Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion

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Heat win NBA title in dominant fashion

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Music blared and confetti fell, the only celebration LeBron James really wanted in Miami. Not that one two summers ago, the welcoming rally where he boasted of multiple titles, perhaps without realizing how hard it would be to win just one. He dreamed of this moment, with teammates surrounding him and the NBA championship trophy beside him. "You know, my dream has become a reality now, and it's the best feeling I ever had," James said. James had 26 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists, leading the Miami Heat in a 121-106 rout of the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night to win the NBA Finals in five games. Ripped and ridiculed for the way he announced he was leaving Cleveland and taking his talents to South Beach, it's all worth it now for James. Best player in the game. Best team in the league. And now, NBA champion. "I'm happy now that eight years later, nine years later since I've been drafted, that I can finally say that I'm a champion, and I did it the right way," James said. "I didn't shortcut anything. You know, I put a lot of hard work and dedication in it, and hard work pays off. It's a great moment for myself." And for his teammates, who watched the Dallas Mavericks celebrate on their floor last year. James left the game along with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh for good with 3:01 remaining for a round of hugs and the start for a party he's been waiting for since arriving in the NBA out of high school as the No. 1 pick of the 2003 draft. James hopped up and down in the final minutes, shared a long hug with opponent Kevin Durant, and then soaked in the "MVP! MVP! chants during the raucous postgame. "I wanted to become a champion someday," James said. "I didn't know exactly when it would happen, but I put in a lot of hard work." He was a choker last year, the guy who came up small in the fourth quarter, mocked for "shrinking" in the moment while playing with what he called "hatred" in trying to prove his critics wrong. He came to Miami seeking an easier road to the finals but found it tougher than he expected, the Heat coming up empty last year and nearly getting knocked out in the Eastern Conference finals this time by Boston. Facing elimination there, James poured in 45 points on the road to force a Game 7 and the Heat won it at home. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done as a basketball player," James said. "You just put a lot of hard work into it and you hope that one day it will pay off for you." This time, with a chance to clinch, the Heat took control in the second quarter, briefly lost it and blew the game open again in the third behind their role players, James content to pass to wide-open 3-point shooters while the Thunder focused all their attention on him. The disappointment of losing to Dallas in six games a year ago vanished in a blowout of the demoralized Thunder, who got 32 points and 11 rebounds from Durant. Bosh and Wade, the other members of the Big Three who sat alongside James as he promised titles at his Miami welcoming party, both had strong games. Bosh, who wept as the Heat left their own court after losing Game 6 last year, finished with 24 points and Wade scored 20. The Heat also got a huge boost from Mike Miller, who made seven 3-pointers and scored 23 points. That all made it easier for James, the most heavily scrutinized player in the league since his departure from Cleveland, when he announced he was "taking his talents to South Beach" on a TV special called "The Decision" that was criticized everywhere from water coolers to the commissioner's office. James has said he wishes he handled things differently, but few who watched the Cavs fail to assemble championship talent around him could have argued with his desire to depart. In Miami he found a team that didn't need him to do it alone, though he reminded everyone during this sensational postseason run that he still could when necessary. He got support whenever he needed it in this series, from Shane Battier's 17 points in Game 2 to Mario Chalmers' 25 in Game 4. In the clincher it was Miller, banged up from so many injuries that he limped from the bench to scorer's table when he checked in. He made his fourth 3-pointer of the half right before James' fast-break basket capped a 15-2 run that extended Miami's lead to 53-36 with 4:42 remaining in the first half. The Thunder were making a remarkably early trip to the finals just three years after starting 3-29, beating the Mavericks, Lakers and Spurs along the way. With Durant, Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and James Harden all 23 or younger, the Thunder have the pieces in place for a lengthy stay atop the Western Conference. But their inexperience showed in this series, a few questionable decisions, possessions and outright mistakes costing them in their franchise's first finals appearance since Seattle lost to Chicago in 1996. Westbrook scored 19 but made only four of his 20 shots, unable to come up with anything close to his 43-point outing in Game 4, and Harden finished a miserable series with 19. "It hurts, man," Durant said. "We're all brothers on this team and it just hurts to go out like this. We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there. Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough." Nothing they did could have stopped James, anyway. Appearing fully recovered from the leg cramps that forced him to sit out the end of Game 4, he was dominant again, a combination of strength and speed that is practically unmatched in the game and rarely seen in its history. Wade skipped to each side of the court before the opening tip with arms up to pump up the fans, then James showed them nothing wrong with his legs, throwing down an emphatic fast-break dunk to open the scoring. He made consecutive baskets while being fouled, showing no expression after the second, as if he'd hardly even known he was hit. Drawing so much attention from the Thunder, he started finding his wide-open shooters, and the Heat built a nine-point lead before going to the second up 31-26. Oklahoma City got back within five early in the third before consecutive 3-pointers by Chalmers and Battier triggered a 27-7 burst that made it 88-63 on another 3-pointer by Miller. James didn't even score in the run until it was almost over, hitting a pair of free throws after he was flagrantly fouled by Derek Fisher while powering toward the basket. Gone was the tentative player who was mocked for shrinking on the big stage last year, too willing to defer to others who didn't possess half his talents. This time, he was at peace off the court and attacking on it, vowing to have no regrets and playing in such a way they wouldn't be necessary. Miami had outscored Oklahoma City by just 389-384 over the first four games, but the Thunder were buried under a barrage of 14 3-pointers, tying the NBA record. "They just hit 3s after 3s. They got it going and we couldn't stop them," Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said. "Things just didn't go our way." Notes: Miami became the third team to sweep the middle three games at home in the 2-3-2 format. The Detroit Pistons took all three from the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004 before the Heat did it against Dallas in 2006. ... Coach Erik Spoelstra tied Pat Riley for the Heat franchise record with his 34th postseason win. He is 34-22, while Riley was just 34-36. ... The four-game losing streak that Oklahoma City finished the season with was its longest of the season. The Thunder had dropped three straight games to Memphis, Miami and Indiana from April 2-6.

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

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USA Today Sports Images

Anthony Ranaudo becomes first White Sox pitcher since Mark Buehrle to hit a home run

Anthony Ranaudo hadn’t reached base in eight major league plate appearances and hadn’t got a hit since his high school days in New Jersey. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, and wasn't given an opportunity to hit while playing for college baseball powerhouse LSU. 

But in his second trip to the plate in the White Sox 3-1 loss to the Cubs Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Ranaudo lifted a solo home run into the right field bleachers off right-hander Jason Hammel. It was a bizarre (in a good way) moment for a guy who also took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against one of baseball’s best offenses. 

“I figured it was going over Heyward’s head,” Ranaudo said. “I thought it was a double at first. I thought it got stuck in the ivy and I kind of pulled up at second base. I looked back at (the White Sox dugout) and realized it was a home run, from the way everybody was reacting and stuff, and I had to finish out the jog. I think it took me a little longer than I wanted it to, but it was a good experience. It was fun.”

Ranaudo last homered nine years ago as a senior at St. Rose High School (Belmar, N.J.), where he actually once faced White Sox third baseman Todd Frazier (Toms River, N.J.) during a state tournament as a freshman. He also blasted a home run in the New Jersey state championship game as a sophomore in 2005. 

With his fifth-inning solo home run, Ranaudo became the first White Sox pitcher to homer since Mark Buehrle blasted a dinger against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park on June 14, 2009. He joined Buehrle and right-hander Jon Garland as the only White Sox pitchers to hit a home run in the designated hitter era (1973-present). 

Ranaudo also became the first pitcher to homer in his White Sox debut since Jack Salveson went deep in a 16-11 loss to the Washington Senators on June 14, 1935. He’s also only the second American League pitcher to homer at Wrigley Field, joining Detroit Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris, who took one out on Aug. 19, 2015. 

Ranaudo, who entered Wednesday with a 17.18 ERA in 2016, had his one-man show spoiled by home runs he allowed to Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. But the former first-round pick out of LSU still won’t forget his White Sox debut thanks to his no-hit bid and mighty wallop. 

“Yeah, that was definitely cool,” Ranaudo said. “Definitely something I’ll remember the rest of my life.”

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

Jay Cutler has answered doubters in Bears locker room, coaching staff

When Jay Cutler came to the Bears in that 2009 trade with the Denver Broncos, he was “the new guy.” The locker room belonged to Olin Kreutz and Brian Urlacher on their respective sides of the football, and while the quarterback position by definition places its occupant in a necessarily leadership position, that wasn’t the Bears. They weren’t going to be “Cutler’s team,” not for a while.

But Matt Forte exited this past offseason and with him went the last position player – on either side of the ball – who had been here longer than Cutler now has. The reality wasn’t lost on Cutler.

“I was looking at the roster a couple of weeks ago and I feel like there’s been a major shift in experience — especially on the offensive side,” he said. “I’m at 11 [years] and then you look down, there’s a couple of nines, a couple of eights and mostly five and under, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think a new talent and new guys in the building, there’s new energy and new attitude. I’ve embraced it. I’ve enjoyed it. I think the coaching staff’s done a great job of getting all these young guys up to speed. It’s a good group right now.”

It is also a group that looks to Cutler perhaps in ways teammates haven’t. Where Forte was at least the template for an NFL professional for his position group, Cutler now becomes the go-to veteran for everything ranging from details on a play-call to how to behave as a rookie.

It is a role that at times Cutler did not always appear to fit into comfortably, particularly with established veterans and personas that were the Bears’ identity for, in cases like Kreutz and Urlacher, a decade or more. Now, a player once sometimes perceived by outsiders as poutish or petulant has become something of a standard-setter for teammates.

“Obviously Jay does a great job with the younger guys,” said guard Kyle Long. “He brought me along, and continues to bring me along. He can be a little honest and blunt with me from time to time, but beyond a shadow of a doubt it’s the right thing to do in his position, as the leader and vested player.

“The quarterback is the leader of our team. I think he’s done a great job. I see him with the defense a lot, which is something I didn’t see a lot the first few years. I don’t necessarily know if that’s on Jay, or if it’s a perception-of-Jay basis. He’s a great guy. People in that locker room love him. He’s tough as hell. He’s got a cannon. He can run. And he’s a competitor. We love him. He’s been great this offseason and we’re looking forward to seeing how he’ll be this season with this new O-line and with the defense getting us the ball back a lot.”

Tough love approach

Cutler has earned the respect of his teammates. But gaining the confidence of his head coach and general manager through last year were possibly career turning points.

Cutler had been given a contract extension six games into his first (2009) year with the Bears. He responded by leading the NFL in interceptions.

When Phil Emery arrived as general manager, he spoke from the outset of Cutler as a “franchise quarterback” and “elite.” Emery gave Cutler a seven-year contract after the 2013 season, whereupon Cutler again led the league in interceptions in a 5-11 season marked by friction with coordinator Aaron Kromer and coach Marc Trestman, whose staff was fired after that year.

Instead of fawning treatment, Fox, coordinator Adam Gase and GM Ryan Pace were decidedly noncommittal on Cutler through last offseason and into the year. Cutler produced the best statistical year of his career, still not as good as Aaron Rodgers’ poorest single season, but with an overall performance that settled the Bears’ quarterback situation for the foreseeable future.

"I had questions on everybody," Fox said. "You come in, you take a job, you evaluate and you have to make decisions oftentimes before you even meet somebody in Year 1 as a head coach or general manager. They could be robots for all you know. But the game is still about people and relationships.

“I will say this: At the conclusion of the whole season working with Jay, I was very impressed. So I feel way more confident about him."

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Javy Baez blast brings Cubs offense out of hibernation in blowout over White Sox

Charles Tillman must be the Cubs' good luck charm.

Just a few minutes after the Bears legend sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" at Wrigley Field, Javy Baez sent one almost out onto Waveland Ave.

That two-run shot put a charge into a Cubs offense that had been scuffling as Baez and Co. wound up beating the White Sox 8-1 in front of 41,166 fans at Wrigley Field.

White Sox starter Anthony Ranaudo was tossing a no-hitter against the team with the best record in baseball before Kris Bryant parked one into the left-field bleachers with one out in the sixth inning.

Baez's blast in the seventh inning turned out to be the game-winner and helped lift this offense out of its funk by tacking on five eighth-inning runs.

Ben Zobrist had an RBI double in that eighth inning and then Addison Russell delivered the big blow with a grand slam off former Cub Jacob Turner.

That late rally ensured Aroldis Chapman did not get his first save in a Cubs uniform, but manager Joe Maddon still employed his shiny new bullpen anyway.

Hector Rondon worked a perfect eighth inning and then Chapman came on to toss the ninth with a seven-run lead.

The new Cubs closer wowed the Wrigley crowd with fastballs clocked at 102 and 103 mph as he struck out Jose Abreu, got Todd Frazier to ground out and then struck out Avisail Garcia.

Ranaudo was the story for the first two-thirds of the game, driving in the only run with an opposite-field homer off Jason Hammel and then keeping the Cubs offense at bay. 

Ranaudo's first career MLB hit was the only blemish on Hammel's line, as the Cubs veteran right-hander struck out seven in seven innings.