TSB was supposed to be dark all weekend, but that sensational Saturday demands some words. What other day this year brought as much drama and greatness in sports?
The top headline has to be Roy Halladay throwing a perfect game, baseball's second this year and third in a little over ten months. Halladay was masterful in shutting down the Florida Marlins, striking out 11 to tie his performance for third in game score among perfect games in baseball history. It's the first time since 1880 that two perfect games have been thrown in the same season—that year, two were thrown over a period of five days—and a nice way to remind fans that Roy Halladay is absurdly good at throwing a baseball.
But Kobe Bryant's spectacular performance to put the Phoenix Suns to rest nearly eclipsed Halladay. In an odd game that saw Ron Artest (!?) and Goran Dragic (!?!?) take over for stretches, it wasn't until Kobe gave the world a taste of his typically mind-blowing brilliance that the Lakers were able to secure a win. Phoenix closed the L.A. lead to five points at 95-90, and in the last 4:33, Bryant made three long, tremendously difficult two-pointers and added five free throws, scoring 11 of the Lakers' last 16 points and taking over a game that was on the verge of slipping through the Lakers' hands.
Now the Lakers get rematch of the 2008 matchup in the Finals, and Kobe will come in with the best-player-in-the-game tag freshly reaffixed and the Michael Jordan comparisons sounding less far-fetched than ever. He will have to be as good as he has been this playoffs, and much better than he was in 2008, to keep the praise pouring.
While Halladay provided perfection and Kobe displayed his greatness, the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals delivered pure exhilaration. Chicago and Philadelphia scored five goals apiece in the first two periods, an average of a goal every four minutes, as goalies Michael Leighton and Antii Niemi had their worst games of the playoffs. But the 'Hawks got the only goal of the third period on a shot by Tomas Kopecky, and got a 6-5 win and a 1-0 series lead despite Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Dustin Byfuglien combining for a -9 and just five shots on goal on the night. If Game 2 is anything like the shootout that was Game 1, it's a good bet those three 'Hawks won't be quite that horrific.
Oh, and those were just the things that happened in Big Four sports. Saturday got better even as the stage got smaller.The U.S. men's national team recovered from an early hole to beat Turkey 2-1 in its last pre-World Cup friendly on American soil. Dan Levy will have much more on this later, but it suffices for now to say that the first half might have had USMNT supporters glumly resigning themselves to a group stage exit in South Africa, while the brilliant second half brought on might have permanently swung the prevailing sentiment back towards giddy optimism.
MMA's premier league put one of its best possible matchups in the octagon on Saturday night, and got a pseudo-shocking result in return: Rashad Evans survived a late flurry to top Rampage Jackson at UFC 114, but it was actually kind of underwhelming. As The Rumble's Bryan Henderson writes, this wasn't the best UFC card ever, but it had Twitter's attention and delivered one classic knockout in the form of Chicago cop Mike Russow's escape from Todd Duffee's onslaught with one third-round punch. In case you wanted proof that MMA will stick around in the mainstream, consider that the conversation about it today will have nothing to do with its brutality and everything to do with the new B.A. Baracus and whether he still rules his sport. Having Hollywood problems, for the UFC and MMA in general, is a good sign.
But the best game I saw on Saturday involved sticks, grass, and one of the most heartbreaking defeats of the year. Virginia's top-ranked lacrosse team, already rocked by an unfathomable tragedy off the field, was facing its season's end on it. With under four minutes left, UVa trailed by two goals to Duke, but one last push got the Cavaliers even again at 1:21. Duke, though, would control possession for that last stretch, and Max Quinzani capped a dominant second half with the game-winning goal with 12 seconds left, sending Duke to a lacrosse final for the first time since 2007 and ending a third straight Virginia season in the Final Four. For Duke, up next is tournament Cinderella Notre Dame and a possible national title; for the Cavs, a close lacrosse loss will be cold comfort when so much more is missing in Charlottesville.
Micro-scale weirdness happened on Saturday, too—Kendry Morales'bizarre walk-off broken leg and the vicious liner Cleveland pitcher David Huff took to the head come to mind—and I suspect the legacy of one of the best Saturdays in sports in a long while will be this: Look away, go on vacation, stop paying attention, or otherwise miss sports for a day, and you will almost certainly miss something you must see. (Like, for example, Garrett Wittels.)
In sports, Memorial Day weekend has never started so memorably.â†µ
This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.