NBA, MLB, NHL Playoff Series Updates
The GIST: Major league playoffs in September are no joke (of course we’re not kidding). Two playoffs are underway and another is just around the corner. Let’s go!
Tell me about the NBA: The conference finals are almost set. The Boston Celtics, who beat the defending champion Toronto Raptors in an up-and-down Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semis on Friday night, will face the Miami Heat, who surprisingly took the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks in five games to advance. This series starts tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. ET.
- In the Western Conference, the LA Lakers breezed past the Houston Rockets for a conference final berth, which means we’re just waiting on the last game of the round: the highly anticipated Game 7 between the Lakers’ La La Land rivals, the LA Clippers, and the Denver Nuggets, which is also set for tomorrow night.
And the NHL?: They’re in the thick of the conference finals in the Canadian bubble. On Saturday night, the Dallas Stars rallied for a 2–1 win against the Vegas Golden Knights to bring their series lead to 3-1. Every game is a must-win for the Knights now, including tonight’s Game 5 at 8 p.m. ET. Talk about nerve-wracking.
- The New York Islanders, the lowest remaining seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs, are in must-win territory, too. They lost Game 4 to the Tampa Bay Lightning yesterday and now trail 3-1 in the series. Game 5 is set for tomorrow at 8 p.m. ET.
What about MLB?: Baseball playoffs haven’t started just yet, but we’re close. There are only two weeks left in the stunted regular season, which ends September 27th, and an unprecedented 16 teams (up from 10) will make the postseason.
🏀Your Guide to the WNBA Postseason, Starting Tuesday Night
The GIST: More playoffs, you say? Coming right up! The WNBA postseason starts tomorrow night, so prepare multiple screens for all the basketball because this is a can’t-miss.
How are the playoffs set up?: The WNBA has two conferences with six teams each, but unlike other major leagues, the conferences don’t actually mean anything in the postseason: the top eight teams (based on regular season records) in the league will make the playoffs.
- There are four rounds of playoffs. Round one is a single-game elimination round, where the fifth-ranked team plays the eighth-ranked team, and the sixth- and seventh-ranked teams face off. Winners will move on to round two, where they’ll face the third- and fourth-ranked teams in another single-game elimination. Sweating yet?
- The top two teams from the regular season get a double-bye, which means they get to skip right to the semifinals (aka round three), which is a best-of-five game series. Then it’s the big kahuna: the WNBA Finals, also a best-of-five.
Sweet. And who’s playing?: The Western Conference totally dominated this season. The league’s top five teams are from the West, with the Las Vegas Aces leading the way. The Seattle Storm finished in second (with an identical 18-4 record) after losing to the Aces yesterday.
- The defending champion Washington Mystics clinched the last playoff spot after defeating the Atlanta Dream in Sunday night’s final game of the regular season (so clutch), and the top three teams from the Eastern Conference round out the rest of the playoff field.
Got it. So who’s going to win?: It’s tough to say, but with Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart and Jewell Loyd leading the way on the Seattle Storm, we’re going all in. Action starts tomorrow night at 7 p.m. ET. Follow the full schedule here.
🏈Are We Getting Big 10 College Football?
The GIST: The first weekend featuring Power Five college football action gave us some major upsets and even bigger news off the field. A team also used the mercy rule in a major blowout loss. Wild stuff.
What’s the off-field news?: Chancellors and presidents from the Big Ten, which was the first Power Five conference to postpone fall sports back in August, met yesterday to discuss overturning their original decision. They’ll hold a college football (yes, just football. Womp.) return-to-competition vote in the next few days. Whew, whiplash.
Will they vote for or against it?: Despite tweets from President Donald Trump pushing for a restart, we doubted the Big Ten would actually reverse their initial decision. But thanks to increased access to rapid response COVID-19 testing, it’s now expected that the commissioners will likely change their minds and aim for a mid-October start date. Good luck to those schedulers!
And what about that mercy rule?: According to NCAA rules, teams are allowed to shorten the length of quarters during the game if both head coaches and the referees agree. This weekend, Pittsburgh led Austin Peay 42–0 at the half (yikes), so both teams agreed to play 10-minute quarters in the second half instead of the standard 15. Even with the shortened time, Pitt went on to win by a whopping score of 55–0 (double yikes).
- And get this: this isn’t the first time the mercy rule was invoked by Austin Peay. They also used it during a lopsided loss to the University of Georgia back in 2018. Can we use the mercy rule on 2020? Asking for a friend.
Lee Wins ANA Inspiration; Osaka, Thiem win U.S. Open
The GIST: On top of all of the big league fun, two major tournaments in golf and tennis also finished up this weekend, giving us three new major winner winner chicken dinners.
Golf: The ANA Inspiration is our favorite major on the LPGA schedule, based solely on the fact that the winner has to jump into a pond after their round. This year, South Korea’s Mirim Lee continued the tradition, along with her belly-flopping caddie.
- Lee came from behind to force a three-way playoff between her, American Nelly Korda and Canadian Brooke Henderson before ultimately winning with a 15 under par score.
- Not only did Lee win a cool $465,000 (which is nowhere close to the men’s $15 million check from last week...ugh), she also took home the brand-new champions’ robe. Let’s be real, bathrobes are better than green jackets anyway.
Tennis: After two glorious weeks, the U.S. Open ended with two finals for the ages. On Saturday, Naomi Osaka earned her second U.S. Open and third career Grand Slam with a win over Victoria Azarenka. We loved watching Osaka win, but we loved watching her rally call for social justice even more.
- On the men’s side, on-court rivals and off-court besties Dominic Thiem (pronounced TEEM) and Alexander Zverev (pronounced SVAIR-EV) took it to a full five sets in yesterday’s final. Thiem rallied from two sets down and intense muscle cramping to win the championship in a fifth set tiebreaker, marking his first-ever Grand Slam.
🏈Kansas City Chiefs to Kick off 2020 NFL Season - Here's Everything You Need to Know
The GIST: How time flies! One day you’re watching Shakira and JLo rock the Super Bowl halftime show, and the next, a whole new NFL season is starting.
Okay, that snuck up on me: Honestly, same. Despite canceling the preseason due to the pandemic, the NFL was steadfast about not delaying its regular-season start. As it does every year on the first Thursday after Labor Day, the season kicks off today, with the defending champs Kansas City Chiefs hosting the Houston Texans.
Refresh me on how the league’s organized: There are 32 teams split into two conferences, the National Football Conference (NFC) and the American Football Conference (AFC). Those conferences are further divided into four divisions: North, South, East and West.
- After 16 regular season games, 14 teams (extended from last year’s 12) will head into the playoffs to vie for a chance to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy. For more, check out The GIST’s Guide to Football.
And how is COVID-19 affecting the NFL?: The NFL had the unique opportunity to see how other major leagues adapted to the pandemic, and based on that, they made...very few significant changes.
- Sure, they canceled preseason, but they kept the regular-season schedule as is. No regionalized pods like the NWSL and MLS, no bubbles like the NBA, WNBA or NHL. The NFL is just going for it. And six teams have announced they’ll allow at least some spectators at their first home games. Yikes.
- That said, the league is introducing some new protocols to help keep COVID-19 at bay: players and personnel will be tested daily, a new injured reserve list has been designated for any player who tests positive or is exposed to the virus and the league has released a list of forbidden activities (i.e., no sneaking Tinder hook-ups into hotel rooms).
What are the big stories this season?: Besides COVID-19, quarterback (QB) Tom Brady is stealing headlines, as usual. In March, Brady broke the hearts of true fans and bandwagoners alike by leaving the New England Patriots (where he won an NFL record six Super Bowls) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Paging Tompa Tom.
- Elsewhere in the league, Kansas City has retained most of their Super Bowl–winning team, including QB and Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes, making them the heavy favorites to win another championship. And the battle of the rookie QBs — featuring Miami Dolphin Tua Tagovailoa and Cincinnati Bengal Joe Burrow — is already heating up.
Tell me more about your pick’em pool: Gladly! We’re biased, but we think it’s the best way to stay in the know on the latest NFL news, learn about each matchup and enjoy the game. All you have to do is pick a winner for each matchup for a chance to win a sweet weekly prize. Click here for a good time.