Dynasty: Blackhawks beat Lightning, win Stanley Cup

 

Corey Crawford and Andrew Shaw by howsmyliving, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  howsmyliving 


Last night, history was made on the ice at United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in game 6 to win the series 4-2, their third Stanley Cup since 2010. Yes, folks. A dynasty has been born. Over the past six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks have been to the Stanley Cup finals 3 times. Over the past six seasons, the Blackhawks have won the Stanley Cup finals 3 times. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 3 for 3. That’s pretty good.

After splitting games in Tampa Bay to start the series, the Blackhawks lost on home ice and Tampa Bay led the series 2-1. But lightning never struck the next two games and the Blackhawks soon led 3-2 with a chance to end the series and win the Cup at home for the first time since 1938.

From the very start, it just felt like Chicago’s night. The fans were ready, nearly drowning out the National Anthem with what sounded more like battle cries than cheers. “We want the cup!” echoed throughout the arena. And the guys on the ice definitely did, too. The first period was a blur of scoring chances with each team seeing pucks hit posts and slide past open nets. But no goals. At the end of 1 it was 0-0, but the Blackhawks outshot the Lightning 13-4.

The second period started and the Lightning came out hot and looking to score. Within in the first minute of the period, Steven Stamkos- Tampa Bay’s most dangerous goal scorer- had an open breakaway and a chance to take the lead, but Corey Crawford came up with a huge save. The score remained tied at 0. Still, Tampa Bay seemed in control, dominating possession and keeping the puck below Chicago’s blue line. But Chicago wasn’t on the verge of another Stanley Cup for no reason. And with 2:47 left in the second period, veteran defenseman Duncan Keith put his own rebound over Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop’s glove. The sirens went off. The scoring had begun. The Blackhawks were that much closer to victory. At the end of 2, Chicago led 1-0.

Even with a lead in the third period, the Blackhawks weren’t exactly safe. Stamkos or Callahan or Filppula or Palat could put the puck in the net at any time for the Lightning. Chicago needed another goal. With just over five minutes left in the game, Brandon Saad led an odd man rush for Chicago. Saad to Richards, Richards to Kane. Goal. It seems only fitting that Patrick Kane, one of the core guys throughout Chicago’s quest for a dynasty and the 2010 Conn Smythe winner, scored the game clinching goal. The 2-0 lead was the first time either team had been ahead by two goals during the series, and a two goal lead would be enough. At the end of the third period, the Chicago Blackhawks were Stanley Cup champions.

Corey Crawford posted the first shutout of the Stanley Cup finals by either goaltender, making a total of 25 saves. Duncan Keith was awarded the 2015 Conn Smyhte trophy. His 18 playoff assists set a franchise record for assists by a defenseman in the postseason. All three of his postseason goals were game winners.

2015 Conn Smythe Trophy Winner: Chicago by Ron Cogswell, on FlickrCreative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  Ron Cogswell 


 

Cavs don’t have a shot with this coach…..

David Blatt and LeBron James by EDrost88, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  EDrost88 

Strategery 

Ok, it’s not a real word….but I can imagine David Blatt saying it

The Cavs dropped Game 5 last night, but more importantly they dropped their confidence and control over how this series is being played.  With all this talk of “small-ball”, let’s look at what really went on in the last two games.

Golden State came out with a small line up in both games.  Draymond Green,  Harrison Barnes and Andre Igoudala started on the front line for the Dubs.  Considering none of them is over 6-7 it seems like Cleveland had a huge size advantage.  On the flip side, the Warriors had 5 shooters who are also capable of handling the ball and taking advantage of slower defenders.  This is the cat and mouse game many teams, coaches and players have been playing forever.  Basketball has always been about matchups and how those matchups are exploited.  Unfortunately for Cleveland, they were ill-prepared to adjust to the lineup Golden State put on the floor.

Cleveland has failed to take advantage of Golden State’s lack of quality size.  Timofey Mozgov, at 7-1/250, is a load in the middle.  The Warriors can’t match his size and strength and for a few games he was able to run roughshod in the paint.  He can shoot over almost anyone they have and is the best rim protector in the Finals.  Bogut and Ezeli couldn’t establish strong enough position in the post.  At the Four, Tristan Thompson is far more athletic than any big the Dubs can throw at him.  He’s also a rebound machine who understands his importance to the team.  He knows his rebounding, especially on offense, is required for the Cavs to get wins.  But for some reason, David Blatt has failed to devise a game plan or coach his players in the skills needed for the players he still has to win.  This true center, whom he coached on the Russian national team, seems to be unable to score when he gets the ball inside 5 feet.  With a rebound machine like Thompson, has no one worked with him to improve his put-back percentage?  Why does he seem to look to pass to the perimeter on most of his offensive rebounds?  Because this young man, with one year of college basketball experience and 3 seasons in Cleveland under questionable leadership, has not been taught how to play by the staff in Cleveland.

The Cavs other glaring weakness is their inability to execute ANY offense when LeBron is off the floor.  I understand that many of these players aren’t top level NBA talent.  Some of these guys were back-ups in the regular season.  Some weren’t even in the regular rotation!  If you are an NBA player, you should be ready to step up and bring some game.  And if you’re and NBA coach, you should be able to create a plan for the team you have.  During every James absence, the Cavs look like no one wants to shoot the ball.  There’s a lot of standing around and very little movement from a team that needs movement and space to create.  Once again, where is David Blatt?  Or where is David Blatt’s X & O coach?  Crickets…….  JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are dribbling around the perimeter while Thompson tries to stay in position for a rebound.  Delly and James Jones are posting up around the three point line, waiting….WAITING for something to happen.  While I understand that these players are pros and should be able to understand how to play on their own, so are the coaches and it’s their job to strategize and implement countermoves.  That’s not what’s happening on the Cavs bench in this series.

I can appreciate that Coach Blatt won championships in Israel and Europe.  I respect that he coached talented Russian national teams and won coaching awards from Italy to Moscow.  But, the NBA is the cream of the crop.  American players who don’t cut it here go to the leagues Blatt coached in.  He seems to be just another in a long line of Cleveland coaches (Paul Silas, Brendan Malone, Mike Brown, Byron Scott, Mike Brown) who don’t really fall in line with the talent level of LeBron James.  Why can’t Cleveland get a top tier coach?

This NBA Finals has been dramatic and featured the best player in the world dragging a team with limited talent and no direction to victory over a team of all-stars.  While some would say David Blatt has done a great job dealing with LeBron and this new incarnation of the Big Three, I think the Cavs have been winning in spite of their coach.

King Lebron decrowned as MVP Stephen Curry takes Reign


The Golden State Warriors beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 104-91 Sunday night to give them 3-2 lead in the series in game 5.

Golden States’ Stephen Curry finished the game with 37 points on shooting 7 of 13 from 3point range. Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James finished off with 40 points, 11 assist, and 14 rebounds. The

Curry verses LeBron matchup was won by Curry as he hit the key 3 pointers that gave the Warriors the edge after being down 80-79 in the fourth quarter. Game 6 is at 9:00 est. on Tuesday night in Quicken Loans Arena.

Two Atlanta Dream Players heading to Europe

 

More Play Action by Capt Kodak, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License   by  Capt Kodak 


Due to the European games in Baku,Azerbaijan, the Atlanta Dream’s  guard Tiffany Hayes and center Aneika Henry  will miss the next five games. The WNBA Atlanta Dream made the announcement after their 82-64 loss against the Connecticut Suns.

The European Games are an International sporting event for athletes representing the National Olympic Committees or Europe.  This could be a setback for the team with Hayes averaging 12.2 points 3.4 rebounds per game, and Henry averaging 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds.

Hayes and Henry are set to miss Home Games against Indiana (June 16), Chicago (June 19), New York (June 21) Washington (June 26), and a road contest June 24 at Chicago. They are both set to return July 5, against Seattle.

Dez Bryant Wants His Money

512px-Dez_Bryant_at_training_camp

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant is considering not suiting up for the season opener at home against the New York Giants.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reports that Bryant has not signed the $12.83 million franchise-tag tender offered to him by the Cowboys. The two sides have until July 15 to reach a deal.

Apparently, Bryant is attempting to take a similar route to Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith. Smith missed the first two games of the 1993 season (both of which resulted in Cowboys’ losses) before getting a new contract and helping the Cowboys win a Super Bowl that season and establish a dynasty.

However, due to the collective bargaining agreement, Bryant’s only options are to either reach that deal or to not play at all.

Why the Cowboys Should be Careful

 Evidence has shown time and time again that as soon as players in just about any sport get their money, their production just decides to go on a vacation that could last up to years or maybe never return at all. Sometimes athletes just can’t seem to overcome the injury bug once they get their money, but other times, some athletes seem to think their struggle is over when they get a payday. It can be an ugly situation with both sides (team and player) ending their relationship with regret.

Remember that guy Albert Haynesworth, the defensive tackle that essentially ‘robbed’ a football team when he signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Washington Redskins back in 2009. The list goes on and on for players that just disappear from the face of the Earth after getting their money, but I decided to name Haynesworth because his situation was the most memorable and most egregious one to me.

 Why the Cowboys Need Dez

 Dez Bryant has consistently been a productive member of the Cowboys since his arrival back in 2010. He has been a 1000-yard receiver for three seasons now and has already become Tony Romo’s favorite target beside reliable and sure-handed Jason Witten. I mean Romo threw the football deep to him in a 4th & 1 situation in the fourth quarter of an NFC Championship game. If that isn’t trust or chemistry, then what is?

Also, it’s no secret that the Cowboys’ rushing attack this upcoming season is questionable at best. With the signing of injury-prone Darren McFadden and a plethora of other running backs on the roster as well, the Cowboys are desperately looking for a replacement to DeMarco Murray who was arguably their best player last season as well as the reason why the Cowboys even had a shot at the playoffs.

Lastly, Dez Bryant is a once-in-a-generation wide receiver. He wears the number #88 for a reason and it isn’t because he likes the way it is placed on a Cowboys jersey. It is because greats like Drew Pearson and Michael Irvin have worn the number before him. He has carried the proverbial torch and has lived up to the number. He is also the most explosive player on the team and has single-handedly kept Romo’s career intact.

Neither side wants to part ways so they need to do everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen and fast because July will be here sooner than they think.

White Lies and Small Guys: How the Warriors won Game 4

 

After game 3, the Finals looked more like LeBron’s personal record-breaking campaign than anything else. The Warriors looked lost and helpless against the world’s greatest player and Cleveland’s physical defense. But then game 4 happened and the Warriors once again looked like the havoc-wreaking, pedal to the floor basketball team we saw all year.

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo:

Throughout the first three games of the series, the Cavs had controlled the tempo. They slowed down the league’s fastest team and LeBron had his way with the league’s best defense. But then again, LeBron tends to do that with any defense. More impressive was Cleveland’s defense, which held the league’s highest scoring offense to under 100 points during regulation in each of the first three games.

In game 4, those things did not happen. Instead, Golden State pushed the tempo on an undermanned and overworked Cavs team. The Warriors turned a basketball game into a mini track meet, pulling down rebounds and sprinting up the court for fast break dunks and corner threes.  The Cavs simply could not keep up, and once you let the Warriors jump out to a lead they don’t lose. Literally. They’re 57-0 this season (including playoffs) when they lead by 15 or more. Injuries to Love and Irving have forced more minutes out of role players.  Dudes are gassed. It showed last night.

White Lies:

Although Steve Kerr said there would be no changes to the starting lineup in game 4, there were.  “If I tell the truth, it’s the equivalent of me knocking on David Blatt’s door and saying ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do.’ So I lied,” was all Kerr really had to say about it. So the Warriors went small and put the 6’7” Green at the 5 and Iguodala at 4. It was Iggy’s first start of the season and he didn’t disappoint, scoring a season high 22 points on 4 of 9 from three with 8 rebounds. Green finally looked like a better version of himself after a couple off games; more buckets and less chirping. And after seeing a lot of bench during the playoffs, David Lee has been contributing big minutes in the last two games. On the flip side, Festus Ezeli sat and Bogut only got 2 minutes last night.

Cavs gotta go low:

The smaller lineup had been great for Golden State all season and it is what helped them establish and keep tempo in Game 4. But it also hurts their ability to bang with the big boys down low. Mozgov and Thompson had no problems dominating the post when Golden State went small. Mozgov led all scorers with 28 points (a career high for him) and also added 10 rebounds. Thompson grabbed 13 boards and added 12 points. When both your big men get double-doubles, that ain’t bad. And the Cavs will need more of that to win the series. With Love and Irving out, the Cavs lost their two biggest scoring threats behind the King. Although the Delly was open for business and cooking something mean in game 3, he can’t be always be relied on for offense. Last night Dellavedova was 3-14. JR Smith is just as streaky as ever, going 2-12 in game 4. If the guard play can’t be consistent, then the Cavs have to go down low.  It’s only game 4 and LeBron looks tired, understandably. He probably can’t do this all on his own, but if anyone can it is King James.

Recipe for a W…..for the Dubs

This isn’t rocket surgery.

The Cavs have done what they want and dictated how the Warriors play.  Delly is bodying Steph Curry like it’s a house party dance floor.  Igoudala, Barnes and Green are crying to the refs about LeBron backing them down instead of staying on him.  And Bogut is playing the role of Waldo in the middle while Festus is doing his best to learn on the job.

But all is not lost!  Steve Kerr can get control of this thing if he can get his players to adjust.

  • Man up! – stop looking at the officials and your coach after every whistle. This just in:  LeBron is going to get calls.  Iggy, Harrison and Dray need to change the mentality and switch to playground mode.  Bumping happens and when it does don’t fall away looking for a call.  Recover and keep your hands up so he has to work for his baskets.
  • Tighten Up! – Curry’s loosey-goosey dribble style works in the regular season and on the And1 tour, but defenses are tighter in the playoffs. Steph needs to shorten his dribble and double his rhythm.  He’s not lulling the Cavs to sleep with the Curly Neal routine.
  • Step Up! – Kerr needs to empty his bench. Speights and David Lee get 6 fouls each and both can eat space and grab rebounds.  Barbosa and Livingston have played well when given the chance and Igoudala has been a surprise on offense.  Get these guys in the game and try to exploit the Cavs short bench.
  • Push Up! – Curry, Thompson and Livingston need to push the tempo, even on made shots. Cleveland’s bigs would tire out and that often leads to fatigue fouls.  Golden State has the advantage of a healthy starting backcourt, the one that facilitated the league’s best offense.  A faster tempo would also help Steph and Klay get some space during transition.  And let’s see how King James reacts to 40+ minutes at that pace.

That’s the DO list.  Here’s the DON’T:

  • DON’T play H.O.R.S.E. – In previous series, the Dubs found opponents allowed them to spot up around the arc and launch freely. This ain’t that series.  Curry, Thompson and Green need to attack the basket, try to draw fouls and loosen the perimeter chokehold.
  • DON’T double LeBron – All I’ve heard all week is about sending help on LeBron. That’s exactly what will get everyone else involved even more.  James is one, if not the, best at finding the open man out of a double team.  He’s so used to seeing multiple defenders that it’s second nature for him.  You want JR Smith to get hot – use his defender to double LeBron.  You’re daring Shumpert to cut to the basket – use his defender to cheat on LeBron.  Wanna give Thompson and Mozzie rim-rockers – bring Bogut over to help on LeBron.  Dude isn’t falling for the banana in the tailpipe.
  • DON’T go small – The biggest misconception of this series is that Cleveland can’t match up with the smaller Warriors lineup. The Cavs didn’t bat an eye when Draymond Green was in at center.  They simply kept Mozzie or Thompson in to guard the rim and patrolled the post like Debo.  “That’s my rebound!”  Golden State will not win this series trying to out-small the Cavs.  They’re gonna have to take away the advantage inside and playing a 6-7 center won’t do that.

I’m still not sure where this series is going to go.  It’s entirely possible the Cavs run out of gas and give up the next three games.  It’s also possible the Warriors might not ‘get it’ and go back to San Francisco down 3-1.  One thing’s for sure…..we’ve been treated to an exciting Finals that is filled with moves, countermoves and surprises.