The Cleveland Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals with a blowout win over the Atlanta Hawks on Tuesday night. The New York Rangers forced Game 7 with a blowout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6. A day full of baseball and a major announcement from FIFA highlighted Tuesday night in sports. As we look ahead to Wednesday with a lot of day baseball and Western Conference Finals Day in the NHL and NBA, it’s time to crack a Six Pack and look at the day’s top stories.
King to Hold Court in Finals
For the fifth straight season, the Eastern Conference Finals representative will have LeBron James on its roster. Coincidence? I think not. The Cavs completed their second sweep of the postseason by eliminating the Atlanta Hawks with a 30-point blowout victory on Tuesday night. The Cavs were swept out of the 2007 NBA Finals by the San Antonio Spurs, their only other Finals appearance in franchise history.
The story has come full circle for James. The wunderkind from Akron, Ohio was drafted by the Cavs and became a beloved figure in the city until 2010 when “The Decision” tore out the hearts (and minds) of Cleveland fans. The city has not won a championship in the major sports since 1964. (The Cleveland Crunch won NPSL Indoor Soccer League titles in 1994, 1996, and 1999.) The Cleveland Gladiators, a fellow tenant at Quicken Loans Arena, played in the Arena Bowl last season and were destroyed.
When James left, fans burned his jersey and badmouthed the former King of Cleveland. He was welcomed back with open arms because the title-starved city would sell its soul for a taste of ultimate victory. The city now has its opportunity to erase 51 years of sports hardship and heartache. The Cavs will be an underdog to the Golden State Warriors (presumably) in the Finals. The fortunate thing is that they will have until June 4 to get healthy as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are clearly banged up. That is the earliest that the NBA Finals can start.
It’s hard to say that the Cavs have been challenged so far. Despite Atlanta’s 60-win regular season, the Cavaliers were unquestionably the best team in the Eastern Conference. Injuries to Thabo Sefolosha, DeMarre Carroll, and Kyle Korver played a role, but the Cavs were also without Kevin Love for the duration of the series and Kyrie Irving missed two games. LeBron James is the best player in the world and has a better supporting cast this time around, so the Cavs are hoping to bring a title to Cleveland.
FIFA Corruption Case Sends Shockwaves through Sports World
This is the first time that soccer has appeared in the Six Pack, due in large part to the fact that I don’t have a very good understanding of it. I do understand what corruption, bribery, and fraud are, however. Several FIFA officials, including vice presidents Jeffrey Webb and Eugenio Figueredo, as well as 12 others, have been indicted on charges of wire fraud, racketeering, and money laundering.
The interesting part about all of this is that the United States is leading the charge and law enforcement officials are hoping to extradite the FIFA officials to the U.S. for questioning and the trials. FIFA has often been considered one of the most corrupt governing bodies in all of sport and this set of charges, announced late Tuesday, definitely sent major ripples through the sports world.
The timing of this is rather surprising. Some of the charges center around the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which is certainly far away, but soccer is growing in popularity in the US and officials have chosen now to act upon their findings. CONCACAF is under heavy scrutiny and investigation in this set of charges, that includes bribes, kickbacks, and more.
Sepp Blatter, current president of FIFA, is up for re-election later this week and was a heavy favorite to be re-elected. That doesn’t seem to have changed, as a FIFA spokesman denied any involvement from Blatter. I admit to not knowing a lot about soccer, but I have a hard time believing that Blatter had no idea what was happening with some of his closest aides and officials.
In any event, we’re talking about millions of dollars and a couple decades of wrongdoing. This will be a landmark case.
Lightning Forced Back to Broadway
The New York Rangers are now 4-0 in elimination games after their 7-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 on Tuesday night. Derick Brassard had a five-point night, including a hat trick, and the Rangers chased Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay net in the third period as part of a five-goal barrage to put the game away.
To put into perspective what Tampa Bay has to contend with, Henrik Lundqvist won Game 7 at home over the Washington Capitals. Lundqvist has won 10 consecutive elimination games at home. He is 6-1 in Game 7’s, with a six-game winning streak. In those six wins, he has allowed five goals and has a .973 save percentage. That’s just incredible.
Tampa Bay had their chance. They were the NHL’s best home team during the season and failed to capitalize. The Rangers will be a sizable favorite in Game 7 on Friday night.
Warriors/Rockets Game 5
The flooding in Houston did not affect travel plans for Game 5 in Oakland, so both teams should be ready to go on Wednesday night. The Warriors lost by double digits in Game 4, but they had quite a bit of margin for error with a 3-0 series lead. The bigger concern was the health of Steph Curry, who seems fine after a terrifying fall over the back of Trevor Ariza.
The Warriors are a double-digit favorite in this game and should take care of business and head on to the NBA Finals. Unlike the Hawks/Cavs series, there is little chance of any sort of fracas in this game, so it could be a bit of a boring one to watch. The Rockets were completely gassed at the end of their series against the Los Angeles Clippers and it’s fair to wonder just what they have left.
If the Warriors win, their next game will be June 4 against the Cavs. If the Rockets win, Game 6 will be on Friday.
Byron Nelson Classic
For the second straight week, the PGA Tour is in Texas. After last week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational in Fort Worth, the players descend on Irving, TX and the TPC Four Seasons Resort for the AT&T Byron Nelson. Chris Kirk, the champion last week at the Crowne Plaza will not be participating this week. Rory McIlroy is playing in the Irish Open this week, so he is not playing. Neither are Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, and Tiger Woods.
Texas native Jordan Spieth, who has finished second in all three events in Texas this season, is hoping to grab his first win in his home state. Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, and Ian Poulter are all going to play, so there will still be a lot of upside in the field. Unknown Brendon Todd shot 14-under to win by two shots over Mike Weir and four shots over Charles Howell III and Marc Leishman, a popular pick for this season’s event. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar were among four golfers that tied for seventh at 8-under.
Spieth is the 9/2 favorite at Bovada, with Dustin Johnson at 11/1, Jason Day at 16/1, Brandt Snedeker, who had a fine showing last week, is next at 22/1. The experts’ pick, Marc Leishman, is listed at 30/1.
Emotional Uribe Traded
Juan Uribe was sad about being traded from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He cited teammates as the reason why, but going to the Atlanta Braves is a major step down in class. The Dodgers are a World Series contender with a $240 million payroll and a group of owners willing to spend whatever it takes to keep adding to the roster. Uribe was traded to the rebuilding Atlanta Braves on Tuesday night.
Alberto Callaspo nearly threw a wrench into the trade because he had the right to refuse since he was signed as a free agent before June 15. Callaspo did refuse initially, but common sense set in and Callaspo went to a team with a chance to win. The business of pro sports is often tough and it will be interesting to see how Uribe, widely regarded as an excellent teammate, fares with being in Atlanta.
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