Red Sox

Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

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Rivers: Smith, Rondo both leaders, but Rondo's path tougher

ATLANTA There's rarely a day that passes where there isn't a story out there about an NBA player beefing with his head coach, having a run-in with a teammate or some other knuckle-head like act being committed.

For years, Atlanta's Josh Smith was among the players you could lump into that category.

But this season, the 27-year-old is showing the kind of growth and maturity on and off the court that has helped elevate the Hawks' status and his stature as a leader.

Smith comes into tonight's game against the Celtics averaging 17 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.45 steals. In addition to stuffing the stat sheet with all those numbers, the 6-foot-9 Smith is also averaging 2.31 blocks per game which ranks sixth in the NBA.

He is the only player in the top-10 blocked shots leaders who is under 6-10.

"Numbers-wise, he's an all-star," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "From what I know, he just seems like he's been a leader, a positive influence on the team. No emotional hijacks, he's been phenomenal for their team."

Smith evolving into a leader is in some ways similar to that of Boston's Rajon Rondo, Smith's former teammate at Oak Hill Academy.

"I think we still forget he (Smith) was young when he came to the league," said Rivers, referring to Smith being 18 years old when the Hawks drafted the Georgia native with the No. 17 overall pick in the 2004 NBA draft. "It takes time. Not only the basketball part, but your maturity and your leadership and all that. So it looks like he's getting it."

And while Rivers agrees that there are similarities in the maturation of Smith and Rondo, he's convinced that the road Rondo has had to go has been tougher.

"Rondo's the point guard of the team, a team that has not just Hall of Famers, but HALL OF FAMERS!" Rivers said. "You're talking about Paul (Pierce), Kevin (Garnett) and (former Celtic) Ray (Allen) and you're the guy that has to tell them, 'no you can't have the ball this time.' That's hard for someone, anyone. I just think it's a little different. But in a lot of ways it's the same with their youth."

Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

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Astros beat Yankees in Game 7 to advance to World Series, 4-0

HOUSTON - Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Jose Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Houston Astros reached the World Series, blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Just four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees for two straight games after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 of the World Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Houston aces Dallas Keuchel and ALCS MVP Justin Verlander will have plenty of rest, too, before the matchup begins at Dodger Stadium.

Houston has never won even a single World Series game. The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Now, manager A.J. Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first title, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

Houston improved to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and became the fifth team in major league history to win a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four.

Combined, they throttled the Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

CC Sabathia entered the game 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double after snapping an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York struggled on the road this postseason, with this loss dropping the team to 1-6.