With a looping back-post header well into stoppage time, Branislav Ivanovic turned Benfica goalkeeper Artur into a statued spectator and gave Chelsea FC a 2-1 win in the Europa League final. The easy explanation for Americans not well versed in the various continental soccer competitions is to call it Europe's NIT. It's a lesser tournament that nobody really cares about until someone else wins it.
But even that analogy is not really accurate. When Kansas inevitably gets bounced from the NCAA basketball tournament in the Sweet 16, there isn't a consolation spot waiting for them in the NIT. That's effectively how Chelsea won a trophy Wednesday.
In case you were busy weighing the pros and cons of employing Vinny Del Negro at your place of business, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Dwyane Wade was scintillating down the stretch as the Miami Heat moved on to the Eastern Conference finals after a 94-91 win eliminated the Chicago Bulls from the NBA playoffs. After the game, Bulls point guard Derrick Rose did a teleconferenced interview from his home, saying, "Oh no! I was ready to go tomorrow! What are the odds? Come on guys, we had this! Oh well, guess I got to shut it back down." Just as the feed went out, the camera trained on Rose zoomed out to reveal a shoddy backdrop of a Chicago home in the middle of a sunny beach locale, with Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich in the background drinking extravagantly large blended drinks.
The top seed in the West has fallen as the Memphis Grizzlies ousted the Oklahoma City Thunder with an 88-84 win. Meanwhile, in Blaine, Washington, Chad McFadden, a man whose allegiances were as divided as his geographic proximity to Vancouver and Seattle, awoke up from a decadelong coma. Bleary-eyed and confused, he cheered the Grizzlies win while lamenting that what seemed to be the Sonics were once again unable to make the Finals as the top seed. "I remember '94, before there even was a Grizzlies team to spit my affection wait what the hell is this? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT HAPPENED! THE ONLY PERSON I RECOGNIZE IS BRYANT BIG COUNTRY REEVES!" But it wasn't Bryant Reeves at all that he recognized, and when McFadden was told that he was watching Pau Gasol's little brother dominate defensively for the Memphis Grizzlies against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that had once been the Sonics, McFadden lost consciousness again.
In case you were busy watching The Great Gatsby in 3-D as an ill-advised cram session for your 11th-grade English final, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Miami Heat rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 defeat by pasting the Chicago Bulls, 115-78, to even up their second-round series. After a pair of ejections, the Bulls found themselves playing without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson, meaning they had to play a mostly reserve lineup of B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. Despite the influx of forgotten veterans, the oldest player on the court remained Heat reserve Juwan Howard, who was inactive with "being tired, man; real, real tired."
Klay Thompson had 34 points and 14 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors held off the San Antonio Spurs, 100-91. Midway through Thompson's explosive first half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seen staring at the Warriors' wing, mumbling, "decent athleticism, floor-stretching 3-point shooting, on a rookie contract … how do I not possess him?" Popovich then wiped off the small amount of drool that had collected at the corner of his mouth, snapped at Spurs guard Danny Green for being a "lollygagger," before making a mental note to himself to take the title of "general manager" back from R.C. Buford after the game.
It hasn't been the finest vintage, this Premier League season. But most football fans agree, they will drink anything if the price is right. Chelsea, Arsenal, and Tottenham all got what they needed over the weekend, even if there were a string of rather uninspiring 1-0 victories. In this week's podcast, the Blazers consider them all, with Michael taking particular glee in Chelsea's late win at Old Trafford.
The pod then takes a somber tone as ESPN's Sir Ian Darke joins from the road to reflect on his past three years as the voice of English football in America, while Roger offers a couple of ideas for his farewell sign-off. Until next week. Dominate.
In case you were busy stirring up debate, here's what you missed in sports last weekend.
LeBron James was a near unanimous choice for the NBA's Most Valuable Player award, securing 120 of the 121 available votes. About Last Night is all about starting debate, not shying away from controversy, and being real with the audience, so we salute the brave soul who decided that Carmelo Anthony had a better season than LeBron James. Unfortunately, that voter, who remains anonymous as of press time, didn't go far enough, placing James second on his ballot. That's no way to start a real debate about value in the NBA! For those interested in engaging in the debate, the official ALN MVP ballot (which was submitted to the NBA in the hopes that they would include it, though ALN is, despite much public pressure, still denied a vote) will be revealed at the end of this column.
The Chicago Bulls, again playing without Luol Deng, who was suffering the aftereffects of a spinal-tap procedure gone awry, still managed to close out the Brooklyn Nets, 99-93, to set up a second-round matchup with the Miami Heat. Now I know a lot of people in Chicago are up in arms about whether Deng and Derrick Rose should be playing at less than 100 percent. Here's my thing: I don't think any Chicago Bulls should be playing. Carlos Boozer's steadfast refusal to sit out games is an affront to sports, and he should not be allowed to continue any longer.
In case you were busy devising an elaborate fake game show so you could injure otherwise forgotten celebrities, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
LeBron James flirted with, but fell two assists shy of, a triple-double as his Miami Heat throttled the Milwaukee Bucks, 110-87, to begin their NBA title defense. "Yeah, I saw her across the court," James said of the triple-double. "And you know I was interested, so I said, 'What's up,' bought her a vodka soda, asked the triple-double about her interests. Stuff like that. I mean, there was some chemistry. We had some stuff in common: She's associated with three statistics; I have three MVPs. Stuff like that, you know? But some nights it's not about the triple-double. You aren't generous enough to get her, and that's OK. You learn from that. Triple-doubles aren't objects. Triple-doubles are unique snowflakes, and sometimes, they aren't yours to possess. I mean, we aren't all Oscar Robertson. He once said he had 10,000 triple-doubles. That number's probably too high, but we all know the guy was a player."
The San Antonio Spurs took care of business with a 91-79 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. The Spurs overcame the Lakers' perceived advantage inside, which exists because people forget how good Tim Duncan is. "Dwight should be dominating this game. What's going on?" asked self-described medium-core NBA fan Paul Witten of Dallas. "Wait, Tim Duncan's PER was over 24? That's like, really good, yeah? Does everyone know that Tim Duncan is still Tim Duncan? Oh, man, this is what I get for tuning out the regular season when the Mavs went in the tank."
Old-school fan violence reared its ugly head this weekend, from the hallowed terraces of Wembley to the streets of Newcastle upon Tyne. Even hardened criminals from the depths of Her Majesty's Prison Service were in disbelief over the audacity of one horse-punching Magpie supporter.
Somewhere amid this nonsense, football was played, and in this week's suboptimal podcast the Men in Blazers consider it all — from the Chelsea–Man City FA Cup semifinal to Everton's continued late-season form, courtesy of a win against relegation-threatened QPR that sent Harry Redknapp into his ritual comical rage. Now, with just a month left in this Premier League season, Michael and Roger handicap the race for Arsene Wenger's coveted "fourth-place trophy."
In case you were out busting people's chops and bringing them down a peg or two, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Masters has a new champion: Adam Scott defeated Angel Cabrera in a tense two-hole playoff to win his first major at Augusta National. But don't get too comfortable, Mr. Scott. You still have a generic moniker that you share with both an actor and (for the most part) a cartoonist. This means that many people will still picture another man's face when they hear your name, despite your mastery of hitting tiny balls into faraway holes. Hi-yo! Yes! Adam Scott's chops: busted.
The Atlanta Braves improved to an NL best 11-1, as they completed a sweep of the Washington Nationals with a 9-0 road win. But don't get too cocky, Atlanta Braves. Of the last three teams to start 11-1, only one made the playoffs. Therefore, your odds of making the playoffs, 1-3, are the same as they were when you started the season, 10-30. Small sample sized! Ka-pow! You thought you were on the top peg, Braves of Atlanta. Now what peg are you on? I bet it's the second or third one down!
Kobe Bryant suffered a devastating Achilles injury that will keep the future Hall of Famer out for the remainder of this season, as well as the beginning of the next campaign. But don't get too all up on your high horse, people who don't like the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only did the Lakers win both of their games this weekend to increase their odds of qualifying for the postseason, but also, Kobe Bryant has still won five championships, become a legend in the second-biggest city in America, and amassed a personal fortune from playing a child's game that will be used to purchase medical care that will ensure that, despite his Achilles tear, he will live a healthier, longer, and more comfortable life than yours. Buh-zing! Sing, oh muses, of the fortunes of Kobe's haters: "Not so great!" Homer'd!
In case you were busy dancing like no one was watching, despite the fact many, many people were watching, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Clayton Kershaw pitched a shutout and hit a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning as the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the San Francisco Giants, 4-0 to open their 2013 season. "I've been playing at such a high level for a number of years, and now it's time for me to make an impact at every level of the franchise," Kershaw said after the game, while directing traffic in Dodger Stadium's serpentine parking lot, adeptly moving those headed to the 110 away from those headed toward the 101. Kershaw reportedly spent the remainder of his evening helping the grounds crew reseed the playing surface, before finally heading to the locker room to do the team's laundry.
Mike Conley and the Memphis Grizzlies sent the Spurs to their second consecutive defeat, winning in Memphis, 92-90. Conley hit the game-winning shot with six-tenths of a second left on the clock, but was also held without a steal for the first time in 64 games. "I'm out of the game," Conley said after the win. "I've been taking things my whole life, but I'm done. I've got a wife now, and I think a more stable life is what we need." Despite these comments, Conley was, admittedly, "intrigued" by a plan that Marc Gasol was putting together for "one last big score," but at press time had still refused to commit to any more steals in a potential first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets.
If you're watching soccer on Wednesday, assuming you live outside of Donetsk and North Rhine-Westphalia (and if you are reading from one of those places, Pryvit or Guten Tag), you're going to be watching Real Madrid play Manchester United. I get it. I really do. Ronaldo, van Persie, Rooney, Ferguson, "the Special One." In terms of individual quality, history, and story lines, there's nothing better than a Champions League clash between Madrid and United. But the best match of the day will be played in Donetsk, Ukraine, between reigning German double-winners Borussia Dortmund and reigning Ukrainian double-winners (and your Champions League Underdog of the Week), Shakhtar Donetsk.
The story of the Premier League this weekend, told in five goals. Get some.
The January transfer window was sad and weird. Between Harry Redknapp and Tony Fernandes gambling the financial sustainability of Queens Park Rangers on Christopher Samba and Loic Remy saving them from relegation, to West Ham owner David Sullivan claiming to have been threatened over transfer fees, to the whole Peter Odemwingie–trying-to-force-through-his-transfer-to-QPR-by-driving-to–Loftus Road debacle — an act his West Brom manager called "total lunacy." — it feels like things are truly falling apart. The transfer system in England is in desperate need of reform and oversight. There are too many agents, too many add-on fees. There's too much backstabbing and backroom wheeling-and-dealing. With the exception of football's most wealthy (Chelsea, Man United, Manchester City) or most reckless ('Arry!), most clubs are lucky to escape the January window without losing talent or tarnishing their reputations. Rarely do they actually improve their standing.
On Wednesday, in a League Cup semi-final match otherwise notable only for Rafa Benitez's tactical banality, Chelsea winger Eden Hazard kicked a Swansea ballboy in the chest. This has led to some confusion about when it is and is not acceptable for a person to kick another person in the chest. Based on the reaction to Hazard's kick, I would like to work through some of the theories on the matter.
Theory: It is OK to kick someone in the chest if you are a truly great footballer.
Eden Hazard was one of the hottest properties in the transfer market this past offseason, and with good reason. Few can create and score with Hazard's level of quality and creativity. His play as a winger in Chelsea's young and talented second line (alongside Juan Mata and fellow newcomer Oscar) has been a consistent bright spot in a season of inconsistency at Stamford Bridge. However, Eden Hazard is not yet Eric Cantona. And Eric Cantona did this:
And that was not OK.
Verdict: Being a great footballer does not give you chest-kicking impunity.
In case you were busy watching a yule log DVD in a misguided attempt to stay warm, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
The Miami Heat stormed back from 15 points down against the Toronto Raptors, winning in overtime, 123-116. LeBron James, who got his 34th career triple-double in the win, said afterward, "I used to be completely terrified of dinosaurs, so this sort of comeback wouldn't have been possible even a couple of years ago. But for some reason spending a lot of time around my boy Ol' T-Rex Bosh made me pretty comfortable with the idea of dropping a big game on some scary looking lizards."
The story of the Premier League this weekend, told in five goals. Get some.
This match had me thinking about money. The £62 Arsenal charged visiting City fans to visit their (more or less) £400 million stadium. The approximately £70 million spent by City to Arsenal for players like Emmanuel Adebayor, Samir Nasri, Kolo Touré, and Gaël Clichy. I thought about what the Premier League table would look like if Robin van Persie had gone to Manchester City instead of Manchester United. I thought about the letter, written on Arsenal letterhead, sent to the Premier League from Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Manchester United, demanding more stringent financial regulation in the free-spending top flight of English football — a salvo against the seemingly unlimited investment pouring into Chelsea and City. I thought about the rumor that bottom-dwelling QPR were going to pay Marseille striker Loïc Remy £96 thousand a week to help them out of their relegation battle, while Arsenal haggled with Theo Walcott over whether the England international should be making £90 thousand, and wondered how in the world Arsene Wenger was going to keep even this sub-par group of Gunners together. It was quite an interior monologue, honestly.
In case you were out doing some very last-minute ballot-box stuffing for the People's Choice Awards, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
Kansas avoided an upset in their Big-12 opener beating Iowa State, 97-89, in overtime, as freshman sensation Ben McLemore banked in a game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation. "When it left my hand, I actually kind of called 'bank,'" said McLemore in his postgame interview, using the same rhetorical technique he did in ninth grade when he failed to convince his friends that he "actually kind of got to second base" with his sleepaway camp girlfriend, Mindy Williams.
New Mexico edged out UNLV, 65-60, at home in a matchup of ranked Mountain West foes. "I heard that the Pit was a tough place to play, but, man, I don't see how they can get away with that," complained UNLV freshman Anthony Bennett. "That court was just concrete, and like 30 feet deep, and there were no fans or hoops or anything. It was just, like, a bunch of snakes. I don't know how they came up with that final score, but I'm surprised we kept it that close. I'm terrified of snakes. Unless, maybe my terror scored points? The game we were playing certainly wasn't basketball. All I'm saying is that this better not affect our seeding come tournament time."