Three wishes for The Rapture

197883.jpg

Three wishes for The Rapture

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

Well, it was nice knowing everyone.

And if you dont know what Im talking about, then I have good news and bad news.

Good news: Dont worry about paying any of those outstanding parking tickets

Bad news: Were goners.

In just about 24 hours, the Rapture will be upon us, marking the end of our days here on Earth. I know, kind of puts a damper on the weekend, but we had a pretty good run, right? I mean, at least we did better than the dinosaurs. And like the dinosaurs before us, its now our time to say wordaapp.

Anyway, its only fitting to spend our fleeting moments doing the same thing we did for most of our lives, so heres a hypothetical sports question to consider (inspired by producer Jim Aberdale):

If you were granted one Boston-related sports wish before were all sucked into the vortex, what would it be?

And you cant say: Bruins win the Stanley Cup or Celtics go back and play the season with Perk because, unlike everything else in this column, thats unrealistic. Theres not enough time for the NHL Playoffs to end, or for Danny Ainge to build a time machine. We have only one full day left, theres no time to get fancy. Actually, theres not much time for anything . . . so lets move on.

Here are three End of Our Days wishes:

1. I wish we knew what really happened with LeBron in last year's playoffs

Or to put it in wish form: I wish we knew what really happened with LeBron and the Cavs during last years playoffs.

And I dont even care about the fact that a player may or may not have slept with another players mother (even though thats still pretty amazing). Its just the fact that, whether or not the rumors are true, something obviously happened. And that something was big enough to submarine the best player in the world and change NBA history.

Lets not forget that the Cavs were the better team in that series. They were the best team in the conference. They had the best player, a very solid supporting cast, and most of all, maybe the best chemistry in the entire league. I was in the Cleveland locker room before a game that February, and left convinced that theyd win it all. Not that Ive been around forever, but Id never seen another locker room like that, and still havent. Not even the Celtics at the start of this year could match their visual chemistry.

Then it happened. Clevelands own little mini-Rapture. And that was that.

Who knows what would have happened if the Cavs, as they were supposed to, knocked off the Celtics in the second round? I bet Doc Rivers would have walked away. And then, everything would be different. And what happens with the Cavs? Maybe they win it all? I think LeBron would have left either way, but without this collapse maybe he doesnt handle it the same way, and maybe Cavs fans arent as apoplectic.

No one talks about this because the storys more volatile than Milton Bradley. Its a touchy, touchy subject, plus its not like anyone involved is willing to talk. But that doesnt make it any less interesting or important. Whatever happened there has turned the NBA upside down. Whatever it was that made LeBron go off changed the course of NBA history. And I think its only natural to want to know what that was.

Something tells me well find out at some point, but sadly, we only have a day before its all over.

2. I wish I could spend an afternoon with Wakefield

Sounds like a forthcoming Mitch Albom joint, but come on, were talking about the Rapture here. Theres no need for extra drama.

For the better part of the last 17 years, Ive wanted to get into the box against Tim Wakefield. For one, because Ive always wanted know what its like to face major league pitching, and Wakes the one guy I could dig in against without the fear of taking a fastball to the head.

But also, because this pitch is now responsible for one of the longest pitching career in Red Sox history. Its made Wake millions and millions of dollars, allowed him to stay active in this league longer than just about anyone not named Jamie Moyer (or Julio Franco), and made some of the best hitters in history look like Wily Mo Pena.

I want to look like Wily Mo Pena.

I want to know what its like to stare down the barrel of Wakefields whacky knuckler and live (for a day, I guess) with a complete understanding of what its all about; about what goes over those 60 feet-six inches.

Tim, my afternoons wide open.

3. I wish I knew the truth about Tim.

No, not Wakefield: Donaghy.

I want someone-in-the-know to go through Tim Donaghys book, or a transcript of any of his million interviews, and address each issue, step-by-step. Ok, thats true. Nope, that ones a lie . . . and so on.

And you know what? I wouldnt be shocked by anything. I wouldnt be shocked if most of what Donaghys said is true: That games were manipulated by execs, that referees played favorites, that everything is not how David Stern would like it to seem.

Of course, I dont want to. But at this point, Ill almost believe anything.

Theres just no excuse for what continues to happen. And I dont want to take away from how awesome the games themselves have been; its still unbelievably enjoyable. But the ref problem is an epidemic, and theres no end in sight.

Its such a blatant slap in the face, and Sterns so cavalier about trotting these guys out there, thats its clear that something isnt right. Otherwise, Bennett Salvatore wouldnt be reffing playoffs games anymore. Otherwise, we wouldnt have to deal with the same incompetent, attention-seeking divas stirring up all the chaos with no real ramifications.

And Im not saying this in relation to the Celtics series. Even if the Heat did get the benefit of some calls, they still deserved to win. I just mean this in general. Refereeing continues to destroy the NBA product.

And Id love to know why.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

celtics-al-horford.jpg

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

celtics-isaiah-thomas.jpg

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.