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Celtics claiming their piece of the spotlight

Email|Print| Text size + By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / November 16, 2007

Just when you thought the Red Sox and Patriots sat alone atop the throne that rules Boston and all of New England, the Celtics are doing their best to grab a significant share of the spotlight. They improved to 7-0 Wednesday night and will be gunning for eight tonight when they host Shaquille O'Neal and the Miami Heat at TD Banknorth Garden. The Green, the only unbeaten team in the NBA, are off to their best start since a 10-0 run to begin the 1972-73 season, and have their first seven-game winning streak since March 9-19, 2005.

That has translated into a bonanza for Comcast SportsNet, formerly Fox Sports New England. For example, Wednesday's contest against the Nets garnered a 5.4 household rating, the team's highest-rated regular-season telecast since the 1997-98 season. Through the first seven games, the network's household ratings are up 76 percent from last year. Comcast SportsNet's first seven broadcasts have averaged a 3.9 (translating to 89,700 households) vs. a 2.2 in 2006-07.

"There's just unbelievable excitement about the team," said Comcast SportsNet spokesman Skip Perham. "In years past, a lot of fans have stuck with the team. Our ratings were up last year [over the year before], not tremendously, but the audience was growing. I think people understood what the team was at that time and they were excited to see those [young] players grow. Obviously, now it's an entirely new situation."

The network, in anticipation of what the season could bring, has added features to give viewers more information about the players.

"There are things we added before the start of the season or for this season," said Perham. "It's twofold - there's obviously great interest in the team but we're also under new ownership and Comcast is making a significant investment in local programming. So, we've added a Celtics magazine show, 'Celtics Now,' and we've added pre- and postgame shows for every telecast.

"In years past, we wouldn't have a formal pre- and postgame show on weekends, but we've done that for every game this year and we've built a brand-new studio to host that. We've also added a full-time courtside reporter [Greg Dickerson, who did only the home games the last two years]. We've put a lot into our Celtics telecasts already. We want to be seen as the authority on Celtics basketball."

Best defense

NFL Network commentator Cris Collinsworth had some interesting points during a conference call earlier this week. When asked about the Patriots' dominance through their first nine games, Collinsworth talked about the defensive adjustments coach Bill Belichick made against the Colts. "It's easy to say Tom Brady and Randy Moss and what they've done on the offensive side," said Collinsworth. "But I was amazed with the fact that the Patriots came out and essentially played a brand-new defense against the Colts. There it is, the biggest game of the year, maybe ultimately decides where the championship game is played and maybe ultimately decides who the Super Bowl winner is. But for them to come out in a 4-3 defense and not play particularly well in the first half . . . If you watch the game, they really struggled to maintain the edge." Collinsworth said he learned something from watching the game tape, since he was on the air with NBC during the game. "When I went back and watched the game footage, when I got to halftime I said, 'I guarantee you Bill Belichick's going to switch back to the 3-4 in the second half and he didn't," he said. "He just made adjustments to that 4-3, crashing the ends and doing some things on the outside or crashing the outside linebackers and playing it a little tougher and they fixed it." . . . Would Phil Jackson go away from the triangle offense in the NBA Finals? "I saw Belichick do that in the Super Bowl against Philadelphia as well. It's a remarkable defensive group of people that they can make that sort of a change in the middle of the season and make it work." . . . The NFL ruled the ratings last week, with Fox's doubleheader featuring the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Giants scoring the highest numbers. The game was viewed by 25.1 million, some 15 percent more than the No. 2 program ("CSI" at 21.9 million viewers) . . . Because there is never a dull moment in Red Sox Nation, NESN is launching an offseason program entitled "Red Sox Hot Stove" beginning Monday at 5:30 p.m., with repeats at 7:30 and 10:30 on most Mondays. Versatile broadcaster Tom Caron will serve as host from the NESN studio. Highlights of the inaugural show include a trip NESN's Tina Cervasio took with David Ortiz to New York City to chronicle his appearance on "Regis and Kelly," a report on American League Rookie of the Year Dustin Pedroia and Gold Glove winner Kevin Youkilis, and playing "9 Innings" with Globe reporter Nick Cafardo . . . NESN.com is holding fan voting to determine the three best regular-season games of 2007. Red Sox Classics "The Best of 2007" will replay the winners on three consecutive nights beginning on Christmas . . . NESN will reinstate Mini One-on-One tomorrow night during the first intermission of the Bruins' game vs. the Canadiens in Montreal. The competition will start with boys 8 and under, featuring squads from Winchester and Westwood.

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