Cinderella vs. Cinderella!

I called it! I’m not bragging or anything but I absolutely called it. The Washington Capitals just defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Game 7 ON THE ROAD, for the first time in franchise history, mind you, to reach the StanleyCup Finals.

Now it’s the Las Vegas Golden Knights versus the Washington Capitals for the championship – Lord Stanley’s Cup. It’s a unique matchup. It’s unprecedented and almost unheard of.

These two teams were not picked to go this far or to fair this well. But they have overcome the odds and come over the obstacles laid out against them. The Caps and Golden Knights have recovered their own fumbles and debunked the doubters and jeared the court jesters to reach the threshold of the summit of their sport. These two teams now make it almost impossible for the casual observer to choose a fair-haired favorite or pick the one most popular.

Sports fans now have a “Sophia’s Choice.” In other words, the NHL now has a peculiar problem. We now have two Cinderella teams going head – to – head, playing for all the marbles. But only one team can win. Because no participation trophies will be given out here. The lone winner takes home the Stanley Cup Trophy!

So who ya got?

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The Las Vegas Golden Knights!

Who would have thunk it? Few would have thought it. And fewer still would have dreamed it. The expansion team in Vegas, the Golden Knights, the dark horse in the race to win the Stanley Cup, are one step away from winning it all. What a story.

The Las Vegas Golden Knights became the second expansion team in the NHL, NBA, NFL or MLB history since 1960 to reach a championship series in their first season. The other team was the 1967-68 St. Louis Blues. It’s an incredible success for a team that had no expectations. The Golden Knights’ management publicly declared a goal of making the playoffs in three years and competing for a Stanley Cup in six.

But in their maiden voyage year, this upstart is about to pull off the unthinkable; an unprecedented triumph of epic proportions. The odds makers had Vegas at 500-1 to win the Stanley Cup Finals! Not 10-1, or even 100-1; 500 -1! Incredible! In theological language, that translates to “they didn’t have a prayer.”

But they must have prayed, because the Hockey gods or the God of Heaven has heard and headed their humble cry.

Who said miracles are a thing of the past?  I’ll be rooting for Vegas!

The Boston Celtics: “Control the Controllable”

Marcus Smart
Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics

Is this the end of an era? It just well may be.

LeBron James had a 21 point first quarter and a 42 point, 10 rebound, 12 assist virtuoso, triple double performance in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Celtics; but it wasn’t enough.  LeBron made an incredible, instant classic, step-back three-pointer in that same, ridiculous first quarter, but it wasn’t enough.  The miracle, circus shot was absurd, even by LeBron James’ standards, but it wasn’t enough.

Here’s how Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer put it:

“A step-back, fadeaway, late-clock 3-pointer with one of the league’s best defenders draped all over him. And video of the first-quarter spread like wild-fire on social media as sort of a “Look at what LeBron is doing!” snapshot of his 21-point first-quarter barrage in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Here’s the thing: The Boston Celtics liked that possession an awful lot, too. They liked how Marcus Morris made James work just to navigate from the blocks to the 3-point arc in order to set an initial screen. Or how Marcus Smart, who switched onto James, prevented the Cleveland Cavaliers star first from rolling to the basket, then denied James’ initial attempt to back Smart down.

Yes, James eventually got the ball back and made a ridiculous shot, but the Celtics made him work hard for a low-percentage look. And therein lies one of the secrets to Boston’s success through the first two games of the series: making everything hard for James.

‘If you can, watch every possession. We have a bunch of guys coming out that give everything we got every possession,’ Morris told ESPN. ‘LeBron is great, we all know that. That’s something that everyone knows. So, at the end of the day, we can’t hang our heads on shots that he makes. We know he’s going to take those shots, we know he’s going to make some shots. ‘t the end of the day, we control the controllable.’”

We control the controllable.

That’s the quote, and that’s the lesson. We must control the controllable. There’s so much in this life that we can’t and don’t control. We can’t control what others say or do. We can’t control other’s actions or emotions or responses, but we can control what comes out of our mouths and what goes on in our hearts and heads. And we can absolutely control how we treat people. You may not feel like being kind or caring or forgiving or forbearing, but you can control how you act and you react.

So control the controllable. Control what you can, and don’t worry about what you can’t.

Now, back to the presumptive Eastern Conference Champions, the Boston Celtics:

“What the Celtics have controlled is their turnovers, which has eliminated easy transition opportunities. They’ve controlled access to the paint, limiting the chances for James to drive and create for either himself or his teammates. And the Celtics have controlled the intensity, dispatching a never-ending stream of versatile defenders, essentially tasking every player in their rotation with defending James at some point.

The other thing the Celtics control: the series (2-0). Yes, Boston knows it cannot relent in its defensive tenacity as the series shifts to Cleveland for Saturday’s Game 3 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). But an already irrationally confident group took a James haymaker in Game 2 (42 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists) and still won by technical knockout”.

http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/23541621/boston-celtics-defending-lebron-james-east-finals

And so the moral of the story is this: Exit, LeBron, enter Boston.

The Boston Celtics?

 Boston-Celtics-Logo

Yes, the Boston Celtics. And I hate the Boston Celtics, but more on that later.

The Boston Celtics sent my Philadelphia Sixers home packing in only five games after jumping out to a 3-0 series lead. The sometimes clumsy and always inconsistent Sixers practically gifted the Celtics Game 2 of their Second Round Playoff series.

Philly’s ancient rival had something to prove in the 2018 NBA Playoffs because everybody had hastily picked the Sixers to advance to a chance to beat LeBron, but it wasn’t meant to be. And then when they blew a late game lead in regulation and then completely lost it in OT in Game 3 to effectually lose the series, the Celtics knew that it was their time. The Sixers had something special going this season, and they were on the verge of something really special. But the Celtics had other plans. And now it’s the Celtics who are on the verge of something special.

The LeBron’s (a.k.a., the Cleveland Cavaliers) are NOT the Sixers, and yet Boston had a 29 point lead on these same Cavs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. But lest we forget, Cleveland lost Game 1 to Indiana in the first round, and we were asking if LeBron was out of gas then. And the answer was a unanimous “NO!” LeBron came roaring back to take out the Pacers, and they just thumped the hapless Raptors in a surprising sweep. Now LeBron finds himself in the Eastern conference Finals once again.

So, the question is this: can the Celtics, who are playing without Kyrie Irving, win the East and beat King James, the reigning King of the NBA pop culture?  LeBron is still LeBron, and one game aint no series. So we’ll see.

And in case you didn’t know, I’m from Philly, so I HATE the Celtics. I just love to hate them. And that’s where the whole love your enemy like your neighbor part comes in.  Did I get that right?  Anyway, since I’m from Philly, I mean, I just have to hate all Boston teams, right?

Hockey Fans Unite!

alexander-ovechkin-art

Are you watching the 2018 NHL Playoffs? No? Ok, well, neither am I, but that’s not the point. I’m a sports fan, and I live in the Washington D.C. market, so I am paying attention to the Washington Capitals/Pittsburgh Penguins Second Round Series.  Real sports fans at least check the scoreboard in all of the four major food groups, er, sports, right?

The Caps are up 2-1 on the Pens because Alexander Ovechkin scored the game winner in Game 3 with about one minute remaining in the third period. Game 4’s coming up in Pittsburgh, and the Caps seem to have the momentum. And they’ll need it. Because if you don’t know, the Caps have never, no never, beaten the Penguins in a playoff series. EVER. And some say they can’t and won’t, but there’s a lot of hockey left to be played, so here’s to hope.

The Capitals looked like they were dead in the water in the First Round, down 0-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they lost those first two games AT HOME! But the Caps came all the way back and won four straight to take the series, 4-2. So there’s hope for the Caps, right?

And a buddy of mine at work told me that 5 of the 8 remaining teams in the 2018 NHL Playoffs have never won the Stanley Cup Trophey. Wow (but don’t ask me to name them). So the odds are that one of these also ran, always-a-brides-maid-but-never-a-bride teams could win it all this year. Including everyone’s darling, the expansion Las Vegas Knights.

So here’s to hope.  As Jessie Jackson taught us way back in the ‘70’s, “Keep Hope Alive!” Because if you ain’t got hope, you ain’t got nothin’.

Always Believe In The Underdog!

Loyola Chicago
Loyola-Chicago’s Lucas Williamson, Nick Dinardi and Christian Negron, from left, celebrate winning a regional final NCAA college basketball tournament game against Kansas State, Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Atlanta. Loyola-Chicago won 78-62. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

 How can you NOT root for Loyola-Chicago?  They just beat Kansas State and won their way to the Final Four in San Antonio. They’ve turned the 2018 NCAA Tournament into the Loyola-Chicago Invitational. And they’ve got Sister Jean!  What’s not to like?

Loyola-Chicago’s coach, Porter Moser, is the ultimate X’s and O’s kind of guy. He’s all heart with a good head on his shoulders, to boot. He genuinely cares for his kids, and he is a genius when it comes to the game of basketball. Backdoor cuts leading to layups are part of the brilliant game plan he drew up these last two weekends for his upstart underdog team.  Yes, the Ramblers are for real!  They are going to the Final Four for the second time since 1963 when they won the National Championship.  Wow.

 “Unlike the other mid-major 11 seeds that made the Final Four (particularly George Mason in 2006 and Virginia Commonwealth in 2011), this Loyola team looks particularly dangerous. These last two weeks weren’t about a hot shooting run or pulling off a series of mega-upsets. Loyola simply played to its level in every game, got a little bit of late-game good fortune and could be a real threat to get to the championship game”.http://www.wwltv.com/article/news/nation-world/loyola-chicago-takes-down-kansas-state-to-continue-historic-run-to-final-four/507-531843318 For the Ramblers didn’t make it here by accident — they are 31-5, after all — and are a result of a perfect storm of coaching, talent and long hours.

“We understand why people are rooting for us,” guard Clayton Custer said. “It’s why people love this tournament. They love rooting for teams that they don’t see all the time, and maybe they picked us in our bracket. But we know we belong here. We know we deserve to be here.” I love it. 

You just gotta believe.

March Madness: Upsets, Comebacks and Turnarounds

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“Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

UVA made history. So did UMBC and so did Loyola-Chicago and so did Buffalo. UVA was the first No. 1 Seed to lose to a 16 Seed. Likewise, UMBC has the distinct honor of being the first 16 Seed to upset a No. 1 Seed. It’s never happened before, and we all thought that it never would. Correction: we didn’t believe it ever could. But it did.

Loyola-Chicago, an 11 Seed, defeated Miami, a Six Seed, and then turned right around and defeated Tennessee, a Three Seed. Madness.   Buffalo, seeded 13, THIRTEEN!, beat Arizona, a 4 Seed — in the first round. And that’s just for starters.

Xavier, another No. 1 Seed, is gone. North Carolina and Cincinnati, both No. 2 Seeds, are gone too, and so is Michigan State, a No. 3 Seed. Notice a trend here? Houston beat Michigan – no wait, Michigan actually won! And on a buzzer beater by a freshman, no less! Goodness! And it’s going to snow tomorrow night! Talk about March Madness. There was barely a bad game in the tournament. Yes some were tough to watch because of poor officiating and spells of sporadic shooting, but all in all, it’s seems to be the year of the underdog. We could talk all day about UMBC beating UVA, but how about Nevada’s win?

Josh Hall converted an offensive rebound for the tiebreaking basket with 9.1 seconds left as University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) erased a 22-point deficit in the final minutes of a stunning 75-73 victory over Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. UNR’s stirring comeback — the second-largest in tournament history — came just two days after the seventh-seeded Wolf Pack rallied from 14 points down to beat Texas 87-83 for its first NCAA victory since 2007.

The Wolf Pack (28-7) move on to an all-upstart South Region semifinal matchup with 11th-seeded Loyola-Chicago (30-5) on Thursday. Cincinnati, the No. 2 seed, never trailed until Hall’s tiebreaking basket but watched its lead disintegrate as it failed to make a basket in the final 5:45.

Nothing feels better than this,” UNR coach Eric Musselman said. “Nothing. Sweet 16!”

This year, perhaps more than any other year in recent memory, there have been more upsets, comebacks and turnarounds than you can shake a stick at. We’ve seen epic victories, historic collapses, and a little of bit everything else in between. It’s so much like living in the Bible days, it’s scary. It’s almost as if the Bible is coming off of the pages, or up out of your smart phone. The holy writ says that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first”. That’s what we’re seeing here.

It’s so spiritual, it’s so mystical, and it’s so applicable to everyday life in general and to our lives in specific that we have no choice but to stop and take note. How are the teams who no one picked to win winning with reckless abandon?   

I submit that we must acknowledge the otherworldly dimension of sports. But before you dismiss this notion, hear me out.  Not everyone believes in prayer, but those that do believe that faith and works actually work together for good. Mix some elbow grease in with a good game plan and teamwork and a technical reason for how David defeated Goliath and, viola, you get Loyola-Chicago winning two games in this tournament, and  UBMC trumping over an overconfident and (shall we say overly arrogant?) Virginia team that swears by its “system” come what may.

Miracles do happen on ice and yes, on the hardwood. You may not be a believer, but after this weekend’s upsets, comebacks and turnarounds, I don’t see how you can’t be.