NH has big-time title ties
FIFTEEN years after leading Concord High School to a state title for the third consecutive season, Matt Bonner tonight has a chance to win his second NBA championship ring, as his San Antonio Spurs look to close out the Miami Heat in Game 5 of the league finals.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, a bunch of guys who honed their hockey skills in New Hampshire are still celebrating the double-overtime victory that clinched the Kings' second Stanley Cup in three years during the wee hours of Saturday morning, the game-winner coming from former Manchester Monarch Alec Martinez with an assist by former Monarch Tyler Toffoli.
OK, so it isn't exactly the Celtics having a chance to win the NBA championship on the same weekend the Bruins won the Stanley Cup. But as far as local connections to major sports events go, these are pretty strong.
Bonner is in his eighth season with San Antonio, but he remains a New Hampshire guy - has a home here, has family here, runs his summer basketball camp here, has a weekly radio show produced here, stages a major annual fundraiser for his charitable foundation here. Smart, affable and socially engaged, he's easy to imagine one day representing the state in Congress or serving as its governor. Regardless of whether you'll ever have a chance to vote for him, you should be rooting for him when the Spurs host the Heat tonight.
Although Bonner spends far more time on the Spurs' bench than he does on the floor, it isn't as if he's just along for the ride. His playing time actually is up compared to the last time he and San Antonio won the NBA title, in 2007, and, when he is on the floor, he has a knack for making key contributions.
Bonner started the last three games of the Western Conference Finals, and in Thursday's 107-86 victory, he gave the Spurs nine valuable minutes off the bench. His totals Thursday included three points, two rebounds, an assist and a steal, with a plus/minus rating of plus-6 - and most of those statistics came with the Heat still in the game.
In the first quarter, Bonner helped San Antonio take command with a basket off dribble penetration into the lane, a rebound, a steal and two textbook defensive efforts to thwart shots by Lebron James. In the last minute of the third quarter, his bounce-pass assist to Tiago Splitter enabled the Spurs to answer a James 3-pointer with a basket that extended the San Antonio lead to 80-57. From that point on, the outcome was never in question.
The Kings' roster doesn't include any New Hampshire natives, but with their top minor-league team located in Manchester and 12 former Monarchs in uniform, their ties to the state are undeniable.
Martinez played in 163 games for Manchester, including playoffs, from 2008-11. Toffoli spent 64 games with the Monarchs, including 58 last season. Captain Dustin Brown's ties go back a bit further, but they're there: 85 games in 2004-05. Jonathan Quick's stints with Manchester were, well, quick - 20 games in '07-08, 14 in '08-09 - yet vital to his development as one of the game's best goaltenders.
No one needs to tell the Kings the role Manchester played in bringing them another Cup. In appreciation of that role, they flew 11 Monarchs employees to L. A. for Friday's clincher. Celebrating along with Martinez and Toffoli and Brown and the rest after the game were Monarchs president Darren Abbott and fellow front-office staffers Ashley Hoffman, Jason Jones, Dan Lynch, Kim Mueller and Matt Welch, and Manchester director of hockey operations Hubie McDonough and his staff: Mike Holden, Matt Lane, Mike Muir and Trevor Simpson.
With the Spurs leading the NBA Finals three games to one after two straight dominant performances, there's likely to be some celebrating in San Antonio tonight, too. Keep an eye out for Bonner in the middle of it - and don't be surprised to hear a shout out to the folks back in the Granite State. Back home.
Vin Sylvia is a New Hampshire Union Leader deputy managing editor. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @vinsylvia.