OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer


OKC sends Kobe, Lakers home for the summer

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- With the Oklahoma City Thunder just starting to come to life, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant didn't need to take a break. They will have enough time to rest as they get ready for a second straight trip to the Western Conference finals. Westbrook scored 28 points, Durant added 25 points and 10 rebounds, and the two All-Stars skipped their usual rest periods to power the Thunder ahead in the second half for a 106-90 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the West semifinals on Monday night. "We know that's the most important time of the game, especially in a tight game," Durant said. "I think that we kept our composure throughout the fourth, and our poise and we made plays." Kobe Bryant scored 42 points for the Lakers and took the briefest of rest -- less than 2 minutes -- in the second half. It didn't even take that long for the game, and their season, to slip away. After getting eliminated by Los Angeles in 2010 and Dallas in 2011 before both of those teams went on to win it all, the Thunder knocked both out on their way to the West finals for the second straight year. The only other time the franchise made consecutive conference finals was from 1978-80, including Seattle's only NBA title in 1979. Once there, they'll face the top-seeded Spurs, the only team other than the Lakers or Mavs to win the West in the past 13 years and currently riding an 18-game winning streak. The series starts Sunday night in San Antonio. After Westbrook's pair of three-point plays fueled a 14-3 burst that put Oklahoma City ahead to stay late in the third quarter, Durant hit two 3-pointers as the Thunder scored the first 10 points of the fourth to push their lead to 93-77. Bryant was waiting to check in when Durant connected on his second 3-pointer, just 89 seconds into the fourth quarter. But by the time he got in, there was little he could do -- despite the 13th 40-point game of his playoff career. "That what we do. That's our rotations and that's the right rotation to make," Bryant said. "You have to trust that unit coming in there to hold the fort down." Lakers coach Mike Brown said he trusted that unit -- including starters Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum -- after it had turned a five-point deficit into a lead to start the second quarter. "I've got to be able to rest Kobe a few minutes here and there, and we didn't do a good job of handling it at that point in the game," Brown said, adding that he didn't keep Bryant out as long as he had planned. Westbrook went running to the scorer's table and pumped his fist in the air after his first energizing three-point play, when he was able to flip the ball in after Ramon Sessions fouled him on the fast break. "I just tried to throw it to the rim and luckily it went in. That kind of sparked us, and everybody else kept it going from there," Westbrook said. Westbrook converted another after banking in a jumper from the left side despite Sessions slapping him on the arm to make it 82-76 with 1:29 left in the third quarter. Durant extended the lead with a 3-pointer in the opening minute of the fourth and then hit another 32 seconds later -- just after Bryant had stepped to the scorer's table to check in after a brief rest. Bryant described it as "tough, to say the least." After blowing a fourth-quarter lead in Game 4, Bryant had called out forward Pau Gasol to be more aggressive -- much as he had with Gasol and Bynum before the Lakers faced elimination in Game 7 of the first round against Denver. Gasol came through with a monster game -- 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists -- and Steve Blake scored a playoff career-best 19 points to save the Lakers that time. Bryant didn't get nearly as much help against the Thunder. Gasol took 14 shots, his most of the series, but made only five to finish with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Metta World Peace scored 11 and Bynum 10. James Harden added 17 points as Oklahoma City's bench outscored the Lakers' 35-5. The Thunder also had a 30-6 edge in fast-break scoring. The Lakers were outrebounded 51-35 and had only three offensive rebounds, two from Gasol and none from Bynum. "We're asking our bigs to do a lot but I know for sure we could have gotten more scoring from those two guys in the offensive rebounding category ... and we could have gotten more from our bench," Brown said. The Thunder got five of their first eight baskets on dunks and controlled the boards early on, grabbing 16 of the game's first 22 rebounds while keeping Los Angeles off the offensive glass for the first 11 minutes. Bryant had to create all of the offense, scoring 15 of the Lakers' first 19 points and getting all six of his baskets without the benefit of an assist. When others started chipping in, the Lakers went on a 16-7 run to go up 35-32 following Bynum's three-point play. Oklahoma City scored the next eight points, including Harden's fast-break dunk, before Bryant got past him for a pair of dunks of his own -- the first a driving, two-handed reverse jam and the second a two-handed alley-oop slam over Harden. But Bryant and World Peace both drew technical fouls as the Lakers lost their cool with 31.9 seconds left before halftime when World Peace was called for a flagrant foul against Thabo Sefolosha on a fast break. World Peace used his right hand to strip the ball from Sefolosha as he went up to the basket but then shoved him out of bounds with his left hand. Sefolosha hit both free throws and Durant capitalized on both shots from the technicals World Peace and Bryant got for arguing the flagrant call to put the Thunder 54-51 ahead at halftime despite shooting less than 40 percent. Notes: The Lakers had baskets just after the buzzer at the end of the second and third quarters that both got reviewed on instant replay. ... Westbrook got a technical foul for cursing at an official after a no-call midway through the first quarter. ... The Thunder's Nick Collison needed stitches to close a cut on the back of his head that he sustained during Game 4. ... Los Angeles is 10-3 when Bryant scores 40 points in the playoffs, losing both times he did it this season.

Dwyane Wade saves the day in debut as Bulls top Celtics

Dwyane Wade saves the day in debut as Bulls top Celtics

The dream opening was turning into a nightmare as the ball rolled out to Dwyane Wade in the corner with the shot clock headed toward danger zone and the Bulls firmly there as a collective.

Three seconds later, Wade was signaling to the United Center crowd that it was okay to exhale after a contested, step-back triple over Avery Bradley with 26.3 seconds left, giving the Bulls a five-point lead.

Moments later, he trailed Gerald Green down the sideline before the ensuing inbounds pass, telling the Celtic some things he certainly didn’t want to hear before stripping Green of his 3-point attempt and knocking it off Green’s hands to seal the 105-99 season opening win over the Boston Celtics Thursday night.

It was a small reminder that just in case the Chicago Cubs need some help in the ninth inning Friday night, The Closer can step into the phone booth and save the day.

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It finished Wade’s 22-point, six-rebound, five-assist performance in his official debut as a Chicago Bull, hitting four triples and in effect, masking some serious fourth-quarter questions about shot-creation and continuity that need to be answered over the next several months.

Jimmy Butler led the Bulls with 24 points and seven rebounds in 36 minutes, as the night began with a bang but nearly fizzled after the Bulls blew a 15-point lead—with the Celtics threatening to ruin a festive and hopeful atmosphere.

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas lived up to his namesake, nearly becoming a Bulls’ killer with 25 points on just 15 shots, carrying the Celtics’ offense as it rallied to take advantage of a stagnant Bulls’ showing before Wade saved the night.

The Bulls shot just 39 percent from the field compared to the Celtics’ 50, but the Bulls dominated the offensive glass, with seven Bulls picking up six rebounds or more and outrebounding the Celtics by 19.

Taj Gibson scored four quick points when the Celtics first began to threaten midway through the fourth, and the Celtics were about to steal a win before Wade did what he does best.

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Why Cubs won’t risk playing Kyle Schwarber in the outfield during World Series

Kyle Schwarber plays baseball with the same run-through-a-brick-wall mentality that once made him an All-Ohio linebacker in high school. The Cubs feed off that energy and the explosive power that’s already made him a legendary playoff hitter, even though he still hasn’t played a full season in the big leagues yet, and even after a layoff that lasted more than six months. 

As bad as Schwarber wanted this – and as much as president of baseball operations Theo Epstein senses the chance to eliminate the Cleveland Indians and make history – the Cubs couldn’t make such an important decision based on emotions.

After consulting with Dr. Stephen Gryzlo, the team’s orthopaedist, and Dr. Daniel Cooper, who performed the surgery on an extremely valuable left knee, the Cubs couldn’t get medical clearance to start Schwarber in the outfield for World Series Games 3, 4 and 5 at Wrigley Field this weekend.

“Of course, we’re all disappointed,” Epstein said. “We’d love to see Kyle out there getting four-plus at-bats a game. But I think it was important to talk to a medical professional, who’s objective and detached from the situation.

“We’re all wrapped up in seeing how well Kyle swung the bat and how it impacted us and the stage that we’re on and our desire to win.

“There is the possibility of us getting carried away and throwing caution to the wind. But that’s why you have to consult the doctors and follow their professional judgment.”

Whatever disappointment he may have felt after initially getting the news, Schwarber buried it by the time he followed Epstein into the makeshift interview room after Thursday’s workout at Wrigley Field, vowing to be ready to pinch-hit at any time and giving future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona something to think about in the visiting dugout. 

“It’s not disappointing at all,” Schwarber said. “It was a long shot at the most. Obviously, I want to be out there for my teammates and everything. It’s just the competitor inside me. But facts are facts. I just can’t physically do it.”

Schwarber refused to concede after a full-speed collision in the outfield on April 7, attacking his rehab process with the same intensity that made him the fourth overall pick in the 2014 draft and such a force on last year’s 97-win team (16 homers in 69 games plus five more in the playoffs).

Showing virtually no signs of rust, Schwarber went 3-for-7 with two walks and two RBI as the designated hitter while the Cubs split Games 1 and 2 at Progressive Field. 

“The doctors were very convicted that there’s just too much risk in playing the outfield,” Epstein said, “because of the dynamic actions involved, the instantaneous reactions, the need to cut in the outfield, the dynamic, athletic movements that are unanticipated in the outfield. 

“This was not just an ACL tear. This was a complete blowout of his knee, multiple ligaments (involved and) an expected eight-month, return-to-play, best-case scenario.

“We have to look out for Kyle’s long-term interests. We have a lot of confidence in other guys, too. We won 103 games. We have all the faith in the world in our other outfielders. And on top of that, we now have Kyle off the bench to take maybe the most important at-bat in the game at a given point.”

One of those outfielders – Chris Coghlan – understands the big-picture concerns for Schwarber after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during an on-field pie-to-the-face celebration with the Florida Marlins in 2010. 

“That’s my biggest worry for him personally,” Coghlan said. “I rushed back and reinjured it. And I don’t say that to scare him. They got doctors. They got a million people running over it. But what he’s doing is remarkable.

“To be able to go in there and just put competitive at-bat after competitive at-bat on the biggest stage (after) being out six months and only having maybe eight at-bats (in the Arizona Fall League) – it’s just a testament to his character and his perseverance. And that’s what makes him a special player.”

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Knowing how Schwarber is wired, the Cubs probably couldn’t have cut a deal where he gave something less than a maximum effort in the outfield and conserved his body to take vicious left-handed swings. But the medical experts did not present that option. 

“There would not have been a player to be cleared under this scenario,” Epstein said. “But that said, if we had been able to clear him only under the condition that he only go 60 percent: a.) I don't think Kyle knows how to go 60 percent, especially in a World Series-type game; and b.) At 60 percent, you’re such a tremendous defensive liability, it’s probably not worth the offense that you get on the other side, anyway.

“But that wasn’t the case. It was black and white. He simply is not medically cleared to play, regardless of his effort level.”

A crowd already delirious from the franchise’s first World Series at Wrigley Field in 71 years will still create a deafening roar at the sight of Schwarber walking up to home plate with a bat in his hand.

“Deep down in my heart, I really wanted to,” Schwarber said. “But there’s obviously the doubts (about) the injury. It was a huge injury. And that’s the facts. Not many people get this opportunity that I’m in right now, so I’m embracing (it). I’m going to cheer my teammates on. And when my time comes, I’m going to be ready.”