June 14, 2010 8:30 AM ET
Phil Cole/Getty Imagesa
The underdogs get ready to make history with some help from England.
In the first World Cup weekend, the Irish found a way to steal the headlines and, ironically, it also involved players dribbling with their hands. Unfortunately for the country of Ireland, we're not talking about soccer. In the NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics took a 3-2 lead and head back to Los Angeles where they’ll try to close out the series so they can raise their 18th banner at the Garden. Kobe Bryant scored 38 points but Paul Pierce responded with 27, leading the Celtics to victory. The Lakers made it close in the 4th quarter, coming within five points, but Ron Artest missed two free-throws and after Rajon Rondo's layup, the Celtics never looked back. Since the advent of the 2-3-2 system, Phil Jackson has never lost a series after winning Game 1, Game 3's winner has never lost the series and the Celtics have never lost after taking a 3-2 lead. Either way, someone's record is about to be broken.
Outside of the NBA, the biggest story of the weekend may have been the United States’ improbable draw against the heavily-favored English. Again, it came down to a controversial hand ball ... kind of. The U.S. defense was badly exposed only four minutes into the first half as Emile Hesky fed an unmarked Steven Gerrard who stroked the ball home to give England an early lead. The Americans equalizer came when Clint Dempsey, 25 yards out and marked by Gerrard, turned and placed an optimistic left-footed shot on goal. The ball bounced, then rolled into goalkeeper Rob Green’s arms – and then kept on rolling over the line as Green desperately tried to stop the ball. Meanwhile America’s keeper, Tim Howard, was outstanding, making stop after stop despite taking a cleat to the ribs. His recovery could play a major role in how far the US team can go in the tournament.
In other World Cup news, Slovenia defeated Algeria on an eerily similar goal-keeping gaffe, as Algerian keeper Faouzi Chaouchi was unable to handle what should have been an easy stop from Slovenian captain Robert Koren. Call it the curse of the Jabulani. The win means that Slovenia takes the lead over England and the U.S. in Group C. The United States play Slovenia on Friday.
Germany absolutely manhandled Australia in Group D, winning their match against the Socerroos 4-0. Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Kose both scored in the first half and any hope Australia had left was lost after captain Tim Cahill was sent off the 55th minute, leaving his teammates to play a man down. Germany, thought by many to be too young and inexperienced to compete in Cup competition, now looks to be one of the favorites after putting in the best performance of group play so far.
Speaking of decimation, lat week it looked like the Big 12 was all but finished after Nebraska and Colorado both announced that they were leaving for the monetarily greener pastures of the Big 10 and Pac-10, respectively. The Pac-10 is expected to extend invitations to Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State and the Mountain West shows interest in Kansas and Missouri. Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe put a brave face on the situation, promoting the conference's enhanced value. But this morning, it appears that the Big 12 might actually survive. It's going to be a wild week.
Not to be outdone, the folks at Major League Baseball had a few highlights of their own. Daniel Nava, a Red Sox rookie, hit a grand slam with his very first swing, Ted Lilly lost a no-hitter in the 9th inning and Stephen Strasburg continues to strikeout lineups with 90mph "off-speed" pitches.
And finally, Rich Franklin earned himself the award for grittiest performance after knocking out Chuck Liddell in the first round of their UFC 115 fight, despite breaking his left arm earlier in the match. Franklin may have knocked Liddell out of the sport for good, as this is Chuck's third straight loss by knockout and likely spells the end of his storied career. Unfortunately for Liddell, there is no group play redemption here.