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Bob's Corner: 3 for 1 as Celtics snatch road win

BOB'S CORNER: Despite drawing precious little from superstar Jayson Tatum, the Boston Celtics shocked the heavily favoured Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors by taking Game 1 in the best-of-7 NBA Final and doing it on the road, as our US correspondent Bob Craven reports:

GAME 1 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the home standing Golden State Warriors, was last night and it was a bargain for the fans, as they got what amounted to three games for the price of one.

Game One was really the first half, closely fought by both teams and ending with Boston ahead by two, 56-54.  Boston might have felt good at that point, as it withstood a classic Steph Curry basket barrage in the first quarter. 

Curry scored a smooth 21 points in the quarter, hitting six three-pointers, missing only once from deep, and that one miss was a half-court heave on an attempted buzzer beater.

Game Two was the 3rd quarter, where the Warriors put on a signature spurt, scoring 38 points in the quarter to take a 12-point lead heading into the 4th quarter.  Playing at home, they could be excused if they felt they were in control.  Unfortunately for them, they were not.

Game Three was all Boston.  After trailing by 15 late in the third and by 12 at the break, Boston hit its first seven 3-point attempts in the final quarter, and was 9-of-12 from beyond the arc in the quarter. 

The Celtics caught up with and then passed the Warriors by the mid-point of the quarter and never looked back, outscoring the home team 40-16 in the period to win 120-108.

That fourth quarter was the most lopsided fourth quarter in NBA Finals history. 

The Celtics also became the first team to trail by 10 or more points after three quarters, and still end up winning by 10 or more points. 

Celtics big man, veteran Al Horford (who turned 36 today) led the way for Boston with 26 points, including 6-of-8 3-pointers, and Jaylen Brown added 24 and helped key the big 4th quarter for Boston. 

Horford had played in 141 previous postseason games, the most ever before playing in the NBA Finals.  Steph Curry, as usual, led the Warriors with 34 and Andrew Wiggins added 20.

THE NBA finals brought Ime Udoka and the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics into San Francisco to face Steve Kerr and the Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors.

The teams split their two regular season meetings, with each winning on the other’s home floor.  The Warriors have had a week off to rest and prepare, while the Celtics only won their semifinal series on Sunday.

Today’s trivia question: What do Udoka and Kerr have in common?  The answer is Coach Pop, or Gregg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spurs and the dean of NBA coaches, having coached the Spurs for the past 26 years.  He’s also the all-time leader in career victories for an NBA coach.

Both Udoka and Kerr played for Popovich at San Antonio, and both served as an assistant coach under him. Udoka was a San Antonio assistant, while Kerr assisted Pop with USA basketball through the most recent Olympics, when the US won a 4th consecutive gold medal. 

Neither makes any effort to hide the affinity they have for him, and now they are going head-to-head in the NBA Finals. 

For the Celtics, it’s a chance at an 18th championship, which would snap a tie with the LA Lakers for most in league history. 

For the Warriors, it’s a chance at a 7th title, snapping a tie with the Chicago Bulls for 3rd most in league history.

Udoka has a chance to become the 10th coach to win a title in his first season as an NBA head coach.  One of the nine who already has done it is, of course, Steve Kerr. He did it in 2015, the start of the current run of greatness for the Warriors—making the finals six times in eight years, the two exceptions being when injuries and a roster reset kept them from the playoffs in 2020 and 2021.

THE Celtics haven’t been in the finals since 2010 which means there is lots of experience at this level versus none.  And despite the offensive strengths of both teams, this series could be a defensive clinic.

It’s the first finals to feature the top two teams in defensive efficiency since 1996, when the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan squared off against the Seattle Supersonics with Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp. 

Jayson Tatum of the Celtics had a great year offensively, and has been awesome in the playoffs.  He is ably supported by Al Horford as the defensive force guarding the rim and as the “chairman of the boards”—he can also score as needed.

Meanwhile, the Warriors with the Splash Brothers (Steph Curry and Klay Thompson), are back at full strength after two off years due to injuries, particularly to Thompson. 

Will Curry finally win a finals MVP award?  Will Curry and Thompson wear out the nets from distances that border on the ridiculous?

This series could be really good stuff and the Warriors have already been installed as the favorites. Of course, that was before Game 1 happened.

PART of the collective bargaining agreement signed two years ago by the WNBA and the players’ union allowed the players the potential to make more than triple what they were before. 

Some of the cash from this deal would come on the court, and some of this would come via offseason marketing activities (no info given on exactly what that means). 

At the time, it was celebrated as a landmark deal, but there was a caveat:  the players had better prioritise the WNBA.

Beginning this offseason, this is shaping up to be a showdown issue between players, especially the top players, and the league. For instance, when two-time league MVP Breanna Stewart of the Seattle Storm signed her one-year deal for this year, her on the court earnings would be US$228,000.

But that pales in comparison to her US$1.5 million deal she was making annually playing in Russia.

Typically, WNBA players spend half their time in the US and the other half overseas to supplement their income.  But as a result, players miss WNBA training camp, parts of the preseason, and in some cases, regular season games. 

The WNBA doesn’t like that—it wants players to be in the US.  So, next season, if they miss so much as a day of training camp due to overseas commitments, they will be fined.  If they miss a day of training camp in 2024, they will be suspended for the entire season.

Players such as Stewart and others are already complaining loudly about it as it is viewed as cutting off a substantial portion of a player's income without replacing it. 

So why did the players agree to that?  It became obvious that the league was not going to accept any agreement that did not include prioritisation. 

Now, it’s making players choose, and some are already choosing overseas. They don’t see their future as being in the WNBA.  For many US players, this is a problem. 

The great US players carve out their legacy here in the US, the most competitive women’s basketball league in the world, but overseas is where the top players can stack up the most cash. 

Bagging playing in the WNBA is a tough choice to make for many US players.

Unless things change, such as the WNBA and the overseas leagues making adjustments to their schedules — no guarantees of that ever happening — and if the overseas money is good enough, my guess is that players will keep playing there, risking the suspensions if they’re not back in time. 

This could really affect teams with the top players, and it could really end up being a high stakes game of chicken.

I HATE it when a cultural part of my youth is noted as having an anniversary, and it’s a big numbered anniversary, proving — as if proof was necessary — that I’m old. 

But on June 1, 1967:  Cue up the Beatles music……. ”It was 55 years ago today, that Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play……………”

And in a note of both local and national importance on the college basketball scene in the US, to the surprise of both me and most national media, Gonzaga’s Drew Timme announced he was withdrawing his name from the NBA draft and would be returning to Gonzaga for his final season of eligibility.

He did this 45 minutes prior to the deadline to withdraw from the draft.  Timme is a two-time All-American and one of the main reasons Gonzaga has been the #1-ranked team in the US for most of the past two seasons, and the #1 overall seed in the last two NCAA tournaments.

During Timme’s three years at Gonzaga, they are 90-7, playing in the title game in 2021. 

After last year’s tournament, it seemed Gonzaga would be going into a rebuilding mode, as all five starters declared for the NBA draft.  In the past couple of days, three of those starters have announced they will return to Gonzaga:  Timme, Rasir Bolton, and Julian Strawther. 

That should make their case very strong for the preseason #1 spot this fall.

In addition to these three returnees, Gonzaga will also return both of last year's backup guards, as well as Anton Watson, who has been the #1 guy off the bench for all three frontcourt positions — and he has started a number of games as well. 

All of these returning players are in addition to several highly rated newbies who have announced they will be coming to Gonzaga for this coming season.

Jun 4

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