Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

Denver Nuggets main man Jamal Murray barrel his way past Clippers’ Patrick Beverly (21) and Kawhi Leonard. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Nuggets crash LA party, face Lakers in West finals

  • The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla: Just about everyone had LA vs. LA written in for the Western Conference finals.

Then along came the resilient Denver Nuggets, who crashed the party. Behind Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets advanced to the conference finals for the first time since 2009. They will face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers starting Friday in Game 1.

But this was no ordinary road. The Nuggets fell behind 3-1 in their first-round series against Utah before bouncing back with three straight victories. Then they went down 3-1 to the Los Angeles Clippers in the second round before winning in Game 7 again.

They made history, too, becoming the first NBA team to rally from a 3-1 series deficit twice in the same postseason. As expected, Denver is an underdog against the Lakers. Murray & Co. are used to it.

“Everybody counts us out. It’s fun to silence everybody,” Murray said. “We love it.”

The last time the Nuggets were in the conference finals they faced the Lakers as well, losing in six games. That squad was coached by George Karl and boasted Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers were led by the late Kobe Bryant and would go on to win the NBA title over Orlando. This time, Denver features a play-making point guard in Murray and a center who thinks of himself as a point guard in Jokic.

Combined, they've helped the Nuggets go 6-0 in elimination games this postseason. Pressure doesn't bother them.

“It’s just fun, the journey,” Jokic said. “This is an interesting team. We don’t have many superstars.”

Actually, they have two burgeoning stars in Murray and Jokic. In the Game 7 win over the Clippers, Murray scored 40 points while Jokic finished with 16 points, 13 assists and 22 rebounds.

The Nuggets are playing with an abundance of confidence, no matter the deficit. They were down by double digits in Games 5, 6 and 7 but came back to win each time.

“We are not accepting that someone is better than us,” said Jokic, whose squad beat San Antonio last season in Game 7 before losing to Portland in seven games. “They really need to beat us and need to play much better than us. ... When we start playing for each other and you see the ball is flowing and the defense and everybody has everyone's back, it's really fun.”

Denver certainly quieted the noise around the Clippers, who hoped the additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George would lead them to their first-ever conference finals — and beyond. But LA’s stars fell flat.

“It hurts. It hurts. But we move on,” George said. “Year 1 together, first run together, of course we wanted to win this. But we’ve been very optimistic about us being together and building something going down the road.”

After a quick celebration Tuesday — of the win and coach Michael Malone's 49th birthday — the Nuggets will be ready to get back to business.

“We know what we got,” Murray said. “We're a top-four team in the league and we're trying to push to be No. 1. ... We've got a squad that we believe in each other and know we can go out there and win it.”


Liverpool’s Mane sinks 10-man Chelsea, Son hits four in Spurs rout

Updated 20 September 2020

Liverpool’s Mane sinks 10-man Chelsea, Son hits four in Spurs rout

  • Sadio Mane scored twice as Liverpool exploited Chelsea’s frailties to win 2-0
  • Chelsea defender Andreas Christensen was sent off at the end of the first half for hauling down Mane

LONDON: Sadio Mane tormented Chelsea as the Liverpool forward struck twice after sparking Andreas Christensen’s dismissal in the champions’ 2-0 win, while Son Heung-min scored four as Tottenham crushed Southampton 5-2 on Sunday.
Mane was involved in the turning point at Stamford Bridge as the first clash between Premier League title contenders this season swung Liverpool’s way.
In first half stoppage-time, Jordan Henderson picked out Mane’s run behind Christensen and the Denmark defender responded by rugby-tackling the Senegal star to the ground.
Referee Paul Tierney initially booked Christensen, but VAR told him to consult the pitchside monitor and he changed his decision to a red card.
Mane grabbed his first goal of the season in the 50th minute as he met Roberto Firmino’s cross with a thumping header after eluding Reece James’ slack marking.
Mane was gifted his second goal as Chelsea keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga made a hash of trying to play out from the back, allowing the Liverpool forward to intercept and slot into the empty net.
It was the latest costly blunder from Kepa, who was dropped twice by Chelsea manager Frank Lampard last season despite his status as the world’s most expensive keeper.
Lampard will be relieved that Chelsea are reportedly close to signing Rennes’ Senegal international Edouard Mendy as he looks to replace Kepa.
“It was a clear mistake and Kepa accepted that,” Lampard said.
Thiago Alcantara made his Liverpool debut at half-time after his move from Bayern Munich, but the Spain midfielder conceded a 74th minute penalty with a foul on Timo Werner.
Alisson Becker came to Thiago’s rescue as he saved Jorginho’s spot-kick.
After their chaotic 4-3 win over Leeds on the opening weekend, this was a return to the kind of dominant display Liverpool produced so often en route to their first English title for 30 years last season.
“Chelsea were the dominant side without goals but then a massive game-changer which was good for us,” Liverpool coach Jurgen Klopp said.
“After the red card, the second half is a different game. We kept the ball rolling, let them run, scored the goals. Everybody had a hand in the result.”
While Chelsea have spent £200 million ($258 million) on new signings in a bid to close the gap on the champions, Liverpool remain streets ahead of the Blues at present.
“The red card changes the face of the game. I think it could be given or not,” Lampard said.
At St. Mary’s, Jose Mourinho hailed Son and Harry Kane after the pair destroyed Southampton.
Just 24 hours after Tottenham signed Gareth Bale, Son delivered a virtuoso display that showed Mourinho’s side already have plenty of firepower.
Bale has returned to Tottenham on a season-long loan from Real Madrid seven years after he left the north London club.
Danny Ings put Southampton ahead in the first half, but Son equalized before the break and scored three more in the second half, with each of his goals coming from Kane assists.
Kane, who hit the back of the net twice in the first half only to have them ruled out for offside, capped a swaggering display with his second goal of the season.
“Son was on fire and for me Harry Kane was the man of the match, what he did for the team,” said Mourinho, whose side had lost their league opener against Everton.
“With him dropping back and connecting the game between the lines for Sonny to attack, the space they created was a problem they couldn’t resolve.”
Neal Maupay’s quick-fire double inspired Brighton’s 3-0 win against Newcastle as the Seagulls claimed their first Premier League victory of the season.
Graham Potter’s side raced into a two-goal lead after just seven minutes at St. James’ Park thanks to the brace from French striker Maupay.
Aaron Connolly grabbed the third for Brighton, who had Yves Bissouma sent off after his raised boot caught Jamal Lewis in the face.