Giannis scores 50 to win NBA title; an NFL starting RB is out for the season; and Team USA women's soccer stunning Olympics loss
Your Wednesday afternoon edition of "Six things to know before 6 AM" is here
My apologies for no Snippets yesterday - there unfortunately was very little sports news to report a day ago, as the main (and only) story would have been the Washington Nationals blowing-out the Miami Marlins, 18-1 on Sunday. Fortunately, we have a boatload of headlines in today’s Snippets, as we now crown a new NBA champion; a top NFL running back is already out for the season (just days before training camp); and the NHL expansion draft is tonight.
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1) The Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis’s legendary 50-point performance, are the 2021 NBA champions!
Historic. Dominant. Unstoppable. Unbelievable. There are just not enough adjectives in the English language to describe what I witnessed last night from the two-time regular season MVP and now NBA Finals MVP in game 6 of the NBA Finals at a raucous Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns, 105-88 (Bucks win series, 4-2)
This game yesterday will go down as one of the greatest individual performances in Finals history as the Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a playoff-best (and 2021-best) 50 points, while also grabbing 14 rebounds and a playoff and personal-best (over the last three years) 5 blocks, as the ‘Greek Freak’ single-handedly carried his team in the first three quarters in game 6. His long strides and unbelievable length made him near unstoppable once Giannis got going downhill, as he scored 20 of his 50 points in the pivotal third quarter, keeping the Bucks’ squad afloat.
Giannis sidekick in Khris Middleton (17 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds and 4 steals) added the finishing touches with several clutch mid-range shots down the stretch as the home team pulled away in the final minutes. And, I have to give a shout-out to their teammate in Jrue Holiday, who completely shut-down Suns’ guard Devin Booker, frustrating the young 24-year old; Booker only went 8-22 from the field (including a shocking 0-7 from three) and finished with only 19 points - this, for a guy that scored 40+ points in each of the past two NBA Finals games.
But back to Giannis. When the back was against the wall, he just came out stronger and more energized than ever before. His Bucks lost the first two games to the Brooklyn Nets, and he helped carry the team to the next four wins in a hotly-contested seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals; he then injured his knee in a freak defensive rebounding attempt, and people feared the worst - that Giannis would be out for the rest of the playoffs. He came back for the Finals, and not only played well, but out-of-his-mind in this six game NBA Finals series that included three 40+ point performances. What knee injury? And, to add to the pain, he had to play the past two games without his brother - teammate Thiannis Antetokounmpo (his pump-up best friend) - as he was slidelined due to Covid protocol. Now, with this title, this gave the trio of brothers (the other being Lakers’ reserve forward Kostas Antetokounmpo - all NBA titles. They have a fourth brother - Alex Antetokounmpo - but he is only 19, and still very raw as he is playing overseas for a Spanish league team.
My last point on Giannis actually involves an NBA legend - one that recently passed away two Januarys ago (January 2020) - one Kobe Bean Bryant. Years before his passing, he would tell the current generation of players what their potential could be if they tried their hardest. And, this is what he told Giannis in Tweets back in 2017 and 2019:
Giannis Ugo Antetokounmpo @Giannis_An34Still waiting for my challenge.. @kobebryant
Kobe Bryant @kobebryantMVP https://t.co/cjmWH5Mqyz
Eerie, as Giannis ended up winning the regular season MVP title back in 2019 and 2020, and is now an NBA champion!
2) Cam Akers - the Rams’ young starting running back - tears his Achilles’ just days before the start of training camp
On the flip-side, some terrible news out of Los Angeles yesterday afternoon - their top running back, second-year running back Cam Akers, has been ruled out of the upcoming 2021-2022 regular season, as he ruptured his Achilles’ muscle. A huge blow to the team, as Akers finished strong down the stretch last season (averaging 60+ rushing yards in four of the last five games started), including a career-best 171 rushing yards against the New England Patriots in Week 13 last year in his rookie season. Akers was going to take that proverbial ‘next step’ as the focal RB, now that backup Malcolm Brown left for the Miami Dolphins, and the only reserve tailbacks were not expected to take carries (and touches) away from Akers. Only to spell him due to rest and situation.
As for the replacements - the proverbial ‘next man up’? The new starting duties now belong to third-year RB Darrell Henderson, who has been a career backup to guys like Akers and Todd Gurley his first two years in the league. Henderson actually started 11 games for the Rams last season (as Akers was getting acclimated with the team), and had about 600 yards rushing and 5 TDs on a healthy 4.5 yards/carry. Yet again, he’ll be asked the shoulder the load - this time with no Akers and Brown looking over his shoulder. The Rams do also have second-year players Raymond Calais and Xavier Jones, and rookie Jake Funk (who coaches found impressed during rookie minicamp earlier this summer). But all three (as of right now) are long-shots to come anywhere close to a starting job for the Rams this coming season. If Funk does sound familiar, he was the team’s 7th round pick this past draft, and was a five-year senior (redshirted his junior year, due to repeated ACL injuries) for the Maryland Terrapins.
2a) The fantasy football fallout of Cam Akers season-ending injury
I may include this segment in future Snippet articles, since fantasy football is the most popular (and easiest) way to get into fantasy sports. The loss of Akers means that Henderson vaults into a starting job (of course, like I mentioned earlier), and that would elevate him into the late teens-low 20’s in running back rankings, and should be drafted around the third/fourth rounds in fantasy drafts. I would rank Henderson below the likes of Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs), J.K. Dobbins (Ravens), Chris Carson (Seahawks) and David Montgomery (Bears), but ahead of D’Andre Swift (Lions), James Robinson (Jaguars), Myles Gaskin (Dolphins), Raheem Mostert (49ers), Mike Davis (Falcons) and Chase Edmonds (Cardinals), among starting running backs.
3) The NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken is tonight
Today’s the day that the Kraken fill-out their roster from top-to-bottom, as the expansion draft takes place tonight (at 8 PM EST on ESPN2). I did give some background on the roster size and limits, as well as how much cap space this new NHL team can play around with for the players, in Sunday’s Snippets.
I did mention that they have to choose one player/team (so a roster of 30 players), but the Las Vegas Knights are excluded, as they too are an expansion team. The Kraken have actually already submitted their roster to the NHL as you are reading this, as the deadline was 10 AM this morning. The 8 PM showing is so the public, media and everyone else outside of the Kraken front office know who is being picked from which team. Here are more details:
Also, Pierre LeBrun, who is a hockey insider and NHL writer for The Athletic, said that teams can start trading players as of 1 PM tomorrow early afternoon, EST. So, expect a lot of wheeling and dealing over the next 72 hours or so.
4) There was an all-female broadcast crew in yesterday’s Orioles-Rays game
In what was a first in MLB history - both broadcast crews for the Baltimore Orioles and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in Tampa, Florida were collectively led by females. So that means the play-by-play, the analyst and the sideline reporter on both teams were all females. A great achievement for women across the U.S. and across the globe, as this gives us all hope for the next generation of women and girls to rise and replicate what these women did last night.
5) The story of the chivalrous Tatis Jr. and Freeman’s son
Continuing on with the baseball theme… at this point, how can you not love San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.? Remember how I told you that he, along with several of his teammates, help shelter several Washington Nationals fans in their dugout when the shooting took place right outside the stadium last week? Well, there’s more to his down-to-earth personality, and this regards the reigning National League MVP in Atlanta Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman.
Back in April and May, Freeman was struggling at the plate, hitting only 0.235 and 37 strikeouts through the first 50 games of the season. His son, Frederick “Charlie” Freeman II, now five years old, was hoping that his dad would make the All-Star team… not because he wanted to see his MVP dad play, but watch Tatis Jr. in-person! So, with that in mind, Freeman then went on a end-of-the-first-half tear as a batter, reaching the All-Star break with a healthier 0.274 batting average, with 19 home runs, 50 RBI and a solid slash line of 0.274/0.381/0.489/0.871 (Batting average/On-Base percentage/Slugging percentage/On-Base Plus slugging). With that, he was selected to be the starting 1B for the National League. So, when he and Charlie went to the Home Run Derby last week, Freddie’s son got to hug his idol in what was a viral moment:
The story gets better, as the two teams - the Padres and the Braves - are in the midst of a four game series in Atlanta. And, guess who was in the crowd, right behind the Padres’ dugout? None other than Charlie Freeman:
And, to top off the night? Charlie received an autographed jersey of Tatis Jr. after the game:
6) The 2021 Summer Olympics have begun - the highs and lows of Team USA
With the last topic of this afternoon, I will be discussing the 2021 Summer Olympics, as the month-long affair among hundreds of countries across the globe unofficially started this week. Specifically, the latest news regarding players representing Team USA over the past 24 hours:
First off - the biggest headline - that the women’s soccer team lost their first game in their last 45 competitive matches earlier this morning (4:30 AM EST; 5:30 PM Japan) in a 3-0 shellacking against their kryptonite in Sweden. If you recall, this is the same country that eliminated the US from medal contention in the quarterfinals. And, unlike the men’s side, this is the best-of-the-best players from Team USA - so you have ladies like Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd leading the way. Which makes this morning’s loss severely surprising.
Sweden had their way early and often all afternoon (Japan time), as they constantly made the over-30 years old American defense look slow and sluggish (and greatly exposed Team USA’s major weakness - age). All three goals came off of set pieces, meaning that Team USA was a step behind defensively on those three goals - the first coming in the 25th minute on a glancing header from Swede forward Stina Blackstenius; the second coming again from Blackstenius on a gorgeous return of a corner kick; and the finale in the 72nd minute, Swede midfielder Lina Hurtig hit a dagger of a header to put the game away.
As Rapinoe said after the game:
“We got our asses kicked, didn't we. Just a little tight, just a little nervous. We had a few chances that we could have taken better that would have shifted the game quite a bit.”
I agree with this one comment a soccer fan made on r/soccer in the postgame chat following this 3-0 loss, as Team USA had it coming:
“I'm probably in the minority who thinks this result wasn't thaaaat shocking. Sweden and USA played a friendly earlier this year and Sweden outplayed the Americans during the entire match, [and] the US was lucky to get a draw. I'm still half-expecting them to rebound and still win the gold here, but wouldn't be shocked if they lost the quarterfinal or semifinal to say Netherlands, Team [Great Britain] or even Brazil if Marta and Debinha are on a inspired day.
“I feel like for better or for worse we're nearing the end of American hegemony on women's football. They will always be a relevant team, but with more and more European nations investing and taking the women's game more seriously, results like this are bound to happen more often (now there's not only Sweden and Germany like years ago, but also England, Netherlands, Spain, France etc). The last World Cup knockout round was already hardly the smooth sailing that the American women were accustomed to.”
And, on the men’s basketball side:
That’s fantastic news for Team USA, as they need as many bodies as they can put on their roster. They are currently practicing in Japan as I type, and Zach LaVine had probably his best Team USA performance in their last exhibition win over Spain on Sunday night. The team starts group stage play on Sunday (8 AM EST) against France.
And, wrapping up the Team USA news, we have the softball team making their first appearance in the Olympics in 13 years. The reason why softball and baseball were both removed for the next three Olympics was that Team USA and several other countries were just too competitive and better than the rest of the world, and due to this competitive advantage, had both sports removed from Olympic play.
And, the Team USA softball team is hungry for a gold medal, as they lost to Japan in the gold medal game back in the 2008 Olympics in Bejing, China - a sport that Team USA dominates like no other.
So, with that being said, the team played their first Olympics match against Italy, and defeated them rather easily (2-0), behind stellar pitching from 38-year old Cat Osterman, who came out of retirement to help Team USA return to glory with six scoreless innings and striking out nine Italian batters.
We are done with another edition of my Snippets on this July Wednesday afternoon. So, until next time, signing off.