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Tom Hardesty's Sports Corner (June 8): Sports facts not following narratives

By Tom Hardesty Assistant Sports Editor Published: June 9, 2017 4:00 AM

We've been hearing a lot about fake news and false narratives in the last year. To the point that we need to keep the Pepto Bismol within arm's reach at any given time of day.

However, the NBA Finals are showing that it's not limited to the political bludgeoning over the head we receive from the national news media on an hourly basis.

The sports media are doing just fine on their end of it too, thank you very much.

For instance:

-- During this year's NFL Draft, ESPN college football talent guru Todd McShay was singing the praises of University of Illinois defensive end Dawuane Smoot, who had just been taken in the third round, the 68th pick overall, by the Jacksonville Jaguars. There was the usual video of Smoot making play after play, with McShay providing the usual glowing commentary.

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Too much commentary.

McShay made a point to tell the viewing audience how well Smoot played in the Fighting Illini's game against Ohio State in 2015. That's fair, because Ohio State is a barometer program: If someone can play well against the Buckeyes, it stands to reason he can play well against anyone.

It's a selling point.

But McShay wasn't done. He went on to say that, due in large part to Smoot's outstanding play in Champaign that afternoon, the Illini "almost beat" the Buckeyes. To hear McShay tell it, Ohio State was hanging on by its fingernails to escape Memorial Stadium with a victory that day.

Sounds riveting, except for one problem: It's complete baloney. Not the part about Smoot playing well. The part about Illinois almost beating Ohio State on Nov. 14, 2015.

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The final score was Ohio State 28, Illinois 3. The Buckeyes led 7-0 after one quarter, 14-3 at the half and 21-3 after three quarters.

Buckeye tailback Ezekiel Elliott carried 27 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was 15-of-23 for 150 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State outgained Illinois 440-261 in total offense.

The Illini did not "almost beat" Ohio State. Quite the opposite: They were dominated.

It was fake news and a false narrative spun by McShay to sell his opinion of Smoot.

And it was journalistically and intellectually dishonest.

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Which brings us to the NBA Finals.

The talking heads have been falling all over themselves to proclaim Golden State as the greatest team of all time -- apparently forgetting all about the Boston Celtics of the 1960s, the Los Angeles Lakers of the 1980s, the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, and the Lakers of Kobe and Shaq and San Antonio Spurs of Duncan and Parker, respectively, of this century.

But if that's what ABC and others want to believe, that's fine. The Warriors are a superteam in the midst of a historic postseason run. It's hard not to be blown away by the Warriors' ability to blow everyone away.

But if you're going to anoint someone or something as the greatest, you have to stay true to your criteria. Which many in the sports media categorically are not doing in this case.

Many commentators have said that had Golden State's Draymond Green not been suspended for Game 5 of last year's Finals, the Warriors would have won that series. And they say it with conviction, as if it's indisputable fact.

Which it's not, because the real facts show otherwise.

The Cavaliers won four games in last year's NBA Finals, three of them with Draymond Green on the floor. Two of those Cavalier wins with Green on the floor came by double-digits, 120-90 in Game 3 and 115-101 in Game 6. The third Cavalier win with Green on the floor came in the Warriors' home arena in Game 7, with Green leading all scorers in the game with 32 points and all rebounders with 15. Green's double-double still wasn't enough to prevent the Cavs from winning the championship.

For those in love with analytics, here are some numbers to crunch: With Green on the floor, the Warriors were 3-3 in last year's Finals, a .500 average. Straight up 50-50. So if Green had played in Game 5 last year, the Warriors had a 50 percent chance of winning. Not the 100 percent guarantee the media loves to tell us.

But there's more. A deeper analytical dive shows that with Green back for Games 6 and 7 following his one-game suspension, the Warriors went 0-2 and were outscored 208-190. An 18-point differential, in favor of the Cavaliers, with Green on the floor in the final two games of the series.

The media's "the Warriors would have won last year's Finals if Green had played Game 5" drumbeat is pure fantasy -- and another false narrative.

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But let's say those perpetuating that myth insist on standing by it. It stands to reason, they say, that with Green on the floor the Warriors have a better chance to win.

Fair enough.

But that applies to all teams, including the 2015 Cavaliers, who were without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love in that season's Finals against the Warriors. Even with two All-Stars out of the lineup, the Cavs still pushed Golden State to six games before falling.

So if the media tells us the Warriors would have won last year's Finals if one All-Star had played just one more game, then they should be telling us -- using the exact same criteria -- that the Cavaliers would have won the 2015 Finals if two All-Stars had played every game.

But they don't. All we hear are crickets.

Because it doesn't fit the (false) narrative.


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