Friday, June 13, 2008

Last Day Before Vacation

I should probably lead with a picture of the Celtics, but I would rather offer some Larry David. Note to ABC: Rather than introducing the same 12 tired celebrities at every Lakers game, how about a little love for one of the most influential television personalities of the last 15 years?

The Lakers Title Run appears to have ended

The Lakers didn't choke.

They blew the NBA Finals without making a sound.

They botched their entire season while standing still.

They lost a 24-point lead -- the biggest collapse in the NBA Finals in at least 37 years -- by staring dreamily into the hardened eyes of a Boston Celtics team that angrily shoved them into next fall.

Choke? On Thursday night in front of a Staples Center crowd whose early cheers lapsed into a stunned and horrified silence, the Celtics' 97-91 victory was more like a smote.

The Lakers led by 21 points after the first quarter, the biggest first-quarter lead in NBA Finals history.

The Lakers led by 20 points midway through the third quarter, an insurmountable margin for a team playing at home and possessing the MVP.

And, yeah, they lost by six.

They gave the game away, but not before one of them walked away.

You know how Los Angeles fans are famously criticized for leaving games early.

Add Kobe Bryant to their list.

He walked off the court with three seconds remaining as the Lakers were bringing up the ball for a final shot.

It was a most egregious act for a most valuable player.

Meltdowns everywhere.

Even the NBA stat folks melted down, as they have no detailed records of Finals games before 1971, thus this can only officially be the biggest collapse in 37 years.

Unofficially, though, it also probably gives the Celtics the championship, as the Lakers now trail three games to one, an historically insurmountable Finals deficit.

When asked afterward how his team was going to recover from this loss, Bryant said, "Lot of wine, lot of beer, lot of shots, like 20 of them."

That quote would have been a lot funnier if Bryant hadn't actually taken 19 shots in the game, and made just six of them.

"Some turnaround in that ballgame," said Coach Phil Jackson. "The air went out of that building."

No air, no understanding, all the gasps from all the blank-faced fans wandering into the parking lot contained the same word.


It was a question posed in a quiet Lakers locker room to Vladimir Radmanovic, who sat in a chair rubbing his eyes.

"I'm sorry, I have no explanation for what happened tonight," he said.


It was a question posed to Sasha Vujacic, standing across the room in a white T-shirt with his wet hair hanging in his ashen face.

In a play that typified the Celtics' comeback, he was beaten one-on-one to the basket by aging Ray Allen.

The play occurred with 16 seconds remaining and the Celtics leading by three.

Allen simply ran past Vujacic and, untouched, laid the ball in the basket to clinch the victory.

While Vujacic sat on the bench during the ensuing timeout, a Lakers employee attempted to comfort him, but Vujacic angrily knocked the employee's hand off his shoulder.

Then he buried his head into a towel and looked -- like many Staples Center fans looked -- as if he wanted to cry.


"He got me," Vujacic said. "He just beat me to the basket. I was afraid to foul him. He just got me."

In the final quarter-and-a-half, the Lakers seemed afraid of plenty of things, mostly success.

Lamar Odom, who scored 13 first-quarter points to lead them to that huge lead, scored just two in the fourth quarter, and was beaten badly by the Celtics' Kevin Garnett.

Pau Gasol, who also started fast, scored just four fourth-quarter points, and combined with Odom on just two fourth-quarter rebounds.

The Lakers essentially ran to a big lead amid the glitter of a dancing Justin Timberlake and preening Will Smith, then stood around in hopes that their own leading man would save them.

But Bryant, who had stood around while the Lakers garnered that lead, tried to turn it on too late.

Give the Celtics their due

You came away from Thursday night's historic Game 4 more than ready to draw conclusions, because the record-setting rally uncorked by the Boston Celtics in this 97-91 triumph amounts to a call-the-champagne-guy comeback.

Surely you won't disagree that we just saw a virtual series clincher.

It's the unavoidable conclusion when a 24-point lead -- at home -- isn't enough for No. 24.

The 24th Finals game of Kobe Bryant's career had the Celtics trailing by 20 points halfway through the third quarter, unable until 4:07 remained in the game to snatch their first lead and then showing their steel from there by refusing to give it back ... all while Bryant could finish with only a measly 17 points on 6-for-19 shooting.

"Some turnaround in that ballgame," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, not quite believing what he had just seen. "The air went out of that building."

Indeed. All of Lakerland -- as well as those countless know-it-alls like me who picked L.A. to win the so-called Rivalry Revisited -- has to see it now.

If Lamar Odom's near-perfect start, Boston losing yet another starter to injury (Kendrick Perkins joining Rajon Rondo on the sidelines) and that huge scoreboard edge couldn't add up to a W, it's pretty much official that the MVP trophy Kobe needed 12 seasons to win will be remembered as his only hardware in 2007-08.

If the Lakers can't hold a 70-50 lead in a must-win game -- in a building where they were 9-0 in these playoffs -- how are they going to drag themselves out of a 3-1 hole?

Which has never been done in Finals history.

I suppose you could counter with a reminder that the Celtics just pulled off their own Finals first. The largest recorded comeback in championship series history before this one, since they began keeping such stats in 1970-71, was Houston's rally from 20 points down to Orlando in 1995's Game 1.

Yet it's a serious reach to suggest that now it's the Lakers' turn to do something we've never seen.

Paul Pierce, after all, has been the best go-to guy in this series. Which is to say better than Bryant, no matter how many of us billed these Finals as some sort victory lap for the MVP.

Pierce out-closed the game's foremost closer again by asking to switch onto Kobe defensively for the second half, helping to prevent the explosion we all expected after Bryant failed to register a first-half field goal. Boston's team scheme is just too good for Bryant to turn it on, especially after he failed to find a rhythm while Odom and all those role players were getting off early.

"People will look at his offense," Boston coach Doc Rivers said of Pierce's 20 points and seven assists, "but I thought we won the game because Paul was a tremendous defensive player tonight."

Two more killer factors: L.A. was outscored, 31-15, in the worst of its four successive third-quarter outages ... and Boston has clearly stolen the Lakers' comeback mojo.

The Lakers erased deficits of 20 and 17 here to stun San Antonio in Games 1 and 5 of the Western Conference finals at Staples, but it looks now as though the assist they got from the schedule-makers -- with such a short turnaround between rounds for the Spurs and no more than one day off between games -- was bigger than we knew. In this series, L.A.'s furious rally from its own 24-point deficit in Game 2 at Boston fell agonizingly just short, followed up by Lakers sinking to new levels of despair with this collapse.

"We just wet the bed," Kobe said. "A nice big one, too. One of the ones you can't put a towel over. It was terrible."

US Open begins with the big group trying to find a groove …and not having much luck…

A day that began with the glamour threesome of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott — the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 players in the world — ended with the 608th-ranked Streelman and the 722nd-ranked Hicks leading the United States Open.

This should come as no surprise. Longtime United States Open watchers are accustomed to what played out on the firm, fast Torrey Pines layout in the first round.
Streelman, playing in his first United States Open, and Hicks, playing in his
second, are the latest stars in an old Open story line titled “Unknowns Lead Open.”

An appealing story line it is, complete with twists of fate, hope and luck. Hicks, 33
, is a Nationwide Tour player who has played on so many minitours he has trouble remembering them all. Often mistaken for a San Diego club professional with the same name, Hicks has had a life complicated by a series of identity foul-ups that nearly prevented him from playing an event he had entered because the other Justin Hicks was playing in an opposite tour event on the same dates.

He got into this field by surviving a playoff in the sectional qualifier at Columbus, Ohio, two weeks ago — 11 players, 7 spots available. He birdied the first playoff hole with a 15-footer. Was he shocked to now be holding the lead by one stroke over the PGA Tour winners Rocco Mediate, Stuart Appleby, Geoff Ogilvy and Eric Axley?

“Hopefully not too surprised,” he said. “I thought it was a pretty good round. I guess, you know, certainly I’m not shocked, but a little bit surprised at the thought of it, at the top of the leader board currently.”

It started with the top three players in golf battling the course and one another to a relative standoff — 71 for Mickelson, 72 for Woods and 73 for Scott. With thousands lining the fairways and encircling the greens, filling every available line of sight at Torrey Pines, there were a few flashes of the transcendent brilliance of which Woods is capable. But he was not himself, and it showed from the beginning.

He hit a pull hook that bounced off a tree into a bad lie in the primary rough on his first tee shot. A pitch out into the fairway, a wedge that took one bounce and hopped into the heavy stuff behind the green, and he was en route to a two-putt double.

“It’s just a terrible way to start,” said Woods, who hit just 6 fairways and 11 greens in his first round of competitive golf since the Masters. “It’s one thing to hit the ball left off the first tee, that’s fine, pitch out. But the wedge shot, I had all the room short of the hole and I fly it past the hole. That’s just a terrible mistake.”

Woods flashed some of the old stuff with a birdie at No. 4, hitting his approach from a fairway bunker 209 yards to 4 feet from the hole.

Prepare for Primetime Golf

Should make for a marvelous Father's Day nightcap.

Prime-time golf on KXAS/Channel 5.

The U.S. Open Championship at Torrey Pines.

Sit in your North Texas living room Sunday and watch the final group walk up No. 18. That image should roll cross your TV screen about 7:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m., San Diego time).

How about Tiger vs. Lefty?

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will be paired for the first two rounds. Talk about television ratings off the charts if they're still together and last off the tee Sunday.

Any TV exec would gladly trade in an SUV tankful of gas for a chance at that prime-time ender.

"The later we go into the evening, the more diverse an audience we'll have," NBC Sports producer Tommy Roy said, referring to the prime-time dynamic in which the casual fans will join up with the diehards.

"We need to keep in mind that we're speaking to an audience that may need a few more things explained to them."

Analyst Johnny Miller vows not to change his routine.

"I try to explain [golf] so that anybody can understand," Miller said. "I don't just assume that somebody out there knows a lean-and-squeeze, upshoot fade."

Phew. For a minute there, I thought we were going to be quizzed on this stuff.
Late golf, long holes: Channel 5 is scheduled for 16 hours of high-def U.S. Open coverage: 2-4 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3-9 p.m. Saturday and 2-8 p.m. Sunday.

"It's the longest course in U.S. Open history -- 7,643 yards," Miller said. "That's 379 yards longer than the next closest, which was Winged Foot, site of the '06 Open. That's almost a crazy amount of distance."

The Par 4s at Torrey Pines are "massive," prompting course reporter Mark Rolfing to target the middle- to long-irons as a key to taming this seaside beast.

The greens (especially on 3, 4 and 14) offer cliff hazards. If you miss on these, you can roll downhill ... a long way.

The rough isn't bad. "But with the course playing 7,643 yards," said Miller, "if you had the Winged Foot rough, it would be a blood bath."

As it is, Miller predicts the winner will be at 4 under par -- maybe lower.

The Rangers face a struggling Mets team at Shea this weekend, and If I were a betting man, I would bet the New York Media may enjoy a discussion or two with Milton Bradley….Bradley discussed his attempted transformation yesterday

"It's amazing when you actually meet somebody how different they become," Bradley said.

He heard the comments on a clubhouse TV as he watched video of previous at-bats while serving as the designated hitter.

"Get to know me," he said. "Ask me some questions. But the stuff you're talking about is not called for."

Royals TV announcers Ryan Lefebvre and Frank White spent a few minutes comparing Bradley, who leads the American League in batting, to teammate Josh Hamilton, a recovering drug and alcohol addict who leads the AL in home runs and the majors in RBIs.

White, who played 18 years with the Royals, asked whether Hamilton's feel-good story was balanced out by Bradley but didn't elaborate. Lefebvre, son of former big league player and manager Jim Lefebvre, said Hamilton would be a good role model for Bradley and that Bradley has refused to allow fans to embrace him like they have Hamilton.

Bradley came to the Rangers last winter with a history of on-field and off-field incidents that included suspensions and scrapes with the law. He wasn't physically ready for opening day, still healing from off-season knee surgery necessitated when he was tackled by Bud Black, his manager in San Diego, after being ejected from a game; the umpire in question was suspended for using obscene language during the argument.

As a Ranger, Bradley has displayed intensity and emotion during games – endorsed recently by Washington – and has been ejected from two games.

"I've done some things that could be construed as violent or temperamental, but I've never physically harmed anyone," he said. "I think it's a pretty amazing story that I'm having this kind of year right now. That goes by the wayside because of my reputation."

Wednesday night's excursion wasn't his first attempt this year to seek an audience with announcers. Bradley said he met with Rangers TV broadcasters Josh Lewin and Tom Grieve during spring training to discuss on-air comments made about him while Bradley was playing for Oakland.

"I let him know that I knew what he had said and left it at that, and now we're cool," Bradley said to a small group of media members, referring to Lewin, who nodded in agreement.

"I've got no problem with that," Lewin said afterward. "We told him we'd work to win his trust."

Daniels just happened to be outside the visitors' clubhouse after Wednesday night's game and saw Bradley climbing the stairs toward the booth. He caught up to Bradley, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, in the press box and accompanied him back to the clubhouse after Bradley was told by Royals personnel that the announcers weren't available.

Daniels said he doesn't want players seeking out media members after games and noted that Bradley used no foul language or aggressive behavior while he observed him. He said he isn't worried about Bradley, who appeared near tears after returning to the clubhouse and said to no one in particular that he wondered if he is strong enough to handle what he considers unfair criticism.

Hamilton said Thursday that he didn't appreciate Lefebvre's on-air suggestion that Hamilton be a role model for Bradley.

"Nobody needs to try to be like anybody else," said Hamilton, who has participated in some Bible studies with Bradley. "You need to be your own person. It would be different if Milton has done something wrong, but guys are just going on what happened in the past. He's the spark plug of this team when it comes to firing guys up."

Bradley said he can't be "cookie-cutter perfect" as a player. He said two of his teammates with the Los Angeles Dodgers, J.D. Drew and Shawn Green, were often criticized in the media for not displaying much emotion.

"I just get tired of people choosing to talk about negativity," he said. "I'm extremely complex. I'm not easy to understand."

Ovechkin cleans up at award night – like he did all season

Washington Capitals star forward Alexander Ovechkin made history on Thursday night.

Ovechkin won both the Lester B. Pearson Award (NHL Players' Association's most outstanding player) and Hart Trophy (MVP) at the NHL awards show in Toronto to up his total to four major awards. He earlier was awarded the Maurice Richard Trophy (league leader in goals scored) and Art Ross Trophy (league leader in points scored).

It's the first time in history a player has won all four major awards in one season.

"It's all about my team. They give me a lot, and my coach gives me a lot of ice time," Ovechkin said shortly after winning the Hart. "I am very happy and thanks to the Capitals and to the fans."

Ovechkin shredded the competition with great regularity this season. He ripped home 65 goals and led the league with 112 points. He led all players in power-play goals (22) and game-winning goals (11) during the regular season. His 65 goals were a single-season NHL record for goals by a left-winger and the most by an NHL player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96.

Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jarome Iginla of the Calgary Flames were the other nominees for both awards.

For the sixth time in the last seven seasons, the James Norris Memorial Trophy was awarded to Detroit Red Wings captain Nick Lidstrom.

Lidstrom scored 10 goals and added 60 assists during the regular season for the Stanley Cup champions, and added another three goals and 10 assists in the Wings' 22 playoff games.

Calgary's Dion Phaneuf and Boston's Zdeno Chara were fellow nominees.

The sentimental choice for coach of the year came through to win the Jack Adams Award. Washington's Bruce Boudreau had been a career minor-league coach before being handed the Capitals job early in the season. Boudreau replaced Glen Hanlon on Nov. 22 with the Capitals last in the Eastern Conference. He righted the ship with a 37-17-7 mark the rest of the way and Washington captured the Southeast Division title in the season's final game. Boudreau beat out Guy Carbonneau of the Montreal Canadiens and Mike Babcock of the Stanley Cup-winning Red Wings.

"I can't forget to thank my wife," Boudreau said near the end of his acceptance speech to a roomful of laughs. "But my wife and our four children have followed us everywhere, and in those minor-league towns, I've played and coached in a lot of them, you need a strong woman behind you if you're going to remain a coach."

The Calder Memorial Trophy, for rookie of the year, went to Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, who beat out teammate Jonathan Toews and Washington's Nicklas Backstrom.

"(Blackhawks GM) Dale (Tallon), thanks for picking me last year. I know it was a gutsy move picking a (five-foot-nine), 160-pound guy first overall, but I appreciate it. . . . It looks like we have the Hawks going again," said Kane who had 21 goals and 51 assists in 82 games this past season after being the No. 1 pick in the 2007 NHL entry draft.

The top goalie in the league this season is New Jersey Devils stopper Martin Brodeur.

"It's a great honour. The older you get and you see these young guys come up and dominate and it's still nice to be able to compete with these guys," said the Vezina Trophy winner.

San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov and Henrik Lundqvist were runners-up.

Meantime, Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk won two awards - the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, given to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability, and the Frank J. Selke Trophy, given to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.

"I wanted to make my speech longer, but my English is short," Datsyuk said with a laugh after accepting the award.

The Wings' Henrik Zetterberg and Devils forward John Madden were the other nominees for the Selke award, while Jason Pominville of the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa's Martin St. Louis were also up for the Lady Byng.

Sharks get a coach from Detroit

The San Jose Sharks named former Detroit Red Wings assistant Todd McLellan their new head coach on Thursday.

McLellan, who was assistant to Red Wings coach Mike Babcock the past three years, was formally introduced as the seventh coach in San Jose history during a press conference at HP Pavilion. He agreed to a three-year deal with the Sharks.

"Todd McLellan has an excellent track record and has had success at every level of coaching in his career," said Wilson. "He comes from one of the top organizations in all of sports and has been exposed to some of the brightest hockey minds in the game including Jim Devallano, Ken Holland, Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock, along with Jacques Lemaire, to name just a few. We feel that Todd is an excellent fit for our hockey team."

Before joining the current Stanley Cup champion Red Wings, the 40-year-old McLellan spent four seasons as head coach of the Houston Aeros in the American Hockey League. He led the Aeros to the 2003 Calder Cup championship. The Aeros went 154-111-37-18 under his watch.

"It's a very good feeling," said McLellan in a statement released by the team Wednesday night. "From the first moment Doug called to the moment he offered the job, I felt comfortable. I think the Sharks have done a tremendous job. You don't get that close to 50 wins for a number of years in a row without a lot of talent. It's a matter of getting over the hump. There are some real parallels between the Wings and the Sharks."

In honor of Summer Bash, here is Lazer from 2006’s Summer Bash…

Halen 88 is really mad – Cheer up, your next bandwagon team starts in a few months!


Jay said...

Cheer up Halen 88. There's always next year! Um trade ya Josh Howard for Gasol straight up! I can't believe the Laker's lost that game. Another playoff choke that helps put a little more distance btwn the Mavs choking in '06. SPPPPOOOOORRRTTTTSSSSS!!!!!!!!

Mithrandiryod said...

Man....Halen......what a sore loser. Oh well......
YAY for sports.

developdaly said...

Thought you might want to take a look at some of the pictures from Summer Bash: