NBA

Lillard buoyed by Blazers' desire to 'get hands dirty'

By Sports Desk April 28, 2021

Damian Lillard lauded the Portland Trail Blazers' willingness to "get our hands dirty" after snapping a losing streak in Tuesday's defeat of the Indiana Pacers.

Lillard brought up a major landmark in a 133-112 win that ended a five-game losing streak, the guard becoming the 10th player in NBA history to hit 2,000 three-pointers.

Team-mate Anfernee Simons was incredibly accurate from beyond the arc as he nailed his first nine attempts, making him the first player in the league to achieve that feat since Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors hit 10 straight back in January 2019.

Speaking after what was his 670th career game, Lillard praised the Blazers' desire to dig deep.

"We've got to be willing to get our hands dirty," he said. "What we did tonight is something that can translate to any game.

"Being committed on the defensive end and just wanting to get that done and wanting to do whatever we got to do to win, I think that's something that we can carry from this game.

"There's no guarantee that it's going to always happen. We've just got to have that same mentality going into this stretch of games. This is what it takes.

"When you do this, you give yourself a much better chance than we have over the last few weeks.

"However, it gets done, get it done. I think it was important for us to set the tone in that way on the first game of a big trip."

The 33-28 Blazers sit seventh in the Western Conference, with all still to play for in what has been an inconsistent season.

With the playoffs in their sights despite a significant wobble in form, Lillard recognises the value of a team hitting their stride at just the right time.

"I've been in the league long enough to know that the teams that are playing the best at the right time are the teams that you worry about," he said.

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  • Tokyo Olympics Recap: Lewis lays into Team USA's relay failure, Spain clinch historic golds Tokyo Olympics Recap: Lewis lays into Team USA's relay failure, Spain clinch historic golds

    Nine-time Olympic gold medallist Carl Lewis did not hold back in his criticism of the United States' performance in the men's 4x100 metres relay at Tokyo 2020.

    Team USA have not won the event in 21 years and though they entered Thursday's heat as one of the favourites, they failed to qualify for the final.

    It is the first time Team USA have failed to reach the Olympic final since 2008, though they have hardly had much fortune in the event since their success in Sydney.

    Indeed, they have only once made it to the finish line cleanly, without any mistakes, when they claimed silver at London 2012. That medal, however, was conceded in the wake of Tyson Gay's doping ban.

    This time around, a team including three of the fastest men in the world over 100m in 2021, fared little better.

    Trayvon Bromell, Fred Kerley, Ronnie Baker and Cravon Gillespie finished sixth in the heat with a time of 38.10 seconds.

    "We just didn't get the job done today," Kerley said. "That's all."

    Sprinting great Lewis, who won two golds in the 4x100m relay, hit out at what he labelled a "clown show".

    "The USA team did everything wrong in the men’s relay," Lewis wrote on Twitter. "The passing system is wrong, athletes running the wrong legs, and it was clear that there was no leadership. It was a total embarrassment, and completely unacceptable for a USA team to look worse than the AAU kids I saw."

    He then expanded on his criticism in an interview with USA Today.

    "This was a football coach taking a team to the Super Bowl and losing 99-0 because they were completely ill-prepared," Lewis said.

    "It's unacceptable. It's so disheartening to see this because it’s people's lives. We're just playing games with people's lives. That's why I’m so upset. It's totally avoidable.

    "America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore. It's just unacceptable. It is not hard to do the relay."

    HISTORY MADE BY SPAIN

    Sport climbing and karate were two of the sports introduced for the Tokyo Games, and the first medals in each were won by Spanish athletes.

    At the age of 39 years and 323 days, Sandra Sanchez became Spain's oldest Olympic champion as she triumphed in the women's kata, breaking the record set by Joan Llaneras in the velodrome in 2008.

    Sanchez also became the first Spanish woman to clinch gold in martial arts since judoka Isabel Fernandez did so in 2000.

    Her triumph was followed up by golds for France's Steven da Costa and Bulgaria's Ivet Goranova in the men's and women's kumite respectively.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum to Sanchez, 18-year-old Alberto Gines Lopez became the youngest male Spanish athlete to strike gold at the Games as he pipped Nathaniel Coleman and Jakob Schubert in the sport climbing men's combined final.

    "I think it will help the sport to grow, and for it to get more support. We need good installations in order to help the sport, and I think this will bring more support to the sport," the teenager said, before revealing his plans of celebration: "I'm going to break my diet. And then call my family and friends."

    FOURNIER PREPPED FOR 'THE MOST COMPLICATED MATCH'

    Team USA and France will meet in the final of the men's basketball competition, as the two favourites go head-to-head for gold.

    Luka Doncic's shooting was off as Slovenia fell to an agonising 90-89 defeat to France, who beat the USA in the pool stage.

    The European Champions, who also defeated the USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, now face a rematch against a side that has scored over 90 points in the last four games.

    Evan Fournier, whose 23 points was second behind only team-mate Nando de Colo, knows what is in store.

    "It represents a real step towards a dream, and the dream is to win the Olympics against the United States," said Fournier, who has just swapped the Boston Celtics for the New York Knicks.

    "We have to rest and not let our minds wander, and prepare as much as possible, because there's a team waiting for us. They've prepared for us for two years, apparently, and because we beat them in the pool it will be worse, so it will be the most complicated match of the competition for us without any doubt."

    SHOOT-OUT GLORY FOR BELGIUM

    Beaten finalists in 2016, Belgium claimed their first hockey gold, and only their second in an Olympic team sport, after their men beat Australia 3-2 in a shoot-out.

    Goalkeeper Vincent Vanasch was the hero in dramatic circumstances.

    He made two saves before then denying Jacob Whetton, only for Belgium's celebrations to be cut short by a referral. However, Vanasch stood firm for a second time.

    The shoot-out drama followed a 1-1 draw, with Tom Wickham having cancelled out Florent van Aubel's opener.

    "What a feeling. You become Olympic champion, but twice [because of the referral] It's unusual," Vanasch said. "We had to calm down and go again. We knew that.

    "I'm like a musician, it's a rehearsal and then you come to the concert and it comes naturally. That's how I come on the pitch. I'm composed, but also I trust myself, I trust my reflexes."

    Australia have now won seven men's hockey medals across the last eight Games, while Belgium won their first gold in a team event since the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, when their men's football team triumphed.

  • Tokyo Olympics: 'My shots weren't falling' – Doncic explains 18-assist triple-double in defeat Tokyo Olympics: 'My shots weren't falling' – Doncic explains 18-assist triple-double in defeat

    Luka Doncic explained an uncharacteristic poor shooting performance was the reason for his assist-heavy approach in Slovenia's Olympic semi-final defeat to France, despite appearing to sustain a wrist injury in the fourth quarter.

    Slovenia – featuring at their first Games – agonisingly went down 90-89 to France following Nicolas Batum's block in the final three seconds of the game.

    The European champions ran Les Bleus close even as Doncic attempted only two shots in the fourth quarter.

    The Dallas Mavericks superstar looked to have taken a knock when he collided with a court-side screen early in the fourth but did not indicate any issue as he discussed his late preference for passes.

    "My shots weren't falling today, so I was trying to find open team-mates," Doncic said.

    Asked specifically about the final play when Batum blocked Klemen Prepelic's lay-up from a Doncic pass, he added: "I think Batum was helping so I had to pass.

    "I think [Prepelic] was open and it was a great drive, but Batum had an amazing block. I think it was a good choice.

    "Not always you can make a smart choice but I trust them, they trust me and I thought that was a good choice."

    Doncic shot five-for-18 from the field and two-for-nine from three-point range but still tallied 16 points, 10 rebounds and 18 assists.

    He became only the third player in Olympic history to record a triple-double, following in the footsteps of Alexander Belov and LeBron James.

    But having been beaten for the first time in Slovenia colours, falling to 17-1 after success at EuroBasket 2017 and the Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Kaunas, Doncic was not interested in individual achievements.

    "We lost the game so I don't care about my performance," he said.

    Doncic leads the Games in points (121) and assists (50) but has also drawn the most fouls (39) and played the most minutes (160) in a gruelling campaign.

    Opponent Evan Fournier felt the point forward, who led the NBA in usage rate last season (36 per cent), tired under close scrutiny from the French defenders.

    "It was the objective to target him all through the match, several of us in relay," New York Knicks signing Fournier said.

    "Tim [Luwawu-Cabarrot] did an excellent job, Nico did an excellent job, and I think, as strong as he is, in a 40-minute match you still get tired physically.

    "He wasn't taking three-point shots and I think if he'd been fresher he would have done."

    Doncic said of the attention: "I'm used to every defense now."

    Batum embraced the 22-year-old at the end of the game, with the duo facing off in yet another crunch contest after a seven-game playoff series between the Mavs and the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Doncic was on the losing side on that occasion, too, but averaged 35.7 points per game, and he said of the post-game exchange with Batum: "It was a good message. He's a class act. He told me he hates playing against me, in a good way."

  • Ligue 1 2021-22: PSG champions, Bordeaux at risk – Stats Perform AI predicts Ligue 1 2021-22: PSG champions, Bordeaux at risk – Stats Perform AI predicts

    Can Paris Saint-Germain get back on track? Are champions Lille in contention again? Could any top French sides face the drop?

    Stats Perform aims to answer all of these questions and more as the new Ligue 1 season gets under way.

    The Stats Perform League Prediction Model, created by Stats Perform AI using Opta data, has analysed the division ahead of the new season to assign percentages to potential outcomes for each club.

    The model estimates the probability of each match outcome (win, draw or loss) based on teams' attacking and defensive qualities, which considers four years' worth of results, with weighting based on recency and the quality of opposition. The season is then simulated 10,000 times to calculate the likelihood of each outcome.

    What does that mean for PSG and the rest of the French elite? Read on to find out...

    POCH'S PSG TITLE FAVOURITES

    It will surprise nobody, but PSG have been identified as the clear pre-season favourites. They are given a huge 79.5 per cent chance of reclaiming their title after falling behind Lille last term.

    The signings of Sergio Ramos, Gianluigi Donnarumma, Achraf Hakimi and Georginio Wijnaldum should ensure PSG get back on track, while Mike Maignan, Boubakary Soumare and coach Christophe Galtier have all left Lille.

    The defending champions are still considered PSG's most likely challengers, though.

    Lille have a 12.4 per cent likelihood of retaining the championship, which puts them well clear of Lyon (5.7 per cent) in third. Monaco's 2.4 per cent bid to repeat their 2016-17 success makes them the fourth and final side to be given any chance at all.

    TOP FOUR SEEMS SET IN STONE

    Four into three does not go, so at least one of the title contenders will miss out on the Champions League. They should all make the top four, though, with Europa League qualification guaranteed for fourth place.

    PSG unsurprisingly look certain for one of the two automatic Champions League spots, rated at 94.9 per cent.

    Lille are considered most likely to join them at 54.6 per cent, leaving Lyon to take third – the Champions League third qualifying round (35.2) per cent – and Monaco fourth – the Europa League group stage (40.0 per cent).

    There are at least a clutch of rival clubs given a slim hope of crashing the Champions League party; Marseille (0.5 per cent), Rennes (0.2 per cent) and Montpellier (0.1 per cent) are all just about in the running for second place.

    Interestingly, Nice – ninth last term but having recruited Galtier – are not given a significant chance of even making the Champions League qualifiers, whereas Lens (0.2 per cent), Nantes (0.1 per cent), Reims (0.1 per cent), Saint-Etienne (0.1 per cent) and Strasbourg (0.1 per cent) all come into consideration.

    Every team in the league have at least a 0.1 per cent likelihood of finishing fifth – a Europa Conference League play-off round place – although PSG are joined by newly promoted pair Troyes and Clermont with the most remote chance.

    BIG-NAME BORDEAUX IN BOTHER?

    It figures that Troyes (38.8 per cent) and Clermont (34.5 per cent) are backed for relegation straight back down to Ligue 2, but some of last season's top-flight sides are also at significant risk.

    Brest are rated at a 26.4 per cent chance of relegation, with Angers at 19.0 per cent and Lorient at 15.0 per cent.

    Most interestingly of all, though, Bordeaux are third-favourites for the drop behind the two promoted clubs.

    The six-time champions won the title as recently as 2009 but have been in steady decline, even if a 12th-placed finish last time out saw them steer five points clear of the relegation play-off.

    Indeed, Bordeaux were in the European picture in late January before an awful run and they will hope new coach Vladimir Petkovic can ensure there are no relegation worries in the coming campaign.

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