2 down, 2 to go for Boston …
Playing the blood-and-thunder game that marked their Bill Russell-Larry Bird glory years, the Celtics last night bolted to a 24-point fourth-quarter lead and hung on to beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 108-102, at the New Garden to take a 2-0 series lead in the NBA Finals.
In the midst of a championship banner drought that has spanned both Bush Administrations, the Celtics are two wins from a long-awaited 17th NBA title as they resume play at Staples Center in Los Angeles tomorrow night.
It's premature to be lighting cigars, but the possibility exists the Celtics have played their final game in Boston this year. The Red Auerbach Celtics won championships in Los Angeles in 1963, '68, and '69 and are slated to play three games (if needed) in California before bringing the series - or the trophy - back to Boston.
"It's nice to be up, 2-0," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We've done what we should do. We took care of home, and that's what we should have done. Now we have to go on the road for us to keep attacking."
Certainly the Lakers will be happy to be playing 3,000 miles west of the Causeway Street gym. The high-flying Western Conference champs dissolved early in the second half of Game 2, falling behind by 24 before a furious rally pulled them within 2 in the final minute. Favored by most experts across the land, the Lakers are in a giant sinkhole as they head home.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson is trying to pass Auerbach by winning a 10th championship and sounded much like Boston's favorite redhead after watching his team take only 10 free throws compared with Boston's 38.
"I'm struck at the fact that Leon Powe gets more foul shots than our whole team does in 14 minutes of play," he said. "I've never seen a game like that in all the years I've coached in the Finals. Unbelievable. I think my players got fouled. I have no question about the fact that my players got fouled but didn't get to the line."
The unheralded Powe attempted 13 free throws and shredded the Lakers under the basket, scoring 21 points, many on dunks. Paul Pierce scored 28 points with eight assists in 41 minutes. Kevin Garnett added 14 rebounds and Rajon Rondo had 16 assists for the winners.
Kobe Bryant scored 30 for the losers, but he did little damage until the final Quarter. Bryant made only 9 of 26 shots in Los Angeles's 10-point loss in Game 1 and got off to a slow start last night before recovering with 13 in the fourth.
The Lakers search for answers ..
After two games of the NBA Finals, your heroes are coming home in a heap.
This is no fake. This is a forearm. And an elbow. And a shove. Lots of shoves.
The final images of Sunday's 108-102 Celtics victory were of a different type of green and purple.
The Lakers' faces are green, and their bodies are purple.
The Lakers trail this series two games to none after being embarrassed by the actor who previously used that wheelchair -- Paul Pierce bravely scored 28 points! -- and being beaten up by everyone else.
A toughness that was questioned has been answered. Right now, they're not tough enough.
A youthfulness that was feared has been realized. Right now, their kids are playing like kids.
Yes, the Lakers scored an amazing 31 points in the final eight minutes to cut a 24-point lead to four points.
But, no, it didn't matter, not when they didn't have anybody big and strong enough to stop Pierce from driving the lane and forcing two free throws.
And not when headstrong Sasha Vujacic didn't look for an open Kobe Bryant and threw up a three-point attempt that was blocked in the final seconds to essentially end it.
Their night in 10 seconds.
I don’t watch much tennis. In fact, I don’t watch any tennis beyond the French Final, the Wimbledon Final, and the last week at the US Open. But, wow, yesterday was as dominating as I have ever seen, as Rafa Nadal made Rog look silly …
So what was Roger Federer to do with the elusive French Open trophy once again in sight and Rafael Nadal looming larger than ever across the net?
Stay back and rally? Definitely not. Nadal was too quick, too powerful and too steady, with unforced errors creeping in as rarely as sunshine during this tournament.
Why not attack the net? More sensible indeed, yet Nadal’s dipping passing shots were so precise, so forceful that they kept requiring Federer to dig balls out of the dirt or twist his neck — smoothly, of course — to watch a winner land on the sideline or the baseline.
No, the answer for the millions of Federer fans worldwide who would like nothing better than for their man to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks was that there was no solution available to Federer in his current state of form and Nadal’s current state of grace.
In a final that rarely resembled anything other than one-way traffic, Nadal was at his clay-covering, forehand-whipping finest as he won his fourth straight French Open by beating up on the erratic, increasingly dispirited Federer.
The stunning final score — 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 — was the most lopsided result in a major men’s final since John McEnroe also surrendered just four games against Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon in 1984.
“I was walking out worrying about losing; it would have been impossible to imagine it would turn out like this,” Nadal said. “I think I played an almost perfect match, and Roger made more mistakes than usual.”
The victory was the finishing touch on one of the most dominant performances in Grand Slam history. The left-handed Nadal, whose record at Roland Garros is now 28-0, did not lose a set in this tournament. The last man to do that here was the Swedish champion Bjorn Borg in 1980, and Borg is also the only other man to win four straight singles title in Paris.
Your Tennis major winners since 2004 …
2004: Aus: Federer French: Gaudio Wim: Federer US: Federer
2005: Aus: Safin French: Nadal Wim: Federer US: Federer
2006: Aus: Federer French: Nadal Wim: Federer US: Federer
2007: Aus: Federer French: Nadal Wim: Federer US: Federer
2008: Aus: Djokovic French: Nadal
Rangers finish painful homestand …
Ten straight home games probably shouldn't be as taxing as the ones the Texas Rangers played during their longest stretch of the season at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
But long games, ragged pitching and hot temperatures can take a toll on any team. So, maybe the Rangers' 5-5 record doesn't look like a missed opportunity.
To some, it looks like they survived. The Rangers beat Tampa Bay 6-3 Sunday behind right-hander Doug Mathis and a makeshift lineup that salvaged a homestand split.
"I think it shows what kind of team we've got," left-hander Eddie Guardado said. "I'd say 5-5 is better than 0-10. We've got a lot to learn and a lot to do to improve, but if we keep on battling, we're going to do it."
German Duran hit a two-run homer on the day he was recalled from the minors, and solo shots by David Murphy and Ramon Vazquez helped secure Mathis' first victory as a big-league starter.
The bullpen pitched the final 3 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run as the Rangers avoided a sweep by the Rays, the only team that has won a series against them the past seven weeks.
"Mathis did a great job of making pitches when he had to," Rangers manager Ron Washington said of Mathis, who led 4-2 when he was relieved after allowing a two-run homer to B.J. Upton in the sixth. "He kept us in the ballgame."
The Rangers find themselves in the same place they were before the homestand began, a game under .500 (32-33). They won the first two games to climb a game above .500 for the first time since April.
But the bullpen broke down, and high winds turned Rangers Ballpark into a launching pad. Roster moves had to be made simply to get through another day, and catcher Gerald Laird had to play third base -- twice.
"We had some rough games there, so we'll be satisfied with it, but would have liked to come out a little better," Murphy said. "We're always trying to get way above .500. But we're just hovering there. It's not where we want to be."
A day off today should give the Rangers time to freshen up before a six-game road trip begins Tuesday at Kansas City. Neither Josh Hamilton (viral infection) nor Michael Young (groin) played Sunday, but the Rangers still managed 11 hits.
"We're a team, and I feel comfortable with whoever I put in there," Washington said. "The guys we had in there delivered, and that's why they're on this club."
The Rangers will play 18 of the next 24 on the road, a stretch that includes stops in six cities but no more than nine games without a day off. Sunday's win might help jump-start the stretch on a winning note.
Attendance is down …or are they just telling the truth now about the attendance? No offense, but there is no way they were telling the truth last summer about the crowds…
Considering the Texas Rangers have never averaged fewer than 25,866 fans per game since moving to the Ballpark, Sunday's crowd of 20,258 looked sparse for a weekend afternoon.
But it's right on course with the 22,667 the team is averaging this season. If that number holds, it would be the lowest average attendance for the team since 1986 (20,877).
Last season, the Rangers averaged 28,329 fans through the first 33 home games.
The low numbers may be a product of the economy, high gas prices, and the Rangers' recent history of poor performance, but new team president Nolan Ryan said the organization is doing the things necessary to get people in the building.
Ryan said the team is staying competitive in the American League despite fighting through challenges. But the dip in attendance has to be a chilling reality.
"I don't think you can really compare the attendance from last season at this point, because last year, we had New York in for a four-game series and we had Boston in twice," Ryan said. "So you really have to wait until you get the full season in before you can make comparisons like that."
While a team president often has to concentrate on attendance every day, Ryan said he is taking a more holistic approach to his new job.
"My focus isn't just on the business side of it, it's on the entire operation. But I think it's all tied together," Ryan said. "I think we have a good team, and I think we're working hard and playing hard, and that's the kind of team fans want to watch."
Sidney Ponson and Metallica in the same story! …
According to multiple club sources, the situation had been bubbling for days and came to a head in the last two days over a disagreement in Ponson's pitching schedule.
Ponson, who pitched on three days' rest (one less than normal) Wednesday, was told he'd get five days' rest before his next start, according to sources. He challenged the Rangers to release him.
The Rangers had asked Ponson (4-1, 3.88 ERA) to take an extra day of rest to keep Kevin Millwood on his normal four days' rest.
According to the sources, however, problems began to fester more than a week ago when the Rangers were in Tampa Bay.
The night before his start against the Rays, according to the sources, Ponson was seen late in the evening in the hotel bar. The next day, he lasted only five innings and allowed 12 hits in a 7-3 loss.
Club officials spoke with Ponson, 31, about comportment after the incident and reiterated the "one-strike" stance they took when they signed him in March. In essence, the club said it would cut ties if he had one behavioral issue.
By the time the Rangers made the announcement Friday afternoon, Ponson's locker had been cleaned out, and he'd left the clubhouse.
It's not the first time Ponson's behavior has caused a team to sever ties with him. In 2005, Baltimore released him a week after his second alcohol-related arrest in nine months. In 2004, Ponson spent 11 days in an Aruban jail for allegedly
assaulting a judge over an incident regarding Ponson's powerboat. Last year, an ineffective Ponson was released by Minnesota after just seven starts .
Also, while with Baltimore, Ponson was roughed up in an afternoon start at Yankee Stadium after leaving the club to attend a Metallica concert the night before.
"Everyone was familiar with his previous problems when we signed him," said club president Nolan Ryan, who also declined to discuss specific reasons behind the decision.
Here is a good email:
Big P1 and die hard Ranger fan who also happens to be a college baseball/draft writer for an online scouting/prospect ranking service, ProjectProspect.com. I just wanted to pass along some info about the Rangers first round pick that loyal readers of your blog may enjoy.
I reference a couple of previous PP.com (hehe, PP....anyway....) articles. One is a statistical look at the elite college bats in the draft: Here and one is a set of guidelines for judging college stats: Here .
Love the show, keep up the good work.
Josh Hamilton’s Dad calls radio show …
Anthony Henry to Free Safety, Ken Hamlin to Strong? …
Henry played safety his first three years of college and, in pre-draft interviews, Jacksonville told him he'd play safety. And when Cleveland eventually drafted him, the team basically said it would try him at corner, but that it would like him at safety as well.
"I think somewhere in my future I am going to play safety," Henry told me recently. "And if I did move, I would be OK."
The "if" seems almost unnecessary. The feeling at Valley Ranch is that the team can no longer pretend with Roy "Bambi" Williams, not in dime, not in nickel, maybe not at all. Nor are the Cowboys alone, as detailed in a recent dot.com offering by Clark Judge at cbssportsline. Four NFL GMs, anonymously of course, rated Roy's trade value. What they said was not jaw-droppingly damning but rather the usual critiques that were already circulating.
Can't cover. Needs scheme protection.
Praise also was sprinkled in, for his physical play and ability to make plays near
the line of scrimmage. I add this because balance is probably needed. The whole off-season has felt like one big, long bash session, and I even heard a few media types attribute this to you-know-who not being media friendly.
This does not matter. And if it does, it shouldn't.
This is not personal. By all accounts, Roy has good character and is a guy who does awesome things in the community. He just is clueless in coverage. Heck, two of the nicest guys on the team are Henry and Terence Newman, but the Cowboys still traded for Pacman.
Because Pacman gives them a better chance to actually win a playoff game in this lifetime. So does a flexible Henry.
Henry's experiment at safety is very much like adding Zach Thomas and re-signing T.O. It is all about doing whatever is necessary to finally reach the Super Bowl, regardless of egos and agendas.
Henry gets this. The day we talked he had been asked by the crowd if he felt at all crowded by Pacman and the two draft picks spent on cornerbacks.
"The more the better," he said. "Right now, I am still the starting corner. Whatever happens, if I get shuffled around, I will handle that when it comes.... I'm just going to go with the flow. If that is the best way for us to be successful and win a championship, then I am willing to do it."
Yes, Henry is a smart guy. He knows why, all of a sudden, after eight years in the league at cornerback, the Cowboys are tinkering with him playing safety. He is the answer to what everybody knows is a problem.
And a really, really good answer at that.
Ced Benson = Rocket Scientist ..
Bears running back Cedric Benson had nothing to say about his latest arrest on alcohol-related charges after being reached by phone Sunday evening. He did say the latest episode in his turbulent off-season will not prevent him from participating in organized team activities Monday.
There is considerable speculation that the Halas Hall appearance might be his last as a Bear.
Benson's football fate could be determined this week as facts are gathered pertaining to his Saturday morning arrest in Austin, Texas, on charges of driving while intoxicated. The arrest was the second in five weeks for the enigmatic running back; he was jailed on May 3 outside of Austin and charged with boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest.
Following the first incident, Benson adamantly maintained his innocence, saying he wasn't drunk and claiming officers from the Lower Colorado River Authority mistreated him.
Benson has kept his public comments about the latest misstep to a minimum, though he indicated he would make a statement Monday.
According to a police arrest affidavit obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, an Austin officer saw a silver BMW with Texas plates cross three lanes from the right lane and come to a quick stop Saturday. The driver, Benson, failed to signal, and when the car stopped, a pedestrian jumped out of the way, according to the affidavit.
Benson, who told police he had one mixed drink of vodka and 7UP, had a strong odor of alcohol, bloodshot and glassy eyes, and a talkative and cocky attitude, according to the affidavit. He was unable to keep his balance without swaying and staggered while he walked, the affidavit said.
Benson's lawyer, Sam Bassett, said his client had 2-3 alcoholic drinks but performed well on the field sobriety tests, which he said were video recorded and will exonerate Benson when made public.
WMAQ-Ch. 5 reported Sunday night in a blog on its Web site that Benson sent a text message to reporter Peggy Kusinski, who is on maternity leave, declaring, "I aced the field test, check the video."
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, astonished that Benson would put himself in another difficult position within weeks of the first incident, said the organization would delve into the matter more deeply on Monday. In May, Angelo said he had no intention of cutting Benson after his first arrest, but he never expressed those feelings while talking with reporters Saturday at the Bears Expo at Soldier Field.
The Bears were considering moving in another direction even before Benson's off-the-field issues. As the fourth overall pick in the 2005 draft, the former University of Texas star has failed to live up to expectations through his first three seasons, averaging a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 11 games last season after taking over as the starter for departed fan favorite Thomas Jones.
NHL ALL - Free Agent Team …
Tay and Weezer