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PostChampionships Come to Toronto, St Louis (David Duggan, USA, 06/15/19 11:25 am)
WAISers and sports fans the world wide have seen the anomaly of anomalies, that a Canadian team won the NBA championship, and the St. Louis Blues won Lord Stanley's Cup, that's the National Hockey League's title, for those non-cognoscenti. The only connection that I can see between Toronto and St. Louis, other than that John Eipper lives about half-way between the them as the extinct passenger pigeon flies, is that St. Louis once had a basketball team (now the Atlanta Hawks), and that Toronto once had a hockey team, the Maple Leafs, which last won the Stanley Cup before the Blues came into existence.
The Blues were one of six teams added to the NHL before the ‘67-68 season, when the NHL doubled in size. Four of those franchises are still extant (Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and LA Kings), with the California Golden Seals and the Minnesota North Stars going the way of the passenger pigeon, after a brief but unspectacular side trip to Cleveland and merger. Believe it or not, the Blues made the Stanley Cup finals their first three seasons, thanks to a favorable playoff format which required one of the expansion teams to get to the dance. They went 0-12 against the Montreal Canadiens (1968-69) and then the Bobby Orr-led Bruins (1970), on whom they exacted sweet revenge in a not-quite epic Game Seven Wednesday night in Boston. The Blues had a 4-0 lead before the Bruins lit the lamp with time running out.
For most of the last 50 or so years, the Blues were noteworthy only because they were in the way of Chicago's Blackhawks en route to the Stanley Cup because, after a league realignment, they were in the same "Western Conference" for the playoffs. That, plus they had Brett Hull, son of the Golden Jet, who had defected from the Blackhawks when the now-extinct World Hockey Ass'n came into existence. Brett always seemed to step his game up when playing the Blackhawks, perhaps in some revenge-by-proxy-mode given the shabby treatment the Wirtz family gave father Bobby when he defected to the Winnipeg Jets. I don't know whether they named the Winnipeg team for Bobby's nickname, or because a jet is the only way to get there other than a dogsled. There is a Wirtz connection to the Blues: old man Arthur owned the decrepit St. Louis Arena where the Blues would be playing, and this was a way he could unload it.
The Raptors, the pride of 36 million Canadians and Toronto native singer Drake, needed just six games to beat the Golden State Warriors, playing in their last game at Oakland's Oracle Arena before moving across the Bay next season for San Francisco's greener pastures. The Warriors (originally the Philadelphia Warriors of Wilt-the-Stilt fame) had been in the previous four finals, winning three over Cleveland's Cavaliers. But with LeBron James moving to the LA Lakers, the Cavs were non-factors, leaving the door open for the Raptors.
The Warriors had redefined the game of basketball with their 3-point shots, a vestige from the extinct American Basketball Ass'n of the 1970s. Formerly a fringe shot launched from "behind the arc" by a specialist, the "trey" became, with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant, an offensive weapon and strategic choice. Although I have not been able to pull together the statistics from the finals, in the playoffs, Golden State shot an average of 32.8 3-pointers per game, and made 12.2, for 37.2%. By contrast, they shot 86.4 2-pointers and made 41.2 for a 47.7% average. That means that for every 3 point attempt, they averaged more than 1 point, while for every 2-point attempt, they averaged less than 1 point. Return on investment, so to speak, favors the 3. The Raptors were slightly less productive, (44.3% 2-point shooting; 34.3% 3-point), but in the finals, they prevailed with superior inside play, unconventional defenses (box and one, anyone?) and the fact that Durant was injured for much of the series. Aficionados debate whether Durant is a net plus to the Warriors despite his offensive capability (he exceeds Curry in 3-point percentage), because he's a "no-D" when opponents have the ball.
So far as I can tell, basketball is the only projectile team sport with a "degree of difficulty" factor in scoring. I can hit a 200 mph serve up the T in tennis, and it's the same point as if I dink it over the net. A 500' tape measure home run onto Waveland Ave. outside Wrigley Field gives you one run, the same as a walk, stolen base, bunt and sacrifice fly. A 50-yard field goal yields the same 3 points as a 17-yard chip shot. Yeah, I know that the 3 is a crowd-pleaser and gives life to one-dimensional players (sorta like the designated hitter in baseball), but for us purists, it detracts from the play-making that at one time made basketball interesting. Now it's just a circus act.
In all events, hail to the Blues and the Raptors. They'll be dancing in the streets in St. Louis and Toronto for nights to come. Maybe they'll start a line dance and meet outside John's home.
JE comments: It's a tad farther to St Louis (8 hours by car) than Toronto (5 hours barring a snarl at the border), but I'd be willing to host the Blues and Raptors at WAIS HQ if they want to meet. Bring that unwieldy Cup! It would look great on my kitchen counter.
I had to check, and yes, Toronto still has a hockey team. David Duggan is merely reminding us that the Maple Leafs have stunk up the game for half a century.