Like selecting a good microbrew, it’s hard to decide where to begin with everything that happened on Thursday night. It was a very busy night of sports to lead us into a busy weekend of sports with the Kentucky Derby and Mayweather/Pacquiao on Saturday along with a Game 7 of epic proportions in the NBA. Thursday night was a good warm-up with the NFL Draft, some surprising NBA outcomes, and a controversial NHL ending. Let’s look back at a busy night and look ahead to a busy weekend in the first Six Pack of May.
Bulls In A China Shop; Seventh Heaven
What the Chicago Bulls did to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night was probably illegal in at least 30 of the 50 U.S. states. This game must have been played in a slaughterhouse. The Bulls won 120-66 to set the second-largest margin of victory ever in an NBA playoff game. Back in 1956, Minnesota beat St. Louis 133-75 and this game fell short of that record by four points.
The win allowed Tom Thibodeau to empty the net and four reserves played at least 12 minutes. In 32 minutes or less, every Bulls starter was in double figures and the Bulls shot 51 percent from the floor overall and 50 percent from beyond the arc. The Bucks shot 33 percent from the floor and 21 percent from deep. This game was out of hand right from the opening tip. The Bulls started the game on an 8-0 run and never looked back.
The Bulls and Cavs now meet in the second round in a highly anticipated series.
In the other NBA playoff game on Thursday night, the Los Angeles Clippers won in San Antonio for the second time in the series to force Game 7 on Saturday at Staples Center. Chris Paul shook off a shaky shooting performance to rack up 15 assists and Blake Griffin had yet another double-double with 26 points and 12 rebounds. He fell one block short of a triple-double. DeAndre Jordan was two blocks short of a triple-double with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
The win was impressive on a lot of fronts. For one thing, the Clippers won an elimination game in San Antonio, which basically never happens. For another thing, San Antonio had 24 more points on three-points alone. The Clippers were 4-of-18 from deep and the Spurs were 12-of-28 from beyond the arc thans to Marco Belinelli’s 7-of-11 performance in just 22 minutes of action. Boris Diaw was 8-of-12 off the bench. Kawhi Leonard’s second straight off night was particularly detrimental in this game. He was just 3-of-15 from the floor and led the team with four turnovers.
This will be a fantastic Game 7 on Saturday night.
NFL Draft Recap
The first round of the NFL Draft featured very few surprises. There were a couple of first-round pick swaps, but it was a rather uneventful night, all things considered. Jameis Winston went first overall to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as everyone expected. A rumored trade that was proposed by the Philadelphia Eagles to move up and take Marcus Mariota was shot down by both Tampa Bay and Tennessee. The Titans selected the Oregon signal caller with the second pick. Leonard Williams dropped a few spots after generating a lot of buzz early in the draft process. The New York Jets gave new head coach Todd Bowles a new toy to play with by selecting him sixth.
A lot of teams ended up taking the best player available at positions of need. One team that didn’t was the St. Louis Rams. The Rams took Todd Gurley at #10, which is a fine pick based on his tremendous upside, but the Rams certainly had other places of need than the skill positions. Rookie offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti has a run-first mentality, which is probably a good thing given the shaky quarterback situation in St. Louis. Gurley is recovering from a torn ACL, so it will be at least a year or two before we see what he can really do.
A couple of side stories came out immediately following some of the draft picks. Zach Mettenberger’s agent has requested a trade from the Tennessee Titans after their selection of Marcus Mariota. Mettenberger, a late-round pick recovering from a torn ACL, didn’t exactly impress during his rookie season and there’s probably not a huge market for him. It’s disappointing to see something like that happen immediately following the pick. Zac Stacy and his agent requested the same thing from St. Louis after Todd Gurley was drafted.
Everybody is prone to snap judgments in the world of sports. To see it from athletes that are unwilling to work for playing time is a big concern. Tennessee and St. Louis would be better off trading these disgruntled players. The sense of entitlement is embarrassing. Get on the field and fight for your job.
Anyway, after that minor tangent, here are some more thoughts about the first round. It was a very diverse round. Players of all positions were taken throughout the first round and it’s always interesting to see how teams fill needs. The Oakland Raiders hired a defensive-minded guy in Jack Del Rio, but they gave Derek Carr one of the best weapons in the draft. Gary Kubiak’s new team, the Denver Broncos, went with Shane Ray, a player whose stock was supposed to have dropped following his marijuana charge. He’ll be a really scary player alongside Von Miller. The Kansas City Chiefs need secondary help and they took Marcus Peters. It’s a good landing spot for Peters with a lot of veteran guys to help him through his behavior problems.
This is a draft that lacked home run hitters, but there are a lot of doubles hitters, to use a baseball analogy. One of the things that scouts and other draft experts celebrated about this draft was the level of depth. A lot of good players remain on the board for Rounds 2 and 3 on Friday and the remaining rounds on Saturday.
It was a bit of a surprise that Jaelen Strong out of Arizona State was not taken in the first round. Some had him as the second wide receiver off the board and he is still sitting out there. With Nelson Agholor and Phillip Dorsett taken off the board before Strong, there may be some more there that teams are worried about. He’ll go very quickly on Friday. Six wide receivers went in the first round. It’s still a quarterback-driven league.
Landon Collins is a big surprise. This could be a case where teams are worried about how Alabama players transition to the NFL. For as good as Nick Saban has done creating a perennial contender with the Alabama program, their draft picks have not had as much success as you might think. Collins has average size for the safety position, but teams could be worried about how physical he can be.
Eddie Goldman and Jordan Phillips are two very interesting players to watch. They, along with Randy Gregory, are the best defensive tackles on the board. Is it a case where the need for impact defensive tackles is mitigated by how little teams run the football? Or is there more to it with these guys? They’ll move quickly on Friday, but it will be interesting to see how they do compared to the defensive linemen taken in the first round.
Finally, where does La’el Collins go? Collins’s request to be taken out of the NFL Draft in light of the recent investigation that involves the murder of his pregnant ex-girlfriend was denied. He was going to be a first-round pick. Now, he’s dropping down draft boards due to an uncertain future. Somebody will take a chance in the second round and get a lot of value.
NHL Buzzer Beater
The second round of the NHL playoffs began last night and it took 59 minutes and 57 seconds for controversy to pop up. Joel Ward scored the game-winning goal with 1.3 seconds left to send the Washington Capitals to a Game 1 win over the New York Rangers. The play happened because Dan Boyle, who was trying to eat the remaining seconds on the clock with the puck in the corner, was hit from behind by Nicklas Backstrom. The hit jarred the puck loose and Alex Ovechkin’s brilliant pass found Joel Ward in front for the goal.
While watching in real time, I felt that it was a boarding penalty. To establish a small shred of credibility, I am a hockey referee, though I have never worked a game anywhere close to an NHL level. The grey area in this case is present because Boyle did very little to protect himself. Those in favor of a penalty call will point to the fact that Backstrom came in from behind and made direct contact with Boyle’s head. Boyle was in a prone position and it’s a play that happens countless times throughout a game in the corners.
Game management is often stressed by referees, not necessarily by the leagues or the governing bodies. The rules are the rules and they are to be enforced regardless of situation, score, or time. In this instance, it’s not hard to see why a referee would decline to make this call with overtime looming in Game 1 of a playoff game. If it happens with 12 minutes left in the second period, is it called? Maybe. My personal belief is that it was a penalty, but I’m not sure if I could have called it either. Keep in mind that two referees decided not to call it. The game ended with a skirmish that is sure to carry over into Game 2.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit goes to legendary Talladega Superspeedway this weekend for qualified, the XFINITY race, and then the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday afternoon. Denny Hamlin was the winner last year as three Toyota cars finished in the top four. The 188-lap race on the big track is one of the most exciting of the season.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is the 8/1 favorite at Bovada.lv. Kevin Harvick is next at 10/1 with Kurt Busch at 11/1, and Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Matt Kenseth all at 12/1.
Legendary trainer Bob Baffert has two of Saturdays favorites for the 121st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. American Pharaoh, the 5/2 betting favorite with an outstanding name, drew Post 18 for the race. The Derby is a tough race to run because there are so many horses jockeying for inside position and things can get messy out of the starting gate. Even though only one horse has won the race from Post 18 in the long history, a big favorite like American Pharaoh can avoid the traffic early and use his endurance and speed late.
Keep an eye to BangTheBook for our Kentucky Derby preview later this afternoon.
A Bonus Beer: We’ll crack open one more just because there’s so much going on. In case you haven’t heard, the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight is on Saturday. For more on the most anticipated fight in a long time, check out our preview.
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