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Saturday Sports: NBA conference finals; Florida Panthers' NHL run


What a time to say, and now it's time for sports.


SIMON: The Denver Nuggets golden, the Boston Celtics bounce back and the Florida Panthers to the Stanley Cup finals. Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media joins us. Hi there, Howard. Thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott. How are you?

SIMON: Fine, thank you. Let's begin with the NBA Eastern Conference finals - the Boston Celtics and the Miami Heat. Miami was ahead - right? - 3-nothing. But the Celtics have won the last two. A hundred and fifty teams, our crack researchers have developed, have gone down 3-0 in playoff series. None have been able to come back. Game 6 is tonight. Can the Celtics be the first?

BRYANT: Well, they can. And this has been an unbelievable week where the Celtics defeat the Philadelphia 76ers and Jayson Tatum scores 51 points, and the Celtics are suddenly back and favorites to win the title like they were supposed to be. And then suddenly Miami, that was an eight seed - they come in, and they beat the Celtics in Game 1. They beat them in Game 2. They destroy them in Game 3. And everyone is now talking about a teardown in Boston - about firing the coach, Joe Mazzulla, and breaking up the team. And then suddenly, they win Game 4 by 17 points...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...And then suddenly, they win Game 5. And now...

SIMON: Oh, you don't want to get rid of a - yeah, exactly. Yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly. And so now the Celtics are a game away from forcing a Game 7. And I think it's only happened three other times to even get to a Game 7 of those 150. The Celtics are the better team, but it's such a huge mountain to climb. And on the one hand, if you're Miami, you've got to be kind of frightened, but on the other hand you're like, hey, we've got - we had four chances to win one game. It's going to be fascinating tonight down in Miami.

SIMON: Yeah. Denver Nuggets, of course, in the NBA finals - first time in their franchise history. They routed the Lakers, 4-zip. And of course, as soon as that happened, people are going, oh, what does LeBron mean when he says he has to think about this?

BRYANT: Oh, I did not like that, Scott Simon. I did not like that one bit because I think that there was a lot of gamesmanship going on there because of the Lakers getting swept the way they did. This moment belongs to the Denver Nuggets. The Denver Nuggets came into the NBA in 1977 with the merger. They are the last ABA team to make the NBA Finals. It's been a long time coming.

Nikola Jokic is the best player in the game and a former two-time MVP. And Jamal Murray is back from a horrible knee injury where he lost two seasons. And Michael Porter Jr. is maybe the best three of the trio in the league. And they were fantastic all season. They were great in the postseason. They're - they've played the best. So LeBron tried to hijack that moment a little bit, and I didn't find that - I thought that was a little bit of a low blow there because Denver was absolutely terrific. And believe me, if Miami wins, they're going to have a very difficult time because Denver will have home-court advantage with that altitude up there. And if it's the Celtics and it's Denver, then you probably have two of the three best teams in the league going at it. So - but the moment belongs to Denver. And...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: And it's been so much fun to see them finish the task because they hadn't for so many years.

SIMON: Yeah. Over to hockey. Vegas Golden Knights and the Dallas Stars tonight - a chance to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup finals.

BRYANT: Another one. We - at one point, Scott, we had 3-0 in all of the series, the first time ever that that had happened. And now Dallas is off of the mat. They win a game. So now Vegas is going to try to close Dallas out and get to the Stanley Cup. And that's an expansion team. Let's not forget. So...

SIMON: Yeah.

BRYANT: ...Within five years, they've got a chance to go to the Stanley Cup final.

SIMON: The Panthers - I mean, let's talk about the Panthers.

BRYANT: And then there's the Panthers. The Panthers, who beat the...

SIMON: Sweeping the ice with everyone - most recently Carolina, yeah.

BRYANT: Exactly. Another eight seed, beat the Boston Bruins, who were the best regular season team in history. They're down three games to one. They are 59 seconds away from being knocked out by the Bruins. They score a goal. They win in overtime. And they've run through the postseason ever since. And now they're in the Stanley Cup for the first time since the mid-'90s. Unbelievable postseason. And really looking forward to seeing what happens in the NHL, as well.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of Meadowlark Media, thanks so much for being with us. Talk to you soon.

BRYANT: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.