NBA

NBA playoffs 2021: Clippers win first ever Conference Finals game as George helps reduce series deficit

By Sports Desk June 24, 2021

Paul George dominated as the Los Angeles Clippers celebrated their first ever win in the Western Conference Finals after overcoming the Phoenix Suns 106-92 in Game 3.

Featuring in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history, the Clippers found themselves in a 2-0 hole against the second-seeded Suns heading into Thursday's clash in Los Angeles.

Even in the ongoing absence of superstar Kawhi Leonard (knee), George picked up the slack with a 27-point and 15-rebound double-double – which included a stunning half-court buzzer-beater in the third period – to lift the Clippers and help reduce the series deficit to 2-1.

Entering the contest at Staples Center following back-to-back games on the road, George had scored at least 20 points in all 15 games this postseason.

The latest performance saw George eclipse LeBron James' run of 15 consecutive games (in 2016) with 20-plus points in the playoffs – Kevin Durant is the only other active player to achieve the feat in the postseason (20 straight in 2012 and 21 in a row in 2018).

The Clippers – who are the first team all-time to be down 2-0 three times in a single postseason – outscored the visiting Suns 34-21 in the third quarter to move clear.

Reggie Jackson added 23 points for the Clippers, while Ivica Zubac (15 points and 16 rebounds) finished with a double-double of his own.

George and Zubac became the first set of team-mates to each tally 15-plus points and 15-plus rebounds in a playoff showdown since James (28 points and 15 rebounds) and Kevin Love (15 points and 21 rebounds) in 2017.

Suns veteran Chris Paul returned from the league's health and safety protocol and posted 15 points and 12 assists.

Paul became the 13th player in NBA history with 1,000 playoff assists in the losing effort.

It was a tough outing for star team-mate Devin Booker, who was just five-for-21 shooting as he finished with 15 points in a team-high 40 minutes.

 

Hawks at Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks will look to bounce back against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday. Trae Young and the Hawks claimed the opener in Milwaukee.

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  • Ronaldo asks to leave Man Utd: Stats Perform writers weigh up the pros and cons Ronaldo asks to leave Man Utd: Stats Perform writers weigh up the pros and cons

    It seems Cristiano Ronaldo's second stint at Manchester United might be cut short.

    Ronaldo returned to United at the end of August 2021, but after a season back at Old Trafford, the 37-year-old apparently wants out.

    According to multiple reports, Ronaldo has informed the club that he wishes to leave should an acceptable offer be received.

    Ronaldo was United's top scorer last season, though it would be fair to say his comeback did not go entirely to plan, with the Red Devils finishing sixth and recording their worst Premier League points tally.

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked in November and interim manager Ralf Rangnick hardly made a lasting impression.

    Erik ten Hag has now been tasked with the rebuild, but would doing that without Ronaldo be a negative, or a positive? Two of Stats Perform's writers have had their say.

    Ronaldo's want-away wish bad news for United - Patric Ridge

    Sure, United's season might not have gone according to plan, but without Ronaldo, it could have been a lot worse. United ultimately scraped into the Europa League despite a dismal end to the campaign, and the fact that they have continental club football of any description to look forward to in the coming season is, in large part, down to the 18 league goals Ronaldo scored.

    His record speaks for itself, and the task of replacing him is put into even more of a stark light when you compare Ronaldo's statistics to the rest of United's squad last term.

    His 24 goals across all competitions is 14 clear of second-best Bruno Fernandes (10). Indeed, only Ronaldo (27), Fernandes (23) and Paul Pogba (10) hit double figures for direct goal contributions.

    Can United really lose two of those players in one window and expect to be challenging for Champions League qualification next term, especially with Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea all looking to strengthen? Marcus Rashford looks like a player in need of a reset, and Anthony Martial is seemingly surplus to requirements.

    Ronaldo scored a goal every 132 minutes last season, recording a shot conversion rate of 16.9 per cent. With Ronaldo in the team, United won 17 of 38 games (44.7 per cent). That win rate dropped drastically to 27.3 per cent (3/11) without him.

    In this writer's opinion, Ronaldo leaving would leave Ten Hag with even more work to do, on top of what is already a hugely difficult task.

    Ronaldo departure would provide opportunity for reset - Ryan Benson

    Goals win football matches. Cristiano Ronaldo scores goals – we know this. But did he make United a better team in general? Few would claim he did.

    Granted, some might suggest that is a harsh way to judge him given he played in – and scored 18 league goals for – arguably the worst United team (at least in terms of seasonal statistics) in over 30 years, but who's to say only he could have netted that amount for this side? Don't forget, they did finish second in the 2020-21 campaign.

    Even before he returned to Old Trafford, there were plenty of critics warning fans United could potentially be worse off than before with Ronaldo because of how little he offers to the wider team.

    Yes, he scores goals, but what's stopping United signing a replacement who does that but also works hard off the ball and adds dynamism to the attack? Maybe that's easier said than done, but those players do literally exist.

    United are in a transitional stage, the middle of a rebuild. With that in mind, no one will be expecting them to mount anything close to a title challenge next season, Ronaldo or not.

    Therefore, they might as well allow Ten Hag to bring a striker he deems to be tailor-made for the way he wants to play, rather than shoe-horn into the side a Ronaldo who offers precious little outside of the box.

    Ronaldo is 37. United would've needed to replace him soon anyway, so at least this provides them with an earlier opportunity to sign, and start building around, someone much younger.

  • England looking to Bairstow again as Bumrah's India pummel hosts at Edgbaston England looking to Bairstow again as Bumrah's India pummel hosts at Edgbaston

    England might need another act of Jonny Bairstow heroism to dig them out of a deep hole at Edgbaston after India made the home side suffer on a rain-hit second day of the fifth Test.

    In a wild morning session, India went from 338-7 to 416 all out, Ravindra Jadeja completing a century by moving from 83 to 104 before being bowled by James Anderson.

    India scored a world-record 35 runs from one Stuart Broad over as captain Jasprit Bumrah took centre stage with the bat. Bumrah is better known for his work with the ball, and the skipper then reduced England to 44-3 when he sent back Alex Lees, Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope.

    After a two-hour rain break, the third such interruption of the innings, England lost former skipper Joe Root for 31, and nightwatchman Jack Leach followed, with Bairstow (12 not out) and captain Ben Stokes (0 no) together at the close. England were 84-5 at stumps, nowhere near where they hoped to be in the contest.

    India are 2-1 ahead in this series, one that began last year but had to be curtailed before the fifth Test got under way due to COVID-19 concerns in the tourists' ranks. This long-delayed match is therefore decisive, with England needing a victory to force a drawn series.

    Rather than go after the win, avoiding a heavy defeat could become the priority, but at this stage the hosts will still believe they can salvage this situation, given positivity is flowing through the team after the recent 3-0 rout of New Zealand.

    Broad had a rotten morning, entering the record books in unwanted fashion when Bumrah set about his bowling. The previous Test record of 28 runs from an over was obliterated, aided by Broad bowling a high wide that raced to the boundary before being clubbed for six off a no-ball.

    Bumrah finished on 31 not out when Broad held a catch off James Anderson (5-60) to remove Mohammed Siraj in the next over.

    Three rain delays affected England's reply, but the batting was not up to scratch. The most damaging dismissal was surely that of Root to a snorter of a delivery that climbed rapidly into the batsman, drawing a thin edge to wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant. Now Bairstow, whose past three Test scores have been 136, 162 and 71 not out, will aim to lead a recovery effort alongside the skipper.


    Anderson at it again

    It still defies belief that England's previous regime looked ready to discard Anderson. He might turn 40 later this month, but few seamers in world cricket can rival his skill, and India again found him so difficult to play. A 32nd five-wicket haul of his Test career was his sixth against India.

    England have done it before, so can they do it again?

    England hardly need to look far back in the history books for inspiration. In the third Test against New Zealand, they were 55-6 in their first innings but rallied to post 360 all out. The seventh-wicket stand of 241 runs between Bairstow and Jamie Overton saved the day that time, and something special is required again here.

  • Ronaldo asks to leave Man Utd: Napoli, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern... MLS? CR7's transfer options Ronaldo asks to leave Man Utd: Napoli, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Bayern... MLS? CR7's transfer options

    Cristiano Ronaldo is poised to become the biggest news of the transfer window, with reports stating he is keen on leaving Manchester United to continue playing in the Champions League.

    The Portuguese superstar has played in Europe's elite competition for 19 consecutive seasons since first moving to United from Sporting CP in 2003 and stands as the highest-ever scorer in the tournament with 140 goals.

    However, United's sixth-placed finish in the Premier League last season means that Erik ten Hag takes over a side who are set for Europa League football – and it is now reported that Ronaldo is pushing for an exit.

    If he does get his wish, there are only a few likely destinations for the 37-year-old and Stats Perform has assessed some of them.

    Napoli

    A return to Serie A has been touted for Ronaldo, with The Athletic naming Napoli as potential suitors – they have a void in their team following the exit of Lorenzo Insigne.

    In Ronaldo's three years in Italy with Juventus, no player scored more Serie A goals than his tally of 81 and, despite spending the past year with Manchester United, only Ciro Immobile has scored more Serie A goals since 2018.

    Napoli, having finished third in Serie A last year and nine points ahead of Juventus, would match Ronaldo's desire to play Champions League football – although the club's finances and Ronaldo's wage demands may prove to be restrictive.

     

    Chelsea

    Fresh from Todd Boehly's takeover, Chelsea are looking to rejuvenate the squad and finances do not appear to be a problem, given they have allowed Romelu Lukaku to return to Inter on loan just a year after spending a club-record £97.5million on the Belgium forward.

    Interestingly enough, it has been reported that Ronaldo's agent, Jorge Mendes, has already met with the new Chelsea owner this summer and the Blues are in need of a striker having lost Lukaku, with Timo Werner performing better from a deeper role.

    Whether Ronaldo would accept a move to a Premier League rival, given his status at Old Trafford, is the biggest question regarding any hopes the Blues may have in signing the veteran forward and, if he is keen, United would likely demand a significant return on the investment they paid last year.

    Chelsea also have interest in Raheem Sterling and Leeds United attacker Raphinha, but Ronaldo would be a statement of intent for the new owner.

    Sporting CP

    With a United homecoming already under his belt, could Sporting secure a sensational return of their own and bring Ronaldo back to where it all began? It's certainly not beyond the realm of possibility.

    Second in Primeira Liga last season, Sporting have the Champions League football that Ronaldo craves and he is already a great at the club – though his success has come in his years since he left his home country in 2003.

    Ronaldo had just a single season in the senior squad with Sporting before he moved to United, so he may feel he has unfinished business – and it is a side that can definitely compete, having ended a 20-year barren spell without a league title in the 2020-21 season.

     

    Bayern Munich

    Ronaldo has shone in three of Europe's top-five leagues, the Premier League, La Liga and Serie A, with only the Bundesliga and Ligue 1 left standing – and Bayern have been touted as potential suitors, though Paris Saint-Germain are not said to be interest (sorry, no link up with Lionel Messi just yet, sports fans).

    With Robert Lewandowski's future at the Allianz Arena continuing to be shrouded in speculation, it may fall into place for the Poland international to get what he wants, a move to Barcelona, and for Bayern to land Ronaldo as his replacement.

    In the past five years, no player has scored more league goals than Lewandowski (193) but Ronaldo, along with the addition of Sadio Mane, should be able to fill any goalscoring void that would be left in the event of a departure.

    Real Madrid

    Another possible return destination... could Ronaldo wind back up in the Spanish capital?

    The Champions League winners are hardly in need of another superstar forward, given the incredible form of Karim Benzema, but bringing Ronaldo back to the club where he scored 450 goals would surely appeal to president Florentino Perez? 

    Madrid missed out on Kylian Mbappe, much to their frustration, and having Ronaldo in their side would plug a gap, so to speak, until the PSG forward is further into the new, three-year contract he signed with the French club in May.

    MLS

    Champions League football has been documented as the reason for Ronaldo's desire to leave but, if such offers are not forthcoming, could a move to MLS be on the cards? 

    Financial rules and designated player spots would make a switch complicated, with there only being a handful of teams likely to be able to make a move possible – likely to be those in Los Angeles, Miami and New York.

    With the 2026 World Cup taking place in North America, bringing Ronaldo to MLS would raise the profile of the league further – and would undoubtedly be the biggest acquisition for the league since David Beckham's move to LA Galaxy in 2007.

    That move marked the start of a new era of soccer in the US and has evolved considerably since, though Ronaldo's arrival would send things to a completely new level.

    It has been reported that United do not wish to sell Ronaldo, but with his contract being up next year, could a switch to North America be likely? 

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