We turn the page from the weekend to the work week on this Monday morning, but it’s never too early in the day to crack open a Six Pack and check out the top stories from around the sports world. This past weekend was an entertaining one for sports with the start of the NHL conference finals and the conclusion of the NBA second round. American Pharoah is one step closer to the Triple Crown and stars of their respective sports were on display in NASCAR and on the links. Let’s recap the weekend and look ahead in today’s Six Pack.
James Harden and the Houston Rockets advanced to the NBA Western Conference Finals by beating the “exhausted” Los Angeles Clippers 113-100 in Game 7. The Rockets became just the ninth team in NBA history to erase a 3-1 deficit and advance. It’s the first time since the 2006 NBA playoffs that a team rattled off three straight to move on in seven games.
Resiliency has been the theme of the Houston Rockets season. Only three players were healthy for at least 72 games for Houston during the regular season. Dwight Howard was limited to 41 games. Terrence Jones suited up 33 times. Patrick Beverley played 56 games. In this series, James Harden shook off the flu to help his team into the second round. Harden had 31 to push Houston to the conference finals for the first time since 1997. The Rockets are a big underdog against the Golden State Warriors, but anything can happen at this point.
For basketball purists, this was not a very good series. There were a ton of free throw attempts and a lot of bad basketball. The Clippers were eventually done in by their lack of depth, which prevented them from closing out Game 6 and kept them from putting together a good effort in Game 7. Doc Rivers became the first NBA coach to lose twice in a series in which his team had a 3-1 series lead.
Looking ahead, the Rockets will have a very tough task against the Golden State Warriors. This series took a lot out of them physically and mentally. The Warriors are favored by double digits in Game 1.
American Pharoah went wire-to-wire in the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes at saturated Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, MD. Rain, wind, and thunder put the race at risk, but American Pharoah was undeterred. Jockey Victor Espinoza guided the colt to a seven-length victory over a field that never really challenged in the mud. Tale of Verve was a very surprising second place finisher, paying $19 to place and $8.80 to show. Divining Rod finished third.
Dortmund, trainer Bob Baffert’s other horse, struggled with the wet conditions according to jockey Martin Garcia. Firing Line, who was supposed to be the other challenger to American Pharoah could not recover from a stumble at the gate.
Fourteen horses have won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978. American Pharoah is the 14th. The other thirteen have come up short. Smarty Jones finished second in the 2004 Belmont for the most recent close call. Real Quiet and Silver Charm were on the cusp in 1998 and 1997, respectively, but neither could finish the job.
All eyes are on now on the June 6 Belmont Stakes.
Loria Strikes Again
Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria does not have a good reputation in baseball circles. After the Marlins were no-hit for 8.2 innings by Shelby Miller on Sunday, Marlins manager Mike Redmond was told to clean out his office. After a lot of speculation throughout the day on Sunday, the Marlins have settled on GM Dan Jennings to manage the club on an interim basis. Jennings has zero managerial experience, unless you count a brief stint as a high school manager in the late 1980s.
Loria will have a very hard time finding a manager. Since 2003, he has fired Jeff Torborg, Fredi Gonzalez, Joe Girardi, Ozzie Guillen, and now Redmond. Loria is still paying Guillen to not be the manager. This is a toxic job and everybody around the league knows it.
Major League Baseball will launch an investigation into the Marlins because it appears that they failed to satisfy the “Selig Rule”, which is a lot like the NFL’s “Rooney Rule”. The Marlins hired a Caucasian manager and clearly did not take the time to interview, or even consider, a minority manager. The Milwaukee Brewers appeared to violate this provision with the hiring of Craig Counsell after Ron Roenicke was fired earlier this month, but nothing ever came of it.
This whole situation is a giant mess and it’s going to have a negative impact on the Marlins. Jennings has past experience as a scout, but he won’t command much respect in the clubhouse. This could be a very bad situation, even if MLB does not levy fines or penalties for violating the Selig Rule.
NHL Conference Finals Begin
The New York Rangers and Anaheim Ducks both held serve at home in Game 1 of their respective series. The Rangers were 2-1 victors on Saturday afternoon and the Ducks won 4-1 on Sunday afternoon. For the Rangers, it was their 15th consecutive one-goal game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They are 9-6 in those games and have won seven of them by a 2-1 score.
The Rangers and Lightning played a pretty even game, though there seemed to be a good amount of complacency for both teams. It was like the two teams were feeling each other out. Dominic Moore’s third period tally held up as the game winner, but there were some positives for the Lightning. Ben Bishop played very well and the Lightning power play stayed hot with another goal.
As for the Western Conference series, the Chicago Blackhawks had a hard time getting one past Frederik Andersen in a 4-1 loss. The game hung in the balance in the third period. After Brad Richards scored late in the second period to make it a 2-1 game, the Blackhawks had back-to-back power plays early in the third period, but failed to score on either one of them. Nate Thompson scored less than five minutes after the second power play of the period expired and Jakob Silfverberg added an empty netter to seal the deal.
Andersen stopped 16 shots in the first period to set the tone for the game and stopped 32 shots overall. The Blackhawks have a lot of experience in these situations and should bounce back in Game 2.
It’s Rory’s World and We’re Just Living In It
Rory McIlroy won the Wells Fargo Championship by seven shots in Charlotte, NC over the weekend. The tournament record at Quail Hollow was 16-under. McIlroy obliterated that score by the end of his third round and put some good measure on it with a 3-under 69 on Sunday. Rory fired a 61 on Saturday. It was the 11th PGA Tour win for McIlroy and it was definitely one to savor. His first PGA Tour win came at Quail Hollow back in 2010.
Golf fans can thank the FedEx Cup for McIlroy’s historic performance. The world’s top golfer nearly skipped this event, but decided that he needed to take a chance to accumulate points in the standings. McIlroy cited his recent travels as the reason why he nearly skipped the event, but now he can consider some time off before the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay next month.
Patrick Rodgers and Webb Simpson finished in a tie for second, while Gary Woodland, Phil Mickelson, and Robert Streb tied for 12th. The PGA Tour moves to Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, TX for the Crowne Plaza Invitational this week. Adam Scott will try to defend his crown.
NASCAR Stars on Display
It was a big weekend in Charlotte. With the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow and the NASCAR All-Star Weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, hotel prices had to be astronomical. Greg Biffle was the winner of Friday night’s Sprint Showdown, leading 20 of the 40 laps. Clint Bowyer had a strong showing in second place with 17 laps led.
The win qualified Biffle for the Sprint All-Star Race, which was won by Denny Hamlin. Hamlin had the pole and also took the checkered flag after leading 26 of the 110 laps. Kevin Harvick didn’t lead any laps, but finished second. Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five. Biffle finished 13th. Fan vote winner Danica Patrick finished 20th out of 20 cars and was the only driver not to finish the race. She left after 78 laps.
The drivers will enjoy a week off in the Charlotte area before next Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Jimmie Johnson started with the pole last year and led 164 laps en route to the win. Kevin Harvick was second.
Join us every weekday for the Daily Six Pack, covering six of the top stories from the sports world.