During a relatively quiet spring training here are some Sox storylines

The road to the repeat begins now, in Fort Myers, Florida, the spring training site of the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. With no major acquisitions this offseason, unlike the 5+ years, the Sox head into camp with 23 out of the 25 players from last year’s team. While we don’t have big storylines like teams in the Harper race or teams who did make bigtime acquisitions there are still some questions that need to be answered.

Too many bullpen pieces? – I believe that this bullpen dilemma is being blown way out of proportion. Yes, the Yankees signed Ottavino, who wasn’t extremely better than David Robertson, and resigned Britton but these moves are not an extreme upgrade over what they had last year. Also due to the recognition of the names the Red Sox lost, Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, people are calling this bullpen potentially worst in the league. Yeah, not so fast. After what has been a lot of recovery time, both Steven Wright and Tyler Thornburg are healthy and ready to prove their worth. Wright pitched extremely well last year and has been confirmed to be a full-time reliever. Matt Barnes had a career year, carried that success into the postseason and has continued to get better in recent years. Ryan Brasier was a break out for the Red Sox with his big fastball and wicked slider. Brandon Workman had a bad spring but was effective in limited major league appearances, but he’s looked good early with his curve seeming more effective. Then Colton Brewer and my sleeper Erasmo Ramirez, Brewer has some great stuff but never clicked with the Padres, but the Red Sox think they’ve cracked the code by changing his mound positioning, something they had great success with, in respect to David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez last year. Ramirez was a bullpen/swing starter for the Mariners and brings a somewhat different look for the Red Sox. Cora has stated he wants to have a sixth starter to start the season because of the 11 games in 11 days the Red Sox have to start the season, on the west coast. He will have to compete with Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself. Not to mention some guys I left out so this isn’t even more of a giant section

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How does the roster shape out? – Assuming Dustin Pedroia and the aforementioned Wright and Thornburg are set for opening day, which seems to be the belief around the team, there aren’t too many spots up for grabs. The Red Sox only plan on keeping 2 catchers, so there’s a race there between Vazquez, Leon and Swihart (more on him later). The infield is on lock for now, Moreland and Pearce split time at first, Pedroia, and Bogaerts up the middle and Devers at the hot corner, with utility men Holt and Nunez. The best outfield in the majors returns with Benintendi, Bradley Jr and Betts and Martinez as the primary DH and part time outfielder (Holt and Nunez also both have corner outfield experience while Betts and Benintendi can both play centerfield). That’s 13 out of 25. Then the 5 starting pitchers are also locked down; Sale, Price, Eovaldi, Porcello and Rodriguez. That’s 18 out of 25. My bullpen projection is Wright, Workman, Barnes, Brasier, Thornburg, Brewer, Ramirez/Velazquez/Johnson. That would be 25. But there is one more possibility that I believe is on the horizon.

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Trades? – I am firmly in the camp of believing Swihart will be traded, probably among others like a Johnson or Velazquez, for a quality reliever. Swihart is young, cheap, controllable, has offensive potential and is athletic enough to play many positions. He could be a dream for a rebuilding team, whether that be starting a rebuild or trying to finish it. Dombrowski has made it known that he doesn’t want to carry 3 catchers on opening day, why not trade Swihart while we have some young catchers developing and Vazquez signed his extension last offseason. One more quality bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt.

Prospect season – Another misconception, the Red Sox farm system is depleted. Maybe a bit at the top but not really no. They have young promising arms in Darwinzon Hernandez, Bryan Mata, and Durbin Feltman among others. Promising position players like Bobby Dalbec, Triston Casas and the only Red Sox prospect ranked in the MLB top 100 prospect list: Michael Chavis. These young players have the chance to prove themselves and get placed higher in the farm system, the double AA or triple AAA level. The thing I don’t understand is this Red Sox scouting and development team found all these prospects they had when they were a highly ranked farm system, some guys went in trades for Chris Sale for example, and some are impacting the major league club, Benintendi and Devers most recently. If they had a top farm system as recently as a few years ago why can’t they do it again? It’s not like they got lucky on a dozen or so prospects. If the players the Sox have can continue to impress and rise through the ranks, they could have an impact on the major league club this year and/or for years to come. With some free agents on the horizon.

Free agency looming: The Sox have decisions to make in the coming years, Bogaerts and Sale among others become free agents this offseason. Mookie has free agency on the horizon. Despite getting out from some bad pre Dombrowski contracts after this season they can’t afford everyone. There are discussions going one between Sale and the Sox on an extension and hopefully they can retain Bogaerts as well. JD Martinez can opt out next offseason, but it is very possible he doesn’t if he feels comfortable with his deal and doesn’t want to go back into this terribly slow free agent market.

NBA trade season aka 1/2 of Danny Ainge season

 

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The busiest day in the NBA has come and gone and while we are all done being in awe of the knowledge of Woj, the NBA dust is settling on what promises to be a very intriguing road to the finals.

Some of the East’s top tier teams load up:

·       Nikola Mirotic traded to the Milwaukee Bucks: My goodness the Bucks are looking mighty scary. Adding a top tier shooting forward to a team that is already shooting the lights out is scary. Giannis gets another weapon as he tries to fortify his MVP case. Mirotic is a great fit alongside Giannis because he is an efficient 3-point shooter, but he can also rebound and play in the paint a little. If the defense bites on the pass out to Mirotic, Middleton or other shooters, Giannis is almost guaranteed a basket but if the defense collapses towards Giannis he can pass out to a bevy of shooters along the perimeter as the defense scrabbles back.

·       Marc Gasol traded to the Toronto Raptors: This move still confuses me. How much better can Gasol make the Raptors instead of Valanciunas? Gasol maybe the better defender and shooter but Valanciunas is just as good as if not better of a rebounder and post player. With Serge Ibaka’s ability to shoot the basketball I don’t really see a logjam in the paint. Valanciunas has always been a Celtics killer and Gasol is not so this is a welcomed sight to me.

·       Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic traded to the Philadelphia76ers: The 76ers acquire a shooting forward in Harris, a piece they think they can retain to become pat of a big 4 with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and fellow to be free agent Jimmy Butler. Boban gives them a back center at a ridiculous 7-foot 3-inches and he also happens to be Harris’s best friend, so good for morale I suppose. This move doesn’t scare me as much as Mirotic because Harris is a little more rounded offensively and he isn’t just a catch and shoot type player. Simmons needs the ball to be effective, Embiid can dominate with the ball in the low post and Butler also can make his own shots. If they can make it work, they could be dangerous down the stretch, but they did shed some bench pieces, so they aren’t as deep as Boston, Toronto and Milwaukee.

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76ers scrap the latest part of the process: In a shocking move the 76ers dumped second year point guard Markelle Fultz for Johnathon Simmons, a first-round pick and a second-round pick. The 76ers traded up in the draft the summer of 2017 for Fultz, with the Celtics who used the 76ers pick to select Jayson Tatum and the Celtics got another pick. He has been suffering from shoulder issues for most of his career and he has been criticized by the media non-stop for his strange shooting mechanics and disagreements with the 76ers organization. Simmons can help a depleted Philly bench, but he is having a down year offensively. Fultz gets a chance to start over in Orlando where the desperately needed a point guard, they can give him a chance to get physically and mentally healthy as they tank to acquire what could be the last piece in their rebuild.

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Mark Cuban’s biggest foreign investment to date: After supposedly only demanding a trade at most an hour before this happened Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in hopes of becoming part of a sensational young duo with a fellow European, Mavs rookie sensation Luka Doncic. Porzingis will miss the remainder of the year as he continues to recover from a torn ACL and has stated he will sign the qualifying offer this summer to forgo restricted free agency to become an unrestricted free agent next summer. Where Mark Cuban will either a) throw him a boat load of money b) hand him a blank check for Porzingis to fill out or c) let him sign elsewhere if he doesn’t come back from his torn ACL effectively.

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Danny Ainge is a goddamn wizard (and not the Washington kind): Ainge was able to trade Jabari Bird and free up a roster spot. The Celtics can sign someone from the buyout market to a modest 2-year deal. I can hear you saying what’s so impressive about this? Well that player could then be used as salary filler in a potential Anthony Davis deal. Davis, the guy who doesn’t want to play in Boston? You may be saying, well first of all, read before you ask, and secondly yes that Anthony Davis. Ainge was successfully able to keep the Pelicans from trading Davis this deadline and now has secured himself the ability to make official offers to the Pelicans. Unable to trade for Davis because of the Rose rule, the Celtics had to wait until the summer when Kyrie gets a new or deal or leaves if you believe that pile of bullshit. So, by successfully stalling a trade Ainge has guaranteed he will get a chance to send the Pelicans some offers. Who and what will those offers consist of? Nobody knows not even Danny because he’s that unpredictable. But the Celtics would have to draft for the Pelicans if they were to trade some 2019 draft picks because offers can’t be made until July 1st, after the draft. I am not worried about the rumors that Davis won’t resign long term in Boston nor should you be, Kevin Garnett, yes that Kevin Garnett didn’t want to be traded to Boston, then he signed an extension to stay once eligible. Boston wasn’t a preferred destination for Kyrie either but there are more signs pointing towards him stay than leaving. Once in Boston, where fans are some of the most loyal and passionate, where you have new facilities, a great coaching staff, top tier ownership committed to winning and have a chance to become immersed in the rich basketball culture and tradition of excellence it is very possible to have your mind changed. All hail Lord Danny.       

Someone free up Tom’s other hand

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Can we just take a minute and grasp the amazing careers Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had so far? Bill Belichick has won 8 super bowls so far in his career, EIGHT, that is ridiculous he is closing in on Bill Russell levels of dominance and winning. Tom Brady has won 6 now and has been to 9. Excluding his rookie year which he didn’t play and 2008 when he tore his ACL week one, he has been to the Super Bowl for ½ of his career, 9 out of 18 years he has played in the Super Bowl. This is an era of unparalleled dominance for the Patriots this is basically 20 years of owning the NFL and letting teams fight for second place.

So the Super Bowl was basically the Patriots defense giving a big middle finger to all the haters this year and repaying Tom Brady for being terrible last year. Tom Brady threw for 505 yards and 3 touchdowns last year and the defense couldn’t stop anything. The redeemed themselves big time this year. Holding the second-best offense in the league this year to 3 points. One singular 47-yard field goal. Jared Goff was under duress all night by the Patriots front 7. Dont’a Hightower is entrenching himself in Super Bowl history, he had 2 sacks while getting constant pressure, after the notorious strip sack of Matt Ryan in Super Bowl 51 and game saving tackle of Marshawn Lynch in Super Bowl 49. Kyle Van Noy had a great game as well. Stephon Gilmore could’ve been MVP of this game. On a weekend where Ty Law was inducted into the hall of fame Gilmore honored the number 24 but putting up a Law like game. He had 5 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble and 3 passes broken up.

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Belichick pays attention to all the small things, like harping on special teams plays 24/7. Ryan Allen and Matthew Slater had a phenomenal game as well. Multiple time Allen delivered a perfect punt and Slater downed it to pin the Rams deep in their own territory. Gostkowski, playing with a heavy heart after the passing of his grandfather came through with 2 field goals and many great kickoffs.

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If you’ve been paying close attention, I haven’t mentioned the offense yet, because they didn’t do much. Julian Edelman had a great game, reinforcing my theory that a great beard like that is a source of unlimited power. The running game played well, Sony Michel especially as he scored the only touchdown of the game to cap off his stellar playoff run. Tom Brady did face pressure most of the night as Wade Phillips was able to continue his success at game planning for Brady, he did a good job moving Suh and Donald all over the defensive line to confuse the Patriots offensive line at times.

Was the game boring? Yeah maybe a little at times but I’d say more tedious/irritating than anything. In an era of offensive explosion defenses reigned supreme in the Super Bowl. In a year shrouded in negativity from the outside for the Patriots they came closer as a group and pushed through to beat the top three DVOA ranked teams in the playoffs (DVOA compares a team’s season to the calculated average adjusted to the defenses they played so the Chiefs, Rams and Chargers were viewed as the top 3 teams in relation to this stat). At the end of the day there was no luck, perseverance, discipline and experience reigned supreme once again for the now 6 time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

It’s Time for the Most Super of the Bowls.

 

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The NFL and controversy go together as well as the Patriots and winning, it happens all the time and everybody is sick of it (except for Patriots fans of course, in respect to the winning part). Yes, you can argue the Saints could have done more to win the NFC championship game and it would be a very sound argument but to say that the no-call isn’t a big reason why the Saints lost is ridiculous. Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman could have been flagged for defensive pass interference, unnecessary roughness maybe even not knowing how to play football. He was quoted saying Tom Brady isn’t as good as people say but tried to deny a direct quote from himself the next day. The same Robey-Coleman that should be used to be getting dominated/embarrassed by Brady from his time with the Bills, he better watch out Sunday.

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Tom Brady proved he still owns the AFC in a great win against the Chiefs in Kansas City. That punt didn’t touch Edelman, anyone with eyes could see that, the Chiefs had to hold the Patriots receivers or commit pass interference that consistently wasn’t called. The refs were squarely in the Chiefs corner. Yes, the roughing the passer on Brady was bogus but Edelman got held, interfered with that same play, moot point. National media trying fault Brady because the Chiefs defense couldn’t line up on-sides is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard, and Brady haters say a lot of stupid stuff.

But alas, the Super Bowl is almost upon us. The young, high flying Rams, lead by young coaching superstar Sean McVay go up against the veteran Patriots and Bill Belichick. Fun facts, Brady is 8 years older than McVay, McVay played against Edelman in college and McVay was 1 year old when Belichick won his first Super Bowl as the Giants defensive coordinator. Did I hammer home to age disparity like the national media has?

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The Rams offense has been led by recent breakout CJ Anderson, who’s been playing better than and more than Todd Gurley II. Jared Goff, Brandin Cooks and the passing attack has been playing well as well. The Patriots defense played well last week despite the 31-point second half the Chiefs had. They’ve been playing some of their best football as of late. Kyle Van Noy and Trey Flowers had spectacular games leading the defensive line in generating pressure on Mahomes and forcing throw aways, bad throws or even sacks. The Patriots were able to contain Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce almost all game, despite Kelce getting away with pushing off or drawing questionable pass interference calls. I like how to Patriots defense matches up with the Rams with how well everyone has been playing recently but it won’t be easy.

Tom Brady is still Tom Brady and I think the Patriots will have opportunities to prosper. The offensive line has been stellar, not giving up a sack the last two games. They will have their hands full with should be defensive player of the year Aaron Donald and his interior mate, old rival Ndamukong Suh. Running the ball won’t be easy but Rob Gronkowski has been blocking well lately and the Patriots can have success trying to get Sony Michel, James White, and Rex Burkhead running lanes to the outside behind excellent lead blocker James Develin. Also, Cordarrelle Patterson could have success is running jet sweeps across the field like how the Chiefs used Tyreek Hill all season. While to Rams defense has a lot of big names, they can give up a lot of points. The Patriots will need a very well-constructed blocking scheme to win this game, and if anyone can construct that plan it would be Bill Belichick and offensive line guru Dante Scarnecchia.

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The Rams have put together a spectacular season without a doubt, but I don’t think McVay and Wade Phillips will be able to fool Belichick and a Patriots team that seems determined to make up for last year’s embarrassing loss in the super bowl. Patriots will break out the duck boats.

Hot takes gone ice cold, (like the AFC Divisional Round playoff games)

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The good news is I went 3-1 in my game predictions, the bad news is all of my score type predictions were wrong. The Pats blew out the Chargers, the Rams didn’t win as big as I thought they would, the Saints game came down to the wire. The Colts lost in embarrassing fashion and it wasn’t a shootout. We have the top 2 seeds in each conference fighting it out for a chance to play in the Super Bowl. So, let’s hope I can be right, no hot takes included.

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Patriots at Chiefs: The Patriots looked great in their blowout win against the Chargers. The Patriots did what they needed to do and exploited the Chargers weakness of running backs catching passes out of the backfield. The running game looked surprisingly good as Sony Michel had a 3-touchdown game. The defense looked great as well, giving up 14-21 points depending on when you think garbage time starts, then gave up a little more when they took their foot off the gas to avoid injury. The Chiefs also looked good in their win. Their defense had a shutout going until the middle of the 4th quarter, the only other points coming from the Colts special teams. Arrowhead stadium is a decisive homefield advantage for the Chiefs, but Belichick is just about the only guys who can not be affected by that. This Patriots defense is better than it was in the week 6 matchup, which the Pats won 43-40. Tom Brady will be Tom Brady; the offensive line needs to continue their good play, Gronkowski also looked really good as a blocker in the Chargers win. I really think the Patriots defense can better matchup with the Chiefs thanks to their health and unique defensive personnel packages. Patriots win.

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Rams at Saints: Both of these teams played well this past weekend. The Eagles jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead then scored 0 points the rest of the game as the Saints came back to win. The Rams handled the Cowboys rushing attack and had a great rushing attack of their own and Dak Prescott wasn’t able to win the game by himself. This game should be great, the Superdome is a tremendous home field advantage for the Saints. The Saints have a great offense headlined by the two headed backfield of Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Drew Brees and Michael Thomas. The Rams have established a great rushing attack with Todd Gurley and the re-emergence of CJ Anderson, and a passing attack of Brandin Cooks, Robert woods and Jared Goff. Both defenses have playmakers and Aaron Donald will be a handful for the Saints, but I think the Saints can squeeze out a win. Their defense matches up with Rams offense better than the opposite. Saints win

NFL Playoffs: Divisional Round

 

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Those damn Eagles just won’t lose, will they? How ‘bout them Cowboys? Can Andy Reid win a playoff game? Philip Rivers vs Tom Brady and the New England winter? All this and more coming up, ft. my hot (I think) takes.

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Colts at Chiefs: The Colts showed a somewhat stunning display of dominance last week against the Texans. Going to Kansas City is no easy task but their defense is not close to being on the level of Houston’s. Last time these teams met in the playoffs Kansas City blew a 23-point lead, and Andy Reid hasn’t coached/managed a good playoff game since. I have no reason to believe he will now. Timeouts and game clocks are the same no matter what Kansas City fans say about the differences between Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes II. The Colts defense played fast and smart last week and will have to do it again to match up to the speed of Kansas City’s offense.  Colts win in a relatively high scoring game.

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Cowboys and Rams: Did Dallas play well last week? Yes. Did Pete Carroll and Brian Schottenheimer absolutely fall flat on their face despite Russell Wilson’s best effort? Also a resounding Yes. Sean McVay and the Rams are a much more potent and aware offense. With Todd Gurley anchoring the run game and Jared Goff having weapons to throw to, the Dallas defense could be in for a rude awakening. The rams will need to work to get pressure on Dak Prescott only after they try to contain Ezekiel Elliott. The Rams need to force Dak Prescott to beat them with his arm. If they can do that, I like their chances to establish an early lead and better contain the Cowboys. Rams win by at least 10.

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Chargers at Patriots: The Chargers dominated the ravens for about 3 quarters, almost completely collapsed and the forced a game sealing fumble. If Lamar Jackson can pick apart the Chargers defense, why can’t Brady? The Pats will need to protect Brady and if the can do that, receivers should be able to get open over the middle so Brady doesn’t have to hold the ball. The Pats need to use James White and Rex Burkhead in the passing game because that is a weakness for the Chargers defense, and it’s usually a strength for the Pats offense. I don’t believe chargers running back Melvin Gordon will be playing healthy so that could allow the Patriots to focus on defending the passing game and getting pressure on Phillip Rivers. Pats win the closest game of the weekend.

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Eagles at Saints: What almighty power is betting on the Eagles? After winning on a tipped field goals miss last week the Eagles ride into New Orleans, site of their biggest loss this season, a 48-7 blowout. The eagles defense played better than expected last week, but the bears offense does not have the weapons the saints does or the most accurate quarterback of all time in Drew Brees. If the Saints can put up a lot of points the eagles don’t have a diverse enough offense to be able to mix in the run with the pass. The Saints are coming in with a vengeance after how their season ended last year, a missed tackle resulting in the Minnesota Miracle. Sean Payton will have his team fired up to get to where they think they should’ve been last year. The luck is going to run out for Nick Foles. Saints win the most lopsided game of the weekend.      

Hey Celtics, long time no write

 

NBA: New York Knicks at Boston Celtics

Due to a variety of reasons I haven’t written about the Celtics in a while. Their schedule is weird so I’m going to quit trying to plan and just do it.

The Celtics are pretty good again, sitting at 24-15, not the best but they’re getting better by the day. After a disappointing start Brad Stevens mixed up his starting lineup. Inserting Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris with Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. Marcus Smart brings defense, playmaking, and toughness/scrappiness right from the start of the game. Marcus Morris has been having a career year shooting wise by a wide margin. He also brings defense, toughness and rebounding to the starting lineup.

 

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This move pushed Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward to the bench. Jaylen Brown has been playing much better recently now that he’s gotten settled into his role and is playing his style of basketball, using his athleticism to get to the basket easily. As a starter he tried to become more of a catch and shoot guy, which doesn’t suit his skill set. Gordon Hayward is looking good, he’s showing more confidence in his ankle by being more willing to get to the basket, he’s more confident in his shot, he’s showing great passing/playmaking ability, and is playing solid defense while playing premium bench minutes.

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Lets back track for a minute, Marcus Smart is quietly having “breakout year”. He is shooting above his career averages and a very respectable 35% from 3-point range. If he can continue that along with his better playmaking ability, he can be a valuable asset for the Celtics as they make a push for a higher playoff seed and make a playoff run. He is still a defensive magician, he can guard just about anyone on the floor, his puts his body on the line to make the tough plays. Kyrie recently said in his free time that he watches Marcus Smart defensive highlights, me too Kyrie, it’s just so amazing to watch.

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Speaking of Kyrie Irving, he is becoming more of a vocal leader and showing that he can be the number one option on a top-level team. He is playing the best all around season of his life; he’s scoring at least 20 a night usually, displaying great playmaking abilities and is hustling and grinding on the defensive end to make a great Celtics defense even better. Watching this man play basketball is jaw-droppingly amazing. He is an amazing shooter, a great passer, can score at will when he gets to the basket from any angle and he has the best dribble moves in the league bar none.

Big game tonight for the Celtics, with a chance to make up some ground against the higher seeded Indiana Pacers, Celtics are on the comeback and are back with a vengeance to show they’re still one of the top teams to go through in the East and the league.