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Celtics advance to NBA Finals after completing sweet of Pacers

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Celtics advance to NBA Finals after completing sweet of Pacers

All season long, the Eastern Conference was the Boston Celtics’ to lose.

After dominating their side of the bracket, they are back in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics completed the sweep of the Indiana Pacers on Monday night to return to the bidding of the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second time in three seasons.

Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics accepts The Larry Bird Trophy after winning Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on May 27, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

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The Pacers did all they could to live to see another day, leading by as many as nine points, but Derrick White broke a 102-102 tie with a three-pointer with just about 45 seconds to go.

Indy led by four with 3:33 to go, but missed their final four shots and turned the ball over twice – Jrue Holiday grabbed an offensive rebound with just over four seconds left to ice it.

The Celtics are seeking revenge after last year’s utter failure, where as the No. 2 seed, lost in the first round to the Miami Heat, an eighth seed, in the Eastern Conference Finals – they had fallen in that series, three games to none, and forced a Game 7, but lost it.

Celtics win East

The Boston Celtics celebrate after winning Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on May 27, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Boston has not won the title since 2008 – they lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games two years ago. It’s currently their second-longest drought, with their longest having been from 1987 to their most recent championship season 15 years ago. 

After beating the Los Angeles Lakers that year, Kobe Bryant got revenge by winning two years later, going back-to-back.

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Tyrese Haliburton missed his second-straight game for Indiana with an injured left hamstring.

Jaylen Brown with trophy

Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics accepts the The Larry Bird Trophy earning the Eastern Conference Finals MVP after winning Game Four of the Eastern Conference Finals at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on May 27, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

Boston is 12-2 in these playoffs – they beat both the No. 8 Heat and No. 4 Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.

Jaylen Brown was named the series MVP, averaging 27.3 points per game.

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Kylie Kelce shares thoughts on Harrison Butker's commencement speech: 'Support each other in our choices'

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Kylie Kelce shares thoughts on Harrison Butker's commencement speech: 'Support each other in our choices'

Kylie Kelce, the wife of Philadelphia Eagles great Jason Kelce, shared her thoughts on Harrison Butker’s faith-based commencement speech at Benedictine College last month, which sparked wide debate. 

The Kansas City Chiefs kicker’s speech, during which he urged women graduates to embrace being a “homemaker,” led to attacks from those who believed he was diminishing the role of women in communities. 

Kelce, who was working with the Eagles Autism Foundation to share activities with kids on and off the spectrum Thursday, was asked during an interview what she thought about Butker’s speech, especially being a mother of three. 

Kylie Kelce on NBC April 1, 2024. (Nathan Congleton/NBC via Getty Images)

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“I think that everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” she said, via Cheddar. “I hope that, if anyone does not align with those views in that graduating class, that they know they achieved something. Those women graduating in that class have achieved something that no one can take away from them. Their education will stick with them for the rest of their lives. I hope that they were appropriately celebrated if that was not their view. 

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“If it was, and they’re looking forward to making a family and being a stay-at-home mom, then more power to them.

CHIEFS’ TRAVIS KELCE DEFENDS HARRISON BUTKER AS ‘A GREAT PERSON AND A GREAT TEAMMATE,’ DESPITE DIFFERING VIEWS

“I think, as women, we should support each other in our choices and make sure that we feel as though we can do whatever we would like to do,” she said.

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“So, hopefully, those graduating know that, at the very least, I’m very proud of them and hope that they go on to do whatever makes their heart happy.”

Kylie Kelce in NYC

Kylie Kelce attends the 2023 Night of Too Many Stars benefiting Next for Autism at the Beacon Theatre Dec. 11, 2023, in New York City. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Night of Too Many Stars)

Butker recently stood by his commencement speech while making his first public appearance since his time at Benedictine College. He appeared at the Courage Under Fire Gala in Nashville in late May, which was presented by the Regina Caeli Academy. It’s an institution that “encourages our students to strive for excellence in academics as well as in virtuous living, self-discipline and accountability through a classical education taught in the light of the Catholic tradition.”

“The theme for tonight’s gala, ‘Courage Under Fire’, was decided many months ago, but it now feels providential that this would be the theme after what we have all witnessed these last two weeks,” Butker said. “If it wasn’t clear that the timeless Catholic values are hated by many, it is now.”

Butker continued by saying he understands he’s become a “more polarizing” figure because he spoke about his beliefs, but he won’t be changing them for anyone. 

“Our love for Jesus, and thus, our desire to speak out, should never be outweighed by the longing of our fallen nature to be loved by the world,” he said. “Glorifying God and not ourselves should always remain our motivation despite any pushback or even support. I lean on those closest to me for guidance, but I can never forget that it is not people, but Jesus Christ who I’m trying to please.”

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Butker’s Chiefs peers have defended his character despite their differences in views, including Kelce’s brother-in-law, star tight end Travis Kelce. 

Kylie Kelce and Harrison Butker side by side

Kylie Kelce gave her opinion on Harrison Butker’s faith-based commencement speech at Benedictine College last month. (Getty Images)

“I’ve known him for seven-plus years, probably, eight-plus years. And I cherish him as a teammate,” Kelce said of Butker, whom he calls “Harry.” 

“I think Pat [Mahomes] said it best, where he is every bit of a great person and a great teammate. He’s treated friends and family that I’ve introduced to him with nothing but respect and kindness, and that’s how he treats everyone.

“I can’t say I agree with the majority of [the speech] or just about any of it, outside of just him loving his family and his kids. And I don’t think that I should judge him by his views, especially his religious views, of how to go about life. That’s just not who I am.”

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With her husband retiring after the most recent NFL season, Kylie Kelce continues to work on helping her community with the Eagles Autism Foundation, which was created by Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who drew inspiration for the project from his autistic brother. 

Fox News’ Ryan Morik and Paulina Dedaj contributed to this report.

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Justin Herbert must adjust to Chargers' new philosophy that running is not passé

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Justin Herbert must adjust to Chargers' new philosophy that running is not passé

No quarterback in NFL history has attempted more passes per game than Justin Herbert.

His 39.1 mark over the last four seasons edges Andrew Luck, with Patrick Mahomes and Matthew Stafford next on the list.

Now, Herbert is playing for a head coach and offensive coordinator who, since their arrivals five months ago, have talked extensively about emphasizing the run game.

“Selfishly as a quarterback I’d love to throw the ball every time,” Herbert said Thursday. “But if we throw it one time or we throw it 100 times, as long as we’re winning and finding a way to do that, it’s good with me.”

After the Chargers wrapped up their three-day minicamp in Costa Mesa, Herbert met with the local media for the first time since the team brought in Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman.

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The new regime — including general manager Joe Hortiz — first reshaped the roster to try to become more powerful and physical. Roman then spent the several weeks introducing an offense designed to operate from the ground up.

The Chargers’ new additions include running backs Gus Edwards, who is known of his downhill approach, and J.K. Dobbins, whose explosiveness has resulted in per-carry career average of 5.8 yards.

“We don’t have pads on, so you can’t really feel the impact of the run game right now,” Herbert said. “But you can feel the juice. They’ve got energy. They bring it.”

The overall theme has been to establish a run-pass balance, a clear departure from how the Chargers have played offensively since Herbert took over as the starter in Week 2 of his rookie year.

“The way that we’ve installed everything,” Herbert said, “we want to be able to do everything.”

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Except for the Chargers’ Week 14 loss to Denver last season — when Herbert left the game early because of a finger injury — he has attempted at least 24 passes in each of his career starts.

Along the way, he set numerous franchise and league records and made the Pro Bowl in 2021. Herbert’s right arm has been celebrated as few others, Harbaugh just this week noting the velocity it can generate.

But the Chargers are only 30-32 in Herbert’s starts. They’ve played one postseason game with him at quarterback and are coming off a five-win finish that led to all the leadership changes.

So, it’s not difficult to believe Herbert when he says winning is more significant to him, even while joking that, when it comes to passing the ball, “the more the better.”

In his conversations with Roman, Herbert said the message has been to involve the playmakers, take care of the ball and — if the defense has a decided advantage or there is risk of a turnover — “punting is not the worst-case scenario.”

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The ultimate goal of the offense, Herbert explained, is to produce completions, explosive plays and touchdowns, but the Chargers aren’t going to simply force the passing game.

Harbaugh spent 14 years in the NFL as a player, starting games at quarterback for Chicago, Indianapolis, Baltimore and the Chargers. Herbert said his head coach brings “great perspective” each time he sits in the quarterback meetings.

Similarly, Harbaugh spent several minutes during two recent media sessions praising everything from Herbert’s physical skills to his mental capacity to his overall leadership.

“Nobody in this organization has played quarterback at the high level that he has,” Harbaugh said. “There’s an expertise there that has been extremely valuable.”

When the Chargers met on the field for the final time Thursday before breaking for the start of summer, Herbert was the player Harbaugh tabbed to address the group.

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Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) flips a football while watching practice.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Herbert said he spoke about the importance of not allowing the offseason-program work to go to waste. He said he encouraged his teammates to remain diligent in their preparation for training camp, which starts in late July.

“If we’re going to be the team we want to be, it starts now,” Herbert told reporters later. “It’s starts when we’re on our own and having that level of loyalty and dedication and integrity.”

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Safety Derwin James Jr., another of the Chargers’ acknowledged leaders, also spoke publicly for the first time in months Thursday, saying the renewed atmosphere surrounding the team “feels like Christmas.”

James called Harbaugh “the most powerful leader I’ve seen” and highlighted his ability to command a room just by walking through the door. Like several of his teammates this offseason, James said the mood is different.

“Every year, you’re going to feel like you’re the team to beat, feel like you’re going to the Super Bowl,” James said. “But this year it just feels right. … I can’t wait to play ’cause I really believe it’s going to be special.”

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ESPN needs a LeBron James-sized reboot to its NBA Finals coverage

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ESPN needs a LeBron James-sized reboot to its NBA Finals coverage

When ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro wanted to glam up “Monday Night Football,” he reached for the stars and Mickey Mouse’s wallet. Pitaro, a die-hard New York Yankees fan, channeled his inner George Steinbrenner by signing NFL TV’s white whale, Peyton Manning, and then luring Joe Buck and Troy Aikman over from Fox Sports.

They were boss moves for the Disney-owned ESPN.

Pitaro lavished Buck with a $75 million deal and Aikman with $90 million, both over five seasons, while Manning, with his Omaha Productions and his brother Eli in the fold, is making even more per year than either, though the exact figures are unknown. This offseason, Omaha called another audible by adding the legendary Bill Belichick to this fall’s MNF “ManningCast.”

The luster has been returned to “Monday Night Football” production.

Now, on the NBA Finals, Pitaro should tear a page out of his NFL playbook. He and his right-hand man, Burke Magnus, ESPN’s president of content, should court LeBron James with a Tom Brady-like broadcasting deal that will begin whenever the 39-year-old James decides to hang up his sneakers.

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James’ basketball IQ is off the charts. Like Brady — who begins in the Fox NFL booth in September on a 10-year, $375 million deal — there is no definitive way of telling how good James would be on games, but part of the point is to turn the broadcasts into events.

James would do that, standing next to play-by-play broadcaster Mike Breen. They should make it so he calls 20-25 games per season, like an NFL analyst, and elevate the broadcast level, especially this time of year, on the finals.

If Pitaro can’t have James, he should keep 36-year-old Stephen Curry in mind for when he is ready to stop draining 3s. In the meantime, of course, if TNT Sports does lose its NBA TV package, Charles Barkley should — and will be — at the top of ESPN’s list.

All this is to say, it is time for an ESPN NBA reboot because its finals coverage of the Boston Celtics against the Dallas Mavericks feels small.

For the first two games, ESPN added the New York Knicks’ Josh Hart as a guest analyst. Hart is someone to admire, with his work ethic and his good-guy reputation, but, as the kids like to say, it felt very mid.

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If ESPN wanted to add another body for its half-hour pregame and its blink-of-an-eye halftime show, it should have rewarded analysts who got them there, like big personalities Kendrick Perkins or Richard Jefferson. Both are way better daily on “NBA Today” than the neophyte Hart showed in his guest spots. At least Hart added another NBA player voice to the finals festivities.

Before he was added, ESPN’s finals coverage included 15-year 3-point specialist JJ Redick as the only ex-player. Redick joined Doris Burke and Breen in the consistently underwhelming finals booth.

In studio, without Hart, there are no former players, as host Malika Andrews is joined by legendary opinionist Michael Wilbon, ex-Golden State general manager Bob Myers, and the face of ESPN, Stephen A. Smith. Well, when Smith has the time.

After Game 2 on ABC, ESPN had a postgame show, but Smith wasn’t on it. He was already jetting off from Boston to Miami to be in position for “First Take,” even though the program regularly emits from New York.

Smith is the undisputed No. 1 star of the network, but it is the games that make it run. Smith said earlier in the playoffs he hoped for a quick Eastern Conference finals so he could take some time off.

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Smith is a workaholic and the center of sports media, but if appearing on the playoff studio shows is beneath his time, maybe, quite frankly, it is not the best fit to have him jam it in between his daily TV talk debates, his thrice-weekly YouTube show, his “General Hospital” role and every other platform known to mankind he appears on.

As the series moves to Dallas on Wednesday, nine-time All-Star Paul George is an upgrade in status over Hart as the guest analyst. Whether he is any good remains to be seen. During the conference finals, Chris Paul was the guest analyst, and he showed some signs of potential.

When the new TV deals are completed, ESPN is expected to have the rights to the finals for a dozen years, with its final season on the current contract and the next 11 on the new one. It has boxed out the competition with a deal that will pay the league $2.6 billion a year, just a shade less than the $2.7 billion it doles out to the NFL per season. It looks like a smart move, as TNT Sports hangs on for dear life for its NBA future.


ESPN’s NBA Finals booth: JJ Redick, Doris Burke and Mike Breen. The trio has yet to find its stride in its debut NBA Finals. (Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images)

Amazon Prime Video, which has a framework agreement with the league, already has Ian Eagle on its radar for play-by-play, according to sources briefed on their plans, and NBC, which also is on the doorstep of a completed deal, will likely name Mike Tirico its No. 1. Those are strong starts to match Breen.

Though the iconic “Inside the NBA” is potentially entering its final season with Warner Bros. Discovery, it is not like Barkley or Shaquille O’Neal won’t be employed, maybe even still with Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson. Amazon and NBC will be in play for the biggest names.

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Beyond all this, ESPN should take a cue from other networks’ coverage of the Super Bowl and the World Series. The ESPN executive in charge of the NBA, David Roberts, should order up a new graphic package for the finals to further distinguish it from a game in November. The network with the Super Bowl does this every year, though it is actually even more necessary for ESPN on the NBA because of its overabundance of games that can make them all blend together.

Roberts should also look at Fox’s MLB October studio coverage, which features Derek Jeter, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. It is a prestige event, and Fox has brought in three of the biggest players of the last generation. You don’t have to do this, but if you fail to have the names, the content has to be superior. It hasn’t been on these finals.

Next, ESPN should be pursuing James, as it did Manning. And Barkley, as it did Buck and Aikman. Pitaro and company should play like the boss again.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Where will Charles Barkley go? What if ESPN loses JJ Redick? Thoughts on NBA media issues

(Top photo: Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)

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