Reveling in the surprise party

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Reveling in the surprise party

After six months spent watching the Celtics overcome every obstacle and bounce back from the dead more times than Kenny McCormick, its hard to believe that Saturday really marked the end of their season.

In fact, Im still not convinced that theyre done. After all, if any team can lose Game 7 of the Conference Finals and somehow live to see another day, it would be these Celtics, right? Right?!

I guess, but delusions aside, we all know the truth. It came down hard on Saturday night, as the Cs ran out of gas, LeBron casually drained a half court jumper and a fan base that barely deserves a team celebrated its second straight trip to the NBA Finals. Yeah, maybe the pains started to evaporate, but the bitterness still exists, and it will remain until the Thunder take care of business, or . . . I dont know, until forever? Then again, its hard to get bitter about anything after the month-long surprise party the Celtics threw this city.

They took us places that weve been before, but were sure wed never see again or not for a while, not with this group. They taught us important lessons about the power of team, heart, faith and resilience. Lessons that we learned in 2010, but conveniently forgot. Lessons that Im sure well eventually forget again. But for now, theyre fresh, and what this team just accomplished not only inspires us as fans, but as human beings: Screw the haters. Just work hard. Stay focused. Be you. (Also, it helps if youre a seven-footer with a deadly jumper, or 6-foot-1 with blinding speed, a beautiful mind, freakish wingspan and hands the size of frying pans.)

Man, it was an amazing run. Unfortunately, one that will be quickly overshadowed by the star-studded NBA Finals and the Celtics state of uncertainty by the draft, free agency and retirement rumors. But before we get there, before the greatness of the Celtics improbable charge to within one win of the Finals starts to fade like a photo of the McFlys, lets take one more second to breathe it all in. To go back to the moment before Game 6, before Game 7, when everything was so real, when you firmly believed in the impossible, when the Celtics were on top of the world and on the verge conquering it. Do it now, before the feelings gone forever . . .

Ahhhhhhh, thats good Celtics.

What a run.

What a team.

Now, lets turn the page.

In the coming days, weeks and months, things will get crazy around here. Have we just witnessed the end of an era? Is Ray gone? Is KG retiring? If so, does Danny step up and trade Pierce? Who knows? All I can tell you is that Im holding off on the obituaries. Ive wasted far too many words and hours eulogizing this team over the last three years. Im done with the speculation. Im done with preemptive goodbyes; with assuming we know what these guys will do next.

When Rays at the podium in New York, Miami or Chicago, Ill say goodbye. When the Celtics announce that theyve received a hand-written note from KG saying: Its been real. See you never. Ill say goodbye. When Pauls sitting between Danny and Doc on stage in Waltham, with tears in his eyes, saying thank you for everything that Bostons meant to him over the last 14 years . . . Ill say goodbye. Until then, what else can we do but sit back and see what happens. And you know what? Im actually excited to see what happens.

That alone feels like a victory.

Weve spent the last five seasons training ourselves to fear the end of the Big Three Era. As if once one, two or all three of these guys walk away, well realize that the last five years were nothing but a dream, and wake up in the same awful place that we were before they got here. With Rondo in Pierces role as tumultuous leader, surrounded by a slew of interchangeable, irrelevant parts, and Doc flailing at ways to keep it all together. The Big Three Era is what saved this team, so we just figured that the end would doom them once again. It was a natural fear. An honest fear. But personally, its one thats faded significantly.

Part of that has to do with the changing face of Boston sports in general, because lets be honest: Were all living though a major transition.

Once Kevin Faulk retires, Tom Brady will be the only one left from that first Super Bowl. David Ortiz is already the only one left from that first World Series (I know Youk was on the roster, but he was the 40th man). In the time since Vinatieris kick in New Orleans which started this run of unprecedented greatness weve said goodbye to nearly every athlete we ever loved. We watched a dynasty disappear, we watched the Idiots go their separate ways. In the process, weve learned that life goes on. That change doesnt always breed disaster. That while those may have been the good old days, that doesnt mean that all the other days have to be a nightmare. That if you truly love a team, you'll find reasons to love them. Or more, those reasons will find you.

Hell, Rob Gronkowski was 12 when the Patriots won that first Super Bowl. Avery Bradley was 11. Tyler Seguin had just turned 10. Some of our favorite athletes in this city were basically babies when this whole thing started. Do you think they know anything about Boston's decade of dominance? Or more, what it was like before that?

Times are changing. Times have already changed. Whether its in two days or two years, time is coming for the Big Three. And while thats terrifying on the surface, time has taught us that theres also reason to be optimistic.

Time has showed us that Rondo is ready to run with the torch. That Avery Bradley is more than ready to run with him. Throw in Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, Chris Wilcox, Greg Stiemsma, two first round picks from an especially deep draft, not to mention all the money the Celtics have available and . . . well, I'm already way ahead of myself. But the point is that while we've spent the last six months fearing that the end of this season was going to trigger a return to the Dark Ages, in reality, even the worst case scenario doesn't look so bad. We can see the future. The foundation is in place. It's starting to make sense.

But we'll deal with that when we get there.

For now, all we can do is take another second and appreciate a great run from a great team. And know that if Saturday night truly marked the end of not only the Celtics season, but this latest era of Celtics basketball, that we were all lucky to have seen it, to be a part of it, and to have lived and died with them from the beginning to the end.

And that while no one knows what the future holds, we can all agree on one thing:

Let's go, Thunder.

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

How the 1956 draft changed the Celtics franchise

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How the 1956 draft changed the Celtics franchise

We take a look at how the 1956 Boston Celtics draft landed them three All-Stars and changed the franchise forever.

Avery Bradley elected to NBA All-Defensive First Team

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Avery Bradley elected to NBA All-Defensive First Team

BOSTON -- It seems that while Avery Bradley comes back every season with something new that he’s added to his game offensively, his defense has always been solid.

But this past year, Bradley, 25, was more committed to being not just a great on-the-ball defender, but also to expanding his game at that end of the floor to be a better help defender, too.

Bradley’s efforts didn't go unnoticed. The NBA announced Wednesday that he was among the players named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team.

It was Bradley's first time being named to the first team. His only other all-league recognition defensively came in 2013, when he was named to the league's second unit.

Bradley's play certainly was pivotal in his selection. But it didn't hurt that Portland's C.J. McCollum praised Bradley via social media as the best perimeter defender in the NBA.

"I don't think it's close," tweeted McCollum. 

San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard was the lone unanimous choice on the first team. In addition to Leonard and Bradley, the first team also included Golden State’s Draymond Green, Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan, and Jordan’s teammate Chris Paul.

Of the first-team players, Bradley was third in total points (149), which included 62 first-team votes and 25 second-team votes. The only players with more first-team votes were Leonard (130) and Green (123).

Players were awarded two points for a first-team vote and one point for a second-team vote.

The All-NBA Defensive Second team included Paul Millsap of Atlanta, Paul George of Indiana, Hassan Whiteside of Miami, ex-Celtic and current Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen and Chicago’s Jimmy Butler.

Bradley wasn’t the only Celtic to receive some all-Defensive love from voters. Jae Crowder had a total of 47 points, which included 3 first-team votes. His 47 points were the third-highest among players not named to the first or second team.  Also, Celtics guard Marcus Smart received seven points which included 2 first-team votes.

Olynyk: Tough call to have surgery, but it was right thing to do

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Olynyk: Tough call to have surgery, but it was right thing to do

BOXFORD, Mass. -- It was just last week that Kelly Olynyk underwent right shoulder surgery that will keep him from playing for the Canadian National Team this summer in their quest for an Olympics berth in Rio, as well as have him sidelined until sometime in October. 

And yet there was the Celtics center on Wednesday with his right arm in a sling, chatting it up with kids at Spofford Pond School as part of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) lab during an unveiling ceremony, courtesy of the Celts and National Grid.

The C's and National Grid purchased 25 Chromebooks, 13 Samsung Galaxy Tablets and a 65-inch Samsung Smart TV as well as other high-tech, education-related items.

“I love the opportunity to come out, give back to the community,” said Olynyk who was also joined by former Celtic Leon Powe and Terry Sobolewski, the Chief Customer Officer for National Grid Massachusetts. “I’ve been sitting in my living room the last eight days, looking at the same four walls.”

And for Olynyk, the days of going stir crazy won’t end anytime soon.

The 7-footer had surgery on May 16, the day after he told CSNNE.com that if he elected to have surgery he would be sidelined for five months.

On Wednesday, Olynyk reiterated that the timeline for him to resume full contact had not changed.

Olynyk told CSNNE.com earlier that the surgery was “inevitable,” but that didn’t make it any easier.

“Probably the hardest decision of my life,” Olynyk said. “As far as weighing the national team, the opportunity to play in the Olympics. I played with Team Canada the last eight years, waiting for this opportunity, waiting for this day to come where we’d be on this stage, have this before us. But with the Celtics . . . talking to a bunch of people, it was inevitable that I was going to need surgery.”

Among the biggest concerns for Olynyk was the possibility of playing with Team Canada and suffering another right shoulder injury that would require surgery and potentially lead to him missing the start of the season.

By having the surgery last week Olynyk is expected to resume practicing with the Celts in the middle of October, which would give him a couple weeks of having been cleared before the season starts.

“I couldn’t miss next year,” said Olynyk who added that the decision to have the surgery was his and did not involve the Celtics pressuring him to do so. “We’re moving in the right direction. You want to keep that momentum going. It was a really tough decision. But it was something I needed to do.”

Olynyk said he will be in a sling for at least two weeks, adding that he will be in it for another 10 days or so.

“My guess is you progress, getting that motion back, making sure everything is fine, all that kind of stuff,” he said.

A healthy Olynyk could prove vital to the growth of his game as well as the Celtics’ desire to build off of last season’s 48-win club that made it to the playoffs for the second year in a row but also suffered a second consecutive first-round defeat.

Last season, Olynyk averaged 10.0 points per game and shot a career-best 40.5 percent from 3-point range. A stronger Olynyk could give the Celtics more options in how they want to use him going forward. For the most part, Boston likes to have Olynyk on the floor because of his perimeter shooting, which helps with spacing. But if he’s physically stronger, Boston can look to post him up from time to time as well, which would make him a much more dangerous weapon offensively.

No one anticipates Olynyk will suddenly morph into a dominant, inside-outside scoring threat. But added strength does give him a chance to improve as both a rebounder and defender, two areas in which Olynyk was up and down this past season.

And admittedly he was at his worst during the playoffs, when the Celtics desperately needed someone -- anyone -- to help space the floor as the Hawks packed in the paint, which limited the drives to the basket by Isaiah Thomas.

“(I was) cleared [medically to play], but I wasn’t able to help the team at all. I couldn’t do anything,” Olynyk said. “My arm . . . I couldn’t hold off one of these kids with my arm. Shooting pains, it was giving out. Motions without contact were okay. But once you put any contact on my arm, it was done. So I couldn’t do anything.”

Olynyk is hopeful the surgery will alleviate the issues with the shoulder, which sidelined him for 12 games in addition to limiting his effectiveness in the playoffs.

“[The doctors] tell me [I’m] going to be stronger than [I’ve] ever felt, ever been,” Olynyk said.