Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds

Syrian striker Omar Khribin wheels away in celebration after slotting home Al-Hilal’s equalizer against Urawa Reds. Inset: Urawa coach Takafumi Hori has defensive issues to address. (AFP)
Updated 19 November 2017
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Wasteful Al-Hilal held to a draw by Urawa Reds

RIYADH: Ramon Diaz praised his Al-Hilal side’s character after they failed to secure a positive result at home in the first leg of the 2017 AFC Champions League final.
The Riyadh giants were held to a 1-1 draw against Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds in front of 60,000 fans at the King Fahd International Stadium. They were stunned after just seven minutes as Rafael Silva swept home on the rebound following Salman Al-Faraj’s failure to clear the Brazilian’s initial effort properly.
“We had a slow start to the game, and conceded an unexpected goal, but I was impressed by the players’ reaction after the goal,” Al-Hilal coach Diaz said after the game.
Indeed, the Al-Hilal players did not let the frustration of going behind get to them. Instead, Diaz’s men had 70 percent possession in the first half and pounded the Japanese goal with attack after attack, but with limited success.
An 18th-minute injury to star midfielder Carlos Eduardo further complicated things for the hosts as Diaz was forced into an early substitution and introduced Nawaf Al-Abid for his first game after a lengthy injury layoff.
Striker Omar Khribin was particularly wasteful as the hosts created numerous chances and repeatedly found space behind Urawa’s defence. But despite the side’s inefficiency in front of goal, Diaz remained positive as he lauded his players’ attacking intent.
“If we didn’t create chances, that would have been a real concern, but we were clearly the better side and created multiple chances,” said the Al-Hilal boss.
One man who ensured the hosts did not score the goals their possession perhaps deserved was Urawa goalkeeper Shusaku Nishikawa. The 31-year-old was forced into multiple last-ditch saves in the opening half, and he admitted his defenders were not on their day, leaving him exposed to face a series of Al-Hilal chances.
“Football is a team sport,” reflected Nishikawa. “Today, our defence was not perfect, but that is football. As a team, it is your duty to help one another and in games like this you have to be there to make key saves.”
Manager Takafumi Hori echoed his goalkeeper’s words as the performances of some Urawa players were brought into question, particularly that of left-back Tomoya Ugajin.
“It happens that in football matches you can go through difficult times, like what we saw against Al-Hilal. We were under pressure and sometimes a player doesn’t handle that pressure well. But we work as a team and sometimes other players have to carry their teammate if he is not playing well.”
Al-Hilal may have dominated possession throughout and created chances, but their only goal of the game came in the final minutes of the first half as Khribin got on the end of a misfired Salem Al-Dawsari shot to control and slot past Nishikawa. The Syrian’s strike was his tenth goal of the AFC Champions League season on the same day he was named in the three-man shortlist for the 2017 Asian Footballer of the Year award.
The second half saw a notable drop in intensity as Al-Hilal players suffered the effects of a physically demanding, robust playing style adopted throughout the opening period. Diaz looked to bring on fresh legs as he introduced striker Mukhtar Fallatah to partner Khribin up front. The former Al-Wehda striker was making his Al-Hilal debut in the competition under unenviable circumstances and Diaz was quick to admit it may not have been the ideal setting for the 31-year-old to make his bow.
“I am pleased with his overall performance,” said the Al-Hilal boss. “He has been training well and came in at a difficult stage of the match. I think he did well.”
The result leaves the Riyadh giants with the uphill task of trying to get an away goal in Saitama next week. A goalless draw will be enough for the Japanese side to lift their second AFC Champions League title.


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.