Here we go, Thunder

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Here we go, Thunder

When a team from Boston is eliminated one step short of a title shot whether its in the AFC Championship, the ALCS, either of the Eastern Conference Finals or whatever they call it in the MLS fans of the recently deceased are typically left with three options for viewing the final round of action:

1. Tune it out: In this scenario, it just hurts too much. Knowing how close your team came, how little anyone else cares and that if it wasnt for two or three bad bounces, your boys would be on this amazing stage, with a serious shot at glory. So you dont watch the Finals. You dont read about the Finals. If youre watching SportsCenter and theres coverage of the Finals, you quickly reach for the remote. If the remote is nowhere to be found, you reach for the nearest blunt object and bludgeon yourself into a deep, deep sleep.

2. Believing in the Best: This is the rarest of the three, but every once in a while youll come across a fan who roots for the team that beat Boston. Who would rather fall to the eventual champ than to an also-ran. Hey, if were going to lose, at least we lost to the best! A slight variation is the fan who remains steadfastly loyal to a particular conference. Who will always root for the AFC or the American League, regardless of the misery this particular AFC or AL team brought to Boston. I never really got these people, but they exist.

3. Death to Rivals: Ahh, now youre speaking my language. You root like hell against the team that beat you. You want nothing more than for them and their fans to feel your pain. This is the most vengeful option on the table, but if you can stomach it, its also the most fun. It makes you feel the most alive. Its the closest you can get to how things were in the round before, when everything meant so much.

And with the NBA Finals set to tip off tonight in Oklahoma City, theres little doubt as to where Celtics fans stand. Actually, thats not true. Maybe there are a few folks who will choose Option 1: Fans who would prefer any amount of physical pain to the sight of LeBron James peacefully reading in the pre-game locker room, or the sound of Mike Breen climaxing after every Miami alley-oop. But I think most of us are sitting firmly at No. 3: Death to the Heat!

Of course, it helps that OKC is led by the most likable superstar in the game, and features Celtics emeritus Kendrick Perkins in the starting line-up. But at this point, regardless of opponent, Im not sure theres anything of greater importance in the Boston sports world than keeping this title away from Miami.

Part of that is the mental aspect, a result of all the pain they've inflicted on us over the past two years. But just as important as the past, is what a Heat win would mean for the future.

Lets be honest: Once Miami wins that first ring, its going to get ugly. Once LeBron gets the mental monkey off his back, once he, Wade and Bosh prove all the doubters wrong and have reason to trust and believe in their coach; once the rest of the league and all its impending free agents realize that the Heat have finally figured it out and that theres no better route to a ring than by jumping on the Miami bandwagon (and doing so at bargain prices), our nightmares will come true. The NBA will belong to Miami and jokes about LeBrons Not one, not two, not three will turn into depressing reminders of the NBA's inevitable future. OK, maybe I'm overstating things a little, but not by much. I don't think anyone will be surprised if winning that first title sets off a switch in LeBron James' head that will make life impossible for the rest of the NBA for a long, long time.

But what it they lose? Ah yes. What if they lose?

If Miami loses, stuff gets real. They're back in that same helpless place. Another lost opportunity. Another failed season. More pressure on LeBron. More questions about Spoelstra. If Miami loses, the inevitable dynasty may cease to exist. There's a good chance we see a South Beach shake up. Maybe Erik Spoelstra's shown the door. Maybe they trade Dwyane Wade. Maybe LeBron freaks out and plays out next season as the starting leftfielder for the AA Jacksonville Suns. Anything can happen. But most certainly, the Heat will enter next season as they did this one with more questions than answers. With more doubters than believers. The monkey on LeBron's back will now be a 300-pound gorilla and the Eastern Conference will be up for grabs.

I don't know about you. But I like that second scenario much better than the first. It's just another reason to hitch our wagons to the OKC Express and root against Miami with all the passion of the last two weeks.

Naturally, that passion is not without consequence. You root against the Heat, and you open yourself up to that all-to-familiar pain. To watching helplessly as Wade and James reach new height, to the tune of Mike Breen's screeching support. We know it all to well. We don't want to feel it again.

We need this, Oklahoma City. Almost as much as you do.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

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

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.

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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

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.

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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.