OFFSEASON

Sixers win 82-81, tie series

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Sixers win 82-81, tie series

BOSTON The Boston Celtics' "small ball" lineup once again came up huge in the fourth quarter.

Philadelphia refused to let another strong performance go to waste as they held on for an 82-81 game 2 victory. The series is now tied at 1-1, with games 3 and 4 in Philadelphia on Wednesday and Friday, respectively.

The C's got a slew of big shots down the stretch, but the Sixers were able to match or surpass those buckets with their own big plays.

Ray Allen had a chance to put the C's ahead with less than a minute to play, but his step-back jumper rimmed in and out as the Sixers grabbed yet another rebound.

Allen and Kevin Garnett hit a couple of 3's in the game's final seconds, but it was too little too late as the C's now must win at least one game in Philadelphia to move on to the Eastern Conference finals.

There were a slew of turning point moments, with none looming as large as the blocking call by official Michael Smith on Kevin Garnett with 10 seconds to play and the Celtics trailing, 78-75.

For most of the game, the Celtics needed someone, anyone, to breath some life into a team that seemed to be in what C's coach Doc Rivers calls "Cool Celtics" mode.

Boston got that much needed lift from Mickael Pietrus, who was more than overdue for a big game shooting the ball.

After missing two of his first three shots, he finally got a 3-pointer to go down that cut Philadelphia's lead down to three points.

Moments later, he drilled a second 3-pointer to cut the Sixers lead down to just two points.

For several possessions, the C's just couldn't get that one big shot they needed to take control of the game from Philadelphia.

After a dunk by Avery Bradley (he missed the entire third quarter when he re-aggravated his left shoulder), a slew of empty possessions for the Celtics were came between a pair of free throws by Thaddeus Young and a tightly contested 17-foot, step-back jumper by Andre Iguodala that put Philly ahead, 65-61.

Boston cut the deficit in half with a jumper by Garnett, and tied the game at 65 on a tough 3-foot turn-around from Garentt with 4:33 to play.

After seemingly coasting through the first half, the wheels began to fall off for the Celtics in the third quarter as Philadelphia went on a 10-2 run to take their largest of the game at that point, 51-47, with 2:37 to play in the third.

The Sixers weren't done.

They reeled off six more points to take their first double-digit lead of the game, 57-47. Pierce cut the deficit down to eight following a pair of free throws with 2.4 seconds in the third which ended with the C's behind 57-49.

The beginning of the game was a 180-degree turn for the Celtics compared to how they began Game 1, as they jumped out to a 9-0 lead on Monday that put the Sixers on their heels quickly.

Philadelphia fought back, and even took the lead in the second quarter on two separate occasions (29-27 and 36-35).

However, the C's got a rare 3-pointer with 3.1 seconds to play in the half which ended with the Celtics on top, 38-36.

Boston's Brandon Bass, who has had his struggles throughout the playoffs shooting the ball, came out and made his first three shots - all jumpers.

From there, it only got worse as he went the rest of the half without a made field goal despite taking nine more shots for a 3-for-12 shooting line at the half.

For too many stretches in the first half, the Sixers took a lot of Josh Smith-like shots (bad shots, early in the shot clock) that contributed to them spending most of the first half trailing.

The one Philly player who seemed to be in a good flow shooting the ball for most of the first half was point guard Jrue Holiday who is in the score-first mold of today's playmakers.

He had 13 points at the half on 5-for-9 shooting along with three assists and just one turnover.

Rajon Rondo usually saves his best for the second half, but he too had a decent first half with four points, eight assists and three rebounds.

Boston started the third without Avery Bradley, who re-aggravated a sore left rotator cuff injury. Replacing him with the first group was Ray Allen, the may that Bradley replaced in the starting lineup.

The C's forced four turnovers in less than three minutes, but they had little to show for it with their lead increasing to no more than five points (43-38).

OFFSEASON

Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

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Tanguay: Celtics should steer clear of Al Horford

The Celtics reportedly are taking a look at free agent Al Horford.

Ah, why?

Wait. Make that WHY?

If you're going with someone like Jaylen Brown, you don't pursue a Grade B free agent like Horford. Or even think about making a deal for Kevin Love. When the Celtics decided not to deal the third pick for an Okafor, Noel or Butler, and instead went for a player who'll need several years to fully develop, the course for this offseason was set.

Now, if the Celtics wow the daylights out of Kevin Durant and land him, Horford would be a nice addition for a less-than-max deal. But, despite my fanboy optimism in regard to a Durant signing, the chances are slim that KD will land in Boston.

I really liked Al Horford. Notice the use of the past tense. He's 30 years old and will get a max deal from somebody stupid enough to give him one. The guy averaged 15.2 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game last season and went MIA for Games 3, 4 and 5 in the playoffs against Boston. He's on the downside of his career, and I'd rather the Celtics enter next season with the roster they have now than add Horford.

I feel the same way about Love. If your top draft pick has one year of college experience and needs to greatly improve his basketball skills -- hello there, Jaylen Brown -- why bother with Love?

Horford and Love would be pieces to add if Durant comes here. Period. And please don't tell me that adding both, or either, would make the Celtics more attractive to KD. Nope.

I feel the Celtics have made their bed. It's Kevin Durant or nothing at all.

OFFSEASON

Kevin Durant and Reggie Lewis: A number of similarities

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Kevin Durant and Reggie Lewis: A number of similarities

Boston has never stopped dreaming about Kevin Durant racing down the parquet floor in Celtics green. The vision feels as fresh today, with Durant set to enter free agency, as it did nine years ago, when the Celts had the second-best odds at landing him in the 2007 draft.

But fate intervened. The ping-pong balls fell wrong, the Celtics ended up with the fifth pick, Durant went to Seattle, and Danny Ainge constructed the new Big 3.

Even though it worked out fine -- remember Banner 17? -- Boston’s feelings for Durant haven’t diminished. Fans still wonder what would’ve happened had the C’s won the lottery and landed Durant.

With rumors swirling around the Celtics’ looming pursuit of Durant, Isaiah Thomas recently sent out a tweet with Durant's No. 35 next to a green shamrock. The tweet was representative of Boston’s all-in recruitment of Durant, but it also sent a reminder to fans of what could’ve been -- not just of Durant, but of another No. 35.

Durant isn’t just any NBA superstar to Celtics fans. At a subconscious level, Durant is a reminder of Reggie Lewis.

Celtic fans have always wondered what could’ve been if, 23 years ago, Lewis hadn’t passed away at the age of 27. But beyond the vexing question of “What if?” Durant’s resemblance to Lewis extends deep.

Like Lewis, Durant is lanky with wide shoulders and long arms. Like Lewis, Durant can score by shooting over the top or by dunking loudly at the rim. Durant has the chance to deliver the promise that Lewis showed, a beacon of hope for a franchise starved for a championship.

Durant will listen to the Celtics’ pitch when free agency opens on July 1. Boston has plenty to offer: Strong organizational stability, a cohesive locker room, the assets to add multiple players.

But the Celts can pitch much than that, if they choose, by offering Durant -- who wears No. 35 in Oklahoma City -- the opportunity to honor the life of Reggie Lewis by wearing his retired No. 35.

I asked Lewis’ mother, Inez Ritch, how she’d feel if the Celtics asked for her blessing to offer No. 35 to Durant as a tribute to her son.

“I don’t think it would take anything from Reggie because his number is still hanging up in the Garden,” Ritch told me over the phone. “If I see Durant running up and down the court with the No. 35, I don’t know how my emotions would be until it happens.

"I don’t think I would be upset about it. I think it would be a good thing because he is a very nice, humble young man. I don’t know a lot about him, but I know of some of the things he has achieved while wearing the No. 35.”

It’s not an unprecedented move for pro sports team to unretire a number. The Spurs gave Bruce Bowen’s No. 12 to LaMarcus Aldridge. Syracuse recently restored Jim Brown’s No. 44. The Broncos gave Frank Tripucka’s No. 18 to Peyton Manning.

Having a player of Durant’s stature wear Lewis’ No. 35 would stand as a symbol of the Celtics’ 70-year history. Lewis was 27 was when he passed away in 1993. Durant, who turns 28 in November, could carry on the tradition with honor.

“You can feel the tradition walking in here,” Durant once said in respect to Celtics lore. “You see all the guys plastered on the walls as you walk into the locker room. The tradition of being a Boston Celtic is second to none.”

In the private confines of the visitor’s locker room at TD Garden, the stories continued. Speaking with myself and a few other reporters, Durant described how Kendrick Perkins raved about his time in Boston. The fans. The front office. The legacy. Then, as Durant walked slowly down the hallway towards his team bus, he looked at the Celtics legends pictured on the wall and whispered, “Man, there's a lot of history in this building."

The Celtics retired Lewis’ No. 35 in 1995 not only for his triumphs on the court, but his impact off it. Lewis was active in the community in Boston and at home in the Baltimore area. He ran his own foundation and always participated in community events that helped children in need.

“It was quite an honor to have my child be recognized in this manner for the achievements that he had achieved in the short time,” Ritch said. “And to know that people all over loved him so much, it’s quite an honor to be able to say that was my little boy.”

Durant grew up only one hour away from Lewis, in Washington D.C., and today has his own foundation that aims to enrich the lives of at-risk youth from low-income backgrounds. The struggling D.C./Baltimore area longs for him to return home, but Boston isn’t far and could serve as a close connection to the area.

Both on and off the court, Durant is the only player in sports that can ‘remember Reggie.’ There is no other player the Celtics should even consider offering the number to. There’s something poetic about even the thought of it. It almost feels like destiny.

The No. 35 will always belong to Reggie Lewis, but Kevin Durant is a player fitting to continue his legacy.

 

OFFSEASON

Smart: 'Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team'

Smart: 'Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team'

WALTHAM, Mass. – Marcus Smart is no different than the average NBA fan this summer when it comes to Oklahoma City free agent-to-be Kevin Durant.

Durant, the runaway valedictorian of this summer’s free agent class, will begin to officially hear overtures for his services from NBA teams on Friday, the first day of free agency.

The former league MVP has a short list of teams that he’s reportedly considering, with the Celtics being among those to make the cut for meeting with Durant shortly after the free agency period begins. Others include his current team Oklahoma City as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and San Antonio.

Boston has had a longing for some of the top free agents in past years, but to be on the short list of teams for player of Durant’s stature, is somewhat surprising.

“They (Celtics) want him just as bad as the other teams that he’s meeting with,” a league executive told CSNNE.com who is not among the franchises slated to meet with Durant in the coming days. “The fact that they’re on the short list is a huge feather in the Celtics’ cap.”

Smart is well aware that Boston has an uphill climb when it comes to landing Durant, a player he used to watch when he was at Oklahoma State and Durant was starring for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Any team would love to see Durant; his type of caliber of player on their team,” Smart said on Tuesday during his basketball camp at Brandeis University. “We’re not the ones who make that call. We just sit back and wait and whatever decision that the front office makes we’re ready to run with it.”

Among those decisions was to keep the current group intact on draft night when there were a handful of potential moves that the Celtics could have made.

“He’s trying to keep this core group together and keep us together as a team,” said Smart who added, “It’s hard. Like I said, you have to give credit to Danny (Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations) for doing the things that he does. We trust in him; we believe in him.”

Smart, entering his third season, was among the player names thrown about as potentially being on the move on draft night.

I asked him what that was like, while still being such a relatively young player.

“To be honest, hearing your name in the trade rumors is a good thing,” Smart said. “Just because it lets you know other teams want you; that other teams are trying to get you. It’s a good and bad thing. Especially you been in a city for so long, you connect with the people, the fans, the community, the organization, you’re like, ‘dang!’ But at the same time, it lets you know you are a valuable person.”

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN