The Weekend That Was

April 20, 2009 |

It was a big weekend as far as sports goes. NBA Playoffs. NHL Playoffs. Big moments in baseball. This past weekend had a little bit of everything.

Bulls Stun C’s: Derrick Rose and his 36 points led the Chicago Bulls to a victory over the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics in the first game of their best of seven series Saturday afternoon. Listening to some of the radio afterward and watching some of the television analysts as well, you would think that the Celtics – minus Kevin Garnett – shouldn’t even bother showing up for the rest of the series.

If you’re one of those people writing the Celtics off after one game, you should be ashamed of yourself. No one said it was going to be easy for the Celtics. But burying this team while they are still alive is a big mistake.

First of all Chicago is a young team. They are a team that underwent a makeover not so long ago. They are going to have their good games. They’re going to have their bad games. Game One was a good game.

And how quickly we all seem to have forgotten what the Celtics are made of. Yes, Garnett is gone for now (I still think he’ll be back down the road this post-season). But the last time I checked they still had a guy named Pierce who was the driving force behind their Finals win over the Lakers last spring.

A lot of people also seemed to have forgotten that Atlanta – a team that won thirty-seven games in 2007-2008 – stretched the Celtics to seven games last year.

It’s one game. Don’t write the Celtics off yet. Sure, Ray Allen has to step up a little bit, and Boston might struggle more than they did during the regular season. But, in a seven game series, I can’t bet against a Pierce/Allen-led team against a Bulls team that is coming along, but just not quite ready for prime time just yet.

Kobe’s Got Help: It was no surprise that the Lakers handled Utah in the first game of their series. it was no surprise that Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol did the bulk of the damage. But I bet most of you were like me – not expecting Trevor Ariza to score 21 the way he did yesterday.

Ariza has found a home with the Lakers after stints with the Knicks (who took him in the second round a few years ago) and Magic. Ariza probably left UCLA too early, but he has settled in nicely as a supporting player with Kobe & Company.

And that’s why the Lakers – in my mind – have to be the favorite to win the whole thing. They aren’t just The Kobe Show anymore. Gasol can beat you on any given night. So can Lamar Odom. Andrew Bynum returned from his knee injury and has shown none of the rustiness you would have expected (though he did have foul trouble yesterday).

On top of that Los Angeles has Phil Jackson, a great coach who some want to downgrade because of the talent he was fortunate to coach. Add all these ingredients together and it’s hard to pick against the Lakers in a seven game series. Which means the Lakers might have to clear some room in the trophy case for yet another NBA Championship Trophy.

MLB Surprise Teams: There were some that expected teams like the Royals and Marlins to take a step forward. What came as a surprise to most were the hot starts that the Padres, Mariners, and Blue Jays have gotten off to. No one expected to see the Blue Jays, who were seen as pitching starved, to be hanging out at the top of the AL East. The Mariners were so bad last year they fired their GM and Manager. And the Padres? Well, let’s just say this. They’re the biggest surprise in all of baseball. They lost 99 games last year. Outside of three or four guys their roster is made up of a bunch of guys most have never heard of. They were nearly universally chosen as the worst team in the bigs before the season started.

So far, these three teams have made us media ‘experts’ look like a bunch of morons. There is excitement in all three cities right now. People in Toronto are talking about the Jays as opposed to the Leafs. San Diegans are talking about the Pads as opposed to the Chargers. And the Mariners have given sports fans in Seattle something positive to talk about, and there hasn’t been anything positive in Seattle (sports-wise) to talk about in a very long time.

But, before anyone says anything about playoffs, I suggest we all take a deep breath. They’ve played all of two weeks. That isn’t enough of a sample to make statements by. If you want to start making judgments, wait until these teams have played forty games. That’s one-quarter of the way into the season. That’s enough of a sample.

However, I do warn everyone that judgments made at the quarter-pole can be wrong as well. In 2007, Brewers fans were ready to print World Series tickets after a great start. That team fell two games short of making the playoffs. The 2008 Brewers were 20-24 after 44 games, and you could just sense the team was in trouble. Those same Brewers made the playoffs.

The moral of the story: You can be happy about your team’s start, but it’s how they finish that matters more than anything else.

Sheff Cracks 500 Club: Mets outfielder Gary Sheffield finally gained entry into one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs by hitting his 500th homer Friday night against Brewers lefty Mitch Stetter. It was one of those shots you knew was gone as soon as you heard the crack of the bat (tough to do when it’s hit at Citi Field, which looks to be a ballpark where home runs go to die). Check the video. One of the guys sitting in the seats behind the plate got up and raised his arms in celebration as soon as Sheffield hit it. The fan started to celebrate before Sheff even did.

What was even more amazing (to me) was what happened the next day. I’m working out on elliptical machine. I’m listening to WFAN radio (New York City) on the computer (I know – I’m a little weird). Sheffield came on with hosts Evan Roberts and John Franco (yes, the same John Franco that pitched in the bigs) and said he didn’t expect to get more than one-hundred at bats this season. On top of that, Sheffield said he was fine with being a role player.

I had to pinch myself, because this was a completely different Gary Sheffield that I had ever heard before. A humble Gary Sheffield. A Sheffield that fans in Milwaukee, San Diego, Florida, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, and Detroit were not familiar with. What gives?

What I think is going on is that Sheffield is the rare athlete who realizes that he isn’t what he used to be. Sheffield, at this point, is happy to have a job in Major League Baseball. How many other players – and pick any sport you want – would admit publicly that they aren’t what they used to be?

Sheffield’s got his 500th homer. He’s a Hall of Famer (anyone who debates that simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about). I also think he’s likely to walk away from the game after the season.

Like him or hate him, he’s always marched to the beat of his own drummer. His career has taken a lot of different twists and turns. Admitting he’s strictly a part time player – as he did on Saturday – is the latest twist.

You may not like Sheffield, but you have to respect what he’s accomplished in his career.

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