Sports Roundup: Basketball, Boxing And Euro Soccer

Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon talks with NPR's Tom Goldman about the NBA playoffs, Manny Pacquiao's fight and the Euro 2012 soccer competition.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And there won't be a Triple Crown winner this year. But it's still a weekend for major matchups of all kinds, with Nadal and Djokovic, LeBron James and the Boston Celtics, and the peerless Manny Pacquiao in action. NPR Sports Correspondent Tom Goldman joins us.

Morning, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: But let's begin with the six Seattle Mariner pitchers who combined to throw a no-hitter against the L.A. Dodgers last night. Remarkable, unconventional - what do we make of it?

GOLDMAN: Team effort. How about that for a team effort?

SIMON: There is no I in team, Tom.

GOLDMAN: That's right. Right. The starter Kevin Millwood pitched six innings of no-hit ball, but then he left with a groin injury. And then the five relievers who followed him were just as sharp. It was quite a feat against the Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball and a very good hitting team.

And it was a funny scene at the end. You know, how players mob a pitcher after that last out of a no-hitter? Well, it's hard to hug all six guys at once. So the catcher chose Tom Wilhelmsen. He was the pitcher who closed the game. Catcher said he jumped on Wilhelmsen and shouted, That's a no-hitter. And the pitcher said, Huh? But everyone soon understood.

SIMON: Where have you been? Look, tonight, the NBA Eastern Finals, deciding game 7, Miami and the Celtics. The Celtics against LeBron James. This has all the makings of a classic suddenly.

GOLDMAN: An epic. An elimination game for both teams. The Heat, in particular, are facing a reputation-defining moment for a second straight game. So far, with no titles after promising many, they are an unmet expectation. And no one carries that burden more than LeBron James. And no one shook off that burden so masterfully as he did Thursday night.

SIMON: But a seventh game's a different kind of pressure.

GOLDMAN: It is, you know. But they faced it in game six, because if the Heat lost they were done. LeBron had 45 points, 14 rebounds, five assists. It may be unrealistic to do that twice in three nights. But, Scott, we saw a different LeBron Thursday night. There was no posturing after his superhuman feats. He was stonefaced, all business. And perhaps a credit to Heat coach Eric Spoelstra, who's been taking tons of criticism.

LeBron was getting the ball closer to the basket, making it easier for him to execute some pretty difficult shots. If that LeBron shows up again, he can get close to that and the Heat could be OK. The Celtics are a superior defensive team. You know they're going to zero in on him, so his teammates really need to pick up the slack, which they didn't on Thursday.

SIMON: Who do you see as being a better opponent for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the finals?

GOLDMAN: You know, all due credit to the Celtics. They are savvy enough to make it interesting, especially with point guard Rajon Rondo driving that bus. But the Heat have more ability to match OKC's explosiveness. There's also this continuing drama/soap opera of LeBron James chasing that first ring that'll make for a great story. No matter who comes out of the east, though, Scott, the Thunder are looking very strong.

SIMON: Quickly now, Congressman Pacquiao has a fight tonight, a welterweight title tonight in Las Vegas against Timothy Bradley, who's reportedly young and hungry. Is he just going to be young and deflated after tonight?

GOLDMAN: You know, there's a lot of talk that he could take this. He's a good counter-puncher, quick, very talented. And he's facing a 33-year-old Pacquiao who looked vulnerable in his last fight seven months ago. Pacquiao won, but some fans at that fight booed the decision. At the time, Pacquiao was having marital problems, living too much of the high life. Since then, reportedly, he's recommitted himself to religion. He's cleaned up his act. He's found some peace, but not too much peace. He says he...

SIMON: He's still a boxer.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, exactly.

SIMON: Finally, tomorrow a heavyweight tennis match in the men's singles at the French Open. For the fourth straight Grand Slam tournament, we have Rafa Nadal of Spain and Novak Djokovic of Serbia. Who's got the edge here on clay?

GOLDMAN: This is a fabulous matchup. And this is really tough. You know, Rafa is going for his record seventh French Open win. Djokovic is trying to become the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win four straight Grand Slam tournaments.

Djokovic is the LeBron of tennis right now. The best player on the planet. Rafa has Paris red clay in his blood. And through six matches in Paris, he hasn't lost a set. He's only lost 35 games. Really tough. I'm going to do this scientifically. Nadal is left-handed. I'm left-handed.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: It's got to be Nadal.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Oh, my god. So Djokovic won't ever see it coming, right, from that side of the court.

GOLDMAN: Right.

SIMON: Thank you very much, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

SIMON: NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman.

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