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Celtics making unprecedented playoff run without their top regular-season player, Kyrie Irving

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The Celtics’ season as they envisioned it ended when Gordon Hayward went down with a gruesome leg injury in the first game.

The Celtics’ season as they knew it ended when Kyrie Irving underwent surgery that’d keep him out for the playoffs.

Boston had grand dreams of Hayward and Irving leading the team deep into the playoffs, but those were dashed nearly immediately. Without Hayward, the Celtics were viewed as a team that must scratch and claw its way just into the postseason.

Months later, we learned the truth: Boston was still very good. The Celtics won 55 games and secured the No. 2 seed.

Hayward is a prominent character in the narrative of Boston’s 2017-18 season. But the actual on-court results? He was irrelevant.

Irving, on the other hand, was integral to the team’s on-court success. He was an All-Star, MVP-ballot candidate and the Celtics’ best player. Not only did he lead them, they spent the year building chemistry around him.

And then he was sidelined, too.

Weakened, Boston entered the playoffs with little hope. Nearly every statistical evaluation of Boston’s chances factored Irving’s contributions. Those that tried to exclude him didn’t view the Celtics favorably.

Yet, Boston beat the Bucks in the first round and the 76ers in the second round. Young players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier are stepping up. Al Horford is a star who dialed it up a level. Brad Stevens is out-coaching his counterparts.

This is a momentous rally.

From the NBA-ABA merger until this year, teams were 0-10 in playoff series without their top regular-season player, as defined by win shares. The 2018 Celtics are 2-0 entering the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston is the first team in NBA history to win multiple playoff series without its regular-season win shares leader.

The last to win at all was the 1971 Lakers, who beat the Bulls in the conference semifinals (then the opening round) then lost to the Bucks in the conference finals without Jerry West. Yes, it was so far back, Los Angeles was playing Chicago and Milwaukee in the Western Conference playoffs.

At least the league was known as the National Basketball Association by then. The only other two teams to win a series without their regular-season win-share leaders did it when it was still called the Basketball Association of America.

Here’s every playoff run by a team missing its regular-season win-share leader:

2016 Memphis Grizzlies (Mike Conley)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2013 Los Angeles Lakers (Kobe Bryant)

Lost to San Antonio Spurs in first round, 4-0

2010 Milwaukee Bucks (Andrew Bogut)

Lost to Atlanta Hawks in first round, 4-3

2008 Houston Rockets (Yao Ming)

Lost to Utah Jazz in first round, 4-2

2007 Washington Wizards (Gilbert Arenas)

Lost to Cleveland Cavaliers in first round, 4-0

2002 Toronto Raptors (Vince Carter)

Lost to Detroit Pistons in first round, 3-2

2000 San Antonio Spurs (Tim Duncan)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-1

1992 San Antonio Spurs (David Robinson)

Lost to Phoenix Suns in first round, 3-0

1986 Utah Jazz (Adrian Dantley)

Lost to Dallas Mavericks in first round, 3-1

1985 Phoenix Suns (Larry Nance)

Lost to Los Angeles Lakers in first round, 3-0

1971 Los Angeles Lakers (Jerry West)

Beat Chicago Bulls in conference semifinals, 4-3

Lost to Milwaukee Bucks in conference finals, 4-1

1950  Tri-Cities Blackhawks (Don Otten)

Lost to Anderson Packers in division semifinals, 2-1

1949 Washington Capitols (Bob Feerick)*

Beat Philadelphia Warriors in division semifinals, 2-0

Lost to Minneapolis Lakers in BAA Finals, 4-2

*Feerick played one game in the division finals, in which the Capitols beat the New York Knicks, 2-1.

1947 New York Knicks (Ossie Schectman)

Beat Cleveland Rebels in quarterfinals, 2-1

Lost to Philadelphia Warriors in semifinals, 2-0

Report: FBI investigating Big Baller Brand co-founder Gregory Alan Foster

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It’s sad that people take advantage of athletes. A lot of people do it when these guys are very young and clearly talented, and Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball is no stranger to that.

Ball cut ties with his Big Baller Brand earlier this year, even covering up his “BBB” tattoo with a bad-looking pair of dice. This was because Gregory Alan Foster, one of his confidants and business partners, allegedly stole money from the company to the tune of several million dollars.

Now the FBI is reportedly investigating Foster for his involvement in bilking money from Ball.

Via LA Times:

The FBI is now investigating whether Foster defrauded the Ball family out of millions of dollars, according to two law enforcement sources. While it’s unclear when exactly the official investigation began, one of those sources said it is at least two months old.

Lonzo Ball and the family’s shoe and clothing business recently accused Foster in a lawsuit of taking more than $1.5 million out of the company’s bank accounts and accepting “substantial undisclosed referral fees” from at least eight loans he arranged on behalf of the company.

“[Foster is] like my second dad,” Lonzo replied. “So when he came to me, I just talked to him and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. He just gave me his story. Now, looking back at it, obviously I wish we would have jumped at it back in October.”

According to the Times, Foster’s whereabouts are currently unknown. Hopefully Ball will be able to recover some kind of financial damages from all of this.

Spurs’ smart defense, veterans force Game 7 with 120-103 win over Nuggets

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Nikola Jokic had a career night — 43 points, a personal and franchise playoff best, plus 12 rebounds and nine assists. Once again the two-man game, the pick-and-roll with him and Jamal Murray got into the lane and carved up San Antonio.

The Spurs lived with that. What they did, however, was not collapse off Denver’s shooters to help in the paint — to try to contest twos but give up good-look threes. Denver got its buckets inside — they won the points in the paint battle 72-36 — but shot just 8-of-31 outside the paint on the night.

The Nuggets stars took the shots they were given — Jokic and Murray combined to take 51 percent of Denver’s shots, up from 34.6 percent and 40.5 percent in the previous two wins — but the ball movement and transition buckets that characterize the Nuggets were missing. The Spurs took that away.

Combine that with veterans LaMarcus Aldridge (26 points on 10-of-18 shooting), DeMar DeRozan (25 points on 12-of-16 shooting), and Rudy Gay (19 points on 7-of-11 shooting) stepping up and you end up with the Spurs pulling away for a 120-103 Game 6 win on their home court.

It forces Game 7 Saturday in Denver. The winner advances to take on Portland in the second round.

“We didn’t defend tonight, from the jump ball,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said. “They came out and scored 34 points in the first quarter, shot 70 percent or close to it [66.7 percent in first], and to give up 120 points in a potential elimination game, 57 [percent shooting]. It just wasn’t good enough.”

The game was decided by a 22-4 San Antonio run that spanned the end of the third and into the start of the fourth quarter, when the Nuggets pulled away.

“It was turnovers for us, it was offensive rebounds for them, and just no defense,” Malone said of the run.

The other difference in the game was the three-point shooting, an area where the Nuggets have dominated through the first five games. Thursday both teams took 24 shots from three, but the Spurs made 10 and the Nuggets six. That’s a dozen points to San Antonio in an area Denver needs to win.

It was like that all night.

San Antonio came out playing like the desperate team on the brink of elimination, playing with energy and staring out 7-of-10 from the floor. The Spurs built up a 10-point point first-quarter lead behind Aldridge, who had 13 points in the first quarter, 6-of-9 from the floor, plus the team shot 65.4 percent for the quarter.

Denver was not phased (this was the fifth time in six games they lost the first quarter), and after shooting 0-of-7 in the first quarter hit 4-of-5 to start the second. The Nuggets got back to playing the kind of ball-movement hoops — with a lot of Murray and Jokic playing off each other and scoring — and the Nuggets grabbed the lead back in the quarter. However, after a DeRozan putback bucket off his own missed free throw at the buzzer gave the Spurs a 64-60 lead at the half. That hustle play seemed to signify the Spurs night.

The game was close through much of the third, but the trends favored San Antonio.

Then the late-quarter run started, and Denver faded. Now they need to find their mojo on the plane home, because Saturday is win-or-go-home for everybody.

Chris Paul doesn’t like anyone touching the top of his head (VIDEO)

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Chris Paul is listed at six feet tall, and he’s definitely not any shorter than that. Nope, no sir. To even suggest as much would be ridiculous!

In any case, Paul is shorter than most of his teammates because he plays in the NBA. As such, Paul has probably had a lifetime of everyone towering over him despite his obvious incredible talent surpassing those of his compatriots.

So maybe being touched on the top of the head is a weird “thing” for him? At least, that’s what it appeared to be from this video.

Via Twitter:

You know somebody has a trigger when they are ready to turn around and fight you after a playoff series win, especially when they’re your own teammate.

Note to everybody: don’t touch the top of Chris Paul’s head.

Hall of Famer and Celtics hero John Havlicek dies at 79

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Hall of Famer and Boston Celtics Legend John Havlicek has died.

According to the team, the 13-time All-Star passed away peacefully in his home in Jupiter, Fla. The Celtics released an announcement on their website marking Havlicek contribution to the team.

Via Boston Celtics:

John Havlicek is one of the most accomplished players in Boston Celtics history, and the face of many of the franchise’s signature moments. He was a great champion both on the court and in the community, winning 8 NBA championships and an NBA Finals MVP, while holding Celtics career records for points scored and games played. Named one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, he is enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame and his retired #17 hangs in the Garden rafters. His defining traits as a player were his relentless hustle and wholehearted commitment to team over self. He was extraordinarily thoughtful and generous, both on a personal level and for those in need, as illustrated by his commitment to raising money for The Genesis Foundation for Children for over three decades through his fishing tournament. John was kind and considerate, humble and gracious. He was a champion in every sense, and as we join his family, friends, and fans in mourning his loss, we are thankful for all the joy and inspiration he brought to us.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver released this statement:

“John Havlicek was a wonderful friend who represented the best of the NBA.  He described himself as a man of routine and discipline – a humble approach that produced extraordinary results, including eight NBA championships with the Boston Celtics, 13 All-Star selections and some of the most iconic moments in league history.  A trusted teammate who prioritized winning, John’s passion and energy endeared him to basketball fans and made him a model for generations of NBA players.  We send our deepest sympathies to John’s wife, Beth, his son, Chris, and his daughter, Jill, as well as the entire Celtics organization.”

No matter what kind of basketball fan you are, if you know anything about the history of the game you at least have the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” burned into the folds of your brain.

That famous steal came in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals to seal a Game 7 win against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston would go on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the Finals that season.

Thoughts are with Havlicek family and Celtics fans, who of course will remember him in their own special way today.