Tuesday, May 4, 2010

B's bite; C's beat LeBron like a drum; Sox crack halos

I am, by trade, a sports writer. The reason I decided to do this blog -- and peddle it via Facebook every day -- is because while I make my living talking about sports, it's not the only thing on my mind on most days.

But once in a while, you just can't help it. And last night was a truly extraordinary one in Boston sports. We had three teams playing ...and three teams won. Two of them rather easily; the other in what is becoming, lately, thrilling fashion.

Choices are difficult. The Red Sox and Bruins started at 7; the Celtics at 8. Unless you were in one of those all-purpose sports bars, with six TVs split between the three stations broadcasting the game, your thumb got a workout.

As much as I love to watch sports, I find it difficult sometimes to watch them on television. First, there are the idiotic announcers who, rather than say nothing when nothing need be said, will the air with irrelevant drivel. In Boston, that is known as Jack Edwards, the Bruins play-by-play guy, who has a hyperbole for every occasion.

When the Bruins eliminated the Buffalo Sabres last week, Edwards cried out "Buffalo's hopes lie with the Edmund Fitzgerald, at the bottom of Gitche Gumee."

Uh, Jack, a couple of things. First, Gitche Gumee (however you choose to spell it) is actually Lake Superior, which is quite a ways away from the eastern shores of Lake Erie ... which is where one can find the city of Buffalo. Second, You'd think that in the 21st century, and with serious and heart wrenching tragedy all around us, we could refrain from using overblown, bombastic sports hyperbole.

Then again, what would you expect from a guy who, last year, compared the Bruins beating the Montreal Canadiens (sweeping them, actually), to the American Revolution. I didn't get that one at all. Other than the fact that the B's won the deciding game on Patriot's Day, there was no real connection.

We've already established (or I have, anyway) that Stanley Cup hockey is second to none. One of the reasons it's second to none is because emotions run so high that strange things happen in playoff games. Such as last night's episode where Marc Savard, fresh from a two-month layoff due to a concussion, was accused by Philly's Daniel Carcillo of biting him on the finger.

It wouldn't be the first time a Boston athlete got caught in a biting dustup. Back in '83, Tree Rollins (he didn't get the name because he was short) took a bite out of Boston's Danny Ainge (who, by NBA standards was short) in a playoff game. It was a case of Mutt biting Jeff. Instead of a "Man Bites Dog" headline, we got "Tree Bites Man."

It's tough to tell from the films whether anyone bit anybody. But Savard (and this is wonderful) said, in his version, that Carcillo tried to pull his teeth out, and his finger hit up against his choppers. Uh huh. Reminds me of the time I got sucker punched by the kid across the street and his mother actually told my mother, "well, Stephen's face got in the way of Jimmy's fist."

Myself? I think Savard was hungry and saw an opportunity to eat a chicken finger (do I need to elaborate on the pun?).

Anyway, Bite-gate happened early in an otherwise tense game where, much of the time, you had to cover your eyes and pray. The last time I was this nervous was during the 2004 playoffs when the Red Sox were busy coming from three down to beat the Yankees in seven games. I can remember, in one of those games, a co-worker literally covering her face with her jacket because she couldn't bear to watch. That's how I feel sometimes, too.

There were highlights -- at least from a viewing standpoint: No. 1 came at the end of the second period when the Flyers tied it after a sloppy line change by the Bruins. The goal wasn't so great (it was one of those times where you hope you have a soft, non-invasive object in your hands so when you throw it at the TV, the TV doesn't break), but coach Claude Julien's reaction was absolutely spectacular. He literally slammed his fist up against the boards and uttered clearly visible vulgarity.

I loved it, mainly because I was doing basically the same thing he was. Only I get paid a lot less to act that way, and my tantrums aren't broadcast all over Versus (thank God it was Versus, too, because they'd have had to scrape Edwards off the ice after that one).

The second, naturally, was Milan Lucic's game-winning goal with about two minutes left. Lucic's had a tough year. He was my favorite Broon at this time last year, but he couldn't keep himself healthy this season. It started almost immediatley, and he was in and out of sick bay for virtually the whole season.

He's had a stretch of decent health now, and he's starting to play like the Milan Lucic of a year ago.

The Gahhhhhhden just exploded. I remember when the TD Garden opened (it was the FleetCenter in those days), and people complained that there just wasn't any atmosphere there. It was too quiet.

Of course it was. The teams playing in it were awful. Neither the Bruins nor the Celtics were worthy of any emotion or atmosphere. Now, they are. And there was no lack of it last night. It was electric.

So now we had to Philly for two games, it would really be nice if they stole one down there. It's pretty obvious that the Philly fans, as well as the Flyers themselves, can't wait to sink their teeth into Da Broons, but that's OK. That's what makes hockey hockey. One can only hope, though, that the Flyers prove to be as pusillanimous toward the Bruins as the B's were to the Pittsburgh Penguins after Matt Cooke leveled Savard in March -- giving him the concussion that forced him to the sidelines for two months.

Somehow, I doubt it, though. The Flyers, even with all their injuries, haven't stopped being physical. They may not be the Broad Street Bullies of the 70s, but they don't have too many Lady Byng candidates either.

(Aside, in a rough, tough sport like hockey, does it strike you as odd that one of the NHL's major awards has the word "lady" in it?)

Expect at least one beat down in Game 3.

And speaking of which, what are we to say about the Celtics? They beat the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James like a drum. Take away that 15-0 fourth-quarter run by Cleveland (and you knew that was going to happen eventually) and the Celtics dominated the game.

I have to admit one thing: If either Boston team is fortunate enough to go all the way this spring, I'd prefer it to be the Bruins. But I won't complain if it's the Celtics.

My reasoning is simple: The Bruins haven't won the Cup since 1972, my freshman year of college. In '72, with Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, et al, Boston fans had every reason to expect that this team would just keep on winning.

Only it didn't. Things happened. Orr had major reconstructive knee surgery after that '72 season, and while even a half of an Orr was better than the whole of almost anyone else in the league at the time, the extensive surgery slowed him down a bit. Also, 1972 was the year the World Hockey Association pilfered many good players from the NHL with promises of piles and piles of Monopoly money, and several key members of Da Broons jumped (Ed Westfall, Derek Sanderson, Johnny McKenzie and and Gerry Cheevers among them).

They were never the same team. They got back to the Cup finals in '74, but became the first established, original NHL team to lose a final series to an expansion team (Philly, ironically), and then lost two straight finals to Montreal in '77 and '78. They were poised to beat the Habs -- finally -- in '79 and would have been favored to win the Cup, too, as the New York Rangers upset the Islanders in the other semifinal. But, alas, coach Don Cherry forgot how to count, and the Bruins caught caught with too many men on the ice. The Habs tied the game with about a minute to go, and won it in overtime.

The gaffe cost Cherry -- easily the most enjoyable coach in the history of Boston sports (well, my history anyway) -- his job. These days, "Grapes" is on Hockey Night in Canada, and is good for saying something totally outrageous, which he knows will piss people off royally, at least once a week. Good to see the man's still got it.

The Bruins made it to the Cup finals two other times -- in 1988, where they were swept by The Great Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers (that's the year the old Garden went dark during one of the games, and former Globie Leigh Montville wrote, famously, that "the gerbil -- the one who has to run the generator from a treadmill -- died"); and again, two years later, when they lost to the Oilers in five (a series that featured a triple overtime opener in which Glenn Wesley missed an open net ... a goal that would have won the game for the B's. Instead, Petr Klima scored for the Oilers and took all the starch out of the Bruins).

The Bruins have been plagued, for years, with an ownership that refused to spend money to bring talent into Boston. It got so bad that Ray Bourque, their best player since the days of the Big Bad Bruins, had to get himself traded to Colorado at the end of his career so he could win a Stanely Cup out there ... instead of here, where he should have been parading around Boston with several of them.

The Bruins also been plagued by awful luck. Orr isn't the only player to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune when it comes to injuries. Other than Bourque, their best player since the Orr era was Cam Neely, and he had to retire early because of a hit he took at the hands of Ulf Samuelson. Another of their real good prospects, Normand Leveille, who was only 19, suffered a brain aneurysm and never played again.

And one of their top draft picks, Gord Kluzak, never saw his career get off the ground, as knee injuries cut it short.

Still, none of those guys died, the way Len Bias and Reggie Lewis did. Obviously, those were incredible tragedies in and of themselves. But, from a practical standpoint, they derailed the Celtics for a long, long time. Bias was going to be, to those 1980s Celtics, what John Havlicek was to the 60s and 70s team ... a transitional figure they could build around in their efforts to keep the dynasty going. Lewis was as pure a scorer as they had in many years, and he was truly coming into his own when he developed heart ailment, and collapsed and died while playing a pickup game in 1993.

The Celtics have certainly had their run, though. They won eight straight NBA titles in the 50s and 60s, and they've snagged 17 flags overall. Their last title was in 2008, and many of the guys who won it are still with the team -- albeit two years older.

I didn't expect the Celtics to make it out of the first round this year. They played horribly for the entire second half of the regular season (which reminds me, there has to be some kind of incentive for teams to stop screwing around from October through April. Judging from the way both the B's and C's are playing now, it's obvious they used the regular schedule as an extended exhibition season, and that's kind of insulting to the fans who plunk down valuable bucks to watch).

We need to work on that.

The Celtics handcuffed LeBron and his bad elbow until the game was pretty much over. Then, they let up and allowed the Cavaliers to pick up some steam. It may have made you squirm in your seat a little, just as the Miami Heat did in Game 5 of their series, but they were never in any real danger. It's an NBA axiom that teams that put it in overdrive for 15-0 runs generally lose some zip the first time something goes against them. So it was only matter of time before that run stopped.

The only thing about the Celtics I will say is this: Rajon Rondo, their point guard, is the marquee player on this team now. Maybe the older guys have been slow to realize that, but they'd better get with the program now. They are only going as far as Wajon Wondo (as Bob Cousy might say) will take them (oh, how I wish the Cooz was still doing games so I could hear him pronounce that name; reminds me of the time the C's had Rick Robey, and The Cooz said "ohhhh, fewocious webounding by Wick Wobey). The Cooz was/is our very own Babawa Wawters.

Acutally, Wondo reminds you little of The Cooz, because if there's a routine way and an, shall we say, artistic way of doing things, Wondo will do the latter. Nothing's ever routine with Wajon Wondo.

Last night, Rondo handed out 19 assists and scored 13 points. They don't do scoring in hoops like they do in hockey, where assists and goals have equal point value. But if they did, Rondo would go down in the box score as having scored 51 points. That's one helluva night's work!

Finally, and briefly, there were the Red Sox, fresh off an ignominious sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles (who have won seven games this far this season; four of them against Boston). They took out their frustrations on the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Orange County, California, USA, North America, Planet Earth, to the tune of a 17-8 beatdown. Balls were flying out of Fenway Park like rockets.

For one night, anyway, they were the Red Sox, and not some feeble facsimile thereof.

Maybe they just got swept up in the surging tide of victory. If that's the case, then I approve!!

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