Golden State take lead over Houston in West finals

Jay Asser 21/05/2015
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Match-winner: Steph Curry.

The Houston Rockets were in the driver’s seat until the Golden State Warriors broke out their secret weapon, which isn’t much of a secret: their small-ball lineup.

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After falling into a 16-point hole in the second quarter of Game 1 of the Western Conference finals at home on Tuesday night, Golden State’s use of a small, but rangy line-up turned the contest around as the Warriors won 110-106.

“I think the way the game was going, we were not faring very well,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said as his squad improved to 17-14 this season when trailing by at least 10 points.

“Generally speaking, that line-up gives us a lot of energy and good offensive punch.”

With 6:28 remaining in the first half and Golden State down 14, Kerr introduced Stephen Curry, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green at centre.

Despite going against Dwight Howard – who stands 10cm taller – Green didn’t allow the Houston big man to score for the rest of the half from that point on, while the offence erased the deficit in just four minutes, 45 seconds.

“When you try to keep a big in against our small line-up, it’s rough,” Green said. “Because we go into a pick-and-roll with myself and Steph, and if they trap or stay high, try to get in the pocket and make plays out of it.

“They struggled a bit with the small line-up when they were big with Dwight. That’s what kind of changed the game for us.”

Howard couldn’t get much going throughout the game, finishing with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting and five turnovers. He played 26 minutes and suffered a knee injury in the first quarter when team-mate Josh Smith rolled onto his leg after a missed shot.

“It’s very painful,” Howard said. “I tried to play it off as much as possible, but I couldn’t give my teammates what I needed to give them.”

The Rockets centre was instrumental in their series comeback against the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round, in which he averaged 17.6 points, 13.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

Whether he’s at less than full-strength due to the injury or neutralised by Golden State’s small-ball attack, Howard could struggle to have the same impact this series.

In the match-up of this season’s MVP favourites, James Harden kept Houston afloat with a near triple-double with 28 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds, but Houston couldn’t slow down Curry.

The Warriors point guard splashed 6-of-11 from long range for 34 points, giving trouble to the variety of Rockets defenders thrown on him.

Houston are now winless in five meetings with Golden State this year, while the Warriors moved to 44-3 this season at home.

Game 2 will again be at Oracle Arena on Thursday night (+05:00) before the series shifts to Houston for Game 3 and 4.

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fahad 20/05/2015
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The Cleveland Cavaliers prepared for Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals against Atlanta Hawks.









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#360USA: New York derby success a major coup for MLS

Steve Brenner 18/05/2015
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At the double: Bradley Wright-Phillips.

The derby honours were clinically grabbed by Bradley Wright-Phillips but really there was only one winner.

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Back in Manhattan, the men in blazers who run MLS would have been clapping gleefully with broad smiles on their faces similar to those worn by NY Red Bulls fans in New Jersey earlier this month following the triumph over their newly found NYCFC enemy.

The inaugural New York derby was a huge moment for commissioner Don Garber. It also was an important moment in time for soccer in the United States. When Garber accepted the money from Abu Dhabi in 2013 to set up NYCFC, his thoughts would have instantly forwarded to the possibilities of a fiercely popular, local Big Apple battle with long ranging after effects.

Forget the problems of foreign owners using his league as a cash cow which can market other notable ventures (Manchester City) in North America.

In such a vast country, local derbies in MLS are simply not an option. Seattle versus Portland is seen as the most raucous of rivalries yet that’s thanks to their similarly fanatical, exuberant fan base rather than proximity.

The now-disbanded Chivas USA and LA Galaxy matches were branded as the ‘Superclasico.’ Funnily enough, that never caught on.

No, what Garber and his friends who walk in the corridors of power needed was something to light up a massive, global media and sporting market like New York City.

Get people talking. Get people, non-believers and general sports fan alike, interested. Rivalries breed interest like no other.

At the end of a lively 90 minutes played live on Fox TV here in the US as well as on Sky Sports in the UK, the fevered build-up which preceded the match itself was not misplaced. The atmosphere, something which has been lacking in MLS and certainly at Red Bull Arena in the past, was cranked up a welcome few notches.

I was in Orlando for the start of the season and, with over 60,000 in attendance at a brilliantly renovated Citrus Bowl, was hugely impressed with the whole experience. That’s not to say stadia up and down the land are going ballistic every week. The big four of NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL remain in the forefront of the US media.

Without doubt the drama being played out in the basketball and ice hockey play-offs over the last two weeks has been sporting drama of the highest order.

Yet the events have been interpreted, certainly with this particular observer, as a watershed moment. The run up to the game – the phony war, the social media sniping, the extended coverage in the baseball heavy New York tabloids – pointed to a certain shift in attitude. This was, after all, a derby with no history. ‘El Plastico’ was the joke doing the Twitter rounds.

Thankfully the evening played out perfectly. A healthy travelling contingent of 1,500 (once again, the size of the US ensures traditional away support remains minimal at best) played their part and people, crucially, were left wanting more.

In a city with so much sporting choice, it remains a surprise that the initial crowds at NYCFC’s temporary home of Yankee Stadium have been eye-catching.

An average heading upwards of 30,000 has given instant notice that NYCFC have a role to play in the Big Apple’s historic and vibrant sporting fabric.

“The atmosphere at our home games has been fantastic all season,” said NYCFC president Tom Glick. “We are pleased with the momentum we have had in ticket sales.”

It’s all the more impressive considering the shambolic run up this season. The fiasco over Frank Lampard’s predictably protracted arrival blotted their copy book early on.

A soccer specific stadium needs to be built sooner rather than later to give fans a real home. They are pencilled in for a three year stay in the Bronx. That’s too long – a viable alternative needs to rear its head yet options are limited. Of course, it’s early days.

The fact that defeat to the Red Bulls left Jason Kreis’ side with just one win from their first 10 matches should not be overlooked. Star striker David Villa has been struggling with hamstring and hip problems while Lampard’s arrival simply cannot come soon enough.

With the advent of the US national team impressing at the World Cup last summer, TV ratings are on the rise as well as NBC’s Premier League coverage raising awareness every week, it’s boom time for fans.

The battle now is to maintain these heady heights. Steven Gerrard and Lampard’s grand entrances this summer couldn’t have come at a better time.

NHL

Alex Ovechkin will think again before daring to speak of the blatantly obvious. The Washington Capitals star enraged the New York Post to a level close to utter explosion with his declaration after game six of their enthralling playoff clash with the NY Rangers ended in favour of the Big Apple’s finest.

“We’re going to play our game, and we’re going to come back and play either Montreal or Tampa in the Eastern Conference finals,“ he said without the hint of a taunt or blast.

Effectively, the Russian declared his side would win. If he had said, ‘no we will lose’ or ‘I hope all Rangers fans catch the bubonic plague’, it would have created a far greater storm.

The rage though was clear. ‘SHUT THE PUCK UP’ and ‘PUCK OFF’ were the over-the-top headlines thrown at Ovechkin.

Naturally, the glee of seeing the man known as the ‘Great Eight’ fail once more was mixed in nicely with the euphoria of the Rangers coming back from the dead to win the series.

NFL

If in doubt, or angry at the NFL, chain yourself to each other and moan about the whole injustice of it all.

While the country was still trying to come to terms with the astonishing fall-out from ‘Deflategate’, four attention-seekers who happen to all work for the same sporting website decided to take matters into their own hands.

Brave soldiers David Portnoy, John Feitelberg, Hank Lockwood, and Paul Gulczynski made their way to NFL HQ in Manhattan and staged a sit-down protest at the fines and bans dished out to Tom Brady (above) and the Patriots.

They handcuffed themselves to each other and held signs mocking commissioner Roger Goodell, reading ‘Free Brady’, ‘Fire Goodell’ and ‘Hate us cause they ain’t us.’

Thankfully the quartet were arrested, presumably for wasting everyone’s time.

NBA

It was the kind of debilitating defeat which sparks change. 

The look on the face of Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thiboeau’s facepretty much said it all as the Cleveland Cavs swept into the Eastern Conference final. To lose to an inspired LeBron James is one thing, yet to be destroyed 94-73 on your home court is something else.

 Downcast: Thibodeau.

It was the worst defeat in their proud history and there will be repercussions. But Thibodeau won’t go easily. And why should he? With two years left of a $9m deal, he can just sit tight.

The Bulls’ perfect scenario would be for New Orleans, after they sacked Monty Williams, to make an approach and trigger a move involving compensation.

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