In hostile Boston, Mavs’ Irving aims to keep focus on NBA Finals challenge

Kyrie Irving of the Dallas Mavericks speaks to the media during 2024 NBA Finals Practice and Media Availability on June 16, 2024 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. (AFP)
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Updated 17 June 2024
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In hostile Boston, Mavs’ Irving aims to keep focus on NBA Finals challenge

  • Friday night’s victory ended Irving’s own 13-game losing streak against the Celtics
  • Now Irving is more concerned with the task facing the Mavericks as they try to become the first NBA team to erase a 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series

NEW YORK: Resigned to the villain’s role in Boston, Dallas star Kyrie Irving is less concerned with silencing hostile Celtics fans than with quieting self-doubt and leading the Mavs in a must-win NBA Finals Game 5.

“Let’s just call it what it is,” Irving said Sunday as the Mavs prepared to try once again to fend off elimination in the championship series, in which they trail the Celtics 3-1.

“When the fans are cheering ‘Kyrie sucks’ they feel like they have a psychological edge, and that’s fair,’” said Irving, who was hounded by Celtics fans still rankled by his departure in 2019 after two seasons with the team.

Amid the jeers he delivered two sub-par performances in Games 1 and 2, the Mavs eventually falling 0-3 down before a blowout victory in Game 4 to extend the series.

“Of course, if I’m not making shots or turning the ball over, that makes it even more of a pressing issue that they can stay on me for,” Irving said.

“I think in order to silence even the self-doubt, let alone the crowd doubt, but the self-doubt when you make or miss shots, that’s just as important as making sure I’m leading the team the right way and being human through this experience, too, and telling them how I feel.”

Friday night’s victory ended Irving’s own 13-game losing streak against the Celtics.

He’s cognizant of his complicated personal history with the team, which he said stretches back further than his petulant demonstrations when his Brooklyn Nets were swept by the Celtics in the first round in 2022.

He said Sunday it started when he arrived in Boston in 2017, when he failed to engage with the history of the storied franchise or, as he put it “the cult that they have here.

“That’s what they expect you to do as a player,” Irving said. “They expect you to seamlessly buy into the Celtics’ pride, buy into everything Celtics. And if you don’t, then you’ll be outed.

“I’m one of the people that’s on the outs,” he added with a laugh. “I did it to myself.”

Now Irving is more concerned with the task facing the Mavericks as they try to become the first NBA team to erase a 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series.

“Most importantly, (it’s) not making this about me or getting into the energy with anyone else other than my teammates,” Irving said, adding that the Mavs must think “about the goal that we have in front of us as best we can, and try not to get tired of everyone talking about the history that has not been made.”

Irving, who won a title alongside LeBron James in Cleveland in 2016, said he had encouraged his teammates — — many in the Finals for the first time — to embrace and enjoy the moment.

“We got a chance to accomplish one of our goals, which is to make it back to Boston,” Irving said. “We have another goal in front of us, and that’s to make it back to Dallas.”


South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened

Updated 21 July 2024
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South Sudan nearly beat the US in an Olympic tuneup. Here’s how it happened

  • South Sudan made 14 3-pointers, while the US made seven. The US reserves were 1 for 11 from beyond the arc

Takeaways from the US Olympic team’s 101-100 win over South Sudan in an exhibition game Saturday in London:
At 39, 40 in a row
LeBron James’ layup with 8 seconds left was the game-winner, and the win marked the 40th consecutive time that the Americans have won an international game with the NBA’s all-time scoring leader — at 39, set to become the oldest US men’s basketball Olympian ever — in uniform.
Seems like being in London works for King James. Playing in the same building as he did during the 2012 London Olympics — O2 Arena, which was called North Greenwich Arena during those games a dozen years ago — James came up big down the stretch.
In that gold medal game against Spain in 2012, James hit a game-sealing 3-pointer with about 2 minutes left to cap a season where he won NBA MVP, NBA Finals MVP, an NBA title with the Miami Heat and Olympic gold.
Respect for South Sudan
South Sudan got this Olympic berth based on its World Cup finish last year. Its national federation is led by former NBA player Luol Deng, and the team is coached by former NBA guard and now Houston assistant coach Royal Ivey.
James gave both men a ton of credit postgame Saturday.
“To have that representation, to have that type of leadership over there, teaching them the right way how to play the game, that’s good. That’s great, actually,” James said. “The game is worldwide. There’s not one place that you don’t see the game being played. I think that’s the beauty of it. The game of basketball brings together so many people.”
Waiting for KD
Kevin Durant was on the floor getting some warmup shots up, but the Americans were again without the three-time Olympic gold medalist.
Durant returned to practice Friday after about three weeks of dealing with a calf strain. It’s possible that he plays in the final US tune-up on Monday against Germany in London. Otherwise, he’ll go into the Olympics not having gotten any true game action since April 28 when his Phoenix Suns were eliminated from the first round of the NBA playoffs by the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Key Number
South Sudan made 14 3-pointers, while the US made seven. The US reserves were 1 for 11 from beyond the arc.


Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one

Updated 21 July 2024
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Shane Lowry lets British Open lead slip away. Si Woo Kim makes hole in one

TROON, Scotland: Shane Lowry made a double bogey on the famous “Postage Stamp” eighth hole at Royal Troon and it only got worse for the Irishman.
Lowry led the British Open by three shots early Saturday before his day unraveled in the wind and rain. His 6-over 77 left him three shots behind leader Billy Horschel going into Sunday’s final round.
Quite a turnaround after taking a two-shot lead into the weekend and pairing on Saturday with unheralded Dan Brown.
“I guess for me the eighth hole was killer really. Make par there and you can still shoot 3 or 4 over and still be leading the tournament. Just pulled my wedge shot there,” Lowry said of the 123-yard par-3 eighth.
Lowry, eyeing his second British Open title, had moved three strokes ahead with a birdie at No. 4.
On the eighth, which he had birdied on back-to-back days, Lowry found the “Coffin bunker” before his next shot rolled off the back of the green. He got back up but two-putted.
Lowry, who won the claret jug at Royal Portrush in 2019, bogeyed the 11th and 12th and was out of the lead.
Three more bogeys followed — at the 14th, 15th and 18th — to leave him 1 under overall.
“You’d have to question why there wasn’t a couple of tees put forward today, to be honest. I think 15 and 17 — like 15 is 500 yards playing into that wind, it’s — yeah, they keep trying to make holes longer, yet the best hole in this course is about 100 yards,” he said.
On the last, Lowry sliced his drive and then sent his next shot into the grandstand to the right of the green. He was given a free drop but pitched well short of the hole and needed two putts.
“This is going to take me a couple hours to get over today,” he said, adding, “but I have a job to do tomorrow and a similar chance to win this tournament.”
Hole in one
Si Woo Kim didn’t see his ball go in, but he didn’t mind. You’ll never forget a hole in one at the British Open.
Kim’s third-round ace was at the par-3 17th hole.
“My caddie told me you’d better hit hard with a 3-iron,” the South Korean said. “So I did, and as soon as I (did), I see the ball (go) over the fringe.”
He thought perhaps it was within 20 feet, but then the crowd erupted.
“I couldn’t see it,” he said.
The shot took a few hops before rolling straight into the cup. Kim high-fived caddie Manuel Villegas, who then playfully tapped the visor of Kim’s cap.
At 238 yards, it’s the longest hole-in-one at a British Open since organizers began keeping complete records in 1981.
Louis Oosthuizen made a hole in one at the 2016 Open at Troon. Ernie Els made one at the Postage Stamp in 2004.
There were three at the 1997 Open at Troon — by Pierre Fulke, Daniel Olsson and Dennis Edlund.
Table tennis anyone?
Table tennis seems to be a go-to activity to unwind at the British Open.
Dan Brown, who was the surprise leader after the first round, said he’s been playing the game with his friends at the players’ lounge at Royal Troon.
Joe Dean, too.
“We played it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, I could feel myself getting a bit of tendinitis in my elbow,” the Englishman said after Saturday’s 71 left him 4 over par overall. “Very addictive game. We believe we’re better than what we are. No, it’s great fun. It passes the time.”
Dean’s only other Open appearance was in 2017 at Royal Birkdale.
Cricket, too
Zimbabwe cricket must have been all the rage back in the day.
The fathers of Dean Burmester and Sean Crocker were teammates on Zimbabwe’s first cricket test team — cricket’s premier format — in 1992.
They’re both at Royal Troon to watch their sons compete at the British Open.
“I don’t think they’ve bumped into each other yet, but if they do, it could be some carnage,” Crocker joked after his third-round 69 on Saturday. “We were both kind of joking we were trying to keep our dads away from each other this week ... I think some alcohol is going to get hurt if they get together.”
Mark Burmester and Gary Crocker played on the team that faced India in Zimbabwe’s first test match. The Crockers moved to the United States when Sean was young. Dean Burmester represents South Africa.
“Even though we both don’t play under the Zim flag,” Crocker said, “we have our roots and heritage there, so secretly we’re Zimbabweans.”


Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

Updated 20 July 2024
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Lando Norris on pole as McLaren lock out ‘sweet’ Hungarian Grand Prix front row

  • Red Bull’s three-time champion Max Verstappen had to settle for third

BUDAPEST: Lando Norris grabbed pole position ahead of his team-mate Oscar Piastri for the Hungarian Grand Prx on Saturday as McLaren locked out the front row of the grid for the first time since 2012.
Red Bull’s three-time champion Max Verstappen had to settle for third and the second row in the tense wet-dry qualifying
The 24-year-old Briton, who is 84 points behind Verstappen in this year’s title race, clocked a best lap in one minute and 15.227 seconds to outpace the Australian by 0.022 seconds.
Verstappen was three-hundredths of a second adrift in third ahead of Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, who leaves the team at the end of the year, and seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who will replace him.
Charles Leclerc, in the second Ferrari was sixth ahead of two-time champion Fernando Alonso and his Aston Martin team-mate Lance Stroll and the RBs of Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda, who had survived a high-speed crash earlier in Q3.
It was Norris’s second pole in four races and the third of his burgeoning career as he gains front-running experience in his bid to challenge Verstappen who, on Sunday bids to complete a hat-trick of Hungarian wins.
“I’m very happy with that and it wasn’t easy at all in difficult conditions so ending up on top is the best for us all and a great result for the team,” said Norris.
“We have come into this weekend confident we can do a good job so to be on pole is sweet.”
“It’s the first 1-2 for McLaren for a long time and an amazing result for us,” said Piastri. “I had a tricky day yesterday so for me it is nice to bounce back.”
Verstappen said: “I tried. We have been behind the whole weekend and I tried to make it as close as possible, but it wasn’t enough. I would have liked a bit more grip...”
After Friday’s sweltering conditions for practice, qualifying began in much cooler weather with temperatures and light rain falling.
The McLaren pair were first out on soft slick tires along with Kevin Magnussen in his Haas.
George Russell was also struggling before the session was red-flagged when Sergio Perez smacked the wall at Turn Eight, having lost control and made a sideways slide into the barriers in the second Red Bull.
For the under-pressure Mexican driver, it was another Q1 setback in a sequence of bad qualifying outings and came just seconds after Russell had saved his car sliding off at the same place as the rain intensified.
After a 12-minute break, the action resumed with Perez hanging on in ninth from his earlier efforts, before he suffered his fourth Q1 exit in six outings as he embarked on two racing weekends that many observers believe offer him a last chance to save his seat at Red Bull.
In a frantic finale to Q1, on a damp circuit, Russell managed to jump from 14th to 10th but it was not enough as others improved to leave him 17th and out, taking an early exit for the second year running at the Hungaroring along with Perez, 16th, Zhou Guanyu of Sauber and the two Alpines of Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly who stayed in the pits.
Unexpectedly, Daniel Ricciardo was fastest for RB in the changing conditions while Norris was only 13th.
“I’m sorry about this session guys,” said Russell, who had asked for more fuel to prolong his running to three laps. “That one is on me.”
The Q2 segment started with Sainz on top, until Hamilton and then Verstappen took over, the Dutchman in 1:15.770, nine-tenths faster than Hamilton’s pole in 2023. Piastri went second only 0.015 off the pace.
On his second run, Norris took command in 1:15.540 while Hamilton struggled to survive in 10th and Haas’s Nico Hulkenberg, Valtteri Bottas of Sauber, Williams’ Alex Albon, Sargeant and Magnussen missed the cut to the top-ten shootout.
All this left Norris and Verstappen to scrap for pole, as rain was forecast, and the Dutchman led them out to clock 1:15.555 before Norris cut that time by 0.328 with his lap in 1:15.227. It was provisional pole, as rain began to fall.
The world champion pushed to improve but stayed third as Yuki Tsunoda crashed at Turn Five in his RB to prompt a red-flag stoppage. It was a big accident, but the Japanese driver was unhurt.
Two minutes and 13 seconds remained, enough time for one more flying run as the marshals cleared the debris. In the event, as it drizzled, only Ricciardo improved his time to take ninth from his team-mate.


‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

Updated 20 July 2024
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‘I just want to fight’ says UFC star Nurmagomedov ahead of Abu Dhabi date

  • The rampant Dagestani’s climb up the rankings has caught many fans and fighters off guard. He speaks to Arab News about the UFC, his future and his single-minded approach to his career

DUBAI: Umar Nurmagomedov’s meteoric rise through the UFC is unprecedented. The unbeaten (17-0) Dagestani fighter is 10th in the bantamweight division without ever touching gloves with a ranked opponent.

On Aug. 3 at UFC Abu Dhabi, in front of 18,000 fans at the Etihad Arena, Yas Island, Nurmagomedov will finally face someone with a number next to their name. Not just anyone either; the number two ranked bantamweight, Cory Sandhagen. The winner is expected to be next in line for a shot at the belt, once the number one contender, Merab Dvalishvili and current champ Sean O’Malley, have also fought.

His fellow bantamweights will no doubt be hurt in this scenario, but finding a ranked opponent for the surging Nurmagomedov has been difficult. “Nobody wants to take that risk on a guy that isn’t ranked,” the UFC ‘s president, Dana White, confirmed at UFC288’s post-fight press conference, “Those are the fights that publicly everybody says they’ll take, but privately nobody wants to take them.”

UFC champions get special dispensation to wait for the right time to return, but if those below want to stay near the top of the ladder, they must stay active.

So, does Nurmagomedov feel he has earned the right to be so close to a title shot?

“Yes. Who else has a good win streak and position in the ranking?” he says.

Dagestani fighters are focused on fighting. They rarely get caught up in social media spats with rivals. They prefer to settle their differences in the octagon, and Nurmagomedov is no different. “I’m excited,” he says about his upcoming bout in a matter-of-fact style, “I just want to fight.”

Nurmagomedov is a picture of calm and determination. He is all business inside and outside the octagon. His straight-talking speaks of a man who would likely run intense sambo drills in the minutes between his obligated media interviews to stay in peak condition.

The fight against Sandhagen has been 12 months in the making, as Nurmagomedov was scratched from the original date due to a shoulder injury. Both men have since fought and won. Although typically an elite striker, Sandhagen opted to wrestle Font for five rounds — perhaps using the training camp tactics he had been honing in anticipation of Nurmagomedov. 

How did Nurmagomedov view this? “I was surprised. I thought he (Sandhagen) would stand and strike, but he took him (Font) down and beat him on the ground,” he confirms. “He had good takedowns, but Rob Font isn’t a high-level wrestler and doesn’t have any defence or know how to get up.”

Nurmagomedov does not feel the need to adapt his game plan after what he saw from Sandhagen’s last fight and is confident of victory. “The plan is going to be the same. In every fight, I will use whatever I can do better (than his opponent). If it’s striking, I will strike. If I can take him down and choke him, I will do it. Why not? It’ll be an easy win.”

With a title fight between current bantamweight champ O’Malley and number one contender Dvalishvili still to be booked, talk comes back around to champions holding up divisions. O’Malley is on record saying he “doesn’t want to fight outside of the US” and with main events pencilled in until September, it could mean a long wait for the winner of Nurmagomedov and Sandhagen.

Nurmagomedov is clear on what he thinks should happen: “It doesn’t matter where O’Malley wants to fight; he should just keep fighting. I can fight anywhere; it doesn’t matter.”

He goes on to say that ideally, he would like to be in the octagon — for the belt — in December or January and does not care if it is Dvalishvili or O’Malley standing across from him. But Nurmagomedov is so committed to the fight game that he does not even care if his next bout is for the championship, an interim belt, or nothing.

“It doesn’t matter if they give me a title shot or a fight against someone else; I will not say ‘no,’ I will just keep fighting.”


Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games

Updated 20 July 2024
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Palestinian Olympic body urges IOC to ban Israeli athletes from Paris Games

  • Officials claim judo competitor signed a missile while visiting Israel Defense Forces soldiers 

LONDON: The Palestine Olympic Committee has urged Olympics authorities to ban Israeli athletes from taking part in the upcoming Paris Games.

According to a report in The Telegraph, POC officials on Friday presented evidence to the IOC allegedly showing Israeli Olympians visiting Israel Defense Forces soldiers and one, a judo athlete, even signing a missile.

Nader Jayousi, deputy secretary-general of the POC, said lsrael was solely responsible “for the human rights violations happening in Gaza, and the killings and murders of every single person.”

Jayousi added that if found to have signed missiles being fired at Palestinian civilians in Gaza, athletes will not have behaved in the “Olympic spirit.”

The Israel Judo Association issued a statement saying its athlete did not sign a missile himself.

Calls to ban Israeli athletes from the Paris Games have increased since the IDF retaliation in Gaza for an attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7 in which around 1,200 people were killed.

Since October, Israeli forces have killed more than 38,900 Palestinians in Gaza, according to the territory’s Health Ministry.

In February, French lawmakers asked the IOC to sanction Israeli athletes, while a second online petition to the same effect garnered over 640,000 signatures.

Protesters have demonstrated outside the IOC headquarters in Switzerland, and Palestinian officials have also called for the Israeli FA to be banned from FIFA.

It is unlikely that the IOC will ban Israeli athletes from the Games, which get underway next week, the Telegraph reported.