Pierce, Rondo Help Celtics Crush Hawks in Game 4

Paul Pierce shoots against Jason Collins during Sunday's Game 4 of the Celtics-Hawks Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at the TD Garden. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)

Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson drained a jumper 19 seconds into Sunday’s Game 4 against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden.

The Hawks never led after that. What should have been a basketball game turned out to be a massacre.

Between Paul Pierce‘s lethal shooting and Rajon Rondo‘s mesmerizing passing, the Celtics crushed the Hawks, 101-79, taking a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

Pierce Lights Up Hawks Early

Pierce only played about 16 minutes Sunday, but while on the court he couldn’t be stopped. The Hawks put as many as three players in Pierce’s face, and he still knocked down jumpers using his trademark step-back shot.

Doc Rivers didn’t have Pierce waste energy guarding Johnson on defense, and Pierce rewarded Rivers with 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers, grabbed four rebounds and blocked two shots.

Pierce scored 10 first-quarter points, including the Celtics’ first basket on the first of 16 assists from Rondo. Between Pierce’s penetration and Kevin Garnett‘s domination in the low post (13 points on 6-of-8 shooting), the Celtics built a 32-19 lead after one quarter. Pierce continued humiliating the Hawks in the second, hitting two more three-pointers without even noticing defenders around him.

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NFL Must Lead Charge Against Dirty Hits

With Junior Seau's death, the NFL's lawsuit over its failure to address concussions draws a little nearer. Before then, the NFL should finally and publicly acknowledge the scope of the problem. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

The San Diego County medical officer ruled Junior Seau’s death a suicide Thursday. Though many questions surrounding his death remain, Seau’s gunshot wound to the chest bears ominous similarity to that of former Bears safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest in 2011 so that his brain might be preserved for scientific study.

As if the drug addiction, dementia, mental illness and violent behavioral changes common to people suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy weren’t enough, Seau’s and Duerson’s decisions add another layer of horror to the reality of former football players. They don’t just suffer through CTE’s degeneration – they’re completely aware of it as it happens.

It seems NFL players know full well that something’s gone wrong, and that they can’t do anything about it. No person deserves that fate.

It’s only a matter of time before scientists conclusively link CTE with playing in the NFL. With every new former NFL player’s brain studied, the inevitable lawsuit against the NFL looms a little closer. Lawyers don’t want to blow an opportunity to take a bite out of the NFL’s $9 billion revenue machine, so they’ll hold off the lawsuit until the verdict becomes all-but-guaranteed.

When that day comes, the NFL will change drastically. Diminished salaries, smaller rosters, league-wide contractions – anything’s possible depending on the scope of the verdict.

For the NFL to survive, Roger Goodell needs to take charge of this problem now. The penalties instituted for dirty hits last year were a start, but they need to be ramped up a step further, and they should be cumulative: every helmet-to-helmet hit, every hit on a defenseless receiver or hands to the face needs to be tallied, and each subsequent violation must result in a harsher penalty.

NBA players can only receive 15 technical fouls in a season before they start receiving automatic suspensions. The NFL should institute a similar policy, but the accumulation should cover a player’s career, as is the case with positive steroid tests in baseball. After all, dirty hits are a form of cheating, just like steroids.

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DigBoston: Boston Cannons Season Opener Story Live

Boston Cannons midfielder Paul Rabil has developed quite a cult following among Massachusetts’ lacrosse-playing youth. Learn more at DigBoston.com

Though I certainly find lacrosse’s Native American origins fascinating, I didn’t love my first lacrosse game (BU-Notre Dame). I figured I needed to give the game another shot, and the Boston Cannons’ season opener Saturday at Harvard Stadium provided just such an opportunity. Simultaneously, I figured it would make a great 52 Games for DigBoston.

The second time around, I had a lot more fun. And I added a new press pass to my collection!

Check it out!

Athletics’ Norberto Halts Red Sox Comeback in Ninth

Oakland Athletics second baseman Jemile Weeks drives in two in the fourth inning of Tuesday's game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Down two with two men on in the bottom of the ninth, Kevin Youkilis grabbed a batting helmet. The oft-injured Youkilis didn’t start Tuesday against the Oakland Athletics due to back stiffness, but no one left on the bench gave the Boston Red Sox a better chance of tying and possibly winning the game.

Unfortunately, Youkilis just couldn’t get loose enough to bat. The almost-comeback ended with the “almost” fully intact. The Athletics beat the Red Sox, 5-3.

Norberto Dominates in Two-Thirds Inning

Down 5-1 entering the ninth, the Red Sox finally broke through against reliever Grant Balfour. Cody Ross led off with a double, his third hit and second double of the game, and the Red Sox loaded the bases on Marlon Byrd‘s one-out single and Nick Punto‘s third walk of the game.

Sensing Balfour’s nervousness, the Fenway Park crowd did their best to rattle him, repeatedly chanting his name in a chorus of sing-song mockeries. The fans may very well have succeeded, because Balfour gave up a two-RBI single to Mike Aviles to cut the Athletics’ lead to 5-3.

Lefty Jordan Norberto relieved Balfour following Aviles’ hit, but without Youkilis the Red Sox went with Lars Anderson, who had only entered the game one inning prior. Andersen had yet to get a hit off a lefty in his career, and Norberto struck him out easily on four pitches.

Dustin Pedroia, who’d scored Boston’s only run through the first eight innings on an Adrian Gonzalez RBI ground out in the fourth, followed Anderson. Norberto got Pedroia to ground into an easy fielder’s choice at second base, ending the game and giving Norberto his first save of the season.

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