Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Lakers Hang On

Mark Heisler calls the Lakers win one of the worst finals games ever

The NBA has had a lot of memorable nights but none like this . . . for which the league is eternally thankful.

This was the NBA's Lost Tuesday. In a game appropriate to the ugly controversy that blew in from disgraced referee Tim Donaghy's case earlier in the day, the Lakers beat the Celtics, 87-81, in the first mud-wrestling match held in lieu of a Finals game.

The Lakers led by 11 points early but saw the Celtics come back to take the lead midway through the third quarter, at which point Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom had combined to score no field goals.

Even with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett combining to miss 27 of their 35 shots, that was how close the Celtics came to taking a 3-0 lead and effectively ending this eagerly-awaited series on a grisly note.

Talk about your lost opportunities . . .

"Well, either that or they should have blown us out, one of the two," said Boston Coach Doc Rivers, laughing.

" . . . I look at it as the opposite of that. We had a chance to steal a game here when our guys were off."

On the bright side for the NBA, if it got through this night with this series still going and ABC hasn't canceled the contract, there's still hope.

How bad was it?

Veteran NBA writers -- Jack McCallum of Sports Illustrated and I -- ruled it the worst NBA Finals game in history.

However, McCallum did think there may have been some others that were close.

"Those games last spring between the Cavaliers and the Spurs weren't any classics," he said. "Of course, I don't remember much of what went on."

This was like a 100-yard dash between two caterpillars.

Bob Ryan calls it a blown chance for the C’s

This one screamed for tape delay. This was not exactly a great demonstration of the product.

The Lakers won it, but how happy can they be, needing all that huffing and puffing to put away a Celtics team on a night when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are shooting 8 for 35?

As for the Celtics, what a stinkbomb.

What else do you need to know? Oh, that's right, the score. It was Los Angeles 87, Boston 81, and what it means is that there will be a Game 5.

"It was not a beautiful ballgame," acknowledged Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who had no cause to say anything about the officiating after this one. "That's a transition game from East Coast to West Coast. Short rest period. There should have been a day off, probably, between the transition between coasts.

"But we'll have a day to catch up tomorrow, and, hopefully, both of us will play better basketball Thursday night."

It was one of those coulda/woulda games for the Celtics, who had gained at least moderate control of things during the third period, and were still leading by 2 at 68-66 with 7:59 to go. But it was not a shoulda game. No way anyone in the Celtics camp could possibly have the audacity to claim that they should have won this game.
One sequence encapsulated it all. After being down by 7 at 77-70, the Celtics had crawled back to a 2-point deficit, and were in possession of the ball with 2:17 to go when Eddie House - remember him? - missed a nice little 13-footer in the lane. OK, he's human. That wasn't the problem.

The problem was that at the other end, the Celtics committed a completely unforgivable sin. Sasha Vujacic had been the second-best LA player (no need to ask who was the best). He had already scored 17 points on 6-for-9 shooting. He had swished a pair of threes and a couple of very long twos, and he was the one man who simply could not be left alone on what was, quite simply, the single biggest defensive moment of the game for the Boston Celtics.

But he was left completely alone in the left corner, and he seized his moment, drilling a three that made it a 5-point game and enabled the Lakers to play from a comfort zone for the remainder of the contest.

Leaving him alone at that moment was absolutely criminal. You deserve no sympathy when you do something like that.

A strong case can be made that the Celtics blew a tremendous opportunity.
"Either that, or they should have blown us out," said Doc Rivers. "I thought our defense was pretty good, but our offense was not. Paul has a night like he had [2 for 14, and no jump shots], and Kevin had a game like he had [6 for 21], but we had a chance to steal the game."

Of course, to do that, you can't leave a great shooter having a hot night alone, but I think we've already covered that.

But Vujacic deserves his say. This may have been his seminal game as a Laker, and that big three was the killer basket in the game.

Tim Donaghy steals the night …with a Mavericks tie-in…

Was Game 3 of the 2008 NBA Finals held at the scene of a crime?

Disgraced ex-referee Tim Donaghy alleged as much Tuesday in a filing made by his attorney in U.S. District Court in New York, saying the highly controversial Game 6 of the Lakers-Kings playoff series in 2002 was impacted by the actions of two of the three referees who worked the game.

NBA commissioner David Stern vehemently denied the allegations, saying they are the desperate act of a convicted felon. He also disclosed that the league has already briefed members of the U.S. Congress on certain facets of the Donaghy investigation.
"We welcome scrutiny here. This is something that should be scrutinized," said Stern, who called Donaghy a "singing, cooperating witness" and repeatedly referred to him as a felon as he spoke with reporters for more than eight minutes near the loading dock of the Staples Center as he arrived for Game 3 of the Finals.

The allegations are some of the strongest ever made against the NBA, coming at a time when the officiating of this year's Finals between the Celtics and Lakers has come under heavy scrutiny.

In the letter submitted by Donaghy's attorney, the following "manipulation" is alleged:

"Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series. However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew referees A and F to be "company men," always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA's interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6. Personal fouls [resulting in obviously injured players] were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the referees. Conversely, the referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players. The referees' favoring of Team 6 led to that team's victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series."

Although no teams are specifically named, it is not hard to deduce the game in question. The Lakers-Kings series was the only one that postseason that went seven games, and the officiating in Game 6 was so questionable that consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader called for a formal investigation.

The Lakers attempted 40 free throws to the Kings' 25 in that game, and Los Angeles made 21-of-27 from the line while Sacramento converted 7-of-9 in the fourth quarter alone.

In addition, a foul was called against Mike Bibby of the Kings after he was shoved and elbowed by Kobe Bryant, denying the Kings an opportunity to try for a tying basket. Also in that game, Kings centers Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard fouled out, and Kings coach Rick Adelman was highly critical of the officiating afterward.

"My first thought [upon hearing Donaghy's allegation] was: I knew it," Pollard said Tuesday night. "I'm not going to say there was a conspiracy. I just think something wasn't right. It was unfair. We didn't have a chance to win that game."

The Lakers went on to win the 2002 NBA championship.

• The letter also alleges that during a 2005 Rockets-Mavericks playoff series, "Team 3 lost the first two games in the series and Team 3's Owner complained to NBA officials. Team 3's Owner alleged that referees were letting a Team 4 player get away with illegal screens. NBA Executive Y told Referee Supervisor Z that the referees for that game were to enforce the screening rules strictly against that Team 4 player. Referee Supervisor Z informed the referees about his instructions. As an alternate referee for that game, Tim also received these instructions."

Mavs owner Mark Cuban did in fact complain after his team lost the first two games of the series, and Dallas went on to beat Houston in seven games. Jeff Van Gundy, then the coach of the Rockets, said that an NBA official had told him about the league's plan to closely monitor moving screens by Yao Ming, and Van Gundy was ultimately fined $100,000 for his comments regarding the situation. Van Gundy later backed off his comments.

I was featured on the Rangers podcast with Jamey Newberg and Adam Morris – hosted by Ted Price – this week. Please check it out and see if I expose myself as not the expert the rest of the panel is….

Rangers steal Game 1 in KC

Ultimately, the Rangers had the last laugh.

They scored four unearned runs to tie the game in the eighth, and Ian Kinsler came home with another unearned run after a passed ball with two outs in the ninth to prevail 6-5 and move back to .500 at 33-33.

The winning rally -- on five unearned runs -- came after the Rangers spent the first seven innings committing mistakes that allowed the Royals to open a 5-1 lead.
"It lets us know to never give up," Kinsler said. "We battled all the way to the end. That's huge for a team, especially starting a road trip when you know you'll have to win some games from behind."

A two-out walk in the eighth to Michael Young appeared to be of little consequence after shortstop Michael Aviles fielded Josh Hamilton's grounder. But the throw was low to first baseman Mark Teahen, who snagged the ball but never controlled it.

The Rangers took advantage as the next five hitters reached base, a string that started with a two-run double by Milton Bradley. Chris Shelton, who entered with a .200 average against right-handed pitching, provided the game-tying hit with a single off righty Yasuhiko Yabuta (1-1).

Kinsler doubled to lead off the ninth and went to third on a groundout by Young. Hamilton then struck out on three pitches from Ramon Ramirez, and Bradley was walked intentionally.

That brought up David Murphy, and a 1-1 pitch from Ramirez got away from John Buck. Kinsler slid across just ahead of Buck's toss to Ramirez for the lead.

"If the ball got by him, I was going," Kinsler said. "There's really no thought
process sometimes. In that situation, a tie game and two outs, if he let one go, I was going."

C.J. Wilson got the first two outs in the ninth, but had to pitch around a single
and then an error on Shelton before striking Teahen out to end a game that started with the Rangers on the bad end of some gaffes.

They had two mistakes on the base paths and two in the field in the first six innings. Manager Ron Washington said only the questionable running by Gerald Laird and an error in right field by Bradley hurt.

That error aided the Royals' two-run sixth inning that built a 5-1 lead against Kevin Millwood. Josh Rupe, Eddie Guardado (1-1) and Wilson held the Royals in check the rest of the way.

And now, a trip inside my head.

I spent some time last night pondering another stellar start from CC Sabathia. CC shut down the Twins, 1-0

The only thing C.C. Sabathia did not beat Tuesday night was the sunset. He missed that by 11 minutes.

But he had little trouble setting down the Minnesota Twins as the Indians bested their Central Division rival, 1-0, in a compact 2 hours and 6 minutes. There was little to complain about during the shortest Tribe game of the season as Sabathia sent the Progressive Field crowd of 26,874 home happy and early.

"I knew it was pretty early because it was still light," said Sabathia, who had his second shutout of the season and third complete game. "I was thinking maybe I could catch the Laker game [in the NBA Finals]. I just found the zone on both sides of the plate."

The big man, who gave up five hits, was definitely in the zone down the stretch as he retired the last 17 batters. The Twins, who had not lost to the Indians by a 1-0 score since Sam McDowell beat them in May 1969, put their last man on base when Joe Mauer singled leading off the fourth.

Anyway, as I was watching him do his thing, I also recall reading several items about the idea that the Indians are going to trade him. Then, I recalled that the Rangers needed an ace. 2 was added to 2 and I wanted to imagine the amazing possibility of CC anchoring the Rangers rotation from August 2008 until 2013 with a nice 5 year $100 million extension after the trade (it isn’t my money).

CC is 27 years old, and most of the time, is flat out over-powering. I think he would set up the Rangers for contention for years to come.

So I asked Jamey Newberg what he thought a fictional trade between the two teams might cost:

maybe Andrus, Feliz, Kiker, and Madrigal?

In other words, Ranger prospects #1, #5, #7 (according to Baseball America) and Madrigal, who was the Angels #9 prospect when the Rangers snatched him away last fall. Wow. Not sure I want to do that deal, given that you could try to wow CC for no player compensation 2 months later when he href=> hits free agency . Of course then, you must deal with the Yankees in an off-season that will include the following front of the rotation pitchers:

AJ Burnett
Brad Penny
Ben Sheets
John Lackey

Here are some things I found about CC last night:
Ken Rosenthal

Here's an idea: C.C. Sabathia for Adam Dunn.

The Indians probably wouldn't do it, not even after Fausto Carmona returns in a month to restore their surplus of starting pitching.

But the concept — pitching rental for hitting rental — merits consideration for a Cleveland team that ranks first in the American League in rotation ERA but only 11th in runs per game.

Dunn, Pat Burrell, Bobby Abreu, Mark Teixeira — any of those potential free agents would lift the Indians' sagging offense. Teixeira, the only plus defender, is by far the most appealing. Then again, as badly as the Tribe is going, a little creativity might be required.

Dunn and Burrell would be difficult fits; neither can play right field, and their defensive shortcomings would partly offset their offensive contributions.

Teixeira would not be available unless the Braves were desperate for starting pitching and positioned to deal for a suitable replacement at first base.

Abreu? An interesting thought, considering that the acquisition of Sabathia would give the Yankees exclusive negotiating rights with the pitcher until he reached free agency. But the Indians surely would want more than a fading 34-year-old right fielder for a 28-year-old ace.

Second baseman Robinson Cano, 25, would be more intriguing, but the Yankees can control Cano through 2013 and would not trade him unless they received younger pieces such as left-hander Aaron Laffey and outfielder Ben Francisco in addition to Sabathia. For the Indians, who need young players to balance their payroll, such a deal would be self-defeating.

OK, what about Abreu to satisfy short-term objectives plus one or two of the Yankees' better young pitchers to satisfy long-term needs?

Such possibilities are worth exploring, at the very least.

Trading Sabathia for multiple prospects only would make sense if the Indians fell out of contention, which is unlikely in the surprisingly mediocre AL Central.

But keeping Sabathia, then losing him for draft picks, only would make sense if the Indians looked poised for a World Series run. At the moment, they hardly resemble that kind of a team.

The Indians could almost name their price if they were willing to move Sabathia before the July 31 non-waiver deadline.

Let their due diligence begin.

Yankees options

Though not obtaining Johan Santana continues to hover over the organization, the Yanks do not view the rotation as a major priority. Sure, they would love to add an ace. But the best starters that could be available -- Cleveland's C.C. Sabathia, Milwaukee's Ben Sheets and Toronto's A.J. Burnett -- are in their walk years. The Yanks will not give up big prospects for a rental (nor should they), and the health risks on all three are too great to do a trade-and-sign.

Chicago Sun Times

LHP C.C. Sabathia: This is how sad things have gotten for the Cleveland Indians, who once were considered favorites in the American League Central: They are letting teams know they will listen to offers for the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner if things don’t turn around quickly. Sabathia, 27, is 3-8 with a 4.81 ERA, but he had a 2.44 ERA in six starts in May. Suitors might have to settle for troubled right-hander Sidney Ponson, who was designated for assignment Friday, leaving the Texas Rangers without a fifth starter. Ponson, 31, was 4-1 with a 3.88 ERA, but recent outbursts on and off the field ended his stay under Nolan Ryan’s regime.

Nolan Ryan becoming more involved with the young pitchers

Ryan is said to be taking a very active role in his new position as Rangers club president, and sources indicate that he spoke to the pitchers throughout Texas' minor league system in an effort to re-emphasize the goal of throwing complete games. Ryan wants things back the way they were when men were men and pitchers finished what they started.

In today's game that's revolutionary talk. Rangers officials say they are very cognizant of Ryan's desires. But they also won't take chances with anyone's arm and will set complete games as a goal only for those pitchers that may be able to handle it. Rangers executives remain mindful that Ryan himself was a "freak of nature,'' and all in all are making sure "not to do anything crazy.''

Complete games are a noble goal. But the guess here is that their time may be gone. Too bad.

Matti Norstrom retires

Dallas Stars defenseman Mattias Norstrom officially announced his retirement Tuesday.
"Yes, I have retired," Norstrom said in a statement issued by the Stars. "This wasn't a rash decision by any means, and I am comfortable with it. I knew going into the season that this was the last year of my contract, and I didn't want to make a big distraction out of it.

"The last game of the Detroit series was my final game in the NHL."

Norstrom, 36, had only 13 points during the regular season but had five points (two goals, three assists) and a plus-five rating in Dallas' 18 playoff games despite having a sports hernia.

His inspired play generated some hope that he might return, but the 14-year veteran cited family as his primary reason for retiring. His family lived in Sweden while Norstrom was playing for the Stars.

"It's maybe giving up something I love for something I love more," Norstrom told the Star-Telegram last month."Family is first. That doesn't change."

Norstrom's retirement leaves the Stars with eight defensemen who played for them during the regular season and helps Dallas with the salary cap. He made $4.25 million last season.

Mike Heika ponders the blue-line

With the retirement of Mattias Norstrom, the Stars now have eight defensemen under contract. Yes, Matt Niskanen and Mark Fistric are on two-way deals, but they are NHL players now, so you have to count them. That just leaves Dan Jancevski as the swingman.

So how do you pair these guys if they are all healthy?

My guess is:

Matt Niskanen-Sergei Zubov
Nicklas Grossman-Stephane Robidas
Trevor Daley-Philippe Boucher

That would leave Mark Fistric as your seventh and Jancevski in the minors.

You could also try Grossman with Zubov and move Niskanen with Robidas or Boucher, or you could try Niskanen on his natural right side with Daley.

There is also the thought that they could trade a defensemen and either upgrade at the position or simply let the kids play. Any chance we could see:


with Jancevski as your seventh?

It's certainly something worth discussing.

My personal feeling is if they trade someone like Boucher, they need to get another D-man to replace him. Yes, you want Grossman, Niskanen and Fistric all playing, but you need depth on defense over a long season.

Pacific Bunk-mate Los Angeles fires Marc Crawford …And Ron Wilson takes the Toronto job…

So, with the Lakers' NBA Finals drama providing deep cover, the Kings quietly cut Crawford loose Tuesday, two years and one month after saying they liked his "juice," General Manager Dean Lombardi's description of the energy Crawford displayed during his job interview.

That juice soured quickly, even for the Kings. The 21st coach in their history lasted only two seasons and missed the playoffs both times.

Lombardi made the right move to fire him. He probably should never have hired Crawford, who had unlimited skill at his disposal in Colorado with Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg and Co. and couldn't get some solid Vancouver Canucks teams past the second round of the playoffs.

The Kings had more hope than skill and Crawford couldn't function under those circumstances, couldn't be patient with kids who were learning and making mistakes and needed a teacher more than they needed a screamer who demanded more than they were capable of delivering.

Greatest. Commercial. Ever.

Celtics Coolness


Lance said...

Hmm, so the Mavericks and Cuban clearly complain about the officiating more than just about anybody, yet Donaghy claims that they are a direct beneficiary of a fixed playoff series. I can't help but laugh at the incredible irony of it all. The NBA is rapidly turning into the WWE.

Chip's Moody Blues said...

Trying to make the leap right now and getting C.C. Sabathia in a trade is a mistake. This is a rebuilding ball club. In theory, rebuilding ball clubs do not strip their minor league system for a guy who could very well jet after the season (remember Carlos Lee), more or less sign a guy for $100 million.

If Jon Daniels and Co. want to do this right they must harvest their own talent first and begin to win with their own groceries that are already in the pantry before going shopping again.

Jay said...

Has Bob's blog digressed into a copy-and-paste story page? How 'bout some commentary? I can find sports stories in google. Love you Bob.