Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Titles in the Balance

Well, it's official, men's college basketball is getting its much needed face lift.  While I'm actually more intrigued with the changes on the women's side (four 10-minute quarters, in-game music - could this be a test-run for the men's game?), I'm relieved that the NCAA didn't get crazy and reject the proposal.  Much more on this as we get closer to the season, but rejoice in the coming of change.  High-fives all around!


Today in the bag, I'm talking a stuff-to-the-brim sports Saturday, the Stanley Cup Final, and the NBA Finals.

Click below for the bag...

The weekend that was - 

If you're a sports fan (and, since you're reading this, I really hope you are), last Saturday made for one hell of a marathon of events.  From the French Open women's final in the morning to the Miguel Cotto fight in the evening, there was a non-stop smattering of content for your perusal.  I hope you took the opportunity to consume your fill, as it was an awesome day to couch surf - one that won't be matched for some time.
Serena's dominance lead off the day. From: CNN
In total, here's the full list of what I saw throughout the action packed day:

Sure, no basketball (that came Sunday), and there was no football (thank God), but you can't ask for much more from a random weekend in June.  I fired up the grill, poured myself a manhattan (or two), and divorced my mind of any notion of leaving the house.  I was blissfully lost in a wave of sporting fandom, with the only downside that it eventually had to end.
Even considering the opponent, Cotto looked real good on Saturday. From: Yahoo Sports
Probably the best of the day was saved for last.  While it wasn't much of a fight, Cotto's fourth round TKO of the Aussie Geale was wonderfully exciting.  Add to it the fact that we all may get the gift of a Cotto/Canelo super fight as a result, and I'm all about it.  Miguel seemed to be a completely different fighter with the great Freddie Roach at his back, and the knockout, while not surprising, was the most memorable single moment of the day (the Triple Crown didn't really do that much for me).

The Stanley Cup Final - 

Oh the Stanley Cup.  Best trophy in sports, most hotly contested prize in the athletic world, etc.  The final fight for the Cup is, routinely, the best single piece of action you'll see all summer, and the 2015 edition appears to be no different.  The Blackhawks and Lightning make for one hell of a final matchup, one that should make for appointment viewing for even the disengaged hockey fans out there.  A veteran Chicago team, still at the height of their power, against a youthful, explosive Tampa side ready to start their era of greatness; what more could you ask for?

Yet, even with that setup, I was a little concerned with the slow start to Game 1.  Despite a freakishly world-class goal from Tampa center Alex Killorn, both Tampa and Chicago seemed to be sitting on their heels as the minutes ticked by in the opener.  In retrospect, maybe this was just the opening round of a prize fight, with both combatants sizing the other up for heavier blows in later rounds.  The action certainly fired up in the third period, as the Blackhawks flipped the proverbial switch.  A stunning succession of goals turned Game 1 on its head, giving My 'Hawks a desperately needed 2-1 road win.  Grand Theft Hockey.
Your what hurts?  From: Deadspin.
That win, while giving Chicago an early grasp on home ice advantage, also meant that Tampa's collective back was up against the wall.  A second loss in the old St. Pete Times Forum would mean that the series would be all but wrapped up headed back to the Windy City.  The Lightning reacted accordingly, thrashing about in the opening minutes, and voraciously countering every Chicago body blow.  While the 'Hawks lead in shots and faceoffs won, Tampa held tight into the third when back-to-back boneheaded penalties by Chicago's Patrick Sharp opened the door enough for a go-ahead power play goal.  With over 11 minutes to play, however, the win was far from sealed, especially as Tampa's starting goalie - Denver's own Ben Bishop - surprisingly skated off the ice in the middle of the period, leaving 20-year old Andrei Vasilevskiy to pick up the pieces.  Like a good closer in baseball, though, the Russian proved up to the task, earning his team the 4-3 win and a desperately needed split in Florida.

Into yesterday's Game 3, the series was in the balance.  Whoever won would have home ice advantage, and a clear path to the trophy. Unfortunately for my rooting interests, that tilt is towards Tampa, as the Lightning stole away with a 3-2 win last night.  Cedric Paquette scored the winner with just over three minutes to play, and the 'Hawks never forged much of a response to the final horn.  Disappointing stuff, and Chicago certainly blew a fair number of chances, but that game proved, to me at least, that the series is in it for the long haul.

While I'm disappointed My Blackhawks have choked away the early advantage of a Game 1 win, the overall series has been fantastic.  Three games, all decided by one goal, make for intense, frenetic viewing.  I can't wait to see what's in store over the rest of the series.  First up, Game 4 on Wednesday; a 'better win' contest for Chicago.

The NBA Finals - 

Over in the NBA, the Finals are off to a roaring start.  Just as good as the race for the Cup in the NHL, the battle between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers has lived up to both hype and expectation.

It all started in Game 1, where the Cavs, behind a monster 44/8/6 night from LeBron James, managed to push the game to overtime.  But, that effort came with a cost.  Point guard Kyrie Irving, the youthful Robin to James' Batman, left the game late with what turned out to be a broken knee cap.  He's out for the rest of the playoffs, and the Cavs are, once again, left without any of their high-profile support for the King. Seemingly stunned by the loss of Kyrie, Cleveland slumped in overtime.  They wouldn't score a point until things were already way out of hand, and slid to a 108-100 loss.
LeBron just can't be stopped right now.
In the wake of the defeat, the narrative was of a series already over.  While I dreamed of the sweet irony if the Cavs would somehow find a way to win in Game 2, the assembled media made their pronouncement: dead team walking.  There was no way, the stories read, that Cleveland could win on the road with Irving out for the rest of the playoffs.  It would be a miracle, in fact, if the beleaguered Cavs could even muster a win against the steam-rolling Warriors.  Might as well start summer vacation early...

In the words of Lee Corso - NOT so fast, my friend!

Even without Irving, Kevin Love, et al, the Cavs played spirited basketball in a gritty Game 2 around the onrushing force of James. Golden State may want to reassess their policy of letting James score at will.  "They let me score 40 again."  Well, they almost did, 'Bron-bron.  While he 'only' finished with 39 (to go along with 16 boards and 11 assists, yet another triple-double in these playoffs) the world's best was allowed to do his thing again in the 95-93 victory, earning a road split for his injury-riddled club.  He needed every bit of it overcome the fact that his Cavs shot under 33% from the floor, the 2nd worst percentage in an NBA Finals win ever.
Well, if James can't be stopped, then...
Game 3 is this evening in Cleveland.  After what you saw on Sunday, can you really count the Cavs out? While I still consider Golden State a massive favorite to lift the Larry O'Brien trophy sometime over the next few weeks, I have been given pause. LeBron won't really be able to will a bunch of scrubs to a crown... will he?

Happy Tuesday!

No comments: