Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. It’s about to be a wild couple of weeks in South Florida.
In today’s SI:AM:
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The 3–0 lead is still unsurmountable
After Derrick White’s dramatic buzzer beater saved the Celtics’ season in Game 6 on Saturday, it sure looked like Boston would have the upper hand against the Heat in last night’s Game 7. The Celtics were the better team all season long, had momentum on their side and were playing at home. Inside the arena, it felt like Boston was already getting ready to celebrate, Chris Mannix writes:
Miami is headed back to the Finals, and really—who saw this coming? Inside TD Garden, the atmosphere before tip-off was one of a coronation. No NBA team had ever rallied from a 3–0 deficit to win a playoff series. Boston was one win away from doing it. Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo sat courtside. Isaiah Thomas looked on from a suite off the floor. Kevin Millar, the face of the 2004 Red Sox comeback against the Yankees, prepared a video.
And then the Celtics went out and played one of their worst games of the season. Jayson Tatum injured his ankle on the very first play of the game and was visibly limited all night as he scored just 14 points. “I was kind of like a shell of myself [after the injury],” Tatum said after the game. Jaylen Brown didn’t do much to pick up the slack. He led the team with 19 points, but his three-point shooting woes continued (he went 1-for-9) and he turned the ball over eight times. White tried to get Boston back in the game, scoring 13 of his 18 points in the third quarter, but it wasn’t nearly enough.
It’s tempting to frame the result—a 103–84 win for Miami—primarily as a failure for the Celtics, but the Heat’s triumph is equally impressive. They played one of their best games of the season, racing out to an early 17-point lead and holding the Celtics at an arm’s length for the rest of the night. After one of the worst shooting nights of his career in Game 6 (5-for-21), Jimmy Butler bounced back in Game 7 and scored a game-high 28 on 12-of-28 shooting. Butler was named MVP of the series by a one-vote margin over his teammate Caleb Martin, whose efficient offensive output in Game 7 (26 points on 11-of-16 shooting, along with 10 rebounds) was as important to Miami’s victory as anything Butler did.
The loss marks the end of a confounding Celtics season defined by puzzling inconsistencies. At times Boston looked like the best team in the league, even at points during these playoffs. But there were other moments when it looked completely lost. It happened in the previous round as the Sixers controlled a potential series-clinching Game 6 at home through three quarters and in the first three games of the series against the Heat. The Celtics have a strong core that carried them to an impressive regular season, but their implosion in this series raises questions about the future of the team. Brown is eligible to sign a five-year, $295 million contract extension this summer, so the Celtics will soon have to decide whether he and Tatum are the right pair to commit to.
For the Heat, their incredible run continues. They’ve passed every test this postseason (well, except for against the Hawks in the first play-in game), and now face their biggest challenge yet against a well-rested Nuggets team that just made quick work of the Lakers. With Tyler Herro getting closer to a return, anything can happen.
The best of Sports Illustrated
- Ross Dellenger reveals NIL battles going on in the SEC. One athletic director told him: “Let’s be honest, we are all money laundering.”
- Albert Breer writes about how the Vikings are planning for sustained success after a surprising 2022.
- Emma Baccellieri reveals the one glaring weakness of MLB’s best team.
- Where could DeAndre Hopkins land? Matt Verderame offers the five best landing spots for the Pro Bowl receiver.
- The Golden Knights took care of the Stars to book their spot in the Stanley Cup Final. They’ll host the Panthers in Game 1 on Saturday.
- Nick Nurse will reportedly take over as the Sixers’ new coach.
- Succession’s writers may have had an iconic moment in baseball history in mind when crafting the series conclusion, Jon Wertheim writes.
The top five...
… things I saw yesterday:
3. Quinn McMahon’s goal from beyond midfield as Notre Dame won its first NCAA men’s lacrosse championship.
2. Jonathan Marchessault’s goal to make it 4–0 in favor of the Golden Knights and squash any hope of a Stars comeback.
1. Liam Hendriks’s return to the mound after recovering from cancer.
The NCAA baseball tournament begins this week (the softball tournament is already well underway), and today marks the anniversary of the longest baseball game in NCAA Division I history. How many innings did Texas and Boston College play May 30, 2009?
Friday’s SIQ: Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell was known for hardly ever striking out, but on this day in 1930, White Sox starter Pat Caraway became one of only two pitchers to strike out Sewell twice in one game. How many strikeouts did Sewell finish the ’30 season with?
Answer: 3. This isn’t a trick question. Sewell had 414 plate appearances in 1930 and didn’t strike out again after Caraway fanned him May 26, even though he played 83 more games. Sewell’s only other strikeout that season came May 10 against George Earnshaw of the Philadelphia A’s. The only other pitcher to strike out Sewell twice in one game was Cy Warmoth of the Washington Senators on May 13, 1923.
Sewell never struck out more than 20 times in a season, which he did in his second full season in the majors, in 1922. Over the final nine years of his career, he never struck out more than nine times. That nine-strikeout year came in ’28, when he tied for the MLB lead with 155 games played. That year, no player with more than 400 plate appearances struck out fewer than 10 times. Sewell had 678 plate appearances, tied for the eighth most in the AL.
In the Live Ball era (since 1920) there have been 15 individual seasons where a player has had at least 600 plate appearances and single-digit strikeouts. Six of them belong to Sewell.