by Julian Spivey
The game of basketball was created by a Canadian named James Naismith. The first ever NBA game took place in Toronto on Nov. 1, 1946 when the Toronto Huskies (which haven’t even been a team since that inaugural season ended!) hosted the New York Knicks. Now more than 72 years later the country of Canada has its first ever NBA championship with the Toronto Raptors defeating the two-time reigning champion Golden State Warriors in six games.
All Star forward Kawhi Leonard would be named NBA Finals MVP with a stellar series in which he averaged 28.5 points per game on 43 percent shooting. Leonard scored 22 points with six rebounds in the game six clincher, including the final points of the game at the free-throw line. Leonard can be crowned a “dynasty killer” as he’s now ended the Miami Heat and Golden State Warriors dynasties after each team had won back-to-back titles before losing to a Leonard-led team. Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs defeated LeBron James and the Heat in 2014. Leonard’s performance In 2014 and his Finals MVP this year make him the first player in NBA history to win the honor in each conference.
Game six was a hard fought battle from start-to-finish between the Raptors and the Warriors with the lead changing back-and-forth many times throughout the game. When it came down to the final seconds of the game the Warriors, down one point, had a shot to win the game and send it back to Toronto for a game seven. Warriors star guard Stephen Curry missed a decent look at a game-winning three with a tap out ending up near half-court and in the hands of Warriors all-star forward Draymond Green who mistakenly called a timeout without the Warriors having any left, which is a technical foul by rule. That’s probably irrelevant, though, because with less than a second remaining the clock would’ve run out before the Warriors would’ve had time to get up another shot.
Game six, like the series as a whole, was brutally changed due to injury when the Warriors leading scorer on the night Klay Thompson, who had 30 points in less than three full quarters, went down with a knee injury toward the end of the third quarter and could not return. It was Thompson’s second injury of the series with a hamstring issue keeping him out of game three, which the Raptors won in Oakland.
It’s always hard to watch a championship series that you know injuries had a major impact on because it’s always going to leave question marks in your mind. I don’t believe the Raptors would’ve won this series had the Warriors been completely healthy. I’m not even sure the Raptors would’ve won this series had Thompson not missed almost a game and a half due to injury. Personally, I feel like the Warriors would’ve at least forced a game seven had Thompson been able to go in the final quarter tonight the way he was shooting. That’s got to be hard on everybody involved in this series. Warriors fans will forever say, “what if?” and Raptors fans and players will always have to deal with people saying they had a series handed to them. The franchise and fans of it shouldn’t worry about any of that. What ifs suck, but you can’t do anything about them. Enjoy your first every championship. You know after more than two decades of being a franchise that they don’t come easy and you never know when the next one will come, especially with Leonard as a highly coveted free agent who could be one-and-done with the Raptors.
The Raptors did two things incredibly well in this series against Golden State – their defense was tenacious, and they got major play, scoring and minutes from the eight key members in their rotation. Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Danny Green, Fred VanVleet and Serge Ibaka all had games where they had at least 17 points and major moments that helped turn this series in Toronto’s favor. In game six alone four different players had 20-plus points with Lowry and Siakam leading the way with 26 apiece and Leonard and VanVleet dropping in 22 points. Ibaka scored 15 off the bench, as well.
by Julian Spivey
The Golden State Warriors barely escaped game five of the NBA Finals in Toronto by the skin of their teeth winning 106-105 in a gritty, tough fought fourth quarter that saw the lead change back and forth for the first final quarter lead changes of the entire series thus far.
The game five win for the Warriors forces a game six on Thursday at their home court Oracle Arena in Oakland, which win or lose will be the team’s final game in the arena before moving across the bay next season to their new San Francisco home.
The biggest story going into the game for the Warriors was the return of superstar Kevin Durant, who hadn’t played a game in over a month since his injury against the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs. Durant looked good from the start hitting a couple of threes in the first quarter and quickly tallying 11 points for the Warriors. However, the excitement of Durant’s return would be short lived. Early in the second quarter while planting his leg against Raptors defender Serge Ibaka something immediately went wrong for Durant and he left the game for good with some sort of an Achilles injury. He will undergo an MRI on Tuesday. He’s almost certainly done for the remainder of the series.
In one of the most disturbing moments I’ve ever seen from NBA fans some in attendance in Toronto were cheering Durant’s injury and even mockingly waiving him goodbye from the expensive seats on the baseline. This kind of behavior is absolutely despicable and pretty much shuts down all of the good things the media has said about the Toronto fans this series.
Despite Durant’s injury the Warriors seemed unbothered in the second quarter taking a double digit lead that at one point in the third quarter would be as much as 14 points. Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry and perennial All Star Klay Thompson played huge minutes for Golden State throughout the game with Curry leading the way with 31 points going 10-for-23 from the field with five three-pointers. Thompson would be close behind in the scoring column with 26 points with seven of his nine makes coming from behind the arc. It was the three-ball that truly kept the Warriors in the game for the entirety of game five going 20-for-42 from three point land. Durant was 3-for-3 from behind the arc before his injury. Draymond Green who’s struggled with threes all series long went 2-for-4. DeMarcus Cousins, who came off the bench for the Warriors in game five, played 20 big minutes in really only his second good game of the series after game two with 14 points to be the team’s third leading scorer. Green and Andre Iguodala were also in double figures scoring.
The Raptors clawed their way back into the game in the fourth quarter with superstar and likely NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard taking control around the midway point of the quarter and giving the Raptors their first lead since very early on in the first quarter. It seemed Leonard and the Raptors were going to completely take control of the game from that point on and win the first championship in franchise history, but some big shots down the stretch by Thompson regained the lead for Golden State. On a moving screen foul with about 13 seconds remaining in the game by Cousins the ball would go back to the Raptors for a final possession and chance to seal the title. Point guard Kyle Lowry couldn’t end up getting the best look and missed what would’ve been a game-winner.
Leonard led the Raptors in scoring once again with 26 points but did struggle shooting at times only going 9-for-24 from the field. Lowry was the second highest scorer for the Raptors with 18 points. Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam, Ibaka and Fred VanVleet would all end up in double digits scoring for Toronto.
One key stat for game five of the Finals is that the Warriors only won the game by one point and Durant was able to give them 11 points while only on the floor for 12 minutes. Without Durant on Monday night the Warriors would’ve lost the game by double digits and given the Raptors the championship.
It’s great that the Warriors aren’t giving in and nobody expects this dynasty team to do that, and I’m sure NBA fans everywhere want this series to go as long as possible, but at the end of the day it seems like the inevitable of the Raptors winning their first championship is merely being put off for another day.
by Julian Spivey
The Toronto Raptors have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead in the NBA Finals over the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors with a strong 105-92 win in game four of the series. The win has the Raptors on the brink of winning their first championship in franchise history and the first major sports championship in any series since 1993 (before the Raptors even existed).
I said after game three of the series on Wednesday that the Raptors were given a gift by the injury depleted Warriors, more so than winning the game on their own. That certainly wasn’t the case in game four on Friday night. The Raptors played their best overall half of the NBA Finals, in my opinion, to go from a two-point deficit at halftime to winning by 13 points.
Kawhi Leonard has without a doubt been the best overall player on the court for either team in this series and showed it again on Friday night with a stat line of 36 points on 50 percent shooting with 12 rebounds and four steals to go along with it. Serge Ibaka, who showed up big defensively in game three with six blocks, was a beast offensively and defensively in game four with 20 points (second most on the team). Leonard and Ibaka combined for 24 points in the third quarter on Friday, which outscored the entire Warriors squad in the quarter by three points.
The Warriors looked like they were in complete control of the game in the first half with Toronto unable to hit many shots, but turnover issues allowed the Raptors to remain close and only down by two points at the break when it felt like the Warriors could’ve easily had a double-digit lead at that point. Golden State’s inability to effectively put the Raptors away early really bit them in the backside in the second half.
Klay Thompson, who missed game three of the series with a hamstring injury, was really the only shining player for the Warriors in game four. He scored a team-high 28 points on 11-for-18 shooting with six three-pointers.
Warriors two-time MVP Stephen Curry pretty much laid an egg in game four after a career playoff high of 47 points in the third game of the series where he attempted to almost single-handedly beat the Raptors. Curry scored 27 points on Friday night, but only shot 9-for-22 from the field and 2-for-9 from behind the arc. Nobody else on the Warriors scored more than 10 points as the team had a playoff low 92 points overall.
Not to keep beating a dead horse, but it’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see what this series would’ve been like with even a less than 100 percent Kevin Durant. It’s mighty hard to win a championship when your best player is on the sidelines, and yes Durant is the Warriors best player, even with the future no-brainer hall of famer that is Steph Curry. At least this puts to bed the unbelievable bullshit of people saying, “the Warriors are a better team without Kevin Durant,” which we heard a few times when the Warriors swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals without him.
I’m ready to call this a series. There’s no way the Warriors are going to win three consecutive games to make their dynasty run a three-peat, even if Durant somehow finds his way to the court in game five in Toronto on Monday, June 10. In fact, I think the Raptors will close this thing out in five games that night.
by Julian Spivey
You hate to see a championship series affected by injuries, but at the moments that’s what is happening in the NBA Finals as the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors look like the inside of a M*A*S*H unit. Missing Kevin Durant for the entirety of the Western Conference Finals and at least the first three games of the Finals was bad enough, but the Warriors were dealt more heavy blows in game two of the series on Sunday night when Klay Thompson strained a hamstring and Kevon Looney suffered a fracture of his collar bone. Thompson missed tonight’s game three and Looney is out for the remainder of the Finals. It also doesn’t help that DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala aren’t at 100 percent. Effectively five of the Warriors seven best players are out or playing hobbled right now in this series.
Without Durant, Thompson and Looney this team shouldn’t have been expected to win game three.
And, they didn’t.
The Raptors won the game 123-109 to take a 2-1 series lead.
Unfortunately for all involved, though I’m not sure the Raptors nor their fan base truly care a whole lot, it felt like a game that was predetermined for them to win due to injury. I truly hate typing that because I hate taking things away from the winning ball team, but there’s no doubt in my mind this game was settled by injuries more than it was on the court on Wednesday night. I think you have to look no further than the play of multiple-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry. Curry had a playoff career high with 47 points and the Warriors still lost the game by double digits. I told my wife before the game began that I believed Curry could score 50 tonight and Golden State still lose the game and it just about happened. The Raptors had a complete game from their team and still struggled to put the Warriors away until late in the fourth quarter. If Curry had his usual help – whether in the form of Thompson or especially Thompson and Durant I don’t believe the Warriors lose this game.
ABC/ESPN announcer Jeff Van Gundy, is one of the worst announcers currently in any pro sport but did say something smart late in game three: “This Warriors starting five wouldn’t even have made the Western Conference playoffs.”
The Raptors had double-digit scoring nights from six different players, including all of the starters, with Kawhi Leonard leading the way with 30 points. Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, who played well in game one but kind of disappeared in the Raptors game two loss, stepped up big again scoring 18 and 17 points respectively. Point guard Kyle Lowry had his best game of the Finals with 23 points. Danny Green shot 60 percent (6-for-10) from behind the arc and hit some big shots in the third quarter winding up with 18 points. Fred VanVleet added 11 points off the bench.
Curry got very little help offensively from his teammates on Wednesday night as he scored 43 percent of their total points on his own. The only other Warriors in double-digits scoring wise were Draymond Green, who had 17, and Andre Iguodala with 11.
The Warriors are going to need to see at least Thompson, and likely Durant, to walk through those locker room doors on Friday for game four of the series or else they could be staring down a relatively early loss in the Finals.
by Julian Spivey
That’s the word that best sums up the performance of the Golden State Warriors in game two of the NBA Finals on Sunday night (June 2) in a 109-104 win against the Toronto Raptors to even up the series at 1-1.
The Warriors win in game two effectively steals home-court advantage for the Warriors who now head to Oakland, Calif. looking to take control of the series at home.
It won’t be easy, though, as attrition is building up for Golden State and it appears the biggest factor in the NBA Finals could be health and that’s currently on Toronto’s side, without a doubt.
We knew coming into the Finals that Kevin Durant might not play at all or could possibly be ready to suit up by games three or four – which is starting to seem unlikely, unless the Warriors are just playing their cards close to their chest.
In game one Durant’s inability to play hurt the Warriors more than at any point in the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers and the end of the series before that against the Houston Rockets – that is to say it actually hurt them. The Raptors dominated game one from start-to-finish.
In game two that same Raptors dominance was in effect. It didn’t help that essentially nobody on the Warriors looked right, except for Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It took Stephen Curry until deep in the first half to score a bucket, and you could tell he just didn’t seem to feel right. ABC/ESPN sideline reporter Doris Burke said he was suffering from some type of illness. Forward and defensive ace Andre Iguodala was still not completely right from an injury suffered late in the WCF. Then late in the first half Warriors center Kevon Looney, who’s played big minutes as their main center throughout the playoffs (due to DeMarcus Cousins’ injury) hit the deck hard and suffered a chest contusion. He wouldn’t return for the remainder of the game.
The only thing that kept the Warriors within striking distance was the play of Thompson and their ability to get to the free throw line. The Raptors took a five-point lead into halftime but were more dominant that the scoreboard told.
Coach Steve Kerr must’ve given the Warriors one helluva pep talk during halftime because they came out looking like a completely different team – or more aptly their usual selves – in the third quarter. This is when the tide of the game truly turned in their favor. The Warriors went on an unprecedented 18-0 run to start the third quarter (a new NBA Finals record to begin a half) before the Raptors finally got on the board just before the halfway mark of the third. The Warriors would outscore the Raptors by 13 points in the quarter.
Things were looking good for Golden State until Klay Thompson landed awkwardly on a three-point attempt early in the fourth and left the game with a hamstring injury. Despite playing almost none of the final quarter of the game he would lead the Warriors with 25 points in the game. Curry got going in the second half and would finish with 23 points.
The Raptors would claw their way back into the game in the fourth quarter and the Warriors looked to be in trouble without their leading scorer Thompson and one of their best bigs and defenders in Looney. With under 30 seconds remaining in the game the Raptors got the Warriors lead down to just two points and played terrific defense against Curry, which almost resulted in him throwing the ball away, but instead the ball landed in the hands of Shaun Livingstone who found a wide open Iguodala behind the arc for the game-clinching three-pointer.
The Warriors had another huge game out of forward and truly their lightning spark Draymond Green who was just one assist away from another triple-double in these playoffs. Cousins who was only able to play a handful of minutes in game one coming off a month-and-a-half long absence due to injury got the start in game two and put up a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Golden State also got a huge effort off the bench by backup point guard Quinn Cook who hit three important three-pointers.
Kawhi Leonard was the spark plug keeping the Raptors running in game two with a game-high 34 points in a losing effort. Fred VanFleet continued to hound Curry on defense and added 17 points off the bench, as well to be the Raptors second highest scorer. Forward Pascal Siakam, who was the star of game one for Toronto, didn’t have near the output in game two with 12 points on just 5-of-18 shooting. Center Marc Gasol also didn’t shine as bright with only six points in game two.
The series switches to Golden State’s homecourt of Oracle Arena on Wednesday, June 5 for game three of the series. The piled up injuries the Warriors find themselves with could be the biggest factor in that important game.
by Julian Spivey
My NBA Finals prediction before the start of game one was that the Golden State Warriors would defeat the Toronto Raptors in a full seven game series and threepeat as NBA Champions. In all honesty I would’ve predicted Warriors in five games with a healthy Kevin Durant.
After the first game of the Finals I’m already second guessing myself.
The Raptors controlled most of the game of Thursday night (May 30) playing stellar defense and receiving a huge game from Pascal Siakam, who scored a career playoff high 32 points while adding eight rebounds and five assists.
The biggest reason why I thought going into the series that it would be a full seven-game series was the veteran leadership of Kawhi Leonard, who’s been here before and won it all with the San Antonio Spurs. He had a less than stellar game, but still managed to drop 23 points on the Warriors while matching Siakam’s eight rebounds and five assists.
Siakam and Leonard weren’t the only Raptors to reach the 20-point mark in game one with veteran center Marc Gasol adding 20 on 60 percent shooting, despite fouling out.
It’s the defense in game one that should scare the Warriors the most and there’s no reason to believe the Raptors intensity is going to back off – the team does have two former Defensive Player of the Year winners in Leonard (who’s won the honor twice) and Gasol and other players known for great defense like Serge Ibaka coming off the bench. Fred VanFleet had a good game off the bench controlling Steph Curry better than other defenders have and adding 15 points to go along with it. VanFleet was the highest scoring bench player for either team.
The Warriors got good games from their original big three with Curry leading all scorers in game one with 34 points, despite seemingly having more trouble than usual getting good shots off against the Raptors D. Draymond Green had his third consecutive triple-double, but for the second time in these playoffs on a losing end (something that had previously never happened for the Warriors). Klay Thompson added 21 points, which is his season average, but without Kevin Durant (who could return in game three, but just as likely may not return at all) he’s going to likely have to add more production. The Warriors didn’t have any other players in double figures.
The biggest weak point for the Warriors in game one was arguably Andre Iguodala’s offense as he missed multiple good looks from three and only added six points. He also appeared to re-injure himself late in the game. They’re going to need him, especially on the defensive end. DeMarcus Cousins did return for the Warriors for the first in almost a month and a half since being injured in the first round against the Los Angeles Clippers. He only played eight minutes off the bench and missed both shots he took and was mostly a non-factor. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to play more minutes the remainder of the series. Even him being a small factor could really help this team and their lack of depth without Durant.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Warriors react to losing game one of the Finals, something they’re certainly unaccustomed to. If they drop both games to the Raptors in Toronto, they may be digging themselves a hole that’s too deep to climb out of before even going back home.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
The 40th Sports Emmy Awards will be held on Monday, May 20 in New York, N.Y. honoring the best in sports broadcasting of the last year.
Julian: Weekly studio shows, which come either pre-game or post-game, are often tedious. In my opinion, many are annoying and time wasters. Most of the time I completely ignore these shows. Most of the shows in this category are very ignorable. TNT’s “Inside the NBA” is the most watchable sports program on television. There are times where I’ll watch “Inside the NBA” when I didn’t even pay attention to that night’s slate of games. That alone makes it the obvious pick for this category. “Inside the NBA” and “College GameDay” are tied for the most wins all-time in this category with eight apiece.
Eric: I love "Inside the NBA" because of the chemistry of Ernie Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith. They are very funny, but they also keep me informed about the games I watched on TNT and everything that is going on in the NBA. It is a basketball, but also one of the funniest shows on TV period.
Julian: I don’t watch “The Dan Patrick Show,” despite being a fan of Patrick. I just haven’t had the time. I enjoy every one of the other nominated daily studio shows. What these four other shows do is widely different – you have work hardboiled journalism with “Outside the Lines,” great debate with ‘PTI,” and great daily coverage of the NBA with “The Jump” and baseball with “MLB Tonight.” “MLB Tonight” has won this award six times and MLB Network has only been around a decade – that’s highly impressive. I’d give my vote to ESPN’s “The Jump” this year for some new blood because I really like what Rachel Nichols is doing with that show.
Eric: I’m going with ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption.” Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon have hosted this really good long-running ESPN show and it’s still one of the best around. What I love about the show is the back and forth the guys usually have when it comes to talking about sports. Who says a guy from New York and a guy from Chicago couldn't get along?
Julian: People absolutely rave about Mike Emrick’s play-by-play calling for professional hockey, but as someone who isn’t a hockey follower I have the least amount of knowledge about Emrick. I do know that Emrick has won this honor the last five consecutive years and I feel it’s time to share. Jim Nantz might be my favorite all-around play-by-play announcer of all-time and I truly love that he’s multi-talented – I enjoy him whether he’s covering the NFL, PGA Tour or the college basketball March Madness tournament. Nantz has won this award twice and I’d be happy to see him win again, however if I had a vote I’d go with ESPN/ABC’s Mike Breen who’s never won the award before. Breen is essentially the Nantz of the NBA and makes the call of the games enjoyable without being over-the-top, which is essential for me in a great play-by-play man.
Side Note: Joe Buck has won this award more than anybody else and I find him to be the most annoying of any nominated.
Eric: Jim Nantz's smooth voice delivers every time he calls the big game. Plus, he is a versatile announcer going from NFL to college basketball to golf. Nantz is a natural when it comes to doing play-by-play sports broadcasting.
Julian: I fully expect for Tony Romo to win this award for his work with the NFL on CBS, but of all of the nominees in the category he’s, by far, my least favorite. His over-exuberance really excites many who watch his NFL announcing, but it’s far too much for me.
I was a huge fan of John Smoltz the baseball player and now I’m a huge fan of John Smoltz the baseball announcer. Smoltz has an effortless likability about him and announces the game in a manner that’s exciting, but now overdoing it (as Romo does). With Smoltz you’re entertained and learning about the game at the same time, which is the mark of a terrific event analyst.
Eric: Did you know that Jay Bilas is an attorney? His passion for college basketball is great, but the difference is that he does not go over the top like other analysts. I can watch a game with Bilas on the call with no problem.
Eric: Ernie Johnson is the perfect host for "Inside the NBA" because he can take and dish out all his co-host can handle. I think he brings the peacemaker type and it is a great match with Shaq, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.
Julian: Eric is 100 percent correct when he says Ernie Johnson is the perfect host for TNT’s “Inside the NBA." And, he'd probably be the perfect host for any sports studio show. There’s nobody in the sports business like Johnson, but Johnson has won this award three times before (honestly it should’ve been more). ESPN’s Bob Ley is one of the all-time greatest sports studio hosts and the reigning winner of this honor. I’d like to see some new blood in the category this year and that’s why I’d like to see Scott Van Pelt win. ESPN’s Van Pelt has one of the most infectious personalities of anybody in sports broadcasting and is currently the host of the best iteration of ESPN’s long-running “SportsCenter.”
Eric: Personally, I respect Charles Barkley more as a broadcaster/analyst than I did as a player. Barkley can be funny and serious at the same time. He is the biggest reason why "Inside the NBA" is as popular as it’s ever been.
Julian: Alex Rodriguez is one of the biggest villains in the history of sports and for some reason Fox and ESPN both couldn’t wait to have their hands on him for their broadcasts. That pisses me off more than anything else currently in sports broadcasting. A-Rod shouldn’t be anywhere near a baseball field.
Charles Barkley is a no-brainer for me because he’s easily the most interesting and entertaining broadcaster in sports and much of that is because he will say whatever and anything he believes and doesn’t give a damn what you or even his bosses think. The fact that TNT basically lets him do whatever he wants has worked wonders for “Inside the NBA” and has set it apart from everything else in sports broadcasting. I wish every sport had a Charles Barkley, but I haven’t found another yet and it’s not even close. Barkley has previously won this honor three times.
Eric: Holly Rowe is a great sports reporter who covers almost everything on ESPN, but mostly college sports. She is great to watch when it comes to reporting and she handles herself like a professional without being extremely serious.
Julian: Everybody in this category is worthy of this award. I do have a bit of a baseball bias, though, and of the two baseball reporters in this category my favorite is MLB Network/Fox’s Tom Verducci. Part of the reason I’m big on Verducci is he’s also a print media guy and I’ll always be a journalism nerd. Verducci is also one of the smartest baseball minds when it comes to reporting. He’s won this award twice before, including last year.
Let us know in the comments who your winners would be!
by Eric Fulton, Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
Auto Racing: 2003 Darlington & 2012 Watkins Glen
When it comes to auto racing you can have a fairly good race overall screwed up by a poor finish and you can have a great finish really help out what was a mostly boring event. But, to have an all-time great auto race there almost certainly has to be a great finish. The two greatest finishes I’ve ever seen in a NASCAR Cup Series race were nail-biters down to the very end. The first was the 2003 Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at the historic Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C. in March of 2003 when Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch battled it out over the race’s last few laps culminating in the closest finish in NASCAR history. With 15 laps to go in the race Busch had a three-second lead, which is quite a lot, over Craven. Craven kept eating into the time and with two laps to go caught Busch. Craven contacted Busch sending Busch’s car up into the wall. Busch was able to repay the favor almost immediately and it looked like he would be able to get away enough from Craven and sail to victory. Craven kept digging. He stalked Busch for almost the entirety of the final lap before putting his No. 32 Pontiac side-by-side with Busch’s No. 97 Ford in the fourth turn. As they neared the finish line Busch and Craven’s cars made contact and simply could not unhook from each other and crossed the finish line with the nose of Craven’s car just slightly ahead of Busch’s for a win of 0.002 seconds ahead of second place. It was Craven’s second and final career win.
That was the closest and most exciting finish I’ve ever seen from a NASCAR race, but the final lap at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, N.Y. in 2012 was absolutely nuts. Marcos Ambrose was one of the most talented road course racers NASCAR has ever seen and had won the previous year at The Glen. Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch were simply two of the best drivers in NASCAR period. When the three with Kyle Busch in the lead, Keselowski in second and Ambrose in third took the white flag signifying the final lap of the race they could’ve been covered by a blanket. Kyle Busch had a decent lead just the lap before but may have had his car hiccup on fuel because Keselowski and Ambrose gained on him fast right before the white flag. What happened next was the wildest final lap of a race I’ve ever seen. In the esses portion of the race track Keselowski got into the bumper of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota with his No. 2 Dodge and sent Busch spinning around. Now the fight was between Keselowski, the new leader, and Ambrose for the win. Both cars would cut the course a bit going through the interloop in the grass throwing up dirt into the air – I’m sure I was screaming in glee the entire time. This was the kind of stuff you wouldn’t have believed if you’d seen it in “Days of Thunder.” Ambrose would put the bumper to Keselowski, push him up the track and tack the lead. Keselowski would try to repay the favor and ended up side-by-side with Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford in the final corner. Ambrose got to the gas first and ended up crossing the finish line for the win. Uniquely, just as Craven’s Darlington win had been the second and final of his career this race would mark the same for Ambrose. by Julian Spivey
Baseball: 2016 World Series - Game 7: Chicago Cubs @ Cleveland Indians
Going into this clash, both Chicago and Cleveland had the two longest championship droughts in baseball. Cleveland had a 3-1 series lead, but Chicago won the next two games, and had a 6-3 lead going to the 8th inning. But a dramatic three-run home run by Indians outfielder Rajai Davis tied the game 6-6. Neither team would score in the ninth inning. Just as extra innings were about to start, there was a 17-minute rain delay. The Cubs would take advantage of the extra time by scoring two runs in the 10th to take the lead. Cleveland would score one in the bottom of the tenth, but a groundball to first would end the game, the series, and the Cubs' long awaited championship drought. It would have been cool to witness the game at the stadium, but to watch it at home was just as great. by Eric Fulton
Basketball: 2013 NBA Finals Game 6 - San Antonio Spurs @ Miami Heat
A lot of people think that Marvel’s ‘Infinity War’ was based on a similarly-named comic series from the 1990s. It wasn’t. It was based on Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
The San Antonio Spurs were the Avengers, seeking retribution for the fallen Thunder of the year before; the Miami Heat Thanos, with his six Infinity Stones of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Ray Allen, Mike Miller (I guess?) and Erik Spoelstra.
The Spurs, by all rights, were outmatched from the beginning of the series, but they had fought and clawed their way to a 3-2 lead and were poised to take the Larry O’Brien Trophy out of Miami’s American Airlines Arena and back home to San Antonio. They improbably had the upper hand in the middle of that game. And then they still had the upper hand at the end of the third quarter. And then with two minutes left in the game.
The Spurs had plunged an axe into the chest of the Miami Heat, but they should have gone for the head, because Miami still had the gauntlet. The Spurs had a Hulk in Tim Duncan, sure, but Miami had a LeBron, and – more importantly, in the last minute of regulation and the five of overtime – they had a Bosh.
The Spurs were up two with a minute left. Then LeBron tried powering his way to the rim but had the ball stripped by San Antonio, and the Heat would send Manu Ginobili to the foul line after wrapping him up on the fast break. With 37.2 seconds left, the Spurs led by four. LeBron took a wild shot, missing wildly (but also sort of predictably for a LeBron who was known then to choke in the Finals), and Manu was back at the line with 28.2 seconds left. He hit one of two to give the Spurs a five point cushion, constructing a mountain that was seemingly impossible for the Heat to climb in half a minute. But they inbound the ball and Bron catches it and throws up a shot immediately, missing again, but the Heat get the rebound and kick it back out. He hits it this time, and the Spurs lead is cut to two with 20.1 seconds left. Kawhi Leonard is fouled and hits one of two for the three point lead. James goes for another three and misses, but Chris Bosh – the perfect, delicate human being that he is – tips the rebound out to Ray Allen, who shuffles backwards past the three-point line and tosses it up.
Allen’s 3 snapped the net with the quickness and sudden devastation as Thanos snapping his fingers, Spurs’ championship dreams turned to ash and blew away in the wind. With less than six seconds left in regulation, Tony Parker ran the ball to the basket and took a falling shot, missing and sending the game into overtime.
The two teams continued trading blows and were in an almost complete opposite situation with seconds left in overtime: the Spurs were down two, and had a look at a 3 to win the game. But then, Bosh – Finals MVP-snub Chris Bosh – blocked Danny Green’s shot, and the game was over.
And so was the series – the Heat won Game 7 95-88 – and the war was over, too. At least until ‘Endgame’ in 2014. by Preston Tolliver
College Football: 2017 National Championship - Alabama Crimson Tide v. Clemson Tigers
Clemson and Alabama have been the two best college football programs over the past five years. They have met every year in the College Football Playoff with three of those games deciding a national champion. It was perhaps the second time they met in Tampa, Fla. in which it could be the greatest college football game of all time. The game was back and forth throughout with the Crimson Tide leading 24-14 going to the fourth quarter. However, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson led the Tigers comeback with the final play being decided on a goal line touchdown with one second left lifting Clemson to a 35-31 win. by Eric Fulton
Pro Football: Super Bowl LI - Atlanta Falcons v. New England Patriots
Now most people who read this will think this game shouldn't be on the list. I disagree because first, the Atlanta Falcons blew a big lead against a New England Patriots team that had Bill Bellichick as head coach and Tom Brady at quarterback. Personally, I thought Atlanta was going to end up winning this game. However, Brady would find a way to tie the score and later went on to lead the Patriots for the winning touchdown in the first overtime in Super Bowl history. I feel as though the Falcons did lose the game, but you can never count Tom Brady out. by Eric Fulton
Golf: 2016 British Open @ Royal Troon - Final Round
I’ve seen some incredible rounds of golf in major tournaments over the last 20 years, included Tiger Woods’ first ever come-from-behind victory to win the Masters just a bit over a week ago for his first major win in more than a decade, but I don’t think anything can top the mano-a-mano match for the British Open title between Henrik Stenson and Phil Mickelson in 2016 at Royal Troon.
Before I get to that, though, it’s important to note that one of the single greatest rounds of major golf I’d ever seen was by Mickelson in the final round of the British Open in 2013 at Muirfield Golf Links where he shot a 5-under 66 and beat Stenson by three strokes. It would be Mickelson’s first British Open title.
The two would go back to battle again three years later exchanging terrific shot after terrific shot. If Mickelson hit an amazing shot Stenson would out do it. It seemed to go on like this the entire final round. In one of the craziest low scoring final rounds in the history of any golf major Mickelson would shoot a 6-under 65 and still lose the tournament by three strokes to Stenson (the same amount he had defeated him by three years prior). Stenson simply had the greatest final round I’d ever seen in a major tournament with an 8-under 63, which matched Johnny Miller’s 1973 U.S. Open final round for the lowest in golf history by a major champion. The Open championship would be Stenson’s first of his career. by Julian Spivey
by Eric Fulton
The 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning will always be remembered for having perhaps the greatest regular season in National Hockey League (NHL) history. They tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins with 62. But this year’s Lightning and that Red Wings also have one thing in common: they did not win the Stanley Cup. While the Red Wings did make it to the Conference Finals in their season, the Lightning did not even get out of the first round.
The Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Going in to the series, Columbus had never won a playoff series in their history. They did have some motivation as they were coached by John Tortorella, who coached the Lightning to their only Stanley Cup championship in 2004. But, the Blue Jackets went in to this year’s playoffs as the equivalent of a 16 seed in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Every hockey analyst and I thought Tampa Bay would move on without any real threat. Most of us said Columbus would probably win one at best.
In game one, the Lightning struck big to gain a 3-0 lead after the first period and looked to run the Blue Jackets right out of the rink. But Columbus would score one goal in the second period, and then three more goals in the third period to stun Tampa Bay 4-3. Now losing a game when you’re up 3-0 is not as bad as losing a series when you’re up 3-0. The Lightning never recovered from the stunning game one loss as they lost game two by a score of 5-1. I thought when the series had moved to Columbus, the Lightning would get their game back, but leading scorer Nikita Kucherov was suspended for game three for his boarding hit on Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara, the question was who was going to help lead the turnaround. It should have been captain Steven Stamkos, but Columbus defense anchored by Seth Jones did an amazing job of not letting this high powered offense do anything in the series.
Another key factor in the upset was the play of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky could have been pulled after giving up three goals in the first game. In games two and three, he gave up just two goals total. In game four, he made huge saves just as Tampa Bay was trying to take the lead and find a way to force a game five. He was clearly a better goaltender than Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. In addition to the great play of Bobrovsky, Columbus had great play by all stars Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin and trade deadline acquisition Matt Duchene. It seemed as though the Lightning did not have any answers to counterpunch the attack of the Blue Jackets. It also hurt the Lightning that all-star defenseman Victor Hedman missed the final two games with an injury.
Presidents’ Trophy Winners (winners of the NHL’s regular season) have had a history of not winning the Stanley Cup. The last team to win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup in the same year was the Chicago Blackhawks. Four of the previous Presidents’ Trophy winners were eliminated in either the first or second round. Tampa Bay became the third team to win the Presidents’ Trophy only to be swept out of the playoffs joining the 1995 Detroit Red Wings and the 1988 Calgary Flames. However, they are the very first Presidents’ Trophy winner to be swept out of the first round.
The last time a number eight seed beat a number one seed in the playoffs was in 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Vancouver Canucks in five games. The Kings would end up becoming the first number eight seed to win the Stanley Cup. Could Columbus be a team of destiny just like the 2012 Kings?
This was the biggest collapse by a favorite to win the Stanley Cup in NHL history. It will go down as one of the biggest playoff upsets in the history of sports, in general. When the 2016 Golden State Warriors, who won an NBA record 73 games in the regular season, lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, after leading the series three games to one, many sports fans believed it was the greatest collapse of all time. Tampa Bay took it steps further by not even managing to win a single game in the playoffs. In 2018, the Virginia Cavaliers became the first number one seed in the NCAA Basketball Tournament to lose their opening round matchup against a number 16 seed. We may have thought both of those moments were big, but this upset should definitely be in the conversation.
by Preston Tolliver
MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
The MVP race was always going to be between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Sure, the field was wide open in October: Will LeBron James take a Lakers D-League team to the playoffs? Is this the year that Kevin Durant usurps Golden State’s golden child Steph Curry and makes the Warriors his team? And what the hell exactly was Kemba Walker eating at the beginning of the season to play that well?
But those questions were eventually answered (except the last one, which became inconsequential - Walker’s MVP-caliber play amounted to little more than just a weird case of gas) and Harden and Giannis stood alone in front of the pack, a good mile between them and whoever will be voted third (an argument could be made for Curry, or Durant, or Russell Westbrook, or Paul George). Harden actually led in a lot of categories this season: 36.1 points to Giannis’ 27.7; 7.5 assists to 5.9; 2 steals to 1.3; and .7 blocks to Giannis’ 0.4. The only statistical categories Giannis beats Harden in are field goal percentage (a biggie: 57.8 to Harden’s 44.2), rebounds (12.5 to 6.6) and turnovers (3.7 per game to Harden’s 5). Combine his offensive efficiency with his work on the defensive end - already at age 24, Giannis is an excellent two-way player, whereas Harden is likely to step to the side of anyone crawling toward the basket - then Giannis has to get the nod. He’s the league’s most valuable player.
Rookie of the Year: Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks)
He has great hair, a great attitude, a weird but efficient shot and he’s given Dallas a reason to have faith in the post-Dirk Nowitzki era: this season’s Rookie of the Year is Luka Doncic. At just 19, the international sensation scored 21.2 points per game in his rookie season and was the Mavericks best player living happily in the shadow of the retiring Nowitzki. Now, and not just because there’s not a lot of competition on that team, he’s Dallas’ star, and deserves the recognition as such.
Most Improved: D’Angelo Russell (Brooklyn Nets)
After getting the “Snitches get stitches” treatment (which in the NBA, means getting sent to Brooklyn), no one expected D’Angelo Russell to emerge as one of the premier guards of the East. He raised his points per game almost six points (from 15.5 to 21.1) and his assists from 5.2 per game to 7.
The East has lacked for years in regard to its number of quality point guards. Outside of Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry, Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker, pickings have been slim. But D’Angelo has earned his spot next to them.
Sixth Man of the Year: Lou Williams (Los Angeles Clippers)
Anytime a bench player is the best player on the team, they should automatically be handed the Sixth Man of the Year Award. Lou Williams is the reason the Clippers are in the playoffs (even if they don’t make it to a sixth game in the first round), giving some much-needed life to LA while simultaneously killing upper management’s plans of tanking this year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Kawhi Leonard (Toronto Raptors)
Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert won this award last year, but arguably only because of the absence of the NBA’s best defender. He sat out last season for the Spurs but is now Toronto’s best player, and the one true king of the north (that’s a “Game of Thrones” reference), Kawhi Leonard, is taking his iron throne back.
All NBA: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks), James Harden (Houston Rockets), Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers), Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors) & Paul George (Oklahoma City Thunder)
First, the obvious: the MVP and the close second: Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden. Giannis is the best two-way player in the league today and Harden is the best offensive threat. Joining them are Paul George (another case for best two-way player) Steph Curry (the best shooter the NBA has ever seen) and Joel Embiid, who has made the center position matter again.