THE PALLILOG

Charlie Pallilo: Plenty to see at the NBA Finals, what's next for the Rockets and Astros-Red Sox

What Lebron has done is incredible. Gregory Shamus

So, do you care about these NBA Finals? If not and you are a basketball fan you should, despite the major letdown of knowing it was sooooo close to being the Rockets against the Cavaliers. Alas, it’s the Cavs-Warriors quadrilogy. A lot of basketball fans probably have had enough of Cleveland-Golden State, but you know what? Meritocracy rules. They earned their way back, so deal with it. Or ignore it. It’s the first time ever in big league sports the same teams play for the championship four years in a row. Game 1 was a doozy. The almost incomparable LeBron with 51 points, but the Warriors got the victory aided by an all-time NBA moronic moment courtesy of the Cavaliers’ J.R. Smith.

Versus the Rockets Golden State was a 2-1 favorite. The Warriors were better than 7-1 favorites over the Cavs. The Warriors are bidding to strengthen their dynasty stature with a third title in four years. James is trying to add for a fourth title to his personal dynasty. That would still be two shy of Michael Jordan’s six ring haul, but James has led his team to nine NBA Finals, three more than did Michael. And Jordan never took a team with as weak a supporting cast to the Finals.

Before you say “the East stinks, LeBron has had it easy!” consider the following: What other player at his current playing level if swapped for James over the last eight seasons would be making an eighth straight Finals appearance?  Durant? Curry? Davis? Harden? Stop it already. The correct answer is there isn’t one. Jordan himself may well have done it. But it’s not as if MJ slayed all sharks while LeBron has beaten only guppies. Those Knicks teams Jordan battled in the 90s? One Hall of Famer, Patrick Ewing. The Pacer teams? One Hall of Famer, Reggie Miller. And the Jordan Bulls never in the Finals faced a team with at least three (maybe four) future Hall of Famers like this Warriors team has, or an individual opponent as great as Tim Duncan.

If James pulls this off, as unlikely as it is, he will very arguably have had as great an NBA career as Jordan.

On the Rockets…

Phenomenal season, hugely disappointing ending with the unanswerable what if…Chris Paul’s hamstring didn’t give out? But be real, that the Rockets definitely would have won with a healthy Paul is silly. They may well have won. Just as if Golden State hadn’t lost Andre Iguodala, it’s plausible the Warriors would have wrapped the series in five.

Going forward, Paul is not worth a full maximum contract.  His skill level remains sensational. But 5 years about $205 million for a 33-year-old point guard with a history of breaking down physically? Not smart. Daryl Morey is smart. The most Paul could get from another team is four years a little over $150 mil. No way should the Rockets offer beyond that.

Clint Capela is not worth a max contract, but with his restricted free agent status the Rockets are at the mercy of any team crazy enough to offer him one (or close to one). Capela’s max would start at about $25 mil the first season. Still, the Rockets almost have to match whatever comes Capela’s way. At least he’s only 24 years old.

Battle with Boston

It would have been a lot of fun to have Rockets-Celtics games one and two going on here while the Astros and Red Sox were playing up the street. Still, Astros-Red Sox as a stand-alone HTown-Beantown battle is pretty good. The Sox rolled into Minute Maid Park as the best team in baseball. Mookie Betts is the only other player in the Majors on Mike Trout’s level this season, and Boston’s addition of former Astros’ prospect flop J.D. Martinez has been brilliant. Betts-Martinez is the best one-two punch in the bigs this year, and to this point there isn’t a close second.

The Astros gave up on Martinez in spring training 2014, and not unreasonably so. J.D. had stunk for two years, was 26 years old, and offered little value beyond whatever his hitting ability was. Since then, you don’t need a third hand to count players who’ve been better in the batter’s box. Context: this will be the fourth time in five years Martinez’s OPS is higher than Jose Altuve’s. We can’t reasonably presume that if given more time Martinez would have figured it out as an Astro.

Buzzer Beaters

1. June is busting out all over. Good chance Carlos Correa will too. Despite homering in the last game of May Correa’s batting average for the month was just .192.  2. The Capitals-Knights Stanley Cup Final thus far has been spectacular. Watch some! 3. Tastiest sugary cereals: Bronze-Frosted mini-wheats Silver-Lucky Charms Gold-Raisin Bran.

 

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Boston's two grand slams in the first two innings were too much for Houston to overcome in ALCS Game 2. Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

After a win in ALCS Game 1 that had the prototypical fingerprints of this Astros team all over it, Houston returned to Minute Maid Park on Saturday, hoping to take a dominant 2-0 series lead if they could grab another victory. The Red Sox dashed those hopes very early, though, scoring eight runs across the first two innings to build the lead they would hold on to even the series.

Final Score: Boston 9, Astros 5

ALCS Series (Best of Seven): tied 1-1

Winning Pitcher: Nathan Eovaldi

Losing Pitcher: Luis Garcia

Houston met with disaster to start Game 2

You couldn't have drawn up a much better start for the Red Sox or a worse one for the Astros in Saturday's ALCS Game 2. Luis Garcia met early disaster in the top of the first inning, allowing a leadoff double, then got two outs while issuing two walks to load the bases. That brought up Boston's designated hitter, J.D. Martinez, to the plate, and he delivered a crushing blow to Houston, launching a grand slam to put the Red Sox up 4-0 before Houston could even get to the plate.

After a scoreless bottom of the inning by his offense, things got worse for Garcia in the top of the second, as after issuing a four-pitch walk to start the frame, he would become the center of a meeting at the mound with trainers, ultimately leaving the game with an injury. Houston opted to bring in Jake Odorizzi for the emergency call to the bullpen, but things did not start well for him either. He would put two of his own batters on base with two singles, then gave up the second grand slam in as many innings, this one to Rafael Devers to double Boston's lead to 8-0, doubling down on Houston's disastrous start to the game.

Odorizzi rebounded with a 1-2-3 third, but with one out in the top of the fourth allowed a solo homer to Kiké Hernández, his third homer of the series so far. He would still get the job done of eating up a few innings, finishing the fourth, and retiring Boston in order in the fifth, giving Houston just four more innings to cover with the rest of their relievers.

Astros get a few runs back

Over that span, Houston did trim the lead by three runs, getting an RBI double by Kyle Tucker and a two-RBI single by Yuli Gurriel in the bottom of the fourth, making it a six-run game at 9-3. Their next reliever was Blake Taylor in the top of the sixth, and he would keep the score where it stood by sitting down the three batters he faced that frame.

The Astros threatened again in the bottom of the sixth, getting two singles to put two aboard, but would come out empty, sending the game on to the seventh, where Taylor would remain on the mound. He faced three more batters, getting two out while allowing a single before Yimi Garcia would come in to get the third out.

Red Sox even the series as it shifts to Boston

Garcia returned in the top of the eighth, getting through that inning despite a walk and hit by pitch, stranding both runners. Boston's bullpen kept Houston from getting any closer in the bottom of the eighth, then Ryne Stanek came in for the Astros in the top of the ninth. Stanek allowed a leadoff double, but with a groundout and double play, held the score at 9-3. Yuli Gurriel and Jason Castro did their part to keep the Astros alive in the bottom of the ninth, each hitting solo homers to make it 9-5, but that's as close as they'd come, dropping Game 2 to tie the series at one game apiece.

Up Next: The ALCS now moves to Boston for the next three games after a day off on Sunday, with Game 3 on Monday at 7:08 PM Central. While the Astros have named Jose Urquidy as their starter, the Red Sox have not yet determined theirs.

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