Instead of dedicating a column to just the finals, as I’m sure one of my colleagues will, I’ve decided to talk about a few things.

First, I just want to bask in the glory of the Celtics winning it all.  I believe my analysis was One-Hundred Percent correct, and Paul Pierce as my Finals MVP was a no-brainer.  Thank You very much. 

The two things I did not expect was to Ray Allen find his shooting stroke and become the most consistent player on either team offensively and then for Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to effectively render the Lakers useless because Kobe was taking 25 shots and only scoring 25 points.  By keeping him from the line, it forced Kobe to take more shots than he wanted, limiting the touches for the other players around him.  There is a reason that the Lakers did not score as much in this series than they did in any other.  Everybody’s scoring was down and that is the great team defense that the Celtics played.  The same as Football, Defense Wins.  Period.

I also have to give props to Doc Rivers on a masterful coaching job (did I just really say that?).  He stuck to what he knows, and that is motivation.  I don’t believe I saw the Celtics run an offense except for the high screen and roll (that the Lakers could not defend) and Ray Allen running around 50 screens.  I think he showed that he is not as bad of a coach as I and others make him out to be, but actually a middling coach who can rise up to the occasion and outcoach lucky bastards who have the two greatest players of their generation playing for them (Shaq and MJ, there is a reason that Kobe has not won without Shaq and Shaq has won without Kobe.  Why doesn’t anyone give Shaq the props he deserves and proclaim him the player of the period of time after MJ?  Kobe just isn’t good enough to win it without him, and he never will, the same with Phil…he is never going to win another championship with Kobe).  Doc just flat out bent Phil over and said, “I am your daddy!”  Memo to Phil: it’s ok to make in-game adjustments like taking out Lamar Odom because he can’t stretch the floor and playing a line-up that consists of Fisher, Vujacic/Radmonovic, Kobe, Farmar/Walton, and Gasol/Turiaf.  That is what I would’ve done.

Yet, the real reason that the Celtics won (last point about this game, I promise) was not because of the play on the court, but the comraderie off the court.  The difference in the desire can be seen in the bench players and those in street clothes.  Every possession, the Celtics bench was standing, cheering, and into the game, as if they were playing.  I can’t count the times I saw Brian Scalabrine or Eddie House jumping up and down and cheering on their teammates.  The same goes for Sam Cassel.  Everybody bled for each other and represented what it truly means to be a team.  I can only hope this continues because it was a treat to see it and all high-school and younger kids should take notice.

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In addition to the Celtics taking the NBA Championship, the second team in New York fired its coach.  By second team, I mean the Mets.  And I just gotta say I think this is one of the biggest mistakes that the Mets could have made.  I can understand maybe firing Rick Peterson because the pitching staff, mainly the bullpen is not performing up to par, but the Mets were just beginning to get on a roll by winning 3 out of 4 and get some positive momentum.  They had something to play for (Randolph’s Job) and were motivated to make sure that he kept it.  Now they have nothing to play for and if last nights game was any indication of things to come, it does not look good.  I was actually discussing this with my father the other day and we both came to the conclusion that Mets are going to struggle to finish .500.  I just don’t seem them being competitive unless they turn the switch on now.  I can only hope I am dead wrong.

Also, what a classless way to handle the entire situation.  Sometimes, I wish it were possible to fire an ownership group.  The Wilpons seem to be just as clueless as Jimmy Dolan over at MSG on the correct tact and timing to fire coaches.  The Wilpons jumped the gun way too early and have a history of leaking things to the press.  This became such a bad situation that I feel happy for Willie that he finally has this monkey off his back and can now focus on getting a job with an organization that will value his class and great baseball mind.  I only hope he does not land in the NL East.

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The other major sports event of the past week or so was the PGA US Open that was an instant classic.  I’m gonna be honest, I’ve become so inundated with Tiger Woods that I hope he loses every tournament, but I know he is going to win if he is within one or two strokes on the last nine holes.  Yet, while I enjoyed watching Rocco Mediate, Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood, and a few others battle it out over the five days, I almost wanted to punch my computer screen on Monday while I watched the playoff at work (by the way…kudos to IBM, NBC, and ESPN for putting the stream up for free and in wonderful quality.  Why can’t all sports do that?  Was that so hard?).  The reason: the fabulous announcers that NBC employed kept telling me how much of a classic this was, how great Rocco Mediate was, and how even greater Tiger Woods was (in addition to how mentally tough he was…give me a break.  Yeah I’m sure he learned mental toughness on the links as a child.  I think that was dumbest thing I have ever heard…even if it was said by his dead father – no disrespect to Earl Woods).  Broadcasters, and this happens in every sport, please learn to shut up and stop ramming the same 3 talking points down my throat.  SILENCE IS GOLDEN!  Learn from that proverb.  Its not awkward unless you make it that way.

By the way…Rocco Mediate, where have you been all my life and why isn’t mic’d up all the time when he is playing.  He was so funny and insightful…much more so than those so called “expert” broadcasters.

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And finally, some things to watch this week now that the Never Ending Basketball Playoffs are over:

Euro 2008: Jump on the Netherlands Train and watch them take the tourament by storm.  They are so dominant offensively that it doesn’t matter that there goalkeeper is really old and that their defense is middling.  I see them beating Portugal in the finals (really, I just want to make fun of Ronaldo again)Watch them and the rest of the tournament this week on the ESPN Channels and ABC.

NBA Draft: On June 26th, the world will finally have the answer to Beasley vs. Rose.  Watch the NBA draft…if you havn’t had enough yet.  Hopefully our draft expert J-Fense will come out with a final mock draft with the correct pick of Michael Beasley going to Bulls. 

MLB:  Interleague play is heating up.  This weekend features marquee match-ups like Philadelphia vs Texas (the two best offenses in Baseball) and the three best inter-city rivalries in Baseball: The Cubs vs the White Sox, the Angels vs the Dodgers, and the Subway Series aka the Mets vs the Yankees. 

Should be a great week or so of sports.  Enjoy!

Also, I’m going on vacation for the next two weeks so unfortunately this massive column is going to have to tide you over until I get back from relaxing.  Until then…

BEARD

 

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With so much going on in the sports world, welcome to my weekly summary of the most important events of the week in everything that is sports…

As the baseball season reaches the 50 game mark, I have a few observations:

1. Johan Santana is not the pitcher he was made out to be. For someone who is pegged as the greatest pitcher in baseball, he has been awfully hittable the past season and a half. Over his past 43 starts, he has given up 44 homeruns. That is over one per game, way too many for an ace to give up. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a great pitcher, but there has to be a reason why the Yankees would not include both Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy in a deal, why the Red Sox refused to part with both Ellsbury and Lester, and why the eventual deal was such a steal for the Mets. I think we’re about to see a massive decline over the next two years from Santana.

2. Josh Hamilton and Lance Berkman both have legitimate shots at winning the famous “Triple Crown”. Hamilton leads the AL in batting average, RBI’s, and Homeruns, while Berkman leads the NL in HR’s and RBI’s and is only second to Chipper Jone’s incredible impersonation of Ted Williams’ batting average (he’s currently hitting .412). While neither will win it, its fun to see the feel good stories from of these Texas Terrors.

3. Will there be playoff baseball in New York? As of right now, not a chance in hell. The Yankees have no pitching beyond Chien-Ming Wang and Mariano Rivera. The bullpen is a mess and the rotation is full of has beens and rookies who are not quite ready for prime time. I’d look for them to rebound but not as much as they did last year. The Mets on the other hand should be dominating the NL East. On paper they are the second best team in the National League (second only to the Chicago Cubs) and should be blowing away the competition in a division in which every contending team has its flaws. I don’t expect Willie Randolph to last the season and the Mets to not make the playoffs again this year. At least there will be no collapse.

For those who love and follow sports closely like myself, there is nothing better than witnessing an instant classic and watching one player to see what he or she will do next. This past week saw three such instances: The reemergence of hockey as an entertaining sport due to Sid “the kid” Crosby, a classic game seven in the NBA, and an even better game played for the UEFA Cup Championship. Hockey has needed a marketable star for quite awhile to build a new fan base. Sidney Crosby is just that person. As the heir apparent to “Super Mario” in Pittsburgh, the NHL should be marketing this guy like Lebron James, David Ortiz, and Dwayne Wade are marketed. Get this guy on TV pronto! Also, the match-up between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL Finals is a dream match-up for those who love hockey. Both of these teams have the talent, tradition, and fan base to reinvigorate hockey to upgrade it from a “C” level sport to a “B” level sport.

For those lucky enough to watch game 7 of the Cavs/Celtics series, you witnessed two players who absolutely willed their team to victory, with only one winning out. I remember watching the game with my friends trying to predict how many points Lebron James and Paul Pierce would each have at the end of the game. I boldly stated each would finish with over 50, no problem. The battle between these two players was something I have never witnessed as an NBA fan. I am not old enough to even try and discuss the Bird/Magic rivalry and Michael Jordan never truly had someone he could call his equal, it makes me smile being able to watch two players at the top of their game pushing so hard to win that nothing can stop them. I love that vibe and can’t wait for more of it if any combination of Boston and SA/LA make the finals. Could you imagine KG vs Timmy D in the post? Or Kobe and Pierce going at it all night? Bring it on!

However, the only thing that topped that performance was the UEFA Cup Championship between Chelsea and Manchester United. This was one hell of a soccer game, that had fantastic finishes, gut-wrenching saves, and skill that makes you wonder how the players control a soccer ball the way they do. But, as I watching the game, I couldn’t take my eyes off of one player: Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s greatest flopper and owner of a mullet. I believe he is the greatest athlete in the world and was playing with the soccer ball like it was a yo-yo attached to his big toes. As a soccer player myself, I couldn’t even fathom attempting half of the moves he performed with such precision that it made me giddy like a little school child. The game is on ESPN360.com and i recommend you spending some quality time with the world’s most popular game.

Before I leave, three things I am looking forward to this weekend:

1. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones and Cate Blanchett as the villain. Thats all I need to be motivated to see this.

2. Game 2 of Lakers and Spurs. Game One was awesome and I believe every game in this series will be played with as much intensity and fire as game one. Welcome to SEVEN GAME SEVENS!

3. Memorial Day bbq’s and beach days. The first true of summer is here and I plan on honoring my troops the same way they would most likely enjoy a summer afternoon if they were home: drink some beer, grill some dogs, and chill out in the sun all day long. I can’t wait.

Happy Memorial Day!

BEARD

Rain Assists Manchester United in Winning the UEFA Champions League

By: Sean Speirs

 

     It is 1:30 A.M. and rain is flooding into the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.  Jeers and roars are coming from the crowd.  Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo has just missed an easy go-ahead penalty shot. The taste of victory is in reach.  You are Chelsea center back John Terry, and all you need to do is make one more goal in order to win the European Champion Clubs’ Cup.

 

     Unfortunately, for Americans, this scenario does not sound exciting.  For those unfamiliar with the sport, it most likely sounds confusing.  Questions might arise, such as:

 “Who is Cristiano Ronaldo?” and “What is a penalty shot?”

 

     While most Americans were preparing for the American Idol finale on TV last night, they missed an exciting European soccer event…the UEFA Champions League Final (Union of European Football Association), which is equivalent to America’s NFL Superbowl in Europe.

 

     The UEFA Champions League is a tournament style match-up that pits the best of Europe’s soccer clubs (a.k.a. teams) against one another.  The last club standing is awarded the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, the most prominent trophy a club team could receive in the sport. 

 

     This year marked the first in UEFA’s 52-year existence that had two English clubs in the Champions League Final game.  The two clubs were Manchester United F.C. (Football Club) versus Chelsea F.C.

 

     Both clubs are fleshed out with great soccer players, but the most notable ones include Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Chelsea’s Didier Drogba.  Ronaldo’s accolades include receiving the 2007 English Player of the Year Award and Young Player of the Year Award, while Drogba was the top scorer in the 2007 English Premier League with a total of 20 goals.

 

     Before this final match, predicting the outcome was up in the air.  No one had a clue to who would come out on top.  Both teams had advantages and disadvantages that were matched by one another.

 

     And that leaves us to yesterday’s UEFA battle, where the pouring rain in Moscow created a dangerous/slick soccer field that created problems for both teams to control the flow of their offensive attack.

 

     The match was quiet until the 26th minute, where Ronaldo scored his career 42nd goal as a header off of a pass from teammate right back Wes Brown. 

 

     However, Chelsea answered back with a goal of their own in the 45th minute that was created by an attempted shot from midfielder Michael Essien, but due to the sleek and wet field, was reflected by a Manchester United defender to an unmarked teammate midfielder Frank Lampard who finished the shot.

 

     By the end of the game, which went into extra overtime, the score was tied 1-1, with a total of 8 yellow-cards and an ejected Drogba who was given a red-card during the 116th minute.

 

     Since the match continued to be a tie game after regulation and overtime play, both teams had to go into a penalty shootout.  This is where 8 players from each club individually go up against the opposing goal-keeper in a standalone one-on-one shootout.

 

     As the event started, each club scored their respected penalty shots without trouble; until it was Ronaldo’s turn.  As stated before, Ronaldo is known for having an amazing and impressive soccer season this year…but he is also known for being a tricky player and pulling off impressive dribbling and acrobatic shooting moves when they matter the most.

 

     In this situation, in order to throw off Chelsea goal-keeper Petr Cech, Ronaldo stopped his approach in mid-motion, delaying his shot before following through with his kick.  Unfortunately, such a trick was no use, as Petr Cech successfully blocked Ronaldo’s shot.

 

     Advantage was officially for Chelsea.  Manchester United fans were one step away from calling it quits.  Rain continued to fall.  Chelsea kept making their shots, while Manchester was trying to catch up. 

 

     Then it was Chelsea defender John Terry’s turn.

 

     As the chances of a Chelsea win was seen from the horizon, one would think that making the game winning penalty shot would be easy.  That is, however, if you do not consider the other factor that has been lurking throughout this whole game…rain.

 

     As John Terry approached his shot, he slipped due to the wet field and miss-hit his shot, which ended up ricocheting off the right goal post.

 

     There was new hope for Manchester United, and a chance for a win that they rightfully took due to a diving save by Manchester United goal-keeper Edwin Van der Sar, who blocked the shot Chelsea’s next penalty shooter Nicolas Anelka took. 

 

     With a total of 14 penalty shots taken and Van der Sar’s save, Manchester United gained advantage and the win; crowning themselves UEFA Champion League Champs.

 

     After an exciting match-up and outcome from one of the greatest sports events ever played, it is sad to think that only a handful of Americans know the whole story of and behind the meaning of this one game.

 

     If only American Idol had pushed back their finale an extra day…

Sean Speirs

 

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