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Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Magic still don't scare me

So the Orlando Magic held on last night against the Boston Celtics, 84-82 at the Amway Arena.

It was a big win for the Magic (53-18) as they are now tied with the Celtics (54-19) for the second spot in the Eastern Conference with two games (not one like I last said) in hand.

Call it excuses, grasping for straws, whatever but after watching last night, it only further solidified my view that Boston should beat Orlando, if they meet in (most likely) the second round of the playoffs.

I'm not a complete idiot, Dwight Howard (24 points, 21 rebounds, 4 blocks) is a beast but watching him brick shot after shot in the fourth, while his teammates failed to put away a shorthanded Celtics team made me think that we are still better than them (provided KG, Leon Powe and Tony Allen are healthy).

Paul Pierce had a game-high 26 points and seven rebounds but head coach Doc Rivers and Pierce reverted back to the losing days for the Green. Repeatedly down the stretch, Pierce forced tough shots, none more so than the 3-pointer at the buzzer that would have won it.

Three defenders jumped out at Pierce. He hit some big baskets to help the C's comeback from 16 points down but Eddie House and Ray Allen were also on the floor.

Ray Allen added 16 points, five rebounds and five assists while Kendrick Perkins had 11 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks in a decent job against Howard.

Boston survived a big scare in the game when Rajon Rondo (9 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) rolled his ankle. Luckily, he stayed in the game and while he didn't play particularly well, the injury turned out to be much worse than it seemed at first glance.

Orlando loves their 3-pointers, huh? Rashard Lewis (21 points), Hedo Turkoglu (13 points) and Courtney Lee (11 points) all finished with respectable point totals but they were useless in the fourth.

And if you think Rafer Alston at point guard will lead the Magic to a title, you must live in one of the five boroughs. The guy is a scumbag and not a good player when you take him off the And-1 mix tour.

Kevin Garnett scored four points and grabbed eight rebounds in 17 minutes of action. It was painful to watch him helplessly sit on the bench in the fourth but I'm going to go out on a limb and say that he uses it as motivation. Doc plans to give KG some more time next week as the playoffs get closer.

In one of the last meaningful games of the regular season, the Celts travel to the ATL tomorrow night to face the Hawks.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Kevin Garnett's intensity will melt your face off

The universe and planets seem to be aligning properly once again, coincidentally as Kevin Garnett has made his triumphant return to the Boston Celtics' lineup.

The Big Ticket has been limited to less than 20 minutes in each of his first three games back but the club has clearly used his spark, winning three in a row, including a 90-77 decision over the Los Angeles Clippers last night at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Garnett only played 18 minutes, but he was an impressive 5-for-5 from the floor with two free throws for 12 points, two rebounds and two steals. He got into the game in the first and third quarters and wouldn't ya know those were the two deciding frames.

Ray Allen led the C's (54-18) with 20 points, Kendrick Perkins had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds while Rajon Rondo added 14 points, seven assists and five steals. For the third game in a row, a probably fatigued Paul Pierce (who carried the team in KG's absence) scored in single digits (nine points).

Still, the starting five is back together which is bad news for the rest of the NBA and hopefully Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine, not to mention Tony Allen are back in the action before the playoffs start.

Zach Randolph, my role model, had his usual empty numbers performance of 17 points and 14 boards for Los Angeles (17-54). Baron Davis added 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and Al Thornton tossed in 11 off the bench.

Boston led 31-18 after the first quarter but struggled with KG on the bench in the second quarter, limping into the break with a 44-42 lead.

Garnett and the C's outscored the Clippers 26-18 in the third and the subs did enough in the fourth (20-17) to hang on.

Things should get much more interesting as the Celts travel to Orlando tomorrow night. The top seed in the Eastern Conference is all but lying on LeBron's throne but the C's have some work to do to hold off the Magic for the all-important two seed.

Up just one game with a game in hand over Orlando, the Celts would do themselves a big favor by grabbing the road win.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bruins clinch Northeast Division and playoff spot

A majority of sports fans were transfixed by the NCAA men's basketball tournament yesterday (finding out the last Sweet 16 teams), myself included, but I managed to change channels during CBS' repetitive ads and see much of the Bruins' 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at the Garden.

I've been especially busy the last few weeks so I haven't blogged at all and I picked a good time since the Celtics and Bruins in particular have been how you say, shitting the bed?

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom since both will be heavyweights in the playoffs, but it's a sign of these teams' championship potential that we expect deep runs, not just simply making it.

The Bruins clinched a playoff spot (the eighth seed) in the second to last regular season game last spring. Yesterday, they secured their first division title in five seasons while also locking up a playoff spot.

The win was especially satisfying for the B's (46-17-10) and its worrisome fans, since the Devils (47-22-3) are the No. 2 team in the Eastern Conference and one of the NHL's hottest teams.

Boston won by playing like it did for much of the season (save for the last month and change): balanced scoring, strong goaltending and physical, smart hockey.

They're not splitting atoms over at the Garden, playoff hockey tends to be pretty meat and potatoes compared to the more wide-open, run and gun regular season. The great unknown is how this largely young, inexperienced team will handle being one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup once the calendar turns to April.

Michael Ryder staked Boston to a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal (his 25th of the season) late in the first period. Marc Savard passed to Mark Recchi who relayed it to Ryder. He didn't get anything on the shot but it deflected off a New Jersey player's skates, past Martin Brodeur (26 saves).

The B's put it away with three more goals in the second period. Chuck Kobasew put a clever backhander (18th of the season) past Brodeur with assists to Patrice Bergeron and Recchi.

Savard made it 3-0 with a power-play goal (his 23rd) from Matt Hunwick and Ryder.

Andy Greene got the Devils on the board later in the second period but that's as close as New Jersey would get.

Milan Lucic ended a long goal-scoring drought and potted his 14th of the year from Phil Kessel and Mark Stuart to wrap up the scoring for the game in second period.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas improved to 31-11-7 with an impressive 41 saves on the afternoon.

Only nine games remain on the regular season schedule for Boston and they won't play again until Saturday in Toronto.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Celts get it done in the swamps of Jersey

It wasn't pretty but the Boston Celtics picked up a win last night on the road against the New Jersey Nets, 115-111.

Still without KG, Paul Pierce led the C's (48-14) with 31 points and five assists on 12-for-14 shooting. Rajon Rondo added 20 points, five rebounds and five assists while Kendrick Perkins notched a double-double of 17 points and 13 rebounds.

Ray Allen scored 16 points (including a clutch 3-pointer that tied it late in the fourth) and grabbed five rebounds and Eddie House tallied 10 points off the bench.

Vince Carter had a game-high 34 points for the Nets (27-34). New Jersey's other star Devin Harris notched 25 points and 11 assists but rookie Brook Lopez was held to 10 points. Jarvis Hayes scored 16 points as a substitute.

The victory clinched a playoff spot for Boston but that's not exactly news with this squad and their ultimate goals.

Boston led 27-20 after the first quarter and 58-51 at the half. The Celts outscored the Nets 34-30 in the third and New Jersey started making its move in the fourth (30-23) but it was too late.

Even without Garnett, the Celtics possess two of the most dependable players in close games: Allen and Pierce.

Boston shot a ridiculous 61.2% as a team to New Jersey's 49.2%. The C's also had 13 more rebounds (39-26). The Nets hung around and made it interesting by hitting five more 3-pointers (13-8) and committing five less turnovers (19-14).

For a regular season game, it doesn't get much bigger as LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers invade the TD Banknorth Garden. The Cavs currently are one game ahead of Boston for the top spot and home court in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Your NHL Trade Deadline Update

The slumping, but still first-place Boston Bruins today had their most successful trade deadline since the '03-04 season where they acquired Michael Nylander and Sergei Gonchar for their playoff stretch. That year, they finished with 104 points and earned the second seed, only to lose in the first round to the Canadiens.

Back to this year's trade deadline deals. Bruins acquire defenseman Steve Montador from the Ducks for rarely-used young center Petteri Nokelainen. Many times in hockey, players will be compared to “a poor man’s Chara”, however Steve Montador is like the middle class’ Shane Hnidy. He is a solid role player defenseman who can get tough when you need him to, and will chip into the offense on occasion.

Nokelainen would have had a tough time breaking into the Bruins lineup with Savard, Krecji, Bergeron down the middle. Montador will add depth to a solid defense. Shane Hnidy has been playing more than he should but doing a great job. With Chara, Wideman, Ward, Ferrence, Stuart and now Montador the Bruins have a complete defensive core with a good mix of stay-at-home toughness, fluid puck movement and big shots from the point which will hopefully spark their suspect power play.

The second and biggest move the Bruins made can be viewed at as acquiring a veteran winger with over 1,426 career points and 117 career playoff points and most importantly, has his name inscribed on Lord Stanley’s cup, twice.

This move is in actuality, more of a medium risk, high reward. The Bruins gave up prospect defenseman Matt Lashoff, who was surpassed by Matt Hunwick as the B's top defense prospect and Martins Karsums.

Bruins also received a second round 2010 draft pick. As good as Recchi’s resume is, he is also the guy who got recently waived by Pittsburgh for sucking. Karsums and Lashoff may develop into a decent NHL player, but neither will become stars in the league.

The Bruins got exactly what they needed. Without putting a dent in the NHL Roster, they solidified their defense and added a veteran winger who could really make a difference. They are not expecting anyone to fill a Hossa-like roll for the Penguins last year or have Gonchar-Nylander expectations.

They needed to quietly fill a few holes without breaking stride and that’s exactly what they did. The difference between this year's Bruins and the 2003-2004 team is that in 2003-2004, we acquired Gonchar to be our best defenseman and Nylander to be the second anchor on offense.

In other news around the league, the Penguins traded for a conditional draft pick for Bill Guerin and Chris Kunitz. Good moves for them, as they really need some support up front.

The Flyers get yet another tough guy with suspect hockey skills. Philly acquired Daniel Carcillo from the Phoenix Coyotes for Scottie Upshall and a second-round draft pick. With Riley Cote, Aaron Asham and Scott Hartnell, I think this is the last guy they need. He may be able to generate some offense, but where does he fit?

The New York Rangers made the most noise in the East, adding Derek Morris and Nik Antropov in two separate deals. Antropov brings offense the Rangers desperately needed and Morris is a very reliable defenseman.

The Calgary Flames added winger Olli Jokinen and defenseman Jordan Leopold. These are two solid players that will help the Flames.

--Jim Christo

What the hell is going on out there?

I laid low after going to the Bruins' 4-3 overtime loss to the Capitals on Saturday. I was going to blog about it, but why bother? My internet-related apathy was not good karma apparently as the Flyers came into the Garden last night and dominated the Bruins, 4-2.

Like Saturday, there's really not much to say about Boston (42-13-9) at the moment. They've lost eight of their last eleven games and after looking like they recovered with the two blowout wins last week, it's back to square one.

The NHL trading deadline is this afternoon at 3 p.m. and it's anybody's guess whether the wet-behind-the-ears B's will be buyers or if they'll keep the team as it's currently constructed.

If the last few weeks have shown anything, it's that the Bruins need some kind of spark. This is a club that will have a home-ice advantage in the playoffs, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the Capitals, Devils and Flyers will all be tough outs in their own rights.

Patrice Bergeron (who's been playing really well lately) gave Boston a 1-0 lead in the first period last night with a power play goal. His seventh strike of the year was assisted by Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard.

Philly (34-18-10) tied it up in the second when Scottie Upshall scored an unassisted goal.

The Flyers wrapped it up with three straight goals in the third period. Two Simon Gagne tallies, were sandwiched around one by former Bruin Mike Knuble.

Stephane Yelle scored a garbage-time goal on the power play for the B's but I don't think even Yelle's kids have him on their fantasy teams, so it was utterly meaningless.

Philadelphia goaltender Antero Niittymaki (15-5-5) made 22 saves for the win. Bruins goalie Manny Fernandez (14-5-3) was not as sharp, with 22 saves in the loss.

One of the worst teams in the NHL, the Phoenix Coyotes, travel to Boston tomorrow night for what should be a must-win for the B's.