Is Rajon Rondo the East’s Last Hope Against the Evil Empire?

One of the interesting joys of sport is the act of rooting against a team. We all do it, for one reason or another, and many of the teams we share. The Yankees, Duke basketball, Manchester United, the Patriots and the new flavor of the week, the Miami Heat. We hate them for many reasons. Their endless bankroll, the buying of titles, their douche bag quarterback, their arrogant coach, or the fact that they flop. But what we hate the most is that they are good. And they win. Well most of them. The Heat haven’t won yet, at least not what matters, and most of the population is united in the hope that they falter once again, and their season ends and LeBron is left with that stupid look on his face that just screams, “How did that just happen” and Chris Bosh is crying in a tunnel somewhere. The Eastern Conference’s Semi-Finals are set and with Derrick Rose’s injury, most have assumed that LeBron and Co. will walk right into the Finals. While Rose’s injury certainly made the path a little easier, Rajon Rondo, Boston’s dynamic point guard, poses a unique threat that Miami may not be able to deal with.

This is entirely hypothetical as the Heat still need to get past the Pacers and the Celtics need to get past the 76ers, but I think it is worth a look. Rondo is one of the most intriguing and distinctive players in the NBA right now. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal summed him up rather well, “[B]ut his quirky talent must be witnessed to be understood; there are at least four or five times in every game that he does something that no other player can do quite like him.” Gay continues, “Rondo delivers something different—more elusive, unpredictable, an acquired taste not for shy stomachs. He’s an electric enigma, and he may be the least boring player in the NBA.” While his outside shot isn’t great, the defense is forced to pressure him because if they back off, his ability to see over the defense will allow him to pick them apart. It’s a lot like dropping eight against Peyton Manning. In theory the idea is good, there will be more people defending the pass, but if you don’t get any pressure on him and let him have all day, he will tear the defense to shreds. Rondo also has a very quick first step and is a very good finisher through traffic, creating quite a conundrum for the defense. You pressure him and he’ll blow by you, but if you give him space he’ll pick you apart. Mario Chalmers is a decent enough defender, but he’s not a physically imposing defender who has the ability to unsettle Rondo.

Boston also played Miami better than any other team this season, taking 3 out of the 4 meetings. In fairness, one of those games was the second to last game of the season and James, Wade, Bosh, Garnett, Rondo and Allen all were rested. So let’s say Boston took 2 of the 3 matchups, that’s still impressive. In those 3 games, Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds. In the game Boston lost, he had 7 turnovers, in the games Boston won, he had 3 turnovers and 2 turnovers respectively. Taking care of the basketball is one of the keys to victory for Boston as the Heat are way too good to give them extra possessions. Another key to victory is Kevin Garnett’s ability to shut down Chris Bosh. In Miami’s sole win in the season series, Bosh had 18 points on 8-11 shooting and 11 rebounds. In Miami’s 2 losses, he combined for 17 points and 20 rebounds on 7-24 shooting, less than 30%. The insertion of Avery Bradley into the starting line-up also improved the Celtics defensively, as he is able to cover Wade much more effectively than Ray Allen, and Allen can be a potent scorer and a dangerous threat on the second team. In the one game that Allen started, Wade has 24 points and 8 assists on 8-15 shooting, and the Heat won. In the two games that Bradley started, Wade averaged 17.5 points, 4 assists, and shot less than 40 percent from the field. Oh yeah, and Boston won both of those games. A large amount of Boston’s successes is dependent on the health of Paul Pierce’s knee. Pierce is their go to guy offensively and they need him healthy if they want a chance against the Heat.

While this is obviously a hypothetical match-up, I really don’t see Indiana giving Miami any sort or trouble, and I think Boston will be able to get by the 76ers, based on almost experience alone. Kevin Garnett has 111 playoff appearances. Spencer Hawes, Jrue Holiday, Andre Igoudala, Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams combined have 119 playoff appearances. Of those six Philadelphia players, only Elton Brand has played a series past the first round. I’m really hoping for a Celtics-Heat Eastern Conference Finals matchup. To me, it remains one of the more compelling hypothetical’s, right up there with the Thunder-Lakers matchup that LA keeps trying to fumble away, but hopefully we’ll be able to see both.

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Poll: What is your Goal of the Season?

After writing the post about Cisse’s goal against Chelsea, I began thinking about what my goal of the season is and I’d love to hear your opinions so take a look at the videos as a refresher and vote in the poll below.

It’s Papiss World, We’re Just Living in It

Papiss Demba Cisse, Newcastle’s Senegalese forward is proving to be the signing of the season in the Premier League. Coming over from SC Freiburg in January, Cisse has scored 13 goals in 12 games for Newcastle and has helped them to an incredible season and within striking distance of Champions League play next year. He scored two brilliant goals against Chelsea as Newcastle won 2-0 at Stamford Bridge for the first since 1986 with the second a serious contender for goal of the year.

Please share your opinion in the poll above.

Junior Seau 1969-2012

I just heard about Junior Seau’s apparent suicide and it really is quite a shame. I grew up idolizing him and hes the first athlete I remember growing up watching who has died. A number of former NFL players have now committed suicide and it doesn’t feel like a coincidence. I hope everyone appreciates and remember what kind of abuse these guys take and what they put their bodies through for our entertainment.

Rest well Junior, you were one of the good ones

Some reactions to his death around Twitter:

Life and death comes to us all and it’s never easy when you lose someone. My prayers and thoughts are with the family and friends of Jr Seau -Emmitt Smith

At a loss for words right now. R.I.P Junior Seau. -Justin Tuck

Just woke up from a nap to the Seau news. Either I’m not awake or I need to be kicked. Life is crazy crazy. This hurts like hell. LORD KNOWS -Fred Taylor

So sad to hear that junior seau just died One of the greatest to ever play the game -Jonathan Stewart

I Just heard the sad news that Jr. Seau has Passed away. One of the greatest sports figures from San Diego. #tragic-Terrell Davis

My prayers and condolences to the family of one of the NFL’s greatest linebackers to ever play the game.. Junior Seau.. R.I.P -Chad Ochocinco

Junior was a true competitor and a special player. My heartfelt condolences go out to the Seau family. -John Elway

God Bless Junior Seau & his family! My heart & condolences go out 2 his family. May u RIP! -Terrell Owens

So saddened by the news of Junior Seau’s passing. The hearts of the Trojan family go out to his relatives and friends. -Pete Carroll

Why I Love Chris Bosh and 7 Other Thoughts on the NBA Playoffs

The shortened season has come to an end and the NBA playoffs are upon us. Being a Knick fan, I’ve followed their first round series quite intently and in doing so, I’ve rediscovered my love for Chris Bosh. Bosh receives a lot of hate from the public for “copping-out” and following LeBron and Dwayne Wade to Miami. You see a guy taking the easy way out, I see a man whose such a competitor, he’s willing to sacrifice many of his touches for a championship ring. I respect Bosh because what you see is what you get. He’s not constantly vying for your affection like LeBron, he’s not pretending he’s something he’s not and sitting front row at fashion shows like Wade. He is just himself; He’s awkward, sensitive, talented and kind of nerdy and he’s comfortable in his own skin. He is comfortable enough and competitive enough and cares enough to break down crying on national television after the Heat lost to the Mavericks in the NBA finals last year, a series where he didn’t fold like many expected, didn’t run away from the ball like LeBron or make costly plays in key moments like Wade. And when they lost, he didn’t have this dumb smile on his face like LeBron, he showed passion.

He signed up to be part of the Big 3 and it quickly turned into the Big 2 and that other guy which is too bad because Bosh was the only one of the three that the Heat could truly rely on in the Finals last year. Bosh seems like a normal guy and that’s admirable. He is down to earth, stands on his own, and doesn’t feed the paparazzi. Take his bachelor party last year in Las Vegas dubbed “The Hangover 3”. The four-day, LeBron and Wade free bash included a trip to a shooting range, dinners at N9NE Steakhouse and Lavo, a Criss Angel show, a comedy show, paintball and a “Rat Pack” themed casino night at Caesars. Good, clean, low-key fun by someone whose not worried about fitting a stereotype. Oh Boshtrich, how I love you.

•This is the deepest talent pool the league has seen in a long time. Basketball is turning into a global game as evidenced by the increasing number of international stars currently in the NBA. Many old-timers speak about the NBA talent vs. hype and how the current group of players can’t hold a candle to the NBA heyday of the late 80s early 90s. What it boils down to is this feeling of nostalgia and people tending to like the things they grew up with. We’ve all been in the car listening to music when your dad starts shaking his head and mutters under his breath, “music these days” or audibly asks, “What is this crap? When I was growin’ up music used to be so much better.” I’m sure his dad said the same thing to him when he was younger.

When we are young, we build up sports stars to be larger than life figures and nobody will ever match the idols we grew up with. The players from your youth will always be immortal and untouchable. It’s human nature and the feelings are subjective, what’s “better” is in the eye of the beholder. But those who declare that the NBA is garbage and don’t watch are truly missing out on an incredibly high overall talent level and individual level of play.

Lebron James

•LeBron James is the greatest basketball player on the planet by a good margin. He may not be the second coming of Michael Jordan but is that such a bad thing? He’s the first coming of LeBron James and that’s good enough for me. Why do we feel the need to constantly make comparisons to players past? Let people establish their own identities. More focus should be on just how good LeBron is as opposed to how he isn’t as good as MJ. Did LeBron handle “the decision” the wrong way? Most definitely. Does he display narcissistic traits? Yes. But don’t let poor management decisions detract from how good of a basketball player he is. The league has never seen a better combination of size, strength and skill. His ability to finish through contact is unmatched, his court vision combined with his ability to see over the top of defenses is unparalleled and I wish more people would appreciate what they are watching.

Chris Paul: The NBA’s best clutch player?

•I know Derrick Rose is the reigning MVP but Chris Paul is the best point guard in the league and one of top 5 players in the NBA. His leadership was on full display during the Clippers monumental 4th quarter comeback against the Grizzlies in Game 1 and there is no one else I’d rather have quarter-backing my team.

Rose’s injury dooms Chicago’s title hopes

•Speaking of Derrick Rose, it truly is a shame about his injury. Chicago and Miami were beginning to build a rivalry reminiscent of the Bulls-Pistons and Bulls-Knicks matchups in the 90s. Luckily for Chicago, they have had some experience playing without Rose this season but I just can’t see them making a long-run in the playoffs without their floor general.

The last hoorah for Garnett, Pierce and Allen?

•I really hope the Boston Celtics can advance a bit in the playoffs. This is potentially the last playoffs for the original “Big-3” and with Rose’s injury and the way they’ve played the second half of the season, the Celtics could make some serious noise going forward.

•The Indiana Pacers-Orlando Magic matchup is really not doing anything for me. Without Dwight Howard the Magic are really quite mediocre and while Indiana is a nice story and their core of young players is talented, they lack a go-to-guy. Danny Granger is very good, but he’s not great and with no closer, they will give away some games they shouldn’t, like Game 1 of this series.

Kevin Durant

•The potential matchup between the Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the most captivating possibilities of the playoffs. There are so many storylines at play here, including the recent concussion-inducing elbow thrown by the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. Also adding intrigue is the emergence of Lakers’ center Andrew Bynum who seems to be putting all the pieces together and is playing the best basketball of his life. The Kobe vs. Kevin Durant storyline is also very interesting. Kobe generally makes these matchups with his younger contemporaries personal, often to the detriment of his team’s chances and those watching Kobe this year will certainly realize he’s not the same player he was, regardless of what the stats say. Kobe is on the decline while Durant is on the upswing. Out of the NBA superstars, I can’t think of one who works harder than Kevin Durant. All he does is eat, sleep, ball and play video games. He keeps his nose clean and with him and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder could be poised for a deep playoff run and if this matchup comes to fruition, I see them coming out on top.

Manchester City Triumph

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“I love Mancini. He’s nearly as cool as me” -Manchester City supporter and Oasis singer Liam Gallagher

While yesterday’s Manchester Derby certainly wouldn’t be mistaken for a classic, I can’t help but feel obligated to comment on the match that was billed as the most important game in the 20-year history of the Premier League. With the 1-0 win, Manchester City put itself in the driver’s seat for its first title in over 40 years. And while the title is certainly not theirs yet, this result marks another chapter in a wild title race that neither of the Manchester clubs have truly grasped hold of.

Roberto Mancini, manager of Manchester City, deserves massive commendation for his ability to keep a cool head during the home stretch of the season. Constantly downplaying his team’s chances and heaping the pressure onto the red side of Manchester, Mancini engaged in mind games with United’s Sir Alex Ferguson who is generally not one to be reckoned with when it comes to a war of words as Rafa Benitez and Kevin Keegan can attest to.

With such a massive build-up, it was nearly impossible for the game to live up to everyone’s immense expectations and an unbiased spectator may have been disappointed in a match that produced so few chances.  This game was colossal with the BBC’s Martin Tyler estimating over a billion people watching while more cautious estimates placed the numbers between 450 and 700 million viewers worldwide. While the match itself wasn’t great, the atmosphere at the Etihad Stadium was unparalleled. City’s home form has been sublime and in their last 18 at home, Manchester City has won 17 and drawn only once. When the final whistle blew and City’s supporters proudly held up their blue and white scarves and belted out “Hey Jude,” you couldn’t help but be blown away with the environment.

City were outstanding though and United were rather poor as City’s resolute defending held them to zero shots on goal for the first time since United drew 0-0 with Arsenal in 2009. The back four were fabulous with Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta standing out especially. Zabaleta, known more for his defense, gave United fits with his overlapping runs as he and Samir Nasri worked down the right flank. Nasri was also excellent and he has hit quite a nice run of form after what is considered by most a disappointing first season since his transfer from Arsenal. Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry were also very good, holding their lines well. David Silva was average and while Aguero did good things, none of the forwards involved really impressed much.

Manchester United on the other hand were really quite poor. Phil Jones and Chris Smalling struggled at the back with Smalling responsible for losing Kompany on his headed goal, which proved to be the winner. While its easy in hindsight to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s team selection, I was shocked he did not include Antonio Valencia who has been one of the best players in the Premier League since January, notching 13 assists, more than double anyone else in the league. Ji-Sung Park and Ryan Giggs were ineffectual, Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick were unable to boss the midfield and Wayne Rooney was rather pedestrian.

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Contrasting emotions in Manchester

So while the quality of the match wasn’t outstanding, the consequences of it are huge. Manchester City now sit atop the table with only two games left, tied with United on points but with a superior goal differential. While the title race certainly isn’t over, City still have a very tricky game away to a resurgent Newcastle squad, they are most definitely the favorites to take home the trophy. So what does it mean? Are we witnessing a complete upheaval of the prevailing footballing hierarchy in England? The talks of Manchester United’s demise are overblown and when Sir Alex Ferguson is in charge, they can’t be counted out. With that being said, even the most ardent United supporter must admit that this team lacks a little magic of team’s past and that their spot in the league table could have something to do with the relative poor quality of the top teams in England. This is Chelsea’s worst season since before the Jose Mourinho era, Liverpool have been downright awful, Tottenham has been wildly consistent and Arsenal have been injury-ravaged and unpredictable. While this is true, you still need to win the games and Manchester United have done that this year. With that being said, the noisy neighbors are getting louder and while the talk of a complete upheaval is premature, we are certainly witnessing a shift in the paradigm towards the blue half of Manchester.

I’ve decided to save this blog for things I deem to be blog-worthy and the Chelsea-Barcelona match on Tuesday undoubtedly qualfiies as such. Legends are generally created retroactively but watching this match, you couldn’t help but feel like you were witnessing a legendary affair.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal my contempt towards Barcelona. I find them to be the hipster douches of world football. “Mes que un club” used to be a political statement, now it’s just further evidence of their snobbery and elitism. However good I think they are, they think they are much better. They believe their intricate style of possession and passing is watchable art. With that said, I fully acknowledge that they are a fantastic side, world champions and European champions which makes Chelsea’s feat even more impressive.

Like most, I gave Chelsea almost no chance in the tie. And for the first 43 minutes, everything went against Chelsea. A nearly impossible task rendered impossible. Within 10 minutes Gary Cahill is injured and replaced. On 35 minutes, Sergio Busquets put Barcelona ahead. In the 37th, John Terry gets sent off. In the 43rd Iniesta scores after Messi finds his finely-timed run. Barcelona is leading 2-0 and again order is restored. The question then wasn’t can Chelsea come back, it was how many more will Barcelona score.

Reduced to 10 men. Playing without both starting centre-backs. Trailing 2-0. Playing against the team lauded as the greatest in European club football history. Playing at the Camp Nou, a true mecca of world football, one of the world’s great sporting theatres in front of over 90,000 screaming Barcelona supporters. Chelsea were truly up against it. And then all of a sudden, a glimmer of hope. Frank Lampard’s through ball finds Ramires, moonlighting as a right back, who started his run in his own half and then brilliantly chipped Victor Valdes from 15 yards out. A true beauty of a goal.

A story straight out of Hollywood. You couldn’t have written a more dramatic script than the one that was unfolding. Three minutes after halftime, Barca won a penalty. Arguably the best player in the history of the sport steps up to take it. And Messi slams it off the crossbar. Chelsea are still alive. Barcelona continue to push forward. In the 83rd minute Messi hits the post. Barcelona, the best team in the world looked lost and frustrated. So used to teams coming after them, Barcelona looked out of ideas as 10-man Chelsea just sat back compactly and defended.

In the 90th minute as Barcelona pushed everyone forward, Fernando Torres, the 50 million pound flop got in behind the defense, calmly and coolly rounded Valdes and put it in the empty net. Chelsea’s spot in the Champions League final in Munich was clinched. It was chill-inducing as Torres ran toward the corner to celebrate as one outspoken Barcelona fan began yelling “puta” “puta.” You couldn’t help but feel good for him.

Against all odds, 10-men Chelsea, currently sitting 6th in the English Premier League, go into Barcelona and knock out the reigning European champions. This was the stuff of legends. The greatest upset in Champions League history. Tears welled up as Roberto Di Matteo ran around the field hugging everyone in sight. Rupert Brooke, the English poet who was killed in World War I once wrote “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.” A little piece of the Camp Nou is now forever England.

Below are some reactions to the game around the internet.

“So happy for Torres what a MASSIVE goal!!” -Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain

“Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeereereeeeees. I believe in miracles.” -Ruud Gullit

“Incredible what a game #Barca-Chelsea! I’m actually very pleased for Torres! He suffered a lot what a great goal! Congrats” -Robin Van Persie

“Unbelievable performance from Chelsea. I didn’t give them a chance with 10 men but they have defended heroically!” -Michael Owen

“10 Chelsea heroes out there tonight..#hatsoff” -Steven Reid

“Scenes of celebration on the Nou Camp pitch, where the Chelsea players are dancing with joy. Blues boss Roberto di Matteo is wearing the biggest grin you have ever seen on his face, and hugging anyone who comes near him.” -Chris Bevan

“What an extraordinary game. Astonishing. Sensational composure from Torres. Makes me proud to be English.” -Sam Shepherd

“I am trying to think of a more unlikely Champions League win than the one we have just seen. You really could not have made that up. Chelsea were down to 10 men against the holders and had no recognised central defenders left, yet they held out for a memorable victory. That last-gasp Fernando Torres goal was the icing on the cake.” -Chris Bevan

“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in football. Can’t say they don’t deserve it, they’ve been brilliant.” -Ben Weeks

“Everyone should find a nearby hat, put it on, and take it off again in recognition of what Chelsea have just done! Incredible.” -Daniel Hicklin

“I’m a United fan through and through, but fair play to Chelsea that was nothing short of HEROIC!” -Barry Travis

“I don’t think I have ever been so surprised in a football game in my entire life.” -Pat Nevin

“Unbelievable defending from Chelsea!! Good to see an English team in the final… Chelsea-Real Madrid final would be feisty!” -Rory McIlroy

“All I’m saying is what a game I have just watched, football is mad but that’s why its so great and we love it.” -Kyle Walker

“An incredible end to an incredible night as Fernando Torres’ finish ensures 10-man Chelsea’s progress to the Champions League final after an evening of pure drama. The Blues did it the hard way, but their reward is a night in Munich.” -Phil Dawkes

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