Monthly Archives: March 2018

The Cleveland Cavaliers Finish Another Playoff Sweep In Basketball

“It’s good for us, and it’s important we stay crisp on the floor,” forward Kevin Love said. “But we’ve been able to find a pretty good blueprint.”

By dismantling their first two opponents, the Cavaliers are conditioning themselves to be even more fearsome as the postseason marches on. They treated the Raptors and the Indiana Pacers, whom they defeated in the first round, like piñatas. Back at their training compound in the Cleveland suburbs, the restorative powers of the massage table and the cold tub await them.

Rest and recovery are James’s two best friends at this stage. On Sunday, he cluttered the box score of the 207th playoff game of his career with 35 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists. In four games against Toronto, James averaged 36 points, 8.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists while shooting 57.3 percent from the field. He is 32. Neither the Pacers nor the Raptors were capable of stopping him, or even slowing him. Up next for the Cavaliers: the Boston Celtics or the Washington Wizards, who are still slugging it out in the conference semifinals.

“I guarantee you, every team’s thought process is: Let’s figure out a way to get past LeBron, and we can play for a title,” said the Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan, who compared the challenge to the Sisyphean task facing opponents of the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls. “As competitors, you want to be in these moments and measure yourself and be able to compete and see. It’s tough. It’s extremely tough. But I wouldn’t want to go against nobody else to make it easy.”

Several teams out west can commiserate with the Raptors. As the N.B.A. edges toward its conference finals, the playoffs are again shaping up as a glorified stage for the Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, who have combined for 15 wins (and counting) without a loss. Everybody else has been background noise.

Nobody would be surprised to see the Cavaliers and the Warriors back in the N.B.A. finals for the third straight year. Both are doing what they can to eliminate wear and tear through the opening rounds.

Last season, the Warriors endured every challenge that the playoffs could deliver. Stephen Curry injured his knee in the first round. His team needed seven games to defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference finals. Facing the Cavaliers in the N.B.A. finals, the Warriors built a three-games-to-one series lead before collapsing. They looked spent by the end.

Golden State has experienced no such issues this time around. Even without the sideline presence of Coach Steve Kerr, who continues to receive treatment for the side effects of spinal surgery in 2015, the Warriors are one victory from sweeping the Jazz in their conference semifinal series. The Jazz outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round, and perhaps that seven-game series took a toll. Or maybe the Warriors are just too good. Their average margin of victory in the first two rounds has been 15.1 points.

More surprising, though, is the way the Cavaliers have coasted. Yes, the Cavaliers are the defending champions. Yes, the Cavaliers employ his eminence, LeBron Raymone James. But there were stretches of the regular season — long stretches, in fact — when they looked mortal. They lost 13 of their final 22 games — and the conference’s top seed, to the Celtics.

“We’re healthy,” James said. “We got more practice time during the playoffs than we did the whole month of March because of injuries and because we were on the road so much.”

At the same time, their struggles turned out to be irrelevant. At practice, Coach Tyronn Lue was developing defensive schemes that he would not reveal until the playoffs. He was also working to incorporate midseason acquisitions like Kyle Korver, who wound up demoralizing the Raptors from 3-point range. On Sunday, he scored 18 points off the bench.

“Guys got bored with the process because we never really used it a lot,” Lue said before Sunday’s game. “But now, you can see that we’re doing it: We’re on the right page; we’re clicking defensively. And that’s because of the work we put in throughout the regular season.”

James toyed with the Raptors. In the second half of Game 3, for example, he lofted a series of runners with his left hand — his off hand. It appeared as if he were doing it just to challenge and amuse himself, to make a lopsided series interesting. He was a big cat pawing at a mouse.

“He seems a lot faster and quicker this year from last year,” DeRozan said, adding, “It’s incredible for someone with that amount of mileage to be able to come back seeming faster and quicker.”

James has long been known as one of the game’s most durable players. Now, in the playoffs, he has made himself as dangerous as ever by playing as few games as possible. Just the way he wants it.

Eugenie Bouchard a Critic of Sharapova’s and Defeats Her in Madrid Tennis

It was Bouchard’s first victory in five meetings with Sharapova, who had 49 unforced errors and nine double faults. Bouchard, ranked 60th, had 21 break opportunities, converting five.

The Madrid Open was only the second tournament for Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, since her 15-month suspension. She received a wild card for Stuttgart last month before reaching the semifinals there, and she received a wild card for Madrid, a tournament she won in 2014. Many players did not like that she received entry without having to qualify.

Bouchard had not backed off her comments, in which she asserted that Sharapova should not be allowed back on the tour.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Bouchard told the Turkish broadcaster TRT World last month. “She is a cheater and so, to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way.”

This week, she got her chance to let her tennis speak for itself.

“It definitely helps when you can back it up,” Bouchard said. “Obviously, there was a lot going on besides tennis in this match. As soon as I stepped on the court, I really just wanted to make it about tennis. We both did that. We just battled our hearts out.”

There were a few long stares and loud cheers by the players after some points. But Sharapova said she did not need extra motivation to play against anybody.

“I’m just one of the two players out on the court,” Sharapova said. “Everything that surrounds myself, I don’t pay attention to much of it. I’ve been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is.”

Sharapova won the first game with a powerful shot at the net that forced Bouchard to protect her body. She deflected the ball with her racket and lost the point.

In a tense game near the end of the first set, Sharapova was frustrated after Bouchard won a point when the ball changed directions after striking a net cord. Bouchard turned around without directly acknowledging her fortune.

News Celtics’ Stretch of Futility Gives Wizards Reason to Believe

When Amir Johnson sank a 3-pointer early in the third quarter, the Celtics were looking fairly good in their playoff game against the Washington Wizards on Sunday night. Boston was up by 5 and appeared to be on the way to stealing a road win to take a three-games-to-one lead in the N.B.A. playoff series.

Then it started to go wrong. The Wizards used an eye-opening 26-0 run to take a 74-53 lead and went on to win, 121-102, evening the series at two games each.

While the Wizards sank an awful lot of shots in that stretch, getting 8 points from Bradley Beal and 7 from John Wall, what happened on the Celtics’ possessions was just as important.

Boston’s six and a half minutes of futility:

4-0: Jae Crowder tried an open baseline 3-pointer that missed. Al Horford followed on the next possession with an airballed 17-foot jumper; because it did not hit the rim, the Celtics were hit with a shot clock violation.

7-0: Another shot clock violation.

9-0: A lunging, off-balance 7-footer by Thomas is missed.

11-0: A timeout by Boston fails to right the ship. Crowder misses a 25-foot 3-pointer short.

14-0: Thomas, continuing to be hounded by the Wizards defense near the top of the key, makes another soft pass. It is stolen by Otto Porter Jr., who breaks away for a dunk.

16-0: Avery Bradley misses a 27-foot 3-pointer. On the next possession, he turns it over when Wall tips the ball from behind. This also leads to an easy Wizards bucket.

19-0: Marcus Smart loses the handle on the ball under pressure from Markieff Morris.

22-0: Thomas commits an offensive foul.

24-0: Thomas tries to drive and falls down for another turnover caused by Morris.

26-0: The Celtics try another timeout, and this time it works. Horford finally scores to end the drought.

Thomas, the Celtics’ star, finished with 19 points and 6 turnovers. After the game, he pointed to what he saw as lax refereeing.

“They were very physical; they were very physical,” he said. “The refs were allowing them to hold and grab and do all those things. I think, especially in that third quarter, I might have hit the ground five or six straight times, and I’m not one that likes hitting the ground. So I think it’s got to be called differently.”

Free throws were fairly even for the game: The Wizards had 27 and the Celtics 24. But Thomas did not shoot one.

“I’m not saying that’s the reason we lost,” Thomas said. “They went on a 26-0 run, and we can’t have that on the road.”

The Celtics are the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but they have been struggling compared with the No. 2 Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston lost its first two games at home to the eighth-seeded Chicago Bulls, before winning that series, 4-2, and is now locked at two apiece with the Wizards. In contrast, the Cavs swept the Indiana Pacers in four close games, then looked even better in sweeping the Toronto Raptors.

As for the Wizards, the 26-0 run and victory raise their hopes of an upset in the series.

“We’re capable of those type of runs every game,” Morris told The Associated Press after the game.

If he’s right, the Celtics are in trouble.

News Giants Battling Misery

“It’s tough, because he has been that fixture,” catcher Buster Posey said. “That first game in Cincinnati, we got trounced, and I believe his spot would have been the second game. Sometimes that can really change the momentum of the series if you have your guy come in and be that stopper. So it’s hard not to think about that.”

The Cincinnati series was historically bad: The Giants lost by 13-3, 14-2 and 4-0. The last time they had been outscored by 26 runs in a series of any length was in 1922, against Pittsburgh at the Polo Grounds.

There is no single cause of the Giants’ misery. Their E.R.A. before Monday was 4.81, ranking 28th of 30 teams in the majors. Their offense was averaging just 3.28 runs per game, the lowest in the National League. They had also made eight errors in their last seven games.

“You never lose your sense of optimism,” Manager Bruce Bochy said. “You’ve got to keep believing, and there’s a lot of baseball left. At the same time, you want to avoid having complacency set in to where you go, ‘Well, there’s a lot of baseball left,’ and you lose that sense of urgency. A lot of things have to happen, to be honest with you. We have to pitch better. We have to swing the bats better. We just have to play better all-around ball.”

The Giants seemed a safe bet for the playoffs before this season. After Bumgarner’s wild-card shutout, the Giants lost a hard-fought division series to the eventual champion Chicago Cubs. The Giants swiftly fixed their most pressing weakness by signing a star closer, Mark Melancon.

But they are also among the older teams — only two N.L. clubs, the Mets and the Atlanta Braves, have an older average age among position players than the Giants’ 29.8 years — and have lately been without shortstop Brandon Crawford and center fielder Denard Span, who are injured. Christian Arroyo, 21, was promoted to hold down shortstop while Crawford recovers from a groin strain (he is on a rehabilitation assignment now), but otherwise there is not much the Giants can do to alter the team’s makeup.

“We can see the issues; we can see the challenges we’re facing,” General Manager Bobby Evans said. “We’ve brought in Arroyo, and we have some options with extra players and the bullpen, but when it comes to the core part of your lineup and the rest of your club, there’s not really so much you can do — other than let them get back into the groove.”

The Giants are committed to several of their headliners; their 2020 payroll already includes more than $88.5 million for Belt, Crawford, Posey, Melancon and starter Jeff Samardzija. Another starter, Johnny Cueto, could make $21 million that year, but he could also opt out of his contract after this season.

That clause complicates Cueto’s trade value if the Giants are far out of the race and want to deal him in July. Only one other impact player — the versatile Eduardo Nunez — is facing free agency after this season, and Evans said the Giants were focused on trying to win with this group. They want to extend their era of glory as long as they can.

“For me personally, and I could probably speak for the guys in here, we’re still hungry for more,” Belt said.

Belt mentioned that the Giants had won without prominent pitchers before. Brian Wilson was injured for the 2012 title run, and Matt Cain was hurt in 2014, when the two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum was essentially an afterthought.

But Bumgarner is this era’s most dependable big-game force, and among the small handful of best pitchers in baseball at any time of the year. His accident hurts the Giants’ chances, to be sure, but Evans said the team was mostly relieved. Two other prominent starting pitchers — Miami’s Jose Fernandez and Kansas City’s Yordano Ventura — have been killed in accidents over the past eight months.

“With all the awful things that have happened in the game, tragically, we actually felt fortunate he wasn’t seriously hurt,” Evans said. “He was wearing a helmet. There are a lot of shoulder injuries that are more severe — this was in one spot, the A.C. joint, and our anticipation is that he will return to full strength.”

Bumgarner is resting until the pain goes away and he can begin to rebuild his arm. But the Giants have no time to waste as they wait for him.

“You’ve got to be careful that you assume the attitude of, ‘Hey, we’ll be fine, we’ll be fine,’” Bochy said. “Well, we’re not fine now, and it’s time for us to do something.”

Information For You Chelsea Moves to Verge of Premier League Title

The result also ensured that Middlesbrough, just one season after it returned to the Premier League, would be relegated to the Championship, English soccer’s second tier, for next season.

Chelsea, though, now needs only one win from its final three matches to regain the title it lost in spectacular fashion last season, when the reigning champions finished 10th and José Mourinho, their manager, lost his job.

Antonio Conte, Mourinho’s replacement, led a revitalization of a team that has been no less eye-catching. Chelsea has held an uninterrupted lead atop the league since December, pulling away while its supposed peers — Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Arsenal — have been left to scrap for the final available places in next season’s Champions League.