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Golden State Up 2-0
[Posted late Sunday night...was waiting for end of Red Sox-Astros.]
NBA Quiz: Name the top three in career scoring average in the playoffs. None are active, all three in the Hall of Fame. [No way anyone gets this.] Answer below.
In these parts, the New York City area, we know all about J.R. Smith, who played 3 ½ seasons in The Garden for the Knicks. He’s a tremendous physical talent, but not the sharpest knife in the tool box so it was no surprise to us, or fans of any of the four franchises he has played for in his long career, that he would be the one to commit a gaffe of historic proportions in Thursday’s Cavaliers’ loss to the Warriors in overtime, Golden State taking Game 1 when they were fit to be had.
A back-and-forth final five minutes culminated in Cleveland guard George Hill at the free throw line with 4.7 seconds remaining and a chance to win the game. After hitting his first attempt to tie the score, though, Hill missed his second.
But J.R. recovered the rebound, right under the basket, and could have attempted to lay it in, probably drawing a foul, at worst, yet instead, he dribbled it out to the perimeter, thinking the Cavs held the lead, waiting for a foul that never came.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said after, “He thought we were up,” though Smith lied and said he hadn’t gotten the score wrong, in defending his play.
“I was trying to get enough (space) to bring it out to get a shot off,” Smith told reporters. “I knew we were tied; I thought we were going to call timeout. If I thought we were ahead, I’d have held on to the ball and let them foul me.”
Golden State then routed Cleveland in OT, 17-7, for the 124-114 win. LeBron had 51 points on 19 of 32 from the field, a playoff career high and the sixth-highest total in Finals history. Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant combined for 79.
Mike Lupica / New York Daily News
“You can check all the boxes on why the Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 1 to the Warriors on Thursday night, despite 51 points and one of the iconic performances in NBA Finals history from LeBron James.
“In this extraordinary playoff run when we have seen how little help James actually needs from his teammates, in a Game 1 or a Game 7, all he perhaps needed on this night to steal Game 1 from a team that has beaten the Cavaliers in two of the last three finals was one free throw, little over four seconds left, from George Hill.
“Hill missed. Old friend J.R. Smith, who sometimes seems to have a head full of bunnies, got the rebound and immediately commenced dribbling the ball away from the basket, with the last few precious seconds of regulation disappearing and LeBron open. Smith said he knew the game was tied. He sure didn’t act that way. He was like a baseball player running for third base instead of first after hitting the ball.
“Then we all saw what happened in overtime. LeBron and the Cavs fell apart and the Warriors ran away from them and Game 1. Guy missed a free throw to put his team ahead. Guy didn’t know what the score was or didn’t know where he was, or was just J.R. proving that he is always going to be J.R., even in one of the biggest moments of his career and with a chance to be a hero, in the midst of LeBron’s hero run.
“None of this is even debatable. But everything that went wrong for the Cavaliers started with three refs getting a call about Kevin Durant and LeBron James dead wrong, as much as they and their league have been trying to clean up the mess they made in the days since. The refs, tripping all over themselves and this moment, are the ones who set everything else in motion; who had everybody talking about them instead of the game LeBron James had played and the way he and his teammates should have changed the narrative, that fast, on the Warriors being such huge, heavy favorites to win this thing easily.
“And even when the Warriors had won that overtime easily one of the refs, Tony Brothers, was still making a mess of things, ejecting Tristan Thompson for a phantom elbow he said Thompson threw at Shaun Livingston on the last Warriors shot of the night, which Livingston had taken for no good reason at the end of what had become as close to a blowout as you can get in overtime. So the guys with the whistles were intent on missing calls all the way to the locker room.
“But the most egregious miss came because of a rule that most basketball fans knew hardly anything about: You can go to replay to see if the defensive player was in the restricted area close to the basket, but then also change the call if the defender wasn’t in the restricted area. So these refs – Brothers, Ken Mauer, Ed Mallow – went to replay after Durant ran into LeBron with just over 36 seconds left and the Cavaliers leading by two points. The call on the floor was a charge on Durant, which it was, which it will always be. James had his position, whether he leaned to his left or not. Had he not leaned, Durant would have still barreled into him. I loved hearing that LeBron ‘slid.’ Right. Here’s how you slide in basketball: You move one foot and then the other and pretty soon you’re moving.
“So the refs go running to replay, which was brought into sports to make sure that games like these wouldn’t turn on a bad call. Except that replay was about to produce a monumentally bad call in Oakland. LeBron wasn’t in the restricted area, that was plain to see even in real time. But this was the league’s official report after the game: ‘Upon replay review, it was confirmed that James was outside the restricted area. The referees also reviewed whether James was in a legal guarding position, which is an additional reviewable matter for this replay trigger. Replay showed James was not in a legal guarding position because he was turning his body and moving into Durant when contact occurred. Thus the initial call on the floor was overturned and James was assessed a blocking foul.’
“You bet James was in legal guarding position, whether he leaned or not. Durant was going to get him whether he leaned or not. In other sports, you hear an awful lot about the indisputable evidence needed to overturn a call on the field or on the floor. Not the NBA. In that moment, the refs had made themselves the stars of this game instead of James. Durant made two free throws, game tied. We saw how it all played out from there....
“LeBron is already playing against one of the great NBA teams of all time. He played against Hill and Smith, too, the other night. And three refs.”
Today, we learned that J.R. Smith admitted he was not aware of the score at the end of regulation.
“After thinking about it a lot after the last 24 hours and however long it’s been since the game was over, I can’t say I was sure of anything at that point,” Smith said.
Tonight, as expected, the Warriors rolled in Game 2, 122-103 behind Steph Curry’s 33, including 9 of 17 from downtown. Kevin Durant had 26 on 10 of 14 from the field. It was a yawner, LeBron a non-factor.
Also for the Warriors, playing again without Andre Iguodala, JaVale McGee and Shaun Livingston were a combined 11 of 11 from the field.
--I was kind of surprised to see Michigan coach John Beilein interview for the Pistons’ coaching vacancy; Beilein having led the Wolverines to the NCAA title game this season against Villanova, the second time in six years he’s accomplished that, Michigan having lost to Louisville in 2013.
Beilein has such a good thing going at Ann Arbor, I don’t know why he wouldn’t just stay, and here’s hoping he still does.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
The Washington Capitals took a giant step towards their first Stanley Cup title, and first championship for the city since the Dark Ages, or so it seems, with a 3-1 win Saturday night over the Vegas Golden Knights at Capital One Arena, as Alex Ovechkin continued to provide the leadership you’d expect from him.
As a story in USA TODAY put it: “Alex Ovechkin seems to be celebrating every Capitals goal as if it is the most important tally in franchise history.
“Maybe at this point, each Washington goal is that momentous.”
Ovechkin scored the 14th goal of these playoffs (in 22 games), along with continued superb all-around play, and as Washington defenseman John Carlson said, “(Ovechkin) is on another level (but) he’s always been a brash celebrator. He’s engaged as anyone can ever be. It shows in his game and the effect that it has on the rest of us.”
Saturday, Ovechkin took 10 shots, five shots on goal, two hits and two blocked shots, the latter what impressed teammates and fans the most.
The great Russian superstar, who’s been with the Capitals since 2005 and never before advanced beyond the second round, is indeed playing as if this is the last opportunity he will ever have for true greatness, and living up to it.
Barry Svrluga / Washington Post
“The goal is the important play. It will be on the highlights, and it put the Washington Capitals ahead in the second period, and it’s what Alex Ovechkin has built a reputation – an entire life, really – on. How Ovechkin scored that goal matters, too, because he wasn’t in his La-Z-Boy in the left faceoff circle. Instead, he was tangled among bodies, a greasy spot he might not always have gone to, falling to the ice because that’s exactly what it took.
“But even if Ovechkin’s goal spurred the Capitals’ 3-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday night at dead-red Capital One Arena in the third game of the Stanley Cup finals, go back to the first period, the first period of June hockey this building has hosted in 20 years. With about two minutes remaining, Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt loaded up a shot.
“And there was Ovechkin, moving up on Schmidt. He did not avoid the puck. He sought it. As the puck rose, Ovechkin’s left knee rose with it. There was never a danger of it reaching goaltender Braden Holtby. Ovechkin blocked it.
“ ‘It’s the Stanley Cup final,’ Ovechkin said afterward. ‘What do you want to do? It’s all in for everybody.’
“All in for the captain. All in for the city. The entire exercise of Saturday night was a reminder of how thirsty the District is for a champion. In the hours before the game, F Street was packed, home to three television stages and thousands of fans. Drink it in and enjoy it because we know that one opportunity won’t necessarily beget another.”
--While I would put my money on the Capitals to win it all now, there are a few Vegas bookmakers still on pins and needles, the Golden Knights being a preseason 500-to-1 shot in some sports books preseason. They were an expansion team, after all. Win a Stanley Cup title in their first season? No freakin’ way.
William Hill said this week it had one bettor in for $1,000 on a 50-1 ticket (purchased as the season went along). Another has $200 at 200-1. And there are smaller bets at 250-1
Someone on the Strip reportedly has a $300 ticket at 400-1, which would pay out $120,000 if the Knights came back to win the Cup.
--The Yankees had another game rained out today, the second in Baltimore in four days, making it seven overall thus far, another one suspended, which at this point means it is unlikely the Yanks will play a full 162-game schedule, especially assuming another few rainouts the rest of the way. And that could impact the A.L. East race.
I mean consider the standings after today’s play.
New York 37-17... .685
Boston 41-19... .683
So look at that. The Red Sox have played six more games than the Yankees. That’s not normal, to say the least. Let alone that Boston is actually a game up, but the Yankees have a higher winning percentage.
Meanwhile, the Yanks’ Luis Severino is 8-1, 2.31, and the team is 11-1 in his 12 starts. The Mets’ Jacob deGrom is 4-0, 1.49, and the Mets are 5-7 in his 12 starts. You can’t make this stuff up.
Saturday night, the swooning Mets sent deGrom to the mound again, asking for a ‘stopper’ performance and he delivered, seven innings of gutty one-run ball against the Cubs in New York, 13 strikeouts, 116 pitches, but left with the game tied 1-1. The pathetic Mets’ offense again came up woefully short for him. And while the bullpen would, shockingly, produce six straight shutout innings as the game remained knotted at 1-1 after 13, the pen then gave up six runs in the top of the 14th, Mets lose 7-1 to fall to 27-29, after their soaring 11-1 start.
[DeGrom has now yielded just three runs in his last 47 1/3, while fanning 68, yet has just two wins for his efforts in the eight starts, two of which were abbreviated, for the record. This season, the Mets’ bullpen has an ERA well over 8.00 in his starts.]
The Mets are within a week, nay, days, of becoming totally irrelevant the rest of the way. Just look at “slugger” Jay Bruce. I agreed with the team’s decision to bring him back for three years, $39 million, a reasonable contract as these things go for a guy who produces 25 home runs and 90 RBIs year after year.
But this season, he entered Sunday’s play with 15 RBIs in 181 at-bats! And he had 3 RBIs in 90 ABs in May! Then today he went 0 for 4 in a 2-0 loss, the Mets falling to 27-30, losers of 9 of 11. It was the first time the Mets were swept in a 4-game series at home in five years. Yup, that’s a surefire way to pack the stands this summer. Just shoot me.
--The Washington Nationals also played a 14-inning game on Saturday, a la the Mets, only the Nationals emerged with a 5-3 win over the Braves in Atlanta, with Max Scherzer, of all people, starting the rally in the 14th with a pinch-hit single, bringing his average up to .310 this season, while scoring the go-ahead run. This a few days after an 8-inning stint of 2-hit ball in a 2-0 win over Baltimore that brought his mound record to 9-1, 1.92 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 79 2/3.
I’ve said it only about a thousand times, but you have to love that this is one guy earning his massive contract from the first day he signed with the Nationals.
Chelsea Jones / Washington Post
“The unlikeliest chapter of the growing legend of Max Scherzer began in the most desperate of offensive times for the Washington Nationals, who were hanging on in the 14th inning against the Atlanta Braves, waiting for a run that simply would not come.
“The chapter included a bench depleted by injury and innings – so depleted that a rookie manager turned to Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, and said ‘you’re going to hit.’ That three-time Cy Young Award winner delivered a single up the middle, his first career pinch hit, then scored the go-ahead run from first on Wilmer Difo’s triple.
“The unlikeliest chapter in the legend of Max Scherzer ended with the ace as the hero on a day he didn’t pitch, as the one who broke through and led the Nationals to a 5-3 win....
“Perhaps by now, nothing Scherzer does should surprise us. No-hit bids come monthly, double-digit strikeout totals arrive with almost every start, and – as his .310 batting average indicates – hits come regularly. But still, he finds a way to inspire awe.
“Scherzer’s promise lies in the fact that he has never seen a baseball moment as anything but an opportunity. And he prepares for every opportunity.”
In his fourth season with the Nats, Scherzer is 59-26, 2.67, with two Cy Young Awards. As Ronald Reagan would have said, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’
--The Dodgers placed Clayton Kershaw on the 10-day disabled list, this time with a lower back strain, though we were told it wasn’t as bad as past back issues he’s had. That said, he’s going to be out at least a month.
Kershaw had just come off the disabled list following a bout with left biceps tendinitis and departed his start against the Phillies after just 62 pitches, with all of his 20 fastballs at 90 mph or slower.
So the future Hall of Famer has now lost significant time three of the past four seasons with back injuries. This latest one definitely precludes him from opting out of his contract at season’s end. There isn’t an idiot alive in a front office who would give him, say, a five-year, $30 million deal. At this point, he’s going to pick up his guaranteed $70 million for 2019 and 2020, and I’ll say right here, he’s out of baseball before 2021.
Meanwhile, as I wrote the other day, the Dodgers have played great without Kershaw during these lengthy stays on the DL, and indeed, after losing Kershaw’s start on Thursday, they beat the Phillies Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Today they scored three in the ninth off closer Wade Davis of the Rockies for the 10-7 win.
And how about Matt Kemp? The guy was traded by the Braves in the offseason as part of a salary dump and Kemp was not expected to be a factor in the Dodgers’ lineup, if he wasn’t traded again or outright released, the 33-year-old deemed to be washed up. Well, all he doing is hitting .347 in 56 games, with nine home runs and 33 RBIs.
--On the college baseball front, Phil W. sent me an article on Wake Forest that reminded me of an issue I hadn’t written about in some time...the number of full scholarships available for sports like baseball and golf.
While Div. I college football has 85 scholarships (63 for FCS, Div. I-AA), baseball has 11.7 and golf just 4.5. [Basketball 13, soccer has 9.9].
So of course the schools have to divvy them up. In Wake’s particular case, the story was about how just two of the Demon Deacons’ players were from North Carolina, the fewest of the state’s 19 Division I baseball programs. And the chief reason seems to be tuition.
Bill Cilento, Wake’s hitting coach and chief recruiter, said, “For us, it’s a function of cost more than anything. We’re up there with the most expensive, us and Duke both right there as the most-expensive schools. And baseball being a partial-scholarship sport, you know, with 19 (D-I) teams in the state of North Carolina, you’re not the most-cost effective very often.
“The kids that we do get from North Carolina really do put a premium on education, and, therefore, they’re willing to pay a little more.”
Tuition for the 2017-18 school year at Wake was $51,400, according to collegedata.com. That’s not including the $15,354 for room and board.
So if Wake Forest has spread its 11.7 scholarships to 27 players (the maximum scholarship players programs can hold), each player would still be responsible for paying roughly $38,000 per year.
As Demon Deacon Coach Tom Walter says, “Wake Forest is a great academic school but it’s not an Ivy League school. So when you start to make decisions between Carolina and Wake Forest, it’s a similar education at a huge difference....
“(When we go see the families of recruits), it’s like, total sticker-shock.
“They can’t even fathom paying $300,000 for a college education. In other parts of the country, they’re paying $50,000 a year for private school. Not as big a deal.”
--Bryson DeChambeau won his second PGA Tour title, a most impressive one at Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio. The 24-year-old, who I just can’t warm up to (can’t like ‘em all, boys and girls), defeated Byeong Hun An and Kyle Stanley in sudden death.
But with the U.S. Open just two weeks away, this was a major tune-up for Shinnecock and Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler all finished T-8. I loved that McIlroy, who barely made the cut, said he was just going to use Saturday as a “practice round” and shot a 64.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Chilean Joaquin Niemann, attempting to become the youngest Tour winner since 1931, finished T-6 with Justin Rose.
Phil Mickelson had a solid 68 on Sunday to move up to T-13.
As for Tiger Woods, after a ho-hum opening round 72, he shot 67-68 to move into contention, with superb tee to green play. The problem was when he got on the green, which is where in his comeback bid he’s struggled mightily.
Woods was once automatic from inside eight feet, but in the second round he missed five attempts from that distance, and then on the back nine on Saturday, he missed two putts of four feet, one for a birdie at No. 14 and the other for par at No. 18, and settled for bogey at No. 16 after an errant seven-footer.
Then Sunday, Tiger shot a pedestrian 72 and finished T-23. He is hardly in top form heading into the Open....
....neither is Jordan Spieth, who missed the cut.
--Oklahoma State won the men’s Division I championship last week, the Cowboys’ 11th national title, routing Alabama 5-0 in the match play finals.
It was total domination for OSU this season, as it won 10 team titles and was ranked No. 1 entering the championship, then won the 72-hole stroke play tournament within the tournament.
But as I pointed out the other day, no No. 1 seed had gone on to win the NCAA title in match play since the NCAA added it into the format in 2009.
--And Ariya Jutanugarn became the first woman from Thailand to win the U.S. Women’s Open. Sorry, but I’d never heard of her before. She actually blew a seven-shot lead and was down by one before recovering for the win over another woman I’d never heard of...ol’ so-and-so.
--It truly sucks the United States choked and isn’t in the World Cup, which starts in ten days in Russia. But here at Bar Chat, Johnny Mac and I are inviting all onto the Iceland train. Needless to say, the tiny little nation is soccer crazy.
Sports Illustrated has its picks in the current issue, so for some guidance as to who the powers are supposed to be in the 32-team field, their final eight is:
Uruguay v. France; Mexico vs Belgium; Spain vs. Croatia; and Germany vs. England.
Then it’s Uruguay vs. Belgium; Spain vs. Germany.
Belgium vs. Spain in the final, Spain emerging on top.
Iceland is supposed to lose in the Round of 16 to France.
If Iceland can’t make a big run, I’m going for England, which features Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
--Coach Zinedine Zidane announced he is stepping down from Real Madrid, five days after leading them to a third straight Champions League title, claiming the club needs “a different voice.”
Talk about leaving on top, Zidane didn’t get along with ownership, having said back in February that he would walk away if he felt “there is nothing more to give.” It’s the timing that was kind of strange.
--I forgot to note, with the Championship League playoffs being over (the league below the Premier League), the three teams being promoted to the PL for the 2018-19 season are Cardiff City, Wolverhampton, and Fulham. They replace the relegated clubs from Swansea, Stoke and West Brom.
In the first 13 races of the season, Kevin Harvick won five and Kyle Busch four...kind of total domination, I think you’d agree. But today at Pocono Raceway, Martin Truex Jr. earned his second win of the year, number 17 for his career. The Monster Energy Girls on Victory Lane were resplendent in their little leather jackets, which were necessary due to the chill in the air. And at the end of the day....
--Delaware is launching full-scale sports betting at all three of the state’s casinos on June 5 – just a few days before a deadline New Jersey lawmakers have set for the passage of their own legislation regulating sports betting.
Delaware Park, Dover Downs Hotel & Casino, and Harrington Raceway & Casino will allow single-game and championship wagering on professional baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf and auto racing next week.
Delaware was one of four states exempted from a 1992 federal law banning sports betting that was just overturned by the Supreme Court via a suit brought by New Jersey. It has been allowed limited betting – such as multiple pro football games, parlay wagering – since 2009. But now it will be full-scale, a la Vegas.
After the Supreme Court ruling, Monmouth Park in New Jersey was hoping to be the first place on the East Coast to offer full-scale sports betting, but now Monmouth has to hold off until the state legislature passes its bill.
Longtime supporters of New Jersey and sports betting are pissed that Delaware is opening before us. A final vote in Trenton is slated for June 7, and Monmouth (as well as the Borgata casino in Atlantic City) said they would be ready to roll as soon as the governor signs the bill.
--Two climbers were killed Saturday while trying to scale the granite rock formation known as El Capitan in California’s Yosemite National Park. Both climbers were in their 40s.
The fatalities follow that of a hiker on the Half Dome cliffs last week, the first death in the park this year.
But the season is just getting started and in 2016, there were 16 fatalities at Yosemite. I never would have guessed that. I think if I was asked the question, I would have said maybe five.
But it turns out there are more than 100 climbing accidents at Yosemite each year.
At 3,000 feet, El Capitan is the world’s largest granite monolith.
--Follow up...two women did turn themselves in for the outrage I wrote of at Poet’s Table in South Dakota’s Black Hills. They sawed the famous table, perched on a ledge high up in the mountains, in half and carried it down the mountain with them.
--Finally, Monday is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, a tragedy many of us of a certain age remember vividly, ditto the assassination of MLK Jr. earlier that spring. 1968 truly sucked for a myriad of reasons.
But I forgot what happened the day before that year, June 3rd, no doubt overshadowed by the events of 24 hours later. Andy Warhol was shot and critically wounded in his New York City loft by Valerie Solanas, apparently for losing a copy of a play she’d written. Solanas pleaded guilty to assault and spent three years in prison.
Warhol barely survived, and while he didn’t die until he was 58 in 1987, health-wise and artistically he was never the same.
Top 3 songs for the week 6/2/79: #1 “Hot Stuff” (Donna Summer...dreadful...) #2 “Reunited” (Peaches & Herb) #3 “Love You Inside Out” (Bee Gees)...and...#4 “We Are Family” (Sister Sledge...the Pittsburgh Pirates’ theme song in a season that would culminate in a World Series title over Baltimore...) #5 “Goodnight Tonight” (Wings...early Wings was great...later Wings was crapola...) #6 “Just When I Needed You Most” (Randy Vanwarmer...whatever...) #7 “Shake Your Body (Down To The Ground)” (The Jacksons) #8 “In The Navy” (Village People) #9 “The Logical Song” (Supertramp...big hair groups beginning to hit their stride...) #10 “Love Is The Answer” (England Dan & John Ford Coley...great tune...)
NBA Quiz Answer: Top three career scoring average in playoffs: Michael Jordan, 33.45; Allen Iverson, 29.73; Jerry West, 29.13.
LeBron was at 28.92 entering tonight’s game.
Next Bar Chat, Thursday.