Blazers rookie Lillard rankles Bulls with last-second dunk

944495.png

Blazers rookie Lillard rankles Bulls with last-second dunk

PORTLANDPrior to his teams loss to the Trail Blazers, Bulls head coach was practically gushing over Portland rookie point guard Damian Lillard, a strong early-season Rookie of the Year candidate.

Very impressive. His skill set makes him very hard to guard. His ability to shoot the ball sets everything up. Very clever in the pick-and-roll. Plays with a lot of poise for a rookie, Thibodeau evaluated. Hes taking seven threes a game and if he gets a clean look at it, its always a very good shot, so that sets up the drive, and when you add in Aldridge and Batum and Matthews, its a very explosive team.

The young floor general, the sixth overall pick in Junes NBA Draft out of tiny Weber State, has indeed opened up his eyes with his play this season, showing the ability to step up in the clutch, run a team at a high level, knock down shots and get into the lane and finish. Lillard finished with 16 points Sunday evening, but it was his final two that raised a mild controversy.

With the game already in hand following the Bulls last-gasp comeback, the point guard took the ball in for a two-handed dunk with 0.9 seconds on the clock. Afterwards, he was confronted by Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson, who werent too pleased with his display of showmanship, which many perceive to unsportsmanlike in NBA circles.

It is what is, Thibodeau said about the play.

Asked if he spoke to Lillard, Noah responded, Yeah, but its a non-issue. Its okay.

Gibson, however, was more forthcoming about the incident.

Lillard didnt say anything. He was making a scene out of nothing. He made a dunk, and me and Joakim just addressed it like, In the future, youve just got to be smarter. A lot of teams are not going to let you do that, and Trail Blazers forward Jared Jeffries just came up and told me the same thing, that I was right, he explained. But it wasnt anything more than that. I was just like, You cant do that. Youve got to be smart.

Bulls backup point guard Nate Robinson, who shares an agency with Lillard, was also on the court and talked to Lillard, who hes previously reached out to as a veteran dispensing advice.

I just told him, Thats not the right play, dog. Just dribble the ball out. You all have got the victory already, stuff like that. Everybody around the league watches that. That pisses people off. Youre losing already, then youre going to finish it off with the dunk at the end. Thats how, you could say, flagrant fouls and things like that happen. You dont want anything like that to happen to anybody in the league, where guys kind of hold grudges about things like that.

But its a part of basketball. It happens. Its not a big deal, but its just something that you dont, Robinson recounted. I just told him, Thats not the right play, dog. You had a good game, just dribble it out and then, we go on our way. Take our L like a man.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”    

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

The White Sox offense finally came alive in the ninth inning. But it came one run short of completing an epic last-ditch comeback.

The White Sox were silenced by Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Buck Farmer and went to the ninth inning down 4-0. But the South Siders woke up at the last minute for three runs, only to fall with the tying run on third base in a 4-3 decision at Guaranteed Rate Field, the second game of Saturday's doubleheader.

Down a quartet of runs heading to the bottom of the ninth, Jose Abreu led off with a double, and two batters later, Matt Davidson singled, putting runners at the corners with one out. Abreu came home when Tim Anderson singled up the middle, and Davidson and Anderson both scored on Yolmer Sanchez's triple into the right-field corner to make it a one-run game. But Todd Frazier and Adam Engel struck out with Sanchez 90 feet away to end the game.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Prior to the late-inning dramatics, the White Sox couldn't do a thing offensively, mostly thanks to the efforts of Farmer, who struck out 11 in his 6.1 shutout innings. He allowed only three hits and two walks in his first appearance of the 2017 season.

White Sox starter Derek Holland allowed just one run and struck out eight but left trailing 1-0. The Tigers scored three more runs off the White Sox bullpen thanks to a sacrifice fly, a wild pitch and a Victor Martinez solo home run.