Luka Dončić's fouls might've ended the NBA Finals, plus USMNT's promising turnaround

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While You Were Sleeping: Mavs foul out of the NBA Finals

Boston is on the brink of a title, taking a 3-0 series lead after last night’s wild 106-99 win in Dallas. We will have plenty of time to crown the Celtics because, well, no NBA team has ever come back from 3-0.

For now, Mavericks fans might blame last night’s referees — and Luka Dončić’s frustration with them — for eliminating any chance of getting back in these finals:

  • After a tight first half, Boston built a 21-point lead by the early fourth quarter. (I started researching the most lopsided NBA Finals series of all time.) Then the Mavs came to life, erasing that deficit and getting within three points with four minutes left.
  • Then, disaster. Dončić fouled out after trying to take a charge against Jaylen Brown. Officials called it a block and upheld it after a coach’s challenge. That snuffed the comeback, and the series is likely over.

Our John Hollinger pointed out that Dončić’s fourth foul, a silly infraction in the third quarter, turned out to possibly swing a finals game. Actually unbelievable. Here are all six fouls, for your records.

  • Go deeper: The Athletic NBA Show recorded immediately after Boston’s win last night — give it a listen here. Zach Harper will have more in The Bounce later this morning, too.

Game 4 is Friday. Moving on:

Good Luck: A truly opposite major is upon us

Last month’s PGA Championship, while tightly contested (and quite dramatic), provided little actual challenge to the world’s best golfers. That won’t be the case at the U.S. Open this week, where players tee off shortly.

I asked our golf crew on site at Pinehurst — Brody Miller, Gabby Herzig and Hugh Kellenberger — two rapid-fire questions to help prepare us:

1. This course is enormously difficult. Which is the hardest green? 

Pinehurst may be an idyllic golf paradise, but players will have little fun on approach and chip shots. Balls that land in “safe” areas will careen off the green, causing golfer angst and viewer delight. Just look at this, on the par-5 fifth:

  • Hugh: I’m not sure the players will find the No. 5 green to be the toughest, but it is objectively sick. A real turtleback green that propels anything not hit to a narrow landing area.
  • Brody: To mix it up, 14 makes it so if you’re above the hole you can barely tap a putt because it goes so fast downhill. If your approach lands right, it won’t stay on the green as it keeps rolling. And if you go for the front, the bunker is in play.
  • Gabby: The fifth green will definitely stand out as the hardest, but No. 3 is sneaky tough as well. It slopes severely from back to front, and if you hit it over the green you’re totally dead.

2. It’s officially Scottie vs. the field. Who’s our non-Scottie pick?

We discussed Scottie Scheffler’s Tiger-like excellence last week, but ball-striking — Scheffler’s superpower — will be at a premium this week. Our friends at BetMGM have him as a huge favorite (+300). Xander Schauffele is a distant second at +1100. 

  • Hugh: When golf gets hard, Brooks Koepka tends to do very well. And he likes to do well when no one is talking about him.
  • Brody: Life is short. Give me Viktor Hovland to break through and give us the storyline of the famously poor chipper winning on the toughest greens.
  • Gabby: This is a little bit of a stretch, but I’m liking an Australian like Cam Smith or Jason Day to play well at Pinehurst. The players say the course is reminiscent of the Melbourne Sandbelt. They’re also both wizards with their wedges.

I also loved Brendan Quinn’s story from earlier this week about Scheffler’s secret guru swing coach. As if Scheffler needs more help right now. 

Three closing thoughts: 

News to Know

USMNT’s promising draw
In Orlando, the American men’s team rebounded from that embarrassing loss to Colombia with a solid showing in a 1-1 draw against Brazil. Sure, we’d expected a Brazilian blowout, but the Americans actually botched some beautiful chances, especially in the second half. Heroic defense from Matt Turner, at least. If you want to feel good about everything, watch Christian Pulisic bury a free kick with ease:

This was the Americans’ final tuneup before playing Bolivia in group action at Copa America on June 23. (That roster drops today.)

Remembering Jerry West
There is literally no one as symbolic of the NBA’s history as Jerry West, the man whose dribbling silhouette is seen in the league’s logo. West died yesterday at 86 years old, leaving a titanic legacy in basketball. He was a Hall of Fame guard, a good coach and maybe the best executive this game has seen — he’s partially responsible for both the Showtime Lakers and the Kobe Bryant/Shaquille O’Neal era … and helped build the modern Warriors dynasty. David Aldridge beautifully captured West’s legacy here.

More news

Feedback Loop: Put him back in the contest, Nathan’s

This was the result I expected in yesterday’s poll, though by a slimmer margin than I thought: The Pulse readership officially thinks Joey Chestnut’s banishment from the Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest is a bad move.

  • And yet we have bigger news, which broke yesterday afternoon: Chestnut will face off against Takeru Kobayashi in a winner-take-all hot-dog eating contest on Netflix, which will stream live on Labor Day. It won’t go head-to-head against the Nathan’s contest, but I bet it’ll get more eyeballs.

Thank you, as always, for voting.

Watch This Game

NHL: Panthers at Oilers
8 p.m. ET on ABC
Like the Celtics, Florida has the chance to go up 3-0 in the Stanley Cup Final tonight. Do you want a better series? Root for the Oilers. Do you want to witness the first Cup Final sweep since 1998? Root for the Panthers.

WNBA: Aces at Mercury
10 p.m. ET on Prime Video
Keep an eye on Las Vegas, which just lost three straight games for the first time in five years. Phoenix, meanwhile, is playing better than ever after getting Brittney Griner back.

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

The number of Black NFL head coaches doubled this offseason. Is this a random blip or an encouraging sign of progress?

Zack Rosenblatt deftly explained why Aaron Rodgers’ absence from Jets minicamp is simultaneously worth criticism and overblown.

Our hockey crew assembled a fresh NHL mock draft, where everyone knows Macklin Celebrini is going No. 1 and … not much else. Intrigue.

Andrew Marchand has another strong column on why ESPN needs a “LeBron James-sized” overhaul of its NBA coverage. The timing, as rights deals near finalization, is prescient.

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our story on Joey Chestnut’s banishment, because, of course.

Most-read on the website yesterday: Laurie Whitwell and Adam Crafton wrote the definitive story about how Erik ten Hag kept his job at Manchester United — and who else the club talked to about the gig.

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(Photo: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today Sports)

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