Nationals

Without Gay, Grizzlies lose to Thunder 106-89

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Without Gay, Grizzlies lose to Thunder 106-89

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Kevin Durant scored 27 points, Russell Westbrook added 21 points and nine assists and the Oklahoma City Thunder beat Memphis 106-89 Thursday night in the Grizzlies' first game since trading away leading-scorer Rudy Gay.

Memphis struggled mightily in the first half and trailed by 26 in the third quarter before a mini-implosion by the Thunder that featured Westbrook getting benched after a dust-up with his teammates.

It still didn't provide a big enough opening for the Grizzlies, who were playing short-handed while waiting for trade acquisitions Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis to arrive and pass physicals.

Jerryd Bayless led Memphis with 23 points. Zach Randolph missed his first 10 shots and wound up with nine points and 19 rebounds.

The Grizzlies were already short on numbers after dealing away reserves Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington and Josh Selby for Jon Leuer about a week earlier and with Quincy Pondexter out with a sprained ligament in his left knee.

That left just nine healthy players for Memphis, and Leuer didn't get into the game until it was out of hand in the final 5 minutes.

Just when Oklahoma City seemed to be firmly in control, Westbrook started sniping with his teammates after a possession when he posted up along the left side of the lane and eventually got called for a turnover when Bayless stuck with him on defense for 5 seconds. Westbrook then spiked the ball twice while gesturing toward Thabo Sefolosha and Durant that they needed to get open better.

He then hollered toward coach Scott Brooks on the bench.

Memphis followed his outburst with 10 straight points to make it a game again - with Westbrook getting an early hook during the stretch and heading down the tunnel to the locker room.

Brooks finally put him back in the game to start the fourth quarter, after Memphis had pulled to 77-67 in the final minute of the third quarter. Westbrook hit a pull-up jumper and set up Kevin Martin for a 3-pointer in transition on consecutive possessions to bump the lead back up to 86-69 with 9:32 remaining.

That all but ended the Grizzlies' comeback bid.

Memphis had been one of only three visiting teams to win at the Chesapeake Energy Arena this season, but that was before the two trades aimed at avoiding the luxury tax.

From the start, the depleted Grizzlies were no match for the Thunder at full strength.

Returning home for the first time after a six-game road trip, Oklahoma City connected on its first nine shots to move ahead and then tacked onto the lead after the streak stopped. Martin's 3-pointer from the left wing pushed the advantage into double digits for the first time at 27-16 with 2:41 left in the first quarter.

Nick Collison had a two-handed slam and Durant converted a three-point play after being fouled on a right-handed jam during a string of nine straight Oklahoma City points early in the second quarter, and the lead ballooned to 24 by halftime. Memphis shot just 26 percent while matching its season-low with 34 first-half points while the Thunder made 61 percent and scored 58 points against what has been the league's stingiest defense.

NOTES: Gay was the Grizzlies' franchise leader in games played (479), minutes (17,338) and steals. He was second in points (8,562). ... Durant picked up his eighth technical foul of the season with 7:54 in the third quarter, after getting the ball stripped as he made a move to the basket. ... Oklahoma City's 9-for-9 start from the field was its best since relocating from Seattle in 2008 and the best in the league this season.

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This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

This is how the Nationals and Sean Doolittle got here, and this is where they go

WASHINGTON -- The first taste of all this came in late April of last year. Sean Doolittle threw three games in a row for the first time in years, only two of which were save opportunities. 

“Guess the training wheels are off,” Doolittle joked then.

His blistering usage this season followed with another heavy April and May combination born of the team’s other faults. The club was sliding or injury-filled or both, playing tight games and acting desperate in the season’s early months in order to make the later ones matter. A turnaround was even more critical this season following last year’s stumble. Davey Martinez was brought to Washington with a mandate to reach the World Series. They didn’t even make the playoffs in year one.

Look at Doolittle’s year-over-year pattern: April and May of last year, 25 total appearances. April and May of this year, 23 total appearances. By the start of July in 2018, Doolittle was on the injured list. He made it until mid-August this season, leading the league in games finished, being used relentlessly by a manager who had no one to trust at the start, then didn’t turn to those he could once they arrived. Doolittle appeared in eight of the Nationals’ 14 games since the trade deadline passed, all while enduring a home run surge and talking publicly about fatigue.

So, why was he used so often?

“Doolittle's the closer,” Martinez said Sunday. “He's the closer of this team. We've said that before and this is based on conversations with Doo. If he's available, as we talked about, then he's going to pitch the ninth inning. He's always been in the game when he said he was available to pitch.” 

The conversation Sunday morning between Martinez and Doolittle was meant to figure out what’s next for the closer and team following Saturday’s harrowing appearance. Doolittle was pummeled that evening. His failing cost the team continuance of a win streak and a pertinent victory. He knew it. It stung.

So, the decision was to put him on the 10-day injured list because of right knee tendinitis. Martinez backed the news with a declaration: “Talked to him, talked to the medical staff. It came to a head when I talked to him that his right knee's bothering him. So, we want to get it right. So we put him on the IL. Hopefully, it won't take as long, he's back in 10 days and when he does come back, he's our closer. And I reiterated that to him. He's our closer, but we got to get him right.”

Doolittle found a mechanical tweak earlier in the season which made him his most potent. His body position was higher, his release point hidden longer and his drive down the mound maximized. Of late, his fatigue has undermined those priorities. Doolittle is rolling through the load period in his windup. His arm is trying to generate power his body typically would. The ball is exposed earlier. Simply, hitters can see a slower-moving ball sooner. 

While Doolittle rests and retools, Martinez will hunt for how to operate without him. Daniel Hudson (1.08 ERA, heavy usage since arriving) and Hunter Strickland (1.29 ERA) are the logical choices. Why they weren’t being used as such to save Doolittle appearances before is moot now. They’re in. He’s out.

Roenis Elias and Greg Holland are also part of the equation. Elias (hamstring) is heading toward a mound session, perhaps in the next few days. If he didn’t absent-mindedly swing Aug. 2, much could be different. He could handle the seventh, aligning Hudson and Strickland for later outs and saving Doolittle. Instead, he’s thrown ⅔ of an inning since being acquired July 31. 

Holland has thrown two scoreless innings for Harrisburg since being signed and stashed after his release by Arizona. The Nationals are confident they can again retool Holland the way they did last year in a striking turnaround which led to a 0.84 ERA in 24 appearances. If he’s league average at the end of the bullpen, it’s a boost.

Washington has a minimum of eight more games to decipher how the new alignment will be deployed. Max Scherzer’s “probable” return Thursday will force a move in the rotation. Erick Fedde or Joe Ross (most likely Fedde) could end up back in the bullpen or in the minors.

The Nationals are 5 ½ games out of first place in the National League East. They hold a 3 ½-game lead in the wild-card race. Only the juggernaut Dodgers have a better run differential following Sunday’s homer-laden win against Milwaukee. 

Which means there is room for a breath, a reset, a rebuild of their closer. The season is going to boil down to September. Without a top-tier Doolittle, it has a limited chance of finishing where they payroll and demands expect it to.

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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

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Washington Mystics set WNBA record for most 3-pointers in a single game without Kristi Toliver

WASHINGTON – Shey Peddy rarely gets to see the floor as a part of the WNBA-leading Washington Mystics. Sunday was only the 10th game of her WNBA career, playing in garbage time of what was going to be another dominant Mystics victory. 

She only managed three points on one made basket, but it was perhaps the biggest basket of the night. As Peddy, 30, caught a pass at the wing in her right hand, she quickly squared up and delivered a 3-point basket for Washington. It was the Mystics’ 18 such basket from range on the day, a new WNBA record. 

This is just the latest in the plethora of record-breaking performances for the Mystics in 2019. A massive 107-68 victory over the Indiana Fever is starting to feel habitual for those in the Entertainment and Sports Arena. More records falling on a daily basis.

Which, by the way, winning by 39 points also gave the Mystics their 11th win of 20 points or more to build on their current WNBA record. There are seven games still left on the schedule.

“When you shoot 39 threes and make 18 of them and you have 30 assists for the game, coach has to be pretty happy,” Mystics head coach Mike Thibault said postgame. “The world looks really good when you’re making shots.”

Even more impressive is that the Mystics accomplished such a feat without one of their star players Kristi Toliver. Entering the contest she had made the second most 3-point baskets on the team and did so at a 36% clip. But had the Mystics had Toliver, Peddy would not have been in the lineup. She recently signed a seven-day player contract with the team to fill Toliver’s roster spot. 

Production was from all corners of the roster to set the 3-point mark. Ariel Atkins and Aerial Powers both had four each from long range as the bench added six.  Emma Meesseman, who came off the bench, led the unit as they combined for 36 points. 

In total, nine of the 11 eligible players on the gameday roster made a 3-pointer, with all 11 scoring a point. The only one who didn’t get one long ball attempt was center LaToya Sanders.

While the team was unaware of the record, they consciously knew that Sanders was the only one who didn’t shoot a 3-point shot.

“We’re going to get [LaToya] to shoot one. I’m going to give it to her real late in the shot clock, watch,” Natasha Cloud said postgame. 

The center has attempted two threes in her entire seven-year career. 

Like all games throughout the season at the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast D.C., there was a match lit underneath the Mystics (20-7) in the opening moments of the contest. They jumped out to a 24-4 lead over Indiana and held the Fever without a basket from the floor for the first seven minutes. 

An admirable 13-0 run by the Fever (9-17) momentarily made it a game in the second quarter. However, right after the spark the Fever’s top player Candice Dupree exited the game with a finger injury. She spent the rest of the game courtside sporting a splint. 

Elena Delle Donne contributed to three of the team’s recording-breaking 3-point baskets. She also recorded her 11th game with 20-plus points as she led all scorers with 25. 

In addition to the setting the WNBA’s 3-point record, having nine separate players hit one also set another record. Recording 30 assists put them two shy of another single-game high. 

It all came as the Mystics closed their toughest stretch of 2019: three games in five days. Their next goal? Rest, and they’ve earned it on their six-game winning streak.

“We can’t take our foot off the gas no matter what. Once we clinched a playoff spot, we didn’t come into this game thinking ‘alright let’s relax.’ We came into this game, ‘okay let’s continue to separate ourselves.'” 

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