Celtics

The LA Kings are one win from the Stanley Cup

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The LA Kings are one win from the Stanley Cup

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- After Jonathan Quick put Los Angeles on the brink of its first NHL title with yet another shutout, the Kings' unbeatable goalie wore pretty much the same placid expression he sports after exhibition wins in September. Almost nothing bothers Quick, including nearly all of the New Jersey Devils' 72 shots in the Stanley Cup finals. Nothing affects his poise in the crease or his focus on the next victory -- and that's the only goal remaining for the Kings near the end of a playoff run with few equals in NHL history. "We're just trying to win one game here, that's all we're trying to do," Quick said. If they do, he'll get to drink from the Stanley Cup. Maybe that will put a smile on this goalie's face. Quick made 22 saves in his third shutout of the postseason, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams each had a goal and an assist, and the eighth-seeded Kings beat New Jersey 4-0 Monday night to take a 3-0 series lead in front of a sold-out arena daring to believe in the end of a 45-year championship drought. Alec Martinez scored the opening goal several minutes after Los Angeles killed a key 5-on-3 disadvantage. Jeff Carter and Williams added late power-play goals for the Kings, who improved to an astonishing 15-2 in the postseason. Only the 1988 Edmonton Oilers can compare with their 16-2 run to the Cup. The Kings can match them with a win in Game 4 on Wednesday night. "I don't think we're too surprised," said Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who has scored in every game of the finals. "We know we have a great team in here. Before this game, it easily could have been 2-0 for them. It is a tight series, but at the same time, we are really confident with the team we have in here." And with good reason: Los Angeles has jumped to a 3-0 lead in its fourth straight series -- a feat never accomplished in NHL history before these seemingly charmed Kings steamrolled every opponent in their path. Yet there's not much excitement yet among the Kings, who realize the folly of celebrating anything that isn't the Cup. Captain Dustin Brown didn't pick up the Campbell Bowl after winning Los Angeles' second conference title, and nobody was touching any speculation about the Cup. "We're obviously not going to be stone-faced if we do something we've been waiting our whole lives for," Williams said. "We're going to keep pushing forward. We're a focused group right now. We're not going to let anything get in our way. We certainly don't want to get back on that plane." Martin Brodeur stopped 17 shots, but the Devils couldn't beat the impenetrable Quick, who has allowed just 24 goals in 17 playoff games, or his penalty-killers, who turned aside six power plays -- none bigger than a 60-second kill during 5-on-3 play late in the first period that left the Kings' fans standing and roaring. "I think the (penalty-kill) was the difference in the game," Quick said. The relative youngster in black has outplayed the 40-year-old Brodeur, and New Jersey must accomplish just the fourth comeback from an 0-3 series deficit in NHL playoff history to win its fourth title. "It's not the best situation," Brodeur said. "It's probably the worst situation you could be in -- no, it is the worst situation you could be in. But we believe in ourselves. We're going to compete as hard as we can, and the result will be there one way or another. ... We're just facing a team right now that's doing everything right." The Devils had never lost three straight Stanley Cup finals games in the franchise's five appearances. New Jersey hadn't lost three straight games this season since late February. New Jersey has been pretty good in the finals, but nothing has been able to slow these Kings, who seem destined to become the first No. 8 seed to win the Stanley Cup. "We felt like the way we were playing, we were going to get one, but it just didn't happen," Devils captain Zach Parise said. "It's frustrating when everyone has been playing well, and we find ourselves down three-nothing." The Kings could celebrate their first title at home, but their only speed bump in this dynamic postseason has been Game 4. They're 10-0 on the road in the postseason, but failed to close out Vancouver and Phoenix at home in Game 4s. No team has won the Cup with a sweep since Detroit wiped out Washington in the 1998 finals. After opening their first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 19 years with two overtime victories in New Jersey, the Kings relied on Quick and their penalty-killing in Game 3 before their offense got rolling. The Kings had to survive their early nerves from playing in front of their title-starved fans, and they barely hung on at times against the Devils' dynamic forechecking in the first two periods. After Carter took a 4-minute penalty for high-sticking Adam Henrique while Los Angeles already was short-handed in the first period, Los Angeles killed one minute of 5-on-3 play before Marek Zidlicky lopped two more minutes off the power play with a penalty of his own to prevent a breakaway by Mike Richards. Martinez scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period on a goalmouth scramble that Brodeur felt should have been whistled dead, and Kopitar followed about 10 minutes later with his third goal in four games off an impressive pass from Brown. The Kings went ahead when Dwight King created a scoring chance with a big hit, eventually hacking at the puck underneath Brodeur's pad in front. Martinez joined the effort with Trevor Lewis and got credit for the goal when the puck finally trickled in, scoring his first goal in his 23rd career playoff game. "I had the puck, I covered it with my stick, and the guy just pushed me," Brodeur said. "I think the referee was in the wrong position, so I guess it was tough for him to make the call." Late in the period, Kopitar extended the lead on a stellar rush by the Kings' top line. Williams moved the puck into the zone and found Brown, who feathered a cross-ice pass to Kopitar for the Slovenian star's eighth goal of the postseason, giving Los Angeles its first two-goal lead since Game 2 of the Western Conference finals. In the third period, the Kings finally got something from the power play that has been their weakest feature during the postseason, going 6 for 77 before a 2-for-2 effort in Game 3. Carter scored his sixth goal of the postseason on a splendid setup pass from Richards, his longtime teammate, early in the third period -- and Williams followed 2:32 later with a slick goal in the slot, practically blowing the roof off the sold-out building. "We're a confident group right now," Kopitar said. "As we all know, the fourth one is the toughest one. We want to make sure we're ready for the start on Wednesday, try to get another win." Staples Center was packed to the rafters well before Wayne Gretzky took the ice for the ceremonial opening faceoff. Los Angeles' long-suffering hockey fans hadn't seen a Stanley Cup finals game since Gretzky got them there in 1993, enduring two trips to the finals by the rival Anaheim Ducks in the previous decade while the Kings moved into their 44th season of play without a championship. The Kings got another boost from the return of left wing Simon Gagne, who hadn't played since Dec. 26 while recovering from a concussion. Gagne is a seven-time 20-goal scorer in his first season in Los Angeles, carrying ample playoff experience from his decade with the Philadelphia Flyers, including a trip to the 2010 Stanley Cup finals. NOTES: The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win the Stanley Cup finals. The other 24 teams facing the deficit have lost the Cup. ... The crowd of 18,764 was the largest in Staples Center history for a Kings game. Hundreds of fans in black jerseys gathered in the plaza outside several hours before game time, chanting slogans and carrying inflatable Cup replicas. ... Gagne played just over 6 minutes on 10 shifts.

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

BOSTON –  The NBA has seen its share of early-season injuries, some resulting in guys out for the season (Gordon Hayward) while others missing just a couple games (Al Horford out two games with a concussion).

MORE CELTICS:

 

And then there’s Kyrie Irving, who suffered a facial fracture that kept him for one game. He was supposed to wear a plastic protective mask for a couple weeks. Instead, it lasted one game and part of another before Irving decided to ditch it.
 
Kyrie’s mask got me to thinking … who are the best masked men in the NBA?
 
Today's Starting Five will include the top 5 masked men in the annals of NBA history, in addition to the top 5 teams, MVP candidates, rookies and defenders:
 
TOP 5 MASKED MEN


1. Rip Hamilton, Detroit – Worn initially for protection, his mask became an iconic look for the three-time All-star.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Mask worn in 2012, the last year Bryant appeared in the playoffs.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – He looked and played like a superhero in his first game with a mask in 2015, tallying 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Philly.

4. LeBron James – Ever the fashion-forward one, James wore a black, carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose in 2014.

5. Kyrie Irving - He played with a mask for 19 games in 2013, averaging 24.5 points and 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES


1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – The addition of Eric Bledsoe has helped rack up some wins, strengthen Antetokounmpo’s chances atop the MVP leaderboard.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – Shooting better than 50 percent from the field, Durant has stepped his passing game (career-high 5.0 assists now) up this season while continuing to pile up the wins.

3. James Harden, Houston – Not having Chris Paul around most of this season and still winning, is a reminder of how Harden has played at a consistently high level against all comers.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland – Three straight wins and the Cavs are well on their way to getting back into the thick of things, with LeBron leading the way.

5. Al Horford, Boston – In his last three games, he’s shooting 76.6 percent and has been a central figure in Boston’s rise to the top of the NBA standings.
 
TOP 5 ROOKIES


1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - He has eight double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to his credit this season. He’s the rookie everyone is chasing now.

2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas - You have to watch this guy play. Would be getting a lot more pub if the Mavs had a better record.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston - Had a rough start against the Warriors, but bounced back and made key plays down the stretch helping Boston get the win.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers - The late first-round pick has been an absolute Godsend to the Lakers, able to contribute in a multiple of ways.

5. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers - He has been up and down like most rookies. But his court vision alone will keep him on the floor for many years to come.
 
TOP 5 DEFENDERS


1. Al Horford, Boston - He’s the best defender on the NBA’s best team defensively. It makes sense for Horford to be the pace-setter in this category.

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah - A towering presence, this 7-foot-2 big man will once again be a top-3 finisher when it comes to the league’s highest defensive honor.

3. Draymond Green, Golden State - The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Green is the rare player who can defend all five positions at a fairly high level.
 
4.  Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City - His ability to defend guards as well as switch out defensively is a huge plus to the Thunder.
 
5. Aron Baynes, Boston - You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who utilizes the NBA’s rule of verticality  better than Baynes.
 
TOP 5 TEAMS


1. Boston – Winning 14 games, that’s one thing. But to beat Golden State along the journey? That’s special.

2. Golden State – Loss to Boston be damned, the Warriors are still the team everyone emulates … even now.

3. Houston – Can score with the best of them, but until they defend at a high level their success will remain limited primarily to the regular season.

4. Minnesota – It’s still early, but it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves going anywhere but up the Western Conference standings.

5. Detroit – Outside of Boston, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA thus far than Detroit.