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Seattle's Lynch shines again in playoffs

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Seattle's Lynch shines again in playoffs

RENTON, Wash. (AP) Marshawn Lynch's tremor-causing playoff touchdown run two years ago against New Orleans has been viewed millions of times on YouTube.

It will be hard for Lynch to ever top the stunning run during which he broke more than a half-dozen tackles on his way to a 67-yard touchdown that induced enough frenzy inside the Seahawks' stadium that it registered as seismic activity.

Still, his best playoff performance might have been in Seattle's wild-card victory over Washington on Sunday.

Seattle needed all of Lynch's 132 yards rushing, and especially his 27-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter, to dispatch the Redskins. His sidestep cut that left Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall grasping at air allowed him to get to the outside on the touchdown run and was another sign of Lynch's shiftiness, which sometimes gets lost because of his brute power.

Lynch's performance on Sunday tied the franchise record for most yards rushing in a playoff game and bettered what he did against the Saints by 1 yard. He rushed for 99 yards in the second half and overcame a costly fumble at the Washington 1 on the first drive of the second half that could have shaken others.

Not Lynch.

``You don't ever have to worry about his mindset,'' Seattle fullback Michael Robinson said after the game. ``He got to the sideline, he was upset about it, and he just said, `Give it to me again. Keep feeding me.'''

Lynch is coming off the finest regular season of his career, yet he ended up getting overshadowed by the rise of quarterback Russell Wilson.

Lynch rushed for 1,590 yards in the regular season and was named to the Pro Bowl as a reserve behind Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. His yardage total was good for third in the NFL and he was one of just eight backs to post double digits in rushing touchdowns. According to STATS Inc., Lynch was fifth in the league with 639 of his yards coming after first contact and was third in the league in yards rushing in the fourth quarter with 354.

And he ran for all those yards despite taking most of the second half off in blowout victories late in the season against Buffalo and Arizona. Lynch had a combined 21 carries in those two games, but still rolled up 241 yards.

Lynch became the beneficiary of Seattle incorporating more of the zone-read run game into its offense in the second-half of the season. Sometimes he was the decoy who allowed Wilson to run untouched around the end. Other times, Lynch got the handoff and a head start while defensive linemen were figuring out if Wilson was keeping the ball.

``He has grown quite a bit, and in the last two years he has really owned it. It was a little sticky at first, and his consistency wasn't as sharp as it is now,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ``He basically gets it right almost all of time now. He trusts the reads, he trusts the principles and philosophy of the run game and he's been maxing out pretty much for a couple of years now.''

That system was on display again against the Redskins. While Lynch got the bulk of the yards, Wilson added another 67 yards rushing. Twice, including on Lynch's TD run in the fourth quarter, Wilson was out ahead of his running back serving as a blocker.

``I don't worry about Russell. What do you want me to do, tell him to get out of the way?'' Carroll joked. ``He's OK. It's not like he's laying bone-crushing blocks, you know?''

When Lynch got to the divisional round two years ago against Chicago, he was held to just 2 yards rushing on four carries in what remains the least productive game of his nearly two-plus seasons with the Seahawks.

He gets a chance to atone for that when the Seahawks travel to Atlanta on Sunday and face a Falcons run defense that was leaky during the regular season. Atlanta finished the year ranked 21st at stopping the run and gave up at least 140 yards rushing in each of its three losses.

The team that gave the Falcons the most fits was Carolina and mobile quarterback Cam Newton. The Panthers and their zone-read offensive system rushed for a combined 394 yards and averaged nearly 6 yards per carry in two games.

``We've grown and become more together and more in tune with our QB and what he can do and all that,'' Carroll said. ``We're a pretty hard team to beat right now.''

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The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

The goal that no one wanted: Alex Ovechkin gives up hat trick to set up T.J. Oshie

Alex Ovechkin had two goals, the puck on his stick and an empty-net yawning. The Caps held a 4-2 lead on Monday against the Vancouver Canucks late in the third period and the win looked all but secured. The only thing still up for grabs was the exclamation point empty-net goal.

Ovechkin took the puck in the defensive zone and weaved his way through the neutral zone. Once he hit center ice, there was only one player between him and the net. The hat trick looked all but certain…until he passed the puck away.

He easily could have taken the puck himself and fired it into the empty yet, but instead he chose to pass it off to T.J. Oshie on the wing.

Oshie delayed, but with the trailing Vancouver players skating into the passing lane, there was no way for Oshie to try to pass it back to Ovechkin and he very reluctantly shot the puck into the net.

When the players returned to the bench, the disappointment on Oshie’s face was clear to see. He wanted Ovechkin to get the hat trick, but Ovechkin wasn’t having it.

After the game, head coach Todd Reirden praised Ovechkin for his leadership.

“He could have easily got in the red and tried to score himself and it wasn’t even a thought,” Reirden said. “He passed right to Osh and Osh couldn’t go back to him and that’s the way it worked out. It doesn’t bother him one bit and I think that’s where you see a different player than maybe you saw three or four years ago that is not focused on individual stuff. He’s doing the right thing and he feels if you do the right thing for long enough, you’re going to get rewarded.

“We were benefactors of that last season with being able to win out at the end. He’s really got a lot of buy-in right now for doing the right thing. I think his leadership is really in the last probably year, year and a half has really gone to a new level.”
 
Reirden saw leadership on the play. Oshie saw disappointment.
 
Ovechkin offered his own explanation for giving up the shot as he said, “Save it for next time.”

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Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. show how they can change everything for Wizards in win over Blazers

Most nights, with little variance, the Wizards know what they are going to get from John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. They are consistently what they are, both good and bad, and mostly good.

The same cannot always be said about Markieff Morris and Kelly Oubre Jr. Both are capable of brilliance, it's just those moments come and go and sometimes with mysterious timing. Both players help the team more often than not, but can be unpredictable and enigmatic.

Monday night saw both Morris and Oubre at their best as the Wizards topped the Blazers 125-124 in overtime at the Moda Center. It was a worthy reminder of how much the two of them can change the outlook for the Wizards as a team on any given night.

Let's begin with Morris because this may have been the best game he's played with the Wizards since joining them in a Feb. 2016 trade. On both ends of the floor, he  was a force, but particularly on offense.

Morris erupted for 28 points in 25 minutes on 9-for-15 from the field and 6-for-10 from three. His six threes were a career-high. He also had 10 rebounds, a block and a steal.

It was the most efficient night in Morris' career and, by one measure, one of the most efficient in franchise history. His 28 points were the most by a Wizards or Bullets player in 25 minutes or less since A.J. English dropped 30 points in 23 minutes in 1990.

Morris' threes were well-timed. He hit two in the extra period, including one with 38.5 seconds remaining to put the Wizards up four. He also made one with 1:04 left in regulation and another right before that with 1:39 to go, both to give the Wizards a lead at the time. 

The clutch threes invoked memories of a game-winner Morris hit in the very same building two seasons ago. That also happened to be his best year with the Wizards.

Morris has improved his three-point shooting in recent years with a career-best 36.7 percent last season. When he's knocking them down, the Wizards can be uniquely good at spacing the floor, as Wall and especially Beal and Porter can be dangerous from three.

What Morris did against Portland was a major departure from a pair of uninspired games to begin the season. He had 21 points and 12 rebounds total in his first two games, both losses, as he failed to compensate for Dwight Howard's absence. On Monday, he stepped up and helped lead the Wizards to victory.

Like Morris, Oubre had been scuffling through two games. A different version of him showed up in Portland.

Oubre amassed only 17 points in his first two games and shot just 5-for-16 from the field and 1-for-7 from three. Against the Blazers, Oubre scored 22 points and shot 9-for-13 overall and 3-for-3 from long range.

Oubre added six rebounds, a block and a steal and a host of winning plays that didn't show up in traditional stats. He drew a loose ball foul on Mo Harkless early in the fourth quarter and took a charge on C.J. McCollum with under two minutes in overtime.

Oubre played pretty much exactly how head coach Scott Brooks often says he should. He ran the floor in transition and attacked the rim when the ball swung his way. He was more selective with his three-point attempts than usual. He wreaked havoc on defense with deflections, didn't gamble for steals and he hustled for rebounds. 

Monday night showed the perfect version of both Morris and Oubre. The Wizards need that to be the model for how they aspire to play every single night. If they do, this team's ceiling is significantly higher.

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