August 18, 2022

Happy Monday, everyone! Hope you had a great weekend.

Let’s get right to it.

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Good morning to everyone but especially to…

THE DALLAS MAVERICKS AND THE PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

Four days ago, the No. 1 seeds in both conferences were cruising toward the conference finals. Then the weekend came. The Mavericks and 76ers have tied up their conference semifinal series against the Suns and Heat, respectively, at two games apiece.

We’ll start in Dallas, where the Mavericks followed up Friday’s win with a 111-101 triumph yesterday.

  • Luka Doncic had a team-high 26 points, but the story of the game was Dorian Finney-Smith with 24 points on a career-high eight 3-pointers.
  • Devin Booker scored 35 points, but Chris Paul struggled and eventually fouled out in just 23 minutes.
  • Paul’s teams are now 0-14 in his career when he fouls out.
  • After shooting 50 percent or better in each of their first eight playoff games, the Suns were under 50 percent for the second straight contest.

Interestingly enough, after scoring 80 points combined in Games 1 and 2 — both losses — Doncic scored 52 combined in Game 3 and 4 triumphs. The big difference? The supporting cast stepped up, notes NBA guru James Herbert.

  • Herbert: “Jason Kidd said that ‘everybody joined the party’ after Dallas’ Game 3 win, in which Jalen Brunson led the team in scoring and Finney-Smith, Reggie Bullock and Maxi Kleber all scored at least 14 points. In Game 4, six Mavs scored in double figures and Brunson and Spencer Dinwiddie had four assists apiece.”

In Philadelphia, the 76ers were rejuvenated by the return of superstar Joel Embiid in Game 3 and took Game 4 yesterday as well, 116-108.

  • Embiid had 24 points and 11 rebounds, but James Harden stole the show with 31 points. Entering last night, he had averaged 18.6 PPG this postseason.
  • Six 76ers scored in double figures.
  • Jimmy Butler poured in 40 points for Miami.

But even with Harden stealing the show, it’s no promise that he will be able to replicate this performance in the series, writes our NBA scribe Sam Quinn.

  • Quinn: “I can’t help but wonder what it says about Harden that this is the sort of performance he’s getting praised for. After all, he averaged just shy of 34 points, eight assists and seven rebounds two seasons ago. This was not peak James Harden… it’s not as though he rediscovered his old first step. Harden had shot 28.3 percent on his 3s in Philly’s past eight playoff games. That isn’t who he really is. But neither is 6-of-10 and without that hot shooting, the conversations surrounding his performance probably aren’t changing much.”

Honorable mentions

And not such a good morning for…


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JA MORANT AND THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Over the weekend, we added another injury to an NBA postseason that’s already been full of them. Ja Morant is expected to miss Game 4 tonight after suffering a knee injury in controversial fashion Saturday night. The Grizzlies superstar was injured with about six minutes to go in Game 3 after Warriors guard Jordan Poole yanked on his knee.

It’s clear that Poole — who will not face any discipline from the league — pulled Morant’s knee, opines our NBA expert Brad Botkin.

  • Botkin: “Poole called it a ‘basketball play.’ I assure you there is no normal basketball play that involves grabbing hold of an opponent’s knee and pulling it backward. I don’t believe it was intentional. I don’t know if it actually caused the injury or aggravated a previous one or none of the above. All I know is Poole irrefutably grabbed hold of Morant’s knee. He didn’t graze it. He had hold of it, and he pulled it backward. From that point forward, in terms of intention or cause of injury or wherever else you want to take the conversation, that’s all debatable. But if you’re saying Poole didn’t do anything, intentional or otherwise, you’re being disingenuous.”

This is a huge bummer for Morant and the Grizzlies, who will need to turn in a terrific performance tonight to avoid going down 3-1 in the series.

  • The Grizzlies went 20-5 without Morant during the regular season. So, some silver lining, right? Not quite.
  • In the 115 minutes Morant has played this series, Memphis has outscored Golden State by six points.
  • But in the 29 minutes Morant has sat this series, Golden State has outscored Memphis by 32(!) points — more than one point per minute.

In Game 2, Dillon Brooks earned a one-game suspension for a Flagrant 2 foul on Gary Payton II, who fractured his left elbow in the process. Now, another clear non-basketball play has altered this series massively. The Grizzlies — and basketball in general — are worse off for it.

Not so honorable mentions

Rich Strike, an 80-1 longshot, wins Kentucky Derby 🏇


USATSI

On Friday morning, Rich Strike wasn’t even in the Kentucky Derby field. On Saturday night, he was the most stunning champion at Churchill Downs in recent memory.

It wasn’t just that Rich Strike won as the longest of longshots, but how he won. Rich Strike was well behind the leaders at the final turn but maneuvered his way out of a pack and then chased down Epicenter and Zandon in a jaw-dropping finish, which you can watch right here.

Take it from me, someone who knows next to nothing about horse racing but thoroughly enjoyed the race: You’re going to want to watch (or re-watch) it. Rich Strike wasn’t the only underdog who had a great weekend, though

Canelo Alvarez upset by Dmitry Bivol 🥊


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For the first time in over eight years, Canelo Alvarez walked out of the ring defeated — and it wasn’t even all that close. The undisputed super middleweight champion struggled to get anything going in his return to the light heavyweight class, losing to Dmitry Bivol by unanimous decision.

  • All three judges scored it 115-113 in favor of Bivol, but CBS Sports scored it 119-109 Bivol.
  • Bivol outlanded Alvarez, 152-84.
  • It’s Alvarez’s second career loss; the other was to Floyd Mayweather in 2013.
  • Bivol, meanwhile, moves to a perfect 20-0 and retains his WBA light heavyweight title.

Alvarez expressed his optimism for a rematch, but boxing expert Brent Brookhouse wonders if that’s a good idea.

  • Brookhouse: “Given that fixing the issues he had against Bivol is a huge task, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Alvarez to return to super middleweight, a division where he is still the undisputed four-belt champion. There are plenty of big fights waiting for him south of light heavyweight, including the trilogy fight with Gennadiy Golovkin that was already being planned for the fall. … A rematch with Bivol could easily come down the road and lose none of the prestige.”

Max Homa wins Wells Fargo Championship 🏌


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After turning pro in 2013, Max Homa needed nearly eight years to pick up his first two PGA Tour wins. He’s now picked up two more the last eight months after winning the Wells Fargo Championship by two strokes.

  • Homa was in second entering the final round, two shots behind Keegan Bradley.
  • He shot 2-under 68, while Bradley shot 2-over 72.
  • Homa ultimately got a relatively stress-free finish, two strokes ahead of Bradley, Cameron Young and Matthew Fitzpatrick.

Homa earned an A+ from our golf expert Patrick McDonald.

  • McDonald:He possesses a complete game, a killer instinct and consistently gets the job done when in the heat of a back-nine battle. The major championship résumé has yet to catch up to Homa’s talent level, but I am confident it will.”

Meanwhile, after a slow start, Rory McIlroy finished fifth, his second straight top-five finish. That’s encouraging ahead of the PGA Championship, notes golf reporter Kyle Porter.

  • Porter: “McIlroy is hitting the ball quite well. After leading the Masters field in strokes gained from tee to green (via Data Golf), he again finished in the top 10 in that category at Wells Fargo. An approach game that has lacked at times this season has been stellar for two straight events, and the distance that has given McIlroy the most fits (50-125 yards) was a place he improved immensely over 72 holes at TPC Potomac.”

What we’re watching Monday 📺

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