Cubs

Kevin Durant ejected for the first time ever

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Kevin Durant ejected for the first time ever

From Comcast SportsNetOKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- P.J. Carlesimo's first big motivational message as the interim coach of the Brooklyn Nets earned him an elusive win in Oklahoma City, and perhaps the kind of jolt his team needs to get out of a monthlong funk.Joe Johnson scored a season-high 33 points, Deron Williams added 19 points and 13 assists, and the Nets snapped Oklahoma City's 12-game home winning streak by beating the Thunder 110-93 Wednesday night in a game featuring the first ejection of Kevin Durant's career.Johnson said Carlesimo "jumped on us" after a 31-point thumping at San Antonio two nights earlier, stressing the importance of ball movement on offense and helping each other out on defense."To be honest, it helped," Johnson said. "It translated into the game because we were in a spot defensively that we hadn't been in in a while. We was talking, communicating, the ball was moving great, guys were getting wide-open shots and it just kind of played into our hands."The Nets built a 23-point lead late in the second quarter, then allowed Oklahoma City to tie it at 85 before ripping off a 23-8 run to seize control right back. Durant was ejected near the end of the surge, arguing with Danny Crawford after the referee had already issued a technical foul against Kendrick Perkins."I just thought it was a bad call. You get frustrated throughout a game, you show emotion. That's how you can tell you love it," said Durant, who scored 27 points.The three-time scoring champion had never before been ejected in his six NBA seasons but got tossed after Brooklyn rallied largely from the foul line. The Nets made 11 free throws in a span of just over 5 minutes, pulling away after Oklahoma City had finally fought all the way back.But Durant said it wasn't a disparity in foul calls or any cumulative complaint about the officiating that sent him to the showers early."I said, It's a bad call,'" he said. "They've got a quick trigger now.""I think I'm allowed to be frustrated, especially in this league. With the ups and downs, the players are allowed to be frustrated," Durant added. "It is what it is, move on from it."Brook Lopez added 25 points as Brooklyn ended a seven-game losing streak in the series and got Carlesimo a victory against the team that fired him back in 2008. He'd only had one win in Oklahoma City during his abbreviated tenure in charge of the Thunder, getting fired after a 1-12 start after the team's summer relocation from Seattle.He started his interim stint with the Nets by notching wins against Charlotte and Cleveland before the 104-73 blowout loss at San Antonio."For whatever reason, we didn't have quite the same kind of energy in San Antonio, but we learned from it. ... Tonight was tremendous energy," Carlesimo said.Johnson gave him credit for the turnaround, but he deflected it to Gerald Wallace, who was back in the starting lineup after sitting out Monday's game with a bruised left knee."Gerald Wallace is a monster. You want to talk about something that wasn't in San Antonio? Gerald Wallace, because Gerald Wallace is kind of the heart, the way he plays," Carlesimo said. "So, it's not easy for us to play without Gerald Wallace."The Nets have been seeking a spark after following a strong November, when Avery Johnson was named the Eastern Conference's coach of the month, by going 3-10 and costing him his job."It's huge any time you play a good team, but particularly when you play them on the road," Carlesimo said. "Honestly, this is a big-time win. It's a great, great win."Russell Westbrook had 26 points and 10 assists for Oklahoma City, which lost for only the third time at home this season.The Thunder clamped down after trailing by 16 at halftime, rallying to pull within 71-68 when Westbrook finished off a 12-3 burst with a jumper from the left elbow with 3:47 left in the third quarter. Lopez powered his way in for a two-handed slam to stem the tide for Brooklyn, but Oklahoma City kept coming.Durant and Kevin Martin connected on consecutive 3-pointers to finally even it up at 85 with 7:11 to play, only for Johnson to answer with a runner at the other end to put the Nets right back ahead and start the clinching run.Brooklyn shot exactly 50 percent, becoming just the second team to hit at least half of its shots against Oklahoma City."Offense is not what lost us the game. It's not because we didn't make enough shots or we didn't have enough assists," Durant said. "We just didn't play any defense."Carlesimo spoke as though he held no grudge against the Thunder, who replaced him -- then on an interim basis -- with Scott Brooks, who has overseen the team's rise into a championship contender.Back when Carlesimo was in charge, Durant was starting his second year in the NBA and Westbrook was a rookie who had yet to break into the starting lineup. Now, they're both established All-Stars."It's a team I feel closer to than a lot of other teams. Hopefully, we helped KD and Nick (Collison) a little bit and Russell a tiny bit that first year, but I think it's safe to say they've gone on and overcome whatever coaching they got from me," Carlesimo said, drawing laughs.At the start, it looked like Carlesimo's new squad would run away with it against the Thunder, who started the day with the league's best record.Johnson and Lopez combined to go 9 for 9 from the field to propel the Nets to a quick 27-11 lead, and the lead grew to as much as 23 twice -- including at 55-32 after Johnson drilled a 3-pointer off a touch pass from Wallace.Notes: Carlesimo's only win with the Thunder -- after the SuperSonics had relocated from Seattle -- came at home on Nov. 2, 2008, against Minnesota. ... The Thunder's largest previous deficit of the season was 16 in a loss at home against Memphis. ... Oklahoma City got a delay of game warning for failing to get onto the court in time for tip-off, as part of the NBA's emphasis on allowing teams 90 seconds between the end of introductions and the tip-off. ... Nets reserve Jerry Stackhouse sat out with a sore right hamstring.

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”