LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — James Harden couldn’t get his shot to fall all night, so the scorer turned stopper.
In this wild Game 7 that took one strange turn after another in the final seconds, the biggest play came when a guy known almost entirely for his offence turned up the defence.
Harden made up for a miserable shooting night with a big blocked shot, Russell Westbrook scored 20 points against his former team and the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder 104-102 on Wednesday night to win the first-round series.
“It was one of those nights offensively so I just wanted to change the game defensively and I think I did that,” Harden said.
The Rockets pulled out a tense final game of the first round that lasted long past the final basket as replays and fouls were sorted out.
“I’ve been around a long time and just at the end it was a little crazy,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said.
In the end, Houston prevailed to set up a second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers that begins Friday despite Harden, the NBA’s leading scorer, going 4 for 15 from the field.
“These are the games, you want to win a championship or win playoff games, you’ve got to do it with your heart,” D’Antoni added.
The frantic final seconds of a game that was tight throughout had Houston take the lead for good at 103-102 when P.J. Tucker scored with 1:25 remaining. After changes of possession, the Thunder got the ball to Lu Dort, who attempted a 3-pointer that Harden blocked with 4.8 seconds left.
Robert Covington made a free throw with 1.4 seconds to go and Harden was whistled for fouling Danilo Gallinari before the ball was inbounded, giving the Thunder one free throw and the ball. But Gallinari missed the free throw and the Thunder turned it over on the last inbounds pass.
Westbrook helped defend that, perhaps remembering some of his old coach’s plays.
“I kind of know a little bit,” Westbrook said.
Covington had 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Eric Gordon also scored 21 points for the Rockets. Harden finished with 17 points and nine assists.
Dort scored a career-best 30 points for the Thunder. Chris Paul, swapped for Westbrook over the summer, had 19 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds.
“It’s a tough one. It’s tough,” Paul said. “We fought hard all year. Honestly, a lot of people doubted us, but we didn’t doubt ourselves. We didn’t give a damn about anybody’s predictions going into any series.”
It was a wild conclusion to a strange series in which the Rockets won Games 1 and 2 handily and Game 5 by 34, the biggest margin in franchise post-season history, but hadn’t come through in the close ones. Oklahoma City took Game 3 in overtime by outscoring Houston 15-3, the largest overtime point differential in NBA history, and pulled out Game 4 by three points and Game 6 by four.
The Rockets had no chance of winning this one in a rout thanks largely to Harden’s struggles. He missed 10 of his 12 shots through three quarters but they were ahead 85-80 behind a strong performance from Westbrook, who missed the first four games of the series with a strained right quadriceps.
Covington then hit a couple key 3-pointers in the fourth and Harden made two of his three shots in the period, including a basket that snapped a 99-all tie.
The Thunder closed the first quarter with a 10-2 spurt to take a 30-29 lead. Then it was Dort with a 12-point second quarter, hitting three 3-pointers to continue a remarkable turnaround from Game 5, when his 3-for-16 night included going 0 for 9 behind the arc. He bounced back with 13 points in Game 6.
“It was one of the most impressive things I’ve seen out of a player that young,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said.
One of his 3s gave the Thunder a six-point lead, but Houston closed strong to lead 61-59 at the break.
Houston got the final five points of the third on a basket by Westbrook and a 3-pointer by Jeff Green, another former Oklahoma City player.
Thunder: Dort, an undrafted rookie originally signed to a two-way contract who played 13 games this season in the NBA G League, scored the most points by a Thunder rookie in a playoff game. … The Thunder were called for delay of game twice in the first half. The second, an automatic technical foul, came when Paul remained in the lane tying his shoe in an apparent attempt to give Donovan a chance to challenge a foul that had been called on the point guard.
Rockets: Houston is 7-5 in Game 7s, including 1-1 under D’Antoni. The Rockets had lost their two other Game 7s in the first round, against Utah in 2007 and Dallas in 2005. … Green scored 13 points.
HERE AND NOW
Nobody knows yet when and where the NBA will return after this season and D’Antoni has other questions about the future, with the contract expiring after this one. But he said he wasn’t thinking about any of that leading into Game 7.
“Not really. I think the moment’s too big to get distracted,” he said. “We’ve been through a lot, I’ve been through a lot in all kinds of different ways, so I’m just looking forward to tonight.
Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees – CBC.ca
The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.
Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.
“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”
Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.
Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.
The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.
And then there was one! ☝️ <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreBlueJays?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WeAreBlueJays</a> <a href=”https://t.co/druwv41Bmw”>pic.twitter.com/druwv41Bmw</a>
Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.
With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.
Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.
Ray earns timely outs
Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.
New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.
“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”
“That seals the deal. I am no longer a Danny Jansen fan 😤” – that baseball <a href=”https://t.co/ijJMJ3UZwV”>pic.twitter.com/ijJMJ3UZwV</a>
Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.
The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.
New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.
Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.
Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.
Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.
Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter
Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.
It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.
We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.
Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.
Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.
The MLB record for greatest run differential in a save is 27: Wes Littleton was given a save for his three innings of effective relief in the Rangers’ 30-3 win against the Orioles. https://t.co/E1I8CfV58u
— Minor Leaguer (@Minor_Leaguer) September 24, 2020
We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:
- Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
- Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
- Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
- Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
- Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
- Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
- Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
- Joe Panik only managed a walk.
- Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).
Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).
No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.
Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.
We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.
Lightning’s Stamkos secures place in Cup lore with Game 3 goal vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — Seven seconds.
That’s how much time the puck spent on Steven Stamkos’s stick blade on this night, and perhaps that’s all it will spend there throughout the entirety of this Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run.
That’s all the hard-luck captain needed to secure his place in Stanley Cup lore. Seven freaking seconds.
Somehow, after spending 60 days as a practice-only player inside the NHL bubble and going 210 days between games, Stamkos scored the biggest goal of a career overflowing with them.
He was in full stride down the right boards when Victor Hedman hit him in the neutral zone. He blew past Esa Lindell, who defended the play poorly and managed to settle a bouncing puck in time to tuck it up under the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin.
The Lightning bench exploded. Jon Cooper said the reaction was “just a little bit louder” than any of the others during a playoff run that has included five overtime goals. The coach saw it as a sign his team wouldn’t be denied, and they weren’t while grabbing a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 5-2 victory Wednesday.
“It was pretty damn cool,” said Cooper.
Stamkos called it a dream come true.
Forget the unfortunate timing of the injuries that have cost him big playoff games and a chance at playing for Team Canada at the Olympics in recent years. Just being trapped inside the bubble with no guarantee of playing would be agony for someone who has given as much to the Lightning as Stamkos.
And then to get in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and only be able to play five shifts and score on one of them after not playing for seven months?
Hollywood might not accept that script.
“At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win,” said Stamkos. “I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys. And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.
“It was great to be part of.”
Quickly, the backstory: Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be recovered in time for the second round of a normal playoffs. Then we had the COVID-19 pause, he had some kind of setback while preparing for the NHL’s return to play and the Lightning have gone on a run without him.
But he’s remained a large figure in the shadows.
You could see him dousing Brayden Point with water after he scored a quintuple overtime goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 and he was summoned to the ice to help the Lightning accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after they eliminated the New York Islanders.
Everything he had to endure in order to even play for two minutes 41 seconds of Wednesday’s game has happened behind the walls. And based on the fact he sat on the bench while not taking a shift for the final 46 minutes here suggests we might not see him in uniform again for the rest of this series.
So that goal? That was something.
“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”
Added Victor Hedman: “This is how much he means to us as a teammate and as a leader and as a friend. We were just super happy for him.”
Stamkos played six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Final and didn’t manage to score. In this situation, the Lightning put him on the fourth line alongside Cedric Paquette (zero goals this playoffs) and Pat Maroon (one goal this playoffs) and he produced one in limited minutes before his injury forced him to become a spectator.
What happens next will determine what this means historically.
But what it meant to Stamkos and the Lightning won’t change no matter what. He’s only going to get so many chances like this one.
“It was amazing to be a part of a huge win for us,” he said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”
This was a kid who used to go to shooting school twice per week and fire 500 pucks per session. That’s a skill that endured the injuries, the layoff, everything.
It made this moment possible.
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