Jun 28, 2021

Axios Sports

👋 Good morning! The Stanley Cup Final and College World Series Finals begin tonight. Plus: Wimbledon, NBA playoffs, Euro 2020 and more. Sports are here to save your Monday.

  • 🎾 Wimbledon is back: After two years away, the special magic of Wimbledon returns this morning. We'll have a full preview tomorrow.
  • 🏀 Suns in 5? Phoenix can clinch a spot in the NBA Finals with a win at home in Game 6 (9pm ET).
  • ⚽️ Knockout games: Croatia vs. Spain (12pm), France vs. Switzerland (3pm).

Today's word count: 2,120 words (8 minutes).

Let's sports...

1 big thing: 🏒 Canada vs. Champa Bay

Graphic: Axios

The Canadiens and Lightning meet in the Stanley Cup Final starting tonight (8pm ET, NBCSN) — a series that pits the NHL's most decorated franchise against the defending champs.

  • The Canadiens are playing to end a 28-year title drought for not only their franchise, but for an entire nation that has now put its support behind them.
  • The Lightning are loaded with stars and have a chance to extend Champa Bay's reign atop the sports world after a 2020 to remember (Lightning title, Bucs title, Rays runner-up).

What to watch: Goalie matchups don't get much better than this. Montreal's Carey Price and Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy are both legends and have put up almost identical numbers this postseason.

  • Price: .934 all situations save percentage, .932 even-strength, .952 penalty kill, 2.02 goals against.
  • Vasilevskiy: .936 all situations save percentage, .942 even-strength, .897 penalty kill, 1.98 goals against.

Notes:

  • Weird year: In a normal season, these two teams could never even meet in this round. The last time a Stanley Cup Final took place between two Eastern Conference teams was 1980 (Islanders vs. Flyers).
  • Fun fact: The Lightning are just the fourth defending Stanley Cup champion to return to the Final in the last 20 seasons, joining the 2017 Penguins, 2009 Red Wings and 2001 Devils.
  • Attendance: Tampa Bay's Amalie Arena will be at full capacity, while Montreal's Bell Centre has been limited to 3,500 fans so far this postseason (that could change for the final).
  • Game 1 lines: TB -1.5 (O/U: 5); Canadiens +175, Lightning -200.

Go deeper: The Canadiens' Cinderella run must be stopped (The Ringer)

2. 🚲 The man riding the Tour de France alone

Photo: Bas Czerwinski/Getty Images

Lachlan Morton, an Australian adventure racer, is attempting to ride the Tour de France alone, supported only by what he can carry with him.

Driving the news: The Tour de France peloton set off from Brittany on Saturday. Morton rolled away from the same line an hour later and will attempt to complete his "Alt Tour" in parallel with the official race.

Details: While Tour competitors recover in luxury hotels and ride buses between stages, Morton will sleep on the ground and pedal between stages, making his route over 60% longer (3,424 miles vs. 2,102 miles).

  • The goal is to beat the peloton to Paris, which will require Morton to race roughly 12 hours per day and occasionally at night.
  • He aims to sleep in his sleeping bag for at least eight hours a night and will stop at cafés and gas stations for food and water.
Courtesy: Tour de France

What he's saying: Morton is hoping to capture the original spirit of the Tour, in which riders raced through the night, slept outside, ate where they could, and rarely even finished.

  • "There's a part of me that thinks I would have been a lot better suited to that era," Morton told WSJ (subscription). "It wasn't necessarily a profession to them. It was just ... a chance to do something epic."
  • Morton came up along the traditional path of development teams, but he quickly grew tired of the monotony of elite-level racing. "Of all the cycling you can do, it's the closest to a desk job," he said.
Hippolyte Aucouturier, the second-place finisher at the 1905 Tour de France. Photo: Branger/Roger Viollet via Getty Images

The big picture: Morton has essentially spent his life preparing for this moment, having undertaken numerous extreme solo challenges over the years, including a 44-hour race through Spain with no sleep.

  • Yes, but: Nothing compares to the Alt Tour, which will take over three weeks. Even Morton acknowledges, "I'm not even sure if it's possible."

More Tour de France:

3. 🏀 Middleton stars as Bucks pull ahead

Photo: Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Khris Middleton had his breakout game of the East finals on Sunday, scoring 38 points (20 in the fourth quarter) to lead the Bucks past the Hawks, 113-102, and take a 2-1 series lead.

  • My take: Middleton, a former second-round pick out of Texas A&M who spent time in the G League, is the least-known superstar in major pro sports. Glad he's getting the spotlight he deserves.
  • Dynamic duo: Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo (33 and 11) are the first pair of teammates to each record 30 points and 10 rebounds in three games within a single postseason.
  • Injury report: Trae Young (35 points) sprained his ankle in the third quarter and will undergo an MRI.

More NBA:

  • Last week's poll: 56.7% of you think the Mavericks won the Young-Dončić trade, while 43.3% think the Hawks won.
  • Billups to Portland: The Trail Blazers have hired Clippers assistant Chauncey Billups as their new head coach.
  • Lakers sale: Dodgers owners Mark Walter and Todd Boehly are buying the minority stake (27%) of the Lakers sold by billionaire Philip Anschutz, per Sportico.
4. ⚾️ CWS Finals: There will be strikeouts
Data: NCAA; Table: Sara Wise/Axios

No. 4 Vanderbilt and No. 7 Mississippi State face off tonight (7pm ET, ESPN2) in Game 1 of the best-of-three College World Series Finals in Omaha, Axios' Jeff Tracy writes.

  • Fun fact: This is the third all-SEC CWS Finals in the past 10 years (South Carolina def. Florida in 2011; Florida def. LSU in 2017).
  • Schedule: Game 2 is tomorrow at 7pm (ESPN) and the decisive Game 3, if necessary, is Wednesday at 7pm (ESPN2).

What to watch: Expect pitching to dominate this series. The Commodores lead the nation in WHIP (1.08) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.06), while the Bulldogs have struck out more batters than any team in NCAA history (791 and counting).

Let's meet the teams ...

Vanderbilt is the reigning champ (2019), and the Commodores are making their fourth CWS Finals appearance since 2014, when they won their first title (also 2015 runner-up).

  • They got here after unseeded NC State had an eleventh-hour COVID-19 outbreak, forcing the NCAA to declare Saturday's winner-take-all game a no contest.
  • Thanks to that no contest, the Commodores were able to save co-ace Jack Leiter for Game 1 tonight. He'll take the mound with 171 strikeouts — second only to teammate Kumar Rocker's 173 for most in the nation.

Mississippi State is making just its second CWS Finals appearance after losing to UCLA in 2013.

  • They got here by the skin of their teeth, with all three wins coming by a single run, including one via walk-off and another with a six-run rally in the eighth inning.
  • Trio of Tanners: Catcher Logan Tanner and outfielder Tanner Allen are mashing, while infielder Tanner Leggett hit the aforementioned walk-off.
5. 🇺🇸 Team USA: Meet the gymnasts

11 gymnasts have punched their tickets to the Olympics after trials concluded Sunday night in St. Louis.

L to R: Jade Carey, Sunisa Lee, Jordan Chiles, Simone Biles, Mykayla Skinner, Grace McCallum. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Six American women will make the trip to Tokyo, with four competing in the team event and two in individual events only, Jeff writes.

  • Simone Biles (24; Spring, Texas): The GOAT is back. She will now try to become the first woman to win back-to-back Olympic all-around titles since Czech gymnast Věra Čáslavská in 1968.
  • Suni Lee (18; St. Paul, Minnesota): Lee had a higher all-around score than Biles at trials, marking the first time anyone has bested Biles in any phase of an all-around meet since 2013.
  • Jordan Chiles (20; Spring, Texas): Named for Michael Jordan, Chiles moved to Texas in 2019 to train at Biles' gym. Seems like that move paid off.
  • Grace McCallum (18; Isanti, Minnesota): The fourth and final team spot went to McCallum, who earned her way to trials by winning bronze on the balance beam at nationals earlier this month.
  • Jade Carey (21, Phoenix): She was the first to qualify for the team, earning one of the two individual spots based on her performance in the Apparatus World Cup Series over the past three years.
  • MyKayla Skinner (24; Gilbert, Arizona): After just missing out five years ago, Skinner decided to give elite gymnastics another go in 2019. Comeback, complete.
L to R: Brody Malone, Sam Mikulak, Yul Moldauer, Shane Wiskus, Alec Yoder. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The men's team is comprised of five gymnasts, including four who will compete in the team event and one pommel horse specialist.

  • Sam Mikulak (28; Newport Beach, California): The nation's best male gymnast for the past decade plans to retire at the end of the year, so this is his last chance to win that elusive Olympic medal. He's the only team member with Olympic experience.
  • Brody Malone (21; Summerville, Georgia.): The first-place finisher at trials is a two-time reigning NCAA champion at Stanford, as well as the newly-minted U.S. national champion.
  • Yul Moldauer (24; Arvada, Colorado): Born in South Korea and adopted as an infant, Moldauer won three straight NCAA titles at Oklahoma and was the 2017 U.S. national champion.
  • Shane Wiskus (22; Spring Park, Minnesota): He captured NCAA titles in still rings and parallel bars as a senior this past season at Minnesota, which has since cut its men's gymnastics program. Wiskus is not happy.
  • Alec Yoder (24; Indianapolis): The team's lone specialist will compete only in the pommel horse, in which he captured the 2019 NCAA title as an Ohio State senior.
6. 🌍 Photos around the world
Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images

EUGENE, Oregon — Tara Davis (long jump) celebrates with boyfriend and Paralympian Hunter Woodhall (400m) after punching her ticket to Tokyo at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field trials.

Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

JOHNS CREEK, Georgia — Nelly Korda (-19) powered her way to her first major championship on Sunday with a performance worthy of her new status as the No. 1 player in women's golf.

Photo: Fran Santiago/UEFA via Getty Images

SEVILLE, Spain — Belgium, the world's No. 1 ranked team, beat Portugal, the world's No. 5 ranked team, behind a beautiful strike by Thorgan Hazard (pictured above celebrating with his brother, Eden).

Photo: Peter Fox/Getty Images

SPIELBERG, Austria — Red Bull's Max Verstappen dominated Sunday's Styrian GP to win back-to-​back races for the first time in his career and extend his lead over Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton atop the F1 standings.

7. ⚡️ Lightning round

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

⚾️ Sticky Santiago: Mariners pitcher Hector Santiago on Sunday became the first player to be ejected for a foreign-substance violation. He says it was just rosin.

🏒 Blackhawks scandal: Details continue to emerge surrounding allegations of sexual abuse against players by a former Blackhawks video coach. "Every guy on the team knew," a former player told The Athletic.

⚾️ MLB All-Star finalists: The top three finalists for each position based on fan voting were announced Sunday. The Astros lead the way with seven potential starters.

⛳️ English (finally) wins: Harris English won the Travelers Championship following an eight-hole playoff, the second-longest sudden-death playoff in PGA Tour history.

🏀 Aces 95, Storm 92 (OT): In a 2020 WNBA Finals rematch — and a possible 2021 WNBA Finals preview — the Aces (11-4) took down the Storm (12-4) in Las Vegas.

8. 📆 June 28, 1971: Clay vs. United States

Photo: Bettmann Archives/Getty Images

50 years ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision that had found Muhammad Ali guilty of draft evasion during the Vietnam War four years earlier.

What they're saying: "A lot of people forget what he went through back in the day, when he wasn't quite so loved by everyone," said Ali's daughter, Laila, at the premiere of HBO's 2013 film about the trial.

The backdrop: In 1966, two years after converting to Islam and being classified as unfit for military service due to dyslexia, Ali was reclassified as 1-A (available for service).

  • He identified as a conscientious objector due to his religious beliefs but was drafted anyway. And on April 28, 1967, Ali was arrested when he refused to step forward at his armed forces induction.
  • Two months later, he was found guilty of draft evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, though he remained free on bail during the appeals process.
Source: Giphy

The fallout: Ali was stripped of his boxing license and heavyweight title, beginning a three-year exile from the sport he had ruled since 1960.

"Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?"
— Ali in 1967

The big picture: In 1970, as public opinion regarding the war had soured, Ali's license was reinstated. The following year, SCOTUS overturned his conviction and thus began the second chapter of his storied career.

Go deeper: Muhammad Ali was told to "step forward." He refused. (WashPost)

9. 🏈 NFL trivia

George Kittle (L) and Travis Kelce. Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Travis Kelce and George Kittle, co-hosts of this weekend's "Tight End University," own three of the top five seasons in NFL history for receiving yards by a tight end.

  • Question: Which two players round out the top 5?
  • Hint: Their last names start with the same letter.

Answer at the bottom.

10. 🎥 Top plays: Weekend edition
Courtesy: Professional Disc Golf Association
  1. 🥏 Disc golf is incredible
  2. ⚾️ Ke'Bryan Hayes!!!
  3. ⚾️ Insane catch
  4. ⚽️ Speed kills
  5. 🥇 Biles does "The Biles"
  6. ⚾️ No-look double play
  7. ⚽️ Bicycle kick
  8. 🏀 Classic Giannis
  9. ⚽️ Thorgan Hazard!!!
  10. ⚾️ McCutchen robbery

Watch all 10.

Talk tomorrow,

Kendall "Come on Steve" Baker

Trivia answer: Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham

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