So this really has become more like Nate's Monthly Sports Extravaganza, but what the hell?
The Washington Wizards are down 3 games to one and stand on the brink of first-round extinction at the hands of the Cavs for the third consecutive year. I like it. I like it a lot. Sunday's tight 100-97 Cavaliers victory (which I had to TRY to watch at work, thanks to a ludicrous 1:00 PM tipoff. Arg!) restored much of the on-court drama that had been missing in the previous two games, both blowouts. While I've never been a Delonte West fan, the dude is beginning to grow on me in a major way. Game winning three pointers can do that. The shot in question came after the Wizards had clawed their way back from a 15 point deficit, eventually tying the game in the final minute on an acrobatic Gilbert Arenas jumper. With the game clock winding down, LeBron James set up for the last shot. Seeing the defense collapse on his dribble drive, he kicked it out to an open (though not nearly as open as everyone would have it) West, and, well, this says it so much better than I can:
The Cavs won this game because they murdered the Wizards on the boards, 51-31. They won because LeBron James made a picture-perfect pass to an open West instead of forcing a godawful shot like the one Gilbert Arenas took as time expired. They won because West, 5 of 8, and Daniel Gibson, 4 of 7, were raining threes. They won because DeShawn Stevenson ignited a huge second quarter Cavs run when he whacked LeBron on the head and picked up a flagrant 1. They won because Ben Wallace and Joe Smith gave their team so many second and third chances on the offensive end, snagging missed shots and never giving up on a possession. They won because the "big three" of Washington was no match for our superstar.
But the game was hardly perfect. The Cavs almost lost because their defense was porous in the first quarter. They almost lost because Washington made so, so many off-balance garbage shots. They almost lost because they turned the ball over 19 times, mostly on careless passes and drives. They almost lost because Washington's offense is sophisticated and has many weapons that can break down even the best defenses. I give the Wizards credit--they wanted these last two games on their home court badly. Luckily, they only got one.
Look for the Cavs to close this series out on Wednesday. Look for me in the crowd.
The Wizards have been a way better team without Arenas, who, in spite of being hobbled by bad knees and the extra weight he is obviously carrying around, still elected to heave wild shots on the Wizards final two possessions. He was right when he said the Wizards are Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison's team, but why did he not defer to the hot Butler on that last shot?
The off-court drama has been at fever pitch all along. Boring. Give us the games and shut up. OK, a little gamesmanship is all right from time to time, but enough is enough with this series. Do we really need to get Soulja Boy involved? I mean, the Cavs have won 11 of 14 playoff games against this crew. Hey, Wizards: talk shit after you win a series.
When Stevenson took his cheap swipe at LeBron's head, he ended up on the floor. That pretty much sums up the series. The Wizards try to bully LeBron, LeBron wins.
When asked in his postgame press conference if he thought the Wizards could come back in this series, LeBron flatly said, "no." That is as cold-blooded as it gets, particularly in a p.c. sports world of canned answers like, "Washington has a great team and they're perfectly capable of bouncing back and we know we can't relax and we have to continue to be aggressive and blah, blah, blah. LeBron's succinct "no" was so very disrespectful and refreshing.
Welcome back C.C. Sabathia. After four unspeakable starts to begin the season, the Tribe ace has settled down. In two starts and fourteen innings since, he has allowed two runs and has struck out 19. His ERA has fallen from a ghastly 13.50 to a merely embarrassing 7.88. Some have speculated that C.C. has been distracted by his contract situation. I say he was in a slump. His stuff has been there, and his track record speaks for itself. It's a long, long season. He'll be all right.
And as C.C. goes, so go the Indians, who were on a six game roll before splitting a four game series with the Yankees. This team's pitching is good enough to keep them in the race all season long, barring injury.
And speaking of which, Jake Westbrook was enjoying one of his best starts to a season before being shelved for a month with a back strain. This we do not need. Fortunately...
Cliff Lee has put together one of the best four-game spans I've ever seen in my 32 years of watching baseball, and has basically been Sabathia's diametric opposite. Just take a glance at Lee's four starts this year: 31.2 innings pitched, ONE earned runs allowed. That's good for a microscopic 0.28 ERA. Lee has given up only 11 hits and 2 walks, which is pretty much impossible. I don't expect Cliff to keep this up. That would be unfair. He is, after all, mortal. but what a turnaround from last year, when injuries and a bad attitude resulted in a very forgettable season.
Just how has he done it? His fastball has been perfection. While never a flamethrower, Lee is putting his 90-91 MPH heater wherever he wants to, using his offspeed stuff to keep hitters honest. That's a simple formula that has wielded frankly shocking results.
McBone asks: where is your bat, Travis Hafner? You have gone from one of the most devastating hitters in the game to one of the easiest outs in the Tribe lineup. It seems like ages since you got good wood on the ball and your lack of production renders impotent the offensive attack of your team. Last year I was saying, "when Travis Hafner snaps out of this, watch out." Now I'm wondering if it's ever gonna happen. As I said, it's a long season. We'll see.
I'm tired. I'll touch on the Browns' draft in a later post.