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No need to couch these opinions

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  May 8, 2012 11:29 AM

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Sights, sounds and observations while couch-ridden:

On those nights the shots are falling, like Sunday, the Celtics look positively unbeatable. There is no one to stop them. From Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett to even Mickael Pietrus, Brandon Bass and Greg Stiemsma, the Celtics have a collection of shooters like few other teams in the league. That is why LeBron James, in April, called them the best jump-shooting team in the league.

James's remarks, of course, came in the wake of the Celtics' 115-107 win at Miami last month that remains the most impressive win of this Celtics season. The Celtics shot 60.6 percent that day. They shot a preposterous 64.3 percent (9 of 14) from 3-point distance. They all but repeated the trick on Sunday against the Atlanta Hawks in an avalanche of jump shots and 3-pointers that produced a 101-79 victory and a 3-1 series lead in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Win or lose tonight in Game 5, the Celtics should rub out these Hawks in no more than six games. In the next round, the Celtics should rub out the Philadelphia 76ers or Chicago Bulls, too. All of that should set up a rematch with the Heat for the right to go to the NBA Finals, and this year's meetings with the Heat have proven that the Celtics indisputably have a chance.

A championship? That still seems unlikely. Even against Miami, the Heat (who will have home court) certainly will be favored. But short of unforseen injury, nothing should stop the Celtics from being in the NBA's final four.

For all of the credit being heaped upon Celtics vice president of basketball operations Danny Ainge this season, for all of the confidence Ainge allegedly showed in his team by failing to "blow it up," we all know better. We all know Ainge was willing to (and tried to) deal. Where Ainge really gets the credit now - and over these last five years - is for continuing to add shooters to a Celtics core of Garnett, Allen and Pierce, all of whom can consistently puncture opponents from the outside.

Generally speaking, think of the complementary players Ainge has brought to Boston in complementary roles over the last five years. James Posey. Eddie House. Sam Cassell. Rasheed Wallace. Pietrus. Bass. Even Keyon Dooling, Delonte West, Sasha Pavlovic and Von Wafer. All of them were at least respectable to above-average shooters at their respective positions, acquisitions designed to make the Celtrics tougher to defend in the half-court setting that invariably categorizes the postseason.

On Sunday, did you find yourself lamenting the Celtics' absence of a low-post offense, something that is almost never talked about anymore? What about their deficiencies in rebounding? The Celtics of today are, in many ways, no different than the Celtics of 2007-08, built on defense and jump shooting, save for the slashing of someone like Avery Bradley.

As Globe columnist Bob Ryan noted on Monday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers often has described the NBA as a "make-miss league."

When the Celtics make like they did Sunday, a trip to the Eastern Conference final seems like a can't-miss proposition.

* * *

Kevin Youkilis is doing all the right things, greeting Will Middlebrooks with smiles at the top step of the dugout, but we all know what is going on here. In four games, Middlebrooks is batting .381 with three home runs and nine RBIs, all as Youkilis and the Red Sox approach the end of a deal that has the Sox holding a $13 million option for next season.

Fact: if Middlebrooks keeps playing like this, Kevin Youkilis is not getting his job back. Not this year. Not as the Red Sox continue to plod along in what seems like the definition of a bridge year, a team without an identity and, it seems, much of a chance. If and when that changes, the Red Sox can adjust accordingly. But there is one (and only one reason) to play Youkilis over Middlebrooks if and when Youkilis is ready to return.

To trade him.

Of course, we are still in the early stages of the 2012 season, and so there is ample time to evaluate these Red Sox, decide what is best for the short term and the long. But in the next two months, the Red Sox will be playing for more than just a potential place among the contenders in the American League. They will be playing for the trading deadline, for the purpose of deciding who stays and who goes in what looks to be a transitional year.

If the Sox are not within reasonable striking distance of a playoff spot come July, Youkilis is trade bait, folks. Ditto for David Ortiz or Daisuke Matsuzaka or Cody Ross or Mike Aviles. For that matter, ditto for just about anyone who might leave the Sox this fall or next. (This means you, Jacoby Ellsbury.) In the wake of last year's September collapse, the Red Sox must take a hard look at anything and everything on the trade market, particularly with youngsters like Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish, Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias, among others, now on the cusp of the big leagues.

Middlebrooks is now only the obvious.

* * *

In some ways, Matt Light is that rarest of the rare, an NFL starter since essentially the day he set foot in an NFL traning camp. Light played 12 years and 155 games in the NFL, 153 of them starts. He started every game he played from early in his rookie year. Light protected the blind side of Drew Bledsoe (some) and Tom Brady (mostly) during five trips to the Super Bowl, six trips to the AFC championship and three Super Bowl titles, and he did so with relative consistency, professionalism, dignity.

Was Light ever the best left tackle in pro football, a Hall of Fame-type talent? No. But he was better than average, a very good player for a long time on what has been the most successfuil organization in football during his tenure, which is hardly a coincidence.

Light, in many ways, was the model Patriot during his career, a workmanlike and efficient player who did not self-promote despite a high-profile position.

With regard to the Patriots, the impact of Light's departure could be profound. Logan Mankins will be out for the start of the season. Now the Patriots will have a new left tackle (presumably Nate Solder) on the left side, too. All of that means that Brady's blind side will be guarded by an entirely new tandem, at least in the early part of the season, which may now be the biggest question for a team that has loaded up on offense and defense in free agency and the draft, in that order.

Like any player, Matt Light had good years and bad years during his time with the Patriots.

Maybe now, in his absence, we will come to understand just how good


Tony's Top 5

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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