Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Throwbackz: Bay State Blues

Both teams played hard, but the Lakers prevailed.
Fans of Boston sports teams have been living a dream over the past 10 years as the Boston Red Sox, Boston Celtics, and New England Patriots have all won championships in the past decade.  That is very impressive considering that in the 1990s there were zero championships and only two finals appearance (the Boston Bruins in '90 and the Patriots in '97).  But since the Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals for the 17th championship in franchise history, the Mass. teams have been an "0"-fer, and have experienced some pretty agonizing losses . . .
- The 2009-10 Boston Celtics started the season on fire, going 23-5 through Christmas Day '09.  After that, the C's went 27-27, finishing the season as the 4th seed in the Eastern Conference, and many pundits anticipating an early exit from the playoffs.  But the veteran team led by All-Stars Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Rajon Rondo swept through Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in the first round before stunning league MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- who had an NBA best 61-21 record -- in the second round, and rolling past Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.  The Finals matched the Celtics with their historic rival Los Angeles Lakers for the 12th time in NBA history and the second time in three years.  The C's took a 3-2 series lead on the Lakers after winning Game 5 in Boston and would have to head back to L.A. to close out.  The Lakers stomped the Celtics by 22 points in Game 6, but Boston was in control for most of Game 7, leading by as many as 13 points.  But the Lakers rallied late in the 4th quarter behind the home crowd to defend the NBA crown with an 83-79 win.

Pedroia won the 2008 AL MVP -- but no championship.
- The 2008 Boston Red Sox were coming off a high of winning the '07 World Series, their second championship in four years after suffering a rather painfully unforgettable 86 year drought.  The team got off to an average start, and turmoil in the clubhouse led to perennial All-Star outfielder Manny Ramirez to be traded away at the trade deadline in exchange for Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jason Bay.  However, the new look Red Sox flourished in the second half of the season -- thanks to an MVP season by second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and a breakout year for first baseman Kevin Youkilis -- and earned the American League Wild Card playoff berth with a record of 95-67.  After defeating the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 3-1 in the American League Division Series, Boston went on to face the AL East Division champion Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Championship Series.  The upstart Rays had posed a problem for the Sox all year as Boston finished the regular season with an 8-10 record against them.  But the Red Sox were a veteran team in the postseason with the young Rays making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.  Starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka and the rest of the Boston pitching staff silenced the Tampa Bay lineup in Game 1 of the ALCS in St. Petersburg, FL, holding them to a four-hit shutout in a 2-0 win.  But the Rays were just warming up.  Tampa went on to score nine runs in each of the next two games and 13 in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.  The Red Sox didn't quit.  Clutch hitting provided by designated hitter David Ortiz and outfielder J.D. Drew, and solid pitching from starter Josh Beckett, led to two victories while pushing the series to a decisive Game 7.  Red Sox Nation was confident they would get the win since the BoSox fell behind 3-1 in the 2007 ALCS against the Cleveland Indians and cameback to take the series and were behind 3-0 to the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS before completing a historic turnaround.  But the Boston lineup was shut down by a dominant performance from Rays pitcher Matt Garza to start the game and David Price to close it, falling 3-1 at Tropicana Field in St. Pete's.

Boston fans know 3-0 series comebacks from both sides.
- The 2009-10 Boston Bruins ended the regular season as the 6-seed in the Eastern Conference of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and aspirations of making a run to the Finals for the first time in 20 years.  The Bruins, led by captain defenseman Zdeno Chara, veteran winger Mark Recchi, and goaltender Tuukka Rask  -- a rookie netminder filling in for injured 2008-09 Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas -- carved the 3-seed Buffalo Sabres 4-2 in the Eastern quarterfinals and moved on to face the Philadelphia Flyers in the semis, as the 7th seed Flyers knocked off the second-seeded New Jersey Devils in a quarterfinals that also saw the top-seeded Washington Capitals fall to the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens.  Boston showed no signs of being upset by Philly though, taking a 3-0 lead.  Things turned for the Bruins when star forward David Krecji went down with an injury in the Game 3 victory, and Flyer forward Simon Gagne returned from the M*A*S*H* unit in Game 4.  Gagne scored the overtime game-winner in his first game back helping the Flyers stave off elimination at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.  The Bruins dropped the next two games and saw themselves squarely on the brink of disaster heading into Game 7 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.  Anxiety of an epic collapse were quelled early in the game though as winger Michael Ryder scored the opening goal for the B's followed by two goals by Milan Lucic for 3-0 Boston advantage.  However, the Flyers chipped away at the lead and tied the game in the second period before Gagne scored the game-winner for Philly with just over 7 minutes left in regulation and the Bruins lost 4-3 in the game and the series.  It was the first time in 35 years of hockey that a team blew a 3-0 series lead and only the fourth time in sports history.

Brady is 14-5 career in the playoffs; 0 for the last 3.
- Tom Brady and the 2009 New England Patriots had an off year by their standards finishing the season with a 10-6 record and a Wild Card playoff 33-14 beatdown by the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA; Brady's first career home playoff loss.  The 2010 Pats came in with optimism as wide receiver Wes Welker returned from a season-ending knee injury suffered in the last regular season game of the '09 season and with the NFL's youngest defense becoming a year older.  Star receiver Randy Moss was traded away after Week 4 but the offense didn't sputter.  The Pats acquired wide receiver Deoin Branch -- a former Super Bowl MVP in New England -- from the Seattle Seahawks and rookie tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez continued their productivity along with the emergence of running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and waiver acqisition Danny Woodhead.  After a stunning loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 9, the Patriots went on a remarkable run to end the regular season, going 8-0 in a streak that included zero New England turnovers and victories over three eventual division champions (Pittsburgh Steelers, Chicago Bears, Indianapolis Colts) and a 45-3 romp over its division rival New York Jets on December 6th.  The Jets got by the Colts in the AFC Wildcard playoffs and geared up for a rematch against the Patriots in the Divisional playoffs with the entire week leading up to the game fueled by vicious trash-talk.  With all the talking going on, mostly from the Jets' side, Patriots players and fans wanted nothing more than to shut up coach Rex Ryan and the boastful Jets squad with a victory on the field.  New York talked the talk and walked the walk though as they grinded out a 28-21 win to advance to the AFC Championship game for the second straight year.

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