What Heat-Celtics means to the Celtics

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“How dare they?

I mean, really, how dare they?”

That’s the attitude the Boston Celtics have had about the Miami Heat since the introduction of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade with the smoke and the dancing and the pomp and the circumstance last July at AmericanAirlines Arena. Many neutral observers have taken up the Celtics as the hero in this little tale because they had a similar response.

How dare the Heat act so brazenly arrogant. How could they act with an air of victory without context, without results, without any semblance of humility? People want to identify with the Celtics as the counter to that kind of superiority complex. What they don’t really acknowledge is the reality of what the Celtics are actually saying:

“How dare they?! That’s our thing!”

There is no more arrogant team in the NBA than the Boston Celtics. Do not confuse this for criticism. The Celtics have converted an outright, ominipresent self-belief into the motor that propels them. They get to the defensive position before their opponent because they’re better at defense than anyone else. They get the loose ball because they want it more than their opponent. They hit the big shot because they know, with abject certainty, that they are the best damn basketball team on the planet.

Regular-season losses? Who cares? This team plays for June.

Lost the Finals? Yeah, but that was without Kendrick Perkins (guess we’ll never know how that one would have worked out). When not handcuffed, they can still claim superiority. And that drives them.

The Heat? The Heat are impostors to the greatness the Celtics feel they have earned with a championship in 2008 and, well … that’s it.

That’s all they’ve got. Which is way more than the Heat have done, but it’s also three years ago. This series? This is the first real step in the Celtics reclaiming their sense that the title is their destiny. The past two years have been foiled by injury, first Kevin Garnett’s, then Perkins. Whether those injuries simply revealed a greater weakness at the systemic or mental level will never be known, and it’s not really relevant. All that matters is that the Celtics believe that they were the victims of misfortune and not the work of greater teams. That confidence breeds what drives them in this series against the Heat. Indignation.

This series should not be “the biggest series, ever” or “the real Finals.” This Celtics core has played in 13 NBA Finals games. This Heat team has played in five NBA playoff games. The Celtics want to, need to make the point that the Heat are not in their league. They’re a fine team to watch on the highlights, but they don’t understand the sacrifice and dedication the Celtics have shown to be champions.

It goes further than that, though. It goes further than LeBron’s laughing and dancing, further than Wade’s commercials and fashion (though Wade has the most cred of any individual on the Heat, borne out of the ring he earned in 2006), further than Bosh’s ridiculous position as a legitimate superstar power forward in the NBA. The Celtics may be arrogant, but a thread of that cloth is connected to the hair shirt that comes with playing for the team with the most history in the league.

The Celtics have a keen awareness of what greatness is. They see it in the halls of the building, in the organization they play for. Red Auerbach’s victory cigar. Bill Russell, the original NBA legend. Larry Bird, and John Havlicek and Kevin McHale and Robert Parrish.

The Heat have no such connection. They have Michael Jordan’s jersey hanging in the rafters, for crying out loud. So for them to want to reach up and touch the gates of heaven? The Celtics take umbrage. You have to earn it. And if you haven’t, you had best not hold yourself up as worthy.

This series is about the Celtics proving they’re not too old. That they’re not crippled by the same chemistry that made them special in 2008, that Perkins was a brother, but he is not the family. It’s about protecting the legacy and vision of Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers, who brought them together and convinced them of a plan that was more than just “let’s all get together and throw a neat introduction and sell some T-shirts and win a title.”

It’s about defending the principles they believe to be self-evident, that defense wins championships, not highlight reels, and that the Boston Celtics defend better than anyone else. They want it more. They will do what it takes. They are great because of their play, not because of their brands.

This Celtics team is arrogant. But they are arrogant because they are good, and they are good because they are arrogant. That relationship is what makes them great.

The Lakers? That’s a series about rivalry and history, about respect, and about competing at the highest level. This series?

For the Boston Celtics, this series is about anger. The Miami Heat have dared to step on their floor.

The Celtics want to show them what that means.

Game 1 is Sunday.

(For what this means to the Heat, click here.)

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

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DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.