Cubs

Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

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Rondo's scoring helps keep assist streak alive

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is in the midst of a historic assist streak that has put him in the same category as Magic Johnson and John Stockton. But Monday night at the United Center, it was Rondos early scoring that broke down the Bulls defense, and his passing late that sealed the victory.

Rondo tied a season-high with 20 points and handed out 10 assists -- the 31st straight game he has compiled 10 or more assists -- in the Celtics 101-95 win over the Bulls.

The Celtics lone point guard took advantage of a Bulls defense that desperately needed Kirk Hinrich, who missed the game with a strained hip. Rondo dominated his matchup with starter Nate Robinson, adding nine rebounds and five steals while posting a - of 15. In 30 minutes, Robinson was -15 in the same department.

Rondo looked the part of a franchise point guard Monday night, scoring when open, finding open players when needed and coming up with timely defensive stops on the other end.

I think he's starting to really get comfortable with the players on the floor with what he can call, and you can see that coming on as well, head coach Doc Rivers said.

Rondo is off to the best start of his seven-year NBA career, averaging career-highs in points and assists -- albeit in a small sample size -- that began during last years NBA Playoffs.

In the 24 games he handed out 10 or more assists to end 2011-2012, Rondo averaged 9.8 points on 9.5 field goal attempts per game. He scored in double figures in half of those games.

But in 2012-2013 Rondo has been even more aggressive, scoring double figures in all seven games while averaging 15.4 points on 12.7 field goal attempts per game.

He's getting a lot more opportunities now that we don't have Ray Allen out there in the starting lineup, Paul Pierce said. Usually a lot of those shots would go to him, so he's just taking it upon himself to be more aggressive on the offensive end. His shot attempts are up, his scoring average is up and we need that. He's part of the Big Three now, so he's taken the lead and showing why he's the leader of this ball club.

Rondo was part of the act that had the Celtics race out to an early lead and keep it for most of the first three quarters of the game. Rondo scored all 20 of his points by the start of the fourth, including three on jump shots that may have caught the Bulls off guard.

Pierce, who finished with a quiet 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting, said hes happy to see Rondo enjoy offensive successes after putting in time to improve his game in the offseason.

He works hard at his craft, Pierce said. He's developing nicely over the years and I feel like me and Kevin, being around here have been a part of that, seeing his growth as a player.

Rondos growth as a scorer came in handy for the Celtics down the stretch, but it wasnt the point guard doing the scoring.

After a surge by the Bulls to start the fourth quarter, the Celtics lead had been trimmed to four at 93-89 with less than three minutes to play when Rondo drove from the right wing to the left block and, instead of taking a shot, flipped an alley-oop to Kevin Garnett for a dunk.

Inside a minute to go, a Luol Deng layup cut the Celtics lead to two, 95-93, when Rondo and Garnett ran the same play out of a timeout to extend Bostons lead with what would eventually be the game-winner.

Rondo attributed the success of those plays to his offensive game and keeping defenders, specifically center Joakim Noah, honest.

Its just me attacking the hole and trying to draw the big, Rondo said. Noah thought I would shoot it. He contested my shot both times, and I was actually passing it to Kevin and he went up and got it and threw it in.

Rondo just barely got in his 10th assist to keep his record intact, finding Brandon Bass wide open underneath the basket with 23 seconds to play that sealed the game for the Celtics.

Rondo picked the perfect time to have his best game of the season, and as his offensive versatility improves, Pierce believes it will become even harder for opposing defenses to figure out which part of his game to stop.

I consider him the best point guard in the league," Pierce said. "The things he's able to do out there, and when he's scoring the ball out there, you already know what he can do as far as passing and rebounding. He's just unstoppable.

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.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Nick Schmaltz isn’t the only one returning; guess who is back in the booth?!

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast, Tracey Myers and Pat Boyle discuss Nick Schmaltz returning to the Blackhawks line-up on Wednesday night and which player is looking forward most to his return?

They also weigh in on Corey Crawford’s incredible start to the season and why he’s the major reason why the Hawks begin the week in first place in the Central.

They also discuss who is the biggest Hawks rivalry right now, which new defenseman has impressed the most and how is Connor Murphy dealing with being a healthy scratch at times this season?

Plus, they discuss someone other than Nick Schmaltz returning to work on Wednesday night.

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below: