The Celtics were without Gary Payton last night, but after a totally miserable first half, they rallied to pull away from the Hornets, winning 108 – 90 at the FleetCenter. Jon Duke of the BSMW Full Court Press has the game story, as do Shira Springer, Mark Murphy and Carolyn Thornton. Payton missing a game is a story unto itself, in fact, Peter May writes an entire column on that subject. It’s only the fourth time Payton has missed a game due to injury in 1,139 games. May does some speculating towards the end of the piece as to the future of Payton, and says there have been no discussions about getting him signed to an extension to stay here in Boston. Steve Buckley (subscription only) looks at the play of the Celtics youngsters, Tony Allen made some spectacular plays once again last night, and Buckley writes:

In fact, you may have noticed the Hornets' Baron Davis looking over at Doc Rivers in the fourth quarter and using some impromptu sign language to endorse the play of the extraordinarily fun-to-watch Allen.

"Did the TV cameras pick that up? I'm not sure, but I hope so,'' Rivers said. "He turns to the bench and points at Tony Allen, and yells, `He has this,' while pointing at his heart. And that's awesome when you hear things like that, especially from someone like Baron Davis."

Buckley goes on to note the failure of Marcus Banks to seize an opportunity last night. Springer’s notebook gives us a timeline of last evening, recording the events that led up to Payton not playing. Murphy’s notebook has more on Payton’s 305 consecutive game streak coming to an end.

Kevin Mannix has the grades from the Patriots regular season finale. He makes a salient point, (really) by noting that “more teams have been hurt by a loss of momentum than a loss of injured players late in the season.” I wish more would recognize this point. Instead, we have the constant hand-wringing on the air about “what if” someone got hurt on Sunday. No one did. Move on. Michael Parente also has his Tuesday morning grades. Steve Grogan also grades out the Pats. Rich Thompson looks at the Patriots preparations for any one of three possible opponents for January 16th. Shalise Manza Young has Bill Belichick reflecting on how the season has unfolded. Mike Reiss has a nice mini-feature on Patriots rookie CB Randall Gay. Ron Borges has an overview of the playoffs. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots are the number one team in the NFL according the DVOA.

Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel appeared before the media yesterday, Weis talking about his new job at Notre Dame and Crennel to discuss coaching openings that he might be a candidate for. Michael Felger looks at what life has been like for Weis, working two jobs the last few weeks. Alan Greenberg says Weis will be open to tips and suggestions from coaches who have coached in both college and the NFL. Chris Kennedy has more on Weis’ post-Patriots plans. Michael Parente says that holding down the two jobs has not been a problem for Weis thus far. Weis found himself in the news for another reason this morning, J.M. Lawrence in the Herald reports that the contractor who built Weis’ house has not been paid and is suing. Weis has not responded. There could be reasons Weis hasn’t paid, poor workmanship, etc, but in any case, the story got big play on D&C this morning, featured in the “Headlines” section and sports flashes. Interesting because the item involving Bob Lobel from a few weeks ago was ignored by D&C and most others in the media. Gotta protect their own, I guess. Hypocrisy is more like it.

Nick Cafardo looks at Romeo Crennel’s time at the podium. Crennel has been mentioned as a candidate in Cleveland, and Nick points out that:

Last year, Crennel went on five interviews in a 36- to 48-hour period. Two executives who interviewed him felt the Patriots didn't allow him enough time for an effective interview.

Where do I place my bet that Tom Donahoe was one of those executives? In any event, the league is very specific that teams can only interview candidates on teams with a first round bye during this one week, and can only have one interview. In reality, when a team fires a coach on Monday, they probably need a couple days to assemble candidates and make arrangements and by then the week is almost up, making the available time very short. Once again, Nick is likely trying to stir up mud where there isn’t any. Karen Guregian says Crennel deserves a shot at being a head coach and should be the number one guy on Cleveland’s list. Felger’s notebook says that Scott Pioli could also be targeted by the Browns. This despite Pioli’s statement that he is staying here at least through his current contract. Reiss’ notebook also looks at the Browns’ shopping list. Cafardo’s notebook looks at Weis not taking any of the coaches off of the Patriots staff to join him at Notre Dame. Young’s notebook looks at how friends Belichick and Nick Saban will handle being in the same division.

Wade Boggs could be elected to the baseball Hall of Fame today. Gordon Edes, Paul Doyle and Jeff Horrigan all look at the career of Boggs, his chances for election today and other possibilities.

Bob Ryan looks at tonight’s Orange Bowl matchup of USC and Oklahoma for the National Championship.

Bill Griffith looks at Sunday’s FOX broadcast of the Patriots game, and has other media notes. Kevin Paul Dupont looks at the opening of Agganis Arena.

ABC has the FedEx Orange Bowl at 8:00.