No big deal, but the Spurs have won 20 straight

776150.jpg

No big deal, but the Spurs have won 20 straight

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Tony Parker has found balance in his role as a scoring point guard. Two more wins, and the San Antonio Spurs will find themselves playing for another NBA championship. Parker had 34 points and eight assists, Manu Ginobili added 20 points and the Spurs stayed perfect in the playoffs with a 120-111 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night. The Spurs set an NBA record with their 20th consecutive victory bridging the regular season and the playoffs. They came in sharing the longest such streak with the 2000-01 Lakers, who won 19 straight before losing to Philadelphia in the first game of the finals. Those Lakers went on to win the championship and Parker's performance is yet another reason to think the Spurs will do the same. Guided by their All-Star point guard, San Antonio shredded Oklahoma City's defense with pinpoint passes for three quarters. The Spurs were shooting 63 percent from the field and 64 percent from 3-point range at one point in the third quarter and stretched the lead to 22 points in the second half. Parker went 16 for 21 from the field, including a 3-pointer. "Tony's been great all year," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "He's been really focused the entire season." Parker had his highest scoring average since 2008-09 (18.3 points), but he also averaged 7.7 assists in the regular season, a career high. In his 11th season, Parker finally feels comfortable knowing when his demanding coach wants him to pass and when to shoot. "It's always been a battle my whole career," Parker said, "when you're a scoring point guard and Pop wants you to score, then he wants you to pass, and he wants you to score, and he wants you to pass. You go back and forth. "It's always been the biggest room for me to improve, to find a happy middle between scoring and passing, and find that good balance," Parker said. "I think, over the years, I got better at it." The Thunder made a late surge to get within six points, but Parker, Ginobili and Tim Duncan helped San Antonio finish off the Thunder for a 2-0 lead heading into Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City. "First, we've got to worry about Game 3," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook said. "Regardless of what's going on with this last game or the next game, we've got to worry about Game 3 and come in with the same mindset and try to get a win." Kevin Durant had 31 points, Westbrook had 27 points and eight assists and James Harden rebounded from a rough Game 1 to score 30 for the Thunder, who have lost two straight for the first time since early April. Oklahoma City dropped to 15-4 in games after losses this season. "There are no moral victories for us," Durant said. "We were down. We dug ourselves a hole. We did what we normally do, which is fight all game, and we lost." San Antonio picked up where it left off from the 39-point fourth quarter that turned Game 1 on Sunday. With sharp passes and hot shooting, the Spurs jumped to a 19-9 lead after the Thunder missed six of their first seven shots and had three turnovers in the first 4 minutes. The Spurs shot 52 percent (12 for 23) in the opening quarter and led 28-22. Durant was on the bench at the start of the second quarter, and Parker and the Spurs put together a 14-4 spurt to stretch the gap to 13 points. Westbrook hammered Parker's arm on a drive and he crumpled to the court. That didn't faze Parker, who scored the Spurs' next seven points to keep San Antonio rolling. The Spurs shot 58 percent (22 of 38) and had 13 assists in the first half. They also cut down their turnovers, committing only six in the first half after giving away 14 in the first two quarters of Game 1. "You never go out and say, We're going to start out fast,'" Popovich said. "You don't know what is going to happen. You just want your team to be aggressive. Good teams are aggressive and it is, it's a matter of making shots or not making shots." The Spurs resumed picking apart Oklahoma City's defense with precision passes after the break, scoring on five straight possessions. The biggest cheer from the crowd came after Ginobili flipped a behind-the-back pass to Parker in the corner for another 3 and the lead ballooned to 78-58. Late in the third quarter, the Thunder began intentionally fouling Tiago Splitter, a 32 percent free-throw shooter during the playoffs. That backfired, too. Splitter went 5 for 10 over a 54-second span before Popovich replaced him with Duncan, and Oklahoma City trailed by the same margin -- 16 -- that it did when Brooks called for the "Hack-a-Splitter" strategy. It may not have showed on the scoreboard, but the Spurs seemed to lose their edge after that. "There's a reason why you do it, to kill the rhythm," Parker said. "I think it got us out of our rhythm." Parker returned with 10:58 left and San Antonio leading 92-78, but he was shaky on offense for the first time. Gary Neal promptly curled around a screen and swished a 3-pointer, the Spurs' 10th of the game. Parker, Ginobili and Duncan were on the court together at the 8-minute mark, after the Thunder cut the deficit to eight. Ginobili's floater in the lane was only the Spurs' third field goal of the fourth quarter and put San Antonio up 99-89. The Thunder had the deficit down to six with just over 5 minutes remaining. The Spurs missed 12 of 15 shots during one stretch, but Parker hit an off-balance, high-arcing jumper with 3:39 left for a 107-96 lead and San Antonio controlled the game from there. At least now, the Thunder get to return home, where they are 5-0 in the playoffs. But only 14 teams in NBA playoff history have overcome 2-0 deficits to win series, and the Spurs show no signs of letting the Thunder back in it. Notes: The Spurs' winning streak is the longest in the NBA overall since the Houston Rockets won 22 straight between Jan. 29-March 18, 2008, all in the regular season. ... The Thunder are the first team to reach 100 points against San Antonio in the postseason. ... Kawhi Leonard scored 18 points, including three 3-pointers for the Spurs. ... Duncan blocked four shots to tie Hakeem Olajuwon for second in career blocks in the postseason (472). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is the leader (476). ... Oklahoma City's Derek Fisher went 2 for 11 from the field after scoring 13 points in Game 1.

Fire to resume U.S. Open Cup at packed house in Cincinnati

Fire to resume U.S. Open Cup at packed house in Cincinnati

Since arriving this winter, Dax McCarty has been the one to raise the expectations for the Chicago Fire and continued to do so after the Fire beat Orlando.

He raised the question to himself if it was realistic for the Fire to win MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup and he said “Why not?”

The Fire’s U.S. Open Cup hopes take center stage on Wednesday when the team plays at FC Cincinnati in the round of 16. The Fire beat Saint Louis FC in the team’s first match in the tournament and even though Cincinnati is another USL team like St. Louis, things should be different.

Cincinnati is trying to showcase itself as a future MLS market and had a crowd of 30,160 for the 1-0 win against the Columbus Crew last round, which was a record for a U.S. Open Cup match played before the final. Another big crowd is expected when the Fire come to Nippert Stadium.

While cities like St. Louis and San Diego have run into trouble getting stadium deals done, Cincinnati has only had positive momentum so far in the expansion process. For example, there’s a story from USSoccer.com saying Cincinnati is the capital of American soccer.

Cincinnati’s ambition is clear in the statement from team president and general manager Jeff Berding when it was announced that Wednesday’s match will be broadcast on national TV.

“We look forward to showing off our great city as the hottest new soccer market to the rest of country,” Berding said.

To add to the spectacle of the match, a local brewery from each city placed a bet on the match in the name of charity.

The Fire brought mostly a first choice lineup to Missouri in the win last round. Of the Fire’s most common starters, only Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Accam, Nemanja Nikolic and Joao Meira sat out.

This time around Accam and McCarty will be out with their national teams. Nikolic did travel this time around.

The two teams met in the preseason, with the Fire winning 3-2 back on Feb. 22.

Cincinnati features a pair of former Fire players in Austin Berry (2012 MLS Rookie of the Year) and Corben Bone. Cincinnati is 5-5-5 in the USL this season, but as coach Alan Koch said after the team beat Columbus, “The beauty of cup soccer is anything can happen in one game.”

Cubs will make statement with trip to Donald Trump's White House

Cubs will make statement with trip to Donald Trump's White House

WASHINGTON — Within a matter of days last November, the Cubs won a staggering World Series for the first time in 108 years and Donald Trump won a scathing election to become the 45th president.

Those two surreal worlds will collide again on Wednesday when a group of Cubs get a private White House tour that can be interpreted as a political statement, something larger than this four-game series against the Washington Nationals.

This comes less than six months after the Cubs enjoyed an East Room ceremony that became the final official event at Barack Obama’s White House, at a polarizing time when speculation centered on whether or not the Golden State Warriors would skip the traditional photo op with Trump, not wanting to make an implicit endorsement after winning another NBA title.

“You’d have to talk to the Warriors,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday. “To go tomorrow is out of respect to the Ricketts family and to the office and the building itself. Listen, I like the United States a lot. I like living here a lot. And I like everything that it represents a lot.

“So when you get a chance as a citizen to get to go to the White House, you go. I think you go. Whether you like the person that’s running the country or not — out of respect to the office itself — you go.

“I don’t agree with all the other banter that’s going on right now, because I have a different perspective.”

Chairman Tom Ricketts and his brother, Todd, a board member who withdrew his nomination to become Trump’s deputy commerce secretary, brought the World Series trophy to Capitol Hill on Tuesday and did a meet and greet with Illinois Congressional staffers at the Russell Senate Office Building.

Within the Ricketts family/Cubs board of directors, Pete is Nebraska’s Republican governor and Laura was a superdelegate and a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein is also active in Democratic circles.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Maddon also plans to attend a luncheon on Wednesday with young Republicans organized by Congressman Lou Barletta, an old buddy from growing up in Hazleton, Penn., and an early Trump endorser.

“It’s not as ceremonial as the last one was, going there as the World Series champions,” Maddon said. “It’s more based on the Ricketts family relationship and the crowd that’s going to the White House.

“The Ricketts family’s been tied in there really well ... so wherever Mr. Ricketts would like me to go, I’m going to do (it). Mr. Ricketts and the Ricketts family has been good to all of us, so part of that is that.

“The other part is whenever you have a chance to go to the White House, I think it’s easy to say yes out of respect to the office and the building itself.”

Maddon didn’t know if meeting Trump would be on the itinerary and said he understood if some players passed on the invite.

“I don’t have any rules to begin with,” Maddon said. “I just want you to run hard to first base. As long as you run hard to first base, they can make up their own mind whether they want to go to the White House or not.

“Furthermore, not having to wear a suit, I think, is the best part of this whole trip, because, to me, to have to dress a certain way to impress somebody, my God, nobody would ever fail. So I’m all about all of the circumstances right now.”

Maddon didn’t sound at all concerned about the optics of visiting the White House at a time of travel bans, sub-40 percent approval ratings and investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia, or meeting with a president who compared Chicago to Afghanistan.

“I like living here a lot,” Maddon said. “I like this country a lot. And I would much prefer living here than some of the other places that adopt different methods of government.

“I think sometimes that gets confused when people want to take a stand and not really realizing actually what we have, which is a lot better than most every place else.”