April is the best month to be a sports fan, and last night was a classic example of why. It was a virtual buffet of scrumptious viewing options. And a really good buffet, too, like the ones you find in downtown Vegas where all the locals eat, not one of those lousy chain buffets where everything from the decor to the food is a monochrome tan color palette and seems to be from the 1970s. (I’m looking at you, Hometown Buffet.)
Case in point: Game 5 between the Celtics and the Bulls, which took an already great series into uncharted territory. With their backs to the wall and missing two of their Big Three (Kevin Garnett to injury and Ray Allen after fouling out with 5:27 left in the fourth quarter), Boston found a way to get past Chicago 106-104 in overtime. And that way was Paul Pierce, who made three straight jumpers in the final 77 seconds of OT to carry the Celtics to a 3-2 series lead.
Just how historic is this series? The two teams have set a record with three overtime games in one series - and there’s still as many as two games left to go. (And let’s be honest: anyone who isn’t a Boston fan has to want this to go to seven games.) Bob Ryan of the BOSTON GLOBE believes it’s the best No. 2 vs. No. 7 match-up in league history, and it’s pretty hard to argue the point.
Of course, there were other heroes who made the win possible for the Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Kendrick Perkins and Brad Miller. Yeah, that Brad Miller, the big, vaguely stiffish center who plays for the Bulls. Miller had a chance to send the game into a second OT when Rondo was called for a foul on Miller’s missed layup with two seconds left. But Miller clanked the first one and then failed to hit the rim while trying to miss the second one.
Meanwhile, Dwight Howard is just destroying things. Mainly the 76ers, as evidenced by his 24 point, 24 rebound performance in the Magic’s 91-78 victory to get their own 3-2 series lead. And more specifically, he destroyed the 76ers Samuel Dalembert with an elbow to the head which earned him a technical foul. Philadelphia coach Tony DiLeo has said the team has already informed the league about Howard’s foul (in hopes of getting him suspended for Game 6), but since David Stern was actually at the game, the phone call was probably unnecessary.
But like any weapon of mass destruction, Howard can be as dangerous to his allies as his enemies (think of him as the basketball version of Doctor Manhattan, except with less giant blue wang), as proven when he KO’ed Orlando starting point guard Courtney Lee, sending him out of the game and to the hospital with a likely concussion. Which means that Orlando could be very short-handed when heading back to Philadelphia for Game 6. This series is far from over.
Meanwhile, let’s turn our attention to something slightly less violent: the NHL playoffs. Unless you consider death by choking to be too graphic for your tastes. Because that’s exactly what the New Jersey Devils did in their Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes, finding a way to lose in regulation despite having a 3-2 lead … with 80 seconds left.
No OT needed here, just a total and complete collapse started by Jussi Jokinen’s game-tying goal at 18:40 in the 3rd period and completed with Eric Staal’s game and series-winner with 37 seconds left. And keep in mind that this all happened in New Jersey: If you want to know just how quiet a sellout crowd can be, just watch this video of the Hurricanes’ furious rally:
Finally, I guess that Major League Soccer has finally reached the big time. Sure, their attendance is lagging and their TV ratings are at XFL levels, but now they can claim to be on par with a big time league like the NBA in one capacity: a referee game-fixing scandal. The COLUMBUS DISPATCH says that MLS referee Jair Marrufo is under investigation for allegedly accepting an autographed jersey from Chicago Fire star Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the referee’s room after their 2-2 draw against the Columbus Crew on Saturday. (And a hat tip to SOCCER BY IVES for finding the original story.)
Accepting a gift from a player is a pretty awful idea if you’re an official of any sport, much less a professional official at the highest level. But when you add to this the fact that Marrufo called a controversial red card on the Crew’s Gino Padula for a foul on Blanco in the second half, and that the Fire rallied for two late goals against the man-down Columbus side for a 2-2 draw, and things get downright shady.
As someone who has covered the MLS in recent years, I don’t think Marrufo purposefully threw the match; Given the lousy quality of MLS referees (including Marrufo), I don’t think the majority of them have the wherewithal to fix a bowl of cereal, much less a match. It’s more likely the whole incident was a mix of horrible on the field and post-game judgment by an MLS referee, a shockingly common occurrence.
Speaking of people I wish would go away but haven’t quite yet: Please get ready to head to your fallout shelters until the start of the regular season. PRO FOOTBALL TALK says that the Jets have given Brett Favre his release, meaning he’s now a free agent. And Favre’s response to the news (“at this time, I am retired and have no intention of returning to football”) has me feeling very nauseous and woozy.
In case you missed it on Monday night, James Jones of the Miami Heat scored eight points in 11 seconds against the Hawks, thanks to back-to-back four point plays. And Miami still lost by about a billion points - imagine how much worse it could have been (OK, eight points worse, but still). BALL DON’T LIE has the video proof of the Reggie Miller-esque scoring outburst:
The CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS says former Tennessee OL Cameron Mayo was arrested on charges of sexual assault. The former Volunteer was working at Dalton High in Tennessee as a substitute teacher at the time of his arrest.
In other Red Raiders news, Texas Tech’s baseball team recently had a “Turn Back The Clock” night, so UNI WATCH says their video department decided to make a retro style highlight package. Someone had a lot of fun making this, so please watch:
More fallout from the swine flu epidemic: the AP says that CONCACAF has canceled its regional beach soccer tournament scheduled to begin tomorrow in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The good news: if you’re going to be stranded somewhere because of a horrible flu outbreak, at least it’s the beach.
NHL referee Don Koharski is hanging up his skates for good. Last night’s Lightning-Capitals contest was the last time he would lace ‘em up before calling it a career. Koharski spent 32 years on the ice, maintaining law & order in over 2,000 regular season & playoff games.
(Don Koharski with Martin Brodeur. All’s forgiven between Donny & the Devils?)
However, even with such a long & successful officiating career, it was one post-game encounter that he’ll best be remembered for. Anybody have another doughnut?
Devils goalie Martin Brodeur reached an astounding milestone on Sunday, reaching his 100th shutout in a 3-0 New Jersey win over Philadelphia. To put that in perspective, only one other goalie has logged 100 shutouts in his career, and Terry Sawchuck is living a happy retired existence in hockey’s hall of fame.
(He’s Tiger Woods, and people are treating him like Stewart Cink.)
Yet those milestones don’t seem to be setting off alarm bells around sports, with the media treating 100 shutouts like 100 wins in baseball. Or 100 homers. Sure, it’s a milestone, but no one really seems to realize how big it is.
Let’s make it clear: This is a huge deal, the kind we may see only once or twice more for the rest of our life … if we’re lucky. We’re watching the Tiger Woods of hockey, yet no one seems to realize or celebrate just how great he is. If you’re looking for a reason why, it might just be because of his tabloid affair with his sister-in-law.
Cheer up, Boston sports fans. Sure, the Red Sox might have brought you to the brink of exaltation only to send you crashing to the ground like to some junkie with a packet of methadone, but at least the Patriots have kept your hopes adrift for another week with their 41-7 win over the Denver Broncos on Monday night.
Sure, this might have been a performance against the same team that lost to the putrid Kansas City Chiefs, but it’s something to be proud of, right? Rodney Harrison might have blown his knee out, a crippling blow to a depleted Patriots secondary, but come on…: did you see Matt Cassel? He’s the second coming of Tom Brady, the wa y he hooked up with Randy Moss. Right? Right???
New England fans, I’ll let you slepp on your false sense of security for now. At least ou aren’t 49ers fans, who have seen their team go from playoff contenders to also-rans in the course of a few short weeks. Which means that head coach Mike Nolan is gone, replaced by Mike Singletary, who will at least kill his team with his eyes. The eyes, the eyes, oh Lord the eyes!
EliteXC is finished, as SI.COM reports that they have closed their doors after “hemorrhaging” money. As poets throughout the ages have mused, wither Kimbo Slice? At least Gina Carano is one step closer to her inevitable Playboy spread.
The SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE signs in with news that Tiger Woods was back at Torrey Pines - the scene of his U.S. Open triumph over Rocco Mediate - this time as a caddie for an amateur. How far of a fall a few months can bring.
The NEW YORK DAILY NEWS reports that momentum is building for an NHL game to be played at Yankee Stadium next winter, which would likely be the final event held at the ballpark before the Yanks move across the street to their new digs in 2009.
All indications are that the Yankees are intrigued by the idea, no doubt spurred on by the big success in Buffalo on New Year’s Day, and have reportedly met with NHL officials about the possibility.
But now the question is, which two of the three New York-area teams would play in the game?
BM DESERVES SALUTE FOR NOT BACKING DOWN (OH, WAIT): We want to issue a hearty salute to Barry Melrose for speaking the truth about Newark, NJ, last week. His assessment of the war zone that envelopes the city’s new arena, Prudential Center, was absolutely spot-on. We visited the site before PC’s official opening a couple months back and were appalled by the frightening blight of the nearby neighborhood.
Melrose’s statements are once again an example of ESPN’s unwavering attention to detail and willingness to stand up for the truth - which is the brick and mortar of what has built an unrivaled sports reportage empire.
The NEWARK STAR-LEDGER gets word that the ESPN hockey analyst is quiteimpressed with the $375 million Prudential Center, but not the surrounding neighborhood:”It looks great on the inside, but don’t go outside, especially if you got a wallet or anything else, because the area around the building is awful.
“It’s so different the inside and the outside where it’s built, it’s pretty humorous.”
But Newark city officials aren’t laughing. Mayor Cory Booker called Melrose’s comments “utterly absurd“, adding “This guy doesn’t know Newark.”
And the city’s police chief chimed in that no arena visitors have been victims of any crime - except maybe being ripped off by high ticket prices.
However, reading through comments on the article, many seem to agree with Barry’s assessment. Commenter GetACLueNJ asks, “Instead of making him apologize, why doesn’t the city try to prove him wrong?”
Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek does shoot back at Melrose, riffing that Barry’s opinions on the neighborhood are “like me saying I know what it’s like to wear a mullet.”
RED-HOT SHINE DULLED ON NJ DEVILS’ NEW PLAYGROUND: A new arena always brings new excitement and sellout crowds. At least that’s what the New Jersey Devils thought.
The CALGARY HERALD ices news that only a week after opening it’s doors, the Prudential Center has lost its luster. Although the season opener against the Ottawa Senators sold out, the following home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning had an announced crowd of just over 13,000.Better yet, those at the game said they saw no more than 8,000 fannies in the furbished seats. And futher witnesses say that claims of 14,000 fans at Friday’s contest against the Maple Leafs were “wildly inflated.”
(Typical Attendance at Devils Home Games)
Guess Newark isn’t such a prize destination, after all.Jersey’s home numbers aren’t the only tallies that are on thin ice. The Boston Bruins haven’t had a sellout at TD Banknorth Garden at all this year.
However, there were unforeseen factors contributing to the paltry crowd. For one, the Patriots were playing the Colts at the same time. (TD Banknorth could have used some of that fake RCA Dome noise.)And for another, the Bruins were playing.