It may not be a long weekend like Memorial Day weekend will be, but there is a lot to be excited about this weekend. There is at least one Game 7 in the NBA playoffs with the potential for one more if the Memphis Grizzlies can beat the Golden State Warriors on Friday night. The 140th Preakness Stakes will happen on Saturday night just after 6 p.m. ET. Another UFC Fight Night event overseas is on tap for Saturday night as well. With the start of the conference finals in the NHL playoffs and another NASCAR race, sports fans will have plenty to keep them busy this weekend.
Cavs Eliminate Bulls
It wasn’t pretty, at all, but the Cleveland Cavaliers got rid of the Chicago Bulls with a 94-73 win. The game was ugly all around as Nikota Mirotic clotheslined Iman Shumpert in the second quarter and Kyrie Irving spent his time on the floor limping around with a knee injury to add to the foot problem that he has had throughout most of his career. The fact that the Cavs led by 14 at halftime given Irving’s injury and a cold night from LeBron James was a sign of what this series became for the Chicago Bulls.
The Bulls completely quit in the second half, perhaps signaling the end for Tom Thibodeau. Thibodeau was outcoached by rookie head coach David Blatt and never adjusted late in the series. The Bulls scored 42 points over the final three quarters of the game. Given that LeBron James only had 15 points, though he was one rebound short of a triple-double, the Bulls should have been in this game, at the very least. Matthew Dellavedova had 19 off the bench for the Cavs. Jimmy Butler had 20 to lead the Bulls.
Pau Gasol was a non-factor as the Bulls struggled to get the ball inside and really failed to maximize their possessions. The Bulls committed just seven turnovers, but shot 37.5 percent from the floor and 4-of-20 from deep.
The big story will be about the Cavs moving on, but the bigger long-term story is Tom Thibodeau’s job security. The players and Thibodeau were at odds earlier during the season after Thibodeau publicly called out the defensive efforts of his players. Winning seemed to cure those problems temporarily, but they will come up again now that the season is over. Don’t be surprised if Thibodeau is fired.
Rockets Roar Back
The Los Angeles Clippers should be embarrassed. With the series-clinching game in hand on their home floor, the Clippers blew a 19-point lead in the third quarter. Not only that, but they lost the game by 12 points. Houston’s 119-107 win was the end result of a 51-20 run that began late in the third quarter and basically continued until the final buzzer. The Clippers made four shots from the floor in the fourth quarter and they were outscored 40-15.
Doc Rivers is now on the verge of history as being the first coach in NBA history to blow multiple 3-1 series leads. It’s hard to fault Rivers for his team’s performance because no coach would ever tell his team to take their foot off the gas. It was one of the few instances in the series where the Rockets really pushed the issue. The fact that they scored 119 points with James Harden going 5-of-20 from the field was really impressive. Corey Brewer had 19 and 10 off the bench and was clearly the catalyst for the comeback. DeAndre Jordan only had six free throw attempts, so the Rockets abandoned the Hack-A-DeAndre style of play that probably held them back more than anything during the series.
The Rockets held a 15-4 edge on the offensive glass and pulled down 60 rebounds overall. They wanted it more and they got it. Now, the Clippers are forced to return to Houston for Game 7 after one of the most demoralizing losses in recent playoff history. Expect an inflated line for this game given the psyche of the Clippers.
NHL Conference Finals
The New York Rangers host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. For more in-depth analysis, check out our game preview. A game preview on Game 1 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks will be posted later this afternoon.
The Rangers are back in the conference finals for the second time in three seasons and are looking for consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances for the first time since the 1931-32 and 1932-33 seasons. The last team to make consecutive Stanley Cup Finals appearances was the 2007-08 and 2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins faced the Detroit Red Wings in both finals. It’s actually not as rare as you might think. The New Jersey Devils did it in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 and the Dallas Stars did it in 1998-99 and 1999-00. The Rangers lost to the Los Angeles Kings in last season’s finals. The last team to win consecutive Stanley Cups is the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping to return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003-04, when they won the Stanley Cup over the Calgary Flames. Brad Richards, who, ironically, will be playing for the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals, was the MVP of the playoffs that year.
The Anaheim Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007 and are looking for their first return trip to the finals since. The Ducks were a tough luck loser in 2003, when Jean-Sebastien Giguere was the fifth MVP to be selected from the losing team in NHL history. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and 2013.
Tulo Will Not Go
Unless the Rockies want him to. Troy Tulowitzki has decided not to ask for a trade from the Colorado Rockies after meeting with his agent. Tulowitzki cited the relationships with his teammates as a prime reason why he does not want to ask for a trade, though he left the door open if his employer would like to trade him. There are a lot of financial concerns for any Tulowitzki deal and the Rockies would have a sky-high asking price.
The Rockies responded to Tulo’s desire to stay by coming from behind to break an 11-game losing streak with a win over the Dodgers on Thursday night.
140th Preakness Stakes
The horse racing world will descend on Pimlico Race Course for the second leg of the Triple Crown. It’s a very small field this year with just eight horses in the running. Eighteen horses ran in the Kentucky Derby. American Pharoah is an overwhelming favorite out of post #1. Firing Line and Dortmund, another horse trained by Bob Baffert, are the only two expected to give American Pharoah a challenge.
More insight, analysis, and the race odds can be found in our Preakness preview.
A Treat for NASCAR Fans
The NASCAR circuit takes a break from Sprint Cup Series races for a weekend in order to celebrate its drivers. The Sprint Showdown is coming up on Monday night from Charlotte Motor Speedway. On Saturday night, the sport’s best will race under the lights for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race. Clint Bowyer won the 40-lap showdown last season after leading 19 laps. AJ Allmendinger finished second and led 18 laps. The Showdown is an opportunity to put some other drivers in the spotlight, as none of the big names were in action.
Jamie McMurray was the winner in last season’s 90-lap All-Star Race and led 31 laps. Kasey Kahne led 20 laps but finished 14th. Carl Edwards led 18 laps from the pole position, but took home a fifth-place finish.
This event is unique in that two drivers will qualify for the All-Star Race based on their performance in the Sprint Showdown and another will be added via a fan vote.
Kevin Harvick is a 7/2 favorite for the All-Star Race. Jimmie Johnson is next at 5/1. Joey Logano checks in as the third favorite at 13/2. Brad Keselowski and Kurt Busch are next at 7/1. In this short 90-lap race, it’s hard to take anybody outside of the top six or eight spots at the starting gate.
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