NEW YORK – (Staff report from Official News Release) – Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Month for games played in January.
Thomas led the NBA in scoring (32.9 ppg) and tied for fifth in the East in assists (6.9 apg) for the month as the Celtics went 10-4 to take over first place in the Atlantic Division. The 5-9 Thomas, who was named an All-Star for the second straight season, shot 49.7 percent from the field, 43.2 percent from three-point range and 94.1 percent from the free throw line. He recorded eight games with at least 30 points, including two with 40 points or more. Thomas has scored at least 20 points in each of his last 33 games, the NBA’s longest streak this season. His current scoring average (29.7 ppg) is just shy of Boston’s single-season record, which Larry Bird set with 29.9 points per game in 1987-88.
Here is a closer look at January for Thomas:
Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
Jan. 3 vs. Utah: Scored 29 points and dished out a career-high 15 assists in a 115-104 win over the Jazz.
Jan. 11 vs. Washington: Finished with 38 points, five rebounds and five assists in a 117-108 victory against the Wizards.
Jan. 30 vs. Detroit: Shot 15-of-15 from the free throw line on his way to 41 points and added eight assists in a 113-109 win over the Pistons.
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – Malcolm Butler was on a priority free agent list, a designation that earns a barrage of phone calls in the latter rounds of the NFL draft.
One of those calls came from the New England Patriots. And did Butler ever answer the call.
A virtual no-name from Division II West Alabama, Butler picked the Patriots because they were offering the cornerback a tryout along with other rookies. A tryout — not a contract — meaning Butler was being invited to prove himself.
“When the draft was over, there was a number of players that were not signed that we still were interested in. We invited Malcolm up for rookie-minicamp,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We had probably 10 to 15 players like that. Players that finished their college careers but were not signed by a team.
“They were essentially there for a tryout, an extended tryout during that period. They were there along with our draft choices and players that we had signed during that draft. We also had a couple of veteran-type players that weren’t with a team that fell under a certain category. ”
Butler worked his way into the lineup during Super Bowl XLIX and the world was moving faster than the rookie’s mind could process information in the third quarter. On Seattle’s final offensive snap, with a chance to score a game-winning touchdown just outside the 1-yard line, Butler’s instincts caught up.
“I did not know what was going on. Everything was going fast,” Butler said. “I was just a rookie, and I did not know what to expect. This year, it is the complete opposite. I have a role in the game. I am expected to play. People kind of have an idea of who I am, and I will be able to prepare better because I know what is coming. I am just looking forward to Sunday.”
The play, a slant pass intended for Ricardo Lockette from Russell Wilson, showed up on film study done by Patriots researcher Ernie Adams. Adams relayed the information to defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick late in the week during Super Bowl preparations and on Saturday night before the game, during a walkthrough at the team hotel conference room, Butler saw the precise formation and execution that played out the next night.
Butler jumped the route, with help identifying the play call and formation from veteran Brandon Browner, and made the Super Bowl-clinching pick.
“I’d say once we saw Malcolm on the field after the first workout, it was pretty obvious that we felt like this was the type of kid that we want to work with,” Belichick said. “He was raw technique-wise and all of that. He had a good training camp and got a little bit of playing time during the year. We saw him firsthand when we actually saw him in our building in that rookie minicamp three years ago.”
Butler said he entered his first Super Bowl not knowing if he’d be on the field.
By the start of the following season, he had every idea of what his role would be, with starting corner Darrelle Revis gone to the New York Jets and the Week 1 game plan in his hands. His assignment? All-Pro Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“(Belichick) tells guys, leadership is attitude and performance,” defensive back Devin McCourty said. “I think guys take that in stride, work their butt off to get on the field. Two years ago, Malcolm sealed the game.”
Safety Patrick Chung said teammates learned all about Butler’s ability and potential before the rest of the world was let it on the secret two years ago.
“It’s definitely evolved. He’s one of the best corners in the NFL,” Chung said. “We saw that during training camp when he was practicing and not playing, we saw that. We saw glimpses of his athletic ability and things he can do. Now the whole world gets to see it. His role has definitely gotten bigger — you can see that — but that just comes from hard work and doing what he has to do.”
Sunday, what he has to do is check Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones, who is four inches taller and about 35 pounds heavier than Butler. Just As Belichick infamously asked him during the team celebration on the field at Glendale, Ariz., a long way from West Alabama.
HOUSTON – (Special to Digital Sports Desk from The Sports Xchange) – NFL commissioner Roger Goodell doubled down on Deflategate and reaffirmed his commitment to “Thursday Night Football” in his State of the League address at the George Young Convention Center on Wednesday afternoon.
“We’re thrilled to be here in Houston,” Goodell said, projecting attendance will reach one million after topping 250,000 for the first three days of the week.
Shortly after opening his address began at 1 p.m. CT, Goodell was peppered by multiple questions regarding DeflateGate, relocation and ratings.
With New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft seated in the first row five seats from the aisle and 15 yards from Goodell, the commissioner stood by his decision to suspend quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the 2016 season based on findings that revealed a violation of rules and besmirching the integrity of the game.
If the last game of the season ends with a Patriots victory, Goodell said he is ready to hand the trophy to the champions.
“I would tell you that it’s not awkward at all for me,” Goodell said, adding that he didn’t dodge two playoff games in Foxborough, Mass., to attend back-to-back games in Atlanta for that reason. “If invited I’ll return. I have no doubt if I wanted to return to Foxborough and I asked Mr. Kraft, I’d be welcomed back. I continue to respect and admire Robert and Jonathan (Kraft). I’m not afraid of disagreement. And I don’t think it leads to distrust or disrespect.” … We have a job to do. From our standpoint, we understand the fans who are loyal and passionate for a team object and don’t like the outcome. From our standpoint, this is just about making sure we take care of business.”
As for any conversation with Brady, Goodell cited a policy of never revealing when he speaks to players, only that it happens regularly.
On relocation, of the San Diego Chargers to Los Angeles and the Oakland Raiders to a city to be determined, Goodell said the NFL stands by its belief that relocation is a last resort. The league, Goodell said, deeply incentivized the city of San Diego to replace dilapidated Qualcomm Stadium with an unprecedented $300 million in total funding to kick-start a project.
The Chargers are leaving for Los Angeles after 56 years in San Diego.
“These are painful processes — it is hard on our fans, and it is not the outcome we were hopeful for,” Goodell said. “It has taken awhile to recognize that a new stadium was needed. It’s a process that has to identify a solution that is good for the community and the team. We weren’t able to do that.”
Placing a team in Las Vegas, the stated intent of Raiders owner Mark Davis, will not progress until owners review the status of the team’s relocation plan from Oakland.
Goodell said no determination was made on Las Vegas and its viability as an NFL market, of which stadium financing will be just one factor reviewed. Another is whether gambling can co-exist with the NFL.
“It does today, it exists throughout our world,” Goodell said. “What we’ve always said is there needs to be a fine line between team sports gambling and the integrity of the NFL. … That is something we think is imperative to us.”
Goodell said the league has been studying shifts in television ratings for a number of years and plan to enact a change in planned breaks per quarter — four instead of five — next season. That will not include eliminating “Thursday Night Football,” which Goodell touted as the No. 2 show in prime time.
“What we’re trying to do is make our games as exciting and action-packed as possible. We have not dismissed any theories. We’re going to have the competition committee focused on several issues,” Goodell said. “There are number of things where we think we can focus on management of the game, stopping the game. We have five breaks per quarter, we think we can do it with four. We think less is more in this area.”
Washington 5, Boston 3
When: 8:00 PM ET, Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Where: Verizon Center, Washington DC
WASHINGTON DC – (Special to Digital Sports Desk by The Sports Xchange) – After watching his top line get outplayed in Tuesday night’s loss to the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz issued a challenge and the results were impressive.
Top line center Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and two assists, winger T.J. Oshie had a goal and an assist, and the Washington Capitals defeated the Boston Bruins 5-3 at Verizon Center, snapping Boston’s three-game winning streak.
“They responded. I actually talked to them before the game today,” Trotz said. “I knew that they could be better. They should be a dynamite line every night and they were. Tonight, they made a statement.”
First-line winger Alex Ovechkin gave Washington a 3-2 lead late in the second period on a power play, and Brett Connolly made it 4-2 at 3:29 of the third when he scored against his former team.
Evgeny Kuznetsov, named the NHL’s “First Star” of the month for January on Monday, put Washington up 5-2 with 4:07 remaining to go along with an assist. He has six goals in his last seven games.
“Very important for us to come back and have a good game,” Oshie said. Everyone was playing fast, not a lot or turnovers. All in all, a pretty good game on the second night of back-to-backs.”
Braden Holtby made 29 saves for the NHL points leaders. Matt Niskanen added two assists for the Capitals (34-11-6), who have won eight straight versus the Bruins.
Brad Marchand scored two power-play goals and had an assist for Boston (26-22-6), and David Krejci — filling in for Patrice Bergeron on Marchand’s line — scored with 1:31 left to play. Marchand, the NHL’s “Second Star” of the month for January, has 23 goals on the season and six in his last four games.
“I think it’s pretty obvious. Some guys have to step up and give us some offense here,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Our power play’s good, scoring goals, but 5-on-5 we have to be better. You can’t just rely on one line to score your goals every night.”
David Pastrnak had three assists and Tuukka Rask, playing the second night in a row, stopped 17 shots.
“It’s disappointing, especially when we battled back from a 2-0 deficit,” Marchand said. “We were playing pretty good. It’s tough to get down by a few there after you made a pretty good comeback.”
Bergeron took a slap shot off the right leg in the third period, returned briefly and then left again. Update to come. The Bruins said they will update his condition on Thursday.
The Capitals have won eight straight at home, outscoring the opposition by a combined total of 40-12 during the streak.
Washington took a 1-0 lead at 3:06 when Backstrom threaded a pass between two Bruins and sent Oshie in on a breakaway. Oshie didn’t miss as he put a low shot between Rask’s pads for his 19th of the season.
“I don’t get breakaways. I’m not fast enough,” Oshie joked after the game.
“I knew Nick was going to be able to get that puck through those two guys to me so after that I kind of glanced back a little bit and saw I had some time, so I slowed down just a little and tried to turn it into almost like shootout pace.”
Backstrom made it 2-0 at 13:34 of the period. Rask made a pad save on a blast from Niskanen, but Backstrom banged home the rebound from the slot.
Boston cut the deficit in half on a power play. Patrice Bergeron fed Marchand in the slot and he fired over Holtby’s shoulder with 1:14 left in the first.
Early in the second period, Boston got another power play opportunity when Kuznetsov was called for tripping in the offensive zone.
The Bruins cashed in on a pretty tic-tac-toe passing sequence as Pastrnak sent the puck across ice to Ryan Spooner, who fed it to a wide-open Marchand on the doorstep. Marchand tapped it in to tie the score at 2:49 of the period.
It appeared the teams would enter the third period tied, but with Boston’s Brandon Carlo off for holding, Ovechkin wristed a shot past Rask from the left circle for his 25th of the season with 15 seconds remaining in the second.
NOTES: Washington RW Justin Williams missed Wednesday’s game because of a lower body injury. The team said he is day-to-day. … Capitals C Evgeny Kuznetsov was named the NHL’s “First Star” for the month of January, the league announced Wednesday. Kuznetsov tied for first in the NHL with 20 points (seven goals, 13 assists) in 15 games in January. … Bruins LW Brad Marchand was named the league’s “Second Star” for January. He led the NHL with 11 goals and added nine assists for 20 points in 14 games. … Washington re-assigned D Christian Djoos to the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League (AHL). … Boston recalled G Zane McIntyre from the Providence Bruins of the AHL and assigned G Anton Khudobin to Providence.