Jun 5, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Good morning! Great day to be alive. Today's word count: 1,268 (<5 mins).

  • Tonight, 9pm ET: Raptors at Warriors, Game 3. I'll be there — my first-ever game as a credentialed media member. Follow me on Twitter as I navigate Oracle Arena and attempt to look like I know what I'm doing.
  • iPad Pro giveaway: Details at the bottom.
1 big thing: 🏀 The computers tried to warn us

Photo: Photo by Kyle Terada - Pool/Getty Images

In the days leading up to the NBA Finals, humans didn't believe in the Raptors. 19 of 21 ESPN writers picked Golden State to win the series, and 73% of bettors thought they'd cover the one-point spread in Game 1.

  • The intrigue: Computers were much higher on Toronto. FiveThirtyEight's model even favored them to win the title, to which one of their own writers replied, "Our model is wrong. All due respect to our model."

The big picture: Through two games, no one can deny that the Raptors have more than held their own. Which begs the question: What did the computers know that we didn't?

  • My answer: Perhaps it was less that they "knew" something and more that they have no emotions and stick to the facts, something us humans struggle with at times.
  • The facts: The Raptors finished 58-24. The Warriors finished 57-25. The Raptors' average point differential was 6.0. The Warriors? 6.5. The Raptors traded for Marc Gasol, who has made them better. The Warriors added Andrew Bogut, who has barely played in the playoffs.

The bottom line: Sure, that was a lightweight side-by-side comparison. And yes, the Warriors could very well still win in six, maybe even five games. But the Raptors always had a better chance than everyone thought. Everyone except the computers.

P.S. ... Warriors injury report:

  • Kevin Durant (calf strain) has been ruled out for Game 3 and didn't practice yesterday.
  • Klay Thompson (hamstring) is a game-time decision. Says he'll play even if he's "80 percent." … "When I have to stop on a dime or make hard cuts, that's when I feel it the most."
  • Kevon Looney (cartilage fracture) is out indefinitely.
  • Andre Iguodala (calf) didn't practice yesterday, per ESPN's Nick Friedell.
  • DeMarcus Cousins (torn quad) isn't fully healthy.
2. ⚾️ The save turns 50
Expand chart
Data: Baseball Reference; Photos: Getty Images; Table: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

"Baseball's mainstream counting stats are self-explanatory, tangible events that look exactly like they sound. Anyone can see a home run, a walk, an RBI," writes SI's Emma Baccellieri.

  • "And then there's the save. More an interpretative definition of an act than an act itself, and only possible under specific criteria, the save … introduced an arbitrariness previously unseen in mainstream baseball statistics."

A brief history: The save was officially born in 1969, but there was plenty of drama preceding that, as teams and writers scrambled to measure the value of full-time relievers — a position that barely existed until the late 1930s.

  • 1951: Baseball's first full-time statistician, Allan Roth, comes up with the first formal definition of a save: Any non-winning relief pitcher who finished a winning game would earn a save, no matter how large his lead.
  • 1959: Cubs beat writer Jerome Holtzman creates a much stingier definition that requires a reliever to face the potential tying or winning run, or come into the final inning and pitch a perfect frame with a two-run lead.
  • 1969: The save becomes an official MLB statistic — using Roth's formula.
  • 1974: Relievers complain that saves are useless because they're too easy to earn, so the league adopts a new formula almost identical to Holtzman's.
  • 1975: After the number of saves plummets by 15% leaguewide, yet another change is made — and this time it stuck.

Current definition: A pitcher earns a save if he preserves his team’s lead while doing one of the following:

  • Enter with a lead of three runs or fewer and pitch at least one inning.
  • Enter with the tying run either on base, at bat or on deck.
  • Pitch at least three innings.

Go deeper.

3. ⚽️ China's grand plan to become a soccer power

Phoot: STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has invested heavily in soccer since President Xi Jinping, a huge fan, made it a national priority in 2015. First came the youth academies, then came the foreign coaches and now comes phase three: naturalizing foreign players.

Driving the news: 26-year-old Nico Yennaris, who grew up in London and played on the same Arsenal youth team as Harry Kane, just became the first foreign-born player to be called up to the Chinese national team.

  • Yennaris, known as Le Ki in China, is eligible to play for China through his mother's heritage, and multiple other players have gone through the naturalization process.
  • Once they arrive, teams are required to "teach incoming players to be patriotic and educate them about the values of the ruling Communist Party." They must also have "specially assigned staff to track the thinking of such footballers."

Go deeper: President Xi's great Chinese soccer dream

4. 🥎 UCLA walks it off; wins 12th softball title
Giphy

Kinsley Washington's RBI single in the bottom of the seventh lifted UCLA past Oklahoma 5-4, as they swept the championship series 2-0.

By the numbers:

  • UCLA: This is the Bruins' first championship since 2010, and their 12th title overall — the most in college softball history.
  • Oklahoma: Washington's hit denied Oklahoma's senior class a shot at what would have been their third championship.
5. 🎾 Photos from Paris
Photo: TPN/Getty Images

Federer wins: The 37-year-old beat No. 24 seed Stan Wawrinka, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4, setting up a blockbuster semifinal on Friday against — hold, let me find a photo of him from yesterday — OK, here we go:

Photo: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

Rafael Nadal! The master of clay himself also destroyed a depleted Kei Nishikori, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3. ... Nadal is 5-0 against Federer at the French Open and 91-2 overall. 91-2!!! Good luck, Rog.

Photo: Christophe Archambailt/AFP/Getty Images

Americans in action: Americans Amanda Anisimova (above) and Madison Keys should have been playing quarterfinal matches as we speak, but rain has delayed the action. If they both win, they'll go head-to-head in the semis.

Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images

Two upsets: No. 26 seed Johanna Konta (above) upset No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens, 6-1, 6-4, and unseeded Czech teenager Marketa Vondrousova knocked off No. 31 seed Petra Martic, 7-6(1), 7-5. They'll meet in the semifinal tomorrow.

6. June 5, 1994: 🏀 Ewing sends Knicks to Finals

Photo: John Ruthroff/AFP via Getty Images

25 years ago today, Patrick Ewing dominated the Pacers in a do-or-die Game 7 to catapult the Knicks to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1973.

  • Details: Ewing put up a monstrous 24 points, 22 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks, while scoring on a late putback to give the Knicks a 91-90 lead and seal the game.
  • Fast-forward: The Knicks went back to the Finals in 1999, but haven't had the same luck since, missing the postseason in 14 of their last 20 seasons.

Go deeper:

7. 🏀 NBA Finals trivia

The Kevin Durant-less Warriors are the first team since 1980 to win an NBA Finals game without their top regular-season scorer.

  • Question: Who was the team that accomplished this in 1980?And who was their leading scorer?
  • Hint: Big man.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🐴 Imagine running a marathon against a horse

Photo: Whole Earth Peanut Butter via Getty Images

WashPost's Rick Maese writes:

"Michael Wardian has finished the Boston Marathon 18 times. He holds the world record for fastest 50-kilometer run on a treadmill. This year he raced 631 miles across Israel in barely 10 days' time.
"He's twice completed seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, and holds a world record for that, too. This year, when he got back to the United States, he decided to tack on three more marathons in three days, giving him yet another record: fastest completion of 10 marathons in 10 days."
"Oh, and he holds the fastest mark for running a marathon while dressed as Spider-Man. And also Elvis."
"Needless to say, Wardian, 45, is an accomplished distance runner who has no problem getting creative to scratch his competitive itch. Which is why he's in Wales this week. Preparing to race 60 horses."

Wait, what? Yup, Wardian is one of 650+ humans and 60+ horses racing against each other this Saturday in the annual Man Versus Horse Marathon.

9. ⚾️ Tweet of the day
Screenshot of @Super70sSports' Twitter feed.

P.S. ... If you haven't seen The Lonely Island's "Bash Brothers" Netflix special, get on that. It's one of the most bizarre things I've ever watched, and I loved every second of it. A true work of art.

10. 🎉 1 free thing: iPad Pro giveaway
Giphy

This GIF has absolutely nothing to do with us giving away free iPad Pros, I just thought it was cool. Anyway, like I said, we're giving away free iPad Pros.

How it works: This week only, when you share Axios Sports using your unique referral link, both you and the person you referred will have a chance to win a new iPad Pro.

  • 1 referral = 1 raffle ticket (up to 10 tickets). The contest runs all week, so we'll unveil the winners on Friday.

Refer friends.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Patrick Chewing" Baker

Trivia answer: Lakers (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar)