Busy sports day. But, let’s start with hoops, where the Spurs were up 20, only to lose. Wow. That is one of those losses that you might not be able to recover from. Blame it on the plane, San Antonio…
Let's be clear here. Once the Mavericks and Stars are out of the playoffs, it then becomes my rooting interest to attempt to foil the Spurs and Red Wings from being Champions of the league, and thus at least, keep the annoying fans of those teams from being too insufferable. I admit it is a bit sad, but then again, so are sports.
So, with that being said, Go Kobe and Go Sidney Crosby. We are counting on you.
From Los Angeles ….
It was just one game, just Game 1, just a beginning.
It felt like seven games, Game 7, an ending.
The Lakers didn't just come back from a 20-point deficit to steal an 89-85 victory over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals opener Wednesday.
They turned basketball's smartest crunch-time team into dummies.
They turned basketball's toughest veterans into twitching rookies.
They stole a victory from a team that was doing everything right, and they stole it after doing everything wrong.
In the end, after another Spur had bricked and another Laker had dived and wonderful spring chaos had once again returned to 11th and Figueroa, both locker rooms were quiet.
The Spurs, because they were trying to leave.
"We're supposed to be smarter than this," said Robert Horry, rushing into the hallway.
The Lakers, because they were trying not to laugh.
"I would think a loss like this might take a little bit out of their sails," said Jordan Farmar, dressing slowly.
The last time the Lakers pulled off a playoff comeback this large, they needed Horry to win it with that infamous last-second shot against Sacramento in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
You know what happened next.
The last time the Spurs blew this sort of lead and lost this sort of close game under this sort of pressure was, well, almost never.
You can almost guess what will happen next.
The weary champions have a 20-point lead on the court of the young team, and hold that team to under 90 points . . . and still lose?
The aging champions have a chance to throw a huge first punch on the road against a team that played with rust and dust . . . and they miss?
"Obviously we were up 20 and we hoped to put that one away and put them on their heels, but we didn't," said Tim Duncan, shaking his head. "We have to recover."
Recover? How do you recover from something such as this?
The answer is, you probably can't.
The Lakers may have won this series by winning a game in which their best player and league MVP made one basket in three shots -- three -- in the first half.
From San Antonio …
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant had just nine points when he strode to the foul line midway through the third quarter Wednesday night, but the home crowd didn’t seem to notice. They gave him the “M-V-P” treatment anyway.
The star-studded denizens of the Staples Center, it seems, knew what Bryant knew.
“I can get off at any time,” Bryant said.
Behind by 20 points to the defending NBA champions, in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, seemed as good a time as any.
Bryant scored 25 of his 27 points after halftime, willing his team to an 89-85 comeback victory that the Spurs will still be feeling in the morning.
Given a chance to steal home-court advantage, staked to the kind of second-half lead that in any other circumstance might have afforded them the chance to flip on cruise control, the Spurs instead watched Bryant erase it all with a stunning second half that everybody saw coming.
This ought to make the Spurs grumpier than a week’s worth of nights spent on a grounded plane.
“We had a great opportunity and didn’t take advantage of it,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “It hurts like hell.”
Bryant, with his peculiar brand of first-half rope-a-dope, applied much of that hurt. He took three shots in the first half, 17 in the second.
His last attempt — a floating 9-footer sunk over Bruce Bowen — broke an 85-85 tie
and proved to be the game-winner. The Spurs had a final shot at taking back the victory, but Manu Ginobili’s corner 3-point attempt with 10 seconds left bounced out.
The Spurs squandered a 30-point, 18-rebound night from Tim Duncan, as well as a decent night for their defense. They held the Lakers, who came into the game averaging a league-best 112.1 points per game in the playoffs, to 23 fewer than that.
The Spurs were doomed by a game-closing stretch of 7:19 in which they made one basket.
Though the Spurs were loath to admit it, fatigue likely played a factor late. They were two nights removed from Game 7 of the conference semifinals in New Orleans, and had spent a restless night on an airport tarmac.
“I don’t want to give any excuses,” said Tony Parker, who as the anti-Bryant had six of his 18 points in the second half. “We were in pretty good shape. We had a good lead.”
With 5:54 to go in the third quarter, the Spurs led by 20 points on the Lakers’ home floor. It’s a luxury that might not come again.
“Those are the kind of games that keep coaches up late at night,” Bowen said.
A good bit of the blame for the Spurs’ next sleepless night goes to Bryant.
And now, we blame Champion Air for the series …you watch. This will be as big as Steve Bartman in San Antonio if the series doesn’t go right…
The Spurs have flown their last flight with Champion Air.
Team chairman Peter Holt said the league assured him Tuesday another carrier would transport the Spurs to San Antonio after Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Friday and would also fly them to the rest of their road playoff games.
Word of the change came less than 24 hours after the Spurs spent seven hours on a tarmac in New Orleans after mechanical problems grounded the Boeing 727 provided to the team by Champion, which declared bankruptcy in March and is set to ground its 16-plane fleet May 31.
“The league called the next morning and said they were working on it right away,” Holt said. “They said they would find us another airplane that (it) will be with you as long as you are in the playoffs. That’s another thing we didn’t want to have to do, keep switching.”
Holt said he made it clear to the league they were done with Champion. The league arranges for the Spurs’ carrier, but the team foots the bill.
“We just told them we obviously don’t have any faith or trust any more (in Champion),” Holt said. “I don’t know if it is a safety issue, as much as we don’t want to be stuck again, especially with us playing every other day from this point on.”
Holt said he hasn’t spoken to anyone from Champion.
“Not interested in Champion,” Holt said. “We’re done.”
Different perspective: What’s it like spending 11 hours onboard an aircraft after you have expended most of your energy in Game 7 of a playoff series?
“Not fun,” Spurs guard Manu Ginobili said.
But Ginobili had a different take on the ordeal that followed the Spurs’ victory Monday night than most of his teammates. He played three seasons in the Italian League, where long bus rides were commonplace.
“It’s not the first time it happened to me,” he said. “I’ve slept many times on buses, so it was not much of a difference.”
Some of his teammates, Ginobili said with a smile, have had it too easy.
“They are spoiled,” he said. “I’ve spent 20 hours on a bus. So it’s no big thing.
Probably never the day before a game. That’s kind of different, but it happened, and we’ve just got to face it.”
Sid Ponson looks real solid as the Rangers get back in the win column …
Two poor starts in the span of five days last week sent Sidney Ponson back to school to resurrect a season that could resurrect his career.
A flaw in his mechanics had caused his best pitch, the sinker, to move sideways instead of down. Too many fly balls were being hit, and too many runs were scoring.
That changed Wednesday in the Texas Rangers' 10-1 victory over the Twins.
A sinker that stunk during Ponson's past two outings produced 18 ground ball outs, and he sunk his former team with his first complete game in more than three years.
Ponson won for the third time this season, allowing only one run on six hits as the Rangers ended a three-game slide and a six-game losing streak in the Metrodome. They scored seven times in the sixth inning to break open a scoreless game.
"My mechanics were much better tonight," said Ponson, who threw 110 pitches in the Rangers' third complete game this season. "I made a couple mistakes, but we won. The team hit and played good defense behind me."
Designated hitter Milton Bradley and manager Ron Washington were ejected after the top of the second inning by home-plate umpire Jeff Nelson. They missed Ponson's best effort in six starts since being recalled from Triple A Oklahoma last month.
He had allowed 13 runs (nine earned) and saw his ERA jump from 1.33 to 3.52. There aren't many pitchers who wouldn't want a sub-four ERA, but Ponson admits that he was off in those starts.
He was sharp again Wednesday. He matched his season-high with five strikeouts, and 18 of the 27 outs came on groundballs. The Twins didn't have a flyball out until the fifth.
Their only run came in the sixth after a leadoff triple and a one-out sacrifice fly. But the Rangers led 7-1 after ruining what had been a pitcher's duel between Ponson and Nick Blackburn in the top of the inning.
Michael Young led off with his fifth home run, and the inning got away from Blackburn (4-3) thanks to an error on a potential double-play grounder that led to six unearned runs.
The big blast was a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler, his fifth, and the final five runs were scored with two outs.
Josh Hamilton celebrated his 27th birthday by going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and his first stolen base. Chris Shelton went 3-for-4, Gerald Laird homered, and David Murphy had two RBI doubles.
"It's exactly what we needed tonight," Kinsler said. "We're good offensively, and
we're going to score a lot of runs. Hopefully, we can get back in a groove."
Ponson made seven starts for the Twins in 2007, going 2-5 with a 6.93 ERA. He has said that he thought that stint was the last chance he would get to pitch in the major leagues.
But the Rangers signed him during spring training, and he is 3-0 with a 2.95 ERA since he returned from Oklahoma on April 26.
Stars clean out the lockers, and speak of Cups …
Brad Richards said he's setting the bar very high for the Stars next season.
"I think we need to have the goal of winning the Stanley Cup," Richards said, emphasizing that he felt the goal was realistic.
"You don't throw that around lightly, but I think we've proven that's what we should be shooting for. Expectations, for me, are going to be really high next year ... and they should be."
And with that, Dallas players left the Dr Pepper StarCenter on Wednesday with their marching orders. After a season in which they advanced to the sixth game of the Western Conference finals, the Stars say they want more and are ready to embrace the challenge.
While players such as Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas and Steve Ott had career-best seasons, they say that level now has to be a baseline.
"We're at a point where we should be setting a new career high every season," Ott said. "That should be a goal for each of us, and it should be a very realistic goal."
And if the main players continue to improve, then the team should continue to improve, coach Dave Tippett said.
"You're not accepting of being just all right anymore," Tippett said. "Now you want to be better every day."
The Stars say they can be because they have gotten a whiff of their potential.
"We're improving," captain Brenden Morrow said. "We made good strides this year, but it makes you realize how hard it is to get here and how hard we have to work to get back."
Is this the greatest commercial I have ever seen connected with my hockey?
Oh dear, the Hambricks – in trouble AGAIN! …
Not even a month after being cleared of a felony battery charge, former NFL football player Darren Hambrick was back in legal trouble.
Hambrick was arrested April 12 and accused of hitting his longtime girlfriend, Ileana Quiles, and stopping her son from calling 911.
Hambrick, 32, pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Monday and was assigned a court-appointed attorney. That means Hambrick doesn't have the money to hire his own lawyer.
Hambrick, of 38827 Coit Road in Lacoochee, is accused of pulling Quiles' hair and punching her in the head, according to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report.
Hambrick then struck Quiles in the leg with a glass table lamp, the report states.
Quiles told her son to call 911, but Hambrick intimidated him so he wouldn't, the report shows. When Quiles, her son and nephew attempted to call authorities again, Hambrick took away the phones, the report states.
Hambrick, who is free on bail, faces charges of tampering with a witness, a third-degree felony, and misdemeanor battery. A hearing is scheduled for June 17.
Hambrick was a Pasco High School football star who played five seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns. His NFL career ended in 2002.
He and his brother Troy led Pasco High to its only state championship in 1992.
Troy Hambrick, 31, was sentenced to five years in federal prison this month after pleading guilty to selling 78 grams of crack cocaine to an undercover informant.
I cannot believe that family.
Now, on to the main event. I thought I hated both teams, but it is clear I hate Manchester United more. I was all excited as the game went on because Chelsea was more dangerous and hit the woodwork a few times. They were going to win the game it appeared. Then it went to extra time. Then it went to a shootout. Then Ronaldo looked like a goat as he missed! But, alas, as per usual, United figure out a way out of that mess with a little skill and a ton of luck as John Terry missed the open net.
And United are Champions of Europe. Yuck.
Guardian Unlimited …
Manchester United are once more engulfed in the delirious joy of Champions League melodrama. They were on the verge of defeat in the shoot-out as the Chelsea captain, John Terry, came up to take the penalty that would have taken the trophy to Stamford Bridge. His standing foot slipped as he struck the ball and the effort flew wide. A failure by Cristiano Ronaldo had been cancelled out.
The momentum was irreversibly United's and, in the end, Edwin van der Sar ensured that the trophy would come to Old Trafford for the third time by saving the spot kick from the substitute Nicolas Anelka. This is a club that cannot come by glory in this tournament until it has scared itself senseless. The Luzhniki Stadium witnessed a spectacle to compare with the comeback in 1999 when Bayern Munich were overtaken at the close of the final.
The memorability of such a moment depends as well on the images of the losers' pain. Terry had been magnificent and, 11 minutes into extra-time, had somehow twisted his neck to head away a shot by the substitute Ryan Giggs that was bound for the net. It seemed inconceivable then that such a character could be brought low.
He is no culprit. The single person meriting blame is Didier Drogba, sent off four minutes from the close of extra-time for aiming a slap at the United centre-half Nemanja Vidic following a mêlée after Chelsea had expected the ball to be returned to them at a throw-in. That folly by the Ivorian did not mar one of the most engrossing Champions League finals of modern times. Its main side effect was to promote Terry to taking the fifth penalty.
There is always a craving to consecrate winners as deserving of their prize. It is tempting to do that because, in the first half particularly, they scored, wasted openings and were thwarted by the goalkeeper Petr Cech. That was an outstanding spell but Chelsea's self-belief was also imposing. At times they appeared ready to overpower Sir Alex Ferguson's team.
The Scot declared this to be the first major shoot-out to have gone his way, dismissing the bauble of the Community Shield that was won in just such a fashion, against Chelsea, at the start of this season. Ferguson has now conquered in all four of his European finals since the days with Aberdeen.
It might all have been different in Moscow. Drogba had struck the woodwork in the 78th minute and Lampard would do likewise in stoppage-time. Nothing, it appears, goes in favour of the Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, for long. The Israeli could well have imagined that his luck was turning when his team came through an initial
bombardment. Now there will be more uncertainty and disquiet.
Terry's failure from the spot brought a gesture of wry exasperation from Roman Abramovich. The owner will ask himself if he is employing an unlucky manager or one who falls a little short of what is needed. Either way the Russian, deliberating in Moscow last night, cannot ignore the fact that Chelsea have failed to take a trophy for the first time in four seasons. Nor would he have liked the way in which United initially took his side by surprise.
To Chelsea's regret it turned out that it is possible for one of these teams to surprise the other. United did more still, disconcerting the opposition with tactics that helped Ronaldo score against these adversaries for the first time in his career. United had been sent out in a 4-4-2 formation that some might have supposed had been stashed in the Old Trafford museum. The purpose of it was to exploit the narrowness of Chelsea's 4-3-3 system and bedevil the full-backs. Michael Essien was the principal target. Accustomed as the midfielder is to operating on the right of the defence, he has no experience of the suffering to which Ronaldo subjected him.
The winger had left him utterly stranded in one incident and then embarrassed him more severely with the opener in the 27th minute. Paul Scholes exchanged passes with Wes Brown on the right and the latter stroked an unexpectedly good inswinging cross with his left foot. Ronaldo skipped in front of a static Essien to glide a perfect header low into the net.
It was a bruising encounter, with Scholes, for instance, requiring attention to a
bloodied nose after a crash between himself and Claude Makelele that led to a yellow card for each of them. All the same United were not diverted from performing with freedom. Owen Hargreaves brought his running power to bear from right midfield, the position in which he got his earlier Champions League winners' medal with Bayern Munich in 2001.
Ten minutes before half-time United should have been in a virtually unassailable position but Petr Cech parried Carlos Tevez's header and then reached Michael Carrick's shot from that rebound. There was a further opportunity nine minutes later when Tevez could not quite get to the low ball by Wayne Rooney that had eluded Makelele. Nonetheless United by then had been given a clue as to Chelsea's powers of recovery. When Drogba headed a deep cross into the centre after 34 minutes Rio Ferdinand, under pressure from Michael Ballack, knocked it towards his own net, only for Van der Sar to tip the ball on to the bar.
Chelsea had their fortune when pulling level. Essien's 25-yarder cannoned of Vidic and then Ferdinand to set up Lampard for a coolly taken goal. Though Chelsea had been rallying, their feelings much have contained a measure of relief. It invigorated the team thereafter. Each side took the other to its limits
Love for the Ewoks