That was quite a weekend in sports. For the first time since 1978, there is a Triple Crown winner in horse racing. The NBA Finals opened with two overtime games for the first time in history. UFC Fight Night 68 was exciting for people that like knockouts. Winners were crowned on the links and the track. The baseball season continued on and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals are tied at 1-1. It’s a good time to be a sports fan, but, with so much going on, it’s easy to miss something. That’s where the Daily Six Pack comes in, recapping what has happened and what could happen soon in the world of sports.
The King’s Court
For two games, LeBron James has completely outshined Stephen Curry. The Cavs return home to Cleveland with a split in Oakland with an overtime win and an overtime loss. The loss on Thursday night certainly could have gone either way. The same can be said about the win on Sunday. A lot of storylines are emerging in this series, so I’ll do the best I can to cover all of them.
For starters, the performance of LeBron should come as no surprise. He is the game’s best player and has all the motivation in the world to end Cleveland’s 51-year title drought. Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, there’s no doubt that he has to be the catalyst on offense. He didn’t shoot well and showed major signs of fatigue in Game 2, but still managed to rack up a triple-double with 39 points, 16 boards, and 11 assists. James played 50 minutes, so fatigue will be a factor moving forward, but he was more aggressive in asserting his physical dominance in this game. He went to the line 18 times and picked up 14 free points. The poor shooting performance is a concern, because it could mean some tired legs, but he’s still the best player on the floor and it shows.
Curry’s 5-of-23 shooting performance is a big problem. Spot-up shooters like Curry need to find a comfortable rhythm and he’s shooting the ball with a lot of hesitation. He’s overthinking open looks and they aren’t falling. He needs to come out of the gates hot in Game 3, otherwise this could turn into a major shooting slump. The nice thing about Curry’s post-game comments, in which he gave no credit to the defense of Matthew Dellavedova, is that he understands that it’s all on him. He’s hit plenty of contested shots. Not blaming anybody else or anything about the environment shows his maturity.
The biggest key for the Cavs has been the way that they have slowed down the Warriors. Golden State is not comfortable setting up in the half court at either end and they have been forced to do that for long stretches of this series. It seems unlikely that Golden State can speed up the series, so they will need to adjust to playing at a slower pace and work on being more efficient in the half court. They have to focus on forcing the Cavs to defend sideline-to-sideline. Curry may need to go to the rim a bit more than he is comfortable because it will force the Cavs to adjust if he starts getting easy buckets.
Game 3 on Tuesday night should be an incredible environment in Cleveland. How both teams react to the travel and the change of venue should be interesting.
One Team, One Goal(tender)?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a rather interesting position. After winning Game 2 under some strange circumstances, they head to Chicago for Game 3 as a big underdog. The goaltending situation is a bit of a mystery. Ben Bishop left Game 2 twice during the third period for an undisclosed reason. Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who has been more forthcoming than most coaches usually are, has been very quiet regarding the Game 3 starter. If Bishop is unable to go, 20-year-old backup Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was the winning goaltender in Game 3, will be called upon.
There are two elements to this developing situation. The first is that a 20-year-old netminder could make his first career Stanley Cup Finals start on the road. The second is that the Lightning players are going to rally around whichever guy is in net. It’s sort of the same theory that had people betting in the Cavs in the first game without Kyrie Irving. Teams tend to rally together when they face adversity, like the loss of a key player. If Bishop cannot start, that means that he will not be able to backup either, at least that would be the expectation. How Tampa Bay responds could decide the series.
As for the Blackhawks, they grabbed a split in Tampa, but could be taking a 2-0 lead home. They had a major push over the final 20 minutes and outshot Tampa Bay 10-2. The Blackhawks dictated the tempo in Game 1, but failed to do so early in Game 2. That will be their key on home ice. The star players seem to cancel each other out in this series, so Joel Quenneville’s ability to get the matchups he wants with his third and fourth lines on home ice could really make a big difference in the game.
American Pharoah Makes History
For the first time in 37 years, the horse racing world has a Triple Crown champion. American Pharoah went wire-to-wire in the Belmont Stakes after doing the same thing at the Preakness Stakes three weeks ago. The three-year-old colt pulled away down the stretch, leaving the field in his wake. It was a fitting end to see the Triple Crown drought end in dominating fashion.
Nobody deserved the win more than Bob Baffert, whose near misses with Real Quiet and Silver Charm were talked about ad nauseum leading up to the race. Pharoah’s time was the sixth-fastest at the Belmont and the second-fastest from a Triple Crown winner. Most Americans will go back to not caring about horse racing for another 47 weeks until the next round of contenders get in the box to start the Kentucky Derby. But nobody will forget the performance from American Pharoah during this year’s Triple Crown circuit.
Along with American Pharoah, some other champions were crowned this weekend. Stan Wawrinka beat Novak Djokovic in what Wawrinka called “the match of his life” at the French Open. Wawrinka dropped the first set 6-4 to Djokovic, but won the next three sets. Wawrinka’s performance was extremely impressive throughout the tournament. He also beat second-ranked Roger Federer in the quarterfinals and then knocked off Frenc favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in a very tough match in the semis. Wawrinka now has six singles titles in the last three years. On the women’s side, Serena Williams beat Lucie Safarova in three sets.
After a number of close calls, Martin Truex, Jr. finally reached paydirt with his win at Pocono on Sunday. He led 97 of the 160 laps and capped off another strong showing for Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson finished in the top three. Joey Logano (Ford) was the only non-Chevy driver to finish in the top five, as he continued his strong season.
David Lingmerth won at Muirfield Village in the Memorial, holding off Justin Rose in a playoff. The biggest story was the play of Tiger Woods, who made the cut with a 1-under score through 36 holes and then shot an 85 on Saturday. Woods shot 42 on the front nine and 43 on the back nine, including an 8 on the par-4 18th hole. He had six bogeys, one birdie, two doubles, and then the snowman. He rebounded to shoot an up-and-down 74 on Sunday, but it was another poor showing after barely making the cut.
Miguel Cotto had no issues for Daniel Geale to set up a huge fight this fall against Canelo Alvarez. Cotto won by fourth-round TKO in a fight that was never really much of a challenge.
UFC Fight Night 68 Recap
Seven of the 12 fights at UFC Fight Night 68 ended in the first round and only two fights required a decision from the judges. The big story was 44-year-old Dan Henderson, who beat Tim Boetsch just 28 seconds into round one. Perhaps the old man still has something left. He snapped a two-fight losing streak with the dominating win.
There were a lot of dominating wins on Saturday night in New Orleans. There were some very lopsided statistics, including Shawn Jordan’s 65-8 strike advantage in a second-round win over Derrick Lewis. Omari Akhmedov landed 16 strikes to Brian Ebersole’s three in a first-round victory. Thiago Tavares landed 114 strikes against Brian Ortega, yet still lost the fight via third-round knockout.
UFC 188 is coming up on Saturday and we’ll have a preview of that here at BangTheBook.
The Weekend That Was in MLB
We’ll start with what will happen on Monday, as Houston Astros top prospect Carlos Correa will make the jump to the Major Leagues to try and spark an offense that has tailed off a little bit. The Astros know that the AL West is there for the taking and they are doing everything they can to take it. They also promoted Double-A hurler Vincent Velasquez, who, like rotation mate Lance McCullers, was dominating at that level.
A fan was seriously injured at Fenway Park when a shard of broken bat went flying into the crowd. Tonya Carpenter lost a lot of blood and things sounded pretty touch-and-go on Friday night as medical personnel tended to her while she screamed in pain. The screams could be heard on the broadcast as silence descended around the ballpark. She is expected to make a full recovery, but you can bet that MLB will be taking an extended look at fan safety in light of this incident.
Jose Fernandez made his first rehab start for Single-A Jupitar on Saturday. His command was about where you would expect, but he threw three innings, threw strikes, and touched 99 on the gun. Early July is the expectation for one of the game’s top young arms to return to the bigs. At this point, the results don’t matter at all. All that matters is that he is healthy. The command will return, as it has with stars like Matt Harvey and Adam Wainwright.
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