sports blog by andy shenk

Updates: Week of June 4-10

In Cincinnati Reds, Northfield Knights, Russian Football, San Antonio Spurs on June 4, 2012 at 5:52 AM

The Spurs lose! The Spurs lose!

Twice, in fact, to the Oklahoma City Thunder at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

I spent Thursday and Saturday evening in front of the big screen at Carleton College’s Sayles-Hill campus center. After missing half of Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference Finals, I decided that I wouldn’t miss another minute of the Spurs playoff run. And so, I settled into the couches of my alma mater, for all the world another student attempting to blow off impending spring term finals doom, only to watch San Antonio get manhandled twice by the Thunder.

Since April 11 the Spurs had won twenty straight games. As I pointed out here, very few of those games were decided in the final minutes. In fact, since falling to the Lakers in San Antonio on April 11, only once had the Spurs been involved in a game that came down to the final possession (vs. Clippers on May 20). Thus, their comprehensive defeats to Thunder felt doubly like a horrible nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from. Not only were the conference finals headed for a nail-biting, almost-must-win Game 5 back in San Antonio, but the Spurs’ offense, impervious to any challenge for nearly two months, could not overcome the Thunder’s pesky, physical defense.

Many will point to San Antonio’s failure to contain Kevin Durant in the fourth quarter of Game 4 as the reason why they are headed back home with the series knotted up. I’ll rely instead on the wisdom of Gregg Popovich, who, when asked to analyze the two losses in Oklahoma, pointed to San Antonio’s miserable play in the second quarter of both games. Despite leading by two in Game 1 and being tied in Game 2 following the first quarter, San Antonio headed to the locker room at halftime in both games down double digits, having scored only seventeen points in the period on both occasions. Minus the second quarters, the Spurs and Thunder are even at 185 points apiece.

Here’s to a focused Spurs team in the second quarter, to go along with consistent effort elsewhere, in Game 5!

Oh yeah, my Bold prediction that the Spurs would sweep the Western Conference came crashing down as well. Now 0-3, I hold onto hope that the Reds will win the National League pennant. At least I’ve got a good four months until that prediction could make me look a fool.

Bold Record: 0-3 (1 prediction pending)

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Basketball

San Antonio Spurs, 50-16, 1st place in Western Conference during regular season. 2-2, Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder, Western Conference Finals

There are a few silver linings to the Spurs’ struggles last week. First, the San Antonio bandwagon has cleared out again. Second, I’ll get to enjoy at least two more NBA Playoff games with the TNT broadcast and studio crews before ABC and ESPN regrettably assume control of the NBA Finals. Beyond enjoying the entertaining Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith, I am aesthetically much more a fan of TNT’s NBA broadcasts. TNT’s graphics and studio set-up make ABC/ESPN NBA coverage look like amateur operations, in my opinion.

1) Monday, vs. Oklahoma City, 8:00 PM, TNT; 2) Wednesday, at Oklahoma City, 8:00 PM, TNT; 3) Friday, vs. Oklahoma City, 8:00 PM, TNT, if necessary

Baseball

Cincinnati Reds, 30-23, 1st place in National League Central Division

The Reds went 3-3 last week, losing 2 of 3 in Pittsburgh, then winning 2 of 3 in Houston. Treading water proved good enough to pad their division lead by two and a half games, thanks to St. Louis’ recent tailspin. Cincinnati leads Pittsburgh by three games, and St. Louis by three and a half.

Last year at this time the Reds were 27-26, coming off an extra-innings loss in Atlanta. The team had lost 9 of 11 and though they would hang around in the division race until late July, they never got more than 4 games above .500 the rest of the way, ending the season 4 under. This season Cincinnati is poised to win a much-weakened Central Division, particularly with all of St. Louis’ injuries.

Coming up is a nine-game slate at Great American Ballpark against the Pirates, Tigers, and Indians. I’m hoping for a 6-3 record and 255,000 fans to pack the stadium. It’s time for the Reds to begin filling up GABP, and while 28,000 per game won’t set any attendance records, it would be an improvement (Reds have averaged 26,666 per game in 2012).

1) Tuesday, vs. Pittsburgh, 6:10 PM; 2) Wednesday, vs. Pittsburgh, 6:10 PM; 3) Thursday, vs. Pittsburgh, 6:10 PM; 4) Friday, vs. Detroit, 6:10 PM, MLB Network; 5) Saturday, vs. Detroit, 3:10 PM; 6) Sunday, vs. Detroit, 7:00 PM, ESPN

Northfield Knights, 5-1 (3-1 CCVL), 2nd place in Classic Cannon Valley League

The Knights went 3-0, their latest win a 9-8 extra-innings affair over Hampton on Sunday. To my great regret, I still haven’t been to a Knights game this year. It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to go to any, either, until late June.

1) Tuesday, vs. Miesville Mudhens, 7:30 PM, CCVL; 2) Friday, vs. Hastings Hawks, 7:30 PM, CCVL; 3) Sunday, at Red Wing Aces, 2:00 PM, CCVL

Soccer

Russian National Team

Russia tuned up for Euro 2012 with three friendlies. The first, hosted in Lokomotiv Moscow’s home arena, Cherkizovo, was played against Uruguay and ended in a 1-1 draw. Four days later, on May 29, the Russians played to a scoreless stalemate in Lithuania. Finally, on June 1, Russia went up against Italy in Zurich and came away with a 3-0 victory.

The best English-language preview of the Russian side’s chances at Euros comes courtesy of James Appell and Soccernet.com: The Clock Is Ticking on Russia. Russia is drawn with host Poland, Greece, and the Czech Republic in Group A. Their first match, to be played against the Czech Republic on Friday, will be contested at the brand-new Municipal Stadium, a beautiful 42,000 seat arena on the outskirts of western Poland’s most populous city, Wroclaw.

1) Friday, vs. Czech Republic, 1:45 PM, Group A – Euro 2012, ESPN (Wroclaw, Poland)

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