Redskins

LeBron outplayed by Durant in Game 1

791712.jpg

LeBron outplayed by Durant in Game 1

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Kevin Durant delivered the fourth quarter LeBron James never could last year. So forget those NBA Finals jitters at the start. Durant and the young Thunder showed they have already figured out how to finish. Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in another nightmarish final period for James and his team, leading a Thunder storm that overwhelmed the Heat and gave Oklahoma City a 105-94 victory over Miami in Game 1 on Tuesday night. "That's what they do, they keep on coming," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They're relentless." Teaming with Russell Westbrook to outscore the Heat in the second half by themselves, Durant struck first in his head-to-head matchup with James, who had seven points in the final quarter and was helpless to stop the league's three-time scoring champion. "Well, those guys, they came out on fire. They were passing the ball well, knocking down shots. We just wanted to continue to keep playing," Durant said. "It's a long game, and every time our coach was just saying play harder, play harder, and that's what we did." Westbrook turned around a poor shooting start to finish with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Thunder, keying a strong finish to the third period that gave the Thunder the lead for good. Durant took over from there. Scoring in nearly every way possible, Durant finished 12 of 20 from the field and added eight rebounds. He and Westbrook outscored the Heat 41-40 over the final two periods, showing that maybe this time it will be offense that wins championships. James finished with 30 points, his most in any of his 11 finals games, but had only one basket over the first 8:15 of the fourth, when the Thunder seized control of a game they trailed for all but the final few seconds of the first three quarters. James averaged just three points in the fourth quarters of the Heat's six-game loss to Dallas last year, taking almost all the heat for Miami's finals failure. He was good in this one, Durant was just better. "They didn't make many mistakes in the fourth quarter," James said. And when fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" late in the game, they weren't talking about James, the guy who won the regular-season award. They meant Durant, who is in a race with James for his first ring -- and maybe the title of best player in the game. Game 2 is Thursday night in Oklahoma City. Dwyane Wade had 19 points but shot just 7 of 19 for the Heat, while Shane Battier provided some rare offense by scoring 17 points, his high this postseason. Turning to a small lineup late in the third quarter, the Thunder improved to 9-0 at home in the postseason. Defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha helped defend James during the Thunder's comeback, relieving Durant of the burden so he could focus on his scoring. And right now, nobody does it better. Spoelstra said his team, pushed to seven games against Boston in a grueling conference finals the Heat finally won Saturday, preferred this quick turnaround. But perhaps they ran out of gas against the young Thunder, whose core players are all 23 and younger and look as if they could keep playing all night. "Honestly, I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end. Made them feel us a little bit," Westbrook said of the second half, when the Thunder outscored the Heat 58-40. James and Wade both were bent over, hands on knees, during one stoppage with about 7 minutes remaining. Durant kept pouring it on, racing down the court to throw down a fast-break dunk and later adding a 3-pointer that pushed it to 87-81 with 6 1-2 minutes remaining. The Heat got within four points, but Durant hit two quick baskets and Westbrook added another for a 10-point lead with 3:35 to go. "They just made more plays than us," Wade said. "They got a couple offensive rebounds that kind of hurt us. Got a couple of open shots and from that point we were kind of playing from behind." It's been a rapid rise toward the top for the Thunder, who started 3-29 in 2008-09, their first season here after moving from Seattle. Fans were clearly embracing the finals' arrival in Oklahoma City, where cars, buildings and even fans' hair seemed to be painted some form of orange or blue. Fans standing until the Thunder's first basket didn't have to wait long, Durant knocking down a baseline jumper 70 seconds in. He made his first three shots, including two 3-pointers, but his teammates missed their first six attempts in falling into an early hole. Durant made sure they were fine at the end. Both superstars tried to downplay their individual matchup, Durant insisting it was about the team and James adamant that he didn't care about the best player in the game argument. It was James' supporting cast that stepped up bigger to start, the Heat hitting five of their six 3-point attempts in jumping to a 29-22 lead after one quarter. Spoelstra kept Chris Bosh as a reserve, the role he has played since returning from a nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. Smart decision, as Battier hit his first three 3-point attempts in the opening minutes to spark Miami's strong start. Durant took only one shot in the second quarter, and it wasn't until 9 minutes had passed. By then, the Heat had built a lead as large as 13 points, keeping it in or near double digits most of the period before the Thunder sliced it to 54-47 at halftime. Seemingly every fan was wearing the blue shirts hung on their chairs before the game -- an exception being rapper Lil Wayne, who caused a stir during the Western Conference finals when he posted on Twitter that the Thunder wouldn't let him into their arena, with the team saying simply that he needed to buy tickets if he wanted to come. He did, he and his guest both wearing black. The sea of blue around the court looked like the scene last year in Dallas, where James struggled so badly when it mattered most. He said he let his team down, vowing he would have no regrets about his performance this time around. Unfortunately, the result was all too familiar to the Heat. James quickly answered after Oklahoma City tied the game for the first time at 60-all midway through the third, banking in a shot and powering in for a layup and a quick four-point lead. The Heat pushed the lead back to five but the Thunder kept coming, finally pulling ahead for the first time when Westbrook darted into the lane and was fouled while scoring with 16.4 seconds remaining, the free throw making it 74-73. Baskets by Durant and Sefolosha to open the fourth pushed it to a five-point lead, and the Heat never recovered. Notes: Battier's 13 first-half points equaled his high for the postseason. He and Westbrook were also called for double technical fouls after Westbrook's basket with about 30 seconds left in the half. ... The Thunder, 23-59 in 2008-09, duplicated the feat of the Heat, who also reached a finals within three seasons of a 25-win season. Miami was 15-67 in 2007-08 before playing for the title last year.

Quick Links

In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

cameron_jordan_saints_cousins_usat.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

In the span of six minutes, the Redskins' season went from hope to despair in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS—The Redskins’ game against the Saints, and perhaps their whole season went from hope to despair in the span of just six minutes.

When Kirk Cousins threw a touchdown pass to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, the Redskins were up by 15 points with 5:58 to play. Some Saints fans departed the Mercedes Benz Superdome, figuring that their team’s seven-game losing streak was about to end.

But Drew Brees and the Saints weren’t going anywhere. The Redskins defense was loose, to say the least, as the Hall of Fame quarterback completed seven of seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown. The drive took just 3:05 and it seemed that the Saints barely broke a sweat.

RELATED: 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE PAINFUL LOSS IN NEW ORLEANS

“We gave up too quick a score on the initial one,” said Jay Gruden.

But the Redskins were still in control of the game. After two Samaje Perine runs, the Saints were out of timeouts and Washington had third and one with 2:38 to go. The lined up and then called a timeout.

“We actually lined up with a tight end on the wrong side so we had to get that fixed up,” said Gruden.

It’s week 11 and the tight end can’t line up on the right side of the formation on a critical play. Perhaps they should be beyond these issues by now?

Even with the tight end properly aligned, the play had no chance as Perine tried to go off the right side and he was hit for a one-yard loss. The clock wound down to the two-minute warning and Tress Way boomed a 54-yard punt that was fair caught at the Saints 13. The Redskins had to defend 87 yards of turf for 1:53. They couldn’t do it.

Brees again took on the role of the hot knife and the Redskins still were the butter. Four for four passing, each throw gaining 17 yards or more. The touchdown pass to Alvin Kamara and the two-point conversion tied the game at 31-31.

When asked what happened, linebacker and former Saint Junior Galette said that while he respects Brees and the Saints, this one was on the defense.

“In two minute, he’s one of the best I’ve seen but still we’ve got to bow down and tighten our defense up,” he said.

“They’re a really good team but I honestly feel that we beat ourselves today,” said Galette. “It’s a really good team, one of the better teams we’ve played all year but if you watch that game you know we beat ourselves.”

Safety D.J. Swearinger echoed Galette’s viewpoint.

RELATED: THIS REDSKINS' LOSS LITERALLY DEFIED THE ODDS

“They came back and beat us fair and square,” he said. “But at the end of the day we didn’t do our job. We beat ourselves for sure. We for sure beat ourselves.”

In case there was any doubt about it, Swearinger then said that they beat themselves twice more in the next sentences.

The good part of the Saints drive was that it consumed just 48 seconds, leaving the Redskins with 1:05 to try to get a winning field goal. Cousins threw three passes to Jamison Crowder and all of a sudden the Redskins were on the New Orleans 34, close enough to at least attempt a game winning field goal.

But then it fell apart. With 31 seconds left, Cousins took a snap from behind center and immediately threw the ball out of bounds on the right side with no receiver nearby. The officials conferred and dropped a flag for intentional grounding.

The flag never should have been thrown because the rule says that the quarterback must be in imminent danger of getting sacked. Cousins was not. But the way the play went down it certainly gave referee Walt Coleman the opportunity to make a mistake and you never want to do that.

The explanations for the throw offered by the coach and quarterback were somewhat confusing and didn’t really line up. But for the record, here is the gist of what each of them said:

Gruden: “I was trying to get his [Cousins’] attention and hand signal a bubble screen out there. If we get it out there and get it out of bounds, we get another play called. Unfortunately, Jamison didn’t get it.”

Cousins: “I looked over to the sideline out of the corner of my eye and I just saw the coaches saying, ‘throw it’. They wanted potentially an audible, get to an actual pass play. I thought they were saying throw it to Jamison, in the general area of Jamison, there was an eligible in the area and there’s no penalty.”

There is little point into going into the minutia of what they said. There seems to have been some confusion in the loud Superdome and perhaps Gruden will clarify it in his Monday press conference.

Again, it should not have been grounding but you can’t give them a chance to make that mistake.

And the Redskins still had 18 seconds (after a 10-second runoff that perhaps should not have happened) to try to get back the 10 yards and maybe a few more to get a shot at a field goal. But he was sacked (the Saints’ first sack of the day) and he fumbled. Morgan Moses recovered but the clock ran out.

Although they had a 10-minute overtime, it felt like it was over and it soon was. The Redskins went three and out. Brees didn’t even have to drop back to pass as runs of 20 and 31 yards set up the field goal that applied the final gut punch.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

Quick Links

Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

Stop talking about Jay Gruden's job. Just stop

NEW ORLEANS - Jay Gruden and the Redskins choked away a terrific opportunity for a much needed win on Sunday. They collapsed. Disappeared. Crumbled. Crumpled. Caved in. 

Whatever word you choose, the result was terrible. Washington held a 31-16 lead with less than five minutes remaining. That score should absolutely result in a Redskins victory. Only it didn't.

Gruden deserves plenty of blame for the loss, as does the Redskins defense that gave up back to back late touchdowns to allow Drew Brees and the Saints to come all the way back. The offense also couldn't get a yard, one yard, when they needed it, for the second time in two weeks. There's lots of blame to go around, and deservedly. 

But, stop talking about Gruden's future with the Redskins. 

Just stop. 

MORE: KIRK COUSINS GIVES HIS SIDE OF THE INTENTIONAL GROUNDING

He's not going anywhere. The loss in New Orleans drops the Redskins record to 4-6, and very likely, eliminates Washington from the playoff picture. With a favorable schedule remaining, it's possible the Redskins could win out, but that would be a tall order. A finish around 8-8 seems most likely.

So, the naysayers will shout, why does Gruden get to stay? Let's count the reasons:

  • For starters, the Redskins just signed Gruden to a two-year contract extension in the offseason. That means he's under contract through 2020. Gruden makes roughly $5 million a year, and to get rid of him would cost the organization eight figures. Not gonna happen.
  • Beyond the money and the contract, Gruden has been good. The Redskins were awful when he arrived, going 3-13 in 2013. Awful. And the team has had steady improvement under Gruden. They won the NFC East in 2015, narrowly missed a playoff spot in 2016, and this year, when healthy, competed with the best teams in the NFL.
  • This year's Redskins team is wildly beat up. The defense lost three starters before the first snap of the year, and the offense just lost their best player when Chris Thompson broke his leg against the Saints. 
  • Gruden is also getting better, and more competent. The coach overhauled his defensive staff this offseason, and the team has responded. He has a growing role in scouting and personnel, and largely, the results are working.  

It's easy to be upset after a colossal sinkhole of a game like what happened in New Orleans. Gruden needs to be better. He knows it.

"It's terrible," Gruden said after the game, correctly. "We laid it all out on the line. We came out to a hostile environment against a team that has won seven in a row. You don't get anything for close."

Remember, however, that Jay Gruden has brought the Redskins from terrible to good. Crazed fans that want him gone need to remind themselves of that.

RELATED: HOW EXACTLY DID THAT LOSS HAPPEN? LISTEN TO A NEW REDSKINS TALK PODCAST BELOW