For those loyal readers who were too busy reading our plethora of recent content to delve into my recent editorial, I apologize for our lack of presence over the past month and a half. Unfortunately, the school year intensifies toward the end, and it didn’t help that a good portion of the sports world had its most intense month as well. We missed a lot. So, before we turn our backs on May and June and look to the summer (baseball season) it would be a good idea to do a quick and dirty debriefing on what happened in the past month. If you took the last month off like we did, here you go. You’re welcome.
The NBA Finals
It was the matchup everybody expected, just maybe not the result everybody expected. It was crazy to think before Game 5 of the Finals that just a couple weeks earlier the Golden State Warriors were on the verge of being ousted by the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. At this time the Warriors held a 3-1 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers and were looking to close out the Championship at home and hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second time in as many years. Nobody was giving LeBron and Cleveland a shot. But, the Cavaliers got some help from Draymond Green’s one-game suspension, fought the odds and came out victors to trim the Warriors’ lead to 3-2. Green’s suspension and the lackluster effort by the Warriors to close it out at Roaracle might have been the pre-dagger in the Warriors’ hopes because the Cavs came back to Cleveland rejuvenated for Game 6 and handled business to send the Finals back to Oakland for a decisive Game 7, something the Finals hadn’t had in a while. At this point, no game had actually been that close, none within 10 points, but after 6 evenly-split games the Cavs and Warriors both had 610 points. On a large-scale paper view the series was very even but no one was even sure what kind of Game 7 we’d get; were the Warriors ready to dominate at home or had the pressure gotten to them and was LeBron finally going to bring Cleveland back to the Promised Land? The question remained unanswered for a while, as Game 7 turned out to be the game everyone had been waiting for. I am not the biggest basketball fan in the world. I enjoy watching NCAA basketball more than the NBA and most of this series I didn’t pay especially close attention, but with the surrounding storylines and play of the game, it was one of the best basketball games I’ve ever witnessed. My hometown team, the Knicks, suck (although D-Rose should make things worth watching), so I didn’t have a real rooting interest besides the fact that I was pulling for Cleveland because of all their sports hardships. With 10 minutes left in the Fourth Quarter my heart was pounding hard and this wasn’t any team that I cared very much about. It was an absolutely gripping finish which ultimately ended with the fairytale ending and view that the Cavs had when they assembled their Big 3 of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Although it didn’t always look like the three had the best of chemistry during the season they delivered when it mattered most: Love played fantastic full shotclock defense on Steph Curry with less than five minutes left, Irving hit the game-winning 3-point jumper right over Curry with under a minute to go and LeBron had a sensational, inspiring block of Andre Iguodala that is now just a running highlight of Mike Breen screaming “oh! Blocked by James!” And, oh yeah, LeBron sealed the game with a clutch freethrow to make it a two-possession game with seconds left after it looked like he broke his wrist. In unbelievable fashion LeBron had delivered good on his promise and ended Cleveland’s suffering. It was a truly inspiring moment that every sports fan should appreciate.
The Stanley Cup Final
One might compare the Pittsburgh Penguins to the New York Giants in a sense that the team really wasn’t doing much for a portion of the season and they got hot at the right time. Both teams were able to ride that momentum all the way to championships, as Pittsburgh dispatched of the Rangers, Capitals, Lightning and Sharks en route to their second championship in eight years and the Sidney Crosby era. This one went six games, with lots of fast-paced action and some spectacular goaltending, but ultimately this was Pittsburgh’s series from the get-go. They were the aggressor and if it weren’t for Sharks’ Goalie Martin Jones on certain occasions this series might have been over in five. That’s not to say it was a bad series, as both teams had their chances, but the Pens edged out the Sharks. While this missed opportunity leaves a large group of talented Sharks veterans ring-less for the moment, it really helps to cement Sidney Crosby’s legacy; for a while of the eight-year championship-less streak there was talk about if Crosby could really get it done after a handful of regular season successes and postseason blunders. For a team that was in disarray in early January a lot of credit is due to General Manager Jim Rutherford who showed former Coach Mike Johnston the door and gave the Mike Sullivan the keys to the car. Rutherford also brought in key pieces before and during the season such as the feared HBK (Hagelin, Bonino, Kessel) line, defensive pieces and ultimately the drafting of rookie star Goalie Matt Murray (see a previous article). This summer and upcoming NHL season will be very exciting and interesting because of the big names which have been tossed around as trade bait and free agent signings as well as the World Cup of Hockey which will take place in September, causing a slightly later start to the NHL Regular Season.
116th US Open
Joe Buck coined the nickname “Mr. Almost” for Dustin Johnson in the early rounds of the US Open at Oakmont. It didn’t last long. One of the best players formerly to never win a major, Johnson was able to pull out his first major victory with a spectacular fourth-round performance that will surely change his life and definitely catapult his career forward. Before this, DJ, as he’s affectionately known on tour, had come so close to winning that elusive major but had faltered on the biggest of stages. A few years ago at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits Johnson had a one stroke lead entering the final hole of the championship but bogeyed the hole which would’ve sent him to a three-way playoff. Hold it, though. Tournament officials told him as he walked off the course that he was assessed a two-stroke penalty for grounding his club in the bunker after he’d shown displeasure with one of his shots on the last hole. This kept him out of the playoff. Last year in the 115th US Open Johnson once again had it in his grasp when he had a putt to win it at Chambers Bay, missed it and then followed it up with a stunning choke by missing a five-footer that would’ve sent he and Jordan Spieth to a playoff round. But this year was not to be the year of the near miss. It was to be the year of DJ. His exquisite ball-striking and a level of nerve checking and composure previously unseen from Johnson allowed him to conquer a monster of a track in Oakmont to claim that oh-so-sweet first major. With this one under his belt and his ridiculous skill set, where he leads the PGA Tour in distance it’s hard to imagine him not winning a bunch of big tournaments in the future.
There was no repeat of American Pharaoh’s Triple Crown performance this year as the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes all featured different winners with Nyquist taking the first, Exaggerator winning the second and Creator pulling off a stunner in the Belmont. Many thought that Nyquist was a horse which could challenge for the Triple Crown, but after the near miss to Exaggerator in the Preakness the hopes were vanished. Hopefully we get to see another close bid for horseracing’s biggest prize next season. Until then, practice your bugles at home.
Copa America Centenario
In I guess what one would equate to the American Soccer Championships, Chile took home the big prize, defeating Argentina in penalty kicks on Sunday. It came on the heels on a missed attempt by Argentinian star and consensus best player in the world Lionel Messi. He and Argentina have come so close so many times in the big tournaments that this one really stung, so much so that after the match in his post-game interview he said that he may be done playing for the Argentinian National Team. It would really be a shame if he did retire from international play because he is just so good and if you are as big a star is he is you have to either deliver on the biggest stages or deal with the losses, move on and keep trying. The best player in the world doesn’t quit his national team at age 29 in his prime because he’s come up short too many times. Look above: if Dustin Johnson stopped playing the majors because he came up short so many times and couldn’t handle the pressure that would be ridiculous. His career would never be the same. As for the US, it’s hard to say exactly what we know coming out of this. They made it to the semifinals which is very good, especially in a tournament sporting the best teams in the Western Hemisphere, but the fashion in which they exited the tournament wasn’t promising. Yeah, they lost to Messi and World #1 ranked Argentina in the semis, but it wasn’t even a close game; it was a 4-0 rout where the US was out of it down 2-0 25 minutes in. In the Third Place game the US played World #3 Colombia tough but ultimately fell 1-0. So, it’s hard to judge this as a success or failure because they beat the teams they should but really didn’t push back against the world’s best. They have some young talent that will be promising if developed correctly in the next couple years before the 2018 World Cup in Qatar (not bribed at all).
For those of you who really like soccer, you should be watching EURO 2016, the European soccer championship which happens every four years in between the World Cup. Currently the tournament is about to begin the Quarterfinals with the perennials Germany and France leading the way while Poland, Portugal, Italy and Belgium join them along with the Cinderella stories Wales and Iceland. Of note are France, one of the favorites and the host nation, along with Italy who weren’t given much consideration coming in as they have one of their least talented lineups in sometime but have defied the critics and show no signs of slowing down after winning their group and taking out Spain in the Round of 16. Belgium is also a top contender and is one of the most talented teams remaining. This could be their breakthrough. Iceland had never been to a major tournament before. As if being there wasn’t enough, they finished second in their group and then took out the building atrocity that is the England National Team in the Round of 16. Wales, led by superstar Gareth Bale and a bunch of players no one has ever heard of has also defied the odds and made it to the quarters after knocking out Northern Ireland in the Rd. of 16. Yeah, they got the easy road to the Quarters, but not before winning Group B. There is a healthy mix of superpowers and unlikely contenders left in EURO 2016 which leaves potential for some great matchups.
If you’ve been in hibernation lately this should do you some good. If not, oh well. While there aren’t a ton of big US sporting events this summer besides the MLB season there is plenty to be covered such as the Open Championship, PGA Championship, finish of EURO 2016, Wimbledon, US Open Tennis and of course the debacle that is the 2016 Rio Olympics. Let’s not forget NBA and NHL Free Agency periods which will produce plenty of news as well as training camp and the lead up to the NFL season! It will be here sooner than you think!