My Life As A Chelsea Fan – No way, Jose!

As the Chelsea season wrapped up with a Europa Title (hooray!) and a Champs league berth (hooray!) the news began to come out that the team was going to lure former coach Jose “the Special One” Mourinho away from Real Madrid.  If reports are to be believed, Jose was doing literally everything he could to get fired from Real in order to return to the Blues.  This news is good because he is a great coach who has worked with many of the vets still on the team – but is he the man to transition the squad towards a new era with young stars like Oscar and Eden Hazard?  Maybe he is, but a few more important revelations came from this Chelsea season and the most stunning of all might be Frank Lampard.

Lampard has long been championed as the best of England’s golden generation, forever pitted against Beckham and Gerrard in an endless contest for best English midfielder.  There is no reason for this: all three have been remarkable in their own way.  Yet, it seems as if we can finally put it all to rest now that Lampard is probably the best player in the history of Chelsea Football Club. 

How many other players can boast the following resume: goal leader of the club all-time, EPL Champ, Champions League Champ and of course, frequent national team contributor.  His season was also fantastic this year – whenever Chelsea needed a goal he was there.  Whenever they needed a leader, he was there.  Lampard single handedly steadied the team through a tough, transitional year. 

With the return of “the Special One” came the news that Lampard (not surprisingly) too would be returning.  Chelsea will go through another “transitional year” and yet I am oddly optimistic.  There is simply too much talent at the club for them not to compete and with the stepping aside of Sir Alex, there will be a vacancy amongst top coaches; one Jose is more than willing to fill.

 

 

A tale of two finishes

I have a small confession to make: after Miami won the title last season, I was not sure if I would keep on writing about them – or for that matter, supporting the team.  A lot of my writing had been focused on LeBron’s quest for a first title which ended up being shaped by an epic failure against Dallas and then redemption versus the Thunder.  Where could I go with the team?  Moreover, was I truly a fan?

My posts about the team this season have been, well, sparse…and I have watched with more of a casual fandom (instead of living and dying with every shot), but sometimes, when you see something amazing it can bring you right back to where you began.

Wednesday night, after running some errands I flipped on Game 1 of the Eastern Finals against Indy expecting either a Heat blowout or a Pacers win over a rusty team.  Instead I ended up with one of the best basketball games of the year.  Paul George showed he can play clutch after hitting a remarkable desperation three and three free throws with the game on the line.  Within ten seconds of turning on the game I was yelling at the tv and blatantly cheering for the Heat with none of the casualness I had previously displayed.  This game was incredibly back and forth and there was no question the stage was set for a fantastic finish – and it certainly delievered. 

Talking with my brother, Just Ross, afterwards, neither of us could ever remember a guy going to the basket with 2.2 seconds left, let alone getting the shot at the rim off in time.  LeBron, we agreed, is maybe the one guy in the league who could have done so.  After catching the ball at the top of the key with his back to the basket, Bron had time to turn, blow past George like he was a road sign, get to the hoop in about two steps and put the ball in off the backboard.  For a brief second I thought he was going to throw down an emphatic dunk, which may have caused some sort of seismic activity off the East coast.  No one else would have the gall or the ability to go to the rim like that.  Part of the reason the play was successful was the brilliantly executed play (Ray Allen and Bosh setting screens and clearing out the whole middle of the floor) and that George, like most defenders in that situation overcommitted to stopping a quick shot.  LBJ made him look foolish afterwards.  The play was one of the most incredible things I have ever seen.  Probably the best part was the Heat players and fans celebrating deliriously while LeBron simply walked, stone faced around the court.  He knows what winning one game means when your ultimate goal is nothing short of repeating for the NBA title. 

Two nights later, an entirely different result but only slightly less amazing.  LeBron, doing the complete opposite of what he had done the previous night by throwing the ball away – twice – with under a minute left.  The Pacers were simply in the passing lanes and refused to let him create with anyone else.  Two great defensive stands with the game on the line…that were only eclipsed by the 24 seconds previously which featured maybe the best defense I have ever witnessed by one team.  The Heat, after LBJ turned the ball over played aggressive, ferocious and absolutely remarkable D for 24 seconds. 

There was simply no way that the Pacers were going to get the ball in the hoop.  It did not matter who had it – they were hounded until they finally had to give it up.  An incredible sequence that finished with a 24 second shot clock violation.  In the end though, it was all for naught – the Heat lost and the series was tied up. 

No question though, who reps the East in the Finals.  The Heat repeat is on. 

 

An Epic Affair

At the conclusion of the instant classic Warriors – Spurs game last night, my beautiful fiancee had an “ohhhhhhhh!” moment when Manu Ginobli hit his ridiculous three.  By this time it was obviously already evident this was an incredible game, but this sealed it once and for all.  My fiancee does not watch a lot of basketball, but tries to enjoy it bless her heart.  When she said, “wow, that was an epic finish”, I knew I had just watched an all-time classic.

Firstly, how can you not love the Warriors?  Absolutely no one believes in them; and everyone figured they were simply a first round abberation doomed to be destroyed by the powerful, systematic Spurs.  Steph Curry was going to be shut down by one of the althletic wing players the Spurs suddenly seem to have in abundance.  Then, last night happened.  Curry could not miss.  He got inches here and there and exploited them by nailing step back threes that were unguardable.  When he could not get a shot off he drove to the basket – at one point he hit a crazy floater over Tim Duncan.  On the defining play for the Warriors (the one before Manu’s three) three Spurs collapsed on him in the lane allowing him to hit a wide open teammate for an easy lay in to take the lead.  Curry may have been doubted before this season (and this series began) but he is a prime time player, capable of scoring in bunches and making wily (and correct!) plays.  The most interesting revelation of this playoffs: he is a much better passer than anyone gave him credit for, and a much smarter player than we ever thought.

Secondly, even though he had been cold all night: how can you possibly leave Manu open with the game on the line?  How many impossible shots has he hit?  The situation will never phase him or the veteran Spurs and he showed it last night.  As soon as I saw him open a feeling of dread hit me right in the stomach.  The game was over.  Just a vet making a fantastic vet move.

Thirdly, can we have six more, just like that please?  Unreal.  When Klay Thompson fouled out late in the fourth quarter it did not matter because the game was effectively over.  By the time overtime hit?  It made a massive difference with the Warriors second best player unable to take the floor.  Even Tony Parker, who had struggled, put his head down and made several great drives to the basket when it mattered most. 

One can only hope this series just keeps on going and going.