Why you should care
Because Draymond Green is the X Factor for Golden State.
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These NBA Finals carry history, and not because Golden State once again left the other Western Conference teams wondering why they even show up for work. For the first time since 2010, LeBron James is MIA. But another small forward with playoff history against these Warriors has picked up the torch. Particularly, Kawhi Leonard’s postseason qualms rest with fellow All-World small forward Kevin Durant.
In five of the past seven postseasons, Leonard’s San Antonio Spurs faced a team led by Durant (though Leonard sat last year out with an injury). The Slim Reaper is 4-1 — with Leonard’s one victory coming en route to his 2014 title and Finals MVP. You might have heard, though, that Durant’s strained calf is taking longer than expected to heal.
Every season since 2012, the NBA Finals MVP has been a small forward. With James, Leonard, Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo, the position has become the most dominant in modern basketball. But with reigning two-time Finals MVP Durant questionable to return, Golden State’s X factor is another dynamic forward who doesn’t quite fit the mold: Draymond Green.
At 6-to-1 odds to win Finals MVP ahead of Thursday night’s Game 1, Green has conducted Golden State like a maestro in Durant’s absence. Like Leonard, he’s an elite defender. And in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals against Portland, Green and Steph Curry (oddsmakers’ Finals MVP favorite) became the first teammates ever to record a triple-double in the same playoff game. (Green had another triple-double in Thursday’s Warriors loss.) But in Leonard, Green has a foe that no one has been able to slow. Meanwhile, the one player with Leonard’s number?
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool, Champions League Final (Saturday at 3 pm ET on TNT)
After a two-week layaway following the craziest semifinal round in recent football history, the two English clubs duke it out down south in Madrid.
- Tottenham (+325)
- Liverpool (-110)
Ones to Watch
Adley Rutschman is the best MLB Draft prospect since Bryce Harper … at least according to a Baseball America profile of the switch-hitting junior catcher from Oregon State. A three-year starter behind the dish for the Beavers, Rutschman is a rare five-tool catcher — Harper’s original position, you may recall. Rutschman’s speed, athleticism, arm and bat would translate to other positions — and a team might want to save his knees by moving him — but he’s also an excellent defensive backstop and game manager. After hitting just .234 as a freshman, Rutschman led Oregon State to a national championship while batting .408 last season. This year, he hit .419 with 17 home runs and is one of four finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s highest honor. Like All-Star major league catcher Joe Mauer, Rutschman was a star football player in high school and even competed on the gridiron as a freshman at Oregon State. The Baltimore Orioles are expected to take Rutschman with the No. 1 pick in Monday night’s MLB Draft — but first, he has a national title to defend. No. 16 Oregon State opens NCAA tournament play at home on Friday against Cincinnati, the start of the road to the College World Series.
Stevie Wisz. Few things take precedence over open-heart surgery, but for Wisz — a senior outfielder at UCLA — winning an NCAA softball championship is one of them. Walking at graduation is the second. On Thursday afternoon, No. 2 UCLA began play at the Women’s College World Series against No. 7 Minnesota. With only eight teams remaining, the Bruins (51-6) are making their fifth straight WCWS appearance and nearing the program’s 12th national title. But while history is nice, the best story in Oklahoma City this year is Wisz. Diagnosed with aortic stenosis — severe narrowing of the opening of the aortic valve — when she was 1, Wisz wears a pacemaker to keep her heart beating. She underwent her first heart surgery when she was 9 and had a pacemaker installed at age 10. She picked up softball because she was instructed to eliminate sports requiring endurance. She walked on to UCLA’s team as a freshman and has primarily been used as a defensive replacement, making a home-run-saving catch against Florida in last year’s Women’s College World Series. This year, with her third major heart surgery on deck, Wisz postponed the operation in order to help the Bruins through the postseason. The 22-year-old will then walk at graduation on June 13 before undergoing the procedure on June 21.
A Boston triple? Shield your eyes, New Yorkers: Boston is nearing one of the weirdest and most enviable feats in sports. But the Bruins still have to get through St. Louis. In Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Boston rallied from a two-goal first period deficit to win, 4-2, in a game that saw bodies flying everywhere. The outcome felt particularly devastating for the Blues, who scored the first goal for the 14th time in 20 playoff games. Prior to Monday night, St. Louis was 10-3 after scoring first. On Wednesday night, though, the Blues evened the series with a 3-2 win in overtime on the road, snapping Boston’s eight-game win streak. They now head back to Missouri having seized home ice advantage. The Blues are a slight favorite in Game 3, but bookmakers still favor Boston in the series overall. If the Bruins do indeed hoist the Cup, it would make Boston the first city in 83 years, and the first in the Super Bowl era, to simultaneously hold championships in the NHL, NFL and MLB. The only other two cities to accomplish “The Triple” were New York in 1927-28 (Rangers, Giants, Yankees) and Detroit in 1935-36 (Red Wings, Lions, Tigers). Surely, they were not at all obnoxious about it, either.
The traditional road to the pros. R.J. Hampton, the No. 5-ranked high school prospect according to ESPN, announced Tuesday that he’ll skip college basketball and sign a contract with the New Zealand Breakers of the Australian National Basketball League instead. This comes one week after MLB prospect Carter Stewart skipped the baseball draft to sign a contract in Japan. While the NBA’s G League is offering six-figure deals to 18-year-olds who aren’t yet eligible for the NBA, and Stewart would have made a solid MLB signing bonus, these teens are looking outside of America’s shores not just for riches — but for their own development. And an athletics-oriented study abroad could well pay off. Hampton (an honor student, unlike past players like Emmanuel Mudiay, who took the foreign route after struggling with academic eligibility) was enamored with Dallas Mavericks rookie Luka Dončić’s successful transition to the NBA this season from the EuroLeague. Hampton, who was weighing scholarship offers from Kansas, Texas Tech and Memphis, will make real money sooner — likely far more than the usual $100,000 rookie salary, plus a rumored shoe deal. But he’s also betting that bodying up with grown men Down Under will help him improve more than a season with better TV exposure in the one-and-done-dominated college game. Will other top prospects follow his lead? Unless they’re the next Zion Williamson, they’d be wise to consider it.
Second Act: This WNBA Star Is Ready for a Bit of Drama, by Matt Foley in OZY
After a decade of year-round globetrotting as a basketball hired hand, Renee Montgomery decided enough was enough. She needed an offseason and a place to really call home. Most of all, she needed to start her life after basketball — while still playing basketball. According to her acting coach, she’s pretty good at this too.
Project: Phenom, by Chris Ballard in Sports Illustrated
At 11, Olivia Moultrie accepted a scholarship offer to North Carolina. At 13, she turned pro. Is her controversial path what American soccer needs right now? The results of her test case all depend on your opinion.
How Damon Sheehy-Guiseppi’s Browns Tryout Brought ‘Major League’ to Life, by Scott Patsko in The Cleveland Plain Dealer
How did a junior college return man who hasn’t played football since 2016 end up at Cleveland Browns OTAs with a real chance to make the team? The NFL’s real-life version of Willie Mays Hayes begged and conned his way here, and he doesn’t plan on leaving.
Siakam Is Climbing the Mountain to Stardom: ‘It’s Only the Beginning for Me,’ by Bruce Arthur in The Toronto Star
If Kawhi Leonard is a monolithic wrecking ball, Pascal Siakam is the acrobat swinging from trapeze to trapeze, and they’re not always where he expects them to be. The Cameroonian defensive ace is learning that to be a true star, your game can’t have any holes.
Minnesota pitcher Devin Smeltzer made his MLB debut Tuesday in a 5-3 win over the National League-leading Milwaukee Brewers. A funky left-hander who was acquired from the Dodgers last offseason, Smeltzer had a 1.15 ERA in nine minor league starts this year. The only thing better than the New Jersey native’s stuff is the story of how he beat cancer and ended up playing with his childhood hero, Chase Utley. Check it out.