They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?


They'll flip the switch, but will the lights go on?

By Rich Levine

Before we can make a legitimate guess on how the next two months will play out for the Celtics, there are two questions we need to consider.

The first ones easy, so lets just get it out of the way.

Can the Celtics flip the switch?

The answer is yes. A big, fat Shaq-sized YES.

Heartbreak over departed teammates? Stress over impending free agency? General frustration over whos doing what, when and where?

When the ball goes up in Game One, all the baggage of the last six weeks will be sorted and neatly stowed away in Waltham and Boston will once again be a team that only cares about team.

Trust me.

Theyll be playing with the same level of desire and intensity that we saw a few months back. Theyll be angry and focused. It might not be Ubuntu but . . . I dont know, is there a Serbian translation for Ubuntu? Lets call it that.

Whatever it is, it will be there.

I think the problem is that sometimes we expect these guys to play the entire 82-game season in a vacuum. Like nothing from the outside world, or even somewhere as close as the locker room, should ever affect what happens on the court.

And thats probably unfair.

Have you ever been in a funk at work? Mad your boss? Pissed off about how much your getting paid or how youre being treated? Maybe its the way theyre treating one of your friends and co-workers? Or maybe its a co-worker whos got you so mad in the first place?

It happens to everyone. No matter what you do or how much you make.

You can drive yourself crazy with that stuff, too. It can take you off your game. It can definitely affect your production. But eventually, something snaps you out of it. Something, whatever it is, comes along and gives you the strength and motivation to get on with your life, and go back to being you.

And then you move on.

Obviously, its one thing for a single person to overcome that adversity, and another when youre dealing with an entire roster of ultra competitive multi-millionaires.

But the playoffs are the universal wake-up call.

Especially in that locker room.

They know how much is on the line here: Careers, legacies, history. This is bigger than anything theyve gone through this season. Yeah, maybe this year didnt play out exactly how they imagined, but now theyre in the playoffswhere excuses go to die.

Theyll figure it out. Lets not forget who were dealing with

Kevin Garnett. Paul Pierce. Ray Allen. Doc Rivers.

On Sunday, the Celtics will flip that switch, find that focus and cohesion, and give you their absolute best.

In the words of Marquis Daniels: Beleedat.

Which, finally, brings us to question No. 2 . . .

Once that switch flips, will there be enough watts in the bulb?

When you move beyond the emotional drama, and get down to the bare bones of the next two months, ultimately thats the question: Even at their best, are the Celtics good enough to be the best?

And were not talking about an ideal world, where Shaqs healthy, Jeff Greens James Posey and Troy Murphys Troy Murphy. This is real life. Where Shaqs a huge a question mark, Jeff Greens still working on Jeff Green and Troy Murphys a downgrade from Mikki Moore. Where Miamis playing a little better, Chicagos playing a lot better, both teams have home-court advantage and the match-ups, especially with Chicagotheir defense, depth, MVP and powerful front courtlook more terrifying by the day.

Can Boston still do it? Is it possible?

Yeah, of course. It doesn't look great, but well never say impossible. Not with this group.

Regardless of any and all issues, or how long and devastating the road appears, well never completely write them off. Even if Doc Rivers swears that this time is so much different, the team doesnt sound nearly as confident (publicly, at least), and the competition looks far more imposing.

Theres enough to still believe, or just hope that these guys can reach down deep, defy the odds and become last years team.

And its kind of crazy how that all worked out.

There was a time not so long ago when all we used to talk about was how these guys were nothing like last years team.

For most of this season, that was pretty much the best way to describe the Celtics. And as far as the team was concerned, there was no greater compliment.

Over the course of the summer, theyd been haunted by nightmares of the previous regular season, and the memory of walking off the Staples Center floor, yellow and purple confetti everywhere. And from the moment they arrived at Media Day back in September, the Celtics tried like hell to exorcise those memories, and that culture, from the locker room.

They overstressed the importance of regular season. They convinced themselves that home court was to blame for their Game Seven collapse. They doused an old pair of Rasheed Wallaces sweatpants in gasoline and sacrificed them to the NBA Gods.

Fine, maybe one of those things didnt happen, but whatever. The Celtics did do, it worked. You watched this team play over those first few months, and couldnt help but make the comparison. Or more, the distinction

Theyd fall behind early to a crappy team, fight into the fourth and pull it out in the end: No way they wouldve won this game last year.

Theyd lose one or even two games in a row and respond with four, five or at one point 14 straight wins: You see, last years team would have gone in the tank!

No matter what, it was always different than last year, and the Celtics were always better for it.

Last year was their biggest fear.

Today it feels like a dream.

But over the next two months, it needs to become their reality.

It all starts to play out on Sunday, when the Celtics will officially flip that switch, and just hope it burns bright enough for another historic run. This time, with an extra 20 minutes left in reserve.

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

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses


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


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


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