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.

Watch all of LeBron James’ 46 points in Game 6

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There is going to be a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals Sunday because of LeBron James.

George Hill had a strong game (20 points), Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. had their moments, but it was all about LeBron — 46 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists in 46 brilliant minutes.

Rather than try to describe his game to you — including the dagger threes late — just watch.

And enjoy. There are still some people out there (mostly on Twitter, it seems) who just want to tear LeBron down for some reason. I pity them. Not just because they are wrong, although they are. Rather, it’s because they are depriving themselves of enjoying one of the greatest players ever to lace them up. LeBron can bully people in the paint, hit step back threes, is as gifted a passer as the game has seen, and just plays a smart, high-IQ game we have got to watch grow over the years. If you can’t enjoy that, you don’t love basketball.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.