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🏀 Good morning to everyone, but especially to ...


Early in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Celtics would cruise to a 3-0 series lead, proving their overwhelming top-end talent and outstanding supporting cast is simply too much, as it has been all season.

But when things fell apart, they proved -- perhaps more impressively -- that they have the mettle of a champion, too. Now they're one win away from turning that combination of skill and will into Banner 18. Boston blew nearly all of a 21-point fourth-quarter lead before recovering behind their biggest stars and ultimately holding off the Mavericks106-99, to take a 3-0 series lead.

  • Dallas led 51-50 at halftime, but Boston exploded for a 35-point third quarter and led by 15 entering the final frame. They pushed that lead to 21 less than a minute into the quarter.
  • Then Boston's offense went absolutely freezing cold, and with 3:37 left, Kyrie Irving (35 points) cut the lead to one, 93-92. This came shortly after Luka Doncic fouled out on a bang-bang blocking call.
  • That was as close as the hosts would get, and Jaylen Brown was a huge reason for that. He put back a missed Jayson Tatum shot to push the lead back to three. When Dallas cut it to two with just over a minute left, Brown responded with a rainbow midrange jumper.

Brown and Tatum combined for 61 points, with Brown adding eight rebounds, eight assists and a +13 plus-minus, best of any starter. And then when you factor in what he does defensively, Brown is more than deserving to be the Finals MVP, Brad Botkin writes.

  • Botkin: "He has allowed his teammates to stay on their assignments with his ability to not just challenge, but at times overwhelm, Luka Doncic all on his own at the point of attack. Brown is the first player since Tim Duncan in 2002 to card three steals and three blocks in Game 1 of the Finals. This is his award to lose."

There aren't enough good things I can say about Boston. Brown is excellent on both ends, and both he and Tatum have made huge strides as playmakers. The depth, as we've discussed, is absurdly good, as shown by Boston getting it done without the injured Kristaps Porzingis.

In previous iterations of The Jays-led Celtics, they would let leads slip away completely and never recover. They never get out of that offensive rut. But credit their growth in not only their individual games, but their collective poise. Boston will go for the rare NBA Finals sweep tomorrow night in Dallas.

👍 Honorable mentions

🏀 And not such a good morning for ...

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We can credit the Mavericks for their spirited comeback, but that would be disingenuous. This is the NBA Finals against the best team in the league. Dallas doesn't want to hear anything about good effort, and so while it was nice to see, we'll leave it at that.

The Mavericks need to be near perfect to beat the Celtics, and they weren't close. The razor-thin margins they can't afford to lose, frankly, start with Dallas' superstar.

For as incredible as Doncic can be offensively, he can be equally infuriating defensively, as Brad explains. Among the examples: leaving Sam Hauser -- who pretty much only catches and shoots -- wide open on a catch-and-shoot 3 and not getting back on defense several times, be it due to trying to draw a foul or complaining to the refs. He even complained about fouling out.

In a vacuum, that's just a possession here or there. In the long run, those are absolute killers. Throw in a supporting cast that just has not stepped up whatsoever, and that's how you get down 3-0. No team in NBA history has overcome such a deficit in any best-of-seven playoff series, and it's nearly impossible to see the Mavericks changing that.

👎 Not so honorable mentions

🏀 Jerry West, The Logo, dies at 86

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You may know him as "The Logo" or "Mr. Clutch," and you may remember him best as a star college and NBA player, an Olympic champion or a game-changing executive -- he was, after all, voted into the Hall of Fame for all three. However you recognize him, Jerry West is a basketball icon whose impact will live on after West died Wednesday at the age of 86.

  • West entered West Virginia, his hometown school, as an aspiring teacher in 1956. He left as the program's all-time leading scorer with 2,039 points -- a record that still stands -- a three-time All-America selection and an NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. David Cobb has more on a legendary college career.
  • After winning an Olympic gold in 1960, West went onto a marvelous 14-year career with the Lakers. He was an All-Star in all 14 of his seasons, made 12 All-NBA teams, finished in the top five of MVP voting eight times, and won NBA Finals MVP in 1969 as a member of the losing team before winning his lone NBA championship in 1972.
  • In 1969, the NBA made West's silhouette the league's logo, even though the league never admitted it was him. Do yourself a favor and read Sam Quinn's take on that fascinating story.
  • West retired in 1974 but returned to the Lakers as a coach in 1976, became a scout in 1979 and became general manager in 1982, a tenure that lasted 40 years in all. As an executive, West had perhaps the greatest offseason in NBA history when he landed both Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal in separate deals the summer of 1996. In 2002, he became the general manager of the Grizzlies, and then he later served as an advisor to the Warriors and Clippers, collecting a total of eight titles as an executive.
  • West was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a player in 1980 and as a member of the 1960 Olympic team in 2010. He will be inducted as a contributor this year. He is the only person to be voted in as a player and as a contributor.

Back to those nicknames for a second, because how many people have, not one, but two iconic monikers? James Herbert says "Mr. Clutch" honors West best.

  • Herbert: "West's most famous clutch shot is his 60-foot buzzer-beater in Game 3 of the 1970 NBA Finals against the New York Knicks. When he launched it, Knicks guard Clyde Frazier thought to himself, 'The man's crazy,' the Hall of Fame player turned broadcaster told ESPN. 'He looks determined. He thinks it's really going in!' ... West is a titan of the sport, and he will be remembered as one of its most clutch, competitive and compelling players."

Here's how the NBA world -- including LeBron James, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- reacted to the news of West's passing.

⚽ Revealing the top 10 players in the Golazo 100

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We've reached the summit! We revealed the top 10 players in the Golazo 100:

  1. Kylian Mbappe -- forward, Real Madrid
  2. Vinicius Junior -- left wing, Real Madrid
  3. Jude Bellingham -- midfield, Real Madrid
  4. Erling Haaland -- forward, Manchester City
  5. Rodri -- midfield, Manchester City
  6. Harry Kane -- forward, Bayern Munich
  7. Kevin De Bruyne -- midfield, Manchester City
  8. Phil Foden -- winger/midfield, Manchester City
  9. Mohamed Salah -- right wing, Liverpool
  10. Lautaro Martinez -- forward, Inter

Yes, that's the top three players in the world on Real Madrid and four of the next five on Manchester City. (Unsurprisingly, those teams top the clubs with the most top-100 players, too.)

But why did Mbappe take the crown, beating out two of his now-teammates? Jonathan Johnson explains.

And finally, to wrap things up on the men's side ...

📺 What we're watching Thursday

We're watching the U.S. Open. Here's how.
🏀 Storm at Wings, 7 p.m. on ESPN
🏒 Stanley Cup Final -- Game 3: Panthers at Oilers, 8 p.m. on ABC
Angels at Diamondbacks, 9:40 p.m. on FS1