Westbrook's heroics can't save Oklahoma City

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Westbrook's heroics can't save Oklahoma City

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- Oklahoma City was more than OK at the start. At the end, not so much. The Thunder got an epic performance from Russell Westbrook. They ran out to a huge early lead. They watched LeBron James get carried off the court in the fourth quarter, and took the lead shortly after he departed. Somehow, it still wasn't enough in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Even after getting 43 points from Westbrook, 28 more from Kevin Durant and staking itself to a 17-point lead by the time the first quarter was over, Oklahoma City is now officially on the brink. James finished with 26 points, 12 assists and nine rebounds, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers each scored 25 points and the Miami Heat beat the Thunder 104-98 in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven title series. "I can guarantee this," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "We have fight in us." Game 5 is in Miami on Thursday night, where James and the Heat can capture the NBA title that they were assembled to get two years ago. History says the Thunder are now in deep, deep trouble. No team in NBA history has rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. No team has even forced a Game 7 in the title series when faced with that scenario. Westbrook took 32 shots, as many as James and Chris Bosh tried combined. He made 20 -- half of Oklahoma City's field goals on the night -- and finished with seven rebounds and five assists as well. For a guard who struggled many times against Miami, it was a breakout night that the Thunder desperately needed. "I thought Russell was terrific tonight," Brooks said. "The guy played relentless. He was aggressive. He kept us in this game and he gave us a chance to win." Said Heat forward Shane Battier: "The kid brought it. He's taken a lot of heat in this series, but he's not the reason why the game turned out the way it did tonight." There was one huge blip in Westbrook's night, and it was a play that helped the Heat seal the outcome. After a jump ball with 17.3 seconds remaining, Westbrook fouled Chalmers even though the Thunder would have gotten the ball back because there were less than 5 seconds on the shot clock. Chalmers made both free throws, the lead was five, and Heat fans in the sold-out building knew their team was moments from a 3-1 series lead. After hearing the whistle, Westbrook took a look at the scoreboard and held out his hand, a look of disbelief across his face. "Just a miscommunication on my part," Westbrook said. "Nothing I can do about it now." Durant's mother grabbed her son by both arms as he walked off the floor, hugging him and then using her right hand to turn his face back toward her, trying her best to console the scoring champion. It was a night when the Thunder ran out to a 33-16 lead to buck a trend of slow starts, where Durant and Westbrook were scoring at will, and where Durant threw the Heat an early curve ball by opening the game guarding Chalmers, the Heat point guard. Perhaps he should have stayed on Chalmers, given how good he was in the second half. For the final 16-plus minutes, the Thunder were reduced to playing 2-on-5 basketball. Serge Ibaka made a jumper with 4:46 left in the third quarter, cutting Miami's lead to 68-66. After that, it was either all Westbrook or all Durant, all the time. "We just have to stay together," center Kendrick Perkins said. "It's not over." Sure, the stars were superb, again, just not superb enough to take down Miami. After that Ibaka jumper, no other Thunder player besides the team's two superstars scored a point. "It's not disappointing. It's just, it happens that way," Brooks said. "Russell had a great game. We were going. We were going with him. He was making terrific plays at the basket. He was attacking, he was getting into the teeth of their defense and made basketball plays." Sixth Man of the Year James Harden struggled yet again, shooting 2 for 10 for the second straight game, though he did finish with 10 rebounds. Nick Collison scored six points, but the other three Oklahoma City starters -- Ibaka, Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha -- combined for a mere 13 on 6-for-16 shooting. "We're going to stay aggressive, keep trying to find guys," Westbrook said. "Guys are going to stay confident." Westbrook was amazing. Durant was great. Everyone else was nearly nonexistent, at least offensively. And if the Thunder don't figure out a way to do something no NBA team has ever done throughout the rest of this series, James will finally get that ring he's spent nine seasons chasing. "We're going to keep fighting," Durant said. "Frustrating to lose like that. But we're going to keep fighting, man. That's how we've been since I got here."

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Morning tip: Bradley Beal regains 3 in time for big game vs. Celtics

Morning tip: Bradley Beal regains 3 in time for big game vs. Celtics

Bradley Beal ran into two of the NBA's better perimeter defenders in Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Early on in Monday's game at the Charlotte Hornets, he faced both simulatneously as they forced the ball out of his hands which led to other Wizards teammates beating them. 

The Wizards (24-20) went up 2-0 in the season series, and more importantly for Beal he ended a streak of 20 consecutive missed three-pointers by making 4 of 9 in a 109-99 victory. 

"You're going to through stretches of the season where you're not going to shoot the ball well," Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Beal, who had early foul trouble, finished with 18 points. "I like the way he responded in that second half. Sometimes it takes a shot (to go in) to change your mojo. I thhought he had good looks the last two or three games."

Beal shot 4-for-14 and 4-for-13 in the previous two games of the road trip. He was 6-for-16 Monday, a day after he needed an MRI on his left knee following a hard fall in a loss to the Detroit Pistons. Beal's left foot also was sore. 

[RECORD: 5 must-see moments from Wizards' win over Hornets]

True to form when the Wizards' role players do well, it comes off making defenses pay for committing so much attention to Beal. Markieff Morris benefitted most with 23 pointts.

Beal ended his drought at 2:31 of the second quarter, giving the Wizards a 55-43 lead. He had consecutive 26-foot threes in the third quarter for a 72-57 lead. 

The Wizards can take a 2-1 season series lead on the Boston Celtics, who are at Verizon Center tonight [6:30 p.m. on CSN]. The Wizards finally have a winning record after a multiple-game road trip for the first time by beating Charlotte. Now they return home to face an opponent that they will be extra motivated to face.

Other than what happened earlier this month when both teams had to be separated at the end of Boston's home victory, and while both teams retreated to their locker rooms, there are other matters at stake.

"We've won 13 straight at home," Beal said. "That's on the line for us."

[RELATED: Wizards plan to wear all black to Celtics game]

 

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Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden's fate hinges on Manusky, McCloughan

Need to Know: Redskins' Gruden's fate hinges on Manusky, McCloughan

Here is what you need to know on this Tuesday, January 24, 36 days before the NFL franchise tag deadline.

Timeline

Days until:

NFL free agency starts 44
—NFL Draft 93
First Sunday of 2017 season 229

Gruden's fate rests on Manusky, McCloughan

In his press conference the day after the Redskins lost to the Giants to end their season, Jay Gruden talked about the decision-making process that would unfold if there were changes in the coaching staff.

“Ultimately I would think it is my call – our call,” he said. “Bruce [Allen] will have some input, Dan [Snyder] will have some input, Scot [McCloughan] will have some input, but from a staff standpoint, I like to think I have a lot of pull on that one.”

That doesn’t make it sound like he was completely free to replace the fired Joe Barry and new Rams head coach Sean McVay with whomever he chose. Others could make suggestions and have input and possibly veto power.

The decision to make Greg Manusky the defensive coordinator likely was influenced by and/or had the approval of, McCloughan. Manusky ran the defense in San Francisco when McCloughan was the GM there. McCloughan was instrumental in getting Manusky to come to the Redskins to coach the outside linebackers a year ago, after he was fired as the Colts’ defensive coordinator.

Related: Redskins defensive coordinator resume: Greg Manusky

Having McCloughan’s approval for the hire provides Gruden with some degree of security. If it doesn’t work out, if the Redskins upgrade the talent on defense and still don’t get better results, the heat will be on McCloughan as well as Gruden.

Still, Gruden will be the one in the spotlight this season. When the annual media lists of coaches on the hot season in 2017 come out, Gruden is sure to be atop many of them. It’s simple math, really. In Gruden’s three seasons the team has gone 4-12, 9-7, and 8-7-1. A return to double-digit loss territory would be a regression and there would be legitimate concern over whether Gruden is the guy who can make progress and then maintain it and build on it.

Did Gruden get his first pick for the job? Probably not. It seems that Gus Bradley was the favorite, having built the aggressive Seattle defense and having ties with McCloughan from there and with Gruden and Allen from Tampa Bay. But he decided to head west and take over the Chargers’ defense, perhaps wondering about Gruden’s job security. If Bradley didn’t top the list, then Gruden’s top choice probably was Cincinnati defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. But he is under contract and the Bengals denied permission for him to talk about making a lateral move.

More Redskins: Redskins stay in house

Wade Phillips decided to go to the Rams, who have decidedly better defensive personnel than the Redskins, before he had a chance to meet with Washington. We’re not sure how seriously Gruden pursued Phillips but it’s possible that he would have taken him over Manusky if he had the chance. That means that Manusky was at best Plan C or Plan D.

But that’s water under the bridge. Gruden’s fate now lies in the hands of Manusky and in the hands of McCloughan, who must set out to get the new defensive coordinator a significant talent upgrade. If Gruden gets a better defense and can maintain a top offensive attack (given Kirk Cousins’ contract status, he needs McCloughan’s help there, too) and the Redskins can take the next step he should be expecting to start serious extension talks in 2018.

If the Redskins spin their wheels and end up around .500 again or if they regress and post double-digit losses like they did for five out of six years from 2009-2014 they could be cleaning house and starting over again. That wouldn’t be a good scenario for anyone. The organization is counting on Manusky, who was Plan C, and McCloughan to help Gruden get things on track.

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Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/RealRedskins and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.