Miami Heat v Boston Celtics

Now we have what we want: Miami vs. Boston

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Give the people what they want.

And this is the series nearly everyone wanted.

Old school big three vs. new school big three. LeBron James against the Celtics again — but this time he has new friends with him for backup. Tradition rich New England vs. modern and stylish Miami.

Celtics vs. Heat.

A seven-game series nearly as anticipated as the NBA finals (certainly by television executives, at least). This series felt destined from the moment these two teams faced off on opening day. The Heat’s path to legitimacy has always seemed to run through Boston.

Now is when we find out if Miami can live up to the hype. Or if Boston’s veterans and defense are still too tough. We find out if the Celtics can execute at the end of games better than Miami, or if the ridiculous athleticism of the Heat will prove to be too much.

It’s a series of fun matchups — Chris Boshvs. Kevin Garnett, Paul Piercevs. LeBron, Dwyane Wadeand Ray Allen, Joel Anthonyvs. Big Baby… OK, not so much the last one. But across the board the matchups are fascinating.

This is a series that is going to be about defense — two of the top five defenses in the NBA. Boston owns the paint and brings help early, Miami relies on athleticism on the wing to pressure the ball handler, it traps and disrupts. These two teams’ regular-season affairs were largely low-scoring, half-court, grind-it-out games that looked like playoff basketball even though the playoffs were a distant dream at the time.

But in a lot of ways this series will be about the Celtics’ ability to exploit their mismatches. Can Rajon Rondo rip up Mike Bibby? Can the Celtics’ bench extend leads? Will Shaquille O’Neal play, and if he does how much does he have to really give?

Usually in the NBA teams have to struggle a little in the playoffs to advance, they need to learn how to win together before a title can be theirs. This Boston team — with its veterans when they got together — was the exception to the rule. They won out of the gate (and taught the Lakers hard lessons about winning together, something L.A. clearly took to heart).

It feels like Boston could teach Miami that same lesson. But it will not be simple. Wade has learned that lesson — he has a ring, too — and will steady the ship. LeBron is hungry and is still the best player in the game. Bosh is just happy to be out of the first round, so he doesn’t fit with the others. But you get the idea.

This is what basketball is about. A clash of athleticism and style, a battle of systems and guys who just destroy defensive systems with their skill.

This is what we’ve all been waiting for. We got what we wanted, which means the winner of this series is the fans.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.

D’Angelo Russell said he used to play as Luke Walton on NBA 2K; Stephen Jackson calls that crap

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 30: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers speaks during a news conference to discuss the controversy with teammate Nick Young before the start of the NBA game against the Miami Heat at Staples Center March 30, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Did anyone ever fire up NBA 2K9 back in the day, decide to be the soon-to-be-champion Lakers, look at a roster with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Lamar Odom then say “I’m going to be Luke Walton”?

D'Angelo Russell says he did.

The Lakers young point guard has praised the new Laker coach at every turn — Russell and Byron Scott did not get along, the point guard is much happier now — and that includes talking about Walton’s playing days to Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

“I told him I remember playing with him on (NBA) 2K; I used to always play as him. I’m a fan. I’m definitely a fan. Because he was a point forward. I can’t speak on Elgin Baylor and all those guys, but my era, I know he was a point forward.”

Really? NBA veteran and current analyst Stephen Jackson called Russell out on that.

Jackson has a point.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.