February 28, 2024

Happy Thursday morning, all. Hope you’re having a wonderful first week of May.

Let’s get right to it.

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The Suns are really, really good. If you missed the memo in the regular season, you should be getting it now in the playoffs. Phoenix buried the Mavericks with a fourth-quarter barrage, demolishing Dallas 129-109 and taking a 2-0 series lead.

  • The Suns shot 64.5 percent from the field, 52 percent from three and 85.7 percent from the free throw line. They are the first team ever to have those shooting splits in a playoff game.
  • After trailing by two points at halftime, Phoenix won the second half, 71-49.
  • Devin Booker had 30 points and Chris Paul had 28 points — half of which came in the fourth quarter — as well as eight assists and six rebounds.
  • Luka Doncic had 35 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but he also had seven turnovers and had to be held back from confronting a fan.

If you want to see dominant basketball, watch the first six minutes of the fourth quarter. That’s when Phoenix outscored Dallas 21-10, and Paul himself outscored Dallas 14-10, hunting Doncic and scoring against him in a variety of ways. Paul turning it on late is a reminder of how special he is, writes our NBA scribe Jasmyn Wimbish.

  • Wimbish: “You would think Doncic would be able to stay in front of the grizzled veteran guard, but Paul … caught Doncic on his hip every time he drove to the rim and just kept racking up points. You would also think that the Mavericks would try anything to slow Paul down, like trying to trap him and force the ball out of his hands, but instead it was the CP3 show and he delivered every time he touched the ball in the fourth quarter. “


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The Heat were far from the most talked-about Eastern Conference team this season, but they’re showing why they finished atop the conference standings. Miami topped Philadelphia, 119-103, to take a 2-0 series lead.

The Heat certainly have had luck on their side this series given Embiid’s absence, but Miami is also showing far superior depth. Herro alone has outscored Philadelphia’s bench, 43-40, this series and overall, the Heat own a 94-40 advantage in bench points. It’s one of Miami’s best qualities, notes NBA guru Jack Maloney.

  • Maloney: “They draft well, have arguably the best player development team in the league and are constantly finding players that other teams overlooked. Even with Kyle Lowry out injured and $90-million man Duncan Robinson out of the rotation, head coach Erik Spoelstra was comfortable playing nine different guys in a second-round playoff game. … Embiid is obviously a bigger loss than Lowry, but while the Sixers flounder to find an answer without their star man, the Heat just keep chugging along.”

Honorable mentions

Not so honorable mentions

Real Madrid advances to UCL final after miraculous rally ⚽

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If you turned off yesterday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal in the 89th minute, I don’t know if I could have blamed you. Manchester City was up 1-0 in the match and 5-3 on aggregate. Done deal, right? Wrong. Real Madrid pulled off their latest and, perhaps, greatest Champions League comeback ever — and they have had plenty of them — eventually winning 6-5 on aggregate. Real Madrid will face Liverpool in the final May 28.

Here’s what happened:

  • Riyad Mahrez seemingly all but ensured City would go through with a wonderful strike in the 73rd minute.
  • But Rodrygo tapped in from short range in the 90th minute and then scored a phenomenal header in the 91st.
  • Karim Benzema completed the comeback with a penalty kick in the 95th minute.

Rodrygo’s and Benzema’s heroics will rightfully grab the headlines, but this comeback wouldn’t have even existed without Ferland Mendy‘s incredible goal-line clearance in the 87th minute or any one of many huge saves from Thibaut Courtois.

Our soccer reporter Roger Gonzalez ranks this as the third-greatest comeback in Champions League history.

  • Gonzalez: “In terms of the most clutch comeback, this is up there with any two-leg affair in the competition’s history considering they needed two goals in added time to just force extra time.”

On the other end of things, soccer scribe James Benge wonders if it will ever come together for Pep Guardiola and City in this competition.

  • Benge: “In the short term, they may well be able to park it to one side for the remaining four games of their title chase, starting with what is sure to be a fiddly clash with sportswashing rivals Newcastle on Sunday. But what will happen the next time they find themselves in a similar position in next year’s Champions League final? Or the year after?”

As for everything else on this all-time classic:

NFL quarterback tiers: Who makes the cut? 🏈

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Ah yes, one of my favorite exercises: Putting quarterbacks into tiers. Where does your favorite land?

Our Jason La Canfora split the league’s starting signal-callers into seven tiers, and here’s his Tier 1: Bona Fide Franchise QBs.

  • Patrick Mahomes
  • Tom Brady
  • Aaron Rodgers
  • Lamar Jackson
  • Josh Allen
  • Russell Wilson
  • Justin Herbert
  • Joe Burrow
  • Matt Stafford

Deshaun Watson fell out of this group while Burrow and Stafford joined it. Why the new additions? Let La Canfora explain:

  • La Canfora: “The only reason Burrow was not on this list this time a year ago was because he was rehabbing from major knee surgery. It was fair to wonder when he would be fully back and when he would overcome the mental and physical aspect of the process, to say nothing of him having to play behind a shoddy offensive line. Well, we all know how that went. Amazing. And for years people would look at this column and rip me for having Stafford too high in their estimation. People thought I’d over-valued him. Ask Sean McVay about that.”

One quarterback I’m glad stayed in the top tier was Jackson. While 2021 was certainly a step back, I think he’ll rebound in a major way this season.

You can see all the tiers here.

MLB early-season trends: Red Sox making history… in a bad way? ⚾

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We’re now four weeks into the MLB regular season, and while there’s still a long, long way to go, we can start noticing some early-season trends, both good and bad.

We’ll start with the bad first, and in this case, it’s the Red Sox, specifically the bottom of the Red Sox order (7-8-9 batters), which currently sports a .176/.231/.244 slash line … all worst in MLB. But it’s not just bad for this season. It’s historically bad, notes MLB reporter Mike Axisa.

  • Axisa: “The lowest 7-8-9 OPS+ ever belongs to the 1913 St. Louis Browns. Their 7-8-9 hitters hit .189/.260/.246 for a 61 OPS+. … It’s unlikely Boston’s 7-8-9 hitters will continue to be this bad. … The bad news is there’s no easy fix. It’s not as simple as benching some guys and playing others, because Boston’s bench is lacking thump as well.”

I really enjoyed Mike’s in-depth look at some interesting early developments, and I think you will, too. That is, of course, unless you bat at the bottom of the Red Sox order.

What we’re watching Thursday 📺

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