It's not every weekend everyone thinks the fix was in, and it wasn't even officiated by Joey Crawford. Yeah, it was that kinda weekend.
Get your NBA Finals prediction here! When the Western Conference Finals began, many assumed it was the de facto Finals. Both teams, supposedly, had too much scoring and/or size for either Miami or Boston to contend with.
Well, does that still hold for Miami now that Chris Bosh is back (and, apparently, making corner three-pointers)? Can Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison or Kendrick Perkins deal with Miami's pick-and-roll now that Bosh has returned? If the Thunder goes small -- which they'll have to do, to get James Harden's scoring and Thabo Sefolosha's defense on the floor at the same time -- can Harden contain Dwyane Wade? And while there isn't a soul on the Heat's roster who can guard Russell Westbrook, will the Thunder get caught standing around on offense and make that job a lot easier for whomever's in front of him at a given time?
This series could certainly go either way, but this will be the first time this postseason the Thunder won't have a significant athletic advantage. It's also the first time they'll be in the NBA Finals. And it will be the first time they lose there. I've got Miami in 6.
Seven things to know about the Finals.
Why the Finals are as much about Kevin Durant as LeBron James. Win or lose, Durant needs to enjoy this moment. His team has made a gradual climb, going just a little farther every year and slaying the ghosts of playoffs past along the way.
In this postseason, Durant has displayed a range to his game that, while still improving, took him from being a great scorer to solidifying his status as a superstar. But guess what? LeBron James did all those things, reached the NBA Finals after just his fourth year -- and without anything resembling Russell Westbrook, James Harden or Serge Ibaka -- and became a choker who had never won anything just three years later. Given the composition of the Heat and Thunder rosters, this could be the beginning of a postseason Finals rivalry rivaling the ‘80s version of Lakers-Celtics.
What it's guaranteed to be, no matter what, is the end of Durant's innocence. Win this one, or run the risk of being the next LeBron, the victim of a narrative-dependent media and its convenient amnesia. Either Harden or Ibaka will be gone after the 2014 season. The clock to win a championship for Durant starts now. At age 23. Yes, we've all gone totally insane.
A salute to the Boston Celtics. In 2006-07, the Celtics went 24-58. Neither of their lottery tickets yielded Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. But they turned the No. 5 pick into Ray Allen and convinced Kevin Garnett Boston wasn't so bad. Just one year later, the dormant franchise once considered the greatest in NBA history -- it's the Lakers now -- was resurrected.
Now, five years later, the end of the "Big 3 Era" is over, and just about everyone is better for it. Garnett went from long-suffering loser to one of the great warriors of all-time, a distinction he couldn't have earned while losing in Minnesota. Allen solidified his case for the Hall of Fame. Paul Pierce guaranteed no one else will wear No. 34 in Boston. Doc Rivers went from fighting to keep his job to being rightfully lauded as one of the best coaches in the game. Danny Ainge's reputation as an executive was redeemed. And by the end, the "Big 3" became secondary to Rajon Rondo, who became the elite point guard many expected him to be coming out of high school. Even the long-gone Kendrick Perkins made his reputation because of what happened after Garnett and Allen came to town. Bad luck with injuries affected every title run after 2008, but it's hard to imagine the last five years being better for the Celtics, which will go down as a special epoch in the history of professional basketball.
Tim Bradley over Manny Pacquiao was a shame... But let's calm down with all the "this is gonna kill boxing!" talk. How can this kill boxing when this is what the sport is? These were two men fighting for a championship given by a governing body, the WBO, the average fan doesn’t care about.
They fought because people were willing to fill an arena and spend $64.99 to watch them throw punches. Some people even had parties. And guess what? The stunning decision didn't make the fight itself any less mediocre, nor did it take the buzz out of the beer at your buddies' houses. Like it or not, the least consequential detail of a boxing match to an uninvested observer is the outcome. Maybe I'm alone, but I just like to watch people fight, especially if there's a storyline. If I were alone, we wouldn't have watched washed up fighters and former champions like ... every one ever but Rocky Marciano, Lennox Lewis and Marvelous Marvin Hagler fight until they couldn't anymore. Nor would we have watched the three Gatti-Ward fights, neither of which was for a title.
At the end of the day, that bogus decision made an unmemorable fight 10 times more exciting, and set up a rematch that I'd expect to end much like Roy Jones' return bout against Montell Griffin, the first fighter who "beat" him. Tuned in Saturday to see a knockout? Guess you'll have to wait until Nov. 10. And when it happens, it will be entertaining, and I will watch it. Sorry, but it's gonna take a lot more than boxing being boxing to kill the sport. As for anyone who thinks a publicity stunt indicated the fix was in, go back and look at Bradley's face when he heard the decision. Either he missed his calling as a thespian, or he was just as shocked as the rest of us.
We have a series again? It's obviously peculiar to worry more about a team losing on the road than at home, but there's certainly a "he bleeds!" quality to the Kings losing Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Devils and heading back home 3-2. The two most stunning elements of Los Angeles' run were winning every Game 1, 2 and 3 through four series, and going undefeated on the road. Well, they've now lost their first Game 5, and the series we all thought was over just got interesting. In case you forgot, no team has won the Cup Finals after being down 3-0 since the 1941-42 Maple Leafs roared back against the Red Wings. No team has even forced a Game 7 since the Red Wings won three straight before going down to the Leafs in Game 7 in 1945. Dang, World War II was hard on Red Wings fans.
Congratulations to...who? Here's how little I'll Have Another's injury did to horse racing. I have no idea who won the Belmont. I have no inclination to look it up. Of course, had the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes won, I'd know. But even if I'll Have Another were in the field, that name would be the only one anyone who didn't have money on the race would know. So Americans might have tuned in to see a potential Triple Crown winner, but they wouldn't have cared about anything else. Know what the rest is? The actual sport of horse racing. So while I'll Have Another's injury was unfortunate for the horse, those behind it and the Belmont, it did nothing for the sport. And congratulations to Flicka, or whoever it was that finished first.
The best part about Euro 2012? Us. I won't pretend to know anything about European soccer, but it is fascinating to watch Americans become like the rest of the world. For so long, our sporting consciousness was limited to the sports played in this country. And, as the presence of baseball and softball in the Olympics showed, we tried to force what we liked on the rest of the world. Now, during UEFA Champions League play, my timeline looks like the club in London where I watched Super Bowl XXXVIII. Lots of people wearing jerseys for the teams they randomly chose to root for. That's not throwing stones. It's just interesting that, in 2012, we're now part of the analogous "broadcast in fiddy-leven countries" you hear before every major American sporting event. Who knew the greatest impediment to interest in soccer in this country was our tendency to forget there's a big world outside our borders? Ladies and gentlemen, I give you globalization.
Sure, we can laugh at the Sam Hurd case again. While I'm no expert on these matters, I've never heard of someone using what amounts to photo ID to seal a dope deal. But there was Hurd's cousin Jesse Chavful, whose indictment on drug charges kept the laughs coming in a case of unfathomably stupid criminals. Keenan Ivory Wayans would have to direct his version of "American Gangster." The bright side for us? It's an excuse to link to the underrated classic, "Half Baked."
The problem with relay no-hitters. Great job by all six Seattle Mariners pitches who participated in Friday night's no-hitter. But please, forgive me for not being excited. To me, a no-hitter is a pitcher's accomplishment. He deserves all the credit in the world for pitching nine innings without giving up a hit. But when six different cats take the mound, and no one gets a hit off any of them, the accomplishment stops being a feat and becomes a mark of shame for the opposing team. I mean, it's enough for the planets to align in such a way that one pitcher is so on and facing a lineup so off. But there's no way all six of those dudes were absolutely unhittable. The Dodgers just didn't get hits. So maybe, instead of telling the Mariners "great job," we need to tell the Dodgers to get their collective weight up.
To Pete Thamel and his colleagues. There's little to say about the shooting at Auburn this weekend that cost three young men their lives that isn't obvious, so I'll make this brief. This was a tragedy. The New York Times, however, chose to treat it as a scandal. That was distasteful and disrespectful. Sorry, but three dead 20-year-olds have nothing to do with point-shaving or the "culture" of Auburn football. They were shot over nonsense, another testament to the disheartening devaluation of the lives of black men, so readily taken by people of all persuasions. Worse, when those lives are lost, so many ignore what happened so quickly. That includes the Times, which put a senseless massacre on the same level as smoking marijuana. Peace to those in need, and shame on those who couldn't even wait for the bodies to get cold before using murder to further their personal agenda.