Sports: Ice, Hoops And Rackets
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And I wait all week to say: time for sports.
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SIMON: The Stanley Cup finals are set - left versus right, a frequent flier bonanza. The NBA playoffs feature a thrilling matchup between Texas and Oklahoma, the Old Hands versus the Young Guns. And tennis, red, dusty and with a side of frites - the French Open opens. Here to talk about all of it, NPR Tom Goldman,
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Good day to you, Scott, which is what they're saying in New Jersey today. Good day.
SIMON: Good day. Good day.
GOLDMAN: Good day.
SIMON: And put another prawn on the barbie. Listen, so let's start. The Devils stamped their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1903 - no, 2003, defeating those hoity-toity Manhattanite New York Rangers. How did they do it?
GOLDMAN: Tied 2-2, about a minute into overtime there was a scramble in front of the New York net. The puck got loose. Devils rookie Adam Henrique tapped it into unleash the celebration Jersey-style.
SIMON: But now they've got to play what might be the hottest team in any sport right now, and that's the L.A. Kings. What do you look for in that matchup?
GOLDMAN: Two very good goaltenders - veteran Martin Brodeur for the Devils, Jonathan Quick has been outstanding for L.A., which seems to be our team of destiny here, Scott. L.A. is an eighth seed, that's the lowest. It's been beaten the top three seeds in its conference on the way to the finals. The first for the Kings since 1993. Four of the possible seven games are in Newark, but that suits L.A. fine. The Kings have won eight straight games on opponent's ice. That's an NHL playoff record.
SIMON: Now, let's turn to the NBA, because Eastern Conference finals, Miami, of course, is waiting for the winner of tonight's Boston versus Philadelphia game 7. We will note, Tom, LeBron and D Wade sure took our instructions seriously, right. Got their acts together.
GOLDMAN: Sure did.
SIMON: The Western Conference finals are set and it has some of the potentials of a classic. We have the young, very talented Oklahoma City Thunder, who haven't been there before, against the can we say gracefully aging San Antonio Spurs, who have almost unheralded won four world championships.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. And they're playing great basketball. Let me say this about age. You know, everyone thinks that the Spurs is old and grizzled - or mature - largely because of their defining players. Tim Duncan's 36, Manu Ginobili, 34, Tony Parker, 30. In fact, their average age for the starting lineup is 28, which is considered in your prime in the NBA. Hopefully not in public radio.
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GOLDMAN: But, Scott, the rooting interest for this series breaks down along generational lines. Tweeters want OKC. Those who pine for rotary phones want the Spurs.
SIMON: How do you look for this to play out, because both teams are used to dominating offensively. They're also very good defensive teams.
GOLDMAN: Boy, it's tough. A case for the Spurs. They're 29-2 over the last 31 games, including eight straight in the playoffs. San Antonio is executing its half court offense to perfection much of the time. You know, there always seems to be a next pass the Spurs make to find the player positioned to take the best shot. And point guard Tony Parker is having the best year of his career. He's pushing the tempo so the Spurs are running as well.
Now, a case for the Thunder. They have not shown their age in the playoffs. Their starting lineup averages a little over 24 years old. They showed great poise in knocking out Dallas and the Lakers in the first two rounds. And they have those dangerous offensive players - Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, sixth man James Harden, who can rain down jump shots or break down a defense with slashing drives to the hoop.
San Antonio's home court advantage, that may be key, Scott.
SIMON: Speaking of Tony Parker, who's French - how's this for a segue?
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SIMON: French Open's on those clay courts tomorrow. Rafael Nadal has won six of the past seven years. Is he one of these players like Bjorn Borg, Chris Evert-Lloyd who just has the knack to win on clay?
GOLDMAN: Oh, yeah. He's so good. He's won six of the last seven. He can break the record he shares with Borg for most French Open singles titles this year. And he comes in having great recent success on clay. He and Novak Djokovic, who Nadal has beaten the last two times they've played, those are the top two seeds in Paris. If they play it'll be in the finals.
SIMON: And who do you see in the women's side?
GOLDMAN: You know, some familiar names doing quite well. Serena Williams is 17-0 on clay this season. Maria Sharapova once described herself as a cow on ice when she plays on clay. This year, she's been more like Michelle Kwan on ice - 12-1 on clay this year, including a recent win over reigning French Open champ, Li Na of China.
SIMON: NPR's Tom Goldman. Thanks so much.
GOLDMAN: You are welcome.
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