Celtics' long road back starts with Game 5

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Celtics' long road back starts with Game 5

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. Winning an NBA title in 2008 was arguably the toughest challenge this core group of Boston Celtics has faced since coming together.

Coming back to win their current playoff series with the Miami would be a close No. 2.

Monday's 98-90 Game 4 loss put the C's in a 3-1 series deficit heading into Game 5 at Miami on Wednesday.

A loss ends the Celtics' season sooner than any team during the current Big Three regime.

The mood following Saturday's loss was one of disappointment, but the C's speak as though they aren't quite ready to call it a season just yet.

"It's not going to get any easier, but that's what makes it that much more special if you can pull it off," said Ray Allen. "We won't talk about it, we just go out . . . we know the effort we put out there in Game 4 has to be better."

Coach Doc Rivers is convinced it will be, which is why he's still optimistic this series will be a long one.

"In our minds there's a lot of basketball to be played," Rivers said. "It's going to be extremely hard, and if we're not up for that then we'll lose. But if we're up for that, I think we can win three games."

While the C's aren't looking to do anything that's unprecedented, the list of teams that have rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to win it all is a small one.

Only eight teams in NBA history have been able to do it, a list that includes the 1968 and 1981 Celtics, who beat Philadelphia both seasons.

But of those eight teams, only two (one being the '68 Celts) did so without having Game 7 on their home court.

There's no need to remind the Celtics that the chances of winning Game 5, let alone the series, are not very good.

Whether it's pride, confidence or simply being delusional, the Celtics' outlook remains upbeat.

"We've never lacked confidence," said Kevin Garnett. "And when our backs to the wall we've shown great resilience. We'll see what we're made of."

Since the 2008 title run, the Celtics are 3-2 in games in which they faced playoff elimination, with the losses coming in the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinals to Orlando and the 2010 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra is well aware of how prideful the Celtics are, and expects eliminating them to be the toughest challenge his team has faced all season.

"I anticipate well get their best game on Wednesday and we have to be better than that," Spoelstra said. "If were real about what we want to do, we have to beat the Boston Celtics at their best.

That's part of the frustration the Celtics are feeling at this point in the series. If they had played one of their best games in any of the first four, they could better come to grips with their playoff fate.

But if they are unable to rally back and win this series, there will be a sense among the players and coaches that this series wasn't necessarily lost because the Heat played great, but because the C's simply didn't make the most of the opportunities they had.

For the Celtics, now is not the time to think about what could have and should have been done better. They have one chance to extend this series, and that opportunity awaits them on Wednesday in Game 5.

I still believe. I still have all the confidence in the world in our team," said forward Jeff Green. "I know that we can take it one game at a time and come back and win this series."

Added Allen: "Weve had to win on the road in our history together. Weve had to win in some tough environments. This is no different. At the end of the day when you lace them up, its five-on-five and we have to trust in who we have out there on the floor, we have to have trust in the coaching staff, we know the stuff that we have works. We just trust in it, believe in it, and push forward, and then were going to win games, were going to win a game, were going to win the next game, and thats the most important thing: that we believe in each other and just stay with it.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

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Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

OAKLAND, Calif. - As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant's future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.

Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.

Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant's tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.

But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.

But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.

The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.

Oklahoma City's stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.

Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.

Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City's season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn't end Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City as well.

Warriors rebound from 3-1 deficit, beating Thunder to return to NBA Finals

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Warriors rebound from 3-1 deficit, beating Thunder to return to NBA Finals

OAKLAND, Calif. -  Stephen Curry dribbled every which way and drained yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.

A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.

Now, the MVP and his teammates are playing for another NBA title - just as they planned all along.

Bring on LeBron James once more.

Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Curry scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, while Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.

The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.

His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.

The Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. The MVP made all three free throws, then a 3-pointer to seal it.

And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Steve Kerr was needed in every way on this night to do it.

Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.

Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening, soldout Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily.

It just took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after he hit an NBA playoff-record 11 3-pointers for 41 points in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series to a decisive seventh game back home in the East Bay.

He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.

Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30.

Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup for just his second start of the season and first of the playoffs, and what a move by Kerr and his staff, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Draymond Green for Golden State's first basket of the game, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.

But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't maintain it.

The Warriors, who began 3 for 11 from long range and 9 of 32 overall while falling behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.

2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East

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2017 NBA title odds are out, Celtics rank second in the East

Teams are still fighting for the 2016 Larry O’Brien Trophy, but the 2017 NBA title opening odds have already been released by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook. The Warriors unsurprisingly come in as heavy 3/2 favorites. The Cavaliers already punched their ticket for this year’s finals and are second, with 5/2 odds. Then there’s the Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers, as you’d expect rounding off the top five.

But then there’s the Celtics with 20/1 odds -- sixth-best in the NBA -- to raise Banner 18.

With eight draft picks and a chunk of cap space, the Celtics are in a position to capitalize on any opportunities that may come their way. There is a lot of uncertainty at this point in the NBA calendar, so Vegas must be hedging their bets on the Celtics making a leap towards contender status.

Celtics fans will also be happy to know the Nets have 500/1 odds to hoist the trophy next season, which ranks last of all teams. The Celtics have the right to swap first-round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft, which could give them another swing at a superstar prospect.

For full draft profiles of players the Celtics could draft this year, click here.

Team Opening odds
Golden State Warriors 3/2
Cleveland Cavaliers 5/2
San Antonio Spurs 6/1
Oklahoma City Thunder 8/1
Los Angeles Clippers 16/1
Boston Celtics 20/1
Toronto Raptors 25/1
Miami Heat 25/1
Chicago Bulls 40/1
Atlanta Hawks 40/1
Minnesota Timberwolves 60/1
New Orleans Pelicans 60/1
Houston Rockets 60/1
Portland Trail Blazers 60/1
Memphis Grizzlies 80/1
Utah Jazz 80/1
Charlotte Hornets 80/1
Washington Wizards 100/1
Indiana Pacers 100/1
Dallas Mavericks 100/1
Milwaukee Bucks 100/1
Detroit Pistons 100/1
Los Angeles Lakers 100/1
New York Knicks 100/1
Sacramento Kings 100/1
Philadelphia 76ers 100/1
Orlando Magic 100/1
Denver Nuggets 100/1
Phoenix Suns 300/1
Brooklyn Nets 500/1