Home Court Reigns
Home court advantage is significant in the NBA and there is no greater example of it than this year's Eastern Conference Finals. The home team won in a blowout again last night, with a grotesque 116-78 final as Cleveland blasted Toronto.
Some of the reasons home court matter include sleeping in your own bed, playing in a familiar space and the positive energy of a home crowd, as discussed with Tom Haberstroh earlier in the week (21:09 into this podcast). The numbers in this round are staggering, specifically among the series' stars not named LeBron James.
Kevin Love had a game-high 25 last night for Cleveland. He nearly had more points by the end of the first quarter (12) than he did in the two games combined in Toronto (13). The key for Love was his demeanor and his success completely unlocked the Cavaliers route. He was aggressive. He seemed to remember that he's an excellent basketball player and acted as such. He went into the paint with purpose. He shot threes that he knew were going in. He passed the ball with incredible precision. He was what the Cavs signed up for, not the guy who had many wondering if the moment would always be too big for him when competition is at its highest after Game 4.
Kyrie Irving was stellar again offensively last night and really has been outside of a miserable Game 3, but didn't get destroyed by Lowry defensively as he did in Game 4.
For Toronto, Kyle Lowry had his highest scoring output on the road of the ECF last night with a whopping 13 points. He dropped 20 (in a blowout where he played fewer minutes) and 35 in the two games at home. DeMar DeRozan went just 2-8 from the field in Cleveland for 14 points after a dazzling display in Game 4.
The faster down the rosters you go, the worse it gets. Bismarck Biyombo, he of 26 and 14 rebounds in Games 3 and 4 respectively, had four in Game 5. On the flip side, Richard Jefferson (yes, Richard Jefferson!) went from 13 points and two rebounds total in two games in Toronto to hop-step reverse-layuping his way to 11 points and six rebounds last night.
Whatever the reasons, the numbers are staggering and don't fully expect them to stop. The Cavs are now 0-4 in Toronto this season, but they did play much better in Game 4 and their late February regular season matchup was as epic of a game as I watched this regular season.
After last night's debacle, I expect Cleveland to win Game 6, but I expect it to be close. Basically I expect it's the game we've wanted all series. Hopefully that's not just wishful thinking.
Champions on the Brink
The Warriors certainly hope returning home can help their shooting woes after a miserable few days in Oklahoma City. Outside of Klay Thompson's third quarter masterpiece in Game 4, Golden State didn't look Dub-like at all.
I'm admitting that part of this is stubbornness. A) a team that won 73 games just can't go out losing three in a row and in five games on their home floor. That can't happen. Right? B) I really like being right and I'll be mad at myself if I bail now on a team whose praises I've been singing for two years. So yeah. I'm being stubborn about this. Shoot me.
The keys for the Warriors tonight are actually pretty simple. Quit turning the ball over and make shots. They're actually getting plenty of quality looks, despite the Thunder's stellar execution in a switch happy defense. After two games of seeing it, maybe the Warriors will actually knock some of those down. They're only the best shooting team in NBA history.
(Golden State had the highest eFG% in NBA history this season. The fact that Steph Curry hit 400+ threes and Klay Thompson hit nearly 300, which tends to help.)
I would think that the law of averages kicks in and Golden State gets back right at home. If not, the Thunder complete the most impressive run to The Finals in NBA history and they've completely earned it. They're playing phenomenal basketball.
Baseball is Weird
Baseball is a funny game. ESPN's Tim Kurkjian is fond of saying "every night you watch a Major League game, you might just see something that you've never seen before and they've been playing the game for 100 years!"
It's a quirky game where the lines of success and failure are just different than every other sport. In no other sport do the very best at the core part of the game only succeed 30% of the time. That's a .300 batting average. Yet the range of what a "good hitter" is isn't very big. By the time you turn your 30% into 25% at .250, you're nothing special at all.
The difficulty of hitting a baseball grows with the schedule. A starting pitcher throws once every five days while hitters hit every day. While playing every day would seem to allow for better rhythm, it clearly doesn't as evidenced by the most unbreakable streak in sports. No one is touching Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hit streak.
Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. extended his hit streak to 29 last night. During those 29 games, Bradley is batting .415. He's gotten multiple hits in "just" 11 of the 29 games.
I put "just" in quotation marks because you would think if someone is on absolute fire like Bradley is, they'd be on base more than half the times they're up (his OBP is .488). Maybe it's just me but there seems to be a disconnect in the numbers.
If going 1-4 on a given night is acceptable but average at best, how hard could it be to do that every night? Sure some nights a player may only get three at bats, but sometimes he's going to get five or six. If you look at a hitting streak through just that lens, one would think putting together lengthy streaks wouldn't be that hard. The history of the game tells us it's nearly impossible!
What Bradley's doing is really impressive. A hit in his next game gives him the 54th thirty game hitting streak in the nearly 150 year history of Major League Baseball and ten of those came before 1900.
More fun researching that though is seeing just how insane what DiMaggio did was. His 56 gamer broke Willie Keeler's record by 11 games. The closest someone's come since? Pete Rose would've needed to get hits for another two weeks to match DiMaggio. Rose's streak ended at 44.
The 56 game streak isn't even the best of DiMaggio's career though! In the minors, Joltin' Joe had a 61 game streak! That's actually second all-time in the minors to Joe Wilhoit's 69 game streak in 1919.
Who said baseball, numbers and history aren't fun?
The Good Reads
On the heels of Baylor firing Art Briles (which happened as I was finishing this post. I'll have full reaction to that on tomorrow's podcast), I'm re-posting this heart wrenching account of a Baylor student who was raped. The whole system at that school was broken, and the Pepper Hamilton report (the law firm who investigated) them will likely show that or Briles wouldn't have gotten canned: http://musingsofstef.blogspot.com/2016/02/i-was-raped-at-baylor-and-this-is-my_4.html
The New York Times tells the story of how Vin Scully almost became the NFL's lead voice for the NFL alongside John Madden. The guy he lost to was Pat Summerall, but that's only half the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/24/sports/baseball/vin-scully-nfl-pat-summerall-john-madden.html?smid=tw-nytsports&smtyp=cur&_r=0
I posted this link within yesterday's story, but I can't recommend Lee Jenkins profile of Kevin Durant enough: http://www.si.com/nba/2016/05/24/kevin-durant-oklahoma-city-thunder-warriors-nba-playoffs
ESPN's Royce Young with 39 facts about Russell Westbrook, an enigma wrapped in $1200 jeans: http://es.pn/1UbAa7F