Champs or chumps? Warriors legacy in doubt

Well, well, Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors are in a pickle. The Dubs set an NBA record with 73 victories, but unless they are able to stage a miracle comeback against Oklahoma City in the Western Conference finals, they’re toast.

And if they lose to the Thunder (or somehow make the Finals and lose to Cleveland), the Warriors will have no claim…none… to the title of NBA’s best team ever. It happens. In 2007, the New England Patriots finished the regular season unbeaten at 16-0 and yet lost to the Giants in Super Bowl 42. In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games, tying the 1906 Cubs for the most in MLB history. The Mariners were knocked out by the Yankees in five games in the ALCS. And the Cubs lost the 1906 World Series to their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders.

In the NBA, teams with outstanding regular season records generally go on to win the championship. The 1996 Bulls (72-10), 1972 Lakers (69-13), 1997 Bulls (69-13) and 1967 76ers (68-13) were all crowned champs. The best team not to win a title was the 1973 Celtics (68-14), who lost to the Knicks in a seven-game, Eastern Conference Final.

The Warriors won the NBA title last year following a 67-15 regular season, tied for seventh best all-time. The 1986 Celtics, 1992 Bulls and 2000 Lakers all won championships after finishing 67-15. The 2007 Mavericks and this year’s Spurs also went 67-15, but were knocked out before the Western Conference Finals. The Washington Capitals were 49-11 in 1947, the NBA’s first season, but lost in the semifinals.

In the NFL, the 1984 49ers and 1985 Bears both finished 15-1 and won the Super Bowl. But three others teams, the 1988 Vikings, 2004 Steelers and 2011 Packers, were beaten before reaching the Super Bowl.

In addition to the Mariners and Cubs losing the World Series, the 1954 Indians (111-54) and Philadelphia A’s (107-45)  in 1931 were also upset.

The Canadiens set an NHL record with 132 points in 1977 and won the Stanley Cup in the midst of a four-year championships run. But the 1996 Red Wings, with a record 62 wins and 131 points, were derailed by the Avalanche in the Western Conference Finals.


The .700 club is baseball’s most elite circle

Football, basketball and hockey teams regularly finish with a .700 winning percentage. In the NFL for instance, 12 wins in 16 games accounts for .750. The Warriors finished with an .890 winning percentage this past season and the Spurs were .817. One more win would have put the Cavs over .700 as well. And in the NHL, a league which doesn’t count overtime losses as losses, good teams often boast winning percentages of .700 or better.

Baseball with its 162-game schedule is a different breed. To finish at .700 or above, teams must win a minimum of 114 games. The Cubs are challenging .700 in the early days of the season, and if they keep up the pace they could become the first team to have a .700 plus record in 15 years….and the first National League team to reach those heights in 107 years.

Throughout baseball’s long history, only nine teams have finished .700 or above. Here they are:

The .700 club

1906 Cubs 116-36 .763

1907 Cubs 107-45 .704

1909 Pirates 110-42 .724

1927 Yankees 110-44 .714

1931 A’s 107-45 .704

1939 Yankees 106-45 .702

1954 Indians 111-43 .721

1998 Yankees 114-48 .704

2001 Mariners 116-46 .716

The first three teams to achieve the feat were all NL clubs; the next six all AL. Yet only five of those nine teams went on to win the World Series.

The 1906 Cubs, pictured above, recorded the best regular season in history with 116 wins and a .763 winning percentage….yet lost the World Series to their cross-town rivals, the White Sox, aka the Hitless Wonders, in six games.

The next year the Cubs wound up with a .704 percentage, and swept the Tigers in the World Series (with one tie). The Cubs repeated as World Champs in 1908 – and haven’t won since.

In 1909 the Pirates won 110 games and took out Detroit in a seven-game World Series.

Three times the Yankees finished with .700 plus winning percentages — in 1927, 1939 and 1998. The Bronx Bombers followed through with World Series sweeps each time.

The Mariners set the AL record with 116 wins good for a .716 winning percentage in 2001, yet lost the ALCS to the Yankees in five games.

In 1954, the Indians win 111 games in a 154-game season, establishing the AL win percentage record at .721. Yet Cleveland was swept by the New York Giants in the World Series.

Finally, in 1931 the A’s won 107 games, but lost the World Series to the Cardinals in seven games.


Yankee stinker: Poor start is one for the books

The Yankees are not just lousy, they’re historically bad. In fact, their 8-15 start, is one of the worst in team history. If the aging Yankees continue their poor play, they could finish in last place for just the fifth time in their history. That happens to teams that can’t hit, pitch or catch the ball.

Now Joe Girardi knows how Harry Wolverton, right, felt more than a hundred years ago. Wolverton was the skipper of the worst team in Yankee history, the 1912 edition. Then known as the Highlanders, they were 50-102 for a .329 percentage — last in the American League, 55 games behind Boston. The Highlanders had a 7-16 record through 23 games

The 1908 Highlanders won 15 of their first 23 and then fell completely apart. They finished last in the AL at 51-103.

50 years ago, in 1966, the Yankees were 7-16 through 23 games. New York won just four of its first 16 games before Ralph Houk took over the managerial reins from Johnny Keane. The change didn’t help. The Yankees finished last in the American League for the first time since 1912 at 70-89.

25 years later, in 1991, the Bombers started 7-16 and stumbled to a fifth place finish in the AL East with a 71-91 mark under Stump Merrill. The previous year the Yankees finished seventh (and last) in the AL East at 67-95, yet still managed to win 10 of their first 23.

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Phil Jackson–Zen Master to Then Master

This is no laughing matter Phil Jackson. Will the New York Knicks ever win another championship? Fans have to wonder, what with serious questions about the front office and how they are attempting to build this team.

Hopes were high when owner James Dolan, head of the Isiah Thomas fan club, brought in the former Knick and 11-time championship coach Jackson took two years ago. But so far, after another 50-loss season, the former Zen Master is looking more and more like a Then Master. From zen to now.

Jackson is living in the past if he thinks his antiquated triangle offense can succeed in today’s NBA. Any offense is going to look good with Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant, and Jackson won multiple championships with those players and superstar supporting casts. But the Knicks don’t have that kind of talent. Not even close. Great coaches mold their teams to fit around available talent….rather than insist they learn a particular system.

Actually, the bigger issue is that two years into the program the Knicks still don’t understand the triangle. “I don’t think it was expressed to us as players clearly from Day One,” Carmelo Anthony told the New York Times recently. “I thought it was kind of different messages that was being sent to the players about the actual triangle.”

Nice to know. A big piece of the blame for the communication breakdown falls upon the coaches hand-picked by Jackson. Derrick Fisher was lost from the start, and fired after a 40-96 record in a little over a year and a half. Fisher was apparently more interested in chasing skirts than communicating the triangle.

The Knicks then selected Kurt Rambis, another Jackson disciple, as interim coach. The same Rambis who previously failed at Minnesota (32-132) and went 9-19 down the stretch with the Knicks. Yet Jackson has given every indication that he will either bring back Rambis…or someone he knows….rather than consider strong candidates, like former Bulls coach Tim Thibodeau.

“That’s why I was brought here – to install a system,” Jackson told the New York Post. “That’s all part of the package. Who are these people? Do they have 11 championships to talk about?”

There’s no reason to be condescending Phil. The Knicks have reached the playoffs just four times since 2001, and have won exactly one series in that time. They last won a championship in 1973. The suffering goes on.


The 10 greatest comebacks in sports history

When Texas A&M rallied from 12 points down with less than a minute left to play and went on to defeat Maryland in double overtime in the NCAA West Regionals, it marked the biggest comeback in the last minute of a game in college basketball history. And it proved that “never say die” and “play to the last whistle” are more than just clichés.

The Aggies trailed Northern Iowa by a dozen points with 34 seconds remaining before they closed out regulation with a stunning 14-2 run that sent the game into overtime. A&M then won the game 92-88 in the second OT to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007.

“We played the game the right way, even at the end,” said Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy, who admitted afterward he would need time to wrap his head around what had transpired. “We didn’t have guys just coming down jacking up 3s. We tried to drive the ball.”

The previous college basketball comeback record was set in 2005, when UNLV rallied from 11 points down with 59 seconds left to beat San Diego State in overtime.

Some might argue the Aggies spirited surge ranks as the greatest comeback in the history of sports. It may well be. Here are the 10 biggest single-game comebacks of all time.

1. Buffalo Bills 41, Houston Oilers 38, OT, 1993 NFL playoffs: In the midst of their four-year Super Bowl run, the Bills engineered a comeback for the ages. Already trailing 28-3 at halftime behind four touchdown passes by future Hall of Famer Warren Moon, Buffalo fell even further behind early in the third quarter when Houston safety Bubba McDowell intercepted a pass from quarterback Frank Reich, who was filling in for the injured Jim Kelly, and returned it 58 yards for another Oiler touchdown, putting the score at 35-3. At this point, many Bills fans headed home out of the chilly western New York weather, convinced the game was lost.

Amazingly the Bills rallied with five straight touchdowns, four on Reich passes, the last a 17-yard toss to Andre Reed to put Buffalo up 38-35 with less than three minutes left in regulation. In the waning seconds of the game, Houston’s Al Del Greco made a 26-yard field goal kick to tie the score and send the game into overtime.

Not to be denied, Steve Christie kicked a 32-yard field goal, winning the game for Buffalo 41-38 and completing the largest comeback victory (32 points) in NFL history. The Bills made it to the Super Bowl that year but lost to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the third of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances for the Bills; they lost all four games.

2. Cleveland Indians 15, Seattle Mariners 14, 11 innings, 2001: The Indians tied the greatest single-game comeback in MLB history when they reversed a 12-0 deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners 15-14 in extra innings.  The Indians scored three runs in the seventh, four in the eighth, and five in the ninth to force extra innings before Jolbert Cabrera drove home Kenny Lofton with the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.

Cleveland scored five runs in the ninth after two outs to tie the game at 14-14, capped by a two-strike bases-loaded triple by Omar Vizquel. To emphasize what an insane comeback this was, they had been down 14-2 at the seventh inning stretch, and somehow managed to win.

What made the comeback even more impressive was that the Mariners set an American League record and tied the MLB record with 116 victories in 2001.

3. Boston Celtics 97, Los Angeles Lakers 91, 2008 NBA Finals: In one of the largest turnarounds in the history of the NBA Finals, the Celtics came back from 24 points down, the biggest Finals turnaround since 1971, to win Game 4, 97-91.  The victory gave the Celtics a 3-1 series lead and was the biggest reason Boston went on to win its first and only title since 1986.

4. Kentucky 99, LSU 95, 1994: If any lead is safe, you’d think being up 31 points with 15 minutes to play would suffice. LSU led Kentucky 68-37 in the second half of their February contest, but then the Wildcats rallied—led by Walter McCarty and Travis Ford—with 62 points to end the game with a 99-95 win. Kentucky coach Rick Pitino remarked, “I know I’ve never, ever witnessed anything like it.”

 

5. Los Angeles Kings 6, Edmonton Oilers 5, OT, NHL 1982 playoffs: The Miracle on Manchester is the nickname given to an NHL playoff game between the Los Angeles Kings and Edmonton Oilers. The game, the third in a best-of-five postseason series, was played at Los Angeles Forum, the Kings home at the time, which was situated on Manchester Boulevard. The Kings completed the largest comeback in NHL playoff history, going from being down 5-0 to win the game 6-5 in overtime. Combined with upset wins in Games 1 and 5, the Kings eliminated the heavily favored Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier-led Oilers in a 3-2 series victory to reach the second round.

6. Maryland 42, Miami 40, 1984: Trailing 31-0 at halftime, the Terrapins came all the way back to stun the Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl. Frank Reich, the same quarterback who would lead Buffalo to an improbable comeback win against Houston in the NFL playoffs, threw six touchdown passes in the second half to spark the amazing rally. “In the first half, everything that could possibly go wrong, went wrong,” one of Reich’s teammates said. “In the second half, everything that could possibly go right, went right.”

7. Indiana Pacers, 107, New York Knicks 105, NBA Eastern Conference Semifinals: Reggie Miller scored eight points in nine seconds to draw the ire of Spike Lee and New York fans everywhere. We’ve all seen the video. Reggie hits a three, steals the ball and then quickly hits another three to tie the game with 13 seconds left. Miller, who finished with 31 points, made two free throws seconds later to life the Pacers to the Game 1 win. In the postgame frenzy, the celebratory Pacers headed to the locker room. Reggie, in his euphoria, screamed “They choked, they choked.”

8. Detroit Tigers 14, Milwaukee Brewers 13, 1901: It happened in 1901, and hasn’t happened in 115 years since – the greatest ninth inning comeback in baseball history. On April 24, 1901, in their first American League game, the Detroit Tigers scored 10 runs in the ninth inning to beat Milwaukee, 14-13.

9. Rockets 81, Spurs 80, 2004: Tracy McGrady scored an unfathomable 13 points in 33 seconds to bring Houston back from an eight-point deficit in the final minute against the Spurs. McGrady capped it off with a buzzer-beating three for the win.

10. Philadelphia A’s 17, Cleveland Indians 15, 1925: The Indians led, 14-2 and 15-3, and had a 15-4 advantage in the middle of the eighth. Then came the deluge. Thirteen Philadelphia runs turned a huge deficit into a 17-15 win. Future Hall of Famer Al Simmons led the Athletics’ attack with three hits, including a home run, and three RBIs.


Five still seeking first NCAA Tournament berth

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There are plenty of NIT banners in Army’s West Point gym, but not a single NCAA pelt.

In the NCAA Tournament, there are the haves and the have nots. Although there are more than 40 Division I schools that have never qualified for the tournament, many of them are relative newcomers to Division I. However there are five schools that have been around since March Madness began in 1939 and yet never played in the NCAA Tournament.

The hardly fabulous five features Army, Northwestern, St. Francis of Brooklyn, The Citadel and William & Mary. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. All of them.

Despite being led by two of the greatest in history – legendary coaches Bobby Knight and Mike Krzyzewski – the Cadets have never made it. Army turned down an NCAA berth in 1968 because Coach Knight thought his team was better suited to the NIT. That decision still haunts the Black Knights of the Hudson.

Northwestern has won 20 games twice in its history, in 2010 and 2011. But the Wildcats finished well back in the Big Ten both seasons. Ironically, Bill Carmody, who coached those teams during a 13-year tenure at Northwestern, made this year’s tournament in his first year at Holy Cross. Carmody, who twice led Princeton to the NCAAs, is the second winningest coach in Northwestern history.

St. Francis and William & Mary both had close calls, but lost the automatic NAA bid in heartbreaking conference tournament finals losses. Just last year, St. Francis won the Northeast regular season title but lost at home by three points to Robert Morris in the finals. William & Mary was beaten by one point by Delaware in the 2014 Colonial championship final. The Citadel won 20 games in 2009, but is generally considered one of the weaker teams in the Southern Conference.

Other notables in the never made the tournament club include Bethune-Cookman, Maine, New Hampshire, Stetson and Youngstown State


Cinderella Holy Cross on magic NCAA run

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Holy Cross celebrates win over Army at West Point en route to NCAA Tournament berth.

Like most Holy Cross fans, I never saw this coming. During a dreadful regular season the Crusaders finished ninth in the 10-team Patriot League, wound up 10-19 overall, and failed to win a single league game on the road.

Then Holy Cross then beat Loyola of Maryland 72-67 in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. Things started to get interesting when HC knocked off top-seeded Bucknell 77-72 in double overtime in the quarterfinals.

Looking for a bandwagon, I hopped on for the ride – namely a visit to West Point to see the Purple face Army in the semifinals. There the Crusaders jumped out to a 10-0 lead and never trailed, whipping the Cadets 60-38.

Miraculously, Holy Cross culminated its run through the Patriot League with a 59-56 win over second-seeded Lehigh. Again the Crusaders led wire-to-wire, and held on as Lehigh missed four straight three-pointers in the last 20 seconds.

Holy Cross became the first team in conference history to win four tournament games – all on the road – as well as knocking off the top two seeds in the tournament. The Cross has now won six Patriot League championships.

The Cinderella Saders are going to the Big Dance for the 13th time in their history. Bracketologists are speculating that they will face either Austin Peay or Farleigh Dickinson in a first round game, aka First Four, next week in Dayton, Ohio.

Holy Cross has had success in the NCAAs in the past.HC, led by a freshman point guard name of Bob Cousy, won the NCAA Championship in 1947, the school’s first appearance in the tournament. The Crusaders advanced to the Final Four in 1948, and made the Elite Eight in 1950 and 1953. In 1977 the Crusaders upset eighth-ranked Providence in an Eastern playoff before bowing out to top-ranked Michigan.

In recent years, Holy Cross suffered close, first-round losses to Kentucky in 2001, Kansas in 2002 and Marquette in 2003. HC dropped a first-round match to Southern Illinois in 2007.

Related Blog: Once upon a time, Holy Cross was king of hoops.


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