NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 7: Boston closed their eyes and it slipped away

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Garnett_sad.jpgIt’s a very bitter taste for a team that remembers the sweet taste of champagne.

It’s made worse by knowing that they had a 13-point lead in the third quarter. Worse by knowing that this team may never be together in this form again. Worse by knowing that Ray Allen went 3 for 14 in what likely will be his final game in a Celtics uniform.

Worse because for the first time this playoffs, Boston actually looked old.

“Well, there was a lot of crying in our locker room, a lot of people who care…” Doc Rivers said after an 83-79 loss at a game played right at the Celtics pace. “I just can’t stress enough how crazy close this team was, you know, and that would be the word, crazy close. They’re the type of group that they could scream at each other but no one picks on any of them. That’s a special group.”

They played special at the start. Boston came out playing physically on defense, taking away the Lakers primary options, forcing the Lakers to shoot 22 percent in the first quarter. Kobe Bryant wanted desperately to put his imprint on the game and the Celtics had a game plan to take the ball out of his hands. Boston trapped him, they pushed him off his spots, they gave him no space and he shot 1 for 7 in the first quarter. And Boston was up 9 after one.

That defensive effort continued through the third quarter, and the fans Staples were on edge. It wasn’t pretty, and the Celtics were fine with that. The Lakers would make a mini-run and the Celtics would make a couple stops, a couple baskets and re-establish themselves. Boston was the better team. They were getting some transition points and they were up 13.

But the size of the Lakers kept wearing on a Boston team that missed Kendrick Perkins.

“I thought the lack of size at the end of the of the day was the difference in the game,” Rivers said. “I thought a couple things hurt us – when Rasheed started getting cramps, that was killer for us because they attacked out lack of size after that, and then it made me, forced me to extend Kevin (Garnett’s) minutes, which I know is not good.”

Pau Gasol, “befuddled” by Rasheed Wallace in the first half (to use Phil Jackson’s term), started to come to life. The Lakers were making their big run. Boston could no longer run its offense through the post because the Celtics big men were too tired to be effective, Rivers said.

So when Boston needed points, they turned to Allen. And he missed. The guy that won them Game 2 with his shooting was 3 of 14 on the night, 2 of 5 in the fourth quarter. Missing at the rim and from three.

It may well be Allen’s last game as a Celtic (although he said he wants to be back), he is an unrestricted free agent this summer and other teams are likely to pay more than a Boston team that needs to start getting younger. It was an ugly way to go out, looking old.

“It’s hard to see it end this way,” Allen said.

It wasn’t just Allen, either.

“You know, it’s the fist time all year that you can actually say at the end of the day we were old because at the end of the game because we didn’t have enough bodies,” Rivers said, referring to Perkins. “I thought it hurt us.”

It hurt them a lot. To the point of tears.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.