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Celtics advance to the NBA Championship finals

Jimmy Myers
Celtics advance to the NBA Championship finals
Eastern Conference Finals MVP, Jaylen Brown raises his trophy. PHOTO: BOSTON CELTICS/NBA

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It now appears that the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks are headed for the National Basketball Association’s best-of-championship series.  The C’s swept the Indiana Pacers, beating them in game four, 105-102, in their march to an NBA Championship No. 18. The Mavs have established a three games-to-none lead in their conference championship series, needing only one win to reach the final step in their march to an NBA Championship No. 2 for their franchise.

Derrick White hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 44 seconds left in regulation to finish off the Pacers.  Jaylen Brown was named the Eastern Conference Finals MVP.   

The Celtics have taken the measure of the Indiana Pacers, but only with the help of poor coaching and late-game execution by the Pacers.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum screams for joy after hitting a big shot. PHOTO: BOSTON CELTICS/NBA

After being outplayed in the early stages of game one, the Pacers showed their grit and determination, continuously rallying back from double-digit deficits to take the lead in the 4th quarter, only to lose their poise in the final moments of regulation, opening the door for the Celts to steal the all-important opening game of the best-of-seven series.  The Celtics, coming off a week’s rest following their five-game demolition of the Cleveland Cavaliers, stormed out to an early double-digit lead, and looked like they would run away from the young Pacers squad.

Indiana kept coming back in the contest and pulled into a lead coming down the stretch of the 4th quarter.  With a chance to seal a victory and wipe out the Celtic’s homecourt advantage, the Pacers suffered a massive mental brain lock.

Leading by three points, with possession of the ball and just seconds to play in regulation, the Pacers chose to inbound the ball from the backcourt instead of using a timeout to advance the ball to the frontcourt.  This blunder proved costly as 2nd-year player Andrew Nembhard threw a terrible pass to Pascal Siakam, who Jalen Brown pressured.  The ball caromed off Siakam’s hands and out of bounds, giving the Celtics possession and a chance to tie the game.  They did on a desperation 3-point shot by Brown.  The Celtics would escape with an overtime win that set the stage for monumental second-guessing by media members and harsh criticism from Indiana Pacers fans.

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle took the blame for his terrible tactical decision not to advance the ball and other questionable in-game coaching decisions on his part.  Carlisle, a former Celtic player (1984-1987), saw his team wilt at the most significant moments.

Many feel that this series took its definitive turn with the Pacers’ devastating loss in the opening game of this best-of-seven series.

The Celtics, buoyed by their near escape in game one, dominated game two behind a 40-point explosion from Jaylen Brown.  The series shifted to Indiana for games three and four.  Pacers All-Star Guard Tyrese Haliburton’s injured hamstring in game two would sideline him for game three.  In his absence, his teammates played inspired basketball to take command of the first three-quarters of the pivotal game three.  Jason Tatum came alive in game three, tossing in 36 points, as the Celtics rallied from deficits as large as 18 points in the second half to squeeze out an airtight 3-point win.  The clutch play of veteran guard Jrue Holiday proved to be a key deciding factor in this game.

Holiday scored on a conventional 3-point play to give the Celtics a 112-111 lead with under a minute to play in regulation. He backed up those heroics with a steal from Andrew Nembhard and two clutch free throws to provide the margin of victory. The Celtics held on for a 114-111 triumph that all but locked up this best-of-seven series.

The Celts halftime lead in Game four was 58-57 and the Green knew they were in a dogfight.  After the game three loss, Indiana Coach Rock Carlisle said, “And believe me when I tell you we are going after them” he meant it.  The Pacers defense in the 3rd quarter pushed the Celtics to and abysmal 8 of 22 shooting as 83-80 lead. But the 4th quarter belonged to the Green Jaylen Brown  tied the game at 102  leaving the door open for White’s 3-pointer to ensure victory and a sweep.

Meanwhile, out west, the Dallas Mavericks took command of their best-of-seven NBA Western Conference Championship series with a 115-107 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves. They now have a three-games-to-none advantage in the series, moving them one win away from an NBA Finals meeting with the Celtics. Luka Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer in the regular season, and former Celtic Kyrie Irving each scored 33 points to lead the Mavericks to their come-from-behind win.

Dallas Mavericks center Daniel Gafford dunks over two Timberwolves. PHOTO: DALLAS MAVERICKS/NBA

The Mavericks have ridden the scoring exploits of Doncic and Irving through the first three games and have received strong support from teammates P.J. Washington, Derrick Jones, Daniel Gafford and rookie center Dereck Lively II.  Knowledgeable basketball people are impressed with the play of the dynamic duo, as each man has played off the other, taking turns to take and make big shots in clutch moments of games.  As some announcers have now stated, Doncic and Irving are the “greatest guard combination to ever play in the NBA” (their words, not mine), I will delve into history to point out that the backcourt combos of Walt Frazier/ Earl Monroe, Jerry West/Gail Goodrich, Michael Jordan/Scottie Pippen, and Steph Curry/Klay Thompson are their equals, if not their superiors.  While Kyrie Irving won an NBA Championship (Cleveland-2016-17), Luka Doncic did not.  Frazier and Monroe, West and Goodrich, Jordan and Pippen, and Curry and Thompson have all won at least one NBA Championship as teammates. So much for hyperbole.

Another interesting playoff focus is the hyping of young Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, who is sometimes labeled “the next Michael Jordan.”  His inconsistent play over the first three games of this current Western Conference Championship series should silence that sort of talk for the moment.

The overwhelming component of this Dallas Mavericks playoff run is their detail to defense.  Since March 1, the Mavericks have been the top defensive team in the NBA.  That, along with the sensational scoring of Doncic and Irving, mixed with their solid team play, is the reason for their deep playoff run.  Mavericks head coach Jason Kidd and his staff must also be given the credit they deserve.

The Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks should provide a very entertaining NBA Championship Finals.

On a sad note, former Celtic and Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton has passed away following his battle with cancer. The 71-year-old Walton, who won NBA titles with the Portland Trailblazers (1977) and Celtics (1986) and is considered one of the best big men ever to play this game, will be missed by his family, friends and fans.

On a happier closing note, the late John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who led the Bruins to 10 NCAA Division One National Titles — three with Lou Alcindor aka Kareem Abdul Jabbar and two with Bill Walton — will be honored with his name and picture on a United States Postage Stamp. Coach Wooden is also in the Basketball Hall of Fame.