May 9, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Nobody wants to coach the Lakers, everybody is betting on Tony Romo to win a golf tournament and a track star accidentally impaled himself on a javelin (he's okay). Just another day on planet Earth.

Elsewhere in sports…

1 big thing: ⚽️ Best. Champions League. Ever.
GIF: BR Live/Giphy

24 hours after Liverpool shocked the world by overcoming a 3-0 deficit against Barcelona, Tottenham pulled off a miracle of their own, coming from behind in the second half and advancing past Ajax in the final seconds.

What happened: Ajax entered the second leg with a 1-0 advantage and scored two unanswered goals in the first half to go up 3-0 on aggregate.

  • But after halftime, Tottenham seemed magically refreshed and Lucas Moura scored three straight goals, including the decisive strike in the final minute of stoppage time that put Tottenham through via the away goal tiebreaker.
  • Dear Mr. Moura, welcome to the rest of your life. And dear soccer, thank you for one of the most thrilling 48 hours I can remember.

What's next: On June 1, Tottenham and Liverpool will meet in the first All-England Champions League final since 2008, when 23-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and Manchester United beat Didier Drogba and Chelsea in a shootout.

  • Liverpool has a 71% chance to win, per FiveThirtyEight. But after this week, it's clear that the odds are meaningless when it comes to these two teams.


BONUS: 📸 Scenes from Amsterdam

Ian Karmel wrote a great piece on The Ringer earlier this week about Damian Lillard's buzzer-beater against the Thunder. His point about "being for the moments" resonated with me and certainly applies here:

"I'm not sure of the right way to enjoy sports anymore. ... Stats are more important than aesthetics are more important than story lines are more important than stats, and it seems like the only thing people really believe in is what they're mad about other people doing."
"We're up to our necks in information and interaction, but we wield both clumsily. I'm tired of being right; I just want to be happy, and that's why I'm for the moments."
Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images
Photo: Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images
Photo: Matthew Ashton/AMA/Getty Images
Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images
2. 🏒 And then there were four...

Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

We have arrived at the conference finals portion of the Stanley Cup playoffs, which has thus far gone exactly as no one expected.

  • 19 overtime periods, five Game 7s and two shocking sweeps later, four teams remain — two of whom have never won a Stanley Cup. To say the field is wide open would be an understatement.
  • Bruins (No. 2 seed): You can bet the NHL will be rooting for the Bruins to make the final. The league has been selling big market teams for years now, and Boston is arguably the only one left in the field (maybe San Jose, too).
  • Hurricanes (No. 7): Get to know rookie head coach Rod Brind'Amour, who might not be the best speech-giver in the world, but has Carolina in the conference finals for the first time in a decade.
  • Sharks (No. 2 seed): San Jose's wins over Vegas and Colorado were far from convincing, but all of a sudden Logan Couture is the playoffs' leading point-getter and captain Joe Pavelski is back from injury.
  • Blues (No. 5): I’m putting my money on St. Louis to win it all (feels like something special is happening there), and I've never been wrong about an NHL postseason bet. I've also never placed one but that's beside the point.

📺 Tonight (NBCSN): Hurricanes at Bruins, 8pm ET

3. 🏀 Durant injured; Celtics eliminated

Photo: Ezra Klein/Getty Images

Warriors 104, Rockets 99 (GS leads 3-2)

  • Last season: In the final seconds of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, Chris Paul went down with a hamstring injury as the Rockets grabbed a 3-2 lead. ... The Warriors went on to win Games 6 and 7 en route to another title and Houston spent the past year wondering "what if?"
  • Last night: In the third quarter of Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, Kevin Durant went down with what sounds like a calf strain (Grade 1 usually takes 7-10 days for recovery; Grade 2 can be 4-6 weeks) as the Warriors grabbed a 3-2 lead. ... What happens now?

Bucks 116, Celtics 91 (MIL wins 4-1)

  • Kyrie Irving said he wouldn't shoot 8/22 (36.4%) from the field again after his Game 3 performance. He proceeded to shoot 7/22 (31.8%) in Game 4. When asked about his performance he said, "Who cares?" then followed it up with a 6/21 (28.6%) line last night. Depressing end to his Celtics career. He's gone.
  • Just how good are the Bucks? Based off their net rating, they're the biggest threat to Golden State's throne yet. A bigger threat than the Durant-Westbrook Thunder, a bigger threat than the Rockets and a bigger threat than every LeBron team the Warriors faced.

📺 Tonight (ESPN): Raptors at Sixers, 8pm ET (TOR leads 3-2) ... Nuggets at Trail Blazers, 10:30 (DEN leads 3-2).

4. ⚾️ Where have all the stolen bases gone?
Photo: Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Last week marked the 28th anniversary of Rickey Henderson setting the all-time stolen base record. He finished his career with 1,406, giving him a comfortable lead atop the leaderboard:

  1. Rickey Henderson (1,406)
  2. Lou Brock (938)
  3. Billy Hamilton (914)
  4. Ty Cobb (897)
  5. Tim Raines (808)

Why it matters: With every passing year, Henderson's record feels more and more unbreakable. It's one of those statistics that tells the story of how a sport was played a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.

What's happening: Thanks to the rise of the home run, and the subsequent dip in batting average and total number of hits, the art of the steal is slowly disappearing from the game, Free Baseball's Jeff Tracy writes in his tri-weekly newsletter.

  • In 1982, the year Rickey stole a career-high 130 bases, the league-wide batting average was an impressive .261 but teams hit just 3,379 homers.
  • "Last year, the league-wide batting average dropped all the way down to .248, but teams made up for it by mashing 5,585 homers — a 65% increase over 1982."
  • Fun fact: "From 1980-1998, Henderson stole 65 or more bases 10 times. Since then, all of baseball has seen just eight such seasons (and none since 2010)."

The bottom line: "The idea behind stealing a base is to get yourself into a better position to score," writes Tracy. "But a home run will score you from anywhere, and there have never been more of those than there are today."

  • "Why risk running into an out when the chance of the next swing resulting in a homer has never been higher?"
5. 🏈 Employees open up about the AAF's collapse

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

As details continue to emerge about the AAF's collapse, it's become quite clear that this was a classic startup tale of excited employees drawn by a company's mission, only to be thrown into an underfunded, mismanaged dumpster fire.

  • The AAF "made football what it used to be," a former video and football operations employee told SI. "Every coach on our staff approached this with the best intentions" and employees frequently sacrificed for the good of the company because they believed in what they were building.
  • But in exchange for their efforts, everyone from the players to the coaches to the ticket sales department were left feeling lied to and, in many ways, used.

More stories:

  • Players were awarded "coins" for on-field performance and doing things like community service. They were told these coins could significantly bolster their salaries, but it quickly became a running joke what they were actually worth. Ended up pretty much being Monopoly money.
  • After the AAF shut down, one employee from each team was retained to recoup that franchise's physical assets (cameras, computers, TVs). Problem was, many of those assets had made their way out the door the day the AAF was shuttered in "the biggest loot-fest I've ever seen," said one employee.

Full report.

6. ⚾ May 9, 2010: Dallas Braden pitches perfection

Dallas Braden makes history. Photo: Brad Mangin/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Nine years ago today, Dallas Braden of the Oakland Athletics pitched the 19th perfect game in MLB history in a 4-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays.

  • Best part: The game was on Mother's Day and Braden's grandmother, who raised him after his mother died of skin cancer when he was in high school, was in attendance.

The big picture: There have been four perfect games since, including one 20 days later.

  • Roy Halladay (5/29/2010)
  • Philip Humber (4/21/2012)
  • Matt Cain (6/13/2012)
  • Felix Hernandez (8/15/2012)

Go deeper:

7. 🇺🇸 State trivia

In 1998, the losers of the NBA Finals and men's college basketball national championship game were from the same state.

  • Question: Can you name the state?
  • Hint: Mountain Time Zone.
  • Submitted by: Justin Chen (Ellicott City, Md.)

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: ❄️ The world's toughest dog sled race

Photo: Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

The Yukon Quest is a smaller and younger race than the world famous Iditarod, but it's considered to be the more difficult of the two Alaska-based dog sled races.

Details: Both races are about 1,000 miles, but the Quest begins in February while the Iditarod starts in March, which puts it in a "much colder and darker part of the year," writes Deadspin's Elisa Shoenberger.

  • There are fewer checkpoints in the Quest, so the distances between them are massive — the largest being 210 miles. "On the Quest you can literally go days without seeing another team," said one competitor.

Go deeper: Shoenberger has the story of three mushers and their dog teams who got caught in a massive blizzard during this year's event. Wild.

9. Everything else

🎾 Shot of the day: Gael Monfils pulled off an epic forehand shot with all his weight hurtling in the opposite direction. Look where he starts his jump, look where he ends up and — oh yeah — look what he does with the tennis ball.

⚾️ Catch of the day: Jackie Bradley Jr. saved the game for Boston with the home run robbery of the season.

🏀 NBA draft: Zion Williamson headlines the list of 66 players invited to next week's NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. See the full list.

🏈 College football: Highest-ranked FBS programs according to a new Academic Progress Rate (APR) report: Air Force, Northwestern, Clemson, Duke … Lowest-ranked: Florida State, East Carolina, Southern Miss, Tulsa.

💰 Gambling: Still one of the best things I've ever read.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "All-in on the Blues" Baker

Trivia answer: Utah (the Jazz lost to the Bulls and the Utah Utes lost to Kentucky)

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