What a night of sports! There was a lot of exciting Major League Baseball action, but the night was definitely highlighted by two outstanding playoff games. The Golden State Warriors emerged victorious with a 110-106 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference Finals, but that game paled in comparison to Game 2 of the NHL Western Conference Finals with a triple overtime thriller. Sit down and enjoy a Six Pack with me as we get through the middle of the work week together.
Curry vs. Harden Part One
The matchup between Steph Curry and James Harden lived up to its billing in Game 1. Harden was one assist shy of a triple-double and Curry dropped 34 points to lead his team to a 1-0 series lead. The Warriors trailed by 16 in the first half and still managed to lead going into halftime. Steve Kerr has done a phenomenal job of adjusting on the fly this season and that’s precisely what he did in the first half. The Warriors went small and closed the first half with a 21-4 run that completely flipped the script of the game.
Kerr initially liked the idea of going big to try and gain an advantage on the interior against the smallest Rockets lineup, but Kerr quickly adjusted. It takes a special coach to admit that he was wrong so quickly into a game and the fact that Kerr has set his ego aside for the betterment of the team at numerous points this season is a big part of the reason why the Warriors are here and are the favorites to win the NBA title.
Kevin McHale didn’t adjust throughout the game and allowed Harden to try and take over, especially after Dwight Howard went down with a knee injury. McHale discussed “playing big” after the game, pending the status of Harden, but that’s not going to work against the up-tempo Warriors.
On the flip side, the Rockets didn’t play all that well and still managed to lose by just four points. Of course, when you consider that they were outscored by 20 from early in the second quarter on, it’s probably safe to say that the Warriors are the better team in this series. The Rockets have dropped all five meetings against the Warriors this season, though this was their first loss by less than 10 points.
Eastern Conference Finals Begin Tonight
The Cleveland Cavs and Atlanta Hawks take the floor tonight for Game 1 of their highly-anticipated series. Like the Western Conference, the #1 and #2 seeds remain standing, though it’s a lot less surprising in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks and Cavs have been the conference’s two best teams since basically December. Injuries have created adversity for both teams to overcome throughout the playoffs.
The Hawks are in much better shape entering this series. The Cavs are without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving appears to be playing at somewhere at 65 to 70 percent with foot and ankle problems. The strength of the Hawks defense is the way that they play on the perimeter. The Cavs have gotten big lifts from Iman Shumpert and JR Smith in the playoffs, so the Hawks will have to be cognizant of those two while trying to stop LeBron James and Kyrie Irving from penetrating the middle. If Irving is lacking that first step quickness, the Cavs could have some trouble getting inside unless James does it himself.
On the other hand, the Hawks need a lot from Paul Millsap and Al Horford on the interior and the Cavs have gotten much better interior defense ever since Timofey Mozgov was acquired. Tristan Thompson has been a strong rebounder this postseason in the absence of Love. There are a lot of layers to this series and a lot of great individual matchups.
The Cavs are favored to win the series, by a large margin, but they are a slight underdog in Game 1. Cole Ryan had plenty more on this series in his Wednesday edition of Betting the Buckets.
Blackhawks Even Series
What an understatement that headline is. The Chicago Blackhawks evened up the series with the Anaheim Ducks with Marcus Kruger’s goal in the third overtime period. The Blackhawks jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead on first period power play goals by Andrew Shaw and Marian Hossa. They went over 100 game minutes without scoring again. It was Kruger’s late third-period penalty that put a scare into the Blackhawks, but he more than made up for it at 16:12 of the sixth period.
Corey Perry scored with 2:30 left in the second period and then nobody scored over the next three period. It was a brutal night for fans of both teams, who spent a lot of time with elevated blood pressures and minor heart attacks. The Ducks hit several posts, but could not get another puck past Corey Crawford, who stopped 60 shots in the game. Frederik Andersen was beaten by the 56th shot that he faced.
He was actually beaten by a head shot in the second overtime when Andrew Shaw used his noggin to propel the puck into the net. The goal was correctly disallowed on replay review, but Shaw and the header have been viral this morning.
Obviously it was a disappointing loss for the Ducks, who squandered a chance to take a big 2-0 lead in the series, but there is one major silver lining. The Blackhawks are without Michal Rozsival, who suffered a broken ankle last series against Minnesota. Prior to Rozsival’s injury, the Blackhawks were basically rolling five defensemen. With David Rundblad or Kyle Cumiskey in, the Blackhawks are basically rolling four defensemen. Every Ducks defenseman played at least 28:54 of ice time. Kimmo Timonen played just 16:45 for the Blackhawks and Kyle Cumiskey played 18:34. The top four defensemen for the Hawks played 47:35 (Hjalmarsson), 49:51 (Keith), 47:46 (Seabrook), and 46:06 (Oduya). That has to be a growing concern for Joel Quenneville. With the long travel from Chicago to Anaheim in this series and only one day off in between games, this is a big concern for Chicago.
Bryce Harper continues to treat Major League pitching like a video game. Harper went 1-for-4 with a home run and has a .737 SLG this season. Harper has 10 home runs in May and a .400/.520/.983 SLG. That’s a 290 wRC+, which means that Harper has been almost 200 percent better than an average Major Leaguer this month. This level of talent has always been there, but Harper is finally having the breakout season that people have been waiting for. Regression is coming, only because numbers like that are impossible to maintain, but he’ll be an MVP candidate if he stays healthy.
With an 8-1 lead and a 2-0 count on Pedro Alvarez, Ricky Nolasco just wanted to throw a strike. He threw one. And Alvarez hit it 461 feet into the Allegheny River.
"I'M ON A BOAT!" - Pedro Álvarez's home run ball probably. This blast was #JustRidiculous https://t.co/TF0AUpK2Re
— 120 Sports (@120Sports) May 20, 2015
Yordano Ventura finally got it going with seven shutout innings as he outpitched Johnny Cueto in interleague action against the Cincinnati Reds. Games are over with a lead after six against the Kansas City Royals and Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis went six up, six down to finish the shutout.
Tanks For Nothin’!
What a great line from Caddyshack. It also applies to the New York Knicks, who tanked their way to a 17-65 record this past season. With the second-best odds in the NBA Draft Lottery, the Knicks actually pick fourth in the upcoming NBA Draft. The Minnesota Timberwolves, who were the league’s worst team at 16-66 will now add the first overall pick to their collection of young talent like Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. The Los Angeles Lakers pick second.
Karl-Anthony Towns from Kentucky is the favorite to be taken first overall, with Jahlil Okafor from Duke to go next and then D’Angelo Russell from Ohio State to finish out the top three. The NBA Draft is on June 25 at the Barclays Center. The Timberwolves will have three straight first overall picks, if they don’t trade this one, thanks to the Kevin Love trade with the Cavs that netted them Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.
Extra Extra Points
The NFL has decided to push the line back to the 15-yard-line for extra points and teams will still have the option to go for two from the two-yard line. Kickers have hit almost 93 percent of their field goal tries from 33 yards out. Extra points are made over 99 percent of the time. Balls are live on these point after touchdown attempts and can be returned for two points.
The rule change only applies to the 2015 season, but it was approved by a 30-2 vote, so it would be a surprise to see it changed back for the 2016 season.
The concern I see with it is that the NFL is obviously not worried about head injuries. Two-point conversions are often ugly and just another chance for a player to get his bell rung. It’s an extra snap that doesn’t need to happen. The gamesmanship is one thing, but the growing concern about head injuries has been swept under the rug. It will make for some more exciting finishes and whatnot, but it’s at the expense of player health. That’s a shame.