May 13, 2019

Axios Sports

By Kendall Baker
Kendall Baker

👋 Happy Monday! Welcome back to Axios Sports. Lots to get to this morning and the rest of the week, so buckle up. See you at the bottom.

  • ⚡️ Breaking: Michigan's John Beilein has agreed to a five-year deal to become the next head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.
  • 📺 Hockey night! With the NBA playoffs on hiatus, all eyes will be on the Blues and Sharks at 9pm ET. ... Last night, Boston beat Carolina 6-2 to take a 2-0 series lead.
1 big thing: 🏀 The NBA's final four is chock-full of storylines

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

On Oct. 16, 2018, all 30 NBA teams began the season tied atop the standings at 0-0. Seven months later, just four teams remain.

Western Conference Finals: (1) Golden State Warriors vs. (3) Portland Trail Blazers

  • Head-to-head: Split the season series, 2-2.
  • All in the family: Seth Curry is engaged to Doc Rivers' daughter, which means Steph had to beat an in-law in Round 1 (Doc), another in-law in Round 2 (Doc's son, Austin) and now he has to beat Seth in the first brother-vs.-brother matchup in conference finals history. Also, no matter what happens, Dell and Sonya Curry will watch one of their sons play in the NBA Finals for the fifth straight year.
  • Battle of the under-recruited guards: Steph Curry (Davidson), Damian Lillard (Weber State) and C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) are the only active NBA players from their respective schools, and Klay Thompson is one of just two from Washington State, the other being Aron Baynes.
  • Kanter's fast continues: Blazers center Enes Kanter is fasting for Ramadan as usual this year (17 hours per day), but this is the first time he's doing so while competing in the playoffs. How big of an impact could that have on the series?
  • C.J.'s revenge: Last July, Kevin Durant went on C.J. McCollum's podcast and laughed at him for suggesting that the Blazers could contend for a title, telling him to "relax" and not to "worry about what goes on at the top of things." Well, here we are ... at the top of things.

Eastern Conference Finals: (1) Milwaukee Bucks vs. (2) Toronto Raptors

  • Head-to-head: Milwaukee won the season series, 3-1.
  • Giannis vs. Kawhi: Damian Lillard vs. Steph Curry should be delightful, but it's hard to think of a more intriguing matchup than the Greek Freak vs. The Claw. Utterly insane athletes going head-to-head. It's the NBA at its very best.
  • Embrace the pace: Toronto and Milwaukee both ranked in the top five in fastbreak points this season, meaning both teams want to get out and run. Look for a key theme in this series to be each team's ability to hustle back on defense — even after makes.
  • Two best teams: The Bucks (60-22) had the best record in the NBA and the Raptors (58-24) had the second-best record. What more do you want?
  • So much Spain: There are eight Spanish nationals currently in the NBA, and four of them — Serge Ibaka, Nikola Mirotic, Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol (injured) — are on these two teams. With football season winding down, the NBA should see massive ratings on the Iberian Peninsula this month.

P.S. ... Congratulations to the Sixers and the Nuggets on phenomenal seasons. Not sure which team has the brighter future/higher ceiling…

P.P.S. ... In other NBA news, the Lakers may have stumbled into the right head coach, hiring the unsexy yet highly-respected Frank Vogel (and Jason Kidd as his lead assistant).

2. 🏀 So yeah, about that Kawhi shot

In a moment so dramatic it felt scripted, Kawhi Leonard buried the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history to put the Raptors through to the Eastern Conference Finals — and etch his place in playoff lore.

  • The ball bounced around the rim for what seemed like an eternity. In fact, one of my friends confessed that he had looked away as the ball hit the rim and begun texting me about the heroics of Jimmy Butler, who appeared to have forced OT moments earlier.
  • The backdrop: 18 years ago, Vince Carter attempted a similar shot, under similar circumstances, also against the Sixers. Unfortunately, it clanked off the rim — a miss that has haunted the Raptors until, well, now.

Tie game. 4.2 seconds left. Marc Gasol inbounds the ball to Kawhi, who drives to his right...

Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

With time winding down, he elevates in the right corner and lets it fly over the outstretched arm of Joel Embiid...

Photo: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

The stadium goes quiet as the fate of two franchises hangs in the balance. Kawhi, having landed behind the backboard, crouches down to get a better view...

Photo: Rick Madonik/Toronto Star via Getty Images

BANG!! SPORTS!!!!!!

Source: Giphy

🚨 Thread alert: I compiled every video highlight and camera angle you could possibly need. Please enjoy.

3. ⚽️ Man City edges out Liverpool for Premier League title
Expand chart
Data: Premier League; Table: Axios Visuals

On the final day of the Premier League season, Manchester City did as expected and beat Brighton & Hove Albion to claim the club's second consecutive league title and fourth this decade.

Why it matters: City finished just one point ahead of Liverpool, concluding the best title race in years, and maybe ever. For months, these two teams have been entrenched in what felt like a long straight sprint to the finish line that wasn't decided until yesterday.

  • Manchester City (32 wins, 2 draws, 4 losses): Last loss was in January, ranked first in goals scored and second in goals allowed, won the head-to-head battle against Liverpool (one draw, one win).
  • Liverpool (30 wins, 7 draws, 1 loss): Lost once all season, ranked second in goals scored and first in goals allowed, their 97 points are the third-most ever, trailing only Man City this year (98 points) and last year (100 points).

Elsewhere:

  • Chelsea and Tottenham round out the top four, meaning all four clubs automatic qualify for next season's Champions League.
  • Arsenal and Man United finished fifth and sixth, automatically qualifying for next season's Europa League. ... United's season could not have ended worse, losing to Cardiff City a week after drawing with Huddersfield Town.
  • Relegated: Those two clubs (Cardiff and Huddersfield) plus Fulham will be relegated to the EFL Championship next season, which is one division lower.
  • Promoted: Taking their place will be EFL Championship teams Norwich City, Sheffield United and one of either Leeds United, West Brom, Aston Villa or Derby County.

What's next: The Champions League and the Europa League (one tier lower) will crown champions in the coming weeks, with all four contenders hailing from the Premier League.

  • May 29: Chelsea vs. Arsenal (Europa League final)
  • June 1: Liverpool vs. Tottenham (Champions League final)
4. 🏎 Mercedes is absolutely dominating F1
Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton holding up head of Mercedes-Benz, Dieter Zetsche. Photo: Eric Alonso/MB Media/Getty Images

There have been five Formula 1 races this season, and Mercedes' two drivers — Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas — have finished in first and second place in all of them after dominating in Barcelona yesterday.

Why it matters: No team has ever started a season with five 1-2 finishes, and only two teams — Ferrari at the turn of the century and this same Mercedes team last year — have done it at any point during the season.

How it works: There are 10 teams competing in F1 this season, and each team has two drivers in the field.

  • Point system: 1st place: 25 points; 2nd: 18 points; 3rd: 15 points; 4th: 12 points, 5th: 10 points; 6th: eight points; 7th: six points; 8th: four points; 9th: two points; 10th: one point.

Current standings: Notice the insane 46-point gap between Hamilton and the closest non-Mercedes driver, Red Bull's Max Verstappen.

  1. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes: 113 points (3 wins, 5 podiums)
  2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes: 105 points (2 wins, 5 podiums)
  3. Max Verstappen, Red Bull: 66 points (0 wins, 2 podiums)
  4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari: 64 points (0 wins, 2 podiums)
  5. Charles Leclerc, Ferrari: 57 points (0 wins, 1 podium)

What's next: The Monaco Grand Prix takes place in two weeks. It's the biggest race of the season, and a track that has given Mercedes trouble in the past. In-depth preview coming next week.

P.S. ... Highly recommend watching the Netflix series, "Formula 1: Drive to Survive." It's incredibly entertaining and will teach you a ton. I blew through it in three days.

5. ⚾️ Checking in on MLB's attendance problem
Expand chart
Data: Baseball-Reference; Chart: Axios Visuals 

From Mike Sykes: Baseball's attendance is off to another slow start, and while those numbers will creep up during the summer months, the early drop is still indicative of a continuing and startling trend.

By the numbers:

  • Between 2008 and 2018, the league's average attendance decreased by 14%.
  • This season, March–April attendance was roughly the same as last year, but seven teams saw double-digit dips, led by the Blue Jays (25% drop-off), Twins (18%) and Giants (17%).

Be smart: The decline isn't shocking. The league is filled with rebuilding and non-contending teams as a result of how this offseason played out, and the experience of watching from the couch is great — and only getting better.

6. ⚽️ 5/13/2012: Man City breaks the drought

Photo: Ed Garvey/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Seven years ago today, Manchester City won its first Premier League title in 44 years (and third overall) — and they did so in dramatic fashion.

  • The comeback: In the season finale, City trailed Queens Park Rangers 2-1 heading into stoppage time, but scored two goals in the waning minutes to emerge victorious. Here's the game-winner.
  • Fast-forward: Since 2012, the club has won three more Premier League championships, including their sixth title yesterday.
7. 🏒 NHL playoff trivia

On Saturday, San Jose Sharks center Logan Couture became the sixth active NHL player to reach the 10-goal mark in multiple postseasons.

  • Question: Can you name the other five active players?
  • Hint: Their current teams: Pittsburgh Penguins (2), Chicago Blackhawks, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning.

Answer at the bottom.

8. The Ocho: 🏆 Where things stand in college lax

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

One of the coolest things about men's college lacrosse is that all three divisions play their respective championship games on the same field over Memorial Day weekend.

  • This year's festivities will be held in Philadelphia, with lacrosse fans from across the country descending upon Lincoln Financial Field for sport's biggest event, and tailgate, of the year.

Bracket update: With two weeks left until championship weekend, here's where things stand in each division.

  • D-I (Quarters): Penn State vs. Loyola (Md.) ... Yale vs. Penn ... Virginia vs. Maryland ... Notre Dame vs. Duke
  • D-II (Semis): Le Moyne (N.Y.) vs. Merrimack (Mass.) ... Limestone (S.C.) vs. Indianapolis
  • D-III (Quarters): Tufts (Mass.) vs. Amherst (Mass.) ... Williams (Mass.) vs. RIT (N.Y.) ... Salisbury (Md.) vs. Denison (Ohio) ... Cabrini (Pa.) vs. York (Pa.)

Women's update: The women's game doesn't benefit from such a marquee event, with each division's championship held in a different location. Here are the remaining teams, nonetheless:

  • D-I (Quarters): Maryland vs. Denver ... Syracuse vs. Northwestern ... North Carolina vs. Virginia ... Princeton vs. Boston College
  • D-II (Semis): Regis (Colo.) vs. Adelphi (N.Y.) ... Queens (N.C.) vs. West Chester (Pa.)
  • D-III (2nd round): Gettysburg (Pa.) vs. Denison (Ohio) ... Wesleyan (Conn.) vs. Washington & Lee (Va.) ... Tufts (Mass.) vs. TCNJ (N.J., duh) ... St. Johns Fisher (N.Y.) vs. York (Pa.) ... Middlebury (Vt.) vs. Bowdoin (Vt.) ... Wesleyan (Conn.) vs. Franklin & Marshall (Pa.) ... Salisbury (Md.) vs. Connecticut College ... Catholic (D.C.) vs. Amherst (Mass.).

Correction: This article previously left out half of the D-III women's teams still alive.

9. Everything else
RIP, "Silver King." Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

🇲🇽 Wrestling: Mexican wrestler César González Barrón, known as Silver King, died during a bout in London on Saturday after suffering an apparent heart attack. Barrón, 51, was a star in his native Mexico and appeared in the 2005 film "Nacho Libre." Rest easy, King.

🥎 Softball: Shannon Becker, a sophomore from Mahopac High School (N.Y.), struck out all 21 batters she faced last week for the rare "perfect" perfect game. ... In other news, Oklahoma earned the top overall seed in the NCAA softball tournament.

💨 Track: Texas teenager Matt Boling is at it again, setting the official high school 100-meter dash record (10.13) — this time without wind assistance. ... He also did this in the 4 x 400 relay, which actually blew my mind. This kid's special.

🏒 OHL: The Guelph Storm overcame their third straight 2-0 playoff series deficit to defeat the Ottawa 67's in the OHL Championship (basically the NHL's minor leagues). Ottawa had won a record 14 straight playoff games before losing four straight to Guelph. What a remarkable run.

⚾️ MLB: Yesterday morning, the Padres changed their Twitter handle to @madres to celebrate Mother's Day ... then some random Twitter user took the @padres handle ... so Twitter stepped in and made sure the Padres got @padres back. The most 2019 thing ever.

10. ⏰ 1 pace of play thing

It took longer for Arizona Diamondbacks starter Zack Greinke to throw a single pitch than it took Maximum Security to (not) win the 2019 Kentucky Derby.

Kendall Baker

See you tomorrow,

Kendall "Slo-mo rules" Baker

Trivia Answer: Evgeni Malkin (2008, 2009, 2017), Jake Guentzel (2017, 2018), Patrick Kane (2010, 2015), Alex Ovechkin (2009, 2018), Nikita Kucherov (2015, 2016)