from nine yards away to put Indy up 13-12. The Colts went for two and were successful as Reggie Wayne (5 catches, 65 yards) caught the ball between two defenders and held on despite a big hit by Pats cornerback/safety Brandon Meriweather.

Gostowski added another 25-yard kick to tie it at 15 early in the fourth but the Pats could have had more. They had fourth-and-short inside the Colts 10-yard line when Cassel snuck for the first down. Unfortunately, Belichick had called timeout before the play started.

In a game so influenced by kickers, good ol' Adam Vinatieri somehow hit a kick from 52-yards to give the Colts the lead for good. Mr. Clutch has never been known for his big leg but it figures that he would step as usual.

Randy Moss had six catches for 65 yards and Wes Welker had seven catches for 37 yards.

The Patriots will have to turn the page quickly as they have three supremely important AFC East games coming up in a row. If New England could have pulled out a win last night, they would have held a one-game lead on the Bills (5-3) and Jets (5-3). As it stands now, the Patriots, Jets and Bills are in a three-way tie. The Bills come to Gillette Stadium next Sunday afternoon (in a game I will be attending) and then the Jets come to town on the following Thursday night.

The division is much improved as even the Dolphins (4-4) are playing consistent ball. It would have been beautiful to put Peyton and the Colts out of the playoffs last night but failure to execute killed the Patriots.