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    Giant problem in Antetokounmpo bound to test Celtics title credentials

    Apr 22, 2019
    PHOTO: AP
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    CHICAGO - The color black is usually associated with death. Black, the shade of darkness, is cold and sinister and lonely.

    But when the Indiana Pacers were eliminated from the 2019 NBA playoffs this morning, death came dressed in cheerful Easter garb - Celtic green.

    Opportunity knocked four times and Indiana refused to open the door, allowing Boston, the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, to sweep its way to the second round against the No. 1 ranked Milwaukee Bucks.

    Officially, the Bucks have yet to advance but with the Detroit Pistons completely being overmatched through three games, 360-288, Tuesday's Game Four at the Little Caesar's Arena in Motown is a mere exercise in formality.

    Despite playing without their injured best player - Victor Oladipo - the Pacers led at halftime in three of the four games and gave the Celtics a serious challenge before eventually folding in the homestretch where Oladipo, a shot maker and creator, could have prevented the long scoring droughts that ultimately led to Indiana's demise.

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    What if?

    The Celtics must have pondered.

    But the more relevant and potent question really is: What now?

    Trouble. A whole lot of trouble. That's what awaits Boston.

    Against the Pacers, the Celtics' primary worry was Bojan Bogdanovic, who caused quite a ripple with 72 points and 23 rebounds in four games. But Giannis Antetokounmpo is a tidal wave, an unstoppable locomotive with a giant Euro step.

    In his team's ongoing demolition of the Pistons, the Greek Freak is averaging 22 points and 13 rebounds through three games. He has logged only 81 minutes and has attempted just 47 field goals. He is well-rested, and when summoned, eager to unleash his powers on Boston.

    Kyrie Irving dazzled with 90 points and 31 dimes in the Indiana series, but he will have his skill and patience tested against the Bucks, the No. 1 defensive team in the NBA with a 105.2 rating.

    Antetokounmpo, an exuberant MVP in the making, versus Irving, a proven winner. Celtics, with their rich tradition, against the Bucks and their championship mission.

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    Grab the popcorn. Chill the beer. This top half of the Eastern Conference semifinals is going to be a dandy.

    A STAR IS REBORN. Kawhi Leonard drank "a lot of water" and the Orlando Magic drowned.

    Suffering from what was diagnosed as flu-like symptoms heading into Game 4, Leonard was instructed by the medical staff to hydrate enthusiastically while taking some medicine.

    The cure turned out to be the pain for the host Magic as Leonard led the Toronto Raptors to a 107-85 road victory and a 3-1 series lead.

    Having played just nine games in San Antonio last season and having missed 22 outings as a Raptor this year, the world seemed to have almost forgotten how good Kawhi is.

    Well, Game 4 was the jarring reminded that the 6-foot-7, 230-pound beast is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner, a three-time All-Star, an NBA champion, and an NBA Finals MVP (2014).

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    In spoiling Orlando's magic, the 27-year old Leonard desecrated the Amway Center with 34 points and six rebounds while helping secure the shaded area from trespassers - Leonard hit 12-of-20 field goals, 2-of-5 triples and 8-of-9 free throws.

    Game 5 is Wednesday in Toronto, but like that Bucks-Pistons Game 4, the Raptors' march to the second round is a foregone conclusion.

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    PHOTO: AP
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