Cubs

Bulls prevail over Heat in OT

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Bulls prevail over Heat in OT

First, the expected: Thursday nights matchup between the Bulls and the Heat came down to the wireat least in regulationas the Bulls, propelled by a stellar performance by the Bench Mob, displayed their trademark selflessness, balance and resiliency to defeat the Heat, 96-86 in an overtime thriller at the United Center.

Now, the unexpected: Derrick Rose, back from a one-game hiatus due to a sprained ankle, sat for the bulk of the exciting finish while enduring a career-worst night and watching his understudy, C.J. Watson play the hero, as the backup point guard played marvelously throughout the contest, including hitting a three-pointer to send the game into the extra session with 2.2 seconds left.

As they wont to do, the Bulls started the contest playing catch-up, in a 6-0 holewith Miamis All-Star trio of LeBron James (30 points, six rebounds, five assists), Dwyane Wade (21 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Chris Bosh (20 points, eight rebounds) each scoring a bucketto begin the game before a Rip Hamilton fast-break jumper opened scoring for the hosts.

While the Heat utilized balanced scoring to build an early cushion, the Bulls relied on Carlos Boozer (19 points, 11 rebounds) to be their offensive catalystthe starting backcourt of Rose (career-low two points, 1-for-13 shooting) and Rip Hamilton both struggled in the early goingand the much-maligned power forward delivered as a scorer, rebounding force and displayed his underrated passing ability with a touch pass to Joakim Noah for a dunk.

Boozer aside, however, the Bulls struggled mightily from the field, not to mention having ball-security issues, which allowed the athletic visitors to get out in transition, complementing their half-court efficiency and quick start shooting the ball.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, perhaps searching for a solution to his squads slow-start blues, changed his rotation and went with the Bench Mobincluding All-Star Luol Deng (16 points, five rebounds), a starter who regularly plays with the second unitearlier than usual and the adjustment worked, as a quick individual spurt from Watson (16 points, nine assists) got the home team back into the game, closing within 22-19 at the conclusion of the opening period.

The reserves continued to build momentum, first tying the Heat, then surpassing them early in the second quarter, as designated sharpshooter Kyle Korver (17 points, 5-for-6 three-point shooting), who replaced Deng, got the hot hand, knocking down a pair of triples.

Of course, the majority of that Bulls push occurred against Miamis second unit, but even after Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra reinserted his regulars, of the Big Three, only Bosh had a major impact, as James was uneven, mixing the sublime with the subpar, while Wade, a Chicago native, didnt make much of a dent.

The hosts held on to their slight edge, but the visitors star power eventually came into play, as Wade and James, in particular, turned it up and with Rose scoreless, the Heat built their own cushion toward the end of the period, as the Bulls suffered through one of their periodic offensive droughts at the wrong time.

At the intermission, the Bulls trailed, 41-36.

After the break, the Bulls cold shootingnot only from the field, but also the charity stripe, a more frequent issue as of latecontinued and following an initial spurt at the outset of the third quarter, the Heat again got into an offensive rhythm, enabling them to maintain comfortable separation from the home team.

Of the Bulls starters, Boozer was able to maintain his productivity, mostly via mid-range jumpers, but his peers continued to have accuracy issues, though Rose finally got on the board with a jumper at the 7:01 mark of the period.

Thibodeau made adjustments, however, utilizing a semi-Bench Mob lineupstarting wings Deng and Hamilton were paired with Watson and reserve big men Taj Gibson (11 points, five rebounds) and Omer Asikand the strategy worked, as the Bulls erased a double-digit deficit to climb back into the contest.

Watsons dogged defensehe drew back-to-back offensive fouls on Heat point-guard counterpart Mario Chalmersand the perimeter marksmanship of Hamilton and Deng, along with typically stellar interior defense from Asik and Gibson allowed the Bulls to narrow the gap to 62-60 heading into the final stanza.

Thibodeau stuck with the effective unit to start the fourth quarterresulting in a Miami shot-clock violation to start the period, following a defensive stand to end the previous frameand it proved to beneficial, as the combination of hustle plays, offensive rebounding, a stout defensive effort, a solid floor game from Watson and Deng taking an aggressive scoring approach ended up with the Bulls seizing the lead from their guests.

Korvers outside shooting, Gibsons energetic play on both ends, as well as a defense that put the clamps on the Heatthough the aforementioned superstar trio scored timely baskets to hang aroundbuoyed the hosts, supported by their raucous fans, but as the game entered its stretch run, Thibodeau exchanged the floor generalship of Watson for Rose, who had been sitting for over a quarter of play.

Wade, back in his hometown, raised his level of play in the clutch, scoring five consecutive baskets to help the Heat close to within 81-80 with 1:20 remaining, leading to a Bulls timeout, after which Rose, suffering through a miserable outing, missed on a drive, on which there was some degree of contact, if not enough for a foul to be called.

On the subsequent possession, James drained a corner three-pointer following an offensive rebound, giving Miami an 83-81 advantage with 49.3 seconds left.

After a timeout, Thibodeau went back to Watson, but after a failed Bulls possession and a jump ballrookie swingman Jimmy Butler, seeing his first action of the night, tied up Heat big man Ronny Turiaf and the visitors won the tipJames was fouled and split a pair of attempts from the charity stripe.

On the ensuing possession, Watson knocked down a triple to tie the game at 84 apiece with 2.2 seconds to go in regulation and after a Miami timeout, Wade missed a jumper to win the game, sending the contest into overtime.

The hosts were shot out of a cannon in the extra session, as Deng buried a jumper to open the scoring, followed by an Asik block and a thunderous Gibson fast-break dunk, plus the foul, then the completion of the traditional three-point play.

Notable was the fact that both Rose and Noahwho hadnt seen the floor since midway through the third quarter and would only return after Gibson fouled outwere both sitting, but it didnt make a difference, as Thibodeaus adjustments were paying off in the form of the games momentum and the lead, as the reigning NBA Coach of the Year mostly rode the play of the Bench Mob, with Deng also in the game and offense-for-defense substitutions when necessary.

Watson continued to come through in the clutch, hitting timely shots and running the show to perfection, while Asiks interior presence and Gibsons energy and ever-increasing skill level stymied the Heat, which was reflected in the Bulls comfortable cushion, which grew to double digits when Korver splashed a three from the top of the key to make it 96-86 with 1:02 left.

That score would be the final, as the guests waved the white flag when it became evident that it just wasnt their night, with a rematch looming in Miami next week.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

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USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.