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Hochman: Tatum! Flaherty! Maroon! Tonight is the ultimate St. Louis sports TV night

Hochman: Tatum! Flaherty! Maroon! Tonight is the ultimate St. Louis sports TV night

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Jayson Tatum, Jack Flaherty and Pat Maroon

Open up a bottle of Vess, turn on every screen you’ve got and get ready for an insane St. Louis sports night.

5:40 PM, ESPN, Boston Celtics vs. Miami Heat, Game 1, Eastern Conference Finals

We’ve all made sacrifices in 2020. Few are tougher than St. Louis sports fans choosing to root for a Boston team. But following the meteoric and historic rise of St. Louis native Jayson Tatum is worth it. The Chaminade product is coming off a Game 7 masterpiece in the second round against Toronto — consider this stat from ESPN: only three players in NBA history have ever put up 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in a Game 7 before the age of 25:

Kobe Bryant.

Jerry West.

Jayson Tatum.

And Tatum is only 22 (born March 3, 1998).

On a team with a 2020 All-Star (Kemba Walker), a former All-Star (Gordon Hayward) and a rising star (Jaylen Brown), Tatum has become the unmistakable driving force. Game 1 of the Conference Finals is tonight against a fascinating Miami team. To think — win this series and Jayson Tatum is in the NBA Finals.

5:40 PM, NESN, Boston Red Sox at Miami Marlins

Well, if we're doing this Boston thing, we might as well also keep an eye on the Red Sox game tonight — Collinsville, Ill., native Tanner Houck, who pitched for Mizzou, is starting in his Major League debut.

6:40 PM, FSM, St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers

Normally, it’s other Cardinals starters trying to match a Jack Flaherty performance, but tonight it’s the opposite. Following the doubleheader inning-eating brilliance of “KK” Kim and Daniel Ponce de Leon, Flaherty starts Tuesday in a rare “singleheader” for the Cardinals this week.

The Cards have their season in their hands — beat Milwaukee a bunch (eight more games this month) and St. Louis should secure the No. 2 playoff spot in the Central Division.

Here’s thinking tonight will be Flaherty’s longest outing of the season (he’s yet to go longer than five innings, though there have been quite a few extenuating circumstances). He’s 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA, though historically has been inconsistent against the Brewers. His 4.56 career ERA against Milwaukee (10 starts) is his highest against any National League Central team.

Also, St. Louis native Devin Williams (Hazelwood West) pitches out of the Milwaukee bullpen. Devin has devastating stuff. His change-up is game-changing. Williams has pitched in 18 games this season ... and his ERA is 0.45. He’s doing “Josh Hader-type” things in a bullpen with Josh Hader.

7 PM, NBCSN, Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders, Game 5, Eastern Conference Finals

Patrick Maroon secured Game 4 with an empty-net goal. If he and the Lightning win tonight, they’re headed to the Stanley Cup Final. The Oakville product and forever fan favorite in St. Louis plays a familiar brand of hockey for his new team — heavy and hungry. And he’s had additional motivation this season — his mother, Patti Maroon, is recovering from radiation treatment for breast cancer.

8 PM, ESPN, Denver Nuggets vs L.A. Clippers, Game 7, Western Conference Semifinals

Last season, the Denver Nuggets lost in this very game — the final game of the second-round series. This season, the Nuggets came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the first-round series against coach Quin Snyder and the Utah Jazz. The Nuggets were again down 3-1 in this series to the Clippers. But Denver won the next two, setting up tonight’s enticing matchup. Michael Porter Jr. — famously or infamously tied to Mizzou — hit a huge 3 late in Game 6. Per ESPN, the Nuggets are a plus-25 with Porter on the floor in this series.

Or, maybe you just dislike the Kroenkes so much that tonight you are a St. Louis Clipper?

8 PM, ESPN 2, Phoenix Mercury vs. Washington Mystics, Game 1, First Round WNBA Playoffs

Someday, Sophie Cunningham will have her number retired by Mizzou. As a pro, she comes off the bench for the Phoenix Mercury, and she’s tied for the sixth-most minutes per game (18.9) among active Phoenix players. Sophie averages 5.0 points per game, and scored 10 in the regular-season finale. And she of course still plays with the fire that ignited her legend in Columbia (and infuriated fans in Columbia, S.C.)

Also, the future Hall of Famer Diana Taurasi is Phoenix’s top scorer. She was profiled in today’s New York Times.

One other programming note, unrelated to St. Louis sports.

5 PM, Animal Planet HD (Channel 58 on Charter Spectrum), Man-Eating Zombie Cats

The preview reads: “Examining the possibility that humans could become part of the diet of large cats.”

Alas, it’s a repeat.

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