An exciting finish to the UEFA Cup final today. Chelsea ties in the final minutes, beats Bayern-Munich in penalty kicks.
I love soccer, particularly English teams, and I was rooting for Chelsea today. But, is there an American sport–by which I mean a sport popular in the U.S. because of course I know that soccer/football is American too–where a team can get to the championship and win the championship entirely by playing defensively? And, I don’t mean a baseball team with good pitching, or a basketball or football team that win the game with tough defensive schemes. I mean a team that decides it can’t compete on the full field of play, puts all of its players in front of the goal, and just hopes to keep the game tied. The closest would be college basketball where over-matched teams try to slow the pace, and before the shot-clock, would try to play keep away all game and hope to win 12-10 (which I believe was the score of a NC State-Duke game in 1968. I think Bobby Hurley was on that Duke team, or at least some hard working, over-achieving, non-athletic, but probably over-hyped 5’10” white point guard who is considered to have more smarts and heart than everyone else out there and ends up getting drafted in the middle of the first round of the NBA draft). Maybe when a team like the Celtics used to bang on the Showtime Lakers in order to disrupt their flow?
But, what Chelsea did against both Barca and Bayern-Munich, this seems different. It was an admittance that they can’t win in an ordinary soccer game against these teams. They didn’t just play a different style, or force the other team to play their style; they piled everyone in front of the net and hoped to hold on for 90 minutes. I understand why Wigan does it; they need to win, and they are over-matched. But Chelsea? Are Lampard and Mata incapable of controlling the midfield? With Drogba, Torres, Malouda, Calou…these guys can’t play competitive soccer with Bayern? Makes no sense to me.
Take the Sixers. They can’t compete with the Celtics and they’ll ultimately lose. But they have gutted themselves to a likely 7 game series. I like teams with guys named Lou. Put him on the retro Atlanta Hawks team next year. He’s even got retro Converses on.
One comment on the Celtics–no one thinks they can win the NBA finals, at least on ESPN or TNT, and that accounts for “everyone” who could possibly account for “no one.” And sure, they didn’t look good last night, and they look very beatable because they are old and slow. But the Sixers won’t beat them unless they beat themselves like last night. And whether they play the Pacers or a hobbled-Heat, they’ve got a good shot there. So, if that happens, they likely play either San Antonio or OKC, and maybe even the Lakers. How do the old-time Celtics match up with these teams? San Antonio isn’t going to out-quick them. (And how great will it be to see Kevin Garnett go up against Tim Duncan?) Neither would the Lakers. That leaves OKC. If OKC beats the Spurs, then they are going to win it all. On the other hand, if they lose to the Lakers tonight, they should be down 3-1, and all the questions of whether they can play half-court offense are going to appear. I think the Celtics are ok against all the possibilities.
Tomorrow, obviously, is another statement game for LeBron James. Every time he’s been challenged like this before, you think he’s going to play huge; and he doesn’t. But he has to this time, doesn’t he?
Jordan comparison. John Starks challenged him in 1993–the dunk, the great defense, the scuffling. Everyone started asking if Jordan could score on him. Jordan scored 54 on him in game 4.
If the Heat lose this year; how much longer before the question of who wins first: LeBron or the Cavs? I’ll take LeBron in 3 years playing with Kobe and Bynum on the Lakers.