CHICAGO - Last April 21, a day before the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 4 of their series against the Grizzlies, coach Gregg Popovich went to McEwen's on Monroe, an upscale restaurant in downtown Memphis.
Popovich, a wine afficionado, racked up a bill worth $815.73, chomp change for a man who makes $11 million a year. As reported by SportsIllustrated.com, Popovich left a $,5,000 tip, spreading his wealth like butter.
While hosting Houston in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals on Monday (Tuesday, Manila time) at the AT&T Center, it was Popovich's players turn to show their generosity.
The Spurs gave up 126 points and allowed the Rockets to drench them with 22 triples. Although they scored 99 points, including 32 in a meaningless fourth quarter, the Spurs surrendered control of the boards, 49-45. They also lost the assists battle, 30-19, and turned the ball over 15 times.
James Harden didn't have to do much in this one, putting up a modest 20 points and 14 assists, as five other Rockets scored in double figures. A 1-2 punch of 34 points in the opening quarter and 35 in the second kayoed the disoriented Spurs.
Defense, rebounding, ball movement and ball protection have defined Spurs excellence through the years. The effort that hurt the eyes to watch in Game 1 was performed by the San Antonio Impostors.
But unlike fair-weather fans who broke their ankles after jumping off the Spurs bandwagon, I'm still picking San Antonio to win this seven-game affair.
As good as the Rockets looked in Game 1, they need to log three more wins. Expecting them to consistently shoot 46 percent from the field and 44 percent from 3-point range is unrealistic.
By the same token, the Spurs won't keep missing 50 shots from the field and convert just 31 percent from long distance. And they're too disciplined to continue giving the ball away at an alarming rate.
According to an ESPN stat, teams that win Game 1 have a 76 percent chance of eventually winning a seven-game series.
I've always been slow in math, numbers often leave me blank in wonders. But even at a shaky 24 percent, I'll take my chances with the Spurs.
EXTRA LARGE TREAT. When I need a sleep aid at night, I log on to YouTube and watch a heavyweight fight. It always works. Those big dudes move like the continental drift and they throw punches in slow bunches.
It has since changed.
While watching Anthony Joshua TKO the great Wladimir Klitschko last Saturday for the WBC, IBF and WBO belts, I wished I didn't have to wink every few seconds. This one was an instant classic.
Weighing a combined 490.6 pounds, both combatants moved like middleweights, entertaining the 90,000 spectators that showed up at Wembley Stadium as well as the 9.5 million viewers on cable TV.
According to CompuBox numbers, the unbeaten Joshua (19-0, all by KO) beat Klitschko to the punch - 355 to 256 in total punches thrown, 169 to 119 in jabs and 186 to 137.
But the most damning statistic can be gleamed in the fighters' age - Joshua, 27, Klitschko, 41.
Klitschko knocked down Joshua in the fifth round with a right hand from hell. If the Ukrainian sledgehammer landed that blow six or seven years ago, I'm not sure if Joshua would still be with us today.
At age 41, Wladimir is clearly a step slower while his punching power has lost some serious wattage. Now on the back nine of a Hall-of-Fame career, Klitschko looked spent as the fight progressed. In that fateful 11th round, where he kissed the canvas thrice, Klitschko's defense was so open, like a gas station still taking in patrons at 4 am.
Although he felt "sad" for losing, Klitschko, whose record dropped to 64-5 with 53 KOs, offered no excuses and congratulated his opponent. "All respect to Joshua," he said.
Since turning pro 21 winters ago, time has robbed Klitsckho of all the tools needed in his trade. But time cannot take away this champion's grace and humility.