NBA

Celtics blowout Suns in statement win, Giannis dominant again as Bucks down Kings

By Sports Desk December 08, 2022

The Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics had a statement win over the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns with a 125-98 blowout victory on Wednesday.

The Celtics led by as much as 45 points and benched MVP candidate Jayson Tatum in the fourth quarter, in a game where the Suns welcomed back All-Star Chris Paul from a heel injury.

Tatum finished with 25 points with five rebounds, two assists and two steals. The 24-year-old is the first player in Celtics history to average 30 points per game in his first 25 games of any season.

Jaylen Brown also scored 25 points with seven rebounds, while Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points off the bench.

Boston led 69-42 at half-time in the blowout win, which was the Celtics' second-biggest margin this season.

Devin Booker struggled with four fouls and three field-goals made in the first half, finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists. Paul had four points and four assists in 24 minutes on his return.

The result means the Celtics improved to an NBA-best 21-5 record after three straight wins, while the Suns fall to 16-9.

Giannis powers Bucks to another win

Giannis Antetokounmpo matched Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the second-longest streak of consecutive 30-point games (eight) in franchise history as the Milwaukee Bucks downed the Sacramento Kings 126-113.

The Greek forward finished with 35 points on 12-of-19 field-goal shooting, with six rebounds and six assists as the Bucks improved to 18-6 with their third straight win. The victory extended the Bucks' win streak against the Kings to 13.

Bucks guard Jrue Holiday made an excellent contribution with 31 points, five rebounds and six assists, while Kings forward Domantas Sabonis added 23 points with 12 rebounds.

Banchero clutch in Magic OT win

Top overall NBA Draft pick Pablo Banchero showcased his potential to help the Orlando Magic snap their nine-game losing streak with a 116-111 overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

The 20-year-old power forward scored 23 points for the game, including making all six of his free-throws in the final seven seconds of overtime to overturn a 111-110 deficit. The Clippers gave up two turnovers down the stretch.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard made another rare appearance together again, combining for 17 first-quarter points. George finished with 11 for the game with seven rebounds and five assists, while Leonard added 14 points with seven rebounds and three assists.

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  • Salah 'suffering' after Liverpool's dominant front three disbanded – Klopp Salah 'suffering' after Liverpool's dominant front three disbanded – Klopp

    Mohamed Salah is "suffering" after seeing Liverpool's "well-drilled machine" frontline disbanded this season, according to Jurgen Klopp.

    Sadio Mane left for Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich prior to this term, while Roberto Firmino has seen his role diminished after the arrival of Darwin Nunez and more recently Cody Gakpo.

    Egypt international Salah remains the constant in Klopp's front three, though he has struggled in front of goal this campaign – converting just 11.7 per cent of his chances for seven Premier League goals.

    That mark may seem poor for the three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner, whose previous lowest conversion rate for Liverpool was 14.4 per cent when he scored 19 in the 2019-20 campaign.

    "Of course he is suffering," said Klopp ahead of Sunday's FA Cup fourth-round clash with in-form Brighton and Hove Albion. "It is specific, offensive play that requires a lot of work and a lot of information."

    Salah, Firmino and Mane fired Liverpool to a Champions League crown and the Premier League title, though that front three are now a distant memory at Anfield.

    "It was a well-drilled machine the front three, everything was clear what we were doing," the German added.

    "You create a feeling about a lot of these things, about where your team-mate is and where to pass the ball without looking."

    Gakpo and Nunez are among the new faces tasked with reinventing Liverpool's attacking fortunes but Klopp acknowledged it will take time for his side to adapt.

    "Now we have Cody as a really important asset, like a connector, he can play the wing and the centre as well," he added.

    "When Darwin is playing there he is obviously more high up, going in behind. We never played with a nine before, even when Sadio played in the position he was dropping in moments.

    "It is all good if they would all be in and we could build something, but we haven't been able to do that yet."

    Diogo Jota is nearing a return to bolster a Reds attacking line-up in desperate need of some form, yet Klopp believes Liverpool – who are ninth in the league – have greater concerns than a misfiring attack.

    "If you had scored hundreds of goals in the past and now you are not scoring then that is the first thing you would think about but that is not our problem at the moment," he said.

    "But usually you have a real basis to build on and that is what we don't have. The problem is you need time and nobody wants to invest time.

    "I wish everything would be easier again and that already we had qualified for finals at the end of the season. This situation is not perfect but the basis of the last two games is something I like."

  • Steph Curry 'sick of' Warriors inconsistency as defending champs improve to 25-24 Steph Curry 'sick of' Warriors inconsistency as defending champs improve to 25-24

    Stephen Curry hopes the Golden State Warriors can now move well clear of .500 after improving to a winning record for the first time in three weeks.

    The Warriors won five straight games over Christmas and New Year to seemingly get their title defence back on track, only for consecutive losses to return them to .500.

    Curry returned from injury in their next game, another loss, but the Warriors had not been able to celebrate back-to-back victories since.

    They finally did so this week as a win over the Memphis Grizzlies was followed by Friday's 129-117 victory against the Toronto Raptors, which lifted the Warriors to 25-24.

    Now, the plan is to go on a run, Curry says.

    "We just need wins in general, however we can get them," he said. "It's just the next one up and we've got to figure out the way to win.

    "We've been teetering on either side of .500 for a very long time. I'm kind of sick of it at this point.

    "We've got to figure out how to keep moving in the right direction and stack wins, no matter how we can get them."

    Curry led the team with 35 points and 11 assists, and Steve Kerr saw evidence of his fit-again superstar returning to his best.

    "It feels like we took better care of the ball," the coach said. "When Steph plays like that, the whole game opens up, the whole floor opens up."

    But Curry, who scored 34 against the Grizzlies and 41 against the Washington Wizards early last week, felt he had already found his rhythm.

    The point guard just hopes Kerr keeps leaving him out on the court, playing just shy of 39 minutes in this game – his third-most this season.

    "I felt good, moving well, but I've felt like I've been doing that for a couple of games now," Curry said.

    "It's just everything being in sync in terms of what I want to get to on the offensive end.

    "Don't tell [Kerr], but I played a lot of minutes, and I felt really good for all 39, so I want to keep that up.

    "I haven't got that question that much this season, which is nice. Just to say I felt great; keep it going."

  • Real Sociedad dreaming of going all the way, 20 years on from pushing the Galacticos until the end Real Sociedad dreaming of going all the way, 20 years on from pushing the Galacticos until the end

    LaLiga finds itself in the rather awkward position where it wants the competition to be competitive internally while also desperate for the 'big two' to remain the behemoths they are, because Real Madrid and Barcelona are good for business.

    President Javier Tebas insists LaLiga is, in sporting terms, the most competitive league in the world, something he believes is proven by the performances of Spanish teams in Europe over the past 20 years or so.

    To his credit, the incredibly divisive figure of Tebas has done plenty of good for Spanish football. In general it is far more financially stable than when he was elected in 2013, and the centralised sale of TV broadcast rights has levelled the playing field a little more.

    Fairly or not, though, there are many who feel that there only being two – or three in some years – teams capable of winning the league shows its lack of competitiveness.

    But when a club does rise above the rabble, the financial disparity between Real Madrid and Barcelona and the rest makes the achievement of simply challenging all the more impressive.

    This time it's Real Sociedad, and on Sunday they could make a statement.

    La Real out to put the big boys on notice

    The omens aren't great.

    Real Madrid have lost only one of their last 15 LaLiga home games against La Real (W12 D2), the one exception coming in May 2019.

    But there's something a bit different about this vintage.

    Until the slender 1-0 Copa del Rey defeat to Barcelona at Camp Nou on Thursday, La Real's nine-match winning streak across all competitions was the best such run they have managed since returning to LaLiga for the 2010-11 season.

    Sitting third heading into the weekend, La Real are seven points clear of fourth-placed Atletico Madrid and already look near-certainties for the Champions League.

    Defeat to Barca in the week was undoubtedly a setback, but it provided yet more evidence of them not being easy to beat.

    The fact their 38 points from 18 matches is just two shy of a club record set in the 2002-03 season – more on that team later – highlights just how impressive they've been generally.

    Yet, it doesn't tell the whole story. Imanol Alguacil has overseen this start to the campaign despite losing Alexander Isak to Newcastle United and then seeing his replacement Umar Sadiq succumb to a serious knee injury – from which he still hasn't recovered – after playing just 82 minutes for his new club.

    The neat and intelligent Martin Zubimendi thrives in defensive midfield; 36-year-old David Silva continues to defy his age as the number 10; Robin Le Normand has developed into one of the most under-rated centre-backs in the league; Brais Mendez has taken their midfield to a new level; and Alexander Sorloth – who once scored no Premier League goals in a year at Crystal Palace and netted just four all last season for La Real – is the unlikely talisman up top.

    The big Norwegian has scored eight goals, none of which have been penalties, in LaLiga. Only Robert Lewandowski (13) has more, while Sorloth ranks third for non-penalty expected goals (xG) with 6.0.

    We can't call it a title challenge yet. They are still six points behind Barca having played a game more than the Blaugrana.

    But with just over half the season still to go, La Real find themselves in position to pounce should Xavi's side let up – providing they can retain their own momentum.

    Win at the Santiago Bernabeu on Sunday and everyone else will begin to take them a little more seriously as well.

    Two points from immortality

    La Real have been here before.

    Their flirt with the title in the 2002-03 season is probably the best example of a so-close-yet-so-far tale in modern Spanish football.

    It effectively came out of nowhere, too.

    Four successive seasons of mid-table obscurity had offered no hint of what was to come, and what followed that campaign made it all seem like a farfetched dream.

    La Real pushed a Madrid side that included Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos to the wire, even beating them 4-2 at Anoeta to reinvigorate their campaign after a chastening derby defeat to Athletic Bilbao in late 2002 was followed by something of a blip.

    The Basques headed into the final three games of the season knowing nine points would secure the rarest of title wins.

    They had risen to most challenges to that point. Their little-and-large striker duo of Darko Kovacevic and Nihat Kahveci plundered goals at will, racking up 43 between them; Xabi Alonso gave them almost ceaseless control in midfield; Valery Karpin and Javier de Pedro provided ammunition from the flanks.

    But it couldn't have been a shock that a team without a league title since 1982 crumbled in the end. A draw at home to Valencia was followed by defeat to Celta Vigo in Galicia, while Madrid beat Atletico Madrid.

    La Real's win over Los Colchoneros on the final day of the season was insufficient to keep hopes alive as Madrid comfortably saw off Athletic.

    It was a valiant effort, with La Real edged out by two points when all was said and done, but it was not the start of a prosperous new era. What followed was four seasons of dicing with relegation, the last ultimately claiming them and leading to three campaigns in the second tier.

    The difference this time? Stability, consistency. The past six years have essentially confirmed La Real as a top-half team, finishing sixth or higher four times, including in each of the last three.

    Imanol has been in charge for those three, moulding La Real into a highly organised, high-pressing and dynamic side. But their institutional excellence goes deeper than that, with synergy a key priority from top to bottom, hence how 15 members of the first-team squad have come up through the academy or the B team. Make that 16 if you include the coach himself.

    In all likelihood, La Real probably won't get that close to becoming the first team to upset the established order of the historical 'big three' since Valencia in 2004. Barcelona and Real Madrid are still too big for most to really go toe-to-toe with over a 38-game season, regardless of Tebas' changes.

    But with arguably a far more talented squad than 20 years ago, La Real are much better equipped to at least make title challenges a regular dream.

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