C’s up 2-0 on Mavs

The Big Story – NBA Finals: The Celtics held serve by taking Games 1 and 2 of the NBA Finals in Boston. While Game 1 was a 107-89 blowout, Game 2 was more impressive because they shot poorly (especially Jayson Tatum) and still won 105-98 by grinding it out, which is the kind of games in years past they would lose.

No surprise Jrue Holiday was the star with 26 points and, as important, holding Kyrie Irving to his second straight no-impact-scoring game at 16 points. But the real key was the team D, which made the amazing Luka Doncic work for all of his 62 combined points as Dallas was held under 100 twice.

Now on to Dallas for Games 3 and 4 on Wednesday and Friday.

Sports 101: With 59, Larry Bird is the Celtics’ all-time triple double leader. Round out the Top 5 by naming the players who had the following numbers of triple D’s: 33, 32, 21 and 17.

News Item – Here Come The Yankees: After splitting four with moribund Chicago over the weekend, the Red Sox start the week in third place at 33-33. But a big test arrives this week as they face the best two teams in baseball. It starts with three against Dave Dombrowski’s Phillies and then it’s the high-flying Yanks making their first visit to Fenway Park this weekend.

News Item – Tanner Houck: It was supposed to be Brayan Bello. But as we hit mid-June the Red Sox ace is Houck after becoming what many thought he might become a few years back. It included shutting out Washington over five innings as the Sox clinched a 2021 playoff berth on the final day of the season.

While it’s not quite reflected in his 6-5 record thanks to a shaky bullpen and lack of offensive punch, his 1.91 ERA and .200 batting average against are among the league leaders, with the latest impressive effort coming in Thursday’s 14- 2 win over the White Sox when he allowed two runs and struck out nine over seven innings.

News Item – Homers United: The Boston Globe ran a piece on predictions made by hometown media members who cover the Celtics and Mavs. To no one’s surprise, all but one guy from Dallas — Sean McFarland — picked the Mavs and it was the same for Boston where only one, naturally Dan Shaughnessy, didn’t have the locals winning. Celtics fans can take heart, as the track record on predictions by Shaughnessy says he’s almost always wrong, so the Celtics are probably a lock.

The Numbers:

12 – consecutive losses to his former team by Kyrie after his 12-point, 6 of 19, and 16-point submissions in Game 1 and 2.

17 – NBA Finals record for biggest lead after the first quarter set by the Celtics when they led in Game 1 37-20.

96 – he may be hitting just .215 as he’s finding his footing, but after the 4-5, 4-RBI day vs. Chicago last week, it’s the number of RBI Sox rookie CF/SS Ceddanne Rafaela is on track to knock in from the ninth spot in the order.

Of the Week Awards

Thumbs Up – Celtics Warm-Up Shirts: Love those Celtics warm up shirts with WALTON written across the front in tie-dye colors to honor the late great Bill Walton.

Mexico Will Pay For The Wall Award – Dallas Mavs: The Mavs’ announcement that Doncic was questionable for Game 2 (when he had a 31-11-11 triple double) was less believable than the claim made in the 2016 presidential race.

A Little History – Down Goes Rambis: Yup, it was (gulp) 40 years ago last week when Kevin McHale horse collared bespectacled Laker Kurt Rambis in Game 4 of the 1984 NBA Finals to prevent a breakaway lay-up as the C’s were getting run out by L.A. for the second straight game. It radically changed the momentum after that as the Celtics improbably rallied to even the series at 2-2.

That play and Gerald Henderson’s steal and score in OT of Game 1 were the plays that saved the series the C’s eventually won in seven.

Sports 101 Answer: No. 2 on the C’s triple D list is Bob Cousy with 33, followed by John Havlicek (32), Rajon Rondo (21) and Bill Russell (17). If you’re wondering, Tatum and Jaylen Brown have just two and three respectively.

Final Thought – Thumbs Down – John Henry: It’s ironic the Red Sox owner whined to the Financial Times of London that fans are too unrealistic in thinking you can win it all every year, just as the GM he fired to send the Sox crashing to the basement shows up at Fenway with his Phillies. Who immediately became contenders after he arrived thanks to moves like signing Kyle Schwarber (93 homers in two years) after the Sox let him walk.

True, you can’t win every year. But Dombo shows big-market teams can contend almost every year if they have the will Henry once had.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

C’s go for banner 18

The Big Story – Celtics in the NBA Finals: We’re at the point where pretty much everyone thought the Celtics would be: about to play in the NBA Finals. And as fate would have it the opposing Dallas Mavericks bring along Boston’s biggest sports villain of the day, Kyrie Irving, who has managed not to wreck his team for once.

At stake is the hugely important task of reclaiming their place as the most winning franchise in NBA history, something they’d been from the 1960s until 2020, when the Lakers tied them at 17 titles. Thus, winning number 18 would be the most significant title since Bird and company downed the Magic Johnson-, Kareem Jabbar-led Lakers in 1984.

To do that they’ll have to play better than they have so far, as despite being 12-2 in the playoffs they have yet to play their first start-to-finish solid game together. However, if they can hit on all cylinders, beating them is a tall order. Time will tell if that happens.

In the meantime it should be fun.

Sports 101: Name the only brother combination to ever play in a Super Bowl and the NBA Finals.

News Item – 5 Thoughts On Celtics-Mavs Series:

Tight Games Favor Dallas: First because Joe Mazzulla’s simplistic end-of-the-game strategy generally is isolating Jayson Tatum one on one, where he invariably wastes too much time and winds up taking a terrible shot, a Kobe-wannabe step-back 20-foot fall-away. Plus Luka Doncic is the best end-of-the-game shooter/scorer in the world. If he has the last shot Celts are in trouble.

Attack Kyrie Irving On D: He can’t cover my grandmother and the C’s need to make him pay for that from the first second of Game 1.

C’s Need Something from their Bench: Especially Sam Hauser, who’s been awful in the playoffs. Ditto for Payton Pritchard, who’s had some big moments but needs to be more consistent with his three-ball game.

Derek Lively is Mavs X Factor: Yes, I know he doesn’t start, Daniel Gafford does. But he’s still the best rookie center in the Finals since Alvin Adams in 1976. He hurt the Clippers, Oak City and Minnesota until he got hurt (when he was 16 for 16 in the series). The Celtics need to beware of him.

Time for Tatum and Brown: They’re no longer kids learning on the job. So no excuses. Time to show if they belong with great Celtics like Russell, Havlicek, Bird and Garnett.

Prediction: If they do, Celtics win in six. If not, fans will be screaming to trade one or both.

The Numbers:

13 & 16 –wins and losses for the Red Sox in their first 29 games at Fenway Park in what once was a great home field advantage.

142 – personal winning streak for the late Bill Walton, who died of cancer last week at 71. Dates back to his last two years in high school, his year on the freshman team at UCLA and his first 88 varsity games as a Bruin.

Random Thoughts:

I’m all for recognizing the great achievements of players in the Negro League. But commingling their stats with the major league baseball’s record book as announced by MLB last week is, well, dumb for a very simple reason. None of those players played in the major leagues. So putting Josh Gibson’s .372 lifetime average ahead of Ty Cobb’s .367 as the best ever average is like combining Pete Maravich’s phenomenal college scoring records with those of the NBA. The numbers were accumulated in different ways in different leagues. That doesn’t make sense to me.

Sports 101 Answer: The Walton brothers of San Diego, California, are the only brothers to play in a SB and NBA Finals. Bruce as an OL with Dallas in 1976 and Bill with Portland in 1977 and the Celtics 1986. Both played their college ball at UCLA.

Final Thought – Bill Walton: Certain people hit you a little more when they die. The Redhead was one of those people for me.

He was my favorite college player when I came of age as a young basketball player. Then there was his sheer fundamental artistry — he was always on his toes, never brought his arms or the ball down below his shoulders and was as “team first” as anyone I’ve seen. Third was he was a UCLA guy and I loved the Bruins during their dynasty years. Finally there was the 21 for 22 from the floor 44-point masterpiece to beat Memphis State in the 1973 NCAA Final, which was the best I ever saw anyone play.

Like Sandy Koufax, Gale Sayers and Bobby Orr his brilliance was snuffed out long before it should have been thanks to chronic foot injuries. But even with that it was a great ride. So thanks for the memories, big fella.

RIP.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

C’s lead the series

The Big Story – Celts Hold Serve: All we can tell you at our Memorial Day-induced (very) early deadline is the Celtics did what they were supposed to do in the first two games of their series with the Pacers: maintain home court advantage to go up two games. The first was a completely lucky Game 1 OT escape after blowing double-digit leads twice, and the second a methodical 16-point beat led by the series star so far Jaylen Brown.

It could be over by the time you’ll actually see this or tied 2-2. But there’s not much I can do about that with my Friday deadline.

Sports 101: Jayson Tatum just became the seventh Celtic to be named first All-NBA for a third time. Name the other three-time first teamers.

News Item – Real Baseball Season Begins: Once Memorial Day has come and gone, the real baseball season begins. Though the prospects of the Red Sox making a run to win it all are getting dimmer by the day there are still some stories of interest to follow, like whether the stellar work of the starting pitching can continue and how young players like Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu progress, whether Kenley Jansen or Tyler O’Neill will still be Red Sox come Aug. 1 and whether any of their promising minor-leaguers make it to Boston by year’s end.

The Numbers:

35 – all it took in seconds into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals for the NBA refs to blow an obvious class in calling a goal tend on Al Horford while taking away the fast break attempt in the process.

40 – career playoff high for Jaylen Brown in the Celtics’ 126-110 Game 2 win over Indiana.

Of the Week Award:

How Old Do I Feel Moment of the Week: Thanks to ABC analyst JJ Reddick, pretty old after he admitted during Game 2 he didn’t know who Cheers main character Sam Malone was. Then he made it worse by guessing he was just a “bartender” on that famous Boston TV show.

Baseball’s A Strange Game Stats of the Week: It’s seeing Red Sox starters Tanner Houck and Kutter Crawford putting up stellar earned run averages of 1.97 and 2.17 over 20 starts in the season’s first two months and their collective record being under .500 at 6-7. Granted their 68 and 58 innings pitched do not put them on an Iron Man McGinnity pace, but it does beg the question what does a guy need to do to get a win?

In Case You’re Wondering Award – Joe “Iron Man” McGinnity: The New York Giants hurler was 35-4 in 1904 with 38 complete games, five saves and a 1.67 ERA in 51 starts for the 107-win Giants while pitching an astonishing 406 innings.

Thumbs Up – Raffy Devers: For his team record-setting streak of homering in six straight games when he knocked in nine runs.

Random Thoughts:

Anyone besides me notice that the team in Philly that was put together by the guy John Henry fired two GM’s ago — Dave Dombrowski — had the best record in baseball by far at 37-14 after going deep in the playoffs the last two years?

There was John Havlicek’s 90 mph line drive banker to take the lead in the second OT vs. Phoenix in triple-OT thriller Game 5 in 1975, but the only buzzer-beating shot I can come up with that was a better/bigger major clutch shot in Celtics history with a higher degree of difficulty than the corner 3 Brown stuck with Pascal Siakam draped all over him is Sam Jones’ runner over Wilt Chamberlain to win Game 4 (89-88) and send the C’s back to Boston tied 2-2 with L.A. instead of down 1-3.

Sports 101 Answer: Joining Tatum as members of First Team All NBA three times or more are Bob Cousy with a most-ever 10 followed by Larry Bird (9), Havlicek, Bill Sharman and Easy Ed Macauley with four each and Bill Russell just three times.

Final Thought –A Little History – The Memorial Day Massacre: The ultimate lesson that no matter what the score is in a playoff blowout it’s just one game, nothing more. Wipe the slate clean and move on to the next game.

The one in question here happened on Memorial Day 39 years ago in 1985 when the Celtics annihilated the Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

Which got a lot of so-called experts saying the series was over. Especially if the migraine that rendered Kareem Abdul Jabbar useless persisted.

But guess what? L.A. wasn’t dead and neither was Kareem, who went for 30-17-7 in leading L.A. to a 109-102 Game 2 win in Boston and 24-14-7 in L.A.’s Game 3 blowout. Boston regrouped to win Game 4 behind 28, 27 and 26 points from Kevin McHale, DJ and Larry Bird. But the Lakers took the next two with the rejuvenated Jabbar being named MVP after passing his debilitating migraine on to the fellas in green.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

The week that was

The Big Story – Celtics Start Round 3: So much for our first real New York–Boston playoff series since 1984. Instead the gallant Knicks fell to the Indiana Pacers after they took the last two games to earn their ticket to Boston for the Eastern Conference Finals.

They’ve met seven times in the playoffs before, with the C’s winning the last four meetings, including the last time in 2019. But this is the first time it’s been outside of Round 1.

Game 1 happened on Tuesday, with Game 2 coming tonight (Thursday) in Boston.

Sports 101: Who was the first person ever to hit a homer off the first pitch thrown on opening day?

News Item – Sox Falling: The Sox surprised almost everyone with a solid April. But, helped by a boatload of injuries, reality has set in as they’ve gone 6-11 in their first 17 games in May, which had them starting the week in fourth place, 9.5 games behind Baltimore.

News Item – The Party’s Over For The Bruins: For the second straight year the Bruins’ season was ended by the Florida Panthers. This time in six games, after the B’s coughed up one-goal third leads in Games 4 and 6. Now come the second-guessing and the finger-pointing, along with all eyes on Jim Montgomery to see if he’ll be the latest coaching scapegoat.

The Numbers:

.354 – unexpected batting average for Sox catcher Connor Wong, who no one thought would be the last player standing among the three guys they got back for Mookie Betts.

21 – record-setting under par score carded on Sunday by Xander Schauffele to win the PGA Championship and his first major title.

Of the Week Awards

Who’s Hot – Raphael Devers: The team may not be, but he is. When the Sox downed the Cardinals 11-4 on Sunday in St. Louis he went deep for the fifth time in five games.

Jailbird of the Week – Scott Scheffler: It’s not everyday that a guy goes from a jail cell to the top of the leaderboard of a major. But that’s what the defending Masters champ did after allegedly assaulting a police officer at a traffic incident on his way into Round 2 of the PGA. After getting his mugshot and fingerprints, he was back on the Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, to shoot 65 and grab a piece of the lead during his round.

Random Thoughts:

Imagine how good Luka Doncic would be if he ever got within area codes of actually being in primo shape.

It ain’t like the old days when you look at the Patriots schedule and the toughest decision faced was if you’d give them 12 or 13 wins. Unless the 12 or 13 you’re figuring on is losses for the upcoming season as could be the case as the just released 2024 schedule suggests.

A Little History – 1984 Knicks–Celtics: Believe it or not the last good seven-game series between New York and Boston was 40 years ago. Even with having the great Bernard King at his absolute peak, no one gave NY much hope in the Conference semi-final because he didn’t have much help. Except after going down 0-2 New York won all three games at MSG, including the 106-104 barn burner Game 6, to give most in these parts a scare. But Larry Bird was in the first of his three straight MVP seasons, and he delivered one of the signature games of his Boston career: a 39-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist triple double that sparked the C’s as they cruised to a 121-104 Game 7 win to move on to face Milwaukee — who they ran out in five games.

Sports 101 Answer: It happened in 1986 when Sox lead-off hitter Dwight Evans hit the season’s first into the left field stands at Tiger Stadium off Hall of Famer Jack Morris.

Final Thought – Celtics vs. Pacers: Don’t expect an easy series, because Indiana’s not afraid of them. They split their last four games, including eliminating Boston from the (who cares) in-season tournament.

They have difficulty with Tyrese Haliburton and he looked ready in his solid 26-point Game 7 effort vs New York.

Indy, not Boston, led the NBA in scoring, and has the same bombs-away from deep center in Myles Turner the C’s have in Kristaps Porzingis. So they can go toe to toe on offense.

Aaron Nesmith may be a bull in a china shop who fouls on every play, but he’s the kind of physical defender that gives Jayson Tatum trouble where if he’s not aggressive against that from the jump he can disappear into one of his infuriating and hurtful to the team passive starts.

They have a better bench coach in Rick Carlisle, who won January’s 133-131 victory by saving his challenges until the final minute to overturn two calls that decided the game, rather than Joe Mazzulla regularly using his to challenge on meaningless calls early in games.

Prediction: Celtics in a scary seven games over Indy.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Sale-ling along again

The Big Story – Alumni News: After his one-calamity-after-another ways since 2018, you knew from the day the Sox traded Chris Sale to Atlanta he was going to regain his dominant form. Which he did while shutting the Sox out for six innings last week while striking out 10 in a win that moved him to 5-1 with a 2.95 ERA for the Braves through seven starts.

It should be noted that, given his injury history and track record of eventually wearing down, he’s a long way from making it through the first half, let alone the year, injury-free. It is working so far. But, as Casey Stengel used to say, you never know.

Fingers crossed.

Sports 101: Ty Cobb won the AL Batting title year between 1907 and 1919 except in 1916. Who won it that year?

News Item – Trouble Bruin For B’s: The opening series 5-1 drubbing of Florida now seems long ago. It was all downhill from there after the Bruins got drubbed themselves twice in three straight losses. First by identical 6-1 scores in Games 2 and 3. Then by blowing a 2-0 first period lead in Game 4 to go down 1-3 to the Panthers. The only glimmer of hope to take from this dire spot is that’s where Florida was before rallying to win three straight and take the series 4-3 last year. So the B’s know it can be done.

News Item – White Hot Nova Connection Burns Indy: The best story in the NBA playoffs has to be the way three teammates from Villanova’s 2018 NCAA championship team are driving the Knicks deeper into the playoffs. It’s a first of its kind story, as if the Knicks go/went on to win it all Jalen Brunson, Dominic Divicenzo and Josh Hart would be the first three guys from the same college championship to pull that off together in the NBA.

News Item – C’s Lose Game 2 Badly Again: Celtics fan boy see-no-evil ESPN announcers are repeating the line that fans are “impatient” with the Jayson Tatum-led team for not winning enough after seeing them rack up their latest Game 2 relaxation loss at home after cruising in Game 1 over Cleveland. This claim is insulting to them and delusional by the players and coaches pushing that ridiculous story. It’s just an excuse by a team that can’t stay focused when it counts. With their talent, if Tatum and company had one tenth of the fight in them that Hart, Brunson and the Knicks have shown in these playoffs, the C’s would have won the last two NBA Finals.

The Numbers:

16 – shots on goal total by the Bruins offense to 32 against in the aforementioned Game 4 loss to Florida.

40 – months in prison that rocket scientist Celtics alum GlenBig Baby” Davis was sentenced to last week for his role in scamming the NBA health care program out of pandemic-related funds.

76 – video clips sent to the NBA office by the Pacers supposedly showing referee mistakes from just the first two games of the Pacers-Knicks.

Of the Week

Crybaby of the Week – Pacers Coach RickCarlisle. Come on, Rick, not even I think NBA refs can miss 76 calls in just two stinking games.

Stat of the Week – Plus/Minus: For those who think points scored mean everything. When Minnesota thumped Denver 106-80 in Game 2 vs. the T-Wolves, their plus/minus leader was Jaden McDaniels at +26 despite scoring just 5 points. On the other side Denver’s high scorer was Aaron Gordon with 20, who also was their +/- leader at -33.

Random Thoughts

Hate to put pressure on the kid, but am I the only one who thinks that from certain angles Drake Maye looks like Tom Brady?

The T-Wolves’ Anthony Edwards is showing he’s on the doorstep of joining the NBA’s elite players. He has a lot of Michael/Kobe grit in him.

Sports 101 Answer: Ex-Red Sox star Tris Speaker hit .386 for Cleveland to stop Cobb’s streak. But Cobb wasn’t far off as he finished second at .370.

Final Thought – Minutes Debate: As someone who thinks players are babied down to 32 minutes a game nowadays by sissified coaches like Joe Muzzulla, I’ll be interested to see if the Knicks’ Tom Thibodeau’s pedal-to-the-middle style will hold up as the playoffs go on. Both Hart and Brunson have averaged over 43 minutes per so far, where Hart played all 48 in three straight games, while it was 42 for OG Anunoby, 44 for Brunson and Divincenzo and all 48 minutes for Hart in Game 1 was Indiana.

I’m a maniac, but even I think that has to catch up to them at some point. And maybe it did in Game 4 as the Villanova trio shot a combined 9 for 36 overall and 1-16 from downtown in a 32-point loss.

However, we’ll need a little more evidence before we know if Game 4 was just one of those bad game blowouts or if New York is getting tired.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

B’s bumble but move on

The Big Story – It’s Pheeew for the Bruins: After lackluster efforts in Games 5 and 6 that turned a 3-1 series lead into a here-we-go-again Game 7 nail-biter vs. a weaker opponent, fans of the B’s were thinking it was deja vu all over again. That’s why David Pastrnak’s Game 7 winning goal in OT vs. Toronto was such a relief. And while it doesn’t quite go up there with Bobby Orr going airborne after putting one past St. Louis goalie Glenn Hall to win the 1970 Stanley Cup, it was still a huge historical Bruins moment, because it saved them from a franchise-killing loss at a most critical time.

Now on to face the club that wrecked last year’s party, the dastardly Florida Panthers.

Sports 101: Name the four pitchers to have struck out 4,000 or more batters.

News Item – Sox Reminding All of 2013: I went that whole year saying, “How are they doing this? They’re not that good.” I’m saying the same thing now, as behind great starting pitching they left April in third place at 18-13 and 1.5 games behind the Orioles and Yankees. All of which has attracted attention from many who wrote them off as a disaster waiting to happen.

News Item – Super Team Duds: For players with the power to do it like Kevin Durant and LeBron James, building “super teams” has been all the rage since LBJ pulled it off by taking his talents to Miami over a decade ago. But I don’t think getting run out in a first-round rout by Minnesota is what KD had in mind when he forced his way out of Brooklyn to form a super team in Phoenix. Ditto for LeBron when he less than ethically got Anthony Davis’ agent (and his) to concoct a way/steal/tamper to bring AD to L.A.

News Item – Baseball Managers Value: It’s hard to exactly say what it is. Especially in light of what’s happened in Cleveland and Houston in the first month of the 2024 baseball season, as the Guardians lead the AL Central at 20-10. I guess they don’t miss the retired Tito Francona. But in Houston it’s the reverse for the perennially contending Astros after Dusty Baker hung them up, as they were dead last at 10-20. So go figure.

The Numbers:

1 – shots made out of 15 taken by Orlando guard Franz Wagner in the Magic’s Game 7 loss to Cleveland.

6 – MLB-leading shutouts by the maligned Red Sox pitching staff after Cooper Criswell led a parade of five pitchers to shut out the SF Giants 4-0 on just four hits last week.

38 – career-high playoff points scored by Derrick White to save the Celtics from a team-wide lethargic effort in a Game 4 102-88 win over Miami.

Of the Week Awards

Never Seen That Award – Donovan Mitchell: Never saw MJ, LBJ, Kareem, Kobe or even Pete Maravich score every one of their team’s points in an entire fourth quarter as Mitchell did when he scored all 22 in the Cavs’ 103-96 Game 6 loss to Orlando.

Why Can’t We Get Games Like That Award – L.A. Dodgers: For the first time since 2006 the Dodgers went an entire game without anyone striking out. It came in a 8-4 win over five hapless D-Backs pitchers who came up K-empty vs. 44 hitters while walking eight of them.

Random Thoughts:

How do all three refs miss a crucial travel in the final minute of Game 5 of the Knicks-76ers? Which let Tyrese Maxey get the four-point play that sent it to OT, as the NBA’s 2 Minute Report said they did? How?

A Little History – Bruins–Maple Leafs Rivalry: Saturday’s win was the seventh straight time the Bruins have eliminated the Maple Leafs from the playoffs dating all the way to 1969. However, since Toronto dominated the historic rivalry to start by winning eight of the first 10 meetings, the overall series is 9-8 in favor of Boston.

Sports 101 Answer: The 4,000-strikeout club includes, from most to least, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton.

Final Thought – Thumbs Up – Brad Stevens Executive of the Year: It’s rare I’m as wrong as I was about making young Brad the Celtics GM, which I said was a “big mistake” because I had Brad fatigue and figured he’d pick the same type of coach.

But in Ime Udoka he didn’t, and then he set about to make one great trade after another, with the last two leading to capturing the best record in the NBA. And while I was all in on the Kristaps Porzingis-for-Marcus Smart deal, I was leery of the Jrue Holiday-for-Rob WilliamsMalcolm Brogdon deal because, while I loved Holiday, I thought it sapped their depth. But Stevens correctly saw that Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet could fill the void, and he was right again.

All of which is why he richly deserves the award.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

The week that was

The Big Story – It’s take your pick for the week’s top story between (1) the Patriots following a boring but common sense path to fill their biggest needs during the weekend’s NFL draft, (2) the Bruins taking care of business to grab a commanding 3-1 in their playoff series with the Maple Leafs, and (3) the seen-this-script-before no-urgency way the Celtics were their own worst enemy again via their unfocused Game 2 loss after taking a 1-0 series lead over Miami, followed by a backs-against-the-wall Game 3 rout of Miami on the road.

Sports 101: Name the Top 5 leaders for most triple doubles in NBA playoff history.

News Item – Gotta Love Those Playoff Endings: Game 2’s in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs was great ending theater with Jamal Murray’s sideways step back to shoot over 7 foot Anthony Davis’ solid D to give Denver a win at the buzzer, and the coming back from the dead by scoring eight points in the final 27 seconds by first smothering Tyrese Maxey on the inbounds pass to steal it in front of their basket, getting two o-rebounds before seeing the game winning three drop, followed by a great Isaiah Hartenstein block of a sure game winning lay-up by the streaking Maxey.

News Item – Five Thoughts on NFL Draft:

History says three of the six QBs taken in Round 1 will be busts.

In taking a QB, WR and left tackle the Patriots drafted to fill their three biggest needs in rounds 1 through 3. It’s an improvement over the haphazard way Coach B did it. Now, how good are the talent evaluation skills of Eliot Wolf?

I hate to sound negative, but the description of Ja’Lynn Polk — not a burner, but more than makes up for it in physicality in one-on-one battles — sounds an awful lot like what they told us N’Keal Harry was supposed to be.

The Patriots need to come away from this draft with at least four solid long-term NFL players. Hence my desire for a trade down because it would have enhanced the likelihood of that this year and next.

I’m with everyone else — Atlanta drafting a QB (Michael Penix) after giving Kirk Cousins a four-year deal and $100 million guaranteed seems nuts.

The Numbers:

65,162 –largest crowd in New England history to see a soccer game when worldwide star Lionel Messi didn’t disappoint by scoring twice and assisting twice for Inter Miami in their 4-1 win over the New England Revolution.

Of the Week Awards

Do the Math Award: Usually when someone goes 4 for 4 before May 1 the batting average takes a huge leap. And in the case of Ceddanne Rafaela’s 4-4, 1-homer, 7-RBI day on Saturday it did. But since he ended the day hitting .191, it tells how far below the Mendozza line the struggling rookie was.

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award – Mookie Betts: The latest reminder of what a titanically stupid move trading Mookie Betts was is that he left April as the leading hitter in baseball at .387 while playing 24 games at shortstop and another 14 at second base.

Random Thoughts:

Given my discontent with the Patriots’ unimaginative approach to the draft, here’s the question I wished was asked on March 15: What would Danny Ainge do if he had the third overall pick?

I know how good Kawhi Leonard is, but if I’m a GM I’m not interested in him because he constantly creates uncertainty by always being hurt.

Sports 101 Answer: The playoff triple double leaders are Magic Johnson (30), LeBron James (28), Nikola Jokic (18), Russell Westbrook (12) and Jason Kidd (11).

A Little History – Celtics Playoff Triple Doubles: Just six Celtics have done it. Larry Bird and, yes, Rajon Rondo are the all-time leaders with 10 each. Next is John Havlichek with 5 followed by Bill Russell (3), while Paul Pierce and Jayson Tatum each did it once.

Final Thoughts – Sports Tastes Changing: Despite what some think, sports interests change. With no better example being that in the first 50 years of the 20th century boxing, horse racing and baseball were by far the most popular spectator sports in America. On the flip side are two vivid examples seen in the last two weeks of newer sports gaining traction with the public that few would have predicted a decade ago.

The first was the TV audience for the women’s national championship basketball game being larger than the one for the men’s title game. Second was seeing 65,000 at a regular season New England Revolution soccer game when Messi came to Foxboro on Saturday. Not saying it’s good or bad. Just that they represent astonishing examples of how interests are evolving in the U.S. sports culture.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Drafty weekend expected

The Big Story – The NFL 2004 Draft: It comes your way starting tonight (Thursday) from Detroit at 8 p.m. on ESPN and the NFL Network. As I write this the Patriots still hold the third overall pick. If they stay there they’ll most likely take North Carolina QB Drake May.

Sports 101: Including their AFL days, name the five Patriots drafted first overall. Hint: The first was from BC and did not sign with the team.

News Item – Spring Playoffs Start: Good Game 1’s for the Bruins and Celtics. For the B’s it was 5-1 over Toronto behind two goals and an assist from Jake DeBrusk. For the C’s it was a 114-94 win over Miami. That included the usual of rolling to two big leads before infuriatingly losing focus to see them whittled down to scary territory instead of just putting them away.

News Item – Injuries Riddle Sox: It’s standing room only on the Red Sox injured list starting with losing shortstop Trevor Story for the year. He’s joined by Raffy Devers, Triston Casas and AL home run leader Tyler O’Neill and we have yet to see newly acquired second baseman Vaugh Grissom too. Starting pitchers Garrett Whitlock and Nick Pivetta are also on the list along with gone for the year projected No. 2 starter Lucas Giolito. Still, with all that, they swept Pittsburgh over the weekend to start the week 13-10.

The Numbers

0 – points scored in 32 minutes played in what could be free agent to be Klay Thompson’s final game with Golden State when they were run out in the play-in round by Sacramento.

0.66 – ERA for Kutter Crawford in five Red Sox starts over 27.1 innings.

17 – wins against 19 losses for Milwaukee since hiring Doc Rivers to replace the fired 32-14 Adrian Griffin.

Of the Week Awards

Thumbs Up – Jack Edwards: At his retirement after 19 years as the Bruins’ highly enthusiastic play-by-play guy. Congrats to the Durham, N.H., native and WGIR/Channel 50 alum on a job well done.

Iron Man – Zdeno Chara: The ex-Bruins captain gets it for running the Boston Marathon on April 15 (3:30:53) and for astonishingly running another six days later in London in just 3:11:04.

Player – Tanner Houck: For once Alex Cora actually let the player just do it, and Houck delivered a beauty, a three-hit, nine-strikeout 2-0 complete game shutout over Cleveland that, oh by the way, took 1:47 to play.

Question – Brayan Bello: So how in the name of Al Nipper did Bello do basically the same as Houck vs. Pittsburg — two hits, seven K’s and just two walks — but somehow throw three more pitches and last three fewer innings?

Fun Media Feud – Shaq & Charles Barkley vs. Kendrick Perkins: Perk said on ESPN radio that the TNT duo “obviously don’t watch NBA games” after they dissed the Knicks’ playoff chances. The boys didn’t like that so they showed clips of the retiring Blake Griffin dunking in Perk’s face with Shaq saying — “I don’t watch Knick games, but I watched that one.” Chuck then said to Shaq, “out here killing roaches” followed by a TV version of dunking in Perk’s face — “five points a game [and you’re] gonna call me out?” Ouch.

Sports 101 Answer: The Pats’ five first overall picks were Jack Concannon (‘64), Jim Plunkett (’71), Kenneth Sims (’80), Irving Fryar (’84) and Drew Bledsoe (’92). Concannon signed with the NFL’s Chicago Bears instead.

Final Thought – Draft Strategy: This notion the Patriots should hold out for an “unprecedented” Herschel Walker-like offer is unrealistic and ridiculous. It’s the third pick — not the top pick with a once-in-a-generation QB sitting there like Andrew Luck or Joe Burrow.

So if it were me, I’d pull a Danny Ainge, who got the Celtics where they are today with the creative 2013 deal that got him Jaylon Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Like trading down a couple of times. First with the (possibly QB interested) Giants for their sixth pick and first in 2025. Then, with QB desperate Minnesota in danger of missing out on a Top 4 guy, I’d propose they get the sixth and Pats third-round pick for the 11th and 23rd along with wide receiver Jordan Addision, who had 90 catches for 900-plus yards and 10 TD’s as a rookie in 2023. And I might even be willing to slide down a little further from 11 for more draft capital. But the first two trades would give them a proven wide receiver, along with the ammo to get a left tackle, another wideout and maybe even be in position to take Gronk like Georgia tight end Brock Bowers if in the unlikely event he slides out of the first 10 picks.

Then I’d live with Jacoby Brissett at QB and go into the 2025 draft with two first-round picks at least.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

NBA’s second season begins

The Big Story – The NBA Playoffs: The do-or-die part of the Celtics’ season starts Saturday against an undetermined opponent as I write this Monday morning. It likely will be nemesis Miami or Philadelphia, who only finished this low because Joel Embiid missed major time with a knee injury, which means they’ll have an unusually difficult 8-seed opponent. And I say watch out for the Knicks because they (and Jalen Brunson) are better than most think. Then out west about five teams could win. Though I’ve got Denver behind the best player in the game. Buckle up. It should be fun.

Sports 101: Name the only MVP of an NBA Final from the losing team.

News Item – Women Top Men in TV Ratings: Since the Women’s Final was on a network (ABC) and the Men’s was on cable (TNT) it wasn’t exactly apples and apples. But who cares? The Women’s Final outranking the men 18 million to 14 million is monumental. It remains to be seen if it simply was the star power draw of Caitlin Clark’s dynamic senior season or not. Either way, it is a huge moment for women’s basketball and ESPN for investing in them.

News Item – Excellent Media Point: We’re a week away from the NFL draft and I’ll spend it hoping the Patriots heed the words of Mike Reiss in his ESPN.com column about the worst-to-first turn-around by the Houston Texans in 2023. He pointed out that while getting quarterback C.J. Stroud was the catalyst for their dramatic growth, it only came after two years of taking their lumps and building first under GM (and ex-Patriots Assistant GM) Nick Caserio.

That is exactly why if they get the right deal the Patriots should trade down from third overall for a boatload of high picks. That would accelerate the rebuilding process to where they have a more complete team before adding the QB in Year 2 or even 3 to give him a better chance to succeed.

The Numbers:

7 – AL-leading homer total by Sox newcomer Tyler O’Neill, which would be of greater value if all but one weren’t solo shots.

11 – shots under par carded by Scottie Scheffler on his way to becoming the fourth-youngest two-time Masters champion on Sunday.

Of the Week Awards

Thumbs Up – Mike Gorman: To the retiring Celtics TV announcer. Picking the best announcer is a to-each-his-own world, but I’ve got Gorman as the greatest Boston broadcaster of all. I’m a New Yorker who grew up with Marv Albert as the gold standard, but I’ll take “Got it!” over Marv’s “Yes!” because it conveyed the utter excitement of the moment in a way the “Yes” never could. The irony of his most iconic call, “stolen by Bird, on the cut to DJ,” is that while I saw it I never heard it because the Burlington, Vermont, spot I was in was too loud. Michael, thanks for the memories over 43 years of excellence.

Quote of the Week – Dan Hurley: “I can’t afford a divorce right now” in response to questions about leaving UConn for the job left open at Kentucky by John Calipari’s departure.

Sports 101 Answer: Jerry West was the only Finals MVP from a losing team, which ironically happened the first year it was awarded, in 1969, when he averaged 37.8 points and 7.8 assists per as the Lakers lost to the Celtics in Bill Russell’s final season.

Final Thought – The Celtics Quest: After a specular 64-18 season, the Celtics are the NBA playoff favorite, which means they have giant expectations. After squandering opportunities the last two years they have to overcome two things to get to the promised land. The Jays need to be better at grinding when the bad times inevitably come in the playoffs, something they did not do in barely surviving a seven-game series vs. Miami before coughing up a 3-2 Finals lead to Golden State two years ago and again in being run out in seven by Miami last year. Joe Mazzulla also needs to be better this time around. I understand there was a learning curve in Year 1, which is fair. But the coach who I agree with almost nothing he does needs to show me I’m wrong and he’s right before I’ll believe he’s not a liability. At the top of my list is the way he babies the players, especially Kristaps Porzingis, a great majority of whose 25 DNP’s were unnecessary. Having said that, they still won 64 games and the Big Fella, along with everyone else, enters the playoffs healthy. So that’s a point for Joe.

Several potential interesting/scary match-ups may await, like maybe our first real Boston-New York playoff series since 1984. And after that Denver and Larry Bird clone Nikola Jokic could be in the Finals.

At stake is reclaiming the lead over the Lakers for most titles won by winning banner 18, something they can not do unless the Jays take that needed next step.

We’ll see.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Sox win big on left coast

The Big Story News Item – Sox Jump Out Fast: We’re just 10 games in, so it’s too early to call the surprise of Baseball 2024. But raise your hand if you had the Red Sox winning 7 of those 10 games. Especially since all 10 came on the West Coast. Most surprising has been the starting pitching, which had a collective ERA of 1.53, with the best being Tanner Houck and Nick Pivetta giving up just one run in four starts.

The only down so far was shortstop Trevor Story dislocating his shoulder diving for the ball Friday, and there is talk as I write this on Monday he could be lost for the season.

The second 10 games come at home vs. Baltimore, Anaheim and Cleveland. We’ll know more after that.

Sports 101: Who holds the NBA record for playing the most consecutive games without fouling out?

News Item – Big Moment for Women’s Basketball: TV ratings often signal when a sport has arrived as a force in American sports. Last Monday may have been that day for women’s basketball as the grudge match between defending NCAA championship LSU and Iowa drew a largest-ever women’s college basketball audience of 12.3 million TV viewers. The return engagement went to Iowa 94-87 behind 41 points by Caitlin Clark. That was followed by similar ratings winners when Iowa got by UConn amid a controversial ending (it was the right call) in the semi-final before losing to South Carolina in the title game on Sunday. A great week for women’s basketball.

News Item – Keith Dickson: He’s one of those guys who’s been so good for so long it’s hard to remember what came before him. For the retiring Keith Dickson that would be taking over at Saint Anselm in 1986 and going on to win 719 games with a .687 winning percentage, make the NCAA Tournament 22 times and take one trip to the Final Four. All the while never having even one team I can remember that did not exceed the sum of its parts. Best of all was the rivalry between the Hawks and SNHU during the tenure of Dickson and Stan Spirou that was an on-going treat for local college basketball fans.

Well done, young fella.

The Numbers:

30 – stolen bases in 33 career attempts for Red Sox speedster Jarren Duran after going for 6 out of 7 so far in 2024, when he’s also batting .343.

400 – career goals scored by Bruins nudge Brad Marchand, a number that makes it hard to recall that the supposed to be Bruins star the year he was drafted was second overall pick Tyler Seguin. For the record: Seguin has lasted as long in Dallas but was 51 g’s behind Marchand when he reached his milepost.

10,000 – mark in career points reached by Jaylen Brown during his 26 effort in a 124-107 win over Portland.

Of the Week Awards

Player of the Week: The Houston hurler Ronel Blanco gets it for the no-no he threw at Toronto last week in just his eighth MLB start, a 103-pitch, 7-strikeout gem.

Why Can’t We Get Guys Like That Award: In Dalano Banton’s first game since leaving Boston as part of the Xavier Tillman deal, the 6’9” point guard juiced the Celtics for 28 points and 9 assists Sunday. And it wasn’t a one-game thing. In 28 games he’s averaging 16 points, 3.3 assists and nearly 5 boards with Portland.

Sports 101 Answer: Most incorrectly believe that Wilt Chamberlain holds the record because he never fouled out even once. But he only played in 1,045 games in his career. And while Moses Malone had five early career foul-outs, he later played in 1,212 straight without fouling out.

A Little History – Wilt Chamberlain: While never fouling out is noteworthy, it’s not the most amazing of Wilt’s many records. It’s that in 1961-62 when he scored 100 in one game and 50.4 points per game, he actually averaged more minutes per game than there are in a game as thanks to a few OT contests he averaged 48.5 per and would have played every second all year if he hadn’t gotten tossed in one game after getting two T’s for arguing with the refs.

Final Thought – Thumbs Up to Larry Lucchino: The greatest Red Sox team president passed away last week at 78 after a career of sports triumphs that included putting baseball back on the path to embrace its intimate ballpark, urban roots origins with the creation of Camden Yards as President of the Orioles. Conversely he was also smart enough to understand that Fenway Park was a jewel that should be saved and revitalized, not replaced. As for on the field, in my not so humble opinion he, not John Henry or Theo Epstein or Terry Francona, was the straw that stirred the drink that turned the Red Sox from perpetually frustrated losers to four-time champions this century. And they haven’t been the same since he left after 2015. RIP.

Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.

Stay in the loop!

Get FREE weekly briefs on local food, music,

arts, and more across southern New Hampshire!