OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: Thanks to a poor showing by the Rockets and an amazing effort from Lebron James, it's Warriors vs. Cavs again

Lebron James was amazing for the Cavs. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

An hour before Game Seven Mike D’Antoni stated the dreadful words for Rocket fans. Chris Paul would not play because of his hamstring injury. D'Antoni said they made the decision because: "He couldn't explode. He couldn't push off of it."

Paul’s scoring, defense, toughness and leadership were keys to all three Rockets wins.

His teammates looked like bricklayers, making 7 of 44 from 3-point range, missing 27 straight.

Even CP3 haters and curmudgeons can empathize with the tough and respected Rockets star being unavailable.

It sucks big time when a player who has worked so hard to get to the Finals, then gets injured in the closing minutes of Game 5 win.  But the reality is some guys just have bad luck.

There is no sense overanalyzing Monday night’s loss.  When you suck doing what you have done successfully all season, and it backfires, there is zero chance of miracles.  

James Harden finished with 32 points, six rebounds and six assists but was only 12-of-29 from the floor and 2-of-13 on 3s.  

In three playoff series since becoming a Rocket, the Beard has delivered a stinko performance his last game of the season.

It will be a summer of what-could-have-been for the Rockets, who couldn't finish off the Warriors without Paul after putting them on the ropes.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey, the architect of the team built to knock off Golden State, has a busy summer ahead. The signing of center Clint Capela to a long-term deal, along with the structure of Paul’s contract, are top priorities.  He must get rid of Ryan Anderson and his bloated contract. You can say goodbye to Joe Johnson, Nene, Aaron Jackson

Once Paul and Capela are signed to long-term contracts, the focus will turn to Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and Gerald Green.

All three players will be free agents this summer and could be salary-cap casualties because of the high cost of the roster.

For Houston fans, once again its wait until next year. For the fourth straight June, it’s the Warrior’s against LeBron and the worst talent he has ever been surrounded with in the Finals.

I have been fortunate to witness some of the greatest individual performances in sports over my career.  None tops what LeBron James did over the weekend

There are not enough superlatives to describe the once in a generation brilliance of LeBron James.  Superstar seems so passé, defining his Game Seven performance against the Boston Celtics.

Wasting time and energy debating James’s place in the history of the game has become a debate for fans and media. However, there’s no debating LeBron dragging a group of average players to the Eastern Conference championship by coming back from a 3-2 deficit and winning a decisive Game 7.  Doing it without fellow All-Star Kevin Love is one of the defining accomplishments of his storied career.

It’s a greater pure basketball achievement than any of his three championships won with super teams put together by Pat Riley in Miami and later when LeBron returned to Cleveland.

It is difficult to compare his performance, through sheer force of will and force-of-nature ability, taking down a better, deeper, younger, more athletic Celtics team. After his 46-point tour de force in Game 6, James had 35 points, 15 rebounds, and 9 assists in Game 7, while playing all 48 minutes. 

Perhaps, more impressive than James’s domination in the final two games of this series was his stamina. He played all but 114 seconds of the final two games. He outlasted a young Celtics team.

James’ teams have now won six straight Game 7s, and he is 6-2 all-time in seventh games.

This is what LeBron does. He's capable of the seemingly impossible, like a modern-day Superman. It is LeBron's eighth straight Finals appearance.

 This season was unlike any other this decade for LeBron. Kyrie Irving forced a trade in August and the Cavs revamped their roster in February by moving Isaiah Thomas, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder and Derrick Rose.

James is prone to saying that the two best words in sports are “Game  7.” It is an occasion when the lines dividing success from failure are at their thinnest.

The reality is that’s when the weight and pressure help create unforgettable moments. That’s when the stakes help define legacies. It's when the greatest of stars, like James, don't even look at the bench, when they pour every ounce into one game with the clearest possible outcomes.  The passion, emotion, heart and refusal to lose put the King in a special place in sports history.

But he will be on vacation soon.

Golden State wins in five.

Regardless of where LeBron ends up next year, the Cavs run in the East is done.  In defeat, Brad Stephens’ young Celtics, without stars Gordon Hayward and Irving, should dominate for several seasons.

Verlander dominant

Justin Verlander put on a clinic at Yankee Stadium, beating the Yankees again, slowing down the highest-scoring team in the majors and pitching the Houston Astros past New York 5-1 Monday.  

 Verlander exited in the seventh inning with a major league-best 1.11 ERA., tipping his cap to the thousands of Yankee fans booing him.

 J.D. Davis hit an early three-run homer and Jose Altuve had a solo drive, helping Houston win for the sixth time in eight games.  Altuve broke out of a horrible slump with 10 straight hits, raising his batting average from near .300 to .329.

 In 12 starts this year, Verlander has permitted only 10 earned runs. It seems to have rubbed off on some of his teammates. The AL ERA leaders:

1.

Verlander • HOU

1.08

2.

Morton • HOU

2.04

3.

Cole • HOU

2.05

The Astros have three of the top six leaders in strikeouts, led by former Pirate Gerrit Cole with 13 per game, Verlander is fourth with 11.2 and Charlie Morton is sixth in the American League with 10.9.

Chirp!


 

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The Marlins are showing interest in Yuli Gurriel. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images.

As the reporting date for pitchers and catchers draws near, there are still some decisions hanging over the Astros. One of them is whether or not to bring back Yuli Gurriel. “La Piña,” as he's affectionately called, is 38 years old. He turns 39 in June. His leadership and instincts cannot be matched. The man has seen a ton of baseball and comes from a family of baseballers. So, what's the holdup?

Enter the Miami Marlins. The ownership group, led by Bruce Sherman, is undoubtedly trying to capitalize on the heavy Cuban population in the Miami area. Bringing in the Cuban Babe Ruth is a great way to attempt to get more fan engagement. The franchise has only been to the playoffs three times. First two times (1997 and 2003), they won it all. In 2020, they were swept in the NLDS. They're most likely offering him a ridiculous amount of money to come to a team with a losing history. Knowing the Marlins are willing to hand out stupid money, would you blame La Piña for taking one last ridiculous payday?

Think about it. He's got two rings and made a ton of money. He can safely retire very comfortably. The lure to come back for another year or two would definitely be about money. The Marlins aren't a real threat in the next couple of seasons to do anything, but are willing to pay me like I'm still a star? Plus, I'm closer to my home country with all my family and friends? Sign me up!

This is where the Astros have to make a decision. Bring Yuli back for another year or move on. If he follows through with his last four years, this should be a bounce back year. Since 2016, his first year in Houston and MLB, he's hit .262, .299, .291, .298, .232 (pandemic shortened season), .319, and .242 last season. The man is a professional hitter. He knows how to work an at-bat and can drive pitchers nuts. His defense isn't bad either. He's a more than capable first baseman.

This won't win me any favor, but I think it's time to move on. Yuli will always have a place in my heart because he was a major factor in the Astros' two World Series wins. Last season's title run was even more satisfying since it helped silence the haters. That was the mouthwash that got rid of the stench of the sign stealing scandal. Piña was there through it all.

Now, it's time to start transitioning towards the future. Piña, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Justin Verlander, and Lance McCullers Jr were the only holdovers from the 2017 team. Verlander was one of the guys the Mets backed the Brinks truck up for this offseason. Altuve (32), Bregman (28), and McCullers (29) should be all that's left of that group. While it would've been great to have Verlander (39) back, the emergence of the youth movement in the pitching staff made his loss somewhat expendable. At some point, the nostalgia wears off. Father Time and Mother Nature are both undefeated. If they were to bring Piña back, he should be a part timer transitioning into a hitting coach. Careers come to an end. It's time to start looking at his exit.

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