WHAT A GAME! WHAT A TEAM! WHAT A SPORT!

 

Cory Vitarelli’s spectacular behind-the-back goal was No. 4 on ESPN SportsCenter’s list of theTop 10 Plays on a busy Saturday of national sports.

 

I wonder where his Rochester Knighthawks’ victory over the Calgary Roughnecks ranks among the all-time great games in our city’s proud sports history.

 

Fourth-or-higher? Time will tell. Let’s wait to let this sink in.

 

The ingredients for a sports classic:

 

The best players in the world in an underappreciated sport (by most of the world).

 

The prize: The Champion’s Cup, the National Lacrosse League’s coveted piece of hardware.

 

The assignment: After losing Game 1 in Calgary a week earlier, the Knighthawks had to win the regulation game Saturday night to force a 10-minute overtime period to determine the champion.

 

The atmosphere: 9,000-plus fans poured into Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. There were lots of entertainment options outdoors on this clear final night of May. The folks who chose to root for the Knighthawks were in a festive. Many wore Knighthawks gear. They were loud. The national TV audience had to be impressed.

 

The action: The game was fast-paced and physical. Many of the players on both teams brought their A games. There were acrobatic goals and saves. It was an impressive mix of offense and defense. Finesse and muscle.

 

The drama: After Rochester won Game 2 by a 16-10 score, Calgary led the 10-minute mini-game 2-0 with less than three minutes remaining, the Knighthawks appeared doomed. Most of the fans probably were thinking about where to drown their sorrows…Then local hero Joe Walters and Craig Point worked magic, using their lacrosse sticks as wands. Point scored off a perfect pass from Walters at 7:46 to cut the gap to 2-1. Walters then scored to tie the game 2-2 at 8:37. Then Point scored the go-ahead goal at 9:01 to cap the unlikely comeback. Goaltender Matt Vincweathered Calgary’s frantic final assault.

 

It was a genuine team effort for Rochester. Dan Dawson (3 goals and 5 assists for the evening), still hurting from the upper-body injury that kept him out of the Game 1 loss in Calgary, was selected MVP of the championship game. It could’ve been Cody Jamieson, or Walters, or clutch-shooting Point, or Vinc, or a hard-nosed defender.

 

What a game. What a sport.

 

The historical significance: Rochester became the first team in NLL history to win three straight championships.  The Knighthawks also became the first team in Rochester’s long and proud sports history to win three straight playoff titles. The Red Wings, Amerks, Lancers, Raiders, Zeniths, etc., never did that.

 

The 2015 Knighthawks will have a tough act to follow and they’ll be a bigger target than ever for the eight other teams in this well-balanced league. Owner-GM Curt Styres probably already is plotting how to four-peat.

 

HEAT IN SIX IS THE PICK

 

The raw stats for the 2013-14 regular season suggest why the San Antonio Spurs are slight favorites to beat the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in the NBA Finals starting Thursday night in San Antonio:

 

The Spurs had the better record (62-20 to 54-28) and point differential (+7.7 to +4.8). San Antonio also was much better on the road (30-11) than Miami (22-19). The Spurs have a better bench. Gregg Popovich arguably is the best coach//manager in sports today.

 

And the great Tim Duncan, arguably the best power forward in NBA history and still going strong at age 38, who generally lets his play do his talking, undoubtedly inspired his teammates by saying, “It’s unbelievable to regain that focus after that devastating loss that we had last year. But we’re back here. We’re excited about it. We’ve got four more to win. We’ll do it this time.”

 

But here are the reasons why my pick is Miami in six games:

 

Spurs star point guard Tony Parker has a sore left ankle.

 

The Heat was more concerned with resting Dwyane Wade during the regular season than competing for the league’s best record.

 

The Spurs have the home-court advantage but I don’t think there will be a Game 7. I believe there is a better chance that the Heat can win a game in San Antonio than the Spurs can win a game in Miami.

 

And – most of all – LeBron James has never been better. He’s arguably the best all-around player in NBA history. At this stage of his career – and considering his current supporting cast – I don’t think any team in the league can beat him in a best-of-seven series.

 

RED WINGS ARE ON A SERIOUS ROLL

 

The Rochester Red Wings have bounced back quite nicely from that brutal eight-game road losing streak last month that dropped them four games below .500.

 

Check out these numbers: 15-4 in their last 19 games…International League-best 21-9 at home, including 15-3 in the last 18 games.

 

The Wings are 31-24 overall and it looking more and more that this will be a fun summer at Frontier Field.

 

Amazingly, Rochester is playing terrific baseball despite a slow start by the team’s best hitter  -- Chris Colabello is 2-for-21 (.095), with two singles, since returning from the Minnesota Twins – and some poor starts by the team’s most-established Triple-A stating pitcher – Scott Diamond is 2-6 with a 7.51 ERA.

 

Two other veteran hitters have struggled: Brad Nelson (.194) and Chris Rahl (.204). They’re better than that.

 

Director of Communications Tim Doohan supplies these amazing stats: Over the last 20 games, Rochester starting pitchers are 12=4 with a 1.87 ERA. Subtract Diamond’s last three starts and the team’s starters – Kiris Johnson, Trevor May, Alex Meyer , Yohan Pino and Logan Darnell – have a 0.99 ERA since May 12.

 

Rochester’s 3.10 ERA is the best in all of Triple-A. The Red Wigs’ .266 team batting average ranks 2nd in the 14-team IL and they’ve outscored opponents 222-194 (+28).

 

BASEBALL’S HOT AND NOT SO HOT

 

Boston has 7 straight wins after losing 10 straight.

 

Texas leads MLB with 11 shutouts pitched.

 

Toronto is 17-4 in its last 21 games.

 

San Francisco is 5-1 in its last 6 games, has an NL-best 37-20 record, is 6-0 vs. the AL and 6-1 in extra innings.

 

Nelson Cruz (Baltimore) leads MLB with 20 HRs and 52 RBI. Not a bad free-agent signing.

 

Chris Sale (White Sox) has allowed 2 earned runs in his last 25 innings and has a 1.59 ERA this season. AL All-Star Game starter?

 

Phil Hughes (Minnesota) is 6-1, with 6 straight wins, including 7-2 at the Yankees Sunday. He was 4-14, 5.19 ERA with the Yankees last season.

 

Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto) tied Mickey Mantle’s AL record with 16 HRs in May and hit another HR Sunday.

 

The Yankees are 4-9 in their last 13 home games.

 

Colorado finished a 2-7 road trip and has lost 4 straight games for the first time since last September.

 

Washington is 4-26 when it scores fewer than 4 runs, 6-11 in one-run games and 1-5 in extra innings.

 

Florida, after starting 20-7 at home, has lost 4 straight home games.

 

2013 AL Rookie of the Year Wil Myers hits the DL with a .227 batting average, 5 HRs and 25 RBI in 53 games.

 

Kansas City is 4-12 in one-run games.

 

FINE TIME TO BE A PRO SPORTS FAN IN LOS ANGELES

 

The Los Angeles Kings will play the New York Rangers for the Stanley Cup and the Los Angeles Dodgers are the most-talented team in baseball. The Los Angeles Clippers – assuming Donald Sterling is erased from the picture – should be a contender for the NBA title this season. California Chrome is based in southern California.

 

These are good times to be a pro sports fan in Los Angeles.

 

Los Angeles should be having fun. They have twice as many pro teams in baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer than most other cities have.

 

But Los Angeles has zero NFL teams. That has to hurt. It must be painful to listen to all of the reasons why the nation’s second-largest market has no pro football team and apparently will not for a long time.

 

SHORT SHOTS

 

American Hockey League Calder Cup playoffs update: Eastern Conference finals,  St. John’s IceCaps lead Wilkes-Barre/Scranton 3-2; game 6 Tuesday at St. John’s…Western Conference finals, Texas Stars lead Toronto Marlies 3-2; Game 6 Monday at Texas…Home teams are only 34-31.

 

Where do you rank Tim Duncan among the NBA’s all-time power forwards? He’s No. 1 in my book. The competition includes Charles Barkley,  Kevin Garnett, Elvin Hayes,  Karl Malone, Kevin McHale, Dirk Nowitzki, Bob Pettit, and new-wave stars Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin. They’re all excellent but none have Duncan’s collection of individual and team accomplishments. He’d never campaign for this distinction.

 

California Chrome goes for the Triple Crown Saturday in the Belmont Stakes. His 77-year-old trainer, Art Sherman, conservative by nature, is more confident entering this race than he was before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. He doesn’t think any horse should run three times in five weeks, but he believes his colts can do it.

 

Tuesday is the first anniversary of Yasiel Puig’s debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers: June 3, 2013, he was 2-for-4. He was 3-for-4 the next game. It was no fluke. His performance line for the equivalent of his first full season: 156 games; .329 batting average (191-for-581); 36 doubles; 5 triples; 30 HRs; 82 RBI; 76 walks; 123 strikeouts; 16-for-28 stolen bases…He’s already a star and should be a superstar soon.