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Dwyane Wade blows up during Game 3 loss

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Dwyane Wade blows up during Game 3 loss

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Dwyane Wade lashed out in frustration during the worst playoff game of his career. His target wasn't wearing an Indiana uniform. Wade confronted his coach as the Miami Heat melted. The star had an animated exchange with Erik Spoelstra on the sideline in the third quarter, a disturbing low point on a night when nothing went Miami's way, and the Heat were throttled 94-75 by the Pacers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Indiana center Roy Hibbert had 19 points and 18 rebounds, George Hill scored 20 and Danny Granger 17 as Indiana, pushed by a crowd that stood and chanted "Beat The Heat" at every opportunity, took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Sunday at raucous Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Before then, the Heat need to locate their missing shooting touch and figure out how to attack Indiana's superior defense. More than anything, Wade needs to shake off a startling 5-point, 2-of-13 shooting performance he made worse by challenging Spoelstra. During a timeout, Spoelstra was talking to Wade, who didn't like what he heard and angrily snapped at his coach. Several Miami players stepped in before the confrontation escalated. Afterward, Wade didn't want to discuss the dispute. "I don't even remember what you all are talking about," he said. Spoelstra dismissed his clash with Wade as a heat-of-battle moment. "That happens," Spoelstra said. "Anybody that has been part of a team or has been a coach or been a player, you have no idea how often things like that happen. That was during a very emotional part of the game. We were getting our butt kicked. Those exchanges happen all the time during the course of an NBA season. "There's going to be a lot of times where guys say something, you don't like it. You get over it and you move on. We're all connected. Dwyane and I have been together for a long time, a long time. We've been through basically everything. A lot of different roles, a lot of different teams. That really is nothing. That is the least of our concern. That type of fire, shoot, that's good. That's the least of our concerns. Our concern is getting ready for Sunday." James scored 22 -- 16 in the first half before wearing down -- and Mario Chalmers made up for Wade's abysmal night by adding 25 for Miami, which again played without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who is out with a strained abdominal muscle and is not expected to return for this series. "It's obvious he wasn't himself," James said of Wade. "Does he want to play better? Of course. He's one of the best players in the world." Wade downplayed the potential of a serious injury, though he did snag his right hand on the net trying to make a block in the first half. Indiana outscored Miami 51-32 in the second half, when the Pacers could do no wrong. They made big shots, challenged everything the Heat tossed in the air and didn't back down from a Miami team that appeared poised to make an easy run to the NBA finals after top-seeded Chicago lost Derrick Rose and was eliminated in the first round. The Pacers have other plans. In the second half, Indiana forward David West flung James to the floor in the lane, and Granger later got in the superstar's face after a foul on a breakaway. After winning Game 2 in South Florida by three points, the Pacers wanted to show that victory was no fluke and that they're for real. Believe it. They're two wins from tilting the balance of power in the East. "We're certainly happy with the win," said Pacers coach Frank Vogel. "But we've got a lot of work to do." Vogel's pregame message to his team: "Keep your edge, and enhance your edge." Enhance, they did. Hibbert controlled the glass, roaming the lane on both ends and finishing with five blocks. "My primary focus is defense, defense, defense," he said. "I embrace that role and let the offense come to me. Them being one and done, that's what we talked about in the huddle," he said. "One shot and they're done." Two more losses and the Heat are done. With his team down 20 in the closing minutes, Spoelstra waved the white flag and pulled out first Wade, then James, who quickly removed his headband as he got to the bench and then pulled out the mouthpiece inscripted with XVI -- the Roman numeral for 16 -- the number of wins it takes to get a championship. When the final horn sounded, the three-time MVP quickly exited the floor. "When you lose a game like that, all you try to do is move on to the next one," James said. "They're playing some good basketball. We're playing pretty good defense on them. We're not scoring the ball." Indiana busted open a grind-it-out game with a 17-3 run in the third quarter, doing it with an inside-outside attack that had the Heat wondering what was coming next. With their boisterous crowd decked out in mustard-yellow "Gold Swagger" T-shirts, the Pacers pushed their lead to 69-55 after three and then held off one brief run by the Heat in the fourth quarter. Behind Miami's bench, owner Micky Arison and team president Pat Riley looked on in disbelief. Despite playing almost 21 minutes and exerting himself on defense, James had enough energy to throw down a vicious left-handed dunk in the final minute of the first half, pulling the Heat even at 43-all. He looked back at the Miami bench as if to say, "How about a little help out here?" He was doing it all. Wade, on the other hand, was lost. He missed all five field-goal attempts, made two turnovers and ran around like a playoff rookie and not a superstar appearing in his 95th career postseason game. Wade finally made his first field goal with 10:22 left in the third to put Miami up 47-45, but the Pacers went on a 10-1 run with Granger dropping a 3-pointer in front of the Heat bench to make it 55-48 and then playfully skipping down the sideline as Miami called a timeout. The Pacers were in control. They were clearly the better team. "We have all vested together in this and are all in it together to the end," West said. "We will not back down or take anything from any team." Notes: The Heat are 5 for 42 on 3-pointers in the series. ... Miami's 75 points matched a low in these playoffs. ... Indiana outrebounded Miami 52-36. ... The Heat managed just 12 points in the third quarter. ... Former Pacers center Rik Smits attended the game and got a huge cheer when he was shown on the scoreboard.

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

White Sox in the thick of it as AL Central race with Indians, Twins heats up

This AL Central race is going to be fun.

It looked like the Minnesota Twins might have blitzed right past the White Sox in the season’s first weekend, issuing a 14-2 clubbing on their way out of Chicago in the decisive third game of that series. The White Sox went on to Northeast Ohio and dropped the first two of that three-game set against the Cleveland Indians, and a 1-4 start threw some chilly Great Lakes water on the preseason thought of the South Siders running with the class of the division in this season’s 60-game sprint to October.

But the White Sox turned their 1-4 start around with a six-game win streak. And after a 2-0 nail-biter of a win over the Indians on Friday night that reshuffled the standings, the Pale Hose have now won their last five games against division foes, including a pair against these Clevelanders.

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The intensity’s been there all week. After a sweep of the Kansas City Royals, the first three of the White Sox four games against the Milwaukee Brewers had a distinct playoff-style feel to them, well pitched, closely decided contests that struck as the most intense games the White Sox have played in years.

Be it the compressed nature of this season’s schedule or the fact that these White Sox are finally equipped to compete for a division title, this is unlike anything that’s graced the South Side in some time.

“We're treating every game like a must-win,” White Sox starting pitcher Dylan Cease said Friday night. “These games definitely don't have the same feeling as Game 15 of a 162-game season. We're coming to the ballpark to win every day."

When it comes to the Twins, atop the Central standings with 10 wins — one of only two major league squads to hit double digits to this point, even with back-to-back defeats at the hands of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Royals — it seems the White Sox will have to win a few more home run derbies the likes of which we saw in that opening weekend.

But runs have been somewhat scarce for the White Sox after they scored a combined 20 runs and banged out a total of 35 hits in winning the final two games of that series last weekend in Kansas City. They’ve scored just eight times in their last four games combined. There’s more than one way to win a game, of course, and as injuries continue to make the White Sox dugout look like the Tune Squad bench late in that game against the Monstars, the South Siders have figured out a few others besides blowing up the scoreboard.

Friday night’s playoff feel brought the Indians’ sensational pitching staff to Guaranteed Rate Field, and Aaron Civale was just about as good as he was against the White Sox last week in Cleveland. He didn’t pile up the strikeouts this time, but he still pitched seven innings of one-run ball, the lone run he gave up coming home on a first-inning double-play grounder.

Cease, somewhat miraculously, countered with five shutout innings of his own despite putting nearly the entire city of Cleveland on base. He walked five guys, including issuing four leadoff walks, hit another and allowed a couple of hits. Thankfully for Cease and the White Sox, though, he also came up with multiple clutch, inning-ending double-play balls, and the defense was excellent behind him and a trio of relievers, the first two of which had as much trouble keeping the bases clear as Cease did.

You want playoff-style drama? Scatter the bases with potential runs every inning and watch the pitchers dance their way out of one jam after another.

RELATED: White Sox confident Eloy Jiménez will improve defense after outfield miscue

That’s not going to fly on a regular basis, obviously, but it sure made for some heart-pounding baseball, which is — as anyone who was pulling double duty with playoff hockey Friday night knows — fun.

“I can't expect those kinds of results if I'm going to have that many base runners all the time,” Cease said. “Fortunately, we were able to get out of here with a 'W,' but it's not something that's going to be sustainable. So I have to do a better job of getting ahead and not doing that.”

The onslaught of high-caliber Cleveland pitching continues the rest of the weekend, and who knows if the White Sox will be able to solve it as they barely did Friday. Zach Plesac, who stymied the White Sox with 11 strikeouts in eight shutout innings last week, is up Saturday. Then it’s a heck of a pitching matchup Sunday, with Lucas Giolito facing off against current AL Cy Young front-runner Shane Bieber, who’s struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts of the season.

That game ought to be another dandy, and with a frequently showcased rivalry between the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals waved off this weekend, the White Sox will step into the nationally televised spotlight Sunday night, the perfect spot for such a pitching matchup and a division race that’s heating up like this one is. The White Sox swapped spots with the Indians on Friday, into second place and two games back of the Twins. The Indians are just two and a half games behind the division leaders.

“Both of those teams are very good clubs,” White Sox outfielder Adam Engel said of the Twins and Indians. “Two totally different makeups, they win games differently. We have a pretty balanced attack ourselves. It’s fun playing good baseball against good teams.

“The Indians, it seems like every time they come to town or we go to Cleveland, we are facing some pretty good arms. Makes it fun. You just have to stay disciplined, stay really focused in your work. It always feels like you’re going to be part of a good baseball game.

“Those are two tough teams, and hopefully we can keep playing them well.”

RELATED: Rick Renteria: Tim Anderson, not Luis Robert, will be White Sox leadoff man

Obviously, everything’s felt different this season. There are no fans in the stands, COVID-19 is constantly threatening the completion of the campaign, and a brief ramp up to Opening Day has made for a high number of injuries across the league.

But there’s a different feeling on the South Side, too, for much more positive reasons. This team has been talking about its high expectations for months, and they’ve got a roster that looks capable of living up to them. While an expanded playoff field gives the White Sox a pretty good chance of reaching the postseason, they’ve still got their eyes on the biggest prizes, and the first one of those is the Central crown.

They’ve played just 14 games. But it sure feels like a pennant race.

“I don’t remember ever really watching scoreboards so closely as a team through the first couple of weeks in the season,” Engel said. “We come in off the field and we want to see what’s going on around the league, or we’re announcing what scores are postgame for different teams. You control what you can control, and you want to win as many games as you can. But we’re all keeping our eyes on the scoreboard, and I’m sure it’s like that league-wide.

“Everybody kind of feels like they’re in it right now, and 60 games, this is going to be a heck of a season. I’m excited that we’re playing good baseball right now. Hopefully we can keep it going.”


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Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks' Corey Crawford heating up just in time for Stanley Cup Playoffs

The biggest storyline of Blackhawks training camp 2.0 was Corey Crawford missing the first 12 days because he had tested positive for COVID-19. He showed up on the final practice day in Chicago, which was exactly one week from the start of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers against the Edmonton Oilers.

The Blackhawks did everything they could to get him ready for Game 1, but you knew it would take him a while to get back into top form. And it has.

In the first three games against the Oilers, Crawford allowed 13 goals on 92 shots for a save percentage of .859 and had a minus-5.68 goals saved above average, according to Natural Stat Trick, which ranked dead last among all goaltenders. 

But when the Blackhawks needed him most in Game 4, Crawford delivered. 

The two-time Stanley Cup champion turned aside 41 of 43 shots for a save percentage of .953 in Friday’s 3-2 series-clinching win against the Oilers, including all 18 in the third period, a handful of which came from high-danger areas.

"He's a huge part of our team and he played real well today," Dominik Kubalik said. "I thought he was our best player."

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To take it a step further: Crawford stopped 16 of 18 shots from the slot and had nine saves from the inner slot, which is the third-most in a game by any goaltender this postseason, according to Sportlogiq. The Oilers had an expected goals for rate of 4.33 but scored only twice, which means Crawford saved the Blackhawks 2.33 goals.

It was a vintage performance between the pipes for No. 50.

"Obviously it wasn't the best scenario," Crawford said of having just one week to get ramped up for the qualifying round. "I would have liked to have had a few more weeks of practice and see more pucks coming into the series. But it is what it is. I think I felt way better each game, playing each game and just seeing different scenarios and situations. Once you get more of that, just the better you feel. Tonight was obviously better."

Despite turning in a terrific outing on Friday, Crawford admitted “there’s still some work to do” before he feels like in peak form. But if he gets there in time for the beginning of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blackhawks could be a dangerous underdog team.

"I was able to kind of hide back there until I started feeling comfortable," Crawford said. "Still don't think I'm at the top of my game, but it was definitely better today."