Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sports news

Celtics Win Opener Despite Allen’s Disappearing Act
The Boston Celtics won their 15th straight home game, a streak that began nearly two months ago, to take Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, 88-79. If Boston keeps rolling at home, the Celtics will win the NBA title. But Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy is troubled: “What happened to Ray Allen? Can the Celtics win the NBA championship with the Big 2 1/3?”
In the playoffs so far, Mr. Allen is averaging 12.5 points and shooting 38% from the field, 31.4% from three-point range. Those are career lows for any regular season or postseason. In the Celtics’ clincher over the Cavaliers on Sunday, Mr. Allen sat for much of the fourth quarter, coming in late only because of the one stat that has risen to a career high in the playoffs: his free-throw shooting, now at 35 of 36.
“Watching Allen miss wide-open shots and/or disappear is a little shocking,” Mr. Shaughnessy writes. “It’s not as bad as witnessing Willie Mays with the Mets in the 1973 World Series, but it’s on the same path. It’s a little like watching David Ortiz try to hit in the first few weeks of the 2008 baseball season. Ray looks lost. He looks like a man suffering a crisis of confidence.”
The arrival of Mr. Allen and Kevin Garnett last offseason transformed the Celtics from a lottery franchise to one playing for the right to go to the NBA Finals. Monday night’s game tipped off just after the Chicago Bulls won this year’s lottery — more on that in a moment — reminding Hartford Courant columnist Jeff Jacobs of this time last year, when Boston was disappointed with the No. 5 pick that wouldn’t get them Greg Oden or Kevin Durant. “New England basketball fans were distraught,” Mr. Jacobs writes. “The Celtics, who once upon a time were the always champions, were never going to be champs again. Or if they were going to be champs, it would take years and years of suffering and development.” (Of course, it helps that the Minnesota Timberwolves were willing to help turn that No. 5 pick into Mr. Garnett.)
Now Paul Pierce, the Celtic who was there through the dismal years, is excelling. “This could be the spring he springs from the very good to one of the Celtics legends,” Mr. Jacobs writes. “This could be the spring he puts his number in the rafters. That’s the funny thing about not getting Oden and not getting Durant. That’s the funny thing about getting the Big Ticket. It has given Pierce the chance to be just as big a ticket. It has given Pierce the chance to remembered with all the great Celtics.”
The Bulls hope to undergo a similar transformation with that No. 1 pick earned by luck. “They were guilty of crimes against basketball last season and by all rights deserved to be stuck with little more than a middling first-round pick,” Chicago Tribune columnist Rick Morrissey writes. The lucky Bulls should choose Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, Mr. Morrissey argues — despite, not because of, his Chicago roots. “It’s a nice side story, the local kid coming home to play after one year in college,” Mr. Morrissey writes. “But it’s beside the point. There’s no place for sentimentality here, not for this important a decision. If anything, his Chicago background is a negative. Some players can’t handle the pressure of playing in their hometowns. Too many distractions and temptations. But Rose seems mature enough to handle it.”
Last year’s lottery winners, the Portland Trail Blazers, had no such luck this time, finishing with the No. 13 pick. And that’s worth celebrating, according to the Oregonian’s John Canzano: “As long as management doesn’t muck up all the good traction, what Blazers fans really witnessed on Tuesday wasn’t justice but the end of a five-year relationship between a rebuilding franchise and the league’s unequal welfare program.”
Like last year, there are believed to be two top prizes in this year’s draft: Mr. Rose and Michael Beasley. But the New Orleans Hornets, who recently broke off their own fling with the lottery, landed back in the playoffs thanks to a No. 4 pick, Chris Paul. The Hornets and Mr. Paul forced the defending champion San Antonio Spurs to the brink before losing in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals. In the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Teddy Kider looks back at a season characterized by incredible progress: “The Hornets found a home dominance during the second half of the season, and they proved it until the final game against the Spurs, winning their first three home games of the second-round series by 19, 18 and 22 points. After finishing the 2006-07 season 0-11 against the Spurs, Mavericks and Phoenix Suns, New Orleans was 15-9 against them in 2007-08.”


In the Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter previews today’s Champions League final in Moscow, expecting “a stirring affair: Chelsea stir respect but Manchester United stir the soul. Avram Grant’s side garner admiring glances for their relentless, machine-like strength which will roll across the Luzhniki’s substandard surface. But it is Sir Alex Ferguson’s United who quicken the pulse with the bewitching football that flows from the youthful pair of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Only two teams could make the final, of course, but Times of London columnist Martin Samuel points out that the other two English clubs in Europe’s premier club competition, Arsenal and Liverpool, would be there but for other English clubs. “This was the year when English clubs could only be eliminated by themselves,” Mr. Samuel writes. “Arsenal lost to Liverpool, who lost to Chelsea, who can only lose to Manchester United and vice versa. The statistics are astonishing. Including the qualifying rounds, English clubs have met foreign opposition on 42 occasions in the competition and lost four matches.” So why, Mr. Samuel wonders, are some of these top teams’ top stars considering departing for continental clubs?
In the International Herald Tribune, Rob Hughes describes the peculiar scene of hordes of English soccer fans descending on Moscow: “Thousands of fans with tickets but no visas — and thousands with visas looking for black market tickets — are meant to be segregated according to their allegiance to Chelsea blue and United red. Separation starts on entry into Russia. United followers land at Domodedovo Airport today 15:12:11 to the south, and Chelsea at Sheremetyevo to the north. Since there are not enough rooms for them at the capital’s pricey hotels, many will not see or set foot in Moscow at all. They will be bused from their airports to the stadium down cordoned routes. After the match, they may be held in pens, known affectionately as ‘gulags’ until their escorts are ready to return them to the exit.”

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