There were a lot of ups and down for New York sports this year. Here are the best and worst moments of 2021:
1. Knicks make playoffs for first time since 2012-13
A loss by the Celtics to the Cavaliers on May 12 ensured that the Knicks qualified for the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season, even after the team lost in overtime to the Lakers the day prior. Julius Randle tweeted “Check it off the list, Knicks. We’re not close to done,” and the Knicks avoided the play-in tournament and shattered the seven-year playoff drought en route to facing the Hawks in head coach Tom Thibodeau’s inaugural season with the team. The Knicks finished the regular season 41-31, but fell to the Hawks in five games during the first round of the playoffs.
2. Derek Jeter inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame
Nearly 20 months after he was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, falling just one vote shy of an unanimous selection, Derek Jeter became 28th person inducted into the Hall of Fame as a Yankee on Sept. 8. He called representing Yankees fans “one of the greatest honors of my life,” and he set the team record for most career hits, games played, stolen bases, times on base and plate appearances across his 20-year career in The Bronx — which also featured 14 selections to the All-Star Game, among other honors.
3. Kevin Durant goes off for 49 points and triple-double in Game 5 of Eastern Conference semifinals vs. Bucks
The Nets entered Game 5 against the Bucks tied 2-2 in the series, and they left Barclays Center with the lead following the 49-point, 17-rebound and 10-assist performance by Kevin Durant. They trailed by 17 points at one point in the third quarter, but outscored the Bucks by 12 in the final frame — where Durant scored 20 of the Nets’ 33 — to escape with a 114-108 win. He shot 16 of 23 from the field, while also making 4 of 9 3s and 13 of 16 free throws. The Nets went on to drop the next two games and lose the series.
4. Islanders close The Barn with a playoff win over Lightning in Game 6 of NHL semifinals
Anthony Beauvillier scored 68 seconds into overtime to even the Islanders’ series against the Lighting at three games each. It send the Nassau Coliseum — with fans witnessing what ended up being the final game in the historic arena, where the team had been located since 1972 — into a frenzy. Beer cans and water bottles sailed onto the ice following the 3-2 win, players mobbed together in celebration and the Islanders avoided elimination for two more days before the Lightning won Game 7.
5. Yankees walk-off into wild-card game with final-day win over Rays on Aaron Judge single
The Yankees teetered on the edge of playoff contention for the first 161 games of the regular season, but snuck into the AL wild-card game after defeating Tampa Bay, 1-0, in Game 162 via an Aaron Judge walk-off single. His hit, and 98th RBI of the season, scored Tyler Wade from third after the pinch-runner advanced on Anthony Rizzo’s single. With the win, the Yankees advanced to face the Red Sox in the wild-card game at Fenway Park, but ultimately lost and extended their World Series drought to 12 seasons.
NYCFC wins MLS Cup to end city’s title drought
A New York team finally won a championship again as New York City FC won its first MLS Cup, securing the city’s first title since the Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in early 2012. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up with two massive saves during penalty kicks and Alex Callens scored to clinch the victory.
Isles open up new arena on LI
The Islanders closed The Barn with a win in last season’s semifinals, but opened UBS Arena with a 5-2 loss to the Flames on Nov. 20 as six of their regular players missed the game due to COVID-19 protocols or injuries. They began the season with a 13-game road trip before returning for the home-opener, but didn’t pick up their first win at the new arena until Dec. 11, when they defeated the Devils 4-2.
Mets sign Max Scherzer to record contract
The Mets signed former Nationals and Dodgers ace Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract — worth about a $43.3 million average — and paired him with Jacob deGrom at the top of their starting rotation. “The dream of pitching with him — we can do some great things together,” Scherzer said during his introductory press conference about pitching with deGrom. The deal was signed days before the MLB lockout began, and the Mets emerged from a group of finalists that also reportedly included the Dodgers and Angels.
Corey Kluber no-hitter
As a flurry of no-hitters were thrown during the MLB season, Corey Kluber added his name to the list on May 19 when he held the Rangers hitless in the Yankees’ 2-0 win. He walked Charlie Culberson with one out in the third, but otherwise faced the minimum while striking out 10 and throwing 101 pitches. It boosted Kluber’s record to 4-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.86, yet he only won one more game and made seven more starts across the rest of the season.
Pete Alonso wins HR Derby
For the second time in his three MLB seasons, Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby behind 74 homers, including 23 in the final round against Trey Mancini to defeat the Orioles’ slugger by one. He said after the event that “I think I’m the best power hitter on the planet,” and he became just the fourth player to win the Home Run Derby multiple times.
Yankees win 13 in a row/hometown hero Andrew Velazquez homers in Bronx
As the Yankees tore through a stretch where they won 13 consecutive games, win No. 9 — a 7-1 victory over the Twins on Aug. 21 — was highlighted by infielder Andrew Velazquez’s first major league home run. Velazquez grew up in The Bronx and played in high school at Fordham Prep. He finished the 2021 season with 15 hits and a .224 average in 68 plate appearances.
Francisco Lindor hits three homers vs. Yankees
In a game that featured clearing dugouts and verbal exchanges between Giancarlo Stanton and Francisco Lindor, the latter’s three home runs lifted the Mets to a 7-6 victory in the Subway Series finale. They won two of three games against the Yankees to remain, temporarily, in the chase for a wild-card spot. Stanton chirped at Lindor when their paths crossed as Stanton rounded the bases after his game-tying home run in the seventh, but then Lindor launched his final blast in the eighth inning against Chad Green to regain the lead.
MSG allows fans back
In mid-February, the Knicks and the Rangers played in front of fans for the first time since COVID-19 resulted in empty arenas and silent stands. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo had announced that New York sports stadiums and arenas could reopen at 10 percent capacity, which equated to about 2,000 seats inside Madison Square Garden, and MSG President Andy Lustgarten said that the reopening was “earlier than we had expected.” Tickets for the Knicks games sold out within a half-hour, while since-fired Rangers coach David Quinn said that having fans back inside MSG for the first time in 326 days was “exciting” while also “strange” because of the limited capacity.
Yankees pull off three triple plays in season
With the Yankees leading 2-1 in the ninth, Aroldis Chapman forced the A’s Sean Murphy to hit a ground ball to Gio Urshela at third base. And after the ball had cycled across the infield on June 20, touching three of the bags, Chapman had induced the third triple play turned by the Yankees in 2021 — the first time that’s happened in the organization’s history. All three triple plays they turned had taken place within a month, starting on May 21, with Chapman again on the mound, against the White Sox in the top of the ninth. The second one came on June 17 as they defeated the Blue Jays when pitcher Michael King threw out a runner at first before a 1-3-2-6-5-6 triple play unfolded.
1. Gerrit Cole shelled as Yankees lose to Red Sox in wild-card game
After sneaking into the wild-card game on the last day of the season, the Yankees turned to Gerrit Cole against the Red Sox. Instead they watched as their ace didn’t make it out of the third inning — surrendering two home runs, walking a pair of batters and creating a game-long deficit the Yankees couldn’t overcome in the 6-2 loss that ended their season. Cole, who’d signed a $324 million contract with the team in December 2019 for playoff situations just like this, finished the regular season 16-8 with a 3.23 ERA but logged a 5.13 ERA in September, setting the stage for a final blunder when the calendar flipped to October.
2. Francisco Lindor and Javier Baez thumbs-down fiasco
Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor and Kevin Pillar responded to boos from Mets fans by flipping their thumbs down, with Baez doing the gesture after launching a home run in the fourth inning on Aug. 29. Since Mets fans booed the players when they struggled, Baez said, “they are going to get booed when we have success.” Owner Steve Cohen said that the players “hit the third rail” with their “unacceptable” actions, while team president Sandy Alderson also condemned the gesture and said in a statement that it won’t be tolerated.
3. Trae Young takes over MSG in Game 1 playoff destruction of Knicks
Thirteen of Trae Young’s game-high 32 points came in the fourth quarter, including a floater with 0.9 seconds left that gave the Hawks the lead for good in their 107-105 victory over the Knicks in Game 1 of their playoff series. “F-U chants” that had echoed throughout Madison Square Garden earlier had been silenced. Julius Randle’s playoff debut turned into a dud. Instead, it was Young who grabbed all of the attention, just as he would for the remaining four games of the series as he lifted the Hawks closer to the playoff’s final rounds.
4. Nets lose heartbreaker to Bucks as Kevin Durant’s foot is on the 3-point line and his game-winner only forces OT in Game 7
As regulation wound down and the Nets trailed by two, Kevin Durant hit a turnaround jumper — with his foot on the 3-point line — to force overtime. They then shot just 1-for-12 in the extra frame and lost their series finale, 115-111, to the Bucks. Durant registered his third playoff game with at least 40 points, but “my big-ass foot stepped on the line” and forced extra time instead of sending the Nets to the Eastern Conference finals behind their third win in a row.
5. Dexter Lawrence jumps offside on missed FG and Giants then lose when WFT kicker makes second chance. Perfectly emblematic of the NY NFL season.
If a single moment could capture how poorly the latest NFL seasons have unfolded for the Jets and Giants. It came when Dexter Lawrence jumped offsides on a missed field goal in the final seconds of a Sept. 16 game against the Washington Football Team. Dustin Hopkins had initially missed the 48-yard attempt, but the penalty gave him a second chance and he converted from 43 yards. It spoiled a turnover-free game from Daniel Jones, snapped a five-game winning against Washington and handed the Giants an 0-2 start for the eighth time in nine years.
Francisco Lindor chokes Jeff McNeil in dugout hallway
Francisco Lindor said that the dispute between him and Jeff McNeil started when he spotted a rat in the tunnel to the clubhouse and McNeil thought it was a raccoon. But neither manager Luis Rojas nor then-general manager Zack Scott confirmed that story, and a source later told The Post’s Mike Puma that Lindor grabbed McNeil’s throat and pinned him in the tunnel up against a wall — an incident sparked by another positioning error in the field and the argument that followed.
Mets fall apart after 100 days in first place
Between May 8 and Aug. 6, a span of almost 90 days, the Mets sat in first place atop the NL East standings. But after a loss to the Phillies on Aug. 7 — one of three in that series, where they were swept by their divisional foe — the Mets’ descent quickly began until a new reality started to settle in. They finished third in their division, with a record of 77-85, and lost 15 of their last 22 games as both the Braves and Phillies overtook them in the standings, despite spending more than 100 total days in first.
Isles lose 1-0 in Game 7 of NHL semifinals vs. Lightning
The Islanders injected life into their Stanley Cup hopes by defeating the Lightning in Game 6, but fell two nights later in Tampa, 1-0, to end their season and longest run in the postseason since 1993. It also marked the second consecutive year the Lightning ended their playoff run. Yanni Gourde scored the game’s lone goal on a shorthanded tally in the second period.
Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death
Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.
Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.
Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.
Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”
Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.
ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”
Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.
Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.
Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”
Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence
MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.
But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.
“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’
McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.
Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.
Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.
That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .
When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.
Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”
Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.
“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.
“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’
The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.
Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.
But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.
“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’
The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.
No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.
“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’
Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers
When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.
Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.
This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.
The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.
Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.
To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.
There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.
The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.
Baby steps, though.
Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.
Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.
Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.
Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.
And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.
Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.
Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.
Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.
“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.
On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.
That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.
That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.
It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.
If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.
The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.
“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’
A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.
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