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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

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”