Bears

Durant at PF the difference down the stretch

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Durant at PF the difference down the stretch

Scott Brooks said Thursday night was the most hes used a lineup with Kevin Durant at power forward this season. Based on the results, hes likely to increase how often he uses it the rest of the year.

Durant, who was held in check for his standards most of the night, scored eight of his 24 points in the final three and a half minutes while playing power forward in the Thunders 97-91 victory over the Bulls.

Durant, on the court with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and center Serge Ibaka, broke an 85-all tie with an impressive fadeaway jump shot over Luol Deng.

Rip Hamilton would answer with a shot clock-beating jumper on his own on the other end, but the scorer-turned-power forward Durant was just getting started.

The two-time reigning scoring champion added a floater off the right baseline and a second fadeaway off a screen that extended Thunder leads in the final two minutes. He then sealed the game with two free throw makes and 13 seconds left, putting the Thunder up 95-91.

Durant said before Thursdays game that he is open to playing power forward in a smaller lineup, similar to what Miamis LeBron James and New Yorks Carmelo Anthony have done this season. He said he understands in an ever-changing NBA, that set positions are out, and versatility is in.

I think I can handle the ball, I think I can pass and I can rebound and initiate the offense. But whatever coach wants me to do.

Down the stretch, Scott Brooks needed his All-Star to score.

I thought tonight he was more aggressive as the game went on, and there are some nights its gonna be like that, Brooks said. But 19 shots is where I like him to be up there, and also continue to play-make.

Durant continued to show why hes becoming a complete playmaker, as opposed to seasons past when he was known solely as a scorer. He finished with three steals and three blocks defensively, and while he only had one assist tonight he is still averaging a career-best 4.8 per game.

The Bulls countered Durants move to power forward by sticking with Deng, who had held Durant in check most of the night. That meant Joakim Noah guarding Ibaka and a mismatch with Taj Gibson on Sefolosha, who assisted Durants final basket.

It is a tough matchup for a lot of teams and we definitely do use that throughout the game and some moment in a game that we throw it out there, Brooks said before the game, and Kevin likes it because teams have to make a tough decision.

The decision was to stay small against Durant, whose aggressiveness late proved too much for Deng and the Bulls. Deng did limit Durant to 16 points on 8-of-15 shooting before the final stretch run, which proved Durants pregame prediction of having his hands full with Deng true.

But Brooks explained that the last three minutes are what makes Durant who he is.

Thats what stars can do. They can have an average game and then the last 4-5 minutes, they can win the game, and I thought thats what he did tonight, Brooks said. Thats what makes him a special player and its well-deserved. The guy is one of the hardest workers Ive ever been around, hes an amazing teammate, hes a selfish guy and hes only 24 and hes only gonna get better.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Dry humping and second-guessing: Joe Maddon defends his Game 2 bullpen decisions

Joe Maddon has no easy decisions.

With the way his tattered bullpen has pitched this postseason, there's a very real possibility that any guy he calls on to pitch is the "wrong" guy or the right guy in the "wrong" spot.

For everybody wanting Maddon to ride Wade Davis as a workhorse this fall — something the Cubs skipper has already done just to get to this NLCS — remember how much flak he took for overusing Aroldis Chapman a year ago at this time.

Davis also hasn't been superhuman this postseason, allowing a pair of runs (including a homer) and seven baserunners in 4.1 playoff innings, good for a 4.15 ERA and 1.62 WHIP.

So when Maddon sat in the dugout late Sunday evening watching helplessly as John Lackey served up a walk-off homer to Tormund Giantsbane Justin Turner, the "Madd Scientist" immediately found himself in the crosshairs of Cubs fans and the media.

The first question he fielded in his postgame press conference was about not using Davis and there were several follow-ups. That and the offensive futility is about all anybody wanted to talk about after the Cubs fell down 0-2 in the NLCS.

Maddon explained Davis was available only in a save situation due to workload issues — the Cubs closer was in uncharted territory Thursday night/Friday morning, throwing the most pitches (44) and innings (2.1) he's thrown since Aug. 24, 2013 when he was still working as a starter. That's a span of 1,511 days.

"Wade knew that going into the game, it was going to be with the say," Maddon said. "We caught the lead, he's in the game. So whatever the narrative was, it's really a false narrative. He was not coming into that game until we grabbed the lead. He was not going to pitch more than three outs. That's it."

How does Maddon respond to his second-guessers?

"Doesn't matter," Maddon said. "First of all, social media, the moment I start worrying about that, I really need to retire. Second of all, that was all predetermined [Sunday] night again."

Davis also has a recent history of arm troubles (he was on the disabled list twice in 2016 for a forearm issue) and also saw his workload jump in September just to help the Cubs get to the postseason. In the final month of the regular season, Davis threw 237 pitches, 42 more than he threw in any other month of 2017. The last time he topped 200 pitches in any month was May 2015.

TV cameras showed Davis throwing in the Cubs bullpen alongside Lackey at one point in the ninth inning, leading to surprise by a huge faction of the (*looks around and whispers*) social media fanbase when the game broadcast resumed after commercials and the pitching change was to bring Lackey — not Davis — into the game.

"Wade was not warming up to come in that game," Maddon said. "Wade was probably just testing his arm at that point. We had talked about it before the game — up and in. 

"For those that aren't involved in Major League Baseball and professional baseball in general, when a guy's throwing too much, it's very important to not dry hump him, as the saying goes. Get him up and put him back down and bring him back in later. So I wasn't going to do that."

(Wow, really was not expecting to hear or write the phrase "dry hump" regarding this story.)

Maddon insists health is not the problem with Davis.

"Yes [he's healthy]. Oh yeah," Maddon said. "Listen, this guy just did yeoman kind of work — I love that word — in Washington and was not prepared to go more than three outs. I don't understand why that's difficult to understand.

"And furthermore, you have to also understand it wasn't the last game of the year or the second to last game. It was about winning eight more games. All these things are factors."

Maddon has a point. This isn't a Buck Showalter case where the Baltimore Orioles manager failed to use his best reliever — Zach Britton — in a non-save situation in a winner-take-all American League wild card game because he wanted the closer to be ready for a save.

The Cubs went down in a game that was tied 1-1 with their best reliever failing to get in the game even though he hadn't pitched in the last two days. 

But Davis can't cover every inning in relief, especially when the Cubs' two starters (Jose Quintana and Jon Lester) lasted just 9.2 innings against the Dodgers, leaving the Cubs bullpen to account for the other 8+ innings somehow.

The rest of the Cubs bullpen has to step up, too, which they did before the ninth inning of Game 2.

Still, Maddon couldn't resist getting one more defensive shot in before putting the matter to bed:

"I really hope you all understand that social media doesn't count at all," he said. "Twitter doesn't count at all. And really, as sportswriters, you should do a better job than relying on Twitter to write a story, quite frankly."

Well then.