Every day there are three things, none worth devoting an individual post to, but each worth at least mentioning.
1) Amir Garrett. I sorted through all the heroes - and there were many - of last night's 9-2 win over the Pirates in this blog post. After the victory, the Reds are now 7-2, with a pretty staggering, league-best +25 run differential.
Garrett deserves special mention, though, not just because of how's he's pitched to begin his big league career, but for what he's delivered.
His first start came the day after five relievers were needed in a 7-4 win over the Phillies, and came on the heels of more than 12 innings being eaten by the bullpen in the first three games. Garrett, in his big league debut, went six.
His start last night came after two days of pretty excessive bullpen use. The final 21 outs were recorded by relievers on Monday (consecutively), and with Rookie Davis having to depart after just four innings on Tuesday (he probably would've gone just five had he not been drilled in the forearm), leaving the bullpen to throw the final five frames. Bryan Price does have eight relievers at his disposal, and a number of them have pitched (and thrived in) multiple innings, but the 'pen needed a bit of a break last night, especially with no off day until Monday.
Garrett gave it to them, getting through six and a two-thirds, delivering the first really clutch pitching performance of this young - and so far, immensely fun - Reds season.
2) The Blue Jackets. It felt like Jackets were trying to win a seven-game series in one period last night, and after not scoring in an opening period they dominated, it felt like once Pittsburgh got going, the game was gonna go downhill for Columbus.
And once the Penguins scored in the second period, the game and the stage seemed a little too big, at least for a stretch.
You weren't expecting a hockey take, were you?
3) Last year's finale > this year's finale. The final day of last year's regular season might have been the greatest last day in the history of the NBA. You had the Warriors going for - and reaching - 73 wins and Kobe Bryant dropping 60 in his career finale.
This year, you had three teams competing for one of the final two Eastern Conference spots - something that should've been exceptionally compelling. Instead, you had the three teams playing Indy, Chicago, and Miami resting their guys - including lottery-bound Brooklyn sitting six different guys against his Bulls, all but handing them both a 35-point win, and ultimately the conference's final playoff spot.
Let's just say that last night lacked the drama, of last year's final regular season night.
Hey, it's been a while, how about some NBA takes?
This has been an odd regular season, and in many, many respects a damn good one. We've one of the best MVP debates in years (more on that in a bit), the heel turn of the Warriors and their exceptionally underappreciated accomplishment of reaching 67 wins, the ascension of the Celtics from merely fun-to-watch-and-exceptionally-well-coached to legit title contender, the star turn of Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee (yup, I had to copy and paste his last name), the Utah Jazz turning in 51 wins and having the most entertaining local TV broadcasts in the sport, Sean Kilpatrick turning into an NBA mainstay, the brief star run for Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns making a leap, and LeBron and the Cavs continually making things more difficult than they need to be.
Unfortunately, much of that was overshadowed by the league's biggest issue: the resting of key players, especially in marquee, nationally-showcased games. Not that a coach sitting his top guys (and really, we're talking about maybe ten players across the league) is bad strategy - it actually reflects very sound thinking. The problem is that the league as asking us as fans to get invested in the regular season - one that even the most dedicated among us already believe is too long (I love the NBA, and I want them to reduce the schedule to somewhere between 66 and 74 games per team) - and yet when teams sit their top guys, the message sent is that the regular season doesn't matter.
The regular season for me was brutal. Wanna know how tough it is to be a Knicks fan? My favorite NBA team turned in a 31-51 record, went out of its way to alienate its best player, went even further out of its way to alienate a franchise icon, had the team President say and do some of the most outlandish things one can imagine from a sports executive, all but mailed in the final 25-30 games, and I'm not sure that this season was among the five most miserable seasons I've endured as a Knicks fan.
Far more fun that talking about the Knicks is discussing this year's NBA MVP race. Russell Westbrook is going to win, and the league's most enjoyable player to watch will be a deserving winner (BTW, this piece on Westbrook and Oscar is fantastic). There are seasons where James Harden would be a run away winner, and while I find my far less enjoyable to watch than Russ, the guy has had an amazing season.
My pick, though, would be Kawhi Leonard. Playing on a team that had no other All-Star, Leonard led the Spurs to 61 wins and the two seed in the west. He's gone from a nice role player who couldn't shoot when he entered to league to a guy who developed a lethal corner three, then added slashing ability, and finally refined his game with a better handle and a series of offensive moves that have turned him into one of the most reliable and versatile offensive players in the sport.
And he's the best perimeter defender in the league.
He's one of only four players- Jordan, Curry, and Durant are the others to record a season shooting as often as he does per 100 possessions, scoring as much as he does per 100 possessions, with as many defensive win shares as he has. He has the fewest turnovers of the primary candidates, the most blocks, the most steals, and again, with a lower usage rate than Harden and Westbrook, he's the third-most efficient player in the NBA.
His team was 7-2 against Harden's Rocket and Westbrook's Thunder.
And no player in the sports changes how offenses attack more than Leonard. Watch the Spurs. Their opponents will take their best player and just stick in the corner, electing to play four-on-four without their top guy, all because of Leonard, whom the Spurs will often start by having him check the best offensive player and then rotate to guard nearly every position throughout the game. What he might not do offensively compared to Harden and Westbrook, he makes up for with his defense. In fact, I'd argue that there are times when Leonard is asked to more on that side of the floor than Westbrook and Harden are forced to do when their team - and thus, when those players - have the ball.
Again, Westbrook is going to win, and I completely understand why. He's had a season for the ages, and I love the way The Big O himself has celebrated it. But if I had a vote, I'd go with Kawhi.
Radio Show: It returns on Monday, starting at 3:05 on ESPN1530. I bet you can't wait.