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Can anyone beat the Spurs?

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Can anyone beat the Spurs?

From Comcast SportsNet
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The San Antonio Spurs mowed down another opponent, using their guile under pressure to close out another perfect playoff series. Tim Duncan scored 21 points, Tony Parker added 17 and the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Clippers 102-99 on Sunday night to win their second-round matchup 4-0 and advance to the Western Conference finals. "They played great, they made it tough on us," Parker said. "The last 2 minutes we got the stops we needed. Everybody did something." The Spurs extended their winning streak to 18 games and their playoff record to 8-0, tying the third-best postseason streak in franchise history. "Until we go all the way, I can't compare this team," said Parker, who has won three NBA titles with the Spurs. "We're just trying to stay focused." Danny Green and Gary Neal added 14 points each, and Manu Ginobili and Thiago Splitter had 11 each. "We needed a game like that. It arrived at the perfect time," Parker said. "We battled. We executed our plays, made big baskets." San Antonio could find out as soon as Monday night who it will play next. Oklahoma City leads the Lakers 3-1 in their series, with Game 5 on Monday. "We haven't done anything yet. We've won two rounds," Duncan said. "We haven't done anything so you can't qualify or classify our team as anything other than that we've gotten this far." The Spurs trailed much of the fourth until tying the game twice in the final 3:32 before their 30-something trio of Duncan, Parker and Ginobili took over most of the scoring. "Their experience showed with their execution," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro. "Tim looks great and the rest of the guys are feeding off that." Chris Paul had 23 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin added 21 points, and Eric Bledsoe had 17 for the Clippers, who blew a six-point lead in the fourth quarter when Paul faltered in the final two minutes, usually a time when the All-Star guard is at his best. "We had our opportunities and we couldn't convert," Del Negro said. "We made our mistakes at some key moments and that was the difference." Both nursing injuries, Griffin and Paul combined to score 21 of the Clippers' 28 points in the third quarter when they took their first lead of the game. In the fourth, Bledsoe came up big, scoring 11 in a row, to extend the lead to 90-85 with 5:38 remaining. After Reggie Evans missed two free throws, Green hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 92. Duncan's hook put the Spurs in front 96-94 before Paul tossed up a one-handed shot that rose to the top of the backboard before dropping straight in as he crashed into a baseline photographer. He made the free throw to put the Clippers ahead by one. Parker scored consecutive baskets and the Spurs regained the lead, 100-97, with 1:47 left. Paul's two free throws drew the Clippers within one. After a timeout, Paul drove the basket and lost the ball. He fouled Green, who made the first and missed the second to keep the Spurs ahead for good. "I messed up, bad decisions," Paul said, holding his 2-year-old son on his lap. "I should have shot it and I missed the shot, all on me." Paul then missed another shot, and Mo Williams fouled Parker, who missed the first and made the second with a second left. "To let my team down in that situation is probably the toughest part of the season," Paul said. "We scrapped, we played hard. At the end of the day, playing hard isn't always enough. You got to execute. On that last play, at least we could have gotten a shot off and I turned the ball over." DeAndre Jordan added 10 points. Paul had best performance of the series after sub-par efforts in the first two games. He'd been playing with a strained right hip, while Griffin has a sprained right knee, an injured left hip and got stitches for a cut lip in the first half. Neither team led by more than five points in the third period. Duncan had 10 points for the Spurs. Bledsoe's putback slam dunk gave the Clippers 75-74 lead going into the fourth. The Spurs stretched their lead to 12 points with Duncan sitting out the opening 7 minutes of the second quarter. The Clippers closed on a 14-6 run to trail 51-47 at halftime. Paul got it started with a 19-foot jumper and ended it with a 3-pointer. Early in the spurt, Griffin ran into Ginobili's shoulder, fell and one of his top teeth went through his lip. He left the court with 2:20 remaining to get two stitches on the inside and outside of his lip. Los Angeles began the game on a 9-4 run before San Antonio scored 14 unanswered points, reminiscent of its 24-0 third-quarter spurt Saturday that led to the Spurs' eventual 10-point victory in Game 3. Notes: Duncan, Parker and Ginobili played in their 130th postseason game together, the most played as an active trio in the league. ... Duncan finished with nine rebounds, just short of notching his 135th career playoff double-double. ... The Clippers have lost all seven of their playoff series after losing Game 1. ... The Spurs had a 40-36 edge on the boards, while the Clippers outscored them in the paint, 56-50.

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

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MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

MacLellan on facing McPhee in Stanley Cup Final: 'It's a little awkward'

LAS VEGAS—One of the more intriguing storylines of this year’s Stanley Cup Final centers on a couple of men who make their living behind the scenes: Brian MacLellan of the Caps and his counterpart with the Golden Knights, George McPhee.

They’ve known each other for 40-plus years, dating back to their time as bantam teammates in Canada. And, starting Monday, they’ll be on opposing sides, with hockey’s Holy Grail at stake.  

Caps fans, of course, are familiar with McPhee’s work. He served as GM in Washington from 1997-2014 and drafted 13 players who are currently on the Caps’ roster. McPhee was also the Caps’ rookie GM the last time the franchise appeared in the Final 20 years ago.

But here’s what Caps fans might not know about the connection that MacLellan and McPhee share:

  • They were born in a few months apart in 1958 in Ontario.
  • They captured the Canadian Jr. A championship as members of the 1977-78 Guelph Platers.
  • Both were on scholarship at Bowling Green from 1978-1982.
  • They played together with the New York Rangers in 1985-86.
  • And, finally, they worked side-by-side in Washington from 2000-2014. After working his way up from the scouting ranks, MacLellan replaced his managerial mentor, who had been let go following a disappointing season.

 

“It's kind of a weird experience,” MacLellan said. “We kind of have been texting back and forth how strange it feels to have this line up the way it has. It's a little awkward, but it's going to be a fun experience, I hope.”

At one point, MacLellan got choked up when talking about his relationship with McPhee, who’ll become the first GM in the expansion era to face a former team of which he served as GM.

“We played junior together and then we both went to Bowling Green on scholarships, so we lived together,” he said, fighting back tears. “It was fun.”

MacLellan also acknowledged that the two weren’t as tight—for a time, at least—after he replaced McPhee four years ago. McPhee also hinted at some strain, though he said the two men had dinner at the most recent GM’s meetings.

“Not as close, I don't think,” MacLellan said of his relationship with McPhee following McPhee’s dismissal. “A little bit of communication here and there. But I think it just took a little time for things to evolve. I think he needed a break from the game, needed a break from how it went down for him here and it just took time.”

When the two negotiated during last year’s expansion draft, which saw McPhee pluck promising you blueliner Nate Schmidt from Washington’s roster, MacLellan said the two old friends keep things “businesslike.”

“He was all business,” MacLellan said. “He wasn’t giving in on anything.”

Although McPhee drafted most of the core players who delivered the Caps to this year’s Final, MacLellan also deserves credit for getting this team over the second round hump. Among his first acquisitions were defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, a pair of vets that helped shore up a shaky defense. MacLellan also added forwards T.J. Oshie and Lars Eller via trade in recent seasons and, this year, added defenseman Michal Kempny, a particularly shrewd move that bolstered a blue line that needed a little tightening.

As weird as the next few days will be for MacLellan as he faces his old friend, it figures to even more strange for McPhee, who will look down from the GM’s suite on Monday and see not one, but two teams that he built on the ice. McPhee also pilfered a handful of current and former front office employees from Caps, including Goalie Coach Dave Prior, while building the Golden Knights.

Indeed, the history between MacLellan and McPhee runs deep. But for the next couple of weeks, they’ll put aside their decades-old friendship as their clubs battle for the NHL’s ultimate prize.
 

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