Sep 16, 2020

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! What a night on the hardwood and the ice. What do people who don't watch sports do with their lives?!

Today's word count: 2,065 words (7 minutes).

1 big thing: 🏀 The Nuggets shock the world

Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Jamal Murray scored 40 points, Nikola Jokić had a triple-double by the third quarter and the Nuggets overcame yet another double-digit deficit to shock the Clippers, 104-89, in Game 7.

Why it matters: The Nuggets are the first NBA team to rally from two 3-1 holes in the same postseason and the third U.S. major pro sports team to do so, joining the 1985 Royals (won World Series) and the 2003 Wild (lost in West Finals).

  • Denver's historic achievement was aided by the pandemic, which saved them from having to play Games 5 and 7 in front of a packed Staples Center in L.A., but it was an incredible feat nonetheless.
  • The Clippers' collapse robbed fans of a highly anticipated "Hallway Series" against the Lakers. This was supposed to be the year they finally stepped out from under that purple and gold shadow. Instead, more heartbreak.

By the numbers:

  • Kawhi Leonard and Paul George finished a combined 10-of-38 for just 24 points (including zero in the fourth quarter).
  • Doc Rivers now has eight Game 7 losses (no other coach has more than five) and the most blown 3-1 leads (three) in NBA history.
  • The Nuggets outscored the Clippers 50-28 over the final 22 minutes, 50 seconds — the third straight game that L.A. looked paralyzed down the stretch.

What's next:

  • Nuggets: Denver will face-off against the top-seeded Lakers starting Friday. L.A. won four of five meetings this season, with the only loss coming without LeBron James. The last time the Nuggets were in the West Finals (2009) was also against the Lakers.
  • Clippers: The West is going to be even stronger next season with the Warriors back in the mix, and without a single tradable draft pick until 2028, the Clippers will have to get creative to improve their roster. Leonard and George can both become free agents in 2021.

The intrigue: The Lakers exemplify the NBA's current era of player movement and roster turnover, while the Nuggets buck that trend.

  • L.A. has just two players who were on the team three years ago (Kyle Kuzma an Alex Caruso), and their roster features lots of veteran role players and late-season pickups — both staples of LeBron-led contenders.
  • Meanwhile, Denver has eight players who were on the team three years ago — including three starters in Murray, Jokić and Paul Millsap — and the team's chemistry and rotation have developed more organically season to season.

🎥 Watch: Nuggets going nuts (Twitter)

2. 💥 Bam! Epic block leads Heat past Celtics

Bam Adebayo made arguably the best block in playoff history in the final seconds of the Heat's 117-114 overtime victory over the Celtics.

A couple of things:

  • This series is going to be incredible. Both teams are deep, bring a ton of energy on defense and have supremely talented coaches drawing up plays.
  • Adebayo's block stole the headlines, but he also had nine assists (to go along with 18 points). Between him and Jokić — and to a lesser extent Anthony Davis — the passing IQ among remaining big men is through the roof.

Box score: Jayson Tatum (30), Goran Dragić (29), Marcus Smart (26), Jae Crowder (22) and Jimmy Butler (20) all scored 20+ points.

3. ⚾️ MLB's double-bubble postseason
Screenshot: @MLB (Twitter)

The MLB playoffs are less than two weeks away, and the league announced on Tuesday that the later rounds will be played at bubble sites, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • The field: Eight teams per league, seeded as follows: division winners by record (1-3), division runners-up by record (4-6) and the two best remaining teams (7-8).
  • The format: The first round is best-of-three, with the higher seed hosting. Remaining rounds are their usual format but will be held at neutral sites.

How it works: Hoping to avoid the nightmare scenario of an outbreak during the playoffs, the four-city postseason bubble will include daily player testing and a limited number of family members, pending a supervised quarantine.

  • Transitional period: To limit external interactions, teams still mathematically alive in the playoff race will spend the season's final week in "transitional hotels" ahead of their potential first-round series.
  • The bubble: Once the field is narrowed to eight, Texas (Houston and Arlington) will host the National League, while California (San Diego and L.A.) will host the American League.
  • World Series: For the first time since 1944, the Fall Classic will be played at one site — Globe Life Field, the brand new home of the Rangers.

Between the lines: There will be no travel days in the first three rounds, which will change how managers use pitchers and favor teams with deeper staffs.

  • Aces who would normally pitch Games 1 and 5 in a five- or seven-game series on full rest must now either pitch on short rest or be saved for later.
  • The Nationals famously won last year's World Series in part by deploying their three best pitchers out of the bullpen between starts throughout October. That won't be an option this year.

Playoff picture: The AL's eight-team field is basically set, while the NL is more chaotic.

  • AL virtual locks: White Sox (100% odds), Rays (100%), Twins (100%), Athletics (100%), Yankees (99.9%), Indians (98.3%), Blue Jays (97.6%), Astros (97%).
  • NL virtual locks: Dodgers (100%), Padres (100%), Braves (100%), Cubs (100%).
  • NL still alive: Phillies (76.7%), Marlins (72.2%), Cardinals (69.8%), Giants (51.6%), Brewers (47.1%), Reds (45.4%), Rockies (19.9%), Mets (16.8%).
  • Better luck next year: Mariners (3.8%), Tigers (1.5%), Angels (1%), Orioles (0.7%), Nationals (0.5%), Royals (0.1%), Diamondbacks (0%), Pirates (0%).

The big picture: Commissioner Rob Manfred said the 16-team postseason is likely to remain beyond this season, adding that "an overwhelming majority" of owners had already endorsed the concept before the pandemic.

4. 🇫🇷 Tour de France: 16 stages down, 5 to go

Lennard Kämna of Germany won Stage 16 on Tuesday. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The Tour de France is nearing its end, with riders embarking on Stage 17 of 21 today as they head toward Sunday's finish in the heart of Paris, Jeff writes.

How it works: 176 riders (22 teams of eight) began the 21-stage race on Aug. 29. Just 153 remain, with 23 dropping out due to injury or finishing stages too slowly.

  • Save for two rest days, cyclists have been racing through the French countryside on a daily basis, hoping their aggregate time puts them near the top of the field.
  • There are various "races within the race," with awards given to points leaders (finishing near the top of a stage) and mountain leaders (excelling at mid-stage climbs), but the ultimate prize is the yellow jersey (fastest overall time).

Where it stands: Today's stage takes riders on a grueling trek through the Alps to the ski resort town of Méribel, which is making its Tour debut.

  • Primož Roglič holds the yellow jersey and has a 40-second lead over friend and fellow Slovenian — but not teammate — Tadej Pogačar.
  • Just six other riders are within five minutes of the lead, but today's mammoth mountain stage could shake things up.
  • Last year's winner, Colombia's Egan Bernal, pulled out of the race on Tuesday. He was in 16th place, nearly 20 minutes behind Roglič.
Courtesy: Tour de France

Coming up: Just four stages remain after today.

  • Thursday (175 km): Another mountain stage, with over 4,000 meters of climbing. Riders will pass through the Glières Plateau, a key site during the French Resistance in WWII.
  • Friday (166.5 km): Near the end of this flat stage, riders will pass the tiny commune of Loulle, where 1,500 remarkably well-preserved dinosaur footprints remain visible.
  • Saturday (36.2 km): This is the lone time trial stage, meaning riders will race nothing but the clock.
  • Sunday (122 km): The last stage is also the shortest (minus the time trial), with riders crossing the finish line in the heart of Paris.
5. 🚨 Game-winners 'round the world
Photo: Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

PALMETTO, Fla. — Shey Peddy drained a buzzer-beating three to lift the Mercury past the defending champion Mystics, 85-84.

  • Peddy joined the Mystics as a 30-year-old rookie last season. Washington waived her on Aug. 17, and the Mercury claimed her.
  • A month later, she hits a postseason buzzer-beater to send her old team home and save the season for her new team. Amazing.
"It's the best feeling I've felt, probably ever. That was a dream-come-true-shot right there. It's like a fairy tale moment."
— Peddy

What's next: Alyssa Thomas (28-13-8) led the Sun past the Sky, 94-81, earlier in the night. The second round is now set: Mercury vs. Lynx; Sun vs. Sparks.

Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

EDMONTON — Jordan Eberle scored on a two-on-one break in double overtime to lead the Islanders past the Lightning, 2-1, and keep New York's season alive.

  • What's next: Game 6 is tomorrow night (8pm ET). Tampa Bay leads 3-2.
Asmir Begović making the game-winning save. Photo: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AFP via Getty Images

BOURNEMOUTH, England — Bournemouth beat Crystal Palace 11-10 in an unusually long shootout (match highlights) to advance to the third round of the English League Cup, where they'll face Manchester City.

  • Fun fact: The longest shootout in soccer history occurred during the final of the 2005 Namibian Cup, which had to be settled by a record 48 penalty kicks.
6. 📺 Football returns to the living room

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The NFL is America's most valuable TV property, and it's even more important to networks and advertisers this year with entertainment production largely shut down due to COVID-19.

Driving the news: Last week's top six prime-time shows were all NFL. Here are the top 10, plus viewership numbers, per AP:

  1. Texans at Chiefs, NBC (20.63 million viewers)
  2. Cowboys at Rams, NBC (18.94)
  3. Texans-Chiefs pregame, NBC (14.32)
  4. Cowboys-Rams pregame, NBC (13.06)
  5. The OT, Fox (11.99)
  6. Football Night in America, NBC (8.75)
  7. 60 Minutes, CBS (8.02)
  8. American's Got Talent (Tue.), NBC (6.01)
  9. The Masked Singer, Fox (5.57)
  10. America's Got Talent (Wed.), NBC (5.51)

Yes, but: Despite outperforming all other forms of prime-time programming, Week 1 NFL ratings were down roughly 4% compared to the 2019 season, according to Nielsen ratings cited by CNBC.

  • Some will say this is evidence that player protests and the league's social justice initiatives are turning fans away.
  • Others will say the ratings decline is merely a result of the NFL competing with more leagues than usual due to the reshuffled sports calendar, not to mention cord-cutting.
  • Another theory is that the pandemic — and specifically working from home — has thrown off our schedules and routines, leading to irregular viewing behavior.

My take: It's way too early to be making sweeping statements about what these ratings mean (especially when we're talking about a 4% decline). Check back in a week or two and we'll talk.

7. 📊 By the numbers
Winged Foot's clubhouse during Tuesday's practice round. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images
  • ⛳️ 7,477 yards: Tiger Woods said Winged Foot, the site of this week's U.S. Open, is one of golf's three hardest courses, right up there with Oakmont (Penn.) and Carnoustie (Scotland). Measuring 7,477 yards, Winged Foot has a brutal finishing stretch of five straight par-4s, none less than 425 yards.
  • 🏈 75 cases: Five Texas Tech football players tested positive for COVID-19 last week, bringing the team's total cases to 75 since players returned to campus in mid-June, the school announced.
  • 💵 4 billionaires: Lionel Messi has joined Tiger Woods, Floyd Mayweather and Cristiano Ronaldo in the exclusive club of sports billionaires. (Michael Jordan is also in the club but his fortune has largely come post-retirement).
  • 🏀 426-81: Jim Crutchfield, the coach at D-II Nova Southeastern, has a career record of 426-81 (.840) — the highest winning percentage in college hoops history. That would explain why Erik Spoelstra and Brad Stevens both reached out to pick his brain, per WSJ's Ben Cohen (subscription).
8. Sept. 16, 1869: ⛳️ The first hole-in-one
Old Tom (L) and Young Tom. Photo: Sarah Fabian-Baddiel/Heritage Images/Getty Images

151 years ago today, 18-year-old Tom Morris Jr., carded the first hole-in-one in recorded golf history during the 10th annual Open Championship at Scotland's Prestwick Golf Club.

The shot: Morris aced the 166-yard eighth, known then as "the station hole" for its proximity to the adjacent train station. The hole no longer exists today, but the train tracks do, lending their name to Prestwick's current No. 1 hole: "Railway."

The backdrop: Young Tom, as he was known, grew up playing Prestwick because his dad, Old Tom, was the greenskeeper there.

  • In 1860, Old Tom hit the first shot at the inaugural Open Championship and went on to win four of the first eight editions ('61, '62, '64, '67).
  • In 1865, Young Tom played in his first Open at age 14, and in 1868 he became the youngest major champion ever (17). Second place that year? Old Tom.
  • Young Tom's three straight wins from 1868 to 1870 at ages 17, 18 and 19 remain the three youngest marks for major winners. He added a fourth win in 1872.
MacDonald Smith crosses the burn at Prestwick during the 1925 Open Championship. Photo: Kirby/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The big picture: Prestwick has hosted 24 Open Championships, second only to St. Andrews (29). But the last time it served as host was way back in 1925.

Go deeper: Young Tom's first Open victory (The Open)

9. 🏀 NBA trivia
Photo: Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

The Clippers have now gone 50 straight seasons without a Conference Finals appearance, the longest active streak by a wide margin.

  • Question: Which team has the second-longest streak at 30 seasons?
  • Hint: They were not part of the bubble.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎥 Tuesday's top plays
Screenshot: Twitter
  1. 🏀 Bam's block
  2. 🏀 Shey's dagger
  3. ⚾️ Rizzo's catch
  4. ⚾️ Machado's snag
  5. 🏀 Jokić's pass

Watch all 5.

Kendall Baker

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "I don't want to hear any more 'Kawhi is better than LeBron' takes" Baker

Trivia answer: Hornets