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Boston Bound: Celtics Secure NBA Finals Spot with Dramatic Win Over Pacers

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Celtics Secure NBA Finals

Derrick White stood emotionless at midcourt while his teammates celebrated Monday night. He watched Jayson Tatum toss the ball high into the air, Al Horford run toward the coaching staff looking for his son, and Jaylen Brown hoist the Eastern Conference Finals MVP trophy. Even the coach Joe Mazzulla, celebrated the moment with his wife.

White, meanwhile, seemed ready to get back to work after making the tie-breaking 3-pointer with 43 seconds left, securing the Boston Celtics a 105-102 victory and their second trip to the NBA Finals in three years with a 4-0 sweep over the Indiana Pacers.

Reflection of the Game

“Great shot. We work on that all the time, two-on-one reads,” said Brown. “Before that, I told D White just to stay ready, and that was a big shot, a big shot to send us to the finals.”

“We feel confident, we feel comfortable in any type of game, and we feel we’ve got answers for anything at us,” White said. “We’ve just got to find the right ones.”

Boston’s victory came exactly one year after White’s tip-in helped the Celtics rally from a 3-0 deficit to tie the conference finals against Miami—only to lose Game 7 at home. This year, they’ve won seven straight playoff games, are 6-0 on the road, and are 3-0 in elimination games.

It wasn’t easy against the Pacers, who were 6-0 at home in the playoffs before ending the season with two straight losses at a sold-out Gainbridge Fieldhouse. Indiana lost three times in the series despite holding the lead or being tied in the final minute. It happened again Monday as Boston pitched a shutout for the final 3.5 minutes.

Coach Rick Carlisle vowed his team would fight hard to extend its season—and this young roster delivered admirably. Tempers briefly flared in the third quarter when Pacers center Myles Turner knocked White to the ground, prompting Brown to grab Turner’s shoulder, which led to Turner shoving Brown. Both were assessed technical fouls.

Frantic Final Moments

There was another tense moment when Brown’s hand hit T.J. McConnell in the face, sending him to the ground. The refs ruled it a common foul after a replay review. But these incidents didn’t change the back-and-forth nature of the game—or the series—and the Pacers never backed down.

“Our guys embraced it,” Carlisle said of his team’s effort without Tyrese Haliburton and throughout the playoffs. “Give them (the Celtics) credit for the stuff they pulled off at the end of the last two games. They simply made more plays.”

Andrew Nembhard racked up 24 points, 10 assists, and six rebounds, but missed a potentially game-tying 3-pointer in the final seconds. Pascal Siakam added 19 points and 10 rebounds for Indiana, while McConnell had 15 points and Aaron Nesmith scored 14.

But the Celtics dominated late once again. They pulled within 102-100 on Tatum’s dunk with 3:12 to go, tied the score with 2:40 left on Brown’s mid-range jumper, and then took the lead on White’s 3-pointer. In between, Boston forced two turnovers, and Brown blocked Nembhard’s shot at the rim with 1:05 left. Indiana had one more chance when Tatum missed a 3-pointer with 8 seconds left, but Holiday chased down the rebound and ran out the clock before Indiana could foul.

“They fought us hard to the wire; they have pride as a team. They didn’t want to give up,” a relieved Tatum said. “We missed bunnies all night. I knew we were due for one. That was a big-time shot.”

Larry Bird Award

No one was more surprised than Jaylen Brown when Boston Celtics legend Cedric Maxwell announced him as the winner of the Larry Bird Trophy for Eastern Conference Finals MVP.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all,” Brown said, sitting next to the trophy after Boston’s series-clinching 105-102 Game 4 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Monday night. Smiling broadly, he added, “I never win anything.”

But it was Brown’s critical plays in the final 65 seconds—blocking Nembhard’s drive and then assisting White’s game-winning 3-pointer—that secured the Celtics’ sweep and return to the NBA Finals for the second time in three years.

“I’m just happy that we won,” Brown continued. “Indiana played us tough. They were as challenging as any team we faced all season. They were physical, fast, and put a lot of pressure on us. So, respect to them.”

Brown averaged 29.8 points per game, hit a game-tying three-pointer to revive the Celtics in Game 1, exploded for 40 points in Game 2, and Game 4 was just as impressive. At 27, he’s in the midst of the most impressive playoff run of his career.

Brown likely secured the MVP in the second half of Game 4, after scoring 19 points on 7-11 shooting. This followed a sluggish beginning, where he made only 1 of his first 6 field goals and 1 of his first 4 free throws. Initially shaky, Brown turned things around to lead the Celtics to victory in the second half.

“He was getting great shots the whole game, and I thought he just stayed with it, stayed poised,” Joe Mazzulla said. “He’s a guy that — you can’t shake him. He has great, just short-term memory. If he misses a shot, [it] never affects the next one.”

Read more: Has It Become Too Easy to Score in the NBA?

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NBA Finals Drama: Porzinģis’ Injury Shakes Up Celtics’ Strategy and Dončić Worries

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NBA Finals

On Tuesday, the Boston Celtics announced a new injury to former All-Star center Kristaps Porziņģis: a torn medial retinaculum allowing dislocation of the posterior tibialis tendon in his left leg. The team described the condition as a “rare injury” and stated that his availability for the remainder of the NBA Finals would be determined day-to-day. A few hours later, Porziņģis was officially listed as questionable for Game 3, with Boston leading the Dallas Mavericks 2-0 in the series.

How Does He Feel?

“I’m optimistic,” Porziņģis told reporters in Dallas on Tuesday. “As I said, I will do everything I can to be out there tomorrow. Nothing’s going to stop me unless I’m told I’m not allowed to play. That’s the only reason I would not be out there, but tomorrow we’ll see.”

The Celtics said the injury occurred in the third quarter in Game 2 during a box-out collision with Mavericks center Dereck Lively II. After the collision, Porziņģis appeared to move more gingerly on his left leg, particularly on the next several possessions as he attempted to close out on shooters. He stayed in the game for another 2:45 before subbing out and retreating to the locker room, then returned to play an additional 3:26 in the fourth quarter.

“He’s doing everything and anything he can to be ready for the game tomorrow,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. “It’s a serious injury. At the end of the day, our team and the medical team are not going to put him in any bad situations. We’ve taken the decision to play out of his hands because of the importance of him. He’s going to do everything he can to play, and we’re going to leave it up to our medical team.”

How likely is Porziņģis to play in Game 3?

“I have no idea,” said Mazzulla.

Before Game 1 of the NBA Finals, Porziņģis missed 36 days, including both the Eastern Conference semifinals and finals, due to a soleus strain in his right calf. The team stated that his latest injury is “unrelated.”

The Celtics are +25 in Porziņģis’ 44 minutes over two games of the NBA Finals. They are even with Dallas in the 52 minutes he has been on the bench. During the regular season, Boston outscored opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions in Porziņģis’ minutes; that number increased to 11.8 with him off the floor.

If Porziņģis is absent, 38-year-old Al Horford, who started at center in Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals, would see increased minutes. Additionally, Luke Kornet might get his first playing time off the bench in the series.

Dončić Injury

Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Dončić is expected to receive a painkilling injection before Game 3 of the NBA Finals to manage a thoracic contusion, according to multiple reports. He received the same treatment before Sunday’s Game 2 loss in Boston.

Dončić sustained the chest injury during Game 1. The Mavericks listed him as questionable for Game 2 due to the contusion, but he ultimately played through the injury, finishing with 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists in the Mavericks’ 105-98 loss to the Celtics. Now, with the series shifting to Dallas for Game 3 on Wednesday, the Mavericks find themselves down 2-0.

Despite playing in Game 2, Dončić was visibly laboring, especially in the fourth quarter, where he appeared fatigued. When asked about the injury on Tuesday, Dončić said he “feels good,” indicating he isn’t overly concerned about the chest pain limiting his performance.

This injury is just the latest in a series of ailments Dončić has been dealing with throughout the Mavericks’ postseason run. He has been managing a knee injury since the first round and also picked up an ankle injury, but has not missed any time. The Mavericks can’t afford for him to sit out either.

Given that Dončić received the same injection before Game 2, getting one ahead of Game 3 is unlikely to impact his production significantly. However, he will need his teammates to step up so he doesn’t have to shoulder the entire offensive load. This is a role Irving should naturally fill, but he has struggled against the Celtics’ multiple lengthy and strong defenders. Dončić may have another 30-plus-point game, but if Irving can’t get going and the role players don’t start making shots, the Mavericks could be facing a sweep if they aren’t careful.

Read more: The Zach Edey Effect: How He Could Impact NBA Teams Next Season

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Patrick Beverley Says EuroLeague Coaches Are Better Than Their NBA Rivals

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Patrick Beverley EuroLeague

Nikola Jokić and Luka Dončić are arguably the best players in the NBA. What they both have in common is that they grew up playing basketball in Europe and played professionally abroad before coming to the NBA.

Jokić and Dončić are hardly the only Europeans giving American players fits in the NBA. Other top players include Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kristaps Porziņģis, and Domantas Sabonis. 

All of these ultra-talented players may soon be overshadowed by Victor Wembanyama. The 20-year-old French player is 7 feet, 3.5 inches tall without shoes, and can do things other players his size can only dream of, including crossing up opponents, draining three-pointers, and throwing laser-accurate cross-court passes. 

In the last 10 years, there’s been an explosion of European players in the league. In the past, Europeans were largely role players, with few like Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker achieving superstar status. However, that has all changed; now, arguably, three of the best five players in the league hail from Europe.

Due to this shift, fans are curious why this has happened. Recently, Patrick Beverley, who has played all over Europe and had a very successful career in the NBA, shared his thoughts. The Milwaukee Bucks players had some very interesting insights into American and European Basketball.

Role Players in the EuroLeague and NBA Are Very Similar

Patrick Beverley said that apart from the NBA superstars who are in a league of their own, the skill level between the leagues is very similar. He said that if NBA and EuroLeague role players swapped, nobody would be able to tell the difference. Players from both leagues have similar skill sets and are all-round professionals. 

Beverley said that the EuroLeague is lacking superstars. You won’t find players like Luka Dončić, LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant in the EuroLeague. These players are so rare and are drawn to the NBA due to the massive salaries that the EuroLeague can’t compete with. 

Shane Larkin is the highest-paid player in the EuroLeague and is reportedly earning $4 million per year. While it may sound like a lot, wait until you hear how much Steph Curry is earning. The greatest three-point shooter of all time is pulling in $51,915,615 annually.

EuroLeague Players Compete Harder

According to Beverley, there are no off days in Europe. Players are expected to give their all in every single game. This is very different from the NBA, where coaches regularly rest star players, and due to the amount of travel and number of games, teams take games off.

In the EuroLeague, players are expected to play through injuries. They only miss games if there’s a serious medical issue. On the other hand, in the NBA, coaches want to protect their star players and keep them healthy for the playoffs. They won’t risk playing superstars, even if they only have a minor injury. 

Defense is also a source of pride in the EuroLeague. Coaches are very strict about players being physical, while in the NBA, many teams only get serious about defense during the playoffs, and if it’s just a regular season game, won’t push themselves that hard. 

European players have a deep connection to their clubs, and there’s a strong team atmosphere where all players are meant to sacrifice for the good of the collective. It’s different in the NBA, where the focus is on superstar players interested in padding stats, signing huge contracts, and winning championships at any team. 

The EuroLeague Has Better Coaches

Even after playing over a decade in the NBA, Beverley says the best coach he ever played for was Jure Zdovc. The legendary Lithuanian coach helped Beverley improve his fundamentals and showed him how to play proper team basketball.

Zdovc was also incredibly tough on Beverley. Despite the American being the MVP of the league, the Lithuanian would regularly get in Beverley’s face and demand perfection.

The veteran NBA player thinks that NBA coaches are hired to be fired and are tossed aside whenever there’s a dip in form. Beverley thinks the coaching is more sophisticated in Europe, with coaches taking pride in the plays they run and the ability to win with multiple teams. In contrast, NBA coaches are more focused on how big their salary is.

Read more: Isaiah Collier Is Likely to Go Number 1 at the 2024 NBA Draft

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Bronny James’ Agent Says He’ll Be Drafted

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Bronny James playing basketball

When Bronny James first came out of high school, everyone was claiming he was going to be LeBron 2.0. However, after a decent but not great college season, expectations have cooled. Public opinion even swung the other way, with many experts predicting that Bronny wouldn’t be drafted at all.

After a strong pre-draft showing, LeBron’s son is now ranked 54 out of 100 prospects by ESPN, and many analysts have him picked up in the second round. After seeing his stock slide so much while playing at USC, many expected Bronny to return to college in a bid to improve his skills and then declare for the 2025 NBA Draft.

His agent, Rich Paul, has come out and said that Bronny will take part in the 2024 NBA and forgo his remaining collegiate eligibility. Paul is quietly confident that James will be picked up by an NBA team.

Bronny is an interesting proposition because the team who drafts him isn’t just getting a player. They’re getting the son of one of the greatest players of all time. Bronny is already more famous than the majority of the players in the NBA, and the team that signs him will see a big uptick in fan attendance and merchandise sales based on his name recognition alone.

The other x factor is that LeBron has stated that it’s his dream to play alongside his son. So the team that drafts Bronny will likely end up with LeBron on their roster, too, even if it’s only for one season.

Bronny James Proves Haters Wrong at NBA Draft Combine

Bronny has been under immense pressure since declaring for the draft. Many critics are convinced he’s not good enough to play in the NBA and is only receiving attention due to his father. This is partly true; at USC, he averaged just 4.8 points per game. He spent most of his time on the bench, starting only six games.

Even Bronny supporters don’t see him becoming an NBA All-Star. At best, they see him as a role player. If he does manage to be drafted, he’ll have a very different career compared to his father, who was one of the most hyped prospects to ever come into the league and immediately became an All-Star.

Following his lackluster college season and his medical emergency where the 19-year-old suffered a cardiac arrest, analysts ditched Bronny from their draft boards. 

However, the USC player didn’t give up. After being medically cleared to be drafted, he had a very successful pro day and turned heads at the NBA Combine. 

During the Combine, which took place in May, Bronny let his shooting do the talking. The young prospect came second out of 71 players in two 3-point shooting contests. He made 19 out of 25 shots – many teams would be interested in a knockdown shooter like that. Then, in front of his dad, he dropped 13 points as the draft hopefuls battled it out in a tightly contested scrimmage.

There are some concerns about Bronny’s height as he measured 6-foot-1.5 inches without shoes, which is well below the NBA average of 6-foot-6.5 inches. On the positive side, he does have a 6-foot-7 wingspan and a very impressive 40.5-inch max vertical jump. Then, he showed his elite speed, recording a time of 10.96 seconds in the lane agility test.

Bronny James’ Draft Stock Increases, But Is It Enough?

Everyone admits Bronny James is an unfinished product. By drafting him, teams are betting on him turning into a bonafide NBA player. In a perfect world, Bronny would spend another two years at college developing. However, he doesn’t have that luxury. His father probably only has two seasons left. So if they’re going to play together, then Bronny needs to declare for the 2024 NBA Draft.

While Bronny may not be an NBA-level talent, it looks like he’ll be drafted in the second round based on his potential and name value. The front runners are the Los Angeles Lakers, where LeBron plays, or the Phoenix Suns. Despite having the nepo baby tag, it’d be cool to see the first-ever father and son duo in the NBA, so let’s hope a team takes a chance on him! 

Read more: LeBron James Continues to Extend His NBA Scoring Record

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