Schooled again by the Celtics, ‘championship-or-bust’ Heat are on the brink


MIAMI — The sequence that typified what the are made of, and what the are not, came with about 2½ minutes left in the fourth quarter — winning time in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. had just hit a 3-pointer to give the Heat a one-point lead, and the Celtics came back the other way and calmly ran their offense. Ran their “stuff,” as their coach, Doc Rivers, likes to call it.  drove the lane and lost the ball, and it was a scramble on the floor, the tipping point of the series. — who else? — came up with it, somehow got it to , who found a wide-open in the corner for a 3-pointer.Down it went. Down went , and the Miami Heat, the team that was built in the image of the Boston Celtics — for the sole purpose of beating them, with the talent to beat them again this postseason, but not the intangibles.More on Celtics-HeatRelated links | | VideoNot the heart.It was 94-90 Boston when the buzzer sounded on Game 5 on Tuesday night, the Celtics taking a 3-2 series lead back to Boston — one win away from their third trip to the Finals in five years. One win away from decimating the team that set out to do that very thing to them.”Desperation,” is what Wade called it in the home locker room. ” … I never thought we’d be in this situation.”They are, because the Celtics — with more championship instincts and will than the Heat have been able to muster in this two-year experiment with their own Big Three — put them there.”It was just one of those games when we were locked in,” Pierce said.If Pierce’s pass to Pietrus for the 3-pointer that gave Boston an 85-83 lead with 2:11 left was his biggest play, what happened next was his most cold-blooded one. And Pierce is nothing if not cold-blooded.With the Celtics clinging to an 87-86 lead after trailing by as many as 13, Pierce sized up James on the left wing. As soon as he saw Pierce’s posture and footwork, Rivers knew the shot was going up.”I’ve been around Paul long enough,” Rivers said. “Right when he gets into the footwork, you knew he was going to shoot it. … I didn’t know if I wanted that shot. I thought he was going to drive it.”So, too, apparently, did James.”I saw him back up,” Pierce said. “He gave me a step. I knew it was within my range.”Up it went. In it went e wants to “finish his career” at relegated Fulham after signing a new contract at the club.The 28-year-old midfielder’s new deal will keep him at Craven Cottage until 2024 but could be extended by a further year.”The club has been amazing to me,” sa– a 3-pointer right in James’ face that gave the Celtics a 90-86 lead with 52.9 seconds left, a lead they would never relinquish.”Big shot,” James would say later in the locker room. “… That’s what big-time players do. They make big shots.”That’s what the Celtics’ big-time players do, anyway. And even when they don’t, they find a way.Boston moved within one win of the Finals despite Rondo shooting 3 for 15 (seven points, 13 assists), Pierce shooting 6-for-19 (19 points) and Allen shooting 2 for 9 — 1 for 4 from 3-point range (13 points). led the way with 26 points and 11 rebounds — the player who started the modern trend of going from high-school to the NBA outperforming the Heat’s fee from Arsenal to release Mikel Arteta.City assistant coach Arteta is the frontrunner for the Gunners job after talks with club officials at his mansion in Manchester on Sunday.The Mirror says City have told the Gunners it will cost them a seven-ftwo stars like it was 1995 all over again. “He’s our life,” Rivers said. “He just does so many things that don’t have numbers to them. A lot of it is with his voice. He’s, in a strange way, a calming effect on some of our guys. If you can ever call Kevin that, he is.”James had 30 points, Wade finished with 27, and  made his first appearance of the series with nine points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes.But Bosh didn’t play in the fourth quarter, and James might as well not have, either. He attempted only six shots — two of them 3-point attempts (he made one) and one of them a foul-line jumper (he missed). Of the Heat’s 21 field-goal attempts in the fourth, 12 were jumpers — eight of which they missed as Rivers cleverly disguised his zone defense and had the Heat on their heels. Despite getting into the bonus with 6:40 to play, Miami attempted only four foul shots the rest of the game.Asked if the Heat were still searching for the right way to attack the Celtics, James said, “I don’t think we have the answer yet in this series. … We went stagnant a little bit.”A little bit? At one point, after the Celtics had closed the third quarter on a 15-1 run, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said in the sideline interview broadcast on ESPN, “They have us a little bit twisted in the mind.” And that about summed it up. Appropriately enough, the tune Insane in the Membrane filled American Airlines Arena at the time.”We’re not going to have any excuses,” said Wade, oddly wearing black-rimmed eyeglasses with no lenses for the postgame interview at his locker. “They beat us. They came in our house and they got one, so we’ve got to do the same.”On the brink of a second successive crushing and improbable ending, the Heat have to go to Boston for Game 6 Thursday night — go to a place where they won Game 4 on their way to a 4-1 victory in the conference semifinals last year. But it was their only victory in Boston in the past 16 games. James, upon whose shoulders the pressure will rest, has lost eight of his past 10 playoff games there.”We have no other way out,” James said, “but to win and extend the series.”No other way out but to win it all, is how Wade described the Heat’s predicament before the season, when he said, “If we don’t win a championship, yes, it’s a bust.””Yup,” he said at his locker Tuesday night, when reminded of the quote.Time to find out what the Harets narrowly escaped relegation thanks to a great second half of the season.While Dyche wants to add depth to his squad, he believes keeping his key players fit will help Burnley’s cause.He said: “I think, what we’ve done, we’ve been unfortunate eat are made of, because we learned again Tuesday night what’s inside the Celtics.


OUTLOOK: Andrei Kirilenko


The last piece to Brooklyn’s roster overhaul during the offseason was the Russian . The 6-foot-9 defensive specialist signed a two-year deal in mid-July. The 32-year-old averaged 12.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game last yearnto a permanent deal.That is according to Italian sports law expert and agent Filippo Pirisi.The 29-year-old is one of the leaders of Paulo Fonseca’s team after signing on loan this past summer, in a move that surprised many.With United spoilt for ch with Minnesota after spending the previous year playing in Russia. Kirilenko took a discounted deal with the to play for fellow Russian Mikhail Prokhorov and will likely splti minutes with Paul Pierce this season. That could hurt his e Belgian departed Old Trafford last summer for Inter Milan, where he has excelled this season.The Red Devils are still fighting for a top-four place, and remain alive in the FA Cup and Europa League.He told an Inststay with Manchester United.The London Evening Standard says Lukaku is increasingly resigned to staying at Manchester United after Inter Milan failed to come up with a suitable offer during talks this week. The Belgium international has growing doubtagram Q&A session when quizzed Fantasy value, though there should be plenty of minutes go around. He contributes in a variety of ways for Fantasy owners and we no doubt believe that will continue at the very least. Consider Kirilenko a mid-to-late round Fantasy draft pick in most formats on Draft Day. 


Timberwolves’ Kevin Love is 2-3 weeks away from reevaluation


The are starting to get healthier. Wing player has been cleared for contact practice and should be back in roughly a week, once the Wolves can find room for a couple of practices in their schedule. and are also looking to return with a couple of practices to test out their conditioning and healing ailments. 

And has been getting stronger and better over the past month. 

Just don’t expect to be back with the team any time soon. According to the Minnesota Timberwolves’ PR Twitter account, Love will need another 2-3 no qualms about Adrian replacing Alisson in the Liverpool goals.Alisson injured his calf against Norwich City on Friday, with Jurgen Klopp confirming he will miss the next few weeks of action.Adrian replaced the Brazilian at Anfield and Alexander-Arweeks until he can be reevaluated again.

‘ @ met w/ Dr. Michelle Carlson of Hospital for Special Surgery in NY today.

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR)

His right hand is healing properly, & he will continue to increase his conditioning program. Love will be re-evaluated in 2-3 wks.

— Timberwolves PR (@Twolves_PR)

This is disappointing news for Love and the Wolvea.The Blues defender moved to RBL on a season-long loan last month as he seeks regular first team experience.”I’m on loan. My goal is for me to go back to Chelsea one day,” Ampadu told BILD.”Many young talents across Europe see the Bundesliga rely oes, as many were expecting to get much more optimistic news Wednesday about a possible return in the near future. Instead, it looks like they’re getting a much more conservative look at his second comeback of the season after breaking his shooting hand.

Love initially broke bones in his right hand while doing knuckle pushups in the preseason. He missed about a month before coming back and struggling throughout the majority of his games. His conditioning was poor and his hand wasn’t healthy enough to allow him to feel comfortable while shooting. On Jan. 3, Love re-broke his hand against the Denver Nuggets.

At the time of the injury, he was projected to be out forBarcelona have launched a bid for Celta Vigo striker Maxi Gomez.The Uruguay international is seen at Barca as cover for No1 striker Luis Suarez.Radio Galega says Barca have tabled a €25m offer for Maxi, whose contract carries a €50m buyout clause.Celta are prepared to sell the striker this summer – but not for any price.An offer closer to €40m would bring Celta to the table this summer. 8-10 weeks, as of Jan. 9. It’s been nine weeks since that initial diagnosis, putting him out longer than initially expected. If Love can come back in two weeks, that would leave him with roughly three weeks of action before the season ends. It would potentially give the Wolves about 12 games to see what they have before their season ends and they have to make pivotal decisions about the future of the franchise this summer.


Bulls-Pacers postponed due to weather


With a blizzard slamming Indianapolis that is  of 9 1/2 inches of snow for the day after Christmas, the for Wednesday night.

Snow began falling in Indianapolis at 5 a.m. and was expected to continue through the scheduled start time of the game set for 7 p.m. ET.

The Bulls caught a little bit of a break, getting a night off on the second night of a back-to-back following their home loss to Houston on Tuesday night. The Buwcastle United striker Dwight Gayle is again a target for Championship West Brom.Gayle, 29, was at the Hawthorns on loan last season and helped them reach the play-offs.And Slaven Bilic is keen on getting him back at the club and adding his pace to hlls need a chance to recover as they’ve been reeling a bit as of late, having lost their last two and four of theiba next summer.ESPN says the 20-year-old has impressed in Ligue 1 this season a Suarez a “rat”.Suarez heads back to his former club for the second leg of their Champions League semi-final tie, having scored in a 3-0 first leg win.The Uruguayan was criticised by some sections of the Liverpool supporters for showing no respect tond, with his contract expiring this summer, the Old Trafford side have sent scouts to track his progress.A number of Champions League clubs have registered their interest r last eight.

The game will be rescheduled at a later date.


Newly christened star Paul George falls short for Pacers in Game 3


INDIANAPOLIS — Only two days after , struggled in maybe the biggest game of his life. 

So, maybe this, Game 3, was really his coming-of-age moment as a star player. 

If you’re going to be an star, you have to show up. As Jesus said in a parable in the Book of Luke, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It’s often not fair; it’s often unreasonable. But to truly be a member of the NBA’s elite, to wield your “I am an NBA star” card, you have to be willing to shoulder the blame. To be an NBA star, much is required. 

Especially on a stage like Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday night. 

Instead, George’s Game 3: 13 points on 3-of-10 shooting, five turnovers, two rebounds, eight assists. And not just that, he was abused repeatedly by LeBron in the post, as the league’s MVP showed off his unbelievably complete game while George looked painfully one-dimensional.

“They really just sagged the paint,” George said of the ‘s defensive gameplan. “That’s the reason I was able to get assistace striker Christian Benteke is stalling over personal terms.The Express & Star says currently out of favour at Selhurst Park, it is understood Villa have been offered the chance to re-sign Benteke on loan. But his wages of £125,000-a-week are s and find guys, because they really sagged the paint. It’s just another level for me to grow from, watch the tape, and see where I can be productive.”

George is no doubt a brilliant, fantastic player. Maybe outside of LeBron, the best wing defender in the game. He’s a tremendous slasher, a gifted athlete, a willing passer, a great finisher and an improving spot-up shooter. 

But as the struggled to dig out of a 14-point halftime deficit, eventually cutting Miami’s lead to seven, it became obvious that George still has room to grow with this star thing. He kind of did what he’s supposed to do. He took a few questionable shots, forced the issue some and tried to will his tlinked with Manchester United.But he told the Mirror: “I’ve signed a long-term, five-year contract last season and if I didn’t want to sign it, I wouldn’t have done it.“It makes me a West Ham player for the next five years and I’ll be giving my beam back into the game. He briefly went for takeover mode. Problem is, that’s not his game. And that’s not how the Pacers play. George is a steady, rhythm player who doesn’t often step outside of that comfort zone. He looked uncomfortable when that moment hit when he realized, “It’s on me to make something happen.” The Pacers rely on their post guys to play inside-out, open up driving lanes and clean spot-up looks. But in the third quarter, George was isolating more and trying to make things happen on his own. I don’t blame him for it. It’s just not really his or his team’s identity. 

“We left him on an island a bit too much [against LeBron],” said. “We didn’t lock in the way we had been all year. We can’t just put it all on PG to score and make play after play after play.”

We’re all into labels around this NBA world. In the rush to officially declare George as part of a higher class, unfair expectation comes with it. Because really, a 3-of-10, five-turnover night is just not good enough when you’re supposed to be The Man for your team. If those are LeBron’s numbers and the Heat lose by 18, it’s such a talking point that it would get its own channel devoted to dicussing it. 

And remember this: George is only in his third season, and this is the biggest stage of his life. He said it well in that quote above. This is a great opportunity for him to learn and grow. Nobody knows that better than LeBron, who went through a lot of painful growth and learning moments before he finally broke through. And all the while, when he and his team failed, he had to hear all about it. That’s the catch of being your team’s guy.

George said at Sunday morning’s shootaround that LeBron told him “that was a big-boy play” following his sick poster of in Game 2. But in Game 3, he didn’t have anything of the such. LeBron got the best of him in more ways than one, showing that if you want to be part of the NBA’s VIP club, you’ve got to bring. And when you don’t, you’ve got to shoulder it. 

Again, it’s not fair. Because the Pacers’ failure in Game 3 was far from George’s fault. He didn’t play well, but neither did West, neither did and neither did . They missed free throws, they played poor team defense, they didn’t execute and they let Miami take it to them from tipoff. George was part of that, but he can’t defend five positions at once. It’s no fantastic NBA secret that if your best players don’t play well, your team likely doesn’t, either. Not really some massive coincidence here. Stars aren’t perfect, and it’s silly to think they are. 

Still, if you’re going to be one, you’ve got to elevate not only yourself, but your teammates, too. You’ract with Chelsea.Loftus-Cheek has signed a new five-year contract.”I’m really happy and pleased that I get to stay here for another five years. It’s the place where I’ve grown up playing and hopefully I’ll be playing here for a lot longer,” he got to take them to a higher place, whether by doing it all on your own or by making them better with your play. You’ve got to show up and take responsibility when you don’t. It says so on the back of your NBA Star Card. George isn’t really a “takeover” kind of guy, which is something that we’ve stereotyped all our stars to be. He’s more non-traditional in that he’s an outstanding two-way player and an occasional high level scorer. 

In Game 3, he was really none of that. And his Pacers got worked over and lost home-court advantage. Paul George is a star; I’m not arguing to the counter. But at the same time, if you want to be one, much is required. 


Report: Wizards enter extension talks with John Wall


First, was intriguing. Then, he was underwhelming. Then he was disappointing. Then he was injured. 

And then he was really very good. Wall played in 49 games last sl back Luke Shaw admits he was very disappointed about the way last season ended.United began life under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a fine run of wins, but could not buy a victory by the end of the season.They finished sixth in the Premier League and eason after returning from a stress reaction and wound up averaging 19 points, four rebounds and eight assists, putting the in a position where you could at least see the playoffs on the distant shore. What’s more, he clearly made his teammates significantly better. 

So the question looms: Is he worth a max contract? Wall is eligible for an extension, . the Wizards were lining up to give it to him, too. And now, CSN Washington reports that talks have officially opened.

The Wizards have begun talking with John Wall’s agent, Dan Fegan, regarding an extension before the regular season, CSN Washington has learned.

Wall, the No. 1 overall pick in 2010, is eligible for up to a four-year, max contract with the Wizards in addition to the final year remaining on his deal that will pay him $7.45 million next season. If he’s named the franchise’s designated player, Wall can get five years.

via .

The way these rookie extensions work is weird. You have one player you can gift the five-year max. Also, they have until October 30th to get a deal, but if they don’t, Wall officially becomes a restricted free agent next summer, assuming the Wizards provide the necessary qualifying offer. But let’s be clear on this. He’s staying in Washington. The extra year is a good and bad thing. It’s stability and security for a player with prior injury issues, but it also locks him in for longer if what appears to be a solid run by the Wizards in terms of improving the team turns out to be fool’s gold (again). 

Either way, it would take a dramatic and severino to stick with Christian Eriksen.Redknapp described Eriksen as a “good boy” – and believes that the 27-year-old will give his all for the team while he’s still with them.The Dane has made no secret of his desire to join Barcelona, Juventus or Reale turn of events for Wall not to remain with Washington long-term. Whether it’s under an extension (everyone goes home happy) or the Wizards matching an offer in restricted free agency, Wall is getting paid, by the Wizards, and he will be the face of the franchise for quite some time. 

Despite all those early career struggles, he’s shown highted to be part of victory over Tottenham.The Danish defender flew to Milan in the week to have a protective mask fitted and he was able to take his place at the heart of a back three yesterday, alongside captain Cesar Azpilicueta and Toni Rudiger.e’s their guy going forward. 


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan hammers over Timofey Mozgov


just Mozgov’d .

Early in the Juventus midfielder Blaise Matuidi is attracting Premier League interest.Le Parisien says three clubs have shown an interest in signing Matuidi from Juventus.Manchester United, Everton and Paris Saint-Germain are looking to secure the Frenchman’s services.Matuidi is entering his third year with the Bianconeri.And it appears Juventus are reluctant to sell the World Cup winner.second quarter Tuesday, with the visiting the , DeRozan drove hard to his right and found Mozgov as the only thing between him and the rim.

End reerge Gnabry.Woodburn – who has 10 Wales caps, scoring twice, including a famous winner against Austria in September 2017 – endured a frustrating loan spell at Sheffield United last season t Ozil is determined to stick with Arsenal this summer.The Mirror says Ozil wants to stay at Arsenal regardless of his playing situation.The midfielder has struggled for games under Unai Emery and there have been claims the club want him out to save which was ultimately cut short due to a lack of action, beforesult: Poor Mozgov. Poor, poor Mozgov.


The 4-Point Play: Assassin’s Creed, David West


Hidden behind the nationally televised games Thursday night, which feature Bulls and Sixers in a battle only those who love The Smiths can love, and Wolves-Lakers, which should be entitled “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” there’s a great game hidden.

The and face off in a battle of teams just below the top tier of their conference. The Clippers have established themselves as right there with San Antonio and the Thunder, but slightly behind, while the Pacers have slowly rounded into shape as the second best team in the East, fighting with the Knicks for “biggest threat to Miami” territory.

It’s a fascinating game with great matchups. ‘shamberlain to understand just how special Liverpool fans really are.Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead at Sevilla in the Champions League in November 2017 and still the travelling supporters gave the players an incredible reception.Former Arsenal midfielder O defense vs. ‘s mastery. vs. reserve . A high-octane Clipper offense vs. a smothering Pacer defense at home.

But the most intriguing matchup pits vs. . In some respects, the two players could not be more different. West is bull-strong, and his game doesn’t feature much athleticism, especially at age 32. Griffin is an athletic freak with incredible explosiveness, still learning to polish his game.

What’s most interesting, though, is how Griffin will try to defend West.-2 draw at Osasuna.Barça came back from a goal down to lead 2-1 thanks to goals from Ansu Fati and Arthur Melo but Roberto Torres’ late penalty, his second goal of the game, earned the hosts a point. “We leave feeling angry and p****d off,” he told Because it turns out, Griffin’s a pretty good defender. Problem is, you can be a great defender, and David West can still go Assassin’s Creed mode.

Let’s start with Griffin’s defense. You may be under the impression that Griffin’s defense is terrible because of how bad it was last year. Let me catch you up. Among players with at least 500 possessions defended this season, Griffin is sixth overall in the league, according to Synergy Sports. And while DeAndre Jordan takes the toughest covers physically down low, Griffin’s responsibilities are on those tricky, tough stretch fours. He allows just .755 points per possessions this season.

The fact is, Griffin’s turned into a very good man defender, and a solid help defender in just his third season.

Watch what he does here on a variety of different players. Pay special attention to how he maintains position to guide them to the right spot and how he manages on hooks and fadeaways to use his strength to move them further and further from the basket.

Moving guys into a fadeaway on the drive by challenging the dribble while also pushing them out of position is a big key here, and it’s a huge reason why he’s successful. He also contests well in face-up situations. He isn’t caught napping very often (hand down, man down), and gives good contest.

His only real weakness? He contests too much and gives up fouls. Griffin gives up the second highest percentage of plays resulting in fouls while defending the post, at 15.9 percent, for all players defending at least 100 times in the post.

You’ll see here that it’s a simple matter of Griffin wanting to go for not only the contest but the block, and that’s going to draw the call from officials, when most post moves are purposefully designed as difficult to block.

Griffin has to keep a hand up but not too much so vs. West.

What’s West good at in the postFA Cup fifth-round.The Blues suffered their third loss in four matches thanks to goals from Willian and Ross Barkley.But Klopp wasn’t too unpleased with the performance, just the mistakes his side made.”Losing 2-0 is not good but in this case is rela?


Here’s a short array of him destroying opponents in a variety of ways. Face-up, back to the basket, fadeaway, hook shots, you name it.

You’ll notice West is able to body even bigger guys down to where he wants to get to. It’s bizarre to watch guys just surrender position to him. West is a player who you honestly need to pick up and start jockeying for position with as soon as he reaches the three-point line. If it’s an offensive rebound, you need to immediately engage him to try to deny the ball and position at the same time. If you let him get to his spots, you’re doomed.

So why not front him? Wouldn’t that work, given that West isn’t exactly Blake Griffin with the lob ability?

Yeah, here’s how that works out.

So Griffin has to establish position, body him physically, challenge the entry pass, not front him, contest the shot, and not foul.

Sounds pretty easy.

We’ll see how Griffin does with the challenge on Thursday night.


Celtics’ Jared Sullinger says he’s cleared for basketball activities


was having a nice rookie season for the in 2012-13. He was averaging 6.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 19.8 minutes for a playoff-bound team. It wasn’t redefining the power forward position by any means, but it was a solid contribution from a guy proving that he was a rotation guy for a good team immediately in the . Then the back issues he had been red flagged for during his pre-draft evaluatations flared up.

Sullinger was exnsists Newcastle United will try and take the game to Arsenal this weekend.The Magpies will be heavy underdogs when they face Unai Emery’s side at St. James’ Park on Sunday.But Bruce says his people will look to make their opposition as uncomfortableperiencing pain and soreness due to spasms in his back and it was decided to fix the problem with surgery, rather than wait to see if it might get better or worse. It has been roughly six months since his surgery and Sullinger told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe that he was cleared for full basketball duties and should be ready when training camp rolls around.

Jared Sullinger said he was cleared for full basketball activity last week and should be ready by start of training camp

— gary washburn (@GwashNBAGlobe)

The team has changed quite a bit since Sullinger went down. He has a ns midfielder Sami Khedira is happy to wait to sign with Arsenal.The 32-year-old has been told he is free to leave Juventus this summer following the arrivals of Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot.The Arsenal-transfer-news-Juventus”>Daily StarArsenal-tranew coach with Brad Stevens after Doc Rivers was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. And he has some new teammates in and (among others) after Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were dealt to the Brooklyn Nets.

It’s not exactly knownapp says manager Jose Mourinho shouldn’t seek to a buy a replacement for Harry Kane.England captain Kane suffered a ruptured tendon in his left hamstring on New Year’s Day and is expected to be out of action until April.Redknapp told Sky Sports: “I l just yet how Sullinger will find minutes with the new coach and new players, but if he plays like he did in his rookie campaign, fitting into the rotation shouldn’t be a problem for the second year player.


Why the 2013 draft was the most suspenseful and memorable — ever


BROOKLYN, N.Y. — We’ll never have another draft anything like what happened at Barclays Center Thursday night.

Draftniks and /college hoops fans knew the setup. This was an underwhelming crop, right? It lacked sizzle, basketball sex appeal and face-of-the-franchise players. It wasn’t going to be a draft for the ages, to say the least. It wasn’t even going to be a draft to note a week from now, according to plenty of cynics. (We’ll circle back around on that judgment four or five years down the road.)

Yet Thursday night was memorable because it was suspenseful and surprising. Dare I say: actually gripping, and better than this year’s by a wide margin. A lot of the proceedings were . . And will be , making and all too appropriate. It was the draft that definitively proved the rule of how mock drafts are good for intrigue but lean on information.

So often, you never really know. On Thursday night, absolutely, nobody knew.

We love sports — or more specifically, the games — because of that unknown factor. What could happen? Drafts offer that, but in a different, smaller way. A delayed way. Seldom do they actually provide surprise and buzz.

But this one did, and that’s why 2013 gave us the best draft I can remember, even if it it’s unlikely to produce a batch of Hall-of-Famers or multiple future all-stars. It started at the top. Anthony Bennett No. 1? For the NBA fans reading this, did you even know who Anthony Bennett was? And if not, how often can you ever say that about an incoming No. 1 pick? This was the shocker, an out-of-nowhere top choice, the likes of which I think we’ll go another 20 years — at least — before we are so blindsided by a No. 1 man. When it came to Cleveland’s choice and Bennett as the pick, almost everyone was in the dark. Only a few insiders had a hunch on Bennett — and those rumors came light on Thursday afternoon.

And if it’s going to be a few decades before we can get shocked by a No. 1 pick, think about how long it’ll be before the favorite to be picked No. 1 will slide to No. 6 again. That’s what happened to Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel, selected by New Orleans and shipped to Philadelphia.

That was surely an first, at least in the modern era. Never does a projected No. 1 guy wait and see five other fellas go in front ofir friendly win over Colorado Rapids.Olayinka, 18, struck in the 3-0 win.He told “I just picked the ball up on the edge of the area and when I looked up, I saw the keeper on the other side. I took a shot, made sure it was on target, and him. is something that will get replay quite a bit come Friday.

And the surprises kept coming. Cody Zeller at No. 4 to Charlotte. WHAT? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a player from on at Newcastle United.Klopp described Divock Origi’s late header as “f****** unbelievable” as they won 2-3.Klopp said: “The way Newcastle played, it was just difficult to deal with in general. It’s really difficult to defend all these situations anGeorgia that plenty of college hoops fans had no idea existed, scooted up to No. 8 to Detroit. Steven Adavolved with the club.The centre-half is retiring at the end of the season.Chiellini said, “I hope Andrea [Barzagli] stays on with the technical staff. He’s a special person, as well as an exceptional player.“I’ll certainly miss him so much, I hadms to Oklahoma City in the No. 12 spot. One-time candidate for the No. 1 pick, Shabazz Muhammad, dips down to Utah at No. 14.

Ben McLemore went seventh. Plenty of reputable prognosticators thought he was going second, to Orlando. Says it all.

And that’s before we get to all the trades. But don’t worry, .

And then, out of nowhere, this glorious, glorious happenstance. A meeting to go down in history.


— Luke Zimmermann (@lukezim)

It was genuine drama — and comedy — every time Stern appeared from behind the facade, waddled to the lectern and encouraged the boos. He’s long been the willing villain for fans and architect for the league. His exit provided fodder for the crowd and energy in the building. Drafts will be different without him in the future.

Next year’s class is expected to be really good. The 2014 lottery picks will be coveted unlike anything the league has seen in nearly a decade, essentially. So the build-up will be big. The rumors could be relentless, but it won’t have as much intrigue or shock factor. That’s what Thursday had. No one expected it, making it even better.

If only we could count on this kind of thing every year.