Bulls

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Frankie O's Blog: A tradition unlike any other

Friday, April 8, 2011
Posted: 9:24 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Hello friends! This time of year always reminds me of the dreams of my childhood. Most of the other kids dreamed of being a fireman or astronaut, for me it was something different. I always wanted to grow up to be Jim Nantz. And since I still havent grown up, maybe theres still a chance! Think of it: This guy (No, not me, yet!) gets a front row seat for three weeks to two of the best sporting events and he does it every year! Although I have to admit, not having to sit courtside and watch the NCAA mens title game might have been a blessing, since while I watched it at home I kept falling asleep. That game took basketball back a few years. Maybe a few dozen.

As I laid in a dreamy daze, with the constant clank of the rim coming out in staccato bursts from my surround sound, drowning out my snoring, I wondered if all the one-and-done players had watered down the talent level of division 1 basketball so much, that this is what were left with. Dont get me wrong, the win or go home drama of the tournament make it must-see TV and the best reality show ever. The fact that all of the best players of college age are in the pros makes some of the college games hard to watch from a pure basketball standpoint. That is if you enjoy watching wide-open players actually making shots. The NCAA has some problems. Im not sure I would get a lot, or ANY, dispute on that. But as long as CBS throws gobs of money at them, and all of us fill out our (losing) brackets, I dont see the NCAA in any hurry to solve any issues. But maybe they should take a look at the Fighting Illinis Jereme Richmond and see if they can learn anything from his brief experience as a student-athlete. Of course, this is if they have any spare time from suspending coaches for NEXT year, while they participate in post-seasons THIS year.

Then Jimbo gets to stroll up Magnolia Lane and sip Arnold Palmers in Butler Cabin. As Ive told anyone who will listen, my Masters experience is probably the sporting event of my lifetime. Watching on TV in this world of Hi-def, is for any fan, completely mesmerizing. Going there in person blows that away. I went there in 2007 and will never forget it. In a world full of hype, few things can measure up. The Masters is one of them. I was on a waiting list for practice rounds tickets for ten long years before I got invited. For me it was important to be invited. I know for many, some of the August National traditions may seem a little country club stuffy, but I think theyre kind of cool. They have their ways and unlike a lot of others theyve earned the right.

One is that they are very proper. Being as such, I didnt want to gate-crash. Ive been offered the opportunity to buy tickets over the years, but that didnt seem right. I wanted to walk in through the front door as an invited guest and not worry about having passes that werent legit. For ten years I sent in my application. Notification of winning is in September, and for nine years my mailbox was empty. Then, I received my application for 2007 in May of 06. In the Masters edition of my Golf World magazine, I read a full page article written by a guy from New Jersey who had been sending in his applications for 10 years before he hit. He wrote of how special it was to spend a day on the grounds with his dad and brothers. The joy in what he was writing jumped from the page. To say I was jealous would be an understatement.

So it was without much expectation when I sent in my application that July. Philly guys always see the worst in any situation. Life moved on and I was immersed in it. Then one day, without even realizing what time of year it was, I went to get the mail. Shining like a beacon, there was a yellow envelope in the middle of all of my junk mail. Once again, I think Im pretty grounded and realistic about what life has to offer and I realize what is important in it. Still, when I opened the letter and saw what it said, you could not wipe the smile off my face. I immediately called my father and buddies to tell them the good news: Were going to Augusta! My wife told me to take the phone outside since I sounded like I was 15. Augusta National! Wow! I dont know if I anticipated going anywhere more. In the sports bucket list, this was at the top. That I had 6 months to think about it made me crazier than normal.

We were going for two days: Tuesday and Wednesday. Tuesday was for exploring every inch of the course. Wednesday was for watching the Par 3 Contest while sitting next to Ikes pond. When making our travel arrangements, we realized that the Final Four was in Atlanta. We were flying there on Monday, the day of the National Title Game. Why not? Even while we were in the Georgia Dome, watching Florida pound Ohio State, (I would normally would have enjoyed this, but our obnoxious suite mates (Thats right! We watched from a suite! Bo-Ya!) were from Florida, and they made it impossible to root for the Gators, so I couldnt cheer for either team.) our thoughts were a hundred miles away.

We arrived in Augusta at 2:00 a.m., but still had to drive by the front gate just to make sure we were really there. Bleary-eyed the next morning at 7:30 a.m., we entered the grounds. It was other-worldly. Things looked familiar, only more brilliant. It was like going back in time. The vibe was awesome. It was like everyone around you was in on it too. The first couple of hours were dizzying. There was so much to take in. Amen Corner, Sixteen, 2.00 beers! After sharing a pimento and cheese sandwich (yuck) for lunch, we did what I have always dreamed of. We walked the course, from the first tee, shot by shot. We met tons of people, were awed by some of the natural beauty and talked to every Marshall we could. Talk about golf encyclopedias! These gentlemen have been there forever and were more than pleased to share stories about what they have seen. After the round we all hugged at the eighteenth green. I will always remember that walk. There was only one thing that could top that and that was the Par 3. The atmosphere was like being at a family picnic. But instead of hanging with your uncles, you got to watch Jack, Arnie and Gary. How cool is that? It was one of those days that you wish would not end. As close to perfect as you good get at a sporting event. Although as you looked around, at everyone you were sharing this time with, you knew it was more than that. Its hard to comprehend, but being there was cooler than I ever thought it would be.

As I watch The Masters I always go back to that time. Each tournament brings a new story that golf fans can cherish. Very rarely can I say that theres been a dull one. I try to watch as much as I can and become riveted with the battles for golfs elite to earn the coveted green jacket. And since 2007 as I watch, its with a smile in my heart, as I remember seeing all that is on the screen before me in person. In 2007 I had a small slice of what my boy Nantz gets to experience every April. He is one lucky dude. And for the time I had, so am I. Now if I could only grow up.

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

ish-smith-1020.jpg
USA TODAY

Bulls defense costs them late but showing 'competitive spirit' a step in right direction

The Bulls defense is nowhere near where it needs to be, and it cost them dearly on Saturday night. But in a season that’s still about seeing progression both individually and collectively, the Bulls took a step in the right direction with their effort and what Fred Hoiberg called “competitive spirit.”

That won’t change the standings when they wake up Sunday morning, now facing an 0-2 hole in the early season. And while better effort and tougher defense helped them stage a second-half comeback they weren’t able to manage on Thursday, it was a defensive miscue that cost them the game.

Ish Smith split a double screen at the top of the key and sliced his way past Jabari Parker for a wide open go-ahead layup with 5.4 seconds left. Zach LaVine, who 20 seconds earlier had tied the game with the last of his 33 points, was unable to get a shot off after a timeout. Better than Thursday for 47 minutes and 50 seconds. But still costing them when it mattered most.

“We can’t give up a layup for the last play,” said LaVine, who was guarding Smith. “We just got to get our defense right. That’s why it’s really upsetting because we played so well, we came back but we can’t give up a layup. We at least have to make him take a tough one. That was as easy a layup as you can get. It’s really upsetting.”

Fred Hoiberg defended his decision to leave Parker in the game instead of inserting rookie Wendell Carter Jr. He opted to ride the group that helped the Bulls erase a fourth-quarter deficit when it appeared the Bulls were spiraling toward another double-digit loss.

But the Pistons were ready to find the weak link in the Bulls defense and expose it, like they did much of the fourth quarter while attacking Parker with Blake Griffin. As the screen was set Parker jumped outside to cut off Smith, who then made a cut inward and made a dash to the rim. Parker was a couple steps late, allowing the 5-foot-9 Smith to score with ease to give the Pistons their lead and the eventual game-winner.

Bobby Portis, whose shot wasn’t falling but played admirable defense against a talent like Griffin, was on the other side of the double screen and didn’t have a great view of the play. But he said allowing a layup with the game on the line is inexcusable.

“It’s a tough play but at the same time you don’t want to give up a layup at the end of the game,” he said. “You want to make him take a tough shot. That’s something we’ve got to work on, is late game execution on defense.”

But again, it’s about baby steps. The Bulls will want that final possession back, and Hoiberg might also want it back after leaving Parker in the game over Carter. But from where the Bulls were on Thursday, this was better. Granted, allowing 118 points and 18 3-pointers to the Pistons isn’t a recipe for success, it’s improvement nonetheless. Detroit got a career-high five triples from Griffin, four from Reggie Jackson (a career 32 percent 3-point shooter) and a pair from Stnaley Johnson (a career 29 percent 3-point shooter). The Bulls will be able to live with some of those makes.

On Thursday the Bulls trailed by just six early in the third quarter before the Sixers ripped off a 19-3 run to put the game out of reach. On Saturday the Pistons got out to a six-point lead on two different occasions, and then a seven-point lead with just 2:01 to play. All three times the Bulls came roaring back, using timely spots and clutch baskets from LaVine, Park and even Cameron Payne, who tied a career-high with 17 points.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough, but it’s a positive sign that they were able to battle back and show some fight defensively. They’ll certainly need that when they travel to Dallas to take on a Mavericks team that scored 140 points on the Jimmy Butler-less Timberwolves on Saturday. They should get Dunn back, which will help,  and now have a close contest under their belt on which to build. It didn’t result in a win, and the late-game cross-up was the cause, but the Bulls finished Saturday in a much better place than they were in on Thursday.

“Yeah but obviously we want to get the win. I feel like we fought hard,” Portis said. “Even when adversity hit everybody stuck together. We did our thing tonight. You want to win the game but I felt like we did our job tonight. We just gave up a bad play at the end of the game.”

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

crawford-1020.jpg
AP

Four takeaways: 'Vintage' Corey Crawford steals two points for Blackhawks

COLUMBUS — Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Saturday:

1. Corey Crawford steals the show

The Blackhawks had no business winning this game. They were being outshot 28-15 through two periods, committed four penalties and gave up 18 high-danger chances in the game. 

But Crawford bailed out his team like he often has done in the past, and was zoned in from the moment the puck dropped. He finished with 37 saves on 38 shots for a save percentage of .974, picking up his first win since Dec. 17, 2017.

"Yeah, I felt good," Crawford said. "I think everyone was playing hard, rebounds, taking away sticks. That was a great effort by everyone."

"He was standing on his head for us," Patrick Kane said. "As Q would say, that’s a goalie win for us."

Said coach Joel Quenneville: "That was vintage Crow."

2. Tic-tac-toe leads to go-ahead goal

The Blue Jackets were clearly the better team through two periods. The Blackhawks were fortunate to go into second intermission with the game still tied at 1-1.

The next goal was crucial, and they got it thanks to a give-and-go play by Brent Seabrook and Kane, who buried home a wide open net to give the Blackhawks a 2-1 lead with 4:14 left in regulation.

Was Kane expecting Seabrook to pass it back?

"No. Not a chance," Kane said laughing. "That’s his wheelhouse, coming right down there. He scores a lot of goals from that area. Saw it was like a 2-on-2, he was coming late, he jumped in the play on the first goal, did a great job, jumped in the play on that goal. Made a great pass. When I saw it come back, I just tried to stay patient, settle it down and make sure I hit the net, because I knew I had the whole open net."

3. Busy night for PK

The Blackhawks penalty kill was very busy. It was also on it's A-game, partly because their best penalty killer was Crawford.

The Blackhawks spent 6:31 of the first 40 minutes killing penalties, allowing 11 shots total on it. But most importantly, they killed off all four penalties.

"We had some tough clears, but I thought we did some good things," Quenneville said. "We withstood some extended PK zone time there and found a way to keep us in the game. Obviously that next goal was huge and that second period was a big part of them having so much zone time, keeping us in our end. We'll say, hey good job, but Crow was the best penalty killer tonight."

4. Catching up with Kane on Artemi Panarin

Kane and Panarin spent only two seasons together, but they brought Blackhawks fans out of their seats on a nightly basis and it was amazing to watch the instant on-ice chemistry they shared. And most of it was non-verbal, which made it even more impressive. They were always on the same wavelength.

"Sometimes it takes time to build some chemistry but that was one of those things where it was like, I don't want to say instant chemistry, but after one or two preseason games we kind of new that maybe something special was going to happen," Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think he scored in his first game in the NHL, we had a really good game, we had the puck a lot, we sensed that this could be a fun way to play hockey."

Off the ice, Kane said Panarin would use Google translate on his phone to communicate while Kane would try using a Russian accent while saying English words.

The two of them got a chance to hang out for a little bit on Friday and Kane still keeps tabs on his former linemate.

"I always really enjoy watching him," Kane said. "If we have an off night or something, he's a really fun player to watch."