Celtics eliminate 76ers in improbable and tight five-game series

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The Celtics looked finished when Gordon Hayward went down in the season’s first game.

The Celtics looked finished when Kyrie Irving underwent season-ending surgery just before the playoffs.

The Celtics looked finished when they ran into the red-hot 76ers.

But, against all odds, Boston is returning to the Eastern Conference finals to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers for the second straight year.

The Celtics advance with a 4-1 series win over Philadelphia, culminating with a 114-112 win in Game 5 Wednesday. That was Boston’s third victory over the 76ers by five or fewer points, marking just the 10th time in NBA history a team wrapped up a best-of-seven series so quickly while winning so many games by so few points.

Game 5, which included 11 ties and 21 lead changes, exemplified the tight series. The Celtics blew a 12-point second-half lead then overcame a four-point deficit with a minute and a half left.

“We’ve got a lot of heart,” said Jayson Tatum, who led the Celtics with 25 points. “We’ve got a lot of talent on this team, no matter how young we are. Nobody expected us to be this far.”

Then asked how to slow LeBron, Tatum pleaded rookie.

Boston’s effort against the NBA’s best player will start with young wings Tatum and Jaylen Brown (who added 24 points in Game 5 tonight). Sprinkle in some Marcus Morris (Celtics-best +10 tonight in a telling number) and Al Horford (15 points, eight rebounds and five steals tonight).

Boston – which opens the Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday – will be massive underdogs against the Cavs, but the Celtics have created enough reason for intrigue. That starts with Game 1 in Boston, where the Celtics are 7-0 in the playoffs.

Like Boston, Philadelphia has drawn attention with its postseason run.

Sure, losing in five games to the Irving-less, Hayward-less Celtics is disheartening. But just by making the second round, the 76ers are ahead of schedule.

Led by 24-year-old Joel Embiid (27 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and four blocks) and 21-year-old Ben Simmons (18 points, eight rebounds and six assists), Philadelphia has a bright future. Dario Saric (27 points, 10 rebounds and four assists) leads an impressive supporting cast. The 76ers will probably have the Nos. 10 and 26 picks in the upcoming draft plus max-ish cap space in free agency. The Process is paying off – even if the results this year couldn’t keep up with rapidly escalating expectations.

On the other hand, the resilient Celtics are leaving any expectations in the dust.

Karl-Anthony Towns denies Jimmy Butler rift due to Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend

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Karl-Anthony Towns reportedly won’t sign his contract extension until the Timberwolves handle the Jimmy Butler situation, which escalated with Butler’s trade request.

What’s the problem between the teammates?

Robert Littal of BSO:

Towns:

OK then.

Same company to appear on Trail Blazers jerseys, reportedly endorse Damian Lillard

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers have announced a multi-year jersey sponsorship deal with Performance Health, an Illinois-based company that manufactures products for the rehabilitation and sports medicine markets. The company will also reportedly endorse Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A logo for the company’s product Biofreeze will be featured on the left shoulder of Portland’s uniform. With the deal, the Blazers become the 24th NBA team to include a corporate sponsor on its jerseys.

Biofreeze is a topical pain reliever. Snowboarder Shawn White and tennis player Sloane Stephens are among the product’s individual athlete endorsers.

The NBA first allowed jersey sponsorships last season. Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan said Portland was close to deals last year but they fell through, and so the team took its time in finding the right partner.

The Biofreeze logo will also be featured on the team’s practice apparel.

Report: Jimmy Butler wanted Timberwolves to add four years, $155 million to his contract this summer

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Jimmy Butler rejected the largest-possible extension the capped-out Timberwolves could offer him this summer – a four-year deal worth $100,514,631 ($25,128,658 average annual salary).

After all, his projected max in free agency this summer is about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually) if he re-signs or about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually) if he leaves.

But Minnesota’s extension offer wasn’t technically the largest possible this summer. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could have cleared cap space to renegotiate his salary upward then offered a richer extension based on his new salary.

And apparently that’s what Butler wanted – and didn’t get – before requesting a trade.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler was hoping for a renegotiation and extension of his contract this summer, one that would have raised his salary for 2018-19 to $30 million and added another four years and $145 million on to that.

The Timberwolves could have trimmed their roster to only their starters – Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. That would have meant using sweeteners to unload Gorgui Dieng‘s negative value contract, dumping recent first-round picks Justin Patton, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie and not using the mid-level exception on Anthony Tolliver. Only players who signed for the minimum could have still wound up on the roster.

Minnesota still wouldn’t have had enough cap space to renegotiate Butler’s salary up to $30 million.

Perhaps, Butler wanted the Timberwolves to take more drastic measures like trading Wiggins for little to no returning salary. But they clearly weren’t going to do that, and they’d long gone down the opposite road of adding salary. They weren’t coming close to clearing the $10 million of cap space necessary to raise Butler’s salary that much.

This is all raises questions about timing. Nearly every report on Butler’s wishes has gone out of its way to say contract concerns – not problems with Wiggins and Towns – were the primary driver of the trade request. But if that were the case, why now? Butler had to know for months he wasn’t getting his desired extension.

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

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Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.