Boston’s ‘intimidating’ postseason home-court advantage is dead

The mystique is gone

Boston Celtics fans woke up Tuesday morning still stunned that their team lost by 19 points to the Miami Heat in TD Garden on Monday night in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Any hopes of back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals were ended by Caleb Martin. And the dream of being the first team to ever come back from down 3-0 turned into a nightmare on the first play of the game when Jayson Tatum turned his ankle.

See, Boston Garden. Brothas walk into that place and you can feel it like a cold wind. You find yourself running down the court tripping over thin air. Go to dribble, ball don’t bounce. Just sticks there, like a mud puddle. No logical explanation to it, either.” — Norm Nixon (played by his son DeVaughn Nixon) in Episode 7 “Invisible Man” of HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.

That isn’t the case anymore. Boston’s mystique has evaporated.

And while it’s understandable why everyone in Boston is hurting today. The outcome of Monday’s night game shouldn’t have been a shock, given how bad this core group has been when it comes to closing out games on their parquet floor.

Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

TD Garden has been a site of high-stakes playoff games

The last time the Celtics had a Game 7 on their home floor in the Eastern Conference Finals was in 2018. And like Monday night, they lost. LeBron James played every second of that game — without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving — and finished with 35 points, 15 rebounds, and nine assists.

“It was pretty incredible run by an incredible group of guys, and an absolute pleasure and privilege to be around them every day,” said the Celtics’ former head coach, and current president, Brad Stevens after the game. “We obviously have a good thing going.” Little did he know that more postseason heartbreaks were on the way.

In last year’s NBA Finals, the Celtics stunned the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 to take an early series lead. However, the most memorable game of that series took place in — you guessed it — Boston. With a 2-1 series lead and a chance to put the dagger in the Warriors, the Celtics melted at home in Game 4 when Steph Curry played the best game of his life — scoring 43 points and grabbing 10 rebounds to give the Warriors a 107-97 win, tying the series at 2-2. Boston never won another game.

“We had to do it the difficult way. We have to do it again. It could have been an easier road, obviously, if you get the win tonight. But we’re 2-2 now. We know we can do it. We’ve done it before,” said former Celtics coach Ime Udoka after the game. He lied.

Celtics consistently inconsistent at home

This postseason run was full of hints that the Celtics might have better luck closing out a series on the road than at home. In the first round, Boston gave an Atlanta Hawks team that’s used to pulling off postseason upsets even more confidence after Trae Young hit a game-winning deep three-pointer to win Game 5 at TD Garden, pushing the series to a sixth game in Atlanta that should have ended in five in Boston. In the next round, the Celtics dropped Game 1 to Philadelphia thanks to James Harden, and would later lose Game 5 at home giving the Sixers a 3-2 series lead. And finally, there was this last series. One in which the Celtics lost three games in Boston.

“We failed. I failed and we let the whole city down,” said Jaylen Brown, who was a pathetic 8-for-23 from the field with eight turnovers. “In spite of whatever circumstance we had this year we rose to the occasion. We got to this point and we came up short.”

According to Axios Sports, entering the 2016 NBA Finals, home teams were 101-24 in Game 7s. Since then, they’ve been 8-11. Also, seven times this postseason the lower-seeded team won a series, which is the most since 1983.

It’s a sign that matchups and health mean more than seeding. So, if you hate “load management” and think stars should play every game, there’s a strong possibility that you’re probably going to hate the new NBA. Since “ring culture” has made it so that stars are only judged by how many championships they’ve won, the regular season has become a warm-up for the playoffs. But remember, the fans and many in “the media” made it this way.

But, back to the matter at hand. Which is that the Celtics aren’t good in Boston. TD Garden isn’t “The Garden,” and Larry Bird isn’t walking through that door. Building your entire home-court advantage on racism and terrible amenities for visiting teams no longer works. Time to figure something else out, like late-game execution. 

Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

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Take a deep breath before I reveal a stunning fact, it’s almost June. Some of you were just pulling out the trusty snow blower and now it’s swimsuit season — I hope your diet went better than mine.

With the sports calendar nearly halfway over, there has been a full year’s worth of activity. Take a look back at some of the most notable sports moments from the first half of the year.

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Kirby Smart is sitting on top of the college football mountain in a way that no team has outside of Tuscaloosa. Well, at least since those two years with that team from Los Angeles that the NCAA has declared never happened. The Dawgs won their second-consecutive championship, and did so in dominating fashion.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft in April 2022 and did not miss a beat. The Dawgs almost threw up that game in Missouri, but even with that loss, they would have gone to the SEC Championship Game. The rest of the schedule was a wash until New Year’s Eve. Ohio State put on its best performance of the season at Georgia’s second home in Atlanta, but hooked that 50-yard field goal right as the ball dropped in Times Square.

In the National Championship Game Georgia got back to kicking ass with a literal historic 65-7 shellacking of TCU in the title game.

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An MVP candidate during the regular season, but outside of Philadelphia respect was grudgingly granted to him as a star. During the playoffs the Eagles plowed through its opposition using their dominance at the line of scrimmage — and the San Francisco 49ers not having a quarterback physically able to throw a football in the NFC Championship Game.

In the Super Bowl, Hurts went toe-to-toe against arguably the greatest player in the history of the NFL and stuck with him play-for-play. This player — pulled at halftime of a National Championship Game for a true freshman — put the exclamation point on a spectacular season.

Jalen Hurts was one of the two best players in the NFL last season.

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The best player in the NFL. The MVP. While the Kansas City Chiefs were not doubted in the way that Travis Kelce wants the world to believe, there were certainly questions about Patrick Mahomes. Some defensive coordinator really wanted to get something off of his chest when he said that Mahomes played streetball, but also wasn’t chesty enough to put his name on it.

At one time the ABA was considered too playground, but modern NBA players have games much more reminiscent of Julius Erving and George Gervin than John Havlicek and Lou Hudson. The same way that Joe Burrow is far more like Patrick Mahomes than Peyton Manning.

Mahomes took it all last season. The MVP, the championship, and all of the grit points for playing two-and-a-half postseason games with that brutal high-ankle sprain. He is a player of the likes the NFL has never seen and deserves to be respected as such.

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It was a seismic event when 16-seed UMBC defeated 1-seeded Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The moment that sports fans didn’t think would ever happen, but still waited for with bated breath. That loss was so embarrassing that it served as the ultimate redemption narrative for Virginia’s 2019 championship.

The unthinkable happened again when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. With the transient nature of men’s college basketball, we have come to expect upsets, but this is still only the second time that a 16-seed has advanced. Upsets may be common, but not this one.

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College basketball with actual star power. The National Championship Game was not as competitive throughout as the semifinal matchup between LSU and South Carolina. It was still able to give the sports-viewing public what is uncommon in the modern men’s game, true star collegiate basketball personalities in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. That is why this matchup was the highest-rated women’s college basketball game of all time.

Both stars fit hand-in-glove with their programs, and it was obvious the moment that the starters for Reese’s Tigers and Clark’s Hawkeyes were introduced. Clark fired away from behind the arc as best as she could to keep them in the game, but LSU was too much.

There was even a national dog whistle conversation about sportsmanship that followed. Reese and Clark brought the culture wars back to college basketball matchups. For those who pine for the 1980s and 1990s version of college basketball, the women have it for you.

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Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak might be the only record left that is considered unbreakable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for 20 seasons and scored 38,325 points in his career. Who would even have the longevity to approach that mark?

Enter LeBron James. His constant greatness from Year 1 to Year 20 allowed him to break the NBA record that no one ever expected to fall. There will always be a debate over who is better between Michael Jordan and LeBron. That record won’t bump Lebron to No. 1 in the minds of most Jordan fans, but it is an undeniable win over His Airness.

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From the Western Conference Finals to trading two starters and a first-round pick for Kyrie Irving and getting fined for tanking after missing the postseason entirely.

Watching the Mavericks struggle with last season’s team — sans Jalen Brunson — was one thing. However, a team unable to string together wins with both Irving and Luka Dončić was downright hilarious. Mark Cuban bet the farm on an unpredictable, undersized scoring guard who might not even re-sign with the Mavericks this offseason. Also, with the Mavericks’ depth weakened, their defense was atrocious. They struggled to stay in front of their own reflection.

The Mavericks got lucky last season when the top-seeded Phoenix Suns imploded during their second-round matchup. This season it was the Mavericks who put the spotlight on themselves with the Irving trade and melted.

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The alleged incidents at first were head-scratching — the fight, the mall, the mysterious laser. All curious, but nothing that could fully be substantiated. Then Morant decided to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt of him being a knucklehead on camera when he flashed a gun not once, but twice on Instagram.

That’s when his safety first started to become a concern, because if anyone is going to suffer the tragic consequences that can come with brandishing a firearm, probability and systemic racism says that it will most likely be a man of Morant’s age and ethnicity.

Now with a wellness check being called for Morant after his cryptic “Bye” social media post, safety is really the only concern for this young man at this point

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In an NBA Playoffs lacking dominant teams, there is one playing 5,280 feet higher than everyone else. That sweep of the Lakers was hard fought, but also a moment when the Nuggets stuck their flag in the ground as the class of the NBA.

When healthy, their starting lineup has been as good as any in the NBA. On a true national stage against the NBA’s most recognizable franchise and face, the Nuggets put on a show. They dominated, they stumbled, they struggled, and through four games forced sports fans all over the world to acknowledge them as a special team.

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That damn hockey. No. 8 seeds advancing is far more common in the NHL than MLB and most certainly the NBA. Still, the Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final moments of the regular season.

They then launched the President’s Cup curse at the Boston Bruins like the stinger from Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. Next up was Canada, and this squad out of South Florida melted the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back to the states they came to play the Carolina Hurricanes. It took five combined overtimes, for the Panthers to take a 2-0 series. They won again at home 1-0 in Game 3, and the rink in Sunrise, Fla. was rocking on Wednesday night.

The game was another barnburner with the Hurricanes appearing to send the game into overtime by scoring with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Then came the shot heard ‘round Broward County. The Panthers took the lead on a goal from Matthew Tkachuk with 4.3 seconds remaining in the game.

Lakers’ front office competence helped turn slow start into Western Conference Finals appearance

Darvin Ham and Rob Pelinka chat before Game 4

Remember that Baxter Holmes’ ESPN report about the Los Angeles Lakers from four years ago? News of it has been floating around for months before its publication. Holmes made an appearance on Zach Lowe’s podcast in the aftermath of the world reading what he uncovered about Magic Johnson, the Rambis and Buss families, and Rob Pelinka. This is Holmes’ quote on his original tip that led to the bombshell report.

“I started on this story about a year ago, Holmes said on The Lowe Post. “After Sports Illustrated did [an expose] on the Dallas Mavericks and the inner workings of their culture which were troubling, a source reached out to me, or I maybe heard from a couple of sources, they said ‘if you wanna take a look inside a culture that’s troubling, take a look at the Lakers.’”

Those calls came in response to a story that reported former Mavericks beat writer Earl Sneed remained employed by the organization after being arrested at the facility on assault charges. (Editor’s note: Sneed pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of family violence assault and interference with emergency request. He allegedly assaulted a female employee two years later.)

Nothing that egregious was in Holmes’ report, but what it revealed was an organization that was the opposite of the word in Tinsel Town. That season the Lakers missed the postseason, and did so again in 2021-22. This season, they made it to the Western Conference Finals.

Lakers’ run fueled by February’s roster overhaul

This run was made possible by the Lakers executing a Herculean roster overhaul in February. A much-needed influx of talent allowed them to go on the necessary late-season run to avoid missing for the third time with LeBron James on the roster. The 2022-23 season for the Lakers was able to go from pumpkin to carriage, because of true organization from the Lakers’ front office, and patience.

Holmes’ report confirmed some of what Magic Johnson had said eight days earlier on ESPN’s First Take. There were too many influential and powerful voices with their hands on the Lakers’ on-court product. During the 2021-22 season, it appeared that the problem was still present. It was reported that Kurt Rambis was heavily involved with the coaching staff including sitting in on meetings.

One of the first signs of Laker competence came after Darvin Ham was hired as head coach. His conditions for accepting the position were that he had to have the full authority that is supposed to come with the position. Per NBA Insider Marc Stein, there would be no more Rambis freely sitting in the meetings and offering his two cents. Also, unlike Frank Vogel before him, Ham would have complete autonomy in assembling his staff.

Then came the decision on what to do with Russell Westbrook’s expiring contract. There were debates throughout NBA media about a potential deal with the Indiana Pacers to acquire Buddy Hield and/or Myles Turner, and them receiving the Lakers’ only two remaining tradeable first-round draft picks this decade along with the Westbrook contract.

According to a report from The Athletic it was seriously considered. However, In order for Pelinka to make this kind of seismic deal, he wanted the Lakers’ entire braintrust in favor of it including their new head coach. Consensus could not be reached, and Pelinka elected to not go through with the deal. The Lakers also made some inquiries into acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets, but nothing materialized. Soldiering forward with the same key players was certainly a far more practical decision than the Lakers gutting their team to acquire Westbrook in the summer of 2021.

A painful start to the season

While the decision to hold the line was the right call, it brought forth a lot of pain to start the season. A 2-10 start, and another season of the Lakers hovering around the play-in tournament with jokes being hurled at the franchise from all corners of sports and social media.

In Pelinka and Buss’ defense though, remaining patient until past the halfway point of the season while eating that daily criticism by the spoonful, is a sign of good leadership. Going through a thorough process to make the best possible decision and riding out the result is the only way for leaders to advance their organizations.

Then in late January, they were able to acquire Rui Hachimura from the Washington Wizards for Kendrick Nunn and three second-round picks. They brought in this 2019 ninth-overall pick and it cost them none of their top assets.

Was Hachimura worth three second-rounders? If the Lakers front office believed that one of those picks will turn into Nikola Jokić, then no. Being that Jokić is making a case to be one of the 20 best NBA players of all time and rising, it’s fairly safe to say that kind of lightning won’t strike twice. Instead, for some potential players who probably wouldn’t have been on the roster after training camp, the Lakers received a player who turned into a top-four contributor on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals.

The deadline deal to acquire D’Angelo Russell, Jarred Vanderbilt, and Malik Beasley was not nearly the same home run even though it provided some necessary depth. Vanderbilt and Russell had their problems in the playoffs — Beasley barely played — but it only cost them the 2027 pick, and it’s top-four protected.

Only 4 Lakers are under contract next season, and LeBron’s future is in the air

Only four players for the Lakers are currently under contract for next season — James, Anthony Davis, Vanderbilt, and Max Christie. That giant hold that Westbrook’s contract had on their salary cap is gone, but soon more big decisions must be made. The entire NBA saw Austin Reaves and Hachimura in the playoffs. A couple of scorers with size who can be counted on to play competitive and intelligent defense are going to command quite a raise this offseason.

Also, the Lakers still need more 3-point shooters, another on-ball creator, and also there is a chance that James does not return for a 21st season. After all, that is 21 regular seasons of NBA basketball minutes and enough playoff minutes to add on another three.

While the franchise has a lot of uncertainty to sift through, for now it appears to no longer be shrouded in instability and incompetence. The roles are defined clearly enough so that decisions can be made in an organized and thoughtful manner.

It took a while to get here, and maybe the Lakers are a losing season away from more reports of meddling. For right now though, Pelinka, Buss, and everyone involved in turning the tankard away from the trash heap deserves to be commended for their work.

Yes, it didn’t result in a championship, but sleeping during the offseason has to be much more restful after getting swept in the Western Conference Finals, as opposed to finishing the regular season winning 35 games or less.

The Kyrie Irving to LA, Damian Lillard to Boston rumors will dominate the NBA offseason

Brian Windhorst is saying Kyrie Irving could end up a Laker

At the risk of being a hypocrite and drowning Denver in a flood of Los Angeles Lakers’ developments, the departure from the postseason has stirred up the underbelly of latent Kyrie Irving free agency rumor-mongering. Even in defeat, the superstar carousel never ends in Los Angeles — or Boston for that matter. Even on the verge of being swept, the Lakers’ perpetual superstar replenishment program was already planning its next free-agent spree. ESPN’s longtime resident LeBron whisperer Brian Windhorst is already dousing the airwaves with scuttlebutt regarding the Lakers’ renewed interest in acquiring Irving in a sign-and-trade this summer.

How much of the speculation is based in reality or a pipedream is irrelevant. Windhorst’s belief conflicts with Bleacher Report’s Eric Pincus reporting that Irving has had a handshake agreement in place with the Dallas Mavericks for a four-year extension since they traded for him from Brooklyn at the trade deadline. Pincus also shared that Irving wouldn’t have “said yes to anything less than the max,” which doesn’t bode well for the Lakers who would be hard-pressed to offer the max and sign Irving without suffering significant losses elsewhere on the roster.

Of course, two things can be true. The Lakers can be in pursuit of Irving, while getting rebuffed by him due to their reluctance to commit to him for long-term. On the other hand, Irving’s word to Mark Cuban is as good as the contract it’s enshrined on and handshakes aren’t legally binding.

This is how the Lakers’ machine works. There’s always a Kyrie or Kawhi or Paul George-type to assuage their disappointing end to a season. The Lakers are the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” franchise. In the midst of the worst stretch of D’Angelo Russell’s season, purported insiders are dusting off months-old Irving rumors.

In order to acquire Irving for a near-max deal, the Lakers would have to sacrifice their second D’Angelo Russell contract. Three months ago, Russell’s homecoming was a significant moment for the Lakers and he played great in the final quarter of the regular season. Irving is undoubtedly a better individual talent, but he struggled to synchronize with teammates, coaches, and even ownership. One second he’s all in and the next he’s not just a basketball player, he’s a human who needs a few weeks off to reconcile that existential crisis.

Adding one of the most creative ball handlers in NBA history to the Lakers would bolster the offense at the expense of the depth Rob Pelinka created at the trade deadline. There’s also the added question of how realistic this interest actually is.

Dame Time in Beantown?

Meanwhile, Celtics wish casters like Kendrick Perkins have begun loudly proposing interrupting Boston’s continuity with a Jaylen Brown and Damian Lillard swap. Breaking up the Brown-Tatum duo is the prescribed fix that will inundate the media this summer and Lillard is the obvious third party to include. In contrast to Irving, Lillard is more palatable on its surface. Lillard is a reliable professional. Lillard, who will be 33 this summer may be closer to his twilight than Irving, 32, but not by much. Besides, his durability makes him a better gamble than Irving in L.A. alongside two other fragile superstars.

Lillard could be exactly what Boston needs at this point. Marcus Smart’s feistiness, and craftiness have been a crucial aspect of Boston’s success, but a playmaker of Lillard’s caliber, who can stretch out the defense for Tatum could take them to the next level with him in a diminished offensive role. Of course, simply discussing this after Jaylen Brown endured being floated in the Kevin Durant trade discussions last summer only increases the odds that he heads for the exits in 2024.

Boston has been interested in Lillard

There’s nothing tangible there yet, but Boston’s interest in Lillard can be traced back at least two years. Brown and Tatum achieved on-court harmony after Ime Udoka took over, but Brown’s shortcomings in the Eastern Conference Finals have reinforced the notion that he will always be an interloper in Boston. Portland trading Lillard frees them to draft Scoot Henderson and pair him alongside Anfernee Simons and finally frees them to lean in on a rebuild replete with young players on the same timeline.

What Brown and Russell both have in common are their expiring contracts and postseason struggles. In Games 1-3 Russell shot like he was blindfolded. Brown is shooting 37 percent from the field, 10 percent from 3-point range, and committed more turnovers than assists.

Interestingly, the Heat and Nuggets are taking an inverted route to the Finals with a smattering of journeymen or fringe stars that defy the player empowerment age mantras. The marquee franchises pushing for more All-Star mercenaries comes at the expense of continuity. The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat are defying that compulsion by building title finalists without tanking or chasing max-contract free agents. But in today’s instant gratification age, few teams have time for the long game. Especially the title-starved Celtics and a Lakers organization on the clock to salvage what’s left of the LeBron James era as he ponders retirement.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

James Harden wants to escape the NBA title rat race

James Harden is opting out

In his prime, James Harden was the star of the show. His ball dominance was unparalleled. Harden’s expression of basketball is a sublime experience. His ball handling and passing artistry are one of a kind. During his penultimate season in Houston, Harden’s 40.3 usage rate in 2018-19 nearly set an NBA record.

Harden’s desire to return to that style of play and escape the league MVP’s shadow may reportedly drive him out of Philly. According to Bleacher Report’s NBA scuttlebutt, Harden will only entertain suitors that “present a competitive roster and the basketball freedom for the star to be himself.”Once he opts into free agency, teams can offer Harden a max of four years, $201 million.

Harden is done living by anyone else’s standards. He tried being the third wheel in Oklahoma City and discovered the gratification that comes from being “the man” in Houston. For nearly a decade, all eyes were on him when he walked into every arena, every strip club, night club, or after-party. Being Embiid’s second fiddle was clearly not ideal either.

He was at his unhappiest when he compromised to be the top option on a contender. His experiment with Dwight Howard is remembered as a failure, but they reached the Western Conference Finals and were prosperous on the floor together, despite friction between the duo. However, both harbored dreams of being the man. Harden got shipped out, Kevin McHale was fired and Harden discovered his Shangri-La as the offensive deus ex machina in Mike D’Antoni’s offensive attack.

The problem was that it didn’t win games as his teams advanced deeper into the postseason.

In the regular season though, all that dancing with rock was majestic. Defenses in the postseason are too locked in to fall for Harden’s tricks. He’s no longer able to snake into the lane and rattle his way to the cup or the free throw stripe, or draw fouls as easily. The market isn’t exactly bustling to throw a long-term deal at a barrel-chested, ball-dominant shooting guard who lost so much burst, he only recorded one dunk in the regular season. In his first 11 seasons, Harden averaged upwards of 30 dunks a season.

James Harden demanded a trade to Philly, now he wants out

Even coming up a CP3 hamstring short of the Finals in 2018 wouldn’t appease him. Harden thought he could settle in as a third wheel between Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, but that wasn’t cutting it, so he demanded a trade to Philadelphia for a reunion with the architect of his Rockets teams. He arrived out of shape and sluggish. Once it became apparent that Harden’s star power had dimmed, the Sixers brought him back on a two-year deal with an opt-out that would allow him to prove he deserved a four-year commitment. Instead, Harden did what he always does. He shrunk under pressure while maintaining his delusions of grandeur.

Earlier this season, he told SLAM, “I’m a master of this game. This is year 14 for me — I adjust to how teams are guarding us, and I pick and choose where to facilitate. My role on the Sixers is different from 2017. So yes, the approach is different, but I’m still the same player as 2017, my role just changed slightly.”

For year 15, he apparently prefers to be the big man in a small pond elsewhere. Reports have circulated for months that he prefers a Houston reunion. This prodigal son returning is unlikely though. Houston is in the midst of a youth movement. New coach Ime Udoka preaches accountability, somewhat ironically considering he was running around the Celtics organization Eric Beneting himself out of a job. But defensively, Udoka demanded effort and discipline, habits Harden can’t be a role model for a group that needs positive influences.

Offensively, Udoka implored Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to share the ball and make the extra pass. Harden’s ball dominance is even harder to stomach as his athletic decline snowballs into an avalanche.

Harden wants the basketball equivalent of a Vegas residency. No more new hits. This is the stage of his career where he wants to collect checks and offer a daily supply of nostalgia with Mike D’Antoni iso-ball. Harden wanting to live out his golden basketball years just running the same broken basketball isos that made him a regular-season offensive gawd is extremely on-brand. I’d be disappointed if he did chase a title. Philly fans wanted more though. They wanted a Type A Jimmy Butler-caliber playoff leader.

Harden’s broken free from the constraints of the sports talk debate disease that’s infected modern NBA stars with the belief that their careers were useless without a ring. Harden isn’t ring-chasing for our approval. Unfortunately, most teams aren’t paying top dollar for a Harlem Globetrotter show though.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex

Boston Celtics are consistently inconsistent

Jayson Tatum went an entire quarter without attempting a field goal

The Boston Celtics are going to Celtic from time to time. The problem has reared its ugly head for a third consecutive series, and there appears to be no stopping it. After about 77 minutes of well-played basketball, they were due for a head-scratcher. It arrived in the second half of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals in their 123-116 loss to the Miami Heat at home — the Celtics’ fourth loss at TD Garden in these playoffs.

Kyle Lowry’s 13 points and three 3-pointers in the second quarter most certainly helped prevent the Celtics from running out to a humongous lead to end the first half. In the third quarter, the Heat then went laying out on South Beach with no umbrella hot from the field, scoring 46 points on 65.4 percent shooting from the field.

Still, the Heat were able to hold onto that double-digit lead for a total of 25 seconds of game time. Their shooting went cold in the fourth quarter and the home team had every opportunity to deliver a gut-punching Game 1 loss to the visitors. The Celtics shot 53.3 percent from the field in the fourth quarter while the Heat shot 38.9. However, the Heat only committed two turnovers in the final period, while the Celtics gave the ball up six times.

Kevin Harlan can compare Jimmy Butler to Xavien Howard and Jalen Ramsey all he wants, but Butler playing shutdown corner was not the source of the Celtics’ problems. His interceptions on consecutive passes were the result of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford finding themselves in desperate situations on the floor and flinging wild passes. That is how the Heat went nearly three minutes without scoring late in the fourth quarter with only a five-point lead and still won the game.

We’ve seen this before from Boston

The Celtics lost Game 1 to the Philadelphia 76ers in a game that they had every opportunity to win. Yes, James Harden hit one of the biggest shots of his career but the Celtics turned the ball over four times in that fourth quarter. In Game 4 on the road, the Celtics were up by five points with less than two minutes remaining in the final period. Their failure to secure defensive rebounds helped lead to an overtime loss in that game.

Even against the Atlanta Hawks in the first round, the Celtics blew an opportunity to close out that series at home in five games. Trae Young got hot and went for 16 points in the fourth quarter. That was accompanied by five Celtics turnovers in a 119-117 Hawks’ victory.

Sloppy fourth-quarter play has forced the Celtics into situations that should not befall championship teams. Even last postseason — after sweeping Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and the Brooklyn Nets in the first round — the Celtics dropped a lot of games at home.

This season, with an influx of talent accompanied by a franchise-shaking head coaching change, the Celtics won six more regular-season games than they did last season. They don’t even have to play the No. 1 seed these playoffs, and yet here they are still holding onto wins like a greased pig.

The Celtics were a championship favorite at the start of this season. They will still probably fend off the eighth-seeded Heat, but at this point, their lingering inconsistency has C’s primed for a second-consecutive NBA Finals defeat.

The idea of Kevin Durant was always better than the real Kevin Durant

KD was supposed to help Phoenix win a title

Whenever someone talks about Kevin Durant, they bring up what he is capable of doing a lot more than they bring up what he actually does. I could retire if I had a dollar for every time Stephen A. Smith has said “6-foot-11, can pull up from 30.” But he doesn’t actually get the job done very often.

People constantly overstate how good Durant is both in terms of today’s NBA and their rankings of the best players of all time because he’s a great scorer and shooter… that is also tall.

As you’re probably well aware, both of his championships came after joining a team that went 73-9, eliminated his own team from the playoffs, and was one year removed from winning a championship. Since leaving the Warriors, Durant has been teammates with Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Chris Paul, and Devin Booker. No other player has come close to having that amount of talented teammates in the past three years.

KD lacks a signature playoff moment

Apart from that one long-distance dagger against the Cavs in the finals, he doesn’t have any signature playoff moments that come to mind. Scoring is obviously the most important skill an NBA player can have with the way the rules favor offense, but that ability causes people to overlook his drawbacks. He shows flashes of good defense at times but by and large, isn’t great. He’s not a particularly good rebounder for a 7-footer. He doesn’t create that many shots for others. And a lot of times he’s pretty inefficient.

To be fair, players that are expected to take a lot of shots can’t really sustain efficient shooting numbers for long. And you’re not really expected to be a great defender when you’re also the team’s first option on offense.

That being said, it was Durant’s offense that failed him in their series loss against the Nuggets. It took him 23.2 shots per game to score 29.5 points per game.

Revisionist history

There’s a crazy revisionist history about him. When he was traded to the Suns earlier this season, it was unilaterally declared a super team and the favorite to win the title. Now some are saying that they need to build around Durant with more “defense and role players.”

He joined a team with two other all-stars and a recent No. 1 pick. When is he finally going to get some help? Durant made six three-pointers in the entire series. He needs to start helping himself.

Since leaving the Warriors, he’s been on two super teams that have failed to even reach the conference finals, let alone win a championship. He was not the best player on those Warriors championship teams even if he won finals MVP both times.

About a year ago, Draymond Green said that Steph Curry was double-teamed seven times as much as Durant during the 2017 and 2018 finals. The ever-defensive Durant said this was “100 percent false.” I mean, I guess he’s technically right. It wasn’t seven times as much, but Curry was doubled more. Even then head coach of the Cavaliers has since said that was his plan.

Curry has won a championship before Durant arrived in Golden State and after he left, but some people still insist that he needed Durant. And although the Warriors are currently trailing the Lakers 3-2 in their series, there’s a chance they could come back and advance further in the playoffs than the Suns.

Yes, Kevin Durant is a great player, but not as great as many people say because they’re grading him on a curve. The argument as to why Durant is better than Curry pretty much begins and ends with “he’s taller.” The fact that he COULD shoot over anybody and carry a team, doesn’t mean he actually does it. No other superstar gets that level of benefit of the doubt. At no point in time was the taller Khris Middleton the best player in the world.

In the battle of COVID vs. sports, evil vs. entertainment, sports won

Remember the bubble?

Now that COVID is officially over, and everyone can throw their masks in the trash, (Is that how this works?), it feels like a good time to declare that sports beat COVID. If you’re wondering who was keeping score, I was, and sports handily outlasted the virus — that killed very few, if any, athletes, and certainly no active figures of note — to the tune of 276-35. It was a bludgeoning.

The only real loss was the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments in 2020, because MLB, the NBA, NFL, NHL, and EPL never let science or contact tracing dictate whether it was “safe” to carry out a 17- or 72-game schedule (not including playoffs).

Where’s George W.’s “Mission Accomplished” banner? Let’s get Roger Goodell, Gary Bettman, Rob Manfred, and Adam Silver on a Helicarrier ASAP and unfurl that baby — without reservation this time.

::Nasally, condescending Anthony Fauci voice:: “You can’t hold an NBA Playoffs in a bubble!”

The NBA had the bubble

Hold my fucking beer. Not only did the Association turn Disney World into a QZ a la The Last of Us, they created ideal conditions for a fragile Los Angeles Lakers team to get, and stay, healthy enough to cruise to a title.

Yes, I know that there were rumors of an outbreak in the Phoenix Suns locker room during the Finals the next season, but they were just that: Well-reported stories after the fact. Even the players benefitted as random games missed due to health and safety measures conditioned fans to a new era of load management — a new normal, if you will.

Look at all the special sports moments during the pandemic that got fans, with very few reasons to exist other than their beloved teams, through hard and lonely times. Society needed a hero to break the endless cycle of masturbation and video games, and sports leagues were real-life Avengers.

The NFL carried on

The NFL played every game, and nobody died. (Coincidentally, someone almost dying on the field is the only way the NFL will cancel a game.) Sure, a wide receiver suited up at QB for the Broncos, but Denver sucked anyway. Tom Brady got another championship, and so did Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers, Liverpool, and Giannis Antetokuonmpo.

Big-time players and big-time franchises winning titles generate big-time revenue, and that’s a W for sports, and the people who obsess over them. It’s also further evidence that, despite being around for a nanosecond of this planet’s existence, sports matter and are vital to the fabric of the human experience.

Athletes pioneer the pandemic

As is America’s way, the sports industry pummeled COVID protocols into the ground, led by staunch coronavirus and vaccine critics like Kyrie Irving, Aaron Rodgers, and John Stockton. Irving navigated his way around needles like perimeter defenders, and was able to come out unvaxxed and vindicated by New York City’s mandates. He didn’t miss a home playoff game — this isn’t Canada after all — and the only clean bill of physical (and spiritual) health he needed was from his shaman.

It was a combination of crystals, Pat McAfee, and Ivermectin that got Rodgers through isolation, and he was able to win back-to-back MVPs in the process. Postseason showings, a messy divorce with the Packers, and public approval be damned, No. 12 is now living his best life on the streets of Manhattan as a new member of the New York Jets, free to cough and laugh on as many New Yorkers as he pleases.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Stockton was conducting valuable research on the effects of the vaccine, and in the process exposed the risks of being vaccinated and educated. He galaxy-brained his way to the career assist record, and clearly retirement only sharpened that wit. He dropped dimes on epidemiologists in a groundbreaking (and I’m assuming now-removed) docuseries “Vaccines Revealed” on YouTube, and gave validity to all the other unofficial experts digging into the data that Joe Biden won’t share or acknowledge.

Did you know that the vaccine was causing instant death syndrome in college and high school-aged athletes across the country? John Stockton did, and it had nothing to do with the skyrocketing mental health crisis foisted upon young people because they just wanted to have a normal prom, college experience, or life.

A will to carry on at any cost

No one needs physical interaction with other humans unless the money they generate from doing so sustains billion-dollar industries that opted not to pay minor leaguers or stadium workers during the pandemic, or student-athletes ever.

Scott Frost and Nebraska football know how much the Cornhuskers mean to the state, the university’s bottom line, and the coach’s salary, so they sued for the right to go 3-5. As far as win percentages are concerned, that was his second-best year at his alma mater, and it’s a season, and team, no one in the Heartland will soon forget.

Outside of bars in rural Iowa, one could argue that no industry was more fearless and careless when it came to COVID than sports. Let’s get a bunch of sweaty people together to grind, bleed, and pant on each other, and then send them to hotels to spread COVID to their floozies in each of the nine cities on the 10-game road trip.

(And if you think that Danuel House was the only player who snuck women into places they weren’t supposed to be, you probably think Santa Claus could go to every home on earth, mask-free, and not catch COVID.)

Society could collapse in on itself, with Sofi Stadium at the bottom of the Pacific, and the NFL would still find a way to play the Super Bowl. So COVID and the rest of the haters can go suck a brick because everything is a competition, and sports, like the Big Baller Brand, has never lost.