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Super Bowl Bengals Talk NBA Finals

After playing in the Super Bowl, Mike Hilton and his Bengals are watching the NBA finals.
After playing in the Super Bowl, Mike Hilton and his Bengals are watching the NBA finals.

The NBA finals start Thursday night in San Francisco with the Steph Curry Warriors going for a fourth NBA title against the latest reincarnation of Celtics Pride and you know what that means in the Bengals locker room.

"We're athletes and fans of other sports," says cornerback Mike Hilton. "We have no problem watching it and conversating about it."

It's the first coronation in North American pro sports since the Bengals went to the Super Bowl two-and-a-half months ago and they'll be watching. It hasn't reached trash-talking levels yet. By the time game one started, the vets were gone for the weekend. But when they return next week for voluntary workouts heading into game three, expect there to be some yapping.

"I would say most of the guys are taking the Warriors," says Hilton, who is one of them. "I feel like ever since they've been hurt the last two years, people said their dynasty was over. But as you can see, they're back."

Yet the Celtics have their followers in here. Old Patriot Ted Karras is going back to his New England roots for the finals, running back Chris Evans played against Celtics star Jayson Tatum in AAU ball and defensive tackle B.J. Hill, as usual, likes defense over offense and opts for Boston's suffocating pressure.

Then again, if his hometown Pacers were in it, Karras would go with Indiana. And if you're quarterback Joe Burrow, you don't have a dog in the fight.

"I was rooting for the Suns," Burrow says. "At this point I'm just rooting for a good series."

Evans says Tatum was "a dog even back then," and he's talking about fourth grade, when Evans played for the Indiana Hoosiers and Tatum lit it up for the Memphis War Eagles.

"They beat us in the Final Four to go to the national championship," Evans says. "I didn't guard him, but I've followed him ever since. I take the Celtics. I just like the way they're playing. They're playing smart, they're playing together, they're playing physical. I feel like Al Horford deserves it."

Evans went to Michigan with Warriors guard Jordan Poole and wants him to do well. But he's pulling for Tatum's Celtics to pull it off. Life certainly turned out well for both fourth-graders. Evans was good enough in basketball that his high school coach told him when he was a sophomore he wouldn't get recruited for football unless he gave up basketball.

"Two days after I quit basketball I got a football offer from Michigan State," Evans says. "I said, 'OK, that's it I guess.' I was a point guard. I was a facilitator. I could give you ten (points) and ten (assists). Not 25. But I could give you ten and ten. And lock you up at the other end."

The 6-3, 311-pound Hill could play himself. He also played travel ball and became only the sixth player in the history of North Carolina's West Stanley High School to score 1,000 career points.

"They think they're hoopers on the offensive side, but they're really not," Hill says. "They dream to be good in basketball. But we on defense, we can do it all. We can play defense and offense when it comes to basketball.

"I could do it all. I could play the 3, the 4, the 1. Whatever you need me to play."

It sounds like the Celtics won't need him.

"I like the matchups," Hill said. "(The Celtics) have Tatum, (Jaylen) Brown, (Marcus) Smart. And they can come out with Curry, Klay (Thompson) and Draymond (Green). I'll always take defense and it's the Celtics' defense against the Warriors' offense."

There's a basket in the Paul Brown Stadium player space, so guys have a pretty good idea what the other guys can do. Burrow was an All-Ohio point guard at Athens High School. Wide receiver Tee Higgins could have played college basketball after twice being runner-up Mr. Tennessee basketball while at Oak Ridge High School. Wide receiver Tyler Boyd was all-everything at Clairton High School in Western Pennsylvania while wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase was a football and track guy in New Orleans.

"I've never seen Ja'Marr shoot," says Hilton, who didn't play in high school "because I knew what I was good at."

"I think we (defense) have the better players. Besides probably Joe Burrow, Tyler Boyd and maybe Tee," Hilton says with a mischievous smile. "I can see how good Tee was just messing around … Outside of them, they don't have anybody that can really shoot."

But he says the Warriors do.

"One, they have the better coach, in my opinion," Hilton says. "Two, they have the best player in Steph. And three, I feel like they've got more experience in games like this than Boston."

But they'll be some talking before it's over.

"Warriors in six," Hilton says.