On Wednesday, Kyle Lowry played 53 minutes for the Toronto Raptors and scored more than 30 points in an elimination game for the third time in his career.
Nikita Kucherov cashed a puck-on-tape pass from Ryan McDonagh and gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 victory over the New York Islanders with nine seconds left.
The golfers play the U.S. Open next weekend, the stock car drivers are into their playoffs, the NFL started Thursday night, Serena Williams can win her 24th Grand Slam this weekend, and the horses finish the Triple Crown season in October and do the Breeders’ Cup the month after that.
And much of college football will be operational soon, on some campuses that don’t yet allow students.
In a time of constraint, our sports have become gleefully elastic. They also have shown us what works and what doesn’t.
Here’s what we have learned to do without:
When the NBA and NHL corralled their players at Disney World, Edmonton and Toronto, everyone knew the dangers. These guys walk the earth as freely as anyone in any profession. If a team fell behind 0-3 or even 1-3 in a series, would some of them gladly trade elimination for liberation?
No. If anything, the NBA got more competitive.
Wednesday’s Boston-Toronto game rivaled the 1976 Boston-Phoenix triple-overtime fiesta, ended memorably by Garfield Heard. Milwaukee was down 0-3 and lost Giannis Antetokoumnpo and still won Game 4 over Miami and nearly Game 5. And Denver took Games 5, 6 and 7 from Utah.
Neutral ball might be a keeper, at least for the conference and NBA finals. Certainly the best regular-season teams deserve some early-round leverage and a home edge. But 2020’s thin evidence suggests the quality of play improves as the air miles dwindle.
Some baseball folks, including Scott Boras, have advocated a neutral World Series for years. MLB reportedly will test it next month, playing the American League playoffs in Los Angeles and San Diego, and the National League Championship Series and World Series in Texas.
The stockers have produced a thrilling 2020 by bringing whatever they have and racing with it. Except for the all-star race at Charlotte, there has been no practice or qualifying. The only regret is that they ever “ran for the pole” in the first place.
You remember those long, thumb-twiddling Fridays in which cars ran solo and put up their hottest laps, just to determine who got to lead the train for 90 seconds on Sunday. It was wasteful and pointless and deserves to be obsolete.
Golf tents and chalets
It took a while for the PGA tourists to adjust to the Sunday silence. Then they came up with a phenomenal summer.
Collin Morikawa’s daring PGA Championship victory was unblemished by the solitude. So were the dueling putters of Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson at the playoff event at Chicago’s Olympia Fields.
But the best part of golf season was the absence of the corporate tents and the greenside chalets that actually impede the workaday fan. At the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, for example, fans find it hard to see anyone putt in person unless they can slip past the velvet rope. Those eyesores will return, inevitably, but it was nice to see the golf courses au naturel.
The 13th inning
Out of this Night At The Improv that passes for a baseball season, one good idea emerged. Opening the extra innings with a baserunner on second was not a sacrilege. Nobody missed the droning marathons that sapped pitching staffs and sent fans home to bed.
It’s not perfect. A more sensible plan would be a baserunner on first, because it puts the double play in motion and rewards defense. And, of course, it should go away once the playoffs start. But the ghost runner no more ruined the game than the lights ruined Wrigley Field.
The Triple Crown schedule
The act of cramming three massive races into a five-week window was rarely questioned until this year. At last, the virus forced horse racing to stop hammering itself in the head. Suddenly it felt much better.
The traditional schedule was no longer identifying the best 3-year-old each year, as Arrogate and Gun Runner proved. This year, a July Belmont, a September Derby and an October Preakness was a triumph of improvisation.
Next year, the Preakness shouldn’t happen until the first Saturday of June, a month after Churchill Downs. The Belmont should be the capstone of July 4 weekend sports.
Like everything else, tradition has to justify itself. There are always better ways. We shouldn’t have to be inside our boxes to find them.