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Monday, April 20, 2015

NBA Playoffs Reality Check: It Will Be a Miracle if the Celtics Win a Single Game vs. Cavaliers

I am not a delusional person so I never thought for a second that the Celtics could actually beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game series, let alone win a few games and make it somewhat competitive. The first-round playoff series opened this afternoon at Quicken Loans Arena and Boston actually played about as well as they could (on the road at least) but still lost 113-100 to Cleveland. Haha would you believe that Vegas had the Celts as a 12-point underdog? How do those gambling magicians do it?

Anyways, Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 30 points in his playoff debut, LeBron James had 20 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals while Kevin Love put up 19 points and 12 rebounds in his first taste of the NBA playoffs. Forget the Celtics for a second, what other team in the Eastern Conference can beat this collection of All-Stars? For most of the regular season, I openly rooted against the C's because making the playoffs seemed so pointless to their mission of acquiring talent and assets. Near the end, I changed my mind since truly tanking was impossible and this group is extremely likable under one of the best head coaches-Brad Stevens-in basketball.

The sad reality of the NBA playoffs (and one of the many reasons that the NHL playoffs are better) is that upsets are few and far between, especially with top seeds and championship contenders. Anyone with half a brain realizes that Boston has essentially no chance to win this series. All we want is some relatively close games and maybe a win at the Garden, that'd be nice and something to build on for next season. Plus, with no Bruins playoff games this spring, we are just trying to delay what looks to be a mediocre Red Sox campaign.

Talent usually wins out in the NBA and even though the Celtics had six guys score in double-figures, led by Isaiah Thomas' 22 points, 10 assists and five rebounds off the bench, they predictably had no answer for the Cavs' big three. Evan Turner had 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists but he struggled with his shot (4 of 12 from the field). Brandon Bass and Marcus Smart were both pretty quiet, each guy was held to 10 points. Boston's bench kept them in it for a while as Kelly Olynyk scored 12 points and Jae Crowder added 10 points and five rebounds.

The Celtics couldn't have asked for a better start as they led 31-27 after the first quarter and 37-29 early in the second which was their biggest advantage of the game. Cleveland finally woke up from there and led by eight points at halftime (62-54) thanks to Irving's buzzer beating 3-pointer. The Cavaliers continued to steamroll the Celtics in the third quarter, opening up a 20-point lead (82-62) but Boston countered with a 14-0 run. Cleveland was up 91-76 heading into the fourth after another buzzer-beater 3-pointer, this time by J.R. Smith.

When you are so overmatched physically, I honestly don't know what Brad Stevens can tell his guys with a straight face. They won't suddenly wake up bigger, stronger or faster. I'm guessing that he points out how the Cavaliers made five more 3-pointers (13-8), eight more free throws (26-18) and grabbed 12 more rebounds (46-34) including eight on the offensive glass (15-7) in Game 1. I have a feeling that Game 2 on Tuesday (7, CSN) could be ugly much sooner if Cleveland decides to show up from the opening tip-off.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Red Sox Beat Orioles 3-2 on Walk-off Bloop Hit by Xander Bogaerts

Built like a Beer League softball team with a powerful lineup and nothing close to a No. 1 or No. 2 starting pitcher, Boston's flaws are painfully obvious but few would complain about the results from the first 10 games of the 2015 season.

The Red Sox (7-3 overall, 3-1 home) beat the Orioles (5-5 overall, 2-2 away) 3-2 tonight at Fenway Park in the 1st of 19 meetings this season. Xander Bogaerts' bloop single scored Mike Napoli for the walk-off win. The hit itself was nothing to write home about but Napoli's baserunning was impressive as he broke for the plate from second right away.

It was a strange game since Ubaldo Jimenez (3.2 innings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 2 strikeouts, 3 walks) was ejected in the fourth inning after he drilled Pablo Sandoval in the back with a fastball. This was retaliation for Sandoval's hard slide on Baltimore second baseman Jonathan Schoop earlier in the contest. Since Sandoval was in the baseline, I didn't see the problem with it. Jimenez's mistake was hitting him so high (near his head), if it had been on his side or ample backside, nobody would have cared. Oh baseball.

Joe Kelly had a decent start for the Red Sox (5.2 innings, 2 earned runs, 4 hits, 3 strikeouts, 2 walks) but he was done too early with a crazy pitch count (118) that was shades of Dice-K in his painfully mediocre prime. The teams combined for eight pitchers (four apiece) which was nearly as many hits as they produced (9), that's why the game took so long (3:13) without much action.

Baltimore took a 1-0 lead in the fourth when a run scored despite the fact that Chris Davis grounded into a double play. The Orioles made it 2-0 the following inning when catcher Caleb Joseph homered to right (barely out of the reach of Shane Victorino). His first homer of the season was trumped by Ryan Hanigan's two-run blast over the Monster in the home half of the frame. It was the Andover, MA native's first bomb as a Red Sox which had to be a special feeling.

Edward Mujica was first out of Boston's bullpen and he got four outs. Junichi Tazawa pitched a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts and Koji Uehara (1-0) was credited with the win after striking out two batters of his own in a 1-2-3 ninth (10 pitches!).

Literally anything could happen tomorrow afternoon (4:05, NESN) as Clay Buchholz (1-1) faces Chris Tillman (1-1) in a battle of "aces" who are nothing of the sort.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Red Sox Experience a Perfect 2015 Home Opener vs. Nationals Including a 9-4 Win

Even the most negative Red Sox fan (which are few and far between these days) would have a hard time complaining about anything that transpired on Monday afternoon at Fenway Park. Boston (5-2 overall) pounded Washington (2-5 overall, 1-3 away) 9-4 in the 2015 home opener that featured a moving pregame ceremony with my man Pete Frates and Jane Richards among others. Oh and did I mention that it was 70 degrees and sunny without a cloud in the blue sky? The fact that it was my first ever home opener made it extra special too, if I'm smart I should probably never attend another one since I doubt that this one can be topped.

Once the game started, Red Sox rookie center field and leadoff hitter Mookie Betts was the unquestioned star. He robbed Bryce Harper of a possible two-run homer in the first inning, roped a three-run homer (2nd of the season) over the Monster in the second (for a 4-0 Boston lead) and also stole two bases on one play then added an infield single that opened it up to 7-0. Rick Porcello (1-0) picked up his first career win for Boston with an eight-inning effort: four runs (three earned), on four hits with six strikeouts and a walk.

The Nationals have gotten plenty of hype but so far in the very early going of this season, I couldn't tell you why. For some reason, they played like they didn't want to be there. They dropped two pop-ups that would make average Little Leaguers weep. Jordan Zimmermann (1-1) was charged with eight runs (seven earned) in 2.1 disastrous innings. The only real offense that they could mount was a solo homer by Ryan Zimmerman in the fifth inning and Danny Espinosa's homer to right center.

As most expected, the Red Sox lineup looks dangerous and versatile. David Ortiz was 2 for 4 with solo homer and RBI single and Pablo Sandoval was 2 for 4 with a run. Xander Bogaerts continued to be on fire, going 2 for 3 with two runs, RBI and a walk. Finally, Sandy Leon was 3 for 4 with run and RBI against his former club that traded him to Boston a few weeks ago in Spring Training.

It wouldn't be part of the full Hanley Ramirez experience if we didn't worry about an injury barely a week into the regular season. He left in the sixth inning after fouling a ball right off his foot, ouch! We can only hope that it's not too serious since he's been known to miss weeks for numerous injuries in the past few years.

Tomorrow night's game is a weird start time (6:10, NESN) and it features Justin Masterson (1-0) making his return to Fenway vs. Stephen Strasburg (0-1) who hasn't looked right for years.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Red Sox Outlast Yankees 6-5 in 19 Innings/Longest Game in Team History (6:49)

My brain is completely fried, all thanks to the Red Sox-Yankees 19-inning marathon tonight at Yankee Stadium. Thankfully, Boston (3-1 overall, 3-1 away) came out on top 6-5 after blowing three one-run leads in the ninth, 16th and 18th innings. New York (1-3 overall, 1-3 home) could be the worst team in the AL East so this would have been a terrible loss for the Red Sox. I doubt there has ever been many crazier fourth games of the regular season in MLB history since this also featured a needless 16-minute delay in the 12th when some lights went out.

Steven Wright (1-0) pitched the equivalent of a short start: five innings, two earned runs on six hits with one strikeout and three walks. He blew it in the 16th as Mark Teixeira tied it at four with a towering home run to left field (his second of the season) and in the 18th on Carlos Beltran's RBI double. Rookie Mookie Betts provided the winning run with a sacrifice fly in the 19th that scored Xander Bogaerts (4 for 8 with walk, stolen base).

Wade Miley's Red Sox debut was a good one, well at least until the sixth inning when he allowed an RBI single to Alex Rodriguez (yes, that loser) and sacrifice fly by Brian McCann which cut it to 3-2 Boston. Miley went 5.2 innings, allowing the two earned runs on four hits with six strikeouts and two walks. He works exceptionally quick and he's a lefty that doesn't throw hard with a beard, so I'll call him Mark Buehrle lite.

Seven Red Sox relievers appeared between Miley and Wright. Some highlights: Robbie Ross got the last two outs in the sixth, Alexi Ogando had a 1-2-3 seventh, Junichi Tazawa pitched a scoreless eighth, Anthony Varvaro got four outs in his Red Sox debut, Tommy Layne recorded five outs (including three strikeouts) and Craig Breslow had two clean innings.

Pablo Sandoval hadn't done much in the three-game opening series at Philadelphia so it was nice to see him come through with a 4-for-9 night with RBI singles in the first and 18th. Daniel Nava's two-run single in the sixth gave Boston that short-lived 3-0 cushion. Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi (formerly of the Marlins) seems like your classic guy that throws hard but doesn't really know how to pitch. He was charged with three earned runs on eight hits in 5.1 innings of work.

Hanley Ramirez was 3-for-9 at the plate which was good but he made a poor read on a play in left field (get used to that) and also got gunned down at third by a mile following Sandoval's clutch single in the 18th. You just know that he is going to be super frustrating to watch every day.

The Edward Mujica as closer joke went as expected in 2015 with Chase Headley hitting a bomb off him in the ninth that sent it to extra innings. It sounds like Koji Uehara could be back by Monday for Opening Day at Fenway and not a moment too soon even though this was Mujica's first save chance of the young season.

Perhaps the craziest part of this whole silly event is that the game on Saturday happens to be in the afternoon (1:05, NESN) so sleep fast fellas! Joe Kelly opposes Adam Warren which doesn't inspire any thoughts of a pitcher's duel or anything of the sort but another four-hour plus contest.

Celtics Push Closer to a Playoff Spot With 99-90 Road Win at Cavaliers

The Cavaliers truly had absolutely nothing to play for tonight at Quicken Loans Arena against the Celtics so it was surprising that they even gave it much effort for a while. Cleveland (51-28 overall, 29-10 home) is locked into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and they can't move up or down so they eventually conceded a 99-90 road win to Boston (37-42 overall, 18-22 away). The Cavs sat Kyrie Irving (hip) for the entire game while LeBron James (14 points, 7 assists), Kevin Love (19 points, 6 rebounds), Timofey Mozgov (13 points) and J.R. Smith did not get off the bench in the fourth quarter.

Every win matters to the Celts so they obviously were happy to snap Cleveland's 18-game home winning streak, even if it was under shady circumstances. With the victory, Boston held onto the seventh spot in the East. Hopefully they can get out of that position and let Brooklyn (who has the same record) slide in while Boston drops to No. 8 to face Atlanta.

Five Celtics scored at least 12 points and Evan Turner dished out 13 assists. Rookie Marcus Smart led Boston with 19 points, Isaiah Thomas put up 17 points and five assists off the bench, Avery Bradley had 15 points, former Cav Tyler Zeller notched 13 points and five rebounds while Brandon Bass scored 12 points with five rebounds and three assists.

The only other Cavalier to score in double-figures was the ghost of Mike Miller (11 points). Tristan Thompson grabbed an impressive 12 rebounds in only 16 minutes off the bench for Cleveland. The Cavs had won the first two meetings of the season including a 110-79 beating in their most recent matchup on March 3 so I really wouldn't read much into this outcome. Plus, these same teams face each other again on Sunday (3, CSN) at TD Garden in another game that means everything to the Celts.

Boston cruised in the first half: up 28-17 after the first quarter and 54-40 at halftime. Cleveland made it interesting with a strong third quarter (37-25) before they packed it in during the fourth (outscored 20-13). As a team, the C's had five more assists (30-25), seven more steals (11-4) and eight more fast break points (9-1).

With the Celtics' triumph, Charlotte was eliminated from playoff contention (sorry MJ). That leaves only Indiana (36-43) and Miami (35-44) with a chance to make it but right now, Boston and Brooklyn are in the driver's seat for those last two berths with three games left to play for all those clubs.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bruins Outlast Maple Leafs 2-1 in a Shootout for Their Fifth Straight Victory

The Bruins closed out their final regular season game of 2014-15 at TD Garden with a frustrating but ultimately rewarding 2-1 shootout win over the Maple Leafs. Boston (41-25-13) set a season-high for shots on goal (50) but couldn't find a way to beat a mediocre goaltender like James Reimer (49 saves). Haha you might remember him from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference opening round series in 2013. Luckily, Toronto (29-43-7) is so bad (and tanking so hard) that the B's found a way to win a shootout (improving their record to a pathetic 4-9 this season).

After handing out their traditional year-end awards before the game, Boston came out hard in the first period and outshot Toronto 19-6. They couldn't find the back of the net but Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring just 19 seconds into the second. Reimer left a rare rebound on Brad Marchand's shot and Bergy was there for his 22nd goal of the season (tying Marchand for the team lead). David Krejci had the second assist on Boston's lone tally.

UNH product James van Riemsdyk, who seems to always kill the Bruins, tied it at 14:31 in the second period. A shot from the point deflected off Tuukka Rask (27 saves) and JVR was on the doorstep to poke it over the line. That was his team-leading 26th goal of the season and it was assisted by Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner.

Neither power-play couldn't generate anything: Boston's was 0-for-3 and Toronto's was 0-for-2. The Bruins had another dominant frame in the third (outshooting the Leafs 16-8) but they had nothing to show for it. Each team had three shots on goal in overtime which is typically when Boston plays well (9-4 this season; Toronto is 3-3).

In the shootout, Tyler Bozak and Krejci were stopped in the first round. Rask made the save on JVR to start the second round and Bergeron potted the only goal. Nazem Kadri was Toronto's final shooter and he couldn't find a way to get the puck past Rask.

At the moment, Boston is still in eighth-place in the Eastern Conference but they have 95 points-the same as the Penguins and Red Wings. The difference is that those clubs have a game in hand on the Bruins. Ottawa won 4-3 in overtime tonight vs. Washington (43-25-11) to remain three points back of the Bruins. By the time that the B's take the ice again on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) in DC, things will look much different since the Senators are in Toronto tomorrow night and then host Pittsburgh on Tuesday. To give you even more of an ice cream headache, the Bruins are only three points behind the Islanders and two behind the Capitals.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Bruins Steal Two Points in Detroit With 3-2 Comeback Victory vs. Red Wings

The roller coaster that is the 2014-15 Boston Bruins' season took another enjoyable turn tonight as they rallied for an improbable 3-2 win at Joe Louis Arena vs. Red Wings. Boston (40-25-13) trailed Detroit (40-24-13) 2-0 early in the third period but tied it on goals by Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson before Zach Trotman netted the game-winner (also his first career NHL goal). It was Boston's fourth straight win and it tied them with Detroit for third-place in the Atlantic Division although the Red Wings have one game in hand.

It was a pretty lifeless first period save for two penalties on Zdeno Chara for tripping and interference. The Red Wings scored first in the second period on a bizarre play. Danny DeKeyser's shot hit the end boards then popped back in front where Luke Glendening was there to flip it by Tuukka Rask (35 saves). His 12th goal of the season was also assisted by Stephen Weiss.

There was some anxious moments for Bruins fans since Patrice Bergeron left in the second period with a mysterious injury and never returned in that frame. It happened during a faceoff when his body got twisted around so who could tell? Thankfully, he was out there to start the third with a face shield after he received 30 stitches for a nasty cut on his face. His tripping penalty cost the B's as Weiss was able to make it 2-0 at 2:52 of the third with a power-play goal. He did a give-and-go with Riley Sheahan (yes, they do those in hockey too) and beat Rask from in tight. Marek Zidlicky had the second assist on the power play goal and Weiss' ninth tally of the season.

At that point, it certainly didn't look good for the Bruins but we should have remembered that this is a team that they own (they were 3-1 coming into tonight this season vs. Red Wings). Soderberg got the comeback started with a power-play goal at 5:05. After Petr Mrazek (22 saves) left a juicy rebound of Reilly Smith's shot, Soderberg was able to roof it from close range. Brett Connolly had the second assist for his first point in his first game as a Bruin.

2:14 after that, Eriksson tied it thanks to a nifty backhand pass through traffic and behind the net from Smith. Soderberg had the second helper on Eriksson's 21st goal of the season. Honestly, Trotman's goal was pretty weak on Mrazek's part not that any of the Bruins or their fans were complaining about it. His first shot from the point was blocked so he got more aggressive and drove to the net before his shot somehow squeezed past Mrazek. Ryan Spooner and Connolly had the assists on the game-winner which occurred with 2:08 left in regulation.

Boston wasn't able to gain any ground on Washington (who beat Montreal 5-4 in a shootout) or Florida (who blitzed Carolina 6-1) since they both won tonight as well. The B's host the Maple Leafs (29-43-6) on Saturday night (7, NESN) in their regular season home finale. The Bruins are finally in a nice groove during the stretch run so they should take care of Toronto (who have absolutely nothing to play for but draft position) no problem.