Westbrook's heroics can't save Oklahoma City

797286.jpg

Westbrook's heroics can't save Oklahoma City

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Oklahoma City was more than OK at the start. At the end, not so much. The Thunder got an epic performance from Russell Westbrook. They ran out to a huge early lead. They watched LeBron James get carried off the court in the fourth quarter, and took the lead shortly after he departed. Somehow, it still wasn't enough in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Even after getting 43 points from Westbrook, 28 more from Kevin Durant and staking itself to a 17-point lead by the time the first quarter was over, Oklahoma City is now officially on the brink. James finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each scored 25 points and the Miami Heat beat the Thunder 104-98 in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven title series. "I can guarantee this," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We have fight in us." Game 5 is in Miami on Thursday night, where James and the Heat can capture the NBA title that they were assembled to get two years ago. History says the Thunder are now in deep, deep trouble. No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. No team has even forced a Game 7 in the title series when faced with that scenario. Westbrook took 32 shots, as many as James and Chris Bosh tried combined. He made 20 -- half of Oklahoma City's field goals on the night -- and finished with seven rebounds and five assists as well. For a guard who struggled many times against Miami, it was a breakout night that the Thunder desperately needed. "I thought Russell was terrific tonight," Brooks said. "The guy played relentless. He was aggressive. He kept us in this game and he gave us a chance to win." Said Heat forward Shane Battier: "The kid brought it. He's taken a lot of heat in this series, but he's not the reason why the game turned out the way it did tonight." There was one huge blip in Westbrook's night, and it was a play that helped the Heat seal the outcome. After a jump ball with 17.3 seconds remaining, Westbrook fouled Chalmers even though the Thunder would have gotten the ball back because there were less than 5 seconds on the shot clock. Chalmers made both free throws, the lead was five, and Heat fans in the sold-out building knew their team was moments from a 3-1 series lead. After hearing the whistle, Westbrook took a look at the scoreboard and held out his hand, a look of disbelief across his face. "Just a miscommunication on my part," Westbrook said. "Nothing I can do about it now." Durant's mother grabbed her son by both arms as he walked off the floor, hugging him and then using her right hand to turn his face back toward her, trying her best to console the scoring champion. It was a night when the Thunder ran out to a 33-16 lead to buck a trend of slow starts, where Durant and Westbrook were scoring at will, and where Durant threw the Heat an early curve ball by opening the game guarding Chalmers, the Heat point guard. Perhaps he should have stayed on Chalmers, given how good he was in the second half. For the final 16-plus minutes, the Thunder were reduced to playing 2-on-5 basketball. Serge Ibaka made a jumper with 4:46 left in the third quarter, cutting Miami's lead to 68-66. After that, it was either all Westbrook or all Durant, all the time. "We just have to stay together," center Kendrick Perkins said. "It's not over." Sure, the stars were superb, again, just not superb enough to take down Miami. After that Ibaka jumper, no other Thunder player besides the team's two superstars scored a point. "It's not disappointing. It's just, it happens that way," Brooks said. "Russell had a great game. We were going. We were going with him. He was making terrific plays at the basket. He was attacking, he was getting into the teeth of their defense and made basketball plays." Sixth Man of the Year James Harden struggled yet again, shooting 2 for 10 for the second straight game, though he did finish with 10 rebounds. Nick Collison scored six points, but the other three Oklahoma City starters -- Ibaka, Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha -- combined for a mere 13 on 6-for-16 shooting. "We're going to stay aggressive, keep trying to find guys," Westbrook said. "Guys are going to stay confident." Westbrook was amazing. Durant was great. Everyone else was nearly nonexistent, at least offensively. And if the Thunder don't figure out a way to do something no NBA team has ever done throughout the rest of this series, James will finally get that ring he's spent nine seasons chasing. "We're going to keep fighting," Durant said. "Frustrating to lose like that. But we're going to keep fighting, man. That's how we've been since I got here."

A's spring training Day 41: Maxwell's two-HR day can't stave off bad news

A's spring training Day 41: Maxwell's two-HR day can't stave off bad news

PHOENIX — Bruce Maxwell homered twice against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, and his reward was a demotion to the minors.

Awkward timing, for sure. But the news itself wasn’t much of a shock to the A’s catcher, who knew he was the odd man out in a three-man roster battle. The A’s like the left-right platoon behind the plate. Stephen Vogt, who like Maxwell hits left-handed, wasn’t going anywhere. Josh Phegley is back healthy after knee surgery and has the advantage of being a right-handed hitter.

“I mean, I could have come out here and hit 1.000 and I probably still would have been in the same situation,” Maxwell said. “I can’t really do much about it. I try not to worry about it. At the end of the day everybody wants to play in the big leagues, but if the opportunity is not there you can’t stress about it.”

Manager Bob Melvin gave Maxwell the news in the dugout after he exited Oakland’s 11-1 victory, and Melvin certainly couldn’t give Maxwell a justifiable reason for the demotion except that the roster math doesn’t add up.

“Great day to have to do that,” Melvin said sarcastically. “But, he’ll be here at some point. We saw his progression last year, he did a great job for us. There’s nothing he did to suggest he needed to be sent down. It’s just a numbers game for him right now.”

The A’s batted around in a five-run third, knocking Brewers starter Matt Garza from the game after he recorded just seven outs. They tacked on four more in the fourth, with Maxwell going deep to left-center for a two-run homer off Jhan Marinez. In the sixth, he hit a solo shot off Corey Knebel to right-center and also added a run-scoring single to complete his four-RBI day.

Melvin has spoken often of the improving power shown by the 26-year-old Maxwell, who hit .283 with a homer and 14 RBI in 33 games with Oakland last season in his first major league call-up.

“If you look at the power numbers over the years, he’s getting better and better,” Melvin said. “He’s got the chance to be a 20-home run guy in the big leagues.”

NOTEWORTHY: Jharel Cotton held Milwaukee to just a run on four hits over 5 2/3 innings. He bounced back from a wobbly start against Seattle in which he walked five. On Sunday, his toughest challenge was staying loose as the A’s offense put up two time-consuming rallies. Twice, Cotton had to play catch while his teammates paraded around the bases.

But it sure didn’t affect him, as he struck out seven and walked one in his second-to-last spring training start.

“This one, I was more on the attack, using my fastball more so I can set up my changeup and off-speed pitches,” Cotton said. “I know everybody raves about the changeup, but I need my fastball to be there so I can throw that pitch off the fastball.”

He had an entertaining ongoing battle with six-time All-Star Ryan Braun. He struck out Braun on a cutter in the first, gave up a homer to left in the fourth, then battled back from a 3-0 count to get Braun swinging through a fastball in the sixth.

“I got him twice, he got me once,” Cotton said. “I think I won that battle today.”

HEALTH UPDATE: Daniel Mengden, who has missed all of spring with a broken right foot, is scheduled to get his walking boot removed Monday. Mengden said he’ll stay in Arizona for anywhere from two to four weeks, taking part in extended spring training. The good news for the right-hander: He’s been able to play catch while wearing the boot, so that’s a bit of a head-start for him once he gets full mobility with his foot. There’s no timetable yet for his return.

ODDS AND ENDS: The A’s knocked out 16 hits and recorded double-digit runs for the fifth time this spring. They improved to 16-12. … Alejandro De Aza, fighting for an outfield roster spot, went 2-for-3 with an RBI to raise his average to .300. … With few regulars making the trip to Maryvale Baseball Park, second baseman Max Schrock came over from minor league camp and once again made an impact, going 3-for-5 with two doubles and two RBI. … John Axford threw a scoreless inning of relief. Frankie Montas handled the final two innings, allowing one hit with two strikeouts and a walk. The hard-throwing prospect is a candidate for the bullpen as a multi-inning guy.

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

Couture's father: Sharks center dealing with 'ugly injury' after puck to mouth

After requiring a visit to a local hospital in Nashville due to being struck in the face with a deflected puck on Saturday night against the Predators, Logan Couture was able to fly back with the team to San Jose on Sunday morning.

The severity of his injury is still unknown, although his father, Chet, said on Twitter that it was “an ugly injury sadly.”

Another source close to the situation told CSN the injury is “brutal.”

Couture, who lost several teeth, visited with Sharks medical personnel on Sunday and a further update is expected on Monday. 

Perhaps the best-case scenario is that the injury looks a lot worse than it actually is, such as when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was sidelined for one week when he took a puck to the face from the stick Philadelphia’s Shayne Gostisbehere in late December.

Losing Couture for any period of time would be a difficult blow to the Sharks, who have lost their last six in regulation, including Saturday’s 7-2 defeat to the Predators. Couture is third on the team in scoring with 52 points, and has a team-leading 11 power play goals. He entered Saturday’s game with four goals and five assists in his last 10 games, and has arguably been the team’s best player since mid-January.

"You can't replace him, so it would be really tough,” Patrick Marleau said after the game Saturday. “But if that is the case, then guys are going to have to pull up the slack. Definitely we hope he's back sooner.”

Couture was set up just outside the crease in the third period when a Brent Burns point shot late in the second period hit a stick before squarely smacking into the 27-year-old’s mouth. He quickly skated to the dressing room under his own power with just 14 seconds before the intermission.

The Sharks have seven games remaining in the regular season, hosting the Rangers on Tuesday and visiting Edmonton and Calgary later this week. They are tied in points (91) with Anaheim and Edmonton in the Pacific Division.