Saturday, December 16, 2017

Tom Jones' Two Cents: Slam-dunk coverage of Durant facing Thunder

Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from the weekend in televised sports.

Best coverage

Saturday night's Golden State-Oklahoma City game on ABC was the most entertaining sporting event in quite some time.

Strange to say that when it was just one of 1,230 regular-season NBA games and it wasn't even close in the second half.

Two things made it special: the intriguing story line and ABC's near-perfect coverage of it. The story was Kevin Durant returning to OKC for the first time after spending eight seasons there and leaving in free agency for Golden State last year.

ABC/ESPN was all over it. Intuitive direction made sure viewers didn't miss the reaction of everyone — from Durant, to his former best buddy (OKC's Russell Westbrook), to, especially, the fans who booed and antagonized Durant incessantly all night. The entire broadcast was built around this one thing, and that's exactly how it should have been. Nothing else mattered, not even the outcome.

During the third quarter, when Westbrook started jawing with Durant, exquisite camerawork captured both men. The whole night — from shots of the crowd to the announcing of Mike Breen, Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy — was must-see TV.

Now, to the story. After months of supporting Durant and his decision, I now think what he did was weak. Durant certainly earned the right to leave via free agency, but it was kind of a punk move to go to OKC's chief rival, especially after he failed to deliver an NBA title to OKC. You can understand why OKC fans felt betrayed. You also can understand Westbrook's hurt feelings, especially because Durant hasn't reached out to Westbrook since leaving.

"It is a big deal,'' Jackson said during the broadcast. "(Durant) owes Russell Westbrook a phone call. If you're brothers and you love him and you left it on the floor … it's a tough phone call to make, but it's a call you have to make.''

All of Saturday, was delicious and ABC/ESPN made the most of it all weekend. The audience agreed: It was the highest-rated non-Christmas Day regular-season NBA game since 2013.

Biggest move

Last week Bob Costas (top left) stepped down as prime-time host of NBC's Olympic broadcasts and turned the torch over to Mike Tirico (bottom left). It's admirable of Costas to step aside, though he still is the gold standard of hosts. He has hosted 11 Olympics and, at the age of 64, certainly could have kept going.

Then again, it's not the job it used to be. The role of the prime-time host as diminished significantly over the years. These days, the hosts do little more than play traffic cop, setting up the next event.

The good news for us is Costas is going to spend more time on his first love, baseball. Look for increased presence and, frankly, better work from him at MLB Network, because he can get more into the rhythm that baseball requires.

As far as Tirico, he's terrific and will do fine as Olympic host, but shouldn't Dan Patrick have been in line for this? Maybe Patrick didn't want the gig, though I can't imagine that he didn't.

Best criticism

Announcers are too hesitant to rip game officials because they understand better than most how difficult the job is. But it was refreshing and appropriate when ESPN College GameDay's Rece Davis and analyst Jay Bilas blasted officials for two horrible calls that helped VCU win two games last week. The best was Bilas pointing out how ridiculous it is to get away with drawing fouls by sneaking a player behind a defender guarding an inbound pass so the defender runs into him.

Best debut

Solid start for Jemele Hill (near right) and Michael Smith (far right) on ESPN's new weeknight SportsCenter, nicknamed "The Six.'' The revamped SportsCenter is high on analysis and interviews, and low on highlights. That's fine, especially because Hill and Smith bring an interesting perspective.

This show isn't everyone's cup of tea because it is different and geared toward a younger demographic. If you like Hill and Smith, you'll like the show. If you don't, you won't.

I like both, especially Hill, who has become one of ESPN's most thoughtful commentators. Smith has a tendency to get too amped, and the louder he gets, the less thoughtful his remarks are. But when he's measured, this show is outstanding.

What's impressive is that the show is this good only a week into it. As the hosts get more reps and add more elements, the show will get even better.

Worst criticism

Want to know why FS1's Undisputed is a joke? Last week co-host Shannon Sharpe (above) said the Falcons should have fired coach Dan Quinn after Atlanta made the wrong kind of history by blowing a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. Even Skip Bayless, the one who usually says the stupid stuff on that show, was incredulous. When you say completely foolish things like that, it's hard to take the show seriously.

Best media transactions

Deadspin is reporting that the best NBA reporter alive, Adrian Wojnarowski, is working on a deal to leave Yahoo Sports to join ESPN.

Speaking of ESPN, it has hired recently retired Yankees star Mark Teixeira as a studio analyst.

And speaking of that: Whatever happened to former ESPN baseball analyst John Kruk? He's headed back to his old team, the Phillies. He will call 80 or so games for CSN Philadelphia.

About his time at ESPN, Kruk told CSN Philly: "I'm not big on meetings. We had a lot of them up there. A whole bunch. Incessant phone calls. I didn't answer most.''

That explains why he wasn't the best analyst ESPN ever had.

Three things that popped into my head

1 This week ESPN will do its annual switch of having NBA analysts do college games and college analysts do NBA games. Hey, ESPN, this is among the crummiest ideas you've ever had and the broadcasts are terrible.

2 Ugliest moment of the weekend: the disgusting slash to the face by the Red Wings' Gustav Nyquist on the Wild's Jared Spurgeon on Sunday. Good for NBC analyst Mike Milbury to call for a lengthy suspension.

3 This will make you feel old. Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski turns 70 today.


Boys basketball: Lakewood 45, Gibbs 44

ST. PETERSBURG — Once the lights dimmed in the gymnasium and the capacity crowd dispersed, Lakewood coach Anthony Lawrence spotted Gibbs coach Larry Murphy strolling past the the bleachers."Hey, Murph. Do we have to do this every time?" Lawrenc...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

Boys basketball: Nature Coast 78, Central 29

BROOKSVILLE – Once again supporting its place as the top program in Hernando County, Nature Coast maintained its undefeated record in a dominant win over rival Central.While the Bears were able to upset the Sharks to win the Class 6A, District ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Girls basketball: Plant 66, Steinbrenner 31

LUTZ — Here's some discouraging news for any team that has to play Plant this season or in the next few seasons: The Panthers beat Steinbrenner 66-31 Friday night. Of those 66 points, 48 were scored by a sophomore and two freshmen.Freshman powe...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

Boys basketball: Plant City 79, Tampa Bay Tech 74

TAMPA — Traveling to play at Tampa Bay Tech is a test for any area basketball team these days because the Titans are tough and the crowd is loud.Plant City prepared for all of the above, answered most of the questions and passed the exam Friday...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody has Jameis Winston’s back more than Dirk Koetter, offensive coordinator Todd Monken insists

Nobody is a bigger supporter of Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston than head coach Dirk Koetter.That was the passionate message that offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken unloaded at his news conference Friday, saying that reports that Winst...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

Westbrook, Embiid put on show in triple OT thriller

PHILADELPHIA — Russell Westbrook had 27 points, 17 rebounds and 15 assists, and the Thunder and the 76ers went basket-for-basket in a three-overtime thriller before Oklahoma City pulled out a 119-117 victory Friday night. Andre Roberson scored the wi...
Updated: 3 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Dec. 15

Friday’s scoreboardGirls soccerCountryside 7, Clearwater 0Osceola 9, Bradenton Bayshore 0Palm Harbor U. 2, Plant 1Boys soccerPalm Harbor U. 0, Plant 0Lennard 4, Armwood 1
Updated: 4 hours ago

Saturday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYBoxingMiddleweights: Lemieux vs. Saunders9:30 p.m.HBOCollege basketballButler vs. PurduenoonFoxMiami at George WashingtonnoonCBSSNLouisville vs. MemphisnoonESPN2Detroit vs. MichigannoonESPNUNC-Greensboro at N.C. StatenoonFSFSeton Hall at Rutgers...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

Ryan Callahan out at least 3-4 weeks for Lightning

When Lightning wing Ryan Callahan took a nasty spill into the boards Thursday night, it didn't look good.Turns out, it wasn't. Callahan will be sidelined indefinitely with an upper body injury, evaluated after three to four weeks, per GM Steve Yzerma...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

Rangers hold off Pacific-leading Kings

NEW YORK — Rick Nash scored the tiebreaking goal with 3:27 left to lead the Rangers to a 4-2 victory over the Pacific Division-leading Kings on Friday night. Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller scored to help New York win for the second time i...
Updated: 4 hours ago