Celtics

About Last Night: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

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USA Today Sports

About Last Night: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

What we’re talking about: Raptors cash in on offseason roll of the dice

To many, Toronto Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri was nuts for firing Dwane Casey just days after being named the NBA’s coach of the Year.

What in the world was he thinking when he traded the Toronto Raptors’ all-time leading scorer DeMar DeRozan in his prime, for a disgruntled Kawhi Leonard who could only guarantee you he would play this year and this year only for Toronto?

Ujiri was planting the seeds for what blossomed into the greatest season in Raptors history, a season that still lives on following their Game 6 win over Milwaukee to advance to the NBA Finals.

Leonard’s dominance will certainly be talked about in the coming days, as well as the leadership of Toronto mainstay Kyle Lowry and the contributions from Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet.

But the true story of this franchise’s rise to the top of the East lies in Ujiri taking the kind of high-risk, high-reward chances that few league executives in his position have the guts to do.

And the payoff has been a historic ride that the Raptors have no plans on having come to an end anytime soon.

“We’re not satisfied because we want to win a championship. We want to win in Toronto. We will win in Toronto,” Ujiri said following the series-clinching win.

What we’ll be watching: Another trip to the Finals for Golden State … with a twist

The only thing Golden State needed clarity on when it came to who they would face in the NBA Finals, was whether they would need a passport or not.

It turns out they will after Toronto advanced to the NBA Finals and will host Games 1 and 2.

And it is the fact that the Warriors will be starting on the road that makes this trip to the Finals unlike the previous four for Golden State.

Not only did teams have to face the champs, but they did so from the outset on Golden State’s turf.

Not this year.

And while most NBA pundits give Toronto little to no shot at winning the series despite home court advantage, Toronto has shown itself to be a tough foe in their building. We’ve already seen history made by the Raptors simply getting to the Finals.

That plus home court might position them well to make a little more before all is said and done.

Quote-unquote

“There’s no player I’d want to have more than Kawhi Leonard. He’s a drama-free superstar. He just wants to win.” - TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.

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Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Today marks the 17th anniversary of the Celtics' 26-point comeback vs Nets in 2002 playoffs

Do you remember where you were on this day 17 years ago? 

Celtics fans most likely do, because it's the day Paul Pierce led a 26-point comeback against the New Jersey Nets to win Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals. 

The Nets featured Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Kenyon Martin as the top seed in the East, while the Celtics were headed by Pierce, Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson. 

With the series tied at 1-1 after a split in New Jersey, the Nets dominated Boston in the first half, where the Celtics only managed 13 points in the first quarter. The Nets led by as many as 26 in the third quarter, until Pierce outscored their entire team 19-16 in the fourth quarter to lead Boston to the win. 

Pierce finished the game with 28 points in 45 minutes of playing time, and the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter. 

The comeback is tied for the fourth largest comeback in playoff history and gave the Celtics a chance at an NBA Finals appearance for the first time since 1987. It wasn't meant to be though, and the Nets ended up winning three straight games to close out the series and set up a clash with the two-time defending champion Lakers. LA swept the Nets to complete the first three-peat in the NBA since the days of Michael Jordan. 

Pierce would have to wait six years to finally get his chance at a championship, but this game was one of the future Hall-of-Famer's signature performances. The Truth earned his reputation in clutch spots and his fourth-quarter explosion in 2002 was particularly on brand. 

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