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Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

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Spurs-Thunder: A changing of the guard?

From Comcast SportsNet
SAN ANTONIO (AP) -- Kevin Durant and the surging Oklahoma City Thunder are just one victory from the NBA finals. "We never just thought we were supposed to wait our turn," the 23-year-old Thunder star said following the biggest road win of his career Monday night. What little wait they've had could end Wednesday. That's when the Thunder can finish off the San Antonio Spurs back home in Oklahoma City -- where they're unbeaten in these playoffs -- and complete a remarkable turnaround in the Western Conference finals after starting in an 0-2 hole and up against a 20-game Spurs winning streak that ranks among the longest in NBA history. But look who's unstoppable now. Durant scored 27 points and the Thunder beat the Spurs 108-103 in Game 5, moving within a victory of a series knockout and the conference title after beating San Antonio for the third time in five days. "We came here, we wanted to get a win on their home floor," Durant said. "That's what it took for us to advance or to get to where we wanted to go." Russell Westbrook added 23 and the Thunder took a 3-2 lead in a wildly entertaining series. Looking invincible while carrying a 20-game winning streak a week ago -- the fourth-longest in NBA history -- the Spurs have lost three straight and are on the verge of a stunning collapse. Manu Ginobili scored 34 in a smashing return to the starting lineup, and the switch showed just how much Spurs coach Gregg Popovich knew his team might be in trouble. The only way the Spurs would have considered the move a success is if they had they won, and that chance went clanging off the back of the rim with 4.9 seconds left when Ginobili missed an off-balance 3. Ginobili then walked to the scorer's table, made a fist and hammered it down. "It wasn't a great shot, but it wasn't a bad one," Ginobili said. "It just didn't go in." It was the Spurs' first loss at home since April 11. Popovich said he removed Danny Green from the starting lineup and plugged in Ginobili -- who had started only seven previous times this season -- to give the Spurs "an energy boost." But that didn't solve a third straight uneven game for the Spurs, particularly another languid second quarter that put them in a 14-point hole. "If we don't get that straight," Popovich said, "it'll be over on Wednesday." Oklahoma City, meanwhile, is bringing home just what it needed: the must-win on the road. "That was a total team effort," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Everybody did their job. I thought we played as hard as we can play." Oklahoma City pulled it off behind their stars. James Harden scored 20, joining Durant and Westbrook as the only Thunder players in double figures. Harden hit the biggest shot, draining a 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left that pushed Oklahoma City's lead to five. He admitted afterward that the ball was supposed to go to Durant but had no choice but to let go with the shot clock winding down and Spurs rookie Kawhi Leonard in his face. "The shot clock was running down and I had to make a play," Harden said. "Leonard was playing great defense on me. I just shot it with confidence. West Conference finals -- that's a big shot." Tony Parker had 20 points and Tim Duncan had 18 points and 12 rebounds for the Spurs. After remaining unbeaten for 50 days before arriving in Oklahoma City, San Antonio has lost three games in five days. They now must win two straight to avoid seeing their last best chance to win in a title in the Duncan era end. "Championship teams win on the road," Popovich said. "Oklahoma City just did that." It's the first time the Spurs have lost three in a row all season. Durant scored 22 of his points in the second half. He dedicated the win to his uncle, whom Durant said was in the hospital. Westbrook also had 12 assists. Not wanting the series to slip away, Popovich moved Ginobili to the starting lineup in place of Green, who came in shooting a combined 8 of 28 in this series. Green's days as a starter began looking numbered after Game 3. He couldn't save his job before leaving Oklahoma City -- Green shot 4 of 12 in both losses combined -- and Popovich couldn't wait any longer with the series tied and the season in the balance. Out with the undrafted swingman who barely made training camp, and in with the former All-Star. Pulling this big an adjustment this deep in the season likely didn't come easy for the NBA coach of the year, and the gambit drew mixed results. It looked like a no-brainer with Ginobili leading all scorers at halftime with 14, but new rotations for the Spurs made for rocky possessions. None more so than in the second quarter, when the Spurs shot 38 percent. Ginobili finished 11 of 21 and made half of his 10 3-point attempts. But with the game and arguably San Antonio's season on the line, his last one didn't connect. "It's either win or go home," Ginobili said. "It's our job. Nobody is going to feel sorry about ourselves." Notes: Taking a page from the Thunder, the Spurs held a T-shirt whiteout at the AT&T Center, a move the team has rarely made before. ... Durant's the clear last-shot taker for the Thunder. Popovich said it's as obvious as Dirk Nowitzki having the ball in his hands at the end for Dallas. But who do the Spurs go to with the game on the line? "It's a secret," Popovich said before the game.

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Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

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USA Today Sports

Stroman pitches 7 sharp innings as Blue Jays beat Orioles 4-1

TORONTO (AP) -- Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman gave up hits to the first three Baltimore batters Saturday.

The Orioles got just two more hits the rest of the afternoon.

Stroman pitched seven sharp innings for his second win in three starts and Toronto beat Baltimore 4-1 for its sixth straight victory over the struggling Orioles.

"He started working both sides of the plate with his sinker and I think that threw them off a little bit, especially late in counts," Blue Jays catcher Luke Maile said. "Overall it was just kind of vintage Stroman."

Baltimore right-hander Alex Cobb picked up his major league-worst 13th loss. The Orioles dropped to 1-8 against Toronto this season.

"I absolutely hate seeing that win-loss in parentheses next to my name," Cobb said. "It's sickening."

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run and five hits. He threw a season-high 107 pitches, the first time this season he has topped 100.

Stroman is 3-2 with a 3.03 ERA in five starts since returning from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss more than a month. He went 0-5 in seven starts before the injury.

"Since he's come back from the DL he's been really good," manager John Gibbons said. "I just think he's pitching like he's always pitched."

Stroman said he's focused on forgetting his early season struggles.

"I know I didn't have the first half I wanted but I've always been someone who prides myself on the second half and finishing strong," Stroman said. "That's something I'll look to continue to do this year."

Friend and teammate Devon Travis likes what he's seen from Stroman since the right-hander returned from injury.

"He's got that fire back," Travis said. "He's really under control. I think he's locking in on every single pitch."

Seunghwan Oh worked the eighth and Ryan Tepera finished for his seventh save in 12 opportunities.

Baltimore scored one run or fewer for the 27th time, the most in the majors.

The first three Orioles batters all singled, although Jonathan Schoop was thrown out trying to stretch his hit into a double. After Adam Jones gave Baltimore a 1-0 lead with an RBI hit to right, Mark Trumbo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

The Blue Jays answered with a three-run fourth against Cobb, taking advantage of a key Orioles error.

Justin Smoak opened the inning with a walk and, following a video review, was ruled safe at second after Cobb's high throw pulled shortstop Tim Beckham off the base on at attempted force play.

"That's not it in a nutshell but I can understand why that's the focus, a play we haven't been making," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.

Randal Grichuk followed with an RBI double, a second run scored on Diaz's double play grounder, and Maile capped the rally with an RBI single.

Diaz had four hits Friday, including the game-winning single in the 10th. He went 2 for 3 Saturday with a pair of singles.

The Blue Jays made it 4-1 in the fifth when Teoscar Hernandez doubled, advanced on a fly ball and scored on Cobb's balk.

Cobb (2-13) lost his sixth straight decision, allowing four runs, one earned, and four hits in five innings. Showalter said Cobb was removed to avoid worsening a blister on his pitching hand.

"I was only going to have a few more pitches going into the sixth so he felt like the risk-reward was not really worth it," Cobb said.

Grichuk made the defensive play of the game, a running catch on the warning track in left center to retire Trumbo for the first out of the ninth.

GOING DOWN?

Jones and Chris Davis got stuck in an elevator at the team's downtown hotel following Friday night's defeat. Jones documented much of the saga on Instagram. The players and fellow passengers were eventually rescued by Toronto Fire Services staff. The sound system at Rogers Centre played a few bars of Aerosmith's `Love in an Elevator' before Jones batted in the fourth inning Saturday.

NO HOMERS

Toronto won without hitting a home run for just the third time in 26 games this season.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Orioles: Baltimore is expected to demote a reliever when RHP Andrew Cashner (neck) is activated off the 10-day disabled list Sunday.

UP NEXT

Cashner (2-9, 4.56) last pitched July 10, when he allowed five runs and five hits in 6 1-3 innings against the Yankees. Blue Jays LHP J.A. Happ (10-6, 4.29) is 0-3 with a 9.75 ERA in three July starts.

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What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

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USA Today Sports

What to make of the Strasburg-Scherzer shouting match in the Nationals' dugout

Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer had a heated exchange in the Nationals dugout Friday night.

It was another not-so-great moment in an otherwise unspectacular season for the Nats so far.

Things like this often appear worse than they are based on what we can see, not hear, on television. In any case, it has fans and pundits talking about a perceived off-the-field issue instead of the actual game. There's nothing "good" about this, but there are important factors that are "bad" and ones that are "not bad."

Davey Martinez, Strasburg and Scherzer already said this has been settled and wasn't a big deal in the first place, but for a manager who's already faced some scrutiny this year for how he manages his pitchers, having two of them go at it in the dugout isn't ideal.

It also doesn't present the best optics for a team that came out of the All-Star Break 5.5 games back of the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies. The Nationals need to build some momentum heading into the dog days of summer, and after a lackluster first half, this isn't how anybody would want to start the second half.

This was also Strasburg's first start back from a month-long stint on the disabled list. Ryan Zimmerman just rejoined the club as well. Things are shaping up to make for a solid second-half run, but all this does is detract from that.

The Nationals also just hosted the first All-Star Game in Washington since 1969. Having something like this happen in the dugout where everybody can see it takes away from some of that good publicity.

But there are also positives, or at least non-negatives, to take from this. Scherzer has always been ultracompetitive, and as the best pitcher on the staff, he needs to harness that into leadership. With Strasburg coming off a rough inning, Scherzer may have thought he needed a little tough love from a veteran. There's nothing wrong with that. Strasburg, to his credit, has never been one to focus too much on himself, so if there's anyone who can take something like this constructively, it'd be him.

This isn't Jonathan Paplebon fighting Bryce Harper for not running out a pop fly the day after the Nats were eliminated from playoff contention. These are two veteran guys who play the same position who are both competitive and want to win. It's akin to an older brother pushing his younger brother to do better. Strasburg even hinted at the family aspect after the game.

In the end, there's really nothing to see here. Frustration is part of the game. Talking it out is a part of remedying the frustration.

What really matters is tracking down the Braves and the Phillies. The Nationals can get started on that Sunday in the second game of a rain-shortened two-game series against the Braves.

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