Two more playoff results are in the books as the Cleveland Cavaliers took Game 1 against the Atlanta Hawks and the Tampa Bay Lightning took a 2-1 series lead over the New York Rangers with an overtime win in a 6-5 thriller. The Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial tees off on Thursday and we’re getting closer to the weekend and a lot of exciting things like UFC 187 and more NBA and NHL playoff action. It’s a good time to be alive and it’s a good time of the year to be a sports fan. Let’s look at the top stories from around the world of sports for May 21.
JR Smith filled it up on Wednesday night with 28 points, including an 8-of-12 performance from beyond the arc as the Cleveland Cavs drew first blood against the Atlanta Hawks in the first game of the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron James had 31 points, eight boards, and six assists on 12-of-26 shooting, but it was his late-game performance that gave Atlanta life. James began chucking up ill-advised shots and things got a little bit dicey for the Cavs, who let an 18-point lead get trimmed to four with one minute left.
A bad shooting performance from the Hawks was overshadowed by what appeared to be a serious knee injury suffered by DeMarre Carroll. Carroll was only 2-of-7 shooting with five points, but a hyperextended left knee looked like a series changer. Carroll is one of the players that can stretch the defense from the wing and his loss would be huge for the Hawks. They don’t really have depth at the small forward position.
Paul Millsap had a brutal game with a 3-of-11 performance and Jeff Teague took 24 shots. The Hawks looked overmatched for a good portion of the game, even though it was tied at half. David Blatt may or may not have made halftime adjustments, since it seems like LeBron James is the coach more often than not, but the Cavs took away home court and may have caught a break with Carroll going down.
Al Horford only pulled down one rebound and Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov had 21 combined boards. If the Cavs can dominate the board battle on the interior like that, it will be a rough series for the Hawks.
Lightning Strikes Six Times Again
After scoring six goals in a Game 2 victory over the New York Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning hit the magic number of six once again in a 6-5 overtime victory in Game 3. While neither team was happy with the defensive performance, a high-scoring affair like this absolutely favors the Lightning. They fell behind 2-0 less than 10 minutes into the game before Steven Stamkos stopped the bleeding with his fifth of the postseason.
Four goals, three by Tampa Bay, were scored in the span of seven minutes and 15 seconds in the second period. The Lightning and Rangers both blew two-goal leads in this game. Dan Boyle’s game-tying goal with 1:56 left set the stage for overtime, where Nikita Kucherov scored 3:33 into the period for the game winner.
This game can’t sit well with the Rangers. A game after allowing six goals, the Rangers allowed six more. Henrik Lundqvist has given up 12 goals in two games. The Rangers allowed 21 goals in their first 13 playoff games. The pace of this series is almost too fast for the Rangers, who usually have a speed advantage over the opposition. They have not filled passing or shooting lanes and have gotten caught up in the quickened pace. It’s rather surprising, all things considered, because the Rangers are a far more experienced team.
They need to slow things down in Game 4. This game was a toss-up, but this is not the type of game that has made them successful.
Mike Babcock Gets Paid
The Toronto Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres, and Detroit Red Wings were the final teams in contention for the services of Mike Babcock. Money talked, as Babcock agreed to an eight-year, $50M contract to be the highest paid coach in the NHL as the bench boss of the Maple Leafs. With the Red Wings, Babcock made 10 straight playoff appearances. The Maple Leafs have one playoff appearance in the last 10 years.
Babcock will be the fourth coach of the Leafs since the 2011-12 season. It’s likely that former Detroit Red Wing Brendan Shanahan, the team president of the Maple Leafs, had a lot to do with the hire. The Maple Leafs have to give up a third-round draft pick to the Red Wings as compensation for hiring Babcock, but that’s not a concern. This is the type of hire that can provide legitimacy to an organization that has become a laughing stock in recent years. The Maple Leafs are an Original Six team with a proud history and this is exactly the kind of home run hire they needed.
The Buffalo Sabres reportedly feel very slighted by Babcock, thinking that they had him signed, sealed, and delivered. That will add another dynamic to an already-heated rivalry between Buffalo and Toronto.
G-E-N-O, Geno, Geno, Geno!
Chan Gailey ruined any suspense entering the New York Jets season by announcing that Geno Smith would be the starting quarterback for the 2015 NFL season. There was a lot of speculation that recently-acquired quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick would be able to unseat Smith, who has had plenty of chances to nail down the job, but Gailey removed all doubt.
Media members were surprised by Gailey’s hard-line stance since rookie head coach Todd Bowles has been adamant about the need for Smith to compete for the job during training camp. He had a leg up on Fitzpatrick, but he would have to earn the position. So much for that.
For more thoughts on the New York Jets, check out the first of four season preview editions of The Gridiron Gambling Report, in which Adam Burke and Cole Ryan broke down the AFC East and AFC North.
Major League Baseball refuses to acknowledge the enormous umpiring epidemic facing the sport. In a way, they sort of addressed it by implementing replay, but balls and strikes continue to be a disaster. On Wednesday, a new sort of ump show took place. Bryce Harper was tossed by plate umpire Marvin Hudson, who took offense to something Harper said about a breaking ball that was below the zone. Harper said something to the umpire and was tossed.
Hitters have complained about balls and strikes since the inception of the game and Harper didn’t show up the umpire. He wasn’t demonstrative. Perhaps he said the wrong word (fans of Bull Durham know what I mean), but it’s ridiculous to see an umpire have such thin skin.
Harper does have a reputation for this type of thing and he was recently ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but nobody goes to baseball games to watch the umpire. Call the zone the right way and hitters won’t have a reason to complain.
Crowne-ing A Champion
The PGA Tour is in Houston, TX for the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial this weekend. Play was delayed two hours due to weather in the area. Adam Scott is hoping to defend his title at this event. Last season, Scott was victorious in a playoff over Jason Dufner. Nicholas Thompson and Freddie Jacobson tied for third, while five players tied for fifth with a score of 7-under.
This season’s field is lacking some of the biggest names. Rory McIlroy is taking a week off after his win at last weekend’s Wells Fargo Championship. Tiger Woods, Bubba Watson, and Phil Mickelson are all taking the weekend off. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed are in the field and are among the favorites to win, along with Adam Scott, the defending champ.
By the time most of you read this, the tournament will be underway, but Jordan Spieth is listed at 5/1 at Bovada.lv to be the winner. Zach Johnson is at 12/1, followed by Jimmie Walker at 16/1, Ryan Palmer 20/1, Chris Kirk and Paul Casey at 25/1, Adam Scott and Patrick Reed at 28/1.
We’re now less than a month away from the next major, the U.S. Open, at Chambers Bay in Washington.
Join us every weekday for the Daily Six Pack, covering six of the top stories from the sports world.