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    In San Jose, the game will always be remembered as the Pavelski Payback for the four goals scored on one power play after the Sharks' captain was knocked out cold, turning around a wild Game 7 that finally ended in overtime. In Las Vegas, the Golden Knights will always lament the call that they believe was excessive and cost them a chance to advance to the second round. The Sharks responded to the bloody injury to captain Joe Pavelski by scoring four goals on the ensuing power play and then bounced back after allowing the game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation to beat Vegas 5-4 on Barclay Goodrow's goal 18:19 into overtime on Tuesday night. 'He's the heart of this team, and to see him go down like that and suffer like that was heartbreaking for us,' said center Joe Thornton, who rallied his teammates and implored them to score three goals on the power play to erase the 3-0 deficit. 'That power-play unit, it won us the game. The boys got together and said this is for Pavs. We love him. It was just a matter of will, and we willed that one for him.' The penalty happened on a faceoff in San Jose's offensive zone when Cody Eakin cross-checked Pavelski in the chest with 10:47 to play. Paul Stastny then bumped Pavelski as he fell to the ice, his helmet slamming down. Pavelski was knocked out and bleeding on the ice. 'You see our leader go down, he's out cold on the ice and it was kind of like he was seizuring up a little bit so tough to see,' teammate Logan Couture said. The officials huddled as a dazed Pavelski was helped to the locker room and gave Eakin a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. Series supervisor Don VanMassenhoven said the major penalty was given because the cross-check caused a significant injury. The Golden Knights disagreed. 'They called five minutes for that? Why don't you have hockey replay or something? It changed the whole outcome of the game,' forward Jonathan Marchessault said. 'Seriously. What is that? It's so disappointing. . The game is not even close, it's 3-0. Call the two, OK, but a five? With something you don't even see? You just called the outcome. It's a joke, that's what it is. It's embarrassing.' The Sharks then rallied behind their captain after a plea from Thornton thanks to two goals from Couture, one from Tomas Hertl and then the tiebreaker from Kevin Labanc, who assisted on the first three goals. That scoring spree in 4:01 against Marc-Andre Fleury sent the fans at the Shark Tank so used to playoff disappointment into delirium. It marked just the second time a team had scored four goals on one major power play in a playoff game. 'You have to give credit to Jumbo,' Couture said. 'He gathered the guys at the bench and said you guys go out and get ... three goals right now. When a guy who has played 20 years orders you around like that, bosses you around, you have to do it. We got four.' Martin Jones then appeared ready to seal the win, robbing Mark Stone with a glove save with 3:10 to go and Vegas on the power play. But the Golden Knights didn't go away and got the equalizer with Fleury pulled in the final minute. William Karlsson, who scored the first goal, leaped at the blue line to keep a puck in the zone and then Reilly Smith ended up with it behind the net where he set up Marchessault to make it 4-4 and set up overtime. It was the third-latest tying goal in a Game 7 in NHL history but it wasn't enough for Vegas. 'Last year we were in the Stanley Cup finals and it was tough to lose, tonight was tougher than that,' coach Gerard Gallant said. 'It really was, the way we lost that hockey game.' Fourth-liner Goodrow, on his second shift in the overtime, delivered late in the extra period. He took a pass from Erik Karlsson and deking his way past Fleury for the game-winner that set off a wild celebration. The Sharks became just the second team ever to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7 and win, joining the Boston Bruins, who did it in 2013 against Toronto. 'To be honest I can't really remember what just happened,' Goodrow said. 'It was a pretty surreal moment. Definitely the biggest goal of my career, obviously.' Eakin and Max Pacioretty also scored for Vegas and Fleury made 43 saves. Jones, who was pulled for ineffectiveness in two of the first five games, made 34 saves to close out the series and give the Sharks their first comeback from 3-1 down in a series in seven tries. San Jose will face Colorado in the Western Conference semifinals, starting with Game 1 at home on Friday night. NOTES: St. Louis also had four goals on one power play vs. Los Angeles on April 27, 1998. ... Sharks F Joonas Donskoi was replaced in the lineup by Lukas Radil after taking a hard hit in Game 6. ... Vegas F Brandon Pirri played in place of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. UP NEXT San Jose: Host Colorado in Game 1 on Friday night. ___ More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • After Damian Lillard hit his walk-off 3-pointer to send the Trail Blazers along in the playoffs, he waved goodbye to the Thunder bench. 'That was the last word,' he afterward. 'That was having the last word.' Lillard finished with a franchise playoff-record 50 points and Portland eliminated Oklahoma City from the postseason in five games with a 118-115 victory on Tuesday night. With the game tied, Lillard dribbled just inside of halfcourt near the Blazers logo and then pulled up and hit the game-winner at the buzzer from 37-feet. After his wave, Lillard was mobbed by his teammates and the crowd chanted 'MVP! MVP!' Lillard finished 10 3-pointers, second-most ever in an NBA playoff game. 'All of those things that we did to give ourselves a chance to win were huge,' Lillard said. 'And my part in it, I think, was probably my most important performance.' Portland advances to the Western Conference semifinals to face the winner of the series between the Nuggets and San Antonio. Denver won 108-90 earlier in the night to take a 3-2 lead in that series. It was the 12th straight road playoff loss for the Thunder, who have been eliminated in the opening round for three straight seasons. Russell Westbrook had 29 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists for his 10th career playoff triple-double and his second of the series. Paul George added 36 points. 'Very, very disappointing. It's as simple as that,' George said. 'We let this one slip away but it is what it is.' Lillard had 34 points in the first half alone — more than Westbrook and George had combined (32) for the Thunder — but the Blazers had just a 61-60 edge going into the second half. The Thunder led 90-88 going into the final quarter. Westbrook hit a 3-pointer to extend the lead while Lillard took a break on the bench. Oklahoma City went up 105-90 with 7:45 left on Dennis Schroder's pullup jumper as Portland struggled. Lillard's 3-pointer pulled the Blazers within 108-103, but Westbrook answered with his own 3. CJ McCollum's bank shot cut Oklahoma City's lead to 113-109 with 1:39 left. Maurice Harkless added free throws to get the Blazers within two. McCollum tied it with a jumper with just under a minute left, but George scored on the other end. Lillard's layup re-tied it then Westbrook missed a layup with 18.3 seconds left to set up Lillard's epic buzzer beater. 'I don't care what anybody says that's a bad shot,' George said about Lillard's 3. 'But he made it and that story will be told, but it was a bad shot. You live with it.' McCollum finished with 17 for the Blazers and Enes Kanter had 13 points and 13 rebounds. The Blazers stole one in Oklahoma City, winning 111-98 on Sunday. Westbrook went cold, finishing was 5 of 21 from the field for 14 points. He missed his final 10 shots. Lillard finished with 24, including 15 in the third quarter. Portland was swept in the first round of the playoffs for the past two seasons, last year by New Orleans and the previous year by Golden State. The Blazers last trip to the Western Conference semifinals came in 2016, when they beat the Clippers in the opening round before falling to the Warriors in five games. The Thunder also got knocked out in the opening round for the past two seasons. In 2016, a year after missing the playoffs entirely, they went to the conference finals but lost to Golden State. The Thunder went up 22-12 early, and George made his first six shots from the floor. Oklahoma City held a 37-29 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Lillard led all players with 19 points. McCollum got into foul trouble and headed for the bench. Lillard's long 30-foot 3-pointer pulled Portland within 43-39. George collected his third foul midway through the quarter after scoring 17 points. Another Lillard 3 closed the gap to 52-50 and the Blazers pulled in front 56-55 with 1:42 to go in the half on Seth Curry's 3-pointer. The Blazers led 61-60 at the break, led by Lillard with 34 points. Kanter, who became Portland's starter when Jusuf Nurkic broke his leg late in the season, was clearly having trouble with his left shoulder. He came down hard on it late in the half and cried out in pain but he started the second half. Kanter said afterward the original injury happened in the opening quarter and may be a separation. 'We'll see what happens,' he said, his shoulder wrapped. TIP-INS Thunder: OKC coach Billy Donovan knew before the game what the Thunder were up against: 'You throw everything you have into this game. It's a matter of a collectively going out there to play to the best of their ability.' ... The Tunder swept the Blazers in four games during the regular season. Trail Blazers: Lillard has had 30-plus points 13 times in the postseason. His effort on Tuesday night surpasses his previous playoff high of 40 set against the Warriors in 2016. ... Klay Thompson has the playoff record with 11 3-pointers in a game for the Warriors — also against the Thunder — in 2016. ... Portland has won 11 straight at home in the regular season and playoffs. ... MORAL SUPPORT: The crowd roared in the final minutes when Nurkic was shown on the video scoreboard, cheering from the Blazers' bench. It was the first time Nurkic had joined the team in the playoffs. 'You guys know it, you felt it in the building when they showed him on the big screen,' Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. 'The fact that he showed up — no one knew he was going to show up. I honestly think we fed off that. There was a little good karma when he did show up.' ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • After a sputtering start to their postseason, the Denver Nuggets are starting to look like the team that ended a six-year playoff drought in such dramatic fashion. Nikola Jokic has a lot to do with it. Jokic had 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists and fed Jamal Murray (23 points) repeatedly in Denver's 108-90 romp of the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night. 'Their chemistry is almost romantic,' Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. 'They care about each other, they love each other. They play for each other. That's when we're at our best.' 'I mean, we're growing,' Jokic said. 'We're both really passionate about basketball. So when we have some good plays or whatever, we just want to express our feelings.' surprising second seed in the West, the Nuggets are up 3-2 and can advance to the second round for the first time in a decade with a win in Game 6 Thursday night in San Antonio, where they won last weekend for the first time since 2012. Two weeks ago, Jokic overcame suffocating double teams to become the fourth player in NBA history to record a triple-double in his playoff debut and the first since LeBron James in 2006. But he scored just 10 points to go with 14 assists and 14 rebounds that night. Since then, he's averaged 22 points, 11 boards and eight assists. Three times he's come up a pair of assists shy of a triple double. 'I mean, every great player is a challenge. And he can do a little bit of everything, and he does all of those things well,' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. 'He's the consummate team player who has great skills, but he's also competitive, does a great job, has got a very high basketball IQ.' He's having quite the coming out party on the national stage, too. 'You hear everybody talk about these other players, rightfully so,' Denver coach Michael Malone said. 'The league is filled with great players. What Nikola Jokic is doing in his playoff debut has not happened very often in the history of this game. Once again tonight 16, 11 and eight. I damn near ran him into the ground. Those 3s at the end of the quarter were huge. 'He can impact the game in so many ways. I hope this playoff crowd, this national TV audience that people are tuning in and watching us and saying, 'Man, this kid Nikola Jokic is real.' We know it and it's about time everyone else realizes it.' Murray's 23 points led the Nuggets, who finally looked like the team that rolled through the regular season led by Jokic and backed up by the best bench in the league. The Nuggets led by as many as 30 points at 99-69, after which all of their starters took a seat. DeMar DeRozen and LaMarcus Aldridge each scored 17 for San Antonio, but Denver dominated this one almost from the tip. 'They just outplayed us in every facet of the game,' Popovich said. They'll need a similar effort in a closeout game at San Antonio. Asked what he could expect Thursday night, Jokic said, 'the toughest game of our lives.' FAST START The Nuggets led 26-19 after one quarter. Denver had been outscored in the first quarter in all four games and by a total of 31 points, which didn't sit well with Malone, who said before tipoff, 'I think it's important for us to win the first quarter, but not only to match the intensity and their aggressiveness, to exceed it. We have to come out with a hit-first mentality.' WITHER WHITE Spurs point guard Derrick White was held in check again — he had 12 points after scoring eight Saturday night. He averaged 23 points in the first three games, including a career-best 36 in Game 3, before Malone inserted Torrey Craig into the starting lineup in place of Will Barton, which allowed Gary Harris to guard White. 'I think our guys realized after the first three games Derrick White was the early MVP of this series,' Malone said. 'And we've done a really good job in the last couple of games of trying to negate his impact. And that's been a big part of our success in the last two.' Popovich said what he's seen in White these last two games is 'he's basically a young kid who's feeling his way. Playoffs are different than the regular season. And he's growing and every night is an education, whether he plays poorly or whether he's great. So, he's a willing young man, going to have a great future. But he's got to have this kind of experience. So, hopefully he'll bounce back on Thursday.' TIP-INS San Antonio: The Spurs struggled on the road during the regular season, going 16-25. They're now 1-2 away from home in this series. If they win Thursday night, they'll return to the Pepsi Center for Game 7 on Saturday night. Denver: Broncos star linebacker Von Miller was in attendance as were Nathan MacKinnon and Erik Johnson of the Colorado Avalanche, who have advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Should the Nuggets also advance, it would mark the first time since the Quebec Nordiques moved to Denver in 1995 and became the Avalanche that the city's NBA and NHL franchises both advanced to the second round in the same season. UP NEXT Game 6 is Thursday night in San Antonio. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports ___ Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/arniestapleton
  • Georgia Tech jumped out to an early lead and held on against Georgia on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park, winning 8-6. The No. 11-ranked Yellow Jackets (28-13) did most of their damage in the first three innings against the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-9). The teams played in front of the largest crowd to attend a college baseball game this season (18,861) in a game that benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Georgia Tech was up 7-2 lead through three innings, scoring five runs in the second on the strength of Luke Wadell’s two-run double and Kyle McCann’s three-run homer. “When you get behind the eight ball like we did early, it’s tough to claw back,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said in a school release. “We had our chances, but didn’t get it done.” The Bulldogs looked to rally with three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Aaron Schunk homering to start the frame. Georgia batted around in the lineup to draw to 7-5 before Riley King grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Yellow Jackets manufactured an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth despite not getting a hit, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter. The Bulldogs final run came in the top of the sixth inning on a Tucker Maxwell solo home run. Schunk, Cam Shepherd and Chaney Rogers had two hits apiece as Georgia out-hit the Yellow Jackets 10-6. Pitcher Tim Elliott (5-2) took the loss, getting stunk for six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings pitched as a result of the four hits and four walks he surrendered. Georgia Tech took two of three from Georgia this season, winning 11-2 in March in Atlanta before UGA evened the series with a 12-2 win on April 9 in Athens. The Yellow Jackets are only the second team this season to take a series from the Bulldogs this season,  The SEC-leading Bulldogs (13-5 SEC) return to action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 8-ranked Mississippi State (33-9, 10-8). State beat No. 19 Ole Miss by an 8-1 count on Tuesday night. Georgia baseball notes — Schunk’s home run was his seventh this season and his second in the stadium the Atlanta Braves call home. Schunk homered in SunTrust Park last season in Georgia’s 3-1 victory. — Pitcher Logan Moody made his first appearance since throwing a career-high eight strikeouts in the 3-2 marathon win over Clemson last week. — John Cable hit his fifth home run of the season, giving UGA a 2-1 lead in the second inning.     The post Georgia baseball falls to Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park, drops rivalry series appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Joel Embiid showed no mercy. He buried a 3-pointer that gave the 76ers a 24-point lead and waved his arms like a boss, exhorting an already jacked crowd to get louder. Philly obeyed its most popular player and went wild — and the All-Star center believes the good times have only just started. 'We think we can win it all,' Embiid said. Ben Simmons thumped his chest after a big dunk , Embiid pointed toward an overmatched defender on a slam of his own, and Philadelphia flexed its offensive muscle from the opening tip to beat the Brooklyn Nets 120-100 on Tuesday night and close out their Eastern Conference playoff series in five games. Up next, a second round series against the Toronto Raptors, who dropped their playoff opener before winning four straight against Orlando — the same thing the Sixers did to Brooklyn. 'We still have more to do. A lot more to do,' coach Brett Brown said. Any late arrivals missed the defining moments of the game from a jovial Sixers team that enjoyed toying with the sickly Nets. The Sixers stunned the Nets with a 14-0 run in front of the loudest and rowdiest packed house of the season. Embiid again shook off a bad left knee and had six points and five rebounds in the first two minutes to chants of 'MVP!' The Nets later trailed 20-2, and Simmons put an exclamation point on the stunning first quarter when he drove the paint and used a right-handed jam to make it 32-12 — with a thump of his chest for emphasis. 'They did whatever they wanted before we could even get on the board,' Nets All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell said. Brooklyn's Jared Dudley was soundly booed during pregame introductions and each time he touched the ball in the first. Dudley had stirred trouble when he said Simmons was 'average' in the half-court. Dudley bumped Embiid in Game 4, triggering a skirmish with Jimmy Butler that spilled into the stands. Dudley heard 'Dudley sucks!' chants from opening tipoff and got a view of this rout from the bench in the second half. He flashed a few smiles in the waning moments, his time as a playoff name over. The teams tangled again in the final two minutes, and the deep reserves had to be separated. Sixers mascot Franklin ran out wearing oversized gold boxing gloves to bring a dose of levity to the ruckus. Philadelphia's Jonah Bolden and Greg Monroe, and Brooklyn's Dzanan Musa and Radians Kurucs were ejected. 'Our team was physical the whole time,' Simmons said. 'I think we need to take that up to Toronto.' Embiid got the last laugh in the second quarter with a baseline dunk over Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and pointed at the hapless defender. Embiid was hit with a technical but by then, who cared? Embiid buried a 3 from the top of the arc that made it 41-17 and about blew the roof off the arena. Sixers general manager Elton Brand, who sits in the first row of the press seating, had his eyes locked on the scoreboard for each replay of the big man's 3. Embiid had 23 points and 13 rebounds, Simmons had 13 points and no starter played more than 27 minutes in a game that could have been called off after the first quarter. Hollis-Jefferson scored 21 points for the Nets, who head into the offseason after their first playoff series since 2015. 'We never made a push back,' Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. 'I'm surprised we didn't come out with more grit, more fight.' Brand is as much to credit for the Sixers' success as anyone, using his rookie season as GM to orchestrate trades for Butler and Tobias Harris that kept Philly humming along in a 51-win season. But even before the trades, the Sixers were expected to make it this far in the playoffs. They did last season and were knocked out by Boston in the East semis in five games. The midseason trades for Harris and Butler were expected to push the Sixers to at least the conference final. Brown has said the goal is to play in the NBA Finals. 'They're going for big things. They can compete for a championship, quite honestly,' Atkinson said. TIP-INS Nets: Joe Harris, the NBA's top 3-point shooter, hit his first one since Game 1 with the score well out of hand. Harris was just 3 of 16 through the first four games. ... Nets general manager Sean Marks was suspended for the game for entering the referees' locker room after Brooklyn's loss to Philadelphia in Game 4. ... Simmons smothered Russell and the Nets star was held to eight points on 3 of 16 shooting. 76ers: Their 29-point halftime lead was the largest in playoff franchise history. The 31 points allowed matched the lowest in the shot-clock era. UP NEXT The Raptors went 3-1 vs. the Sixers this season. 'You can credit it or you can discredit it,' Brown said. 'I'm discrediting it. We have a new group. We have a new opportunity.' ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Indians' powerful pitching is suddenly problematic. Carlos Carrasco was pulled after four innings with an injured left leg and Miami quickly jumped on his replacement for three runs as the Marlins beat Cleveland 3-1 for their second road win Tuesday night. Carrasco, who was coming off a 12-strikeout performance in his previous outing, got hurt when he stumbled and fell while covering first base in the fourth inning. He stayed in for two more batters but was pulled after telling manager Terry Francona his leg tightened. Francona said Carrasco was taken for a precautionary MRI. The Indians are hoping it's nothing serious. 'He kind of bruised it. He fell on it, but he initially felt it in the back,' Francona said. 'So that's why the medical people felt like let's just rule everything out. Hopefully it's just being precautionary, but we do want to get him checked out.' The Indians are already missing starter Mike Clevinger, who is expected to be sidelined another two months with a back strain. The loss of Carrasco, a 17-game winner last season, for any period would be another blow to the three-time defending AL Central champions, who are not hitting and counting on their pitching to carry them. Cleveland is batting an AL-worst .210 and the Indians have gotten three or fewer hits four times this season. Miami starter Pablo López (2-3) allowed just two hits in his longest start this season and Jorge Alfaro homered on the first pitch from reliever Neil Ramírez (0-1), who replaced Carrasco. The Marlins didn't get their first hit until the fourth, when Brian Anderson singled with two outs. Neil Walker followed with a hard shot that first baseman Carlos Santana knocked down. He scrambled to recover it, but threw it wide of first and Carrasco tumbled and fell in the infield dirt after trying to catch the errant throw. Carrasco took several warmup pitches, and seemed to talk his way into staying in before being replaced after the inning. Carrasco's injury is the latest for the 32-year-old, who has missed significant time in previous seasons with assorted injuries — many of them unlucky. 'They lose their guy, he was rolling us pretty good,' Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. 'His breaking ball, he had a slider. He was painting out there pretty good. As soon you make a change, Alfaro gets the guy for a homer. We get a little action going. The next you know we got a couple of runs. ' Lopez had not gone more than 5 1/3 innings in his previous four starts, but he held the Indians without a hit until the sixth and was not charged with an earned run in 6 1/3 innings. Lopez said a no-hitter crossed his mind. 'I'd be lying to you if I told you I wasn't thinking about it,' Lopez said. 'Of course, I had it in my mind. It was there. But at the same time, you have to take a little breath and take it one pitch at a time. You make sure you control the things you can control.' Miami closer Sergio Romo worked the ninth for his third save, completing a three-hitter as the Marlins improved to 2-5 on the road. TITO TURNS 60 Francona celebrated his 60th birthday on Monday with his kids and grandchildren, who gave him two gifts. 'Underwear,' he said, 'and some headphones that I have no clue how to use.' NATIONAL PRIDE Mattingly doesn't mind interleague play, he just wishes his roster was better suited for it. Mattingly played his entire career in the AL, where the designated hitter is part of the game. It's not that way in the NL, which is challenging for a team like Miami. 'We're not really built for it yet,' he said. 'With the 26th man next year, possibly there could be a situation when you have that guy on the bench that's sitting there and you're looking for a late-inning homer or more of that guy who just hits. It's hard to do that with our roster. When you're going with short benches, you need guys who are versatile, usually that's speed and do other things on the field. So I feel a little bit in American League ballparks we're not really set up for it.' TRAINER'S ROOM Marlins: LHP Jarlin García went on the paternity list and the club recalled LHP Jose Quijada from Triple-A New Orleans. Quijada has not appeared in a major league game. Indians: OF Bradley Zimmer is making slow progress from a strained oblique sustained in training camp. Francona said Zimmer is close to taking 'live swings' at the team's year-round complex in Goodyear, Arizona. UP NEXT Indians RHP Jefry Rodríguez (0-1, 3.18 ERA) will be recalled from Triple-A Columbus to make his second start and face Marlins rookie RHP Sandy Alcantara (1-2, 5.09), who has not allowed a home run in 23 innings this season. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Another Game 7 matchup between Boston and Toronto, another victory for the Bruins. Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly each had a goal and assist, Tuukka Rask stopped 32 shots and the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs 5-1 in Game 7 on Tuesday night to wrap up their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series. Marcus Johansson added his first goal of the postseason for Boston and Charlie Coyle scored on an empty netter late in the third. Patrice Bergeron also had a late goal. It is the Bruins' second straight Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs and third in three playoff matchups between the teams. Boston previously knocked Toronto out of the postseason with Game 7 victories in 2018 and 2013. The Maple Leafs have now lost six straight road Game 7s. The teams had alternated wins in this series until the Bruins won the last two games. 'I just think the last two games the character of this group shone,' Johansson said. 'We earned our way to Game 7 in Toronto and to a win tonight. That's a good feeling.' Boston advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Columbus Blue Jackets, starting with Game 1 at home on Thursday night. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said his team benefited from contributions up and down their roster but said Rask may have come up the biggest. 'Generally speaking you need your goaltender to hold you in there,' Cassidy said. 'He was outstanding.' John Tavares had Toronto's goal on an assist by Tyler Ennis. Frederik Andersen finished with 27 saves. The Maple Leafs' loss means there are no Canadian teams remaining in the playoffs. Calgary and Winnipeg previously lost their first-round series. 'It's disappointing. I thought our series this year compared to last year, we were a way better hockey club. In the end, we weren't rewarded,' Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. The Bruins led 2-1 after two periods and needed just 2:40 of the third to add to it. Toronto got into Boston's zone before the puck was poked out near the center of the ice and controlled by Kuraly. He promptly split between Tavares and Ron Hainsey, crossed in front of Morgan Rielly and fired a shot past Andersen to give the Bruins a two-goal edge. Boston came up empty on multiple early shot attempts before its fourth line broke through with the game's first goal. Nordstrom found a small seam left open by Andersen and slipped the puck past him to put the Bruins up 1-0 with 5:31 left in the first period. Matt Grzelcyk and Kuraly got assists. Nordstrom said the team talked before the game about having a 'shot-first mentality.' He said he was the beneficiary of Kuraly pressing the front of the net. 'It ended up going in, so we'll take it,' Nordstrom said. A little over two minutes later Toronto's Jake Gardiner gave it away behind his own net after being forechecked by Karson Kuhlman. Johansson controlled the puck, spun in front and fired a quick shot just inside the left post to make it 2-0. Toronto struck back at 3:54 of the second. Ennis jarred the puck loose with his forecheck on Grzelcyk. The puck found its way to Tavares, who punched through his second goal of the playoffs to pull the Maple Leafs to 2-1. Toronto got a one-man advantage with 11:38 left in the second after Brandon Carlo was called for a cross-check on Andreas Johnsson. Boston's defense stepped up, dodging eight Maple Leafs shot attempts to notch the penalty kill. Tempers flared briefly just before the end of the period after Toronto was called for an offside. But a potential fight was quickly broken up. It happened again in front of the Maple Leafs' bench just after time expired in the second. Brad Marchand and Auston Matthews were in the middle of the scrum. It, too, was brief and ceased after only some mild shoving. Both teams combining for eight shots on goal in first seven minutes. One of the best early runs was by the Maple Leafs midway through the opening period. Mitchell Marner weaved his way through Boston's defense on a one-man rush and got off a clean shot from just outside the faceoff circles. But Rask had plenty of time to set up and was there to corral it. He also stopped two other close attempts by Marner. Tavares said Toronto left the ice with a lot to lament. 'There were opportunities where we had the lead in the series and we weren't able to really put them in a tough spot,' he said. 'That's the way it goes sometimes.' NOTES: The Bruins improved to 15-12 in Game 7s (14-8 at home). Toronto falls to 12-12 in Game 7s (5-11 on the road). ... Tavares' goal in the second period was his first-ever Game 7 goal in his second such contest. .. No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since Montreal in 1993. ___ More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • A look at what's happening around the majors Wednesday: SABATHIA'S STRIKEOUTS Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia needs six strikeouts to join Randy Johnson and Steve Carlton as the only left-handers with 3,000 Ks, putting him within reach during a start against the Angels. Sabathia (1-0, 0.00 ERA) would be the 17th player overall to reach the milestone. When he does, he'll be the first pitcher to do so since John Smoltz in 2008. The 38-year-old Sabathia announced prior to the season that he'll retire at year's end. TOE'S A GO Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell is set to return to the Rays 10 days after breaking a toe. Snell (2-1, 2.16) fractured the fourth toe on his right foot attempting to move a decorative display in a bathroom April 14. He threw 18 pitches off a mound Saturday and eight more pitches Monday, and now he's scheduled to start against Kansas City. RUSSELL RETURNS Cubs shortstop Addison Russell is joining Triple-A Iowa to prepare for his return from a 40-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy. Russell is expected to play when Iowa begins a nine-game homestand against Nashville. He had stayed in Arizona to work out after the Cubs broke camp for the start of the season. Russell was suspended last fall after a series of allegations made by his ex-wife. While declining to get into any specifics, Russell said in February he was accountable for his past actions and apologized for 'the hurt and the pain' he caused. PENALTY COMING? Major League Baseball is reviewing Bryce Harper's rant at an umpire, trying to determine whether the Phillies star should be disciplined. There was no decision Tuesday, a day after Harper went wild during a game against the Mets at Citi Field. Harper was ejected for the 12th time in his eight-season career while he barked from the dugout four batters after being called out on strikes by Mark Carlson. BAD BREAK Touted prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is nearing his first big league call-up, but No. 2 Blue Jays prospect Bo Bichette could be a ways behind after breaking his left hand Monday. X-rays revealed a fracture after he was hit by a pitch while playing with Triple-A Buffalo, and he was set to visit a hand specialist to determine further treatment. Bichette, a 21-year-old shortstop, hit .417 with four homers and five RBIs in 18 spring training games. He was batting .250 with one home run and eight RBIs in 14 games with Buffalo. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Toronto Raptors turned in another dominant defensive effort, extending their playoff winning streak to a team-record four and clinching a berth in the second round. Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points, Pascal Siakam added 24 and the Raptors routed the Orlando Magic 115-96 on Tuesday night, winning their first-round playoff series in five games. Kyle Lowry scored 14 points as the Raptors finished off the Magic with ease, bouncing back from a Game 1 defeat to win by double-digits in three of the next four. Toronto led by as many as 37 in the clincher, their biggest-ever margin in a playoff game. 'We kind of figured it out and made a good adjustment after Game 1,' Lowry said. 'We were a little bit too soft in coverages and we figured it out really quickly, what we wanted to do, how we needed to help each other and how we needed to play. To figure it out that quick is a really good thing for us. We've just got to continue to build off it.' Toronto will face Philadelphia in the second after the 76ers eliminated Brooklyn Tuesday. It's the fourth straight year the Raptors have reached the second round. 'Should be a great series, man,' Raptors coach Nick Nurse said of facing the Sixers. 'Obviously, it's a team with tremendous size, starting right off the bat with (Joel) Embiid inside. But they're big all over.' Leonard made 8 of 11 shots, including 5 of 5 from 3-point range, as the Raptors jumped on Orlando early and never trailed. Leonard also made all six of his free throws. He checked out to cheers of 'MVP, MVP' with 8:05 to play and Toronto up 105-75. D.J. Augustin scored 15 points, Terrence Ross had 12 and Aaron Gordon 11 for the Magic, who won 104-101 on Augustin's late 3-pointer in Game 1 but never again topped 96 points, and twice finished with 85 or fewer. 'We were never able, after Game 1, to handle the ball against their defense the way we needed to,' Orlando coach Steve Clifford said. 'To me, that was the biggest factor.' Orlando made 32 of 83 shots Tuesday, including 9 of 34 from 3-point range. 'We're obviously disappointed that we didn't put up a better fight, especially tonight,' Magic center Nikola Vucevic said. The Magic hadn't reached the postseason since 2012. That year, Orlando won its opener on the road against Indiana, then lost four straight. The Magic haven't advanced past the opening round since 2010, when they lost to Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals. Clifford said inexperience wasn't a factor in his young team's early exit. 'We weren't afraid, we didn't play well enough,' he said. Lowry scored Toronto's first nine points and had 12 in the opening quarter. Orlando missed 10 of its first 11 shots and went 0 for 7 from 3-point range in the first. Toronto was up 35-19 after one. 'Kyle played great tonight,' Leonard said. 'He got us all going with that amazing first quarter. We all just fed off his energy.' The Magic missed 11 straight from long range before Fournier connected at 7:55 of the second. Toronto answered with a 6-0 spurt, opening a 50-29 lead with 6:48 to go until halftime. Leonard and Siakam each had seven points in the second and the Raptors held a 67-47 lead at the intermission. Toronto took a commanding 99-70 lead into the fourth. TIP-INS Magic: Vucevic missed his first four shots and had three fouls in a scoreless first quarter, playing only five minutes. Vucevic scored his first basket at 9:54 of the third, when Orlando trailed by 26. He shot 3 for 10 and scored six points. ... Khem Birch led Orlando with 11 rebounds. Raptors: Toronto had 19 assists on 23 baskets in the first half, a Raptors record for a single half of a postseason game. They finished with 34 assists on 41 baskets, a team playoff record. ... G Fred VanVleet led Toronto with 10 assists while Lowry had nine. ... Five games is the quickest Toronto has ever won a seven-game series. ... F Chris Boucher (back) was not available. STREAKING Toronto won three straight playoff games against Milwaukee in the first round in 2017. The Raptors also won three straight in 2001, two against the New York Knicks and one against Philadelphia. POINT THE FINGER Lowry left at 2:41 of the second quarter and headed to the locker room after jamming the ring finger on his right hand while deflecting a ball. He returned to start the second half, and was wearing a splint after the game. 'It popped out but it's fine,' Lowry said. 'I popped it back in. I've got a couple of days to get it back and recover. It will be better by Game 1.' MILESTONES Lowry reached 1,000 career playoff points, while Toronto's Danny Green became the eighth active player with 200 3-pointers in the playoffs. TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE Down 115-78 with 5:13 left, Orlando scored the game's final 18 points. UP NEXT Toronto will host Philadelphia in Game 1 of the second round. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • The Latest on a lawsuit that accuses Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault (all times local): 5:30 p.m. A former sports reporter who is suing Luke Walton for sexual assault says the new Sacramento Kings coach held her down, kissed and groped her in a hotel room, then laughed at her. At a news conference Tuesday in Los Angeles, Kelli Tennant said she was terrified that Walton was going to rape her. The alleged incident took place several years ago, before Walton was the Kings coach. The suit, filed Monday, also alleges there is a culture of misogyny in the NBA. Tennant did not file a police report against Walton. His attorney, Mark Baute, says the allegations are 'baseless' and he calls Tennant 'an opportunist, not a victim.' The Lakers fired Walton earlier this month and he was hired by the Kings. The Kings say they are aware of the report and gathering additional information. The team had no other comment. ___ 12 a.m. A female sports reporter has accused new Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton of sexual assault in a lawsuit. TMZ reported Monday night citing legal documents that Kelli Tennant is suing Walton. TMZ reports that Tennant claims she went to Walton's hotel room to discuss a book she was writing when Walton pinned her to the bed, forcibly kissed her and groped her. The incident happened before Walton became coach of the Los Angeles Lakers in 2016 and while Tennant worked for Sportsnet LA. Walton was let go by the Lakers earlier this month and hired by the Kings. The Kings say they are aware of the report and gathering additional information. The team had no other comment. ___ More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Georgia Sports News

  • Georgia Tech jumped out to an early lead and held on against Georgia on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park, winning 8-6. The No. 11-ranked Yellow Jackets (28-13) did most of their damage in the first three innings against the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-9). The teams played in front of the largest crowd to attend a college baseball game this season (18,861) in a game that benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Georgia Tech was up 7-2 lead through three innings, scoring five runs in the second on the strength of Luke Wadell’s two-run double and Kyle McCann’s three-run homer. “When you get behind the eight ball like we did early, it’s tough to claw back,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said in a school release. “We had our chances, but didn’t get it done.” The Bulldogs looked to rally with three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Aaron Schunk homering to start the frame. Georgia batted around in the lineup to draw to 7-5 before Riley King grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Yellow Jackets manufactured an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth despite not getting a hit, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter. The Bulldogs final run came in the top of the sixth inning on a Tucker Maxwell solo home run. Schunk, Cam Shepherd and Chaney Rogers had two hits apiece as Georgia out-hit the Yellow Jackets 10-6. Pitcher Tim Elliott (5-2) took the loss, getting stunk for six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings pitched as a result of the four hits and four walks he surrendered. Georgia Tech took two of three from Georgia this season, winning 11-2 in March in Atlanta before UGA evened the series with a 12-2 win on April 9 in Athens. The Yellow Jackets are only the second team this season to take a series from the Bulldogs this season,  The SEC-leading Bulldogs (13-5 SEC) return to action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 8-ranked Mississippi State (33-9, 10-8). State beat No. 19 Ole Miss by an 8-1 count on Tuesday night. Georgia baseball notes — Schunk’s home run was his seventh this season and his second in the stadium the Atlanta Braves call home. Schunk homered in SunTrust Park last season in Georgia’s 3-1 victory. — Pitcher Logan Moody made his first appearance since throwing a career-high eight strikeouts in the 3-2 marathon win over Clemson last week. — John Cable hit his fifth home run of the season, giving UGA a 2-1 lead in the second inning.     The post Georgia baseball falls to Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park, drops rivalry series appeared first on DawgNation.
  • CINCINNATI (AP) - Yasiel Puig gave his fans reason to cheer with his first home run for the Reds in Cincinnati. Now he wants a dining recommendation from them. Puig hit a two-run homer in the first inning off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, and the Reds wasted an early lead and then rallied to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Tuesday night. Jos Peraza had his first RBIs since homering on opening day, and Tucker Barnhart homered for the Reds, who have won four of five following a four-game losing streak. A crowd of about 50 fans, mostly teenagers, occupied seats in the right field corner and chanted 'We want Puig!' before the outfielder took the field for the first inning. Many waved Puig-oriented signs, one waved a flag of Puig's native Cuba and some wore horse headgear, a reference to his 'Wild Horse' nickname. 'I was surprised to see the fans in right field cheering for me,' Puig said. 'I want to thank them for supporting me and my teammates. I saw the horses, the Cuban flag. There must be a lot of Cuban people in Cincinnati. I have to meet some of them to find a good Cuban restaurant.' Cincinnati led 3-0 in the fifth inning, fell behind 4-3 in the sixth, then scored four runs in the bottom half. 'We had a lot of good at bats,' Reds manager David Bell said. Peraza hit a two-run double off Kevin Gausman (1-2) for a 5-4 lead, Jessie Biddle forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin and Puig hit a sacrifice fly against Wes Parsons. Robert Stephenson (2-0) struck out two batters with a runner on third to end the sixth. Atlanta scored on RBI doubles by Charlie Culberson against Wandy Peralta in the seventh and Dansby Swanson off Jared Hughes in the eighth. Raisel Iglesias allowed Matt Joyce's leadoff double in the ninth, then retired Ozzie Albies, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman for his fifth save in six chances. Cincinnati scored its most runs since routing Miami 14-0 on April 9. The Reds entered last in the major leagues in batting average at .197. Joey Votto walked three times and singled in his first game after missing two games due to back tightness. Swanson also tripled for the Braves. Sonny Gray tied his season high with nine strikeouts but tired in the middle innings. He allowed four runs - three earned - and six hits in 5 1/3 innings as his ERA rose from 2.79 to 3.28. He is 0-3 in five starts in his first season since the Reds acquired him from the New York Yankees. 'He didn't make many mistakes,' Freeman said. 'It's hard to be perfect, but he was pretty much perfect until the sixth.' Gausman (1-2) gave up six runs - five earned - and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. 'His velocity was spiking up and down,' Braves manager Brian Snitker said. 'That was one of those games you grind through. He gave us a chance to win.' Puig's third home run of the season went 432 feet and was his first in Cincinnati this season, and Barnhart homered leading off the fourth. Ender Inciarte homered in the fifth and Atlanta went ahead in the sixth when Donaldson hit an RBI double and scored on a single by Freeman, who came home on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly. ROTATIONS Snitker said LHP Max Fried (3-0, 1.38) will start Friday's series opener against visiting Colorado. The Reds have flipped the starts of right-handers Anthony DeSclafani (0-1, 5.59) and Luis Castillo (2-1), slotting Castillo will pitch against Atlanta on Thursday and DeSclafani at St. Louis on Friday. BALL FOUR Cincinnati batters had a season-high nine walks, which tied the Braves' most this season. TRAINER'S ROOM Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz, who hasn't pitched this season because of a right elbow bone spur, is expected to start Saturday against Colorado. Reds: OF Matt Kemp went on the 10-day IL with a broken left rib sustained when crashing into the outfield wall at San Diego on Sunday. UP NEXT Braves: RHP Mike Soroka (0-1, 1.80) is scheduled to make his first big league start on Wednesday against Cincinnati, with RHP Tanner Roark (1-0, 3.60) starting for the Reds. It will be Roark's 17th start against Atlanta, which has a .231 average against him. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • ATHENS — Georgia freshman safety Lewis Cine had a strong start to his college career at G-Day. He led all Bulldogs with his six solo tackles. The head coach also gave him some praise in the post-game media briefing. “He’s an exciting player,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s probably behind from a learning curve standpoint because we teach a lot of defense to our secondary.” Based on what he’s seen so far, Smart feels Cine can earn some playing time this fall. “He’s made some ‘Wow’ plays this spring but that doesn’t mean he is going to go out there and start,” he said. That means he is competing for playing time.” Here’s what we know about the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect from the last cycle: Cine is long and rangy and physical. He even tied for the team-high in total tackles with his eight stops on G-Day. Smart and new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren see he has an aptitude for versatility. It might even be necessary. Cine is one of only three defensive backs in the 2019 signing class for Georgia. That means what the fans saw at G-Day is what they will get. That’s at least in terms of new faces for 2019 in the secondary. That’s why Georgia is trying him in different roles. J.R. Reed is a fixture at one safety spot. Junior Richard LeCounte III and sophomore Otis Reese are also seen as the program’s other front-line safeties. Cine has the potential to add quality depth. “We’re making him play both safety spots which is probably more taxing on him but that gives us the ability to play him at either spot if anybody gets injured,” Smart added in response to a question about Cine’s progress. “He’s going to be competing with guys with playing time. I think where he is going to show up is on special teams. He is very physical. Likes contact. He is a hitter.” How many positions could Lewis Cine possibly play for Georgia this year? At least two. Maybe more. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) As Smart noted, that was no secret to watching Cine on film. The Boston native can run that alley. The ability he showed on Saturday already makes him one of the most fundamentally sound tacklers in the Georgia secondary at this time. He goes about 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs in around 195 pounds. The fact he is being cross-trained at the free and strong safety says something about his aptitude for absorbing the defensive playbook. “He is a guy that listens more than he talks so that’s always a good thing,” Richard LeCounte III said this spring. “He learns quick. He’s also learning two positions just like me so we’re really going through the same things and we [do] walkthroughs and do drills and stuff like that I sit there and talk to him and say such-and-such and this and stuff like that.” LeCounte added this: When Cine gets the mental aspects of the game dialed in, he can be an “awesome” player for Georgia. Lewis Cine has a heartfelt reason why he wears No. 16 for the Bulldogs. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) Fans already have a reaction to Lewis Cine  His last name will phonetically rhyme with “scene.” It seems like one which fans might want to get to know. DawgNation has noticed some chatter on its forums and other social media posts have fans called him that ‘Dawg in the “Six-Cine” jersey after G-Day. That meshes with the goals Cine had for himself before he enrolled in January. “What I see of myself is I am a problem solver,” Cine said back in December. “If there is a hole in the defense, then I can come up and be the solution.” He doesn’t mind obstacles. That includes placing bigger hurdles in his own path. That’s why he was a highly-rated recruit in Massachusetts after his junior year. He was getting offers and his size, speed and length got his name out there. RELATED: The remarkable personal story for Lewis Cine Lewis Cine was rated as the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect for 2019 in the last signing class on the 247Sports Composite ratings. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) It wasn’t enough. He transferred from the Boston Metro area to a region more known for big-time high school football. Cine moved to Texas. He found plenty of 110-degree training days playing for Trinity Christian about an hour outside of Dallas. That wasn’t enough. He was under the tutelage of a true NFL all-time great there in Deion Sanders. When it came time to make his college decision, he looked at big-time options like Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas. But Cine has an even better story than that. He wears No. 16 and plays safety for Georgia. That’s the same number and position that Kirby Smart once held down for the Bulldogs. But that’s not why that No. 16 he wears will be special. Not to him. Cine told DawgNation that specific story when he was a recruit. He wears No. 16 to honor his mother. She had him when she was 16 years old. Cine realizes her life was hard then. He knows she made many sacrifices back in her native Haiti. He wears No. 16 to honor her. If he makes it very big in football, his hope is to one day move her stateside to America. That is when he can see her again. Lewis Cine chose Georgia over Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas back in October of 2018. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) One more thing to know about Lewis Cine Cine had an unexpected reaction to Georgia’s tough loss to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game. The term “boundless optimism” applies. “The question is not ‘Can Georgia keep up and ball with Alabama?’” he wrote back in December. “Nah, that’s not it. Because no doubt in my mind we definitely can. The question is how can we chase perfection and what can make us the absolute best team we can be. To outwork yesterday and the past!” His words conveyed the stuff of a pep talk for his class. But it was one from an incoming recruit. “It is all in who believes and buys into what UGA is building,” he added. There were plenty of 2019 signees who felt the same way. “Ain’t no love lost for UGA even in a loss,” Cine stated. “I’m only ready to arrive on campus to work and be put in the right spots to help chase the goal of perfection. Then everything else will take care of itself.” The post Get to know that new safety Lewis Cine wearing No. 16 for Georgia football appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — One member of Georgia’s football recruiting office has been fired and another suspended for 30 days without pay, sources have confirmed to DawgNation. King Dacia King, who is listed as the Bulldogs’ recruiting program coordinator on the team’s website, was dismissed. Lukman Abdulai, who is director of on-campus recruiting, has been placed on a 30-day suspension without pay. The reason for the actions and whether they are related are not known at this time. “I’m not talking about any personnel stuff,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “Regardless of what the position is, I just don’t comment on personnel decisions or matters. Sorry.” McGarity also declined comment when asked whether violations of NCAA or SEC rules were involved. The personnel actions come on the heels of what was thought to be an exceptional recruiting weekend for the Bulldogs surrounding the annual G-Day spring game. Georgia got a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Akinola Ogunbiyi of Sugar Land, Texas, on Saturday, and one from 4-star defensive back Jalen Kimber of Arlington two days before. Both players attended G-Day with their families. Abdulai Georgia’s 2020 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 10 in 247Sports.com’s composite team rankings. The Bulldogs have finished with national recruiting rankings of 6, 3, 1 and 2 in last four years. King was hired into her current position in May of 2018. A recruiting program coordinator typically serves as a liaison between prospective student-athletes and the Georgia coaching staff and helps plan visits and set itineraries. She holds double degrees from UGA in marketing and sport management. Abdulai has been with Georgia since 2013 but was named director of on-campus recruiting in January of 2016, shortly after Kirby Smart became head coach.  A University of Illinois graduate, Abdulai received a masters in kinesiology from UGA in 2014. DawgNation will provide more information when it comes available. The post One fired, another suspended from Georgia’s football recruiting office appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS —  What I’m writing today is going to be unpopular with most Georgia fans. I already know that. Nevertheless I believe it needs to be said. Players probably should be devalued if they choose to skip out on their team’s bowl games. I’ve already seen that the majority reaction of the Dawg Nation on social media to the criticism and predicted drop of Deandre Baker in this week’s NFL draft is to defend the Bulldogs’ talented senior cornerback. I’d expect nothing less of this fervent fan base, which is definitely one of the best in college football. Their reaction to this week’s draft news was predictable. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay predicted that Baker, a projected first-round pick, could fall because of decisions he’s made and how he has handled himself in pre-draft meetings with teams. Chief among those was a last-minute decision to skip the Sugar Bowl. When McShay’s thoughts were reported, some fans viewed them as character assassination. “That’s BS! … Didn’t want to risk future!” @KarenHa17217114 exclaimed. “That’s ridiculous. … Click bait!” @MelissaRabb1 echoed. “Give me a break. Dude is a stud!” @BulldawgRob said. “Why play in the bowl game when you could hurt yourself and risk your entire career?” @BenG added. I’d reply to that last one this way: If Baker does indeed drop, that’s why. As much as anything in the world, professional sports and their respective drafts are the ultimate free markets. Teams gather as much information as they possibly can, weigh them against things like cost and risk and gain and salary cap and make their calls, always with the intention of improving their teams. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. As for Baker, when he stood on stage and accepted the Jim Thorpe trophy for being named the nation’s top defensive back, his stock was sky high. In the weeks that followed, there were reports that Georgia’s senior cornerback from Miami might become a Top 10 pick. Then the NFL machine started doing its digging. Before the Bulldogs even got to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl, Baker reversed on his statement at the College Football Awards Show that he ended stick with his team. This came as a bit of surprise to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had until the week the Bulldogs got to the bowl site thought Baker was going to play right cornerback against the Texas Longhorns. “He has decided not to play in the game,” Smart said upon arrival in New Orleans. “That’s a decision that he came to … last week, somewhere around mid-week. He was very honest about it. He was very concerned about it. We at the University of Georgia support his decision. It’s a tough decision when you look at it. He was forced to make it. He probably spoke prematurely at the Thorpe Award.” That’s all well-documented and, frankly, ancient history at this point. But it’s important first note here to know exactly what McShay said when he was asked about Baker on Monday. “Really, really good football player,” McShay said. Then came a “but.” “If he falls, part of it is going to be frustration from the coaching staff about the way he finished his career,” McShay said. “In terms of not playing in the bowl game but being around and not being the best influence. That’s the best way I can put it.” “The best way I can put it,” is the most important part of that statement. It implies McShay knows more than he’s saying but chooses not expound. It’s also important to note that McShay is not the only one who cited negative feedback from NFL personnel on Baker’s pre-draft preparation and testing. So, let’s be clear: McShay has no dog in this hunt. He’s just doing the impossible job of trying to predict what’s going to happen in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville. So he’s got no reason to value or de-value Baker. Him and Mel Kiper and guys like them simply parrot what they’ve been hearing among NFL personnel pros, and probably half of that is rhetoric. But McShay was pretty specific here when he cites “frustration from the coaching staff” and “not being the best influence.” And it meshes with what I heard while in New Orleans, and since then. Obviously he’s spoken with Georgia coaches. What is undeniable about Baker is his talent. He didn’t test well at the NFL Combine, but he did great at UGA’s Pro Day. After running a 4.52 40 in Indianapolis, he ran the 4.4 so coveted by NFL execs before 30-something scouts inside Georgia’s Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Center in March. And then there’s always what Baker did on the field. Famously, he did not give up a touchdown pass his final two seasons with the Bulldogs. We’ll never know whether that streak would’ve been broken against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Maybe that’s another reason he didn’t want to play. But facts are facts and stats are stats and there’s no quibbling about that. If Baker does drop, I’d wouldn’t expect it to be too far. Last time I checked, the NFL still covets corners that thrive in one-on-one coverage. But then there’s also this: Football is the ultimate team sport. All of us can recite the adage about chains never being stronger than their weakest links. That probably goes double in football. It takes the best player playing his best at every position to compete at the highest level. And while the Sugar Bowl might not be the College Football Playoff, it’s also not the Alamo Bowl. There’s no question Baker’s absence in that game severely handicapped the Bulldogs. I get the whole argument about college football’s free labor system and players risking their NFL futures. But injury risk happens every week during the season. A player is no more at risk at a bowl game than he is any other week of the year. The real examples of a potential high-draft pick being injured in a bowl are actually very few and far between. Baker was not alone in his decision. At last count, somewhere around 20 players chose to skip their teams’ bowl games due to the risk of potential injury to their bowl stock. The irony is, the choice not to play in a bowl could actually negatively impact some of these players’ stock, Baker’s included. But that’s only fair in a free market economy. The post Ironic that skipping bowls could lower stock of NFL draft prospects like Georgia’s Deandre Baker appeared first on DawgNation.