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Warriors get revenge, snap Suns’ 18-game win streak with playoff-level defense, energy and adjustments

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SAN FRANCISCO — Steph Curry’s famed pregame shooting routine took a little longer than usual on Friday night. Midway through a series of corner 3-pointers, his former teammate and current Phoenix Suns assistant coach Jarrett Jack stopped by to exchange pleasantries. A few minutes later, Curry approached the sideline to converse with his former head coach, Mark Jackson, who was part of the ESPN broadcast team. Before he made his way down the court for his concluding tunnel shot, Curry stopped to take a selfie with a young fan.

All this to say, this was not a normal, early December, regular-season game.

Chase Center was nearly at capacity well before the opening whistle of the Golden State Warriors‘ 118-96 win over the Phoenix Suns, which put an end to Phoenix’s 18-game winning streak and exacted revenge for a Golden State loss in their first matchup just three nights prior. With the win, the Warriors improved to a league-best 19-3, moving a half-game ahead of the Suns as both teams continue to break away from the rest of the Western Conference.

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The term “playoff atmosphere” is bandied about willy-nilly all too often in the sports world, so it’s prudent to approach the phrase with caution. But having attended dozens of Warriors playoff games over the last few years at Oracle Arena, I feel confident saying that if this wasn’t quite a postseason environment, it was as close as it gets in the regular season.  

“You don’t want them to come into your building and keep that streak going,” Curry said after the game. “It is nice to protect your home court, and something’s got to give. We’ve had a really good home record and a nice streak going ourselves here in this building. We’d rather keep ours going than let theirs live.”

Friday’s win over the Suns was Golden State’s 11th straight home victory by 13 or more points, which ties the NBA record set by a previous iteration of the Warriors during the 2014-15 season.

Playoff atmosphere doesn’t just come from a raucous crowd — which was prevalent on Friday night — or the execution of the two teams — which was precise. It comes from the buzz of the arena, the extra cameras on the baselines during pregame, the number of reporters walking the sidelines. And once the game starts, there have to be signature, flashbulb moments, like the one Juan Toscano-Anderson delivered over Suns center JaVale McGee toward the end of the first quarter.

“That’s the best dunk I think I’ve ever had in-game. On a 7-footer, in the NBA. The two best teams in the league. Playing for the Warriors,” Toscano-Anderson said after the game. “It’s like the perfect sundae for me. Whip cream and cherry, sprinkles, all that. It’s a hell of a picture, man. I’m gonna hang that in my mom’s house. It’s a dope picture, man.”

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Despite the absence of All-Star guards Devin Booker and Klay Thompson, there was also plenty of star power. Curry went 6 for 11 from 3-point range en route to 23 points, while Chris Paul dazzled with his unique ball-handling and passing acumen, even in a relatively subpar effort. Deandre Ayton, the Suns’ breakout star of their trip to the NBA Finals a few months ago, put up 23 points, six rebounds and two blocks in the loss.

But, just like the playoffs, the game hinged on role players. The old adage is that they play better at home, and that was certainly the case for the Warriors on Friday. In addition to his unforgettable dunk, Toscano-Anderson finished with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. The Bay Area’s most recent fan favorite, Gary Payton II, poured in 19 points on 3-for-5 3-point shooting on top of his suffocating defense. Stretch-five Nemanja Bjelica stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, six rebounds, two blocks and two 3-pointers in 15 minutes.

And then there’s the “A” word that accompanies any playoff series — adjustments. The Warriors made a few schematic changes after Tuesday’s loss, namely putting Andrew Wiggins on Paul for the majority of the game — a move made possible by Booker’s absence. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said that Wiggins set the tone early with his defense, which allowed the Warriors to build an early lead along with the momentum.

“He’s the head of the snake. He’s the one that gets everyone involved and can control the tempo of the game,” Wiggins said of guarding Paul. “Just making it hard for him, and that’s hard to do. That’s CP. I just did my best.”

There was another benefit to Wiggins taking on the responsibility of guarding Paul. It freed up Draymond Green to wreak havoc as a free safety, which resulted in one of his best games in an already stellar defensive season. Green finished with a season-high six steals to go along with three blocks and nine rebounds, while guarding everyone from point guards to centers. As we’ve so often seen, Green’s offense is fueled by his defense, as he put up nine points, including a 3-pointer and a mid-range jumper, in addition to his game-high nine assists.

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Green wasn’t happy with his performance in Tuesday’s loss in the first matchup between the Warriors and the Suns, when he committed as many turnovers (five) as assists. Kerr had a feeling that his leader might come out with a sense of urgency in the rematch on Friday, and he turned in a vintage performance.

“It’s impressive, man. [Green] is what Steph is offensively. It’s just not sexy,” Toscano-Anderson said after the game. “The average viewer doesn’t understand angles and being up to touch on the ball screen, sliding over, being the most important guy — we call it the MIG — defensively, trapping the ball. They don’t see that because it doesn’t show up in the statistics. … It’s a tutorial for me.”

You need only look back a season or two to confirm that Green only brings this level of defensive activity and focus when he thinks it’s warranted. He’s done it for pretty much the entire season, which tells you how far he thinks this team can go, and he’s now done it against the Suns, which tells you how much he respects them as a potential, if not likely, playoff foe.

While Friday’s game didn’t take place in the postseason, there was certainly a little something extra from both sides — let’s call it a warm-up for what’s to come. If nothing else, these last two games between the Warriors and Suns have proven, without a doubt, that they’re the best teams in the league at this point, and that a playoff series between the two would be absolutely captivating.

“We’re trying to catch them. Not vice versa,” Kerr said of the Suns after the game. “We know that they’re the best team in the West until somebody else knocks them off. It’s fun to go against them.”

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Mike Trout injury: Angels star returns from IL, records hit in first start since July 12 vs. Tigers

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The Los Angeles Angels reinstated outfielder Mike Trout from the injured list and slotted him in as their center fielder and No. 2 hitter on Friday against the Detroit Tigers in what served as his first game since July 12. Trout, for his part, delivered a hard-hit single in his second at-bat as part of a 1-for-4 effort with two strikeouts. The Angels won by a 1-0 final all the same (box score) with lefty Patrick Sandoval throwing his first career shutout.

Trout had missed more than a month because of a rare back condition. In a corresponding move, the Angels optioned outfielder Steven Duggar to Triple-A.

Trout, now 31 years old, batted .270/.368/.599 (169 OPS+) with 24 home runs over the course of his first 79 games this season. His contributions earned him election to the All-Star Game (which he did not appear in) and were worth an estimated 3.9 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference’s calculations. 

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Trout was dealing with what the Angels’ trainer described as “costovertebral dysfunction at T5.” It’s a condition that he’s expected to deal with for the rest of his career, though that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be limited in availability or output. 

It should be noted that Trout did not partake in a rehab assignment. Usually, players who miss more than a couple of weeks are sent out to the minors as a means of rebuilding their rhythm through the use of low-pressure in-game repetitions. Clearly, Trout and the Angels did not think that was necessary in this instance.

The Angels began a three-game weekend series in Detroit on Friday night, the first step of a 10-game, three-city road trip. Trout’s next opportunity to play in front of his home crowd won’t be until Monday Aug. 29, when the Angels welcome the New York Yankees to town for a three-game set.

Duggar, for his part, was claimed off waivers from the Texas Rangers earlier this month. In nine games with the Angels, he went 1-for-19 with a triple and 10 more strikeouts than walks. 



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Gausman continues to shine as Blue Jays shut out slumping Yankees

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NEW YORK – Kevin Gausman is having a tremendous season, despite regularly encountering dumb luck. Consider that the Toronto Blue Jays right-hander headed into his outing Friday against the New York Yankees worth 4.4 wins above replacement, as calculated by Fangraphs, third among all big-league pitchers. Yet his ERA of 3.16 more was more than a run above his FIP of 2.08, and then of course there was his batting average on balls in play, or BABIP, of .372, highest by a wide margin among qualified pitchers.

The way the Cleveland Guardians bled him for five runs last weekend in a 7-2 victory, finding holes on pitches that beat them, was a prime example of why the Blue Jays went 11-11 through his first 22 starts.

“It’s weird,” interim manager John Schneider said before the game. “When you put his stuff in a vacuum, he’s like, really, really, really good. So part of it is I think everyone goes through those fluctuations of up and down, lucky, unlucky, whether you’re a hitter or a pitcher. We like his stuff. Obviously, we trust it and I’m sure things will turn in his favour.”

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In start No. 23, they certainly did, Gausman dominating over seven shutout innings in pushing the Blue Jays to a third straight win, 4-0 over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

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Initially, it looked like he could be on for a night of struggle when DJ LeMahieu rocked his first pitch of the game, a get-me-over fastball at 91.2 m.p.h., 404 feet to centre where Whit Merrifield tracked it down on a play that had a 35-per-cent catch probability, and Aaron Judge followed with a walk. But Gausman escaped that inning unscathed, struck out the side in the second and allowed just three hits over the next frames while striking out seven.

The Yankees, already out of sorts for an extended period, flailed away helplessly at his mostly fastball/splitter mix, with eight of their 15 swings at splits resulting in a whiff. Even with his fastball velocity down a tick, sitting at 94.1 instead of his season average of 95, he was in command from the second inning onwards.

The offence, meanwhile, missing George Springer who fouled a ball off his knee during a five-hit effort in Thursday’s 9-2 win, didn’t make it one-sided in the same way but again posed a steady threat from the jump. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., was robbed of a home run in right by a leaping Oswaldo Cabrera on the game’s first pitch and the pressure was on from there.

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Yankees starter Jameson Taillon kept them in check until the third when Merrifield opened the inning with a single, advanced to third on Cavan Biggio’s double and scored on a Gurriel groundout.

An inning later, Alejandro Kirk opened the frame with a base hit before Teoscar Hernandez launched home run No. 18 over the wall in left-centre, having just missed a shot to centre in the second.

The Blue Jays wasted a chance to bury the Yankees in the sixth, when they put men on second and third with none out, but Lou Trivino came in for Taillon and stranded the runners. They did eventually manage to add on in the ninth when they loaded the bases against Aroldis Chapman before Ron Marinaccio surrendered a sacrifice fly to Danny Jansen that made it 4-0.

Jordan Romano then locked things down in the ninth, ensuring a brilliant night from Gausman didn’t go to waste. He’s now thrown at least six shutout innings in three of his last four starts, surrounded by that one bad-luck outing against Cleveland.

It’s a reminder of how great a season he’s having, one even better than his impressive stats suggest.

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Paul Goldschmidt launches a deep solo homer vs. Diamondbacks

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Paul Goldschmidt helped the St. Louis Cardinals grab an early 1-0 lead against the Arizona Diamondbacks, thanks to his solo homer in the first inning.



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