Thursday, June 12, 2008

Friday's Starting Five

1. Ray Allen. The prohibitive favorite (in my mind) to be the Finals MVP had another big game last night as the Boston Celtics overcame a 24-point deficit to push the Los Angeles Lakers to the brink of elimination in the 2008 NBA Finals. Jesus Shuttlesworth scored 19 points (the same as Kobe), grabbed 9 boards, pocketed three steals, dished two assists and returned one shot to sender. In other words Ray had himself a ballgame. And, that play down the stretch, when he waved off Garnett (like his nemesis Kobe waved of Karl Malone so he could try to break down Jordan in the '98 All-Star Game) and then blew by The Boy Named Sasha and the entire population of Los Angeles county and got the ball to the rim? I didn't think he had it in him. I really didn't it. That play, that single moment, was the ballgame. And, Ray Allen won the moment, giving the Celtics a two-possession lead with less than one-shot-clock-length remaining. Done and done.

2. Eddie House. The House, The House, The House is on Fire. We Don't Need No Water, Let the MotherF%$ker Burn! Eddie validated Jeff Van Gundy's enthusiasm (he thinks it's very important that House spreads the floor and, unlike Rondo, forces the Lakers to defend all five players) for his court-time last night when he hit the go-ahead three-pointer for Boston with less than six minutes to play in the game. He played 25 minutes last night, mostly as combo guard charged equally with spreading the floor (too JVG's delight) and handling the ball, after playing only 91 minutes combined during the Celtics run through the postseason.

3. The Croatian National Football Team. Not since the days when Davor Suker was taking home Golden Boots from the World Cup and a young Croat-American surnamed Facini spent a high-school summer smoking his older sister's cigarettes while watching Days of Our Lives have the faithful fans of the football team hailing from the country that claims to have invented the necktie had such a glorious victory to celebrate! That previous victory, which propelled the checker-shirted Croats to a third place finish in the '98 World Cup, was over Germany. Just like yesterday's big surprise at Euro 08. Darijo Srna and Ivica Olic both got on the scorer's sheet with goals for the good guys (as the Germans, without explanation, are the "bad guys").

4. Austria. One of two host countries (along with Switzerland) for the Euro 2008 managed to keep hope alive by earning a draw with Poland thanks to an injury-time penalty. Their surprise goal at the death keeps the Austrian side from going the way of the other hosts, who have already been eliminated from contention. The Austrian draw combined with the German defeat means that Group B is still wide open. Or, at least it's not closed, yet. Next up for the Austrians is a matchup with a vengeful German squad. This is likely a two-teams-enter-one-team-advance affair with Germany heavily tipped for victory. Perhaps the home fans can spur the home team to victory?

5. Alexander Ovechkin. The precocious young Capitals' star took home the Hart Trophy, was awarded the NHL MVP. He was the first pucksmith to score 60+ goals in a single-season since Mario Lemieux pulled off the feat in 1996.

Benched. Kobe Bryant & Phil Jackson. If the Lakers do not manage a miracle comeback of their own in this best-of-seven NBA Finals against the Celtics then last night's loss will be a blot forever on the resumes of these two. All-Timers close games out. All-Timers don't blow historic leads (the Lakers 21-point bulge at the end of one quarter qualified for the record books before the Celtics redemption did) in must-win games. First of all, where was Kobe in the third quarter? He scored 4 points while his opponents whittled an 18-point lead down to a two-point margin. And, then, in the fourth he only made three field goals! And, secondly, Phil. Oh, Philsy. Remember in the first quarter? When Lamar Odom was dominating the game? Why couldn't you get him the ball in the second half? He scored only 2 points in the fourth quarter! How did you let Doc Rivers out maneuver you in the substitution department? He's Doc Rivers! And, you're supposed to be Phil Jackson. It seems like your not-calling-timeouts because-you're-going-to-let-your-teams-learn-to-play-through-it hubris has finally gotten the better of you. Last night you needed to grab this team by the shoulders and shake them until they woke up. But you couldn't do it. You couldn't even tell Kobe it was his time to take over. And, all he used to want to do is take over games. What happened to you two?

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