Celtics-Heat Game 7: A fade from green to black

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It’s possible, however remotely, that Miami’s 101-88 win in Game 7 wasn’t the end of the Big 3 era in Boston. It’s not inconceivable that Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers could elect for one more ride. But it doesn’t feel like it. It doesn’t feel like it because of how close this team came to being blown up before the season, during the season, at the deadline. It doesn’t feel like it because of the economic realities and the difficulty in retaining said players at market rates while not squandering their window of opportunity to rebuild around legitimate, motivated talent. But mostly, it doesn’t feel that way because of the look on the Celtics’ faces in the fourth quarter of Games 6 and 7. Last year they could throw out Rondo’s injury, or the way the roster was constructed. But this year is different. This year is a  team they liked, a team they trusted, a team they believed in. And in the fourth quarter of Games 6 and 7, the truth was etched on their faces. Not The Truth, but he truth.

The Heat are just better than they are.

The belief was there, even for three quarters in Game 7. That effort and execution would trump talent. That heart and grit would trump ability. That sheer force of will was more important than strength, speed, and athleticism. But then, as these things do, the reality set in. Santa Claus is not real, there is no gold at the end of the rainbow, and the Miami Heat are a better team than the Celtics.

As much as a Game 7 can prove such things.

So now there’s a whole other world waiting for them, a summer that will deal with free agency for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, with Allen already having speculated about moving on. The Celtics wouldn’t get into the discussion of whether they will finally pull the trigger on the detonation Saturday night, it wasn’t the time. But if this is it, it’s important to note what they leave with.

An NBA championship for Boston, first and foremost, having carried the title back to Beantown when it had been absent for twenty year. Two Finals appearances, a year cut down by an injury to Kevin Garnett, and then, the Big 3 era in Miami. (The Heat have never lost a playoff series in the Big 3 era to Boston. There’s a fun small-sample stat). They brought us Ubuntu, they validated the careers of Allen, Garnett, Pierce. They made Doc Rivers into arguably the best coach in the NBA, certainly the coach most want to play for. They gave us dedication, sacrifice, intensity, and a whole lot of fouls. They resurrected the Lakers rivalry and may have been primarily responsible for “The Decision” and the formation of the Big 3. They were the superteam before there were superteams (apologies to the Spurs).

It was an amazing run.

But the truth is that it’s over.

It’s time to look to the future, to get Rondo some running mates his age (or younger). It’s time to move forward and look for the next great Celtic. It’s time to let go of the past. Because this team gave everything anyone could have asked of them, and it wasn’t enough. The time has come, and Ainge and Rivers know it. They’ve known it for a while, but they chose to believe in miracles. And for a while, this team of over-the-hill veterans made them believe. But at the end of the rope there’s an anchor. It’s time to let go.

There will be a great many questions about this Celtics team going forward and looking back. Were they truly one of the great teams of their time, or is their lone title not enough to justify the hype about them? Were they victims of fate (Garnett’s knee in 2009, Perkins’ knee in 2010) or simply flawed in trying to win with older players in an athletic age? Is Rondo the lone reason they were able to compete for so many years, or are teams unable to win a title with him as the best player? Should the Celtics have made a move sooner? What about the failed deal for David West? The questions will haunt the city and sports talk radio and are worth asking.

But beyond that is a team that deserves to be remembered not as three superstars that came together to win titles. But a team of great players who all bought in to something greater than themselves and came out with a bond greater than that of just teammates. They won together, they lost together, but they fought through everything the league, the world and fate threw at them. They fought to the bitter end. There’s no shame that the Heat were better. There’s only a pride in being another in a long line of great Celtics teams.

And for the city with the most NBA championships, a grateful hand is extended, even as the question is on their lips.

“Where do we go from here to win Banner 18?”

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.