OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Sitting down for a Q&A with Shaq

Barry Warner with Shaquille O'Neal. Courtesy photo

Before Game 2, when the Rockets looked like the 65-win team, I visited courtside with an old friend - TNT Analyst Shaquille O’Neal.  I covered Shaq over 25 years ago when he was playing for Cole High School in San Antonio. A quick Q&A with the big man:

Q: Shaq, as you reflect on your career, what are you proudest of?

A: That a young kid from San Antonio, Texas, a football state, could go on to the NBA and win not just the rings, but meet so many wonderful people. Most of all, that young kids, our future, can look up to me.

Q: What did you learn from your rookie season in Orlando when the Dream schooled you in the 4-0 sweep for the title?

A: I learned a great lesson. If you want to succeed you must be humbled and fail. Always have to learn. We came against the Rockets after beating the Bulls and got manhandled. Dream had four or five moves that were impossible, even at my size, to defend.  He was devastating on the block, then would move away so quickly with the Dream Shake. Dream had four or five moves on each shot.

Q: How about your relationship with Yao Ming?

A: At first, I tried to create a controversy, then my father got very upset. He read my fan mail and reminded me that a 14-year-old kid from Shanghai, China named Yao Ming wrote to me several times. We hang out when I am in China and became great friends. It’s cool how two different people from two different worlds became close.

Q: How great could Yao have been healthy?

A: He would have been incredible and eventually the best center in the world. Yao could shoot from outside with touch and played great defense.  Had he been healthy, there is no question the Rockets would have won some championships.

Q: Is this series more like the main course compared to an appetizer?

A: This is the series America has wanted to see right from the start of the season.

Q: Do you realize that you are a crossover? Older people knowing you as the NBA star, while the millennials see you as the fun- loving pitch man on commercials, the rapping and acting career?

A: I’m just here to have fun and make people smile.

On the Rockets

So, Andre Iguodala may be held out of tonight’s Game Four. Big freaking deal.

Your home town heroes in short pants are the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players.  Harden continues to dribble, dribble until the shot clock goes down. His teammates continue to make turnovers and not defend.

Coach Mike D’Antoni called them soft after getting hit by the haymaker.

The playoffs make and define legacies The Rockets have spent months living up to their promise that this season would be different: They have won more games, defended more effectively, and played with greater consistency than at any point during Harden’s tenure. But now they are down 2–1 with Tuesday’s Game 4 at Oracle Arena, where Curry and the Warriors are undefeated in the playoffs since 2016.

Three seasons ago, the Beard had 13 turnovers in the series ending loss.

And how can we forget Game 6 here last season when he was a no show, acting like a guy from outer space who never played the game, a  39-point drubbing against the Spurs?

Steph Curry’s return to All-World form occurred in the 41-point Game 3 win with 35 points. After getting his groove back, Curry immediately went back for more, torturing Harden with crossovers before stepping back into another ceiling-scraping 3. He celebrated that one in vintage style, breaking into the type of extended shimmy that has long delighted the Oakland crowd and ticked off hoops purists.

Chirp!

 

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Kyle Tucker had a big day at the plate on Sunday. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

After splitting the first two games of the series, with one team or the other putting on a solid offensive performance in each, the Astros tried to win their fourth series in their last five by taking the rubber game on Sunday against the Blue Jays. Thanks in part to a big day from Kyle Tucker, who played a significant role in the early offense they used to power to the win, they would accomplish their mission.

Final Score: Astros 7, Blue Jays 4

Astros' Record: 18-16, second in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Bryan Abreu (2-1)

Losing Pitcher: Nate Pearson (0-1)

Kyle Tucker helps lead the offense to seven unanswered runs

Houston did not go easy on Nate Pearson in his 2021 debut. After a scoreless first, the Astros loaded the bases on two walks and a single, then brought the first run of the day home on an RBI walk by Michael Brantley. Another walk opened the door in the bottom of the third, and Kyle Tucker capitalized with an RBI triple to make it 2-0, followed by an RBI single by Robel Garcia to make it a three-run lead, ending Pearson's day one out into the bottom of the third.

Things didn't get easier for Toronto's pitching in the next inning, as Jose Altuve would lead off the bottom of the fourth with a solo homer. A single and a walk then set up another big hit for Kyle Tucker, a three-run dinger to make it seven unanswered runs and giving Tucker four RBI on the day.

Blue Jays pound Greinke in the fifth

After four shutout innings to start his day on the mound, working around a few hits along the way, Zack Greinke tried to cash in on his team's offense to get another win on his record. He wouldn't be able to get it done, though, as Toronto would get after him in the top of the fifth. They would score four times amongst five batters that came to the plate, with a solo homer by Rowdy Tellez, a two-RBI double by Bo Bichette, and an RBI single by Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

That made it a 7-4 game, and with Greinke still not having recorded an out in the frame, Dusty Baker would lift him at 88 pitches in favor of Bryan Abreu, who would get a pop out and a double play to end the inning and keep the lead at three runs. Greinke's final line: 4.0 IP, 9 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 88 P.

Houston takes the series

No more runs would come on either side the rest of the way, with Kent Emanuel working around a single for a scoreless sixth, Ryne Stanek getting a 1-2-3 seventh, and Andre Scrubb doing the same in the eighth to set up Ryan Pressly for the save. Pressly would get the job done, sending the Blue Jays down in order, including two strikeouts to wrap up the win and giving Houston the series victory.

Up Next: The Astros will stay at home to continue this homestand, welcoming in the Angels for three games starting Monday at 7:10 PM Central. The opener will feature a pitching matchup of Alex Cobb (1-2, 5.48 ERA) for Los Angeles and Luis Garcia (0-3, 3.28 ERA) for Houston.

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