Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: ... and just think, summer hasn't even started yet!

Straight to the action today, as we all wind our way towards the true opening days of summer.

Today in the bag, I'm talking playoffs in three sports: the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Final, and Copa America Centenario.

Click below for the bag...

LeBron extends the NBA Finals with masterful performance - 

Lo and behold, the NBA Finals did not come to an abrupt conclusion Monday night, as the Cleveland Cavaliers pulled away from the Golden State Warriors for a 112-97 win in Game 5.  LeBron James was the lead story, dominating both play and the stat sheet throughout a triumphant 41/16/7/3/3 performance.  With Kyrie Irving at his side, who ripped any defender Golden State tried on him en route to 41 points of his own, there was no stopping the King and his Cavs, who staved off elimination for at least a few more days.  The series now stands at 3-2 GSW, headed back to Cleveland.
LeBron was unstoppable Monday night. From: ESPN
If you wanted to know what it would take for Cleveland to gain a foothold in this series, let it be known that it took a combination of LeBron and Kyrie playing out of their minds and a well-earned suspension for Golden State's Draymond Green to turn the tide.  There was clearly a different dynamic out there in Game 5, as Cleveland roared into Oracle and battled, almost unencumbered in the second half, towards a comfortable margin.  The narrative will, rightly, note that the Warriors were undermanned, and that it still took massive performances from the Cleve's brightest to secure victory, but kudos to those that step up in the moment with their backs against the wall.

As to that Green suspension, you can argue the point that LeBron is a crybaby, you can argue the point that Green's individual actions from Game 4 did not necessarily deserve a suspension on their own merit, but you cannot argue that Draymond's body of work over the course of the playoffs wasn't deserving of some kind of discipline.  Talk conspiracy all you want, with the NBA, and their partner networks, benefiting greatly from a revitalized and extended series, but Green deserved to sit for all the chaos he had created over the last month of action.  Hey, every great team needs a rabble-rouser, an instigator to take focus and physicality away from the key talent, and I'm not impugning what Dray brings to the table.  I'm just saying, there's only so many times you can go at people's junk before the people in charge begin to take notice.
Kyrie played the perfect accomplice in Game 5.  From: ESPN
Looking ahead, Game 6, back in Cleveland, is suddenly a very interesting proposition.  The series, up to this point, had been largely a dud, even with the clashes between Draymond Green et al.  Now, however, with James and Irving proving capable of winning in hostile territory, and Green's actions ramping up the personal animosity on the court, I'm actually excited to see what goes down Thursday night.  It really could be anything, from blowout victories in either direction, to an all out slugfest, with the ultimate result in the balance.  Alright, NBA, you have my full attention for the first time since the Western Finals.  Better make it count...

Penguins hoist Stanley Cup - 

As lackluster as most of the games have been in the NBA Finals, the recently completed Stanley Cup Final, between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks, was a cavalcade of intense action.  All six games were close, two were decided in overtime, and all were one goal contests at some point in the third period.  This, of course, is routine in hockey land, where their championship series nearly always lives up to the drama required of the stage, is played at reasonable hours from coast to coast, and provides all the drama you could ever want.  Why this country doesn't follow playoff hockey more is beyond me.
The Penguins skated last this season.  From: the SLC Trib
In the end, the Penguins prevailed, riding a 2-0 start to a 4-2 series win over the Sharks, who were making their first ever Final appearance.  The finale, a 3-1 win for Pittsburgh on Sunday night, was a nail-biter to the finish, with only an empty net goal providing the final, stress-releiving margin for the visiting Penguins.  The Sharks had their chances, including two power plays in the final frame, but just couldn't get much of anything on Pittsburgh's goalie, Matt Murray, who only needed to record 18 saves in the win (SJ only had two shots in the entirety of the 3rd period).  Penguins star Sidney Crosby recorded two assists and four shots on goal en route to winning the Conn Smythe.

It's an interesting result for Pittsburgh, who seemed to have been letting their Corsby-lead window slip by.  After a title in 2009, they had failed to return to the Cup Final in each of the next six seasons, despite some gaudy point totals, and weren't anyone's favorite to claim the Cup this season.  But they brought an exciting, fast-paced style with them into the series, and kept the pressure on the Sharks throughout.  It made for intense play, and a fun championship.  Worthy title holders, then, I'm happy to have been able to watch some of the action.

Team USA still alive at Copa America Centenario; Brazil, not so much - 

Shaking off an opening day 2-0 defeat at the hands of Colombia (a game where they struggled to keep any connection to the classier side from South America), the US Men's National Soccer Team claimed big wins over Costa Rica and Paraguay this past week to nab the top spot of Copa America's Group A.  It may not have been a convincing path, walloping a CONCACAF team on home soil before barely escaping a second-tier side from CONMEBOL, but it was a successful one, and the US has themselves in decent position for a deep run in this Frankenstein tournament.
Deuce and the Yanks advance.  From: Yahoo Sports.

There were some nervous moments in the action against Paraguay.  After claiming an early 1-0 lead, thanks to Clint Dempsey's first half goal, the team had to hold on late as two DeAndre Yedlin yellow cards in the span of a minute left them with only 10 men for the majority of the second frame. The defense, built around the heroic play of John Brooks, however, stood tall, and the lone goal proved to be enough to claim the victory and the group.  For their efforts, the Americans have been gifted with a face off against Ecuador in Seattle for their quarterfinal Thursday night.

For the heralded Brazilian National team, however, their tournament is already over thanks to a dubious goal allowed against Peru.  Needing only a draw to advance to the quarterfinals, they instead lost for the first time in 30 years to the lesser Peruvian squad, dropping a 1-0 decision on a hand-ball-aided goal.  The result sends them tumbling out of the competition, with nothing more to show for their efforts than a 3rd place finish in their group.  Indeed, así es el fútbol
Womp-womp.  From: the Guardian
Of course, the Brazil of the 2016 Copa was far from their best squad available, with stars like Neymar opting out of the competition.  Still, the reality of the early exit continues that hallowed national team's fall from grace, a slide that started with the famous home disaster against Germany in the 2014 World Cup. Simply, the seleção are no longer the juggernaut of old, with much of their reliable mystique broken.  They still have the Olympics this year to look forward to - a tournament on home soil, yet again - but the old order of international soccer may have been irreparably harmed over the last few years.

Happy Tuesday!

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