RIP Henry Hill, master fixer....

Henry Hill passed away yesterday, one day after his 69th birthday.  He is most commonly associated with having been a major part of the Lucchese Crime Family between the 60s and 80s, before he famously turned informant in the early 80s.  While Hills was notorious for many crimes which were detailed in Wiseguy and the movie Good Fellas, one thing I didn't know about until recently was Hill's involvement in the Boston College point shaving scandal of the 1978-79 season.  This year, I got back into sports betting (mostly unsuccessfully, so far) and I was curious as to what the major point shaving scandals had been in college over the years.  I was happy to find that there have been very few in recent years, but more than a little surprised to find Hill's name attached to the Boston College scandal.  I have watched Good Fellas several times in my life and the only mention I remember of this is Hill going to visit "his Pittsburgh guys" a lot before he turned rat.  That was around the time that he (along with the help of Rocco and Tony Perla and Paul Mazzei) helped convince Rick Kuhn to recruit a couple of his teammates to get in on the scheme.  Kuhn in turn got teammate Jim Sweeney to join in on the fix.  Sweeney was a good, straight shooter so nobody would ever expect him to be involved with the fix.  From the get go, Sweeney claims to never have wanted to be involved and he claims throughout the book that he didn't do anything to "fix" these games.  Remember, many times in point shaving a team doesn't have to lose the game they simply have to not cover the spread.  There was approximately 9 games involved in the point shaving scandal and with as many people involved of course things weren't going to go as planned.  In fact, after the test game failed the gangsters also recruited Boston College's leading score Ernie Cobb.  Cobb also claims his innocence quite a bit, although he did accept a large sum of money at one point or another.  I don't know if it was because of the scouts knowledge of the point shaving or him being only 5'10", but Cobb didn't get drafted until 109th overall in the 1979 draft.  The league still had ten rounds back then.  Nobody else from this team ever sniffed the league.  This was the last major college basketball point shaving scandal, although there were a few others.  I don't want to give every detail of the book out because it is a good read if you're into sports betting or the mafia, but I will mention one extremely funny part to visualize.  During one of the fixed games, Rick Kuhn's girlfriend got tickets for a bunch of the mafia people that were involved with the fix.  The problem was that these seats were in the student section, you know the one you always see on TV where the students are all fired up.  Now, this wasn't a game Boston College won and every time the other team was scoring here these guys were celebrating and high fiving each other.  I can only imagine what a scene that would be now.  If you don't have the time to read a whole book that is basically a blow by blow account of a whole season, you can check out the article ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL .  Of course, Hill did tell three different stories to SI, the FBI, and a Grand Jury, but the Fix was definitely in during the 1978-79 season. 


Backtrack, Death Camp, more at the Bug Jar next Wednesday....


Criticize this!

When LeBron James and Chris Bosh teamed up with Dwyane Wade for the 2010-11 season, they immediately set the bar REALLY HIGH for themselves.  After their over the top, extremely premature celebration, they left their fans (and many others) thinking the rest of the league was going to fall over in their presence and let them win those titles.  For a large portion of the playoffs last season, that appeared to be the case.  Eventually, the Mavericks prevailed and LeBron James became a running punchline for (mostly casual) NBA fans throughout the offseason and for much of this season.  This season, it was clear it would be championship or bust for this Miami Heat organization.  Though they had their shares of ups and downs in this shortened season, the Heat once again found themselves on the cusp of returning to the NBA Finals with another chance to prove their critics wrong.  The Heat even jumped out to a 2-0 lead in this series, including a game two that the Celtics easily could have won.  It is the playoffs though and things can change in a hurry if you're not careful.  The Spurs hadn't lost a single playoff game (or ANY of their previous 20) before last Thursday.  In the blink of an eye, the young Thunder rolled all over them and took the next four to put themselves into their first NBA Finals since the Supersonics era (sorry Seattle).  Much like the Spurs, the Heat looked like they were on the way to running the Celtics right out of this series before it even became one.  Suddenly though, everything started to fall into place for the Big Four and the Celtics took a 3-2 lead thanks to some inspirational play from Kevin Garnett.

Here we were again, for this Heat team.  Granted, Chris Bosh hasn't been around for much of these playoffs, most people still aren't letting LeBron and these Heat off easy if they don't win the championship.  Honestly though, even if they do win the title this year, a lot of critics will still have a lot of negative things to say about this Heat team.  I understand making a few cracks here and there, but what I don't get is why so many people use the word "hate" when they describe LeBron James.  I watch a lot of basketball and I make my opinion known constantly.  But I don't think I would use a word like hate when describing any player that I watch play a child's game for a living.  If I had those kind of negative feelings, I probably just wouldn't watch basketball (see: NFL 2012 season).  That said, if the Heat don't win the title this year, it will still be looked at as a disappointment as it should.   Having dug themselves a 3-2 hole, the Heat needed to win a game in Boston before they could move this series back to Miami for a closeout game.  That would be no easy feat for Miami, as they had lost all six games in Boston in the LeBron era heading into last night. 

For the first few minutes, this game was close as a few players each from Boston and Miami were scoring.  The score was tied at 12 early on, until LeBron started to warm up.  LeBron only scored 2 points in the first five minutes of this game, before he completely took over in yet another performance for the ages.  This was akin to the Pacers series, when the Heat found themselves down 2-1 and they turned to their megastar to bring them back into that series.   Last night was a very similar performance to that game four and you have to kind of wonder why LeBron doesn't play like this every time he steps out onto the floor.  He is clearly capable of putting this team on his back and carrying them back to the Finals.  Once LeBron got going last night, there was pretty much no stopping him and you were almost better off getting out of his way, as he started to get a couple of and one baskets.  By the 2:30 mark of the first quarter, LeBron had 12 points and the Heat found themselves up 22-12 all of a sudden.  Rajon Rondo and company would do all they could to try and stay in this game, but it was pretty clear early on who this game was going to belong to.  As LeBron started to effortlessly sink shots, you got the sense that he wasn't going to disappear in the second half of this game.  The Heat were up by ten at the end of the first quarter, led by Lebron's early 14 points.  Dwyane Wade was 0-4 at this point. 

Again, I don't always like hearing Jeff Van Gundy talk, but I will agree with him when he is correct.  He echoed my statements during the second quarter about LeBron James being unfairly judged like no other player in NBA history.  It is what it is I guess, but as I said before it doesn't make sense to me how he can't do anything right in some "fans" eyes.  The lead continued to grow in the second quarter, as LeBron continued to hit tough shot after tough shot.  There was a constant swarm of white jerseys in his neighborhood as he continued to make difficult shots look all too easy.  Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass were doing their best to try to keep this game close, while LeBron was just running rampant and scoring at will from pretty much any part of the floor. Led by LeBron's ridiculous 30 points, the Heat found themselves ahead by 13 at the half.  Dwyane Wade was practically non-existent on offense in the first half, making just one lone field goal.  Still, the Heat had to feel somewhat comfortable about the possibility of forcing a game seven on their own court.

The Heat cooled off considerably to start the third quarter and briefly it looked like the Celtics might make this a game.  Every time they would get the game within striking distance, there was LeBron hitting shots or finding Mario Chalmers open in the corner for three.  The Celtics were down by double digits for much of this contest.  Just as it appeared as though the Celtics were going to close the lead, LeBron James hit a three pointer to silence the rally.  The Heat were up 74-61 at the end of the third quarter and LeBron had 41 points.  Dwyane Wade had still been fairly quiet up until this point.

At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Wade finally awoke from his scoring slumber hitting consecutive shots that gave the Heat a 17 point lead.   If The Celtics were going to make a run and try to end this series at home, it was now or never for them.  After a Paul Pierce jumper, Shane Battier hit a three to give the Heat an 18 point lead.  This was quite a transition from the last game, where the Heat were now hitting many of their outside shots (7-16) and the Celtics seemed to be settling more (1-14) from three.  That and the fact that LeBron James was simply unstoppable from every angle.  He did cool off considerably in the fourth quarter but it was no matter as Dwyane Wade was finally hitting shots for Miami.  All of a sudden, the Heat had blown this game wide open with a 25 point cushion at the 7:00 mark of the final quarter.  It was pretty clear at this point that we were headed for a game 7 in Miami on Saturday.  It was a stunning turn of event for Celtics fans, as many of them were left rushing for the exits before the fourth quarter was even half over with.  A lot of people expected Miami to come out with a lot of energy in this game, but I don't think anyone was expecting a blowout.  I said on Wednesday that if Miami stood a chance in this game, they would need a complete game from LeBron James.  They got just that (45/15/5 in 45 minutes- he was taken out with the game well in their hands) and they now need only one more win for a return trip to the finals.  Win or lose, I am sure they will have many critics along the way. 


NBA Playoffs: Where Kevin Garnett just won't go away....

Usually when Jeff Van Gundy speaks, I get pretty annoyed.  However, last night at the beginning of the game, he said that game had the ability to be just as special as the previous night's Thunder/Spurs game.  I couldn't help but agree with him there, as much as it pained me to do so.  With everything these two teams had put on the floor in the previous four games, this game had the makings of being exciting right from the opening tip.  After Dwyane Wade calmly nailed a three to put the Heat up 7-0, I started to wonder if this game was going to be close, or if maybe the Heat were going to steamroll through these next two games and right back into the Finals.  Brandon Bass and Ray Allen started things off for Boston and they quickly closed the deficit to within two.  Chris Bosh checked in mid-way through the first quarter for the first time in three weeks, just in time to see the Heat push the lead back to seven.  It wasn't a pretty game, as the two teams combined for 8 early turnovers within the first 6 minutes.  Bosh was able to provide a spark for the Heat and helped them out to a 24-16 lead at the end of a very physical first quarter.  Rajon Rondo spent some time on the bench getting his arm looked at and the Celtics clearly needed their general out there to help carry them if they were going to be a force in this game.  The Heat continued to carry this momentum into the second quarter, pushing the lead to as many as 13 before Rondo led the Celtics back on the attack.  The lead was ten when LeBron James took a seat on the bench with 9 minutes remaining in the first half.  The lead was cut to six by the time he returned three minutes later and the Heat looked like a lottery team without him on the floor.  For all of the criticism James has received (some deservedly so), his teams are horrible without him on the floor.  They looked like the Bobcats while James was on the bench, putting up bad shot after bad shot.  Not only that, but now you have the Celtics starting to build the momentum they needed heading into halftime.  I realize I am suggesting LeBron play the entire 48 minutes of each game and it is pretty clear to me that's what is needed in order for the Heat to succeed.  Whereas the Heat have been a one and a half man show during these playoffs, the Celtics and Doc Rivers have been a blueprint for great team basketball throughout the playoffs.  While Paul Pierce and Ray Allen have made the Big Four look not so big at times, they have been able to turn to other players like Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus to help carry them when their stars aren't producing.  The Heat's double digit lead had completely disappeared by halftime, as they found themselves only leading by two at that point.  This game was now clearly Boston's for the taking.  LeBron James had 18 and 9 at the half, but in my opinion he settled for a couple outside shots when he should have driven to the hoop and drawn the fouls.  He missed four three pointers all told in this game and those were huge when you think of the final outcome of this game.  Again, I am not going to pin the blame on one person here, Lebron did go 2 for 6 from three point range (his second three was pretty clutch, in the fourth quater), but the rest of his team was 5 for 20 from three.  Maybe next game they won't settle for those shots as much, especially with Chris Bosh being back in the fold.  You could feel the tide shifting towards Boston in the second half, as they were able to exploit Miami's defense through a slew of Rondo to Garnett pass plays that were played to perfection.  Garnett was able to score 18 of his 26 points in the second half, due in large part to him and Rondo feeding off of each other so well.  There were a lot of subtle things I noticed in Garnett within this game that reminded me he is still the hungriest player on the court.  Seeing him blow up at himself for missing a free throw in the third quarter and then late in the game watching him yank Mickael Pietrus back into the huddle (twice within ten seconds!).  Of course, there was also THE DUNK.  I have heard quite a few whispers of this being Garnett's last season.  If it is, he is planning on going out in style.  Neither of these two teams were really at their best last night and for the first few minutes of the third quarter, it was clear this was still anyone's game.  Whenever Boston would tie it or pull within two, Miami would hit a basket or two and keep their slim lead.  Miami went on a 9-0 run lead around the 6:00 point of the third to take a 59-50 lead.  Again, Boston started to chip away at Miami's lead.  When Miami should have been padding their lead at the free throw line, they were taking outside shots and rarely going inside for the easy bucket.  All told, Boston ended on a 15-1 run to end the third and found themselves with a five point lead entering the third quarter. 
   While you could get a sense of nervousness from the Heat fans just by watching the game on TV, you got a general sense of desperation from the Heat themselves throughout the fourth quarter.  Dwyane Wade picked up LeBron's slack and kept the Heat in the game in the fourth quarter, making for an exciting finish to an otherwise sloppy (and somewhat ugly) game.  The Heat again went on a run and found themselves with a six point lead.  It looked like they just had to play some defense and close this game out.  Pietrus hit a three to cut the lead to three and at this point, it was clear this game was going to come down to the last couple minutes.  There was just five minutes standing between one of these two teams being within one win from reaching the NBA Finals. Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett were everywhere that the Celtics needed them to be, coming up with key loose balls and blocks in the final minutes.  Garnett hit an extremely clutch shot from the baseline that put the Celtics up by one with just three minutes remaining.  This was right after he blocked a shot from LeBron, too.  Like I been saying, Garnett is showing the world that he is hungry for one more championship.  At this point in the game, all of the players magically started finding their three point touch, as Mario Chalmers and Mickael Pietrus hit back to back threes for Miami and then Boston.  With just over a minute to go, Udonis Haslem went to the free throw line with the Heat down by two.  He made one of two, to cut the lead to one with a minute to go.  Paul Pierce pulled up and hit a dagger three with LeBron James right in his face.  The Heat were rapidly running out of options, as they were left to more or less play the foul game down the stretch.  Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett calmly sank the necessary free throws, and Boston was able to prevail in this game.  Today, much of what I have read is people criticizing LeBron for yet again not coming up in the fourth quarter.  While I do agree with everyone that he didn't provide everything he should have in the second half, this has to be tiring.  For much of this season (and playoffs), he has had Miami on his shoulders and I can only imagine how exhausting that must be.  Granted, I am sure he especially knows that anything less than a championship at this stage of his career will be a failure.  I would have to argue that this year, however.  As I have been saying, Kevin Garnett is playing with a fire and an energy that has only been rivaled in these Eastern Conference playoffs by James and Rondo.  Just watching him play, you can tell he wants this more than anyone on the court.  LeBron will have plenty more years to go out and prove all of his critics wrong.  Kevin Garnett will not have many more opportunities and it has been fun watching him put everything out there in these playoffs.  A lot of players disappear with age and some try to hang on to what they once had.  Kevin Garnett is somehow doing neither of these and playing at an extremely high level in his mid-30s.  It will be interesting to see if Miami can recover any of the momentum when they head into a rowdy Boston environment tomorrow evening.  We all know Kevin Garnett will be ready to play.