Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday's Starting Five

1. Rafael Nadal. The Capri'd One absolutely demolished Roger Federer, the guy who is supposed to be the best tennis player in the history of rackets and nets, in the French Open Final. Nadal cruised to a straight set victory in which he only dropped four games and hung a zero on his opponent in the third set (the first time Federer has been shut out in a set since 1999). It was the worst loss Federer has ever suffered in a Grand Slam tournament (his previous worst coming in straight-set defeat to Agassi in 2001 at the US Open) and the third consecutive time that he has fallen to Nadal in the French Open Final (the year before that Nadal beat him in the semis) in Paris. Rafa, as the kids call him, is now 28-0 at Roland Garos and 115-2 on clay since April 2005. His streak of four straight French Open titles matches the four-peat feat accomplished by Bjorn Borg from 1978-81.

2. Leon Powe. You can be certain that it's your day when you're going to coast-to-coast and dunking over the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The former Cal standout was perhaps the second-least-likely game-changer (the first being D.J. Mbenga) in uniform but he changed the game all the same, to the tune of 21 points and 2 boards in 15 minutes. Perhaps most importantly he came in unsung off the bench and got whistles blowing, getting himself to the line enough to go 9-13. Meanwhile the Lakers only got 10 free throw attempts as a team!

3. The Boston Celtics. Mission accomplished. They held serve. And, that's it. Being 2-0 has been little more than a recipe for being knotted at 2-2 in these playoffs (see Celtics/Cavs, Celtics/Hawks, Hornets/Spurs, Lakers/Jazz) so far so the Celtics (read: their fans) shouldn't get too far ahead of themselves just. That being said, the C's have been playing a far fiercer brand of basketball than their erstwhile foes. The Celtics are getting to loose balls and attacking. They are the aggressors. And, they've also been getting most all of the whistles, which made a huge difference in what turned out to be a close Game 2. Either way, though, they took care of business. Now, they really just need to win 1 out of 3 games in Los Angeles.

4. Tom Thibodeau. Watch the Celtics sideline. But not when they're on offense, when you might actually see Doc Rivers holding up a few fingers or a closed fist and shouting out something or other. Rather, watch the Celtics sideline when the team is on defense. You'll see Doc standing to the center court end of the bench. And about a step behind him to his right you'll see Associate Head Coach Thibodeau screaming and gesticulating wildly as he pulls the strings on the NBA's best defense. He is the great and powerful Oz behind the phantasm that is Doc. Thibodeau is the defensive genius whose arrival in Boston is at least as important as Ray Allen's and likely as integral to the team's change in fortunes as Garnett's. Thibodeau has cut his teeth under former Knicks and Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy. In his 17 seasons as part of a NBA coaching staff his teams have finished in the top 10 defensively 14 times. He's for real and was my first choice head coaching candidate before Mike D' Antoni was gifted to us by Steve Kerr.

5. Da'Tara. This is the horse that won, leading almost right from the gate, the Belmont Stakes and derailed the hopes of all those folks hoping to watch (and wager on) a Triple Crown win by Big Brown on Saturday. It must have been a strange ride for Da'Tara and his jockey, they shot out to the front, setting the pace and likely waiting (and waiting and waiting) for Big Brown or anyone for that matter to overtake them. But no one ever came, least of all Big Brown who finished dead last, and this Nick Zito (the white-haired guy who most people only ever see three times a year) trained horse just get on running right to the finish line.

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