Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s playoff superstardom, plus Jared Goff’s big payday

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Good morning! I hope your diss track gets vindicated today.

Playoff Peek: A playoff superstar emerges

Last week, Shaquille O’Neal made waves by dissing ESPN’s Shannon Sharpe as part of a sprawling argument about the NBA MVP race. Insults aside, O’Neal’s original position was this: He thinks Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander deserved the award, while Sharpe and most NBA voters disagreed. SGA was officially the runner-up.

Last night, with the Thunder facing a possible 3-1 series deficit against the Mavericks, he looked like an MVP

  • In Oklahoma City’s 100-96 road win, SGA scored 34 points, hit all six of his free throws (more on that shortly) and had three crucial assists in the final three minutes of the game. If you watch any Oklahoma City game, you see how SGA is the magnetic center of the Thunder offense. When his cohorts hit shots, this team’s hard to beat.
  • Conversely, Luka Dončić scored just 18 points on 6-of-20 shooting, clearly frustrated by Thunder defenders all night. Dončić also missed a big free throw with 10 seconds left that could’ve tied the game. Tough. 

The good news is that we have a fantastic playoff series, one of several. Other postseason results from last night: 

  • Boston has officially shrugged off that worrisome Game 2 performance against the banged-up Cavaliers, going up 3-1 last night with a 109-102 win. Cleveland’s only good item of the evening was a standing ovation for LeBron James, who sat courtside.
  • On the ice, the Stars bludgeoned the Avalanche 5-1 in Colorado, which might be the most impressive win of the postseason thus far. Up 3-1, Dallas is a long way from the team that was down 2-0 in the first round.
  • Meanwhile, the Rangers simply cannot do the easy thing, as Arthur Staple wrote after their 4-1 loss to Carolina at home. Game 6 approaches, as do whispers about the Hurricanes overcoming a 3-0 deficit in this series.

Paydays: Another staggering QB salary

Yesterday, NFL front offices spent more than $200 million in guaranteed money on two players. Let’s start with the richest: 

  • The Lions agreed to a four-year contract extension worth up to $212 million ($170 million guaranteed) with quarterback Jared Goff, expected but nonetheless eye-opening. He led them to an NFC title game last year, but his average annual salary of $53 million makes him the league’s second-highest paid player. Detroit better win a lot over the next couple of years.
  • The Buccaneers also made Antoine Winfield Jr. the NFL’s highest paid defensive back with a four-year, $84.1 million contract extension ($45 million guaranteed). He’s fully worth the money, as Larry Holder explained here. The team and player have come a long way since March, when Tampa franchise-tagged Winfield as the sides were “far apart” on an extension. 

As with any big contract, our eyes turn to who’s next. Jeff Howe has a full look this morning at the new wave of QB contracts coming down the pipe. Soon, we’re going to have multiple QBs earning $60 million per year.

News to Know

Brady debuts with Cowboys-Browns
Yes, Tom Brady is actually getting in the Fox booth this season, and his first game on the mic will come in Week 1 for the Sept. 8 game between Dallas and Cleveland. It will be the most-watched game of the weekend, as Richard Deitsch noted in our story, both because it features Dallas and for the debut of the highest-paid NFL broadcaster in history.

More news

Serious Matters: Can starting pitchers be saved?

There has been an unfortunate overarching storyline to this baseball season: the disappearance of the starting pitcher. Consider: 

  • There are just 10 active Cy Young Award winners on current rosters. Moreover: Pitchers, even when healthy, are throwing fewer innings than ever. Just look at this chart:

All this data comes from an excellent story today from Jayson Stark and Ken Rosenthal, which details how worried MLB executives are about the decline of pitching stardom, and details some ideas being discussed about how to make the starting pitcher a star again. 

Two ideas from that piece, along with Pulse decisions: 

  • Make starters go six innings. I love the simplicity: barring an injury, every starter would have to pitch six innings before a reliever could enter the game. Pitchers would train differently, and starting pitchers would become even more valuable than they are today. Pulse verdict: It’s a no from me. I think this ruffles the ecosystem a little too much and actively inhibits managerial strategy.
  • Implement the “double hook.” This is another simple, but effective change: If your starting pitcher leaves before the fifth inning, you lose your designated hitter, too. It doesn’t force you to keep a starter in, but it gives the manager a puzzle to solve while incentivizing longer starts. Pulse verdict: Huge yes here. 

A wrinkle in this issue: More pitchers are getting hurt than ever. Of those 10 active Cy Young winners, nine have been on the injured list this season. Decision makers are worried about that, too.

These aren’t the only ideas floating around, and the piece explains the full issue in much more depth. Give it a read.

Watch This Game

Soccer: Manchester City at Tottenham Hotspur
3 p.m. ET on USA
This could decide the Premier League winner, and it’s extremely funny that a Spurs win would help archrival Arsenal win its first EPL title in 20 years. Some Spurs fans even want the team to lose

NBA: Pacers at Knicks
8 p.m. ET on TNT
Yes, Timberwolves-Nuggets later tonight feels a little more important, but losing tonight and going down 3-2 could be the end for New York, a team injured beyond belief. I don’t know if the Knicks can hold up, but I’ve also thought that multiple times this postseason, and they’ve proven me wrong. 

NHL: Canucks at Oilers
9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Vancouver leads this series 2-1, but I am intrigued to see how the Canucks play without Carson Soucy, who is suspended after cross-checking Oilers star Connor McDavid in Game 3. 

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

A year ago, Michael Block became our new favorite golfer. An unforgettable slam-dunk hole-in-one in the PGA Championship will do that, especially if you’re an affable club pro. A year later, he’s back at the tournament that made him a star. Can he actually compete? 

Want a good PGA Championship story to root for? Akshay Bhatia may be a new star, but he has a charmed history at Valhalla

The WNBA tips off tonight. How far can Caitlin Clark carry the Indiana Fever? Our experts debated

In the post-Ohtani era, the Angels have become a strangely heartwarming haven for MLB vets who thought their playing days were over. Not good, but nice?

Corey Pronman has a new NHL mock draft out this morning, in which things get interesting after the first pick. 

Jim Bowden lists his 10 biggest surprises of the MLB season, from the glory of Shota Imanaga to the disappointment of the Houston Astros

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our full report on that contested goal in Panthers-Bruins. Spicy. 

Most-read on the website yesterday: Kevin Magnussen’s F1 tactics have helped Haas, but also may earn him a race ban.

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(Photo: Tim Heitman / Getty Images)

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