Sunday, June 29, 2008

June's Phenomenal Finishes

This month was filled with last minute, end-of-the-event drama and, quite simply, great games. Take a look at these, in no particular order -- other than the fact that Tiger's tournament takes out anyone else's performance in the psychological picture...

Tiger Woods

"Putt" it this way -- many mortals with a torn ACL don’t (or can’t) even walk. Woods waddled through a grueling four days of golf, and then took the US Open to extra innings with a Monday playoff where he survived after a lost lead. Oh – he also scampered to what he calls his greatest victory of all time with a double stress fracture in his tibia. The post-tournament surgery marked the end of his golf season. The win cemented his immortal status in sports history and downright ridiculous mental toughness. When he was told before the Open that he needed medical attention to his leg, he replied that he was going to play and he was going to win.

Boston Celtics

The C’s that played in Game 6 of the NBA Finals were the picture of perfection. They dominated with defense, offensive firepower, teamwork, energy, and focus. A thrill to watch and good for the game – defense (and offense) wins championships… and thank you to Randy Hill for his analysis. Finally, a writer who can actually breakdown a basketball game efficiently and with illuminating illustrations.

Fresno State

I don’t normally pay much attention to college baseball, but the Bulldogs deserve more attention than Shaq’s distasteful freestyle rhymes about Kobe and O'Neal's behind. Fresno St. won the CWS as the lowest seeded team in history to qualify. If they were playing in the NCAA basketball tournament, they would have been seeded 89th – so, not at all.

Rafa Nadal

Like his own blog, not much else to say at this point. He won the French and is well on his way to advancing in Wimbledon -- as long as his matches don't interfere with the Euro Cup times.

Ana Ivanovic

Good for her for dealing with the pressure of being No. 1 in the world (at least for two rounds). She shook off a horrible second go-of-it in Wimbledon and found a way to win despite her inconsistencies. Too bad she couldn’t maintain any momentum or good fortune in the next round.


I couldn’t take my eyes away from this one, partly because the soccer field looks magnificent in HD, but mostly because the match was incredible and ended in PK’s.


The encore of the aforementioned shootout culminated with a score in the last minute to clinch the triumph.

Chicago Bulls

It wasn’t a game on the court, but in the war room and in the weeks leading up to the draft. It became more evident the Bulls would take the homegrown Rose as the day drew nearer. With his drive to be great, team-oriented mindset, his ties to the Windy City, and his exceptional explosiveness and athletic ability for a point guard, the Bulls win, the Bulls win, the Bulls win!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Now Playing: Dominance

The parallels between Rafael Nadal’s thrashing of Roger Federer and the Boston Celtics assault on the LA Lakers made me wonder…what four factors account for dominance on the grandest stage?

A. Homing device – Nadal lost ZERO sets at the French Open this year. He also completed the second most lopsided French Open Championship ever, dropping only four games to the world No. 1 and a player who I always thought of as, well, a machine. Poor Roger met his match and appeared merely mortal on Rafa’s home, his beloved clay that seems to pump up his muscles, increase his speed, and supply the Spaniard with a unrivaled level of confidence. Meanwhile, the Celtics energy in the Garden is so stimulating that despite the blown 20+ lead, they still had enough to close out game two, thanks to great shooting and sharing of the ball. They shot over 50 percent and had 31 assists on 36 field goals.

B. Halting the run – As mentioned, the C’s were able to eradicate the biggest turnaround in NBA Finals history in the fourth quarter. They also squashed a Laker run mid-way through the game and then trounced LA with a blitzkrieg of their own. And Nadal, who was nearly perfect in the first set 6-1, was able to hold off Federer in the second set 6-3, just when it looked as though the Machine was getting into his regular rhythm.

C. Holding on to the ball – Simply put, Nadal recorded only 7 unforced errors. Federer had 35. And that helped Rafa cruise to a 6-0 third set victory. The Celtics’ primary ball-handlers totaled 24 assists (Rondo had 16) and just 7 turnovers. And Rondo did not have one turnover going into the final quarter.

D. Hitting the best where it counts – Not that 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant says he and his team are going to beat Boston and not that Federer has ever guaranteed his first French finish, but look out – maybe the motivation to beat the best in the game is what is necessary for near perfect play. Both Boston and Rafa played better this time around than the last, in energy and execution. The game two Celtics would have beaten the game one team while the ’08 Nadal would have taken out the ’07 version.

By the way, new No. 1 Ana Ivanovic’s performance in Saturday’s women’s French Final should also be highlighted. She was a different player this year than last, demonstrating focus, calmness, and skill as she won in straight sets. Her conclusion: she stayed in the moment instead of thinking about results.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Balanced in Boston

If the Boston Celtics do indeed sport one of the strongest defenses of all time, then they will win their first NBA Finals victory since 1986. History hovers on their court. As the saying goes, defense wins championships…but offense supplies teams with the content to win games to get to the championship. Yes, the C’s were the best defensive team during the 2007-08 season and rank third all-time in the category (Hollinger). However, they also crafted 66 regular season wins with the input of mostly understanding role players (trigger-happy Sammy wasn’t picked up until later) and three All-Stars, players that are virtually invincible when they are on top of their games.

The Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett 1-2 punch is one of the best tandems in the game. And the “truth” about this “big ticket” is their physical games are on the same level as their mental games. They stay focused and intense in their own ways, but each way is right for them. KG has taken much flack for being too intense all of the time (Sports Guy) and been tattered in the media as one who does not have enough game - or physical energy - to bring it when it matters most in the fourth. That’s ok, though, because he seems unflappable and, at least in Game 1 of the Finals, unstoppable…especially with Pierce nailing shots after a forced wheelchair knee scare and Ray Allen finding a consistent rhythm himself.

As long as Boston has those three clicking (they combined for 67 of the team’s 98 points), fans are well on their way to yet another sports parade in Beantown. Further, the crown defense challenged shots, managed Kobe for most of the game, and flustered the Lakers’ counterparts. Boston looked like a championship team with scoring opportunities developing from all angles – in transition off of makes and misses and in the half court. They applied just as much pressure on LA with their offense as their defense, and for the most part did not double the league MVP as much as one may have anticipated.

Why should Boston fans be fearful of the future? Pierce’s and Perkins’ physical conditions…more pressure to win on home court and the need to travel to the other coast with a 2-0 series lead…Kobe’s killer instinct (Sports Illustrated) and almost surefire ability to drop 40 in one or two of these contests (he was only 9 of 26 with some in-and-outs)…the Lakers only committed 8 turnovers while recording more team assists on a dismal perimeter shooting performance (3-14 from 3-point range) and they still shot 42% for the game…Kobe’s maturation and all-around abilities and, at this point in his career, so much separation from Lebron because of his mid-range game and understanding of the triangle offense.

By the way, reserved reserve Leon Powe, was the only player in the regular season top 50 to clock less than 15 minutes per game and still be included in Hollinger’s player ratings - #22 in fact! Efficiency is necessary for the title. If the Celtics can find a way to string together defensive stops and offensive runs as much as KG spurts “F-bombs”, they may have just enough to raise their 17th banner.

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