Steve Nash said "it's not going to be pretty for a little while" after the Brooklyn Nets rallied past the Philadelphia 76ers 114-109 for their first win of the season.

The Nets had never led or tied the 76ers until LaMarcus Aldridge's dunk levelled Friday's NBA clash at 108-108 with 48 seconds remaining in Philadelphia.

Brooklyn, who were blown out by reigning champions the Milwaukee Bucks in their season opener, relied on superstars Kevin Durant and James Harden to eventually see off Eastern Conference rivals the 76ers.

Durant had a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, while Harden finished with 20 points for the Nets, who closed out the contest on a 16-1 run.

"It's not going to be pretty for a little while here," said Nets head coach Nash in the continued absence of Kyrie Irving (unvaccinated).

"We just got to continue to fight, play for each other and figure out ways to compete and stay engaged while we figure out rotations and combinations and what we are all about."

 

On Durant and Harden, Nash added: "I think they are excited for their new team-mates. But it takes time to find that rhythm and combinations. And also we lost a big piece [Irving].

"It is not just the new pieces, it's the void that we are used to playing with. It is, it is a lot for us to take on at this moment in time. But hopefully in the weeks coming, we start to clear some of the debris so to speak and figure out how we can best play together."

Nets recruit Patty Mills (three-of-three shooting from beyond the arc) became the first player in NBA history to open a season 10-10 from three.

Durant recorded his 13th career triple-double and the former MVP said of playing without Irving: "We wasn't planning on having to do this, but you know, it's good for us to make adjustments.

"It's good for guys who wasn't expecting to play bigger roles to step into those roles and see who we are. This is the situation we were in, and I think a lot of guys have taken advantage of it.

"For James and myself, it feels like each game may be different and we may have to do different things than we thought coming into the season. But it's all good. It's always gonna help us get better."

Harden added: "We're the best at what we do, we'll figure it out. Me personally, I've been through a lot where I had different team-mates, different line-ups and playing small ball, so I'm used to trying to figure it out and just go with the flow and making it work. We have a really good team and we'll figure it out.

"Kevin is the same way and one of the best to ever touch a basketball. So we just got to go out there and do what we do and things will work out."

Dusty Baker said "there was never a doubt" in the Houston Astros' minds that they would top the Boston Red Sox and reach the World Series.

The Astros will feature in the MLB showpiece for the third time in five years after Friday's 5-0 shutout secured a 4-2 victory in the American League Championship Series (ALCS).

Kyle Tucker's three-run homer settled the contest in the eighth inning as the 2017 World Series champions prepare to face either the Atlanta Braves or Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Pitching, defense and timely hitting," veteran manager Baker said of how the Astros came back to claim the series against the Red Sox.

"And plus, these guys always believed that we were going to win. I mean, there was never a doubt in their minds."

Baker is heading back to the World Series for the first time in 19 years – the only manager to go longer between consecutive World Series appearances was Bucky Harris (1925 with the Senators then 1947 with the Yankees).

Baker will be aged 72 years and 133 days old for Game 1 of the World Series, the second oldest manager to reach the Fall Classic behind only Jack McKeon (73 years and 329 days in 2003).

Yordan Alvarez was crowned ALCS MVP after becoming the fifth Astros player with a four-hit game in a potential postseason clincher after driving in the opening run before scoring to double the lead in the sixth inning of the Game 6 clash.

"It means everything," Alvarez told reporters. "I think there are a lot of things that I could say that's behind the trophy, but all I can say is it just means everything."

Luis Garcia starred on the mound for the Astros, allowing just one hit and striking out seven batters across 5.2 innings.

"I felt great," said Garcia, who exited his Game 2 start with a right knee strain. "The adjustment that I made with my leg, I think was the big thing. That helped me a lot, even to throw harder."

The Phoenix Suns soared to a 115-105 victory as LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers were condemned to back-to-back defeats to start the 2021-22 NBA season.

Chris Paul fuelled the Suns with 23 points and 14 rebounds in Los Angeles, where the Lakers were no match for last season's NBA Finals participants and fell to 0-2.

Paul became the first player in NBA history with 20,000 points and 10,000 assists.

Devin Booker (22 points) and Mikal Bridges (21 points) also impressed for the Suns, while double-doubles from Anthony Davis (22 points and 14 rebounds) and Russell Westbrook (15 points and 11 rebounds) were not enough for the Lakers.

James finished with 25 points in front of the likes of Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Justin Bieber at Staples Center.

The Lakers' woes were compounded by a row between team-mates Davis and Dwight Howard on the bench during the second quarter as the pair had to be separated.

 

 

Durant's Nets spoil 76ers' opener

The Philadelphia 76ers looked in control and on track for victory but they were upstaged 114-109 by Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets. Kevin Durant posted a triple-double of 29 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets used a 16-1 run to stun the 76ers in their first home game of the season in Philadelphia. James Harden had 20 points, while LaMarcus Aldridge added 23 points off the bench on 10-of-12 shooting. Seth Curry made all four of this three-pointers to finish with 23 points, the same amount as 76ers team-mate Tobias Harris.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic showed why he was crowned the league's best player last season, scoring 32 points, collecting 16 rebounds and supplying seven assists in a 102-96 win against the San Antonio Spurs. It was his eighth 30/15/5 game, doubling the rest of the Nuggets franchise history combined.

The Chicago Bulls' new-look team improved to 2-0 thanks to a 128-112 triumph over the New Orleans Pelicans. Lonzo Ball inspired the win behind his triple-double (17 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds), while Zach LaVine (32 points) and DeMar DeRozan (26 points) also came up big.

The Utah Jazz stayed unbeaten courtesy of dominant displays from All-Star duo Donovan Mitchell (27 points) and Rudy Gobert (17 points and 20 assists) in the 110-101 road win at the Sacramento Kings.

Myles turner joined James, Harden, Durant, DeMarcus Cousins, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points, 10 rebounds, five three-pointers and three blocks in a game. The Indiana Pacers still lost 135-134 to the Washington Wizards in overtime.

 

Celtics lose again

The Boston Celtics were booed off the court at half-time and throughout the second half in their 115-83 defeat against the Toronto Raptors. Jaylen Brown was three-for-13 shooting for nine points and five turnovers, while Marcus Smart ended the game scoreless on 0-for-six shooting in 29 minutes as the Celtics fell to 0-2.

Yordan Alvarez was the hero as the Houston Astros topped the Boston Red Sox 5-0 to advance to the MLB World Series.

Alvarez drove in the opening run before scoring to double the lead in the sixth inning to fuel the Astros in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) on Friday.

The Astros sealed the ALCS pennant 4-2 and their first World Series berth since 2019 – third in five years – thanks to Kyler Tucker's three-run homer in the eighth inning.

Houston will face either the Atlanta Braves or defending champions the Los Angeles Dodgers for their second MLB crown and first since 2017.

ALCS MVP Alvarez – the fifth Astros player with a four-hit game in a potential postseason clincher – set the tone in Houston, where he doubled to deep centre, allowing Alex Bregman to score in the first inning.

The tense battle continued before Tucker's grounded into double play at first as Alvarez scored to make it 2-0.

With the Red Sox trying to avoid elimination, the Astros put the result beyond doubt behind Tucker's 357-foot shot in the bottom of the eighth, with Alvarez and Carlos Correa also scoring.

Alvarez (.522) ended the series with the highest batting average in the ALCS, eclipsing Kevin Youkilis (.500 in 2007).

Luis Garcia starred on the mound, allowing just one hit in 5.2 innings while striking out seven batters.

Houston's Dusty Baker is heading back to the World Series for the first time in 19 years – the only manager to go longer between consecutive World Series appearances was Bucky Harris (1925 with the Senators then 1947 with the Yankees).

Baker will be aged 72 years and 133 days old for Game 1 of the World Series, the second oldest manager to reach the Fall Classic behind only Jack McKeon (73 years and 329 days in 2003).

 

Dodgers at Braves

The Braves can secure a date with the Astros when they host the Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS) on Saturday. Atlanta lead 3-2.

Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid made an impassioned plea for fans to support team-mate Ben Simmons amid his continued absence.

Simmons is yet to feature for the 76ers this NBA season, sitting out Friday's clash with Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets, having been suspended for Wednesday's opener against the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team".

The three-time All-Star has sought a trade away from the 76ers following last season's shock playoff exit to the Atlanta Hawks, while he was reportedly ejected from Tuesday's practice as head coach Doc Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

After a meeting between Simmons, Embiid and the rest of the team, last season's MVP runner-up threw his support behind the former number one pick prior to tip-off against the Nets in Philadelphia.

"I urge you guys to continue to support us and our team-mate Ben, because he's still our brother," Embiid said as he grabbed the microphone on court.

Following the meeting, ESPN reported Simmons notified the 76ers he was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

"I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change," Rivers told reporters pre-game.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

 

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doc Rivers said while disgruntled All-Star Ben Simmons remains away from the team, he took positives from Friday's meeting.

Simmons – who has demanded a trade – was suspended for Wednesday's NBA season-opening win over the New Orleans Pelicans due to "conduct detrimental to the team" following reports he was ejected from practice after Rivers grew frustrated with his lack of engagement.

The Australian has also been ruled out of Friday's showdown with star-studded Eastern Conference rivals the Brooklyn Nets at Wells Fargo Center.

Reports of a meeting between Simmons, Rivers and his team-mates emerged on Friday, with ESPN claiming the former number one pick was not mentally ready to play and needed time to step away.

Speaking afterwards and prior to tip-off against the Nets, Rivers told reporters: "I felt good up and down throughout and I kept saying that, things do change.

"That still doesn't mean it's gonna work out perfect or it could, but I always believed that. I've never wavered from that. I've said that 100 times and I still stick with it."

Rivers added: "It was a productive day, but it's a start. That's the only way you can get going, you gotta start, and today was a start."

Simmons – an elite defender who signed a five-year, $177.2million contract extension in 2019 – and his shooting problems were laid bare during the 2021 postseason with the top-seeded 76ers, who were eliminated in the semi-finals.

The 25-year-old had no fourth-quarter field-goal attempts in his last four games of the playoffs against the Hawks last season. He is the only NBA player in the last 20 seasons to have four consecutive postseason games with no field-goal attempts in the fourth quarter during a season in which he was an All-Star, according to Stats Perform.

 

Simmons averaged just 10.1 field-goal attempts in 2020-21 – a career low, which dropped to 7.9 in the playoffs. It was the same story with his scoring as it dropped to a career-worst 14.3 points per game and 11.9 in the postseason – both career lows.

Then there is Simmons and free throws. He was exposed by rival teams as they regularly sent him to the line, with the Melbourne-born guard making just 25 of 73 shots in the 2020-21 playoffs. His 34.2 free-throw percentage is the lowest ever in a single postseason.

"He is part of the team," he continued. "We have certain rules, obviously, the other day, that didn't happen, but today was a good day.

"Most people, we look at problems instead of the possibilities and I think if we focus on the possibilities, just in life in general, you have a pretty good chance of going to a good place. If you focus on the problems, you're probably gonna continue to have problems."

Including the playoffs, Philadelphia are 9-2 in their last 11 games against the Nets. Additionally, the 76ers have six straight home wins in the series, starting with Game 2 of the first round of the 2019 postseason.

Four Philadelphia players scored 20-plus points against New Orleans, with Joel Embiid and Furkan Korkmaz each having 22 and Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey finishing with 20. The 76ers had zero games last season with four 20-plus point scorers, according to Stats Perform.

Max Verstappen fumed at "stupid idiot" Lewis Hamilton and aimed a middle-finger salute at his title rival in a heated United States Grand Prix session.

The fight for the Formula One title intensified when the pair came close to making contact during FP2 at the Circuit of The Americas on Friday.

Championship leader Verstappen snapped over the team radio after going wheel-to-wheel with Hamilton, saying: "Ha! Stupid idiot!" and making his feelings clear with a gesture to the Mercedes driver.

A Red Bull engineer told Verstappen to "ignore it" as the Dutchman endured a frustrating day, having been caught in traffic at the start of the mid-session short runs.

He could only finish down in eighth in the second session as Sergio Perez set the pace, with Hamilton third behind Lando Norris.

Valtteri Bottas topped the timesheets in the first session, but will take a five-place grid penalty in Austin after having a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff says there is a risk that Hamilton, who trails Verstappen by only six points, could take another grid penalty this season

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver George Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Sebastian Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Jenson Brooksby enhanced his growing reputation and set up showdown with Diego Schwartzman in the European Open semi-finals.

The 20-year-old American, who took a set off Novak Djokovic and rattled the world number one at the US Open, is shaping up as potentially his country's biggest hope for the future in the men's game.

Californian Brooksby crushed Spain's world number 44 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 7-5 6-0, and second seed Schwartzman awaits after the Argentinian took down another 20-year-old American, Brandon Nakashima, scoring a 6-4 6-2 quarter-final win.

Schwartzman is the man who ended Andy Murray's hopes at the tournament in Antwerp.

Brooksby, who had to win two qualifying matches to reach the main draw, said: "Tomorrow will be a great match. I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get some rest tonight and get ready to battle again tomorrow."

The other semi-final will see Italian top seed Jannik Sinner take on South African seventh seed Lloyd Harris following their respective straight-sets wins over Arthur Rinderknech and Marton Fucsovics.


There will be an all-Russian semi-final at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, after Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov won through to the final four.

Second seed Karatsev sank the hopes of Frenchman Gilles Simon, breaking serve five times on the way to a 6-4 6-3 win, while third-seeded Khachanov edged out Australian John Millman. A 7-5 7-6 (7-4) grind featured 19 aces by Khachanov, the 2018 Kremlin Cup champion, who saved four set points in the second set.

Marin Cilic thrashed Pedro Martinez 6-1 6-2 to set up a tussle with Ricardas Berankis, the Lithuanian ending Adrian Mannarino's run with a 6-2 7-6 (7-1) success. Frenchman Mannarino had stunned Russian top seed Andrey Rublev in the previous round.

Valtteri Bottas, George Russell and Sebastian Vettel have taken grid penalties for the United States Grand Prix this weekend.

Bottas won in Turkey last time out, but a repeat would appear unlikely at the Circuit of The Americas on Sunday after the Mercedes driver had a sixth engine of the season – with three being the limit – fitted and a sixth exhaust.

The Finn, who sits third in the driver standings and was fastest in the first practice session on Friday, will take a five-place penalty for the race in Austin.

Silver Arrows team principal Toto Wolff said: "I think you see that we are suffering with reliability this year, we're going onto the sixth engine for Valtteri, and it is not something we choose to do, but on the contrary; we are trying to really get on top of the problems, and we haven't understood fully [what they are]."

Wolff says there is a risk that Lewis Hamilton could take another grid penalty this season as he battles for the title with Max Verstappen.

He added: "I can't say whether we will be taking one and what the percentage is, but obviously the risk is still there.

"What is difficult to evaluate is do you want to pre-empt the situation and take another penalty and take the hit or do you want to really run it and possibly risk a DNF, and that is a discussion that is happening as we speak, and we haven’t come to the right answers yet."

Williams driver Russell, Bottas' replacement at Mercedes for 2022, and Aston Martin's Vettel will start on the back row after they had multiple new engine parts fitted.

Hamilton was 0.045 seconds slower than his team-mate Bottas in FP1, with his championship rival Verstappen third-quickest – almost a second slower than Bottas.

The Indianapolis Colts appeared destined for a lost season back in Week 3.

Indianapolis started the year with three successive defeats and the Colts' gamble on their ability to revive Carson Wentz's career looking misjudged.

Since then, the Colts have enjoyed wins over the Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans, sandwiched by a heartbreaking defeat to the Baltimore Ravens in which they let slip a 19-point lead and lost in overtime.

The performances in those last three games have led to renewed optimism around a team that has reached the playoffs in two of the last three seasons.

Should Indianapolis knock off the San Francisco 49ers on the road in primetime, then the hype around the Colts will only grow.

Yet the 49ers figure to prove a difficult matchup for a quarterback whose performances in recent weeks have perhaps been slightly overrated.

Sub-par accuracy

Ninth in the league in yards per attempt (8.01) and with nine touchdowns to one interception, the numbers through six games for Wentz are impressive.

Yet his completion percentage is 64.2, 21st among 32 qualifying quarterbacks and that is reflected by his accuracy numbers.

Wentz, per Stats Perform data, has produced an accurate, well-thrown ball on 77.7 per cent of his passes, below the league average of 78.8 for quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts.

And he is set to face a Niners defense that has once again been among the league's best this season.

An intimidating defensive line

While the 49ers are themselves an underwhelming 2-3 and riding a three-game losing streak, their defense is excelling under new coordinator DeMeco Ryans.

The 49ers rank sixth in the NFL by yards per game allowed (329.8) and eighth in yards per play (5.29) and, while they are 30th in the NFL with only 76 pressures, they boast defensive linemen who can get Wentz out of rhythm.

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford have each dominated in 2021 when it comes to winning their individual matchups.

Armstead has a stunt-adjusted win percentage of 52.63 from his 49 pass rush matchups this year. Ford is next on 45 per cent while Bosa has an adjusted win percentage of 41.54 from 60 matchups. The league average for defensive linemen is 22 per cent.

They will each look to prosper against a Colts offense that has allowed the ninth-most pressures in the NFL (105) while the numbers suggest the Niners should excel at limiting the explosive plays on which Wentz has found joy in recent weeks.

Big plays not a guarantee

On passing attempts of 21 or more air yards, Wentz has the highest passer rating in the NFL (144.7).

He has completed 11 of 18 such attempts for 377 yards and three touchdowns and showed off his deep-ball prowess during last week's rout of the Texans.

Wentz hooked up with Parris Campbell for a 51-yard touchdown and connected with T.Y. Hilton for a 52-yard reception; however, such plays are partially a reflection of the struggles of a Texans defense allowing 7.6 yards per pass play.

The 49ers, despite a spate of injuries to their cornerbacks, have allowed 43 pass plays of 10 yards or more, the fewest in the NFL. San Francisco's defense has conceded 16 pass plays of 20 yards or more, the seventh-fewest in the league.

Wentz, therefore, may be forced into a more conservative approach in a game expected to take place in inclement weather. Helpfully, he may be able to lean more on the running game, with San Francisco 16th in yards per rush allowed (4.26) and running back Jonathan Taylor fifth in the NFL in yards per carry (5.43) for players at his position as he enjoys a superb start to his second season.

Indianapolis' signal-caller can also afford to at least have confidence in his ability to avoid turnovers. His pickable pass percentage of 1.68 is the fourth best among quarterbacks with a minimum of 10 attempts and the 49ers have a league-low two takeaways to their name.

A closer look at the evidence from his reunion with Colts coach Frank Reich indicates Wentz might find success difficult on Sunday should the Colts need to win the game on his arm. If he contradicts the statistics and thrives against a tough defense on the road, then the optimism around Indianapolis will be more justified.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without Antonio Brown, Rob Gronkowski and Lavonte David when they face the Chicago Bears this Sunday.

Defending champions Tampa Bay look bound for another deep playoff run, the Bucs having started the year 5-1.

However, they will have to cope without a clutch of stars against the 3-3 Bears, with tight end Gronkowski (ribs) set to miss a fourth successive game.

Brown, who leads the Bucs with four receiving touchdowns, has an ankle injury, as does linebacker David, a second-team All-Pro last year.

Cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring) is out, but the Buccaneers will receive a boost with secondary Antoine Winfield Jr. available having passed through the NFL's concussion protocol.

The Bucs have started 5-1 for the fifth time in franchise history, having made the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979).

Tampa Bay will look to go 6-1 for the first time, but head coach Bruce Arians is not underestimating the Bears and rookie quarterback Justin Fields.

"Real good week of practice, and obviously this is a team that I think is on the rise," Arians said. "It's going to take our best to make sure we beat them."

Tua Tagovailoa has received public backing from Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores as rumours over a trade for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson intensify.

A report this week in the Houston Chronicle suggested the Dolphins were on the brink of completing a trade for Watson with the Texans.

Watson is rated among the elite QBs in the NFL after a fantastic 2020 season but has not been active for any games this season.

The 26-year-old requested a trade from the Texans in January and is facing 22 civil lawsuits that remain unresolved as the NFL conducts its own investigation into sexual assault and misconduct allegations against him.

Tagovailoa, meanwhile, has had a difficult second season, missing three games with fractured ribs while the Dolphins, who had playoff ambitions, collapsed to a dreadful 1-5 start.

The former Alabama standout returned to action in London last week but could not prevent the Dolphins going down to defeat against the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Their hopes of a successful season therefore look bleak ahead of Sunday's must-win home game with the 2-3 Atlanta Falcons.

A change at the QB position has been mooted, but when he was asked about the Watson reports on Friday, Flores replied: "I don't really get into rumours - Tua is our quarterback.

"We're happy with the quarterback, our quarterback situation. I'll leave it at that, which I've said multiple times."

Tagovailoa threw for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception against the Jaguars after completing 33 of his 47 pass attempts.

"I thought he played very well last week," added Flores. "His preparation, the way he practices and the way he performs has been good.  

"I think his psyche is in a good place. He's a confident kid, he's a tough kid. He's played in two games this year so he should have a lot of confidence in the way he's played. 

"We have a lot of confidence in him. He's developing, I think this kid is smart, he's talented, he's accurate, I think he definitely has the opportunity to be a very good NFL player. 

"There's always bumps in the road for anyone in any career, any profession. You have to work through those and you become better for it."

Tagovailoa started nine games in his rookie season, winning six of them as he threw 11 touchdowns to five picks with some steady but unspectacular performances.

In 2020 he was battling for snaps with Ryan Fitzpatrick, but a clear path to the starting job emerged when the veteran moved on to Washington and Miami opted not to pick a QB in the draft.

Maria Sakkari admitted she got twitchy before finishing off Simona Halep to reach the Kremlin Cup semi-finals.

The Greek star is chasing what would be just her second career title at WTA level, but the limited silverware belies her growing reputation: Sakkari has shot up to a career-high seventh in the world rankings during her best season on tour.

Looking to finish with a flourish, both in Moscow and next month at the season-ending WTA Finals, Sakkari scored a 6-4 6-4 victory over former world number one Halep on Friday.

The victory sets up a last-four clash with Ekaterina Alexandrova, after the Russian impressed a home crowd by landing a 6-3 6-4 win against top seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Yet Sakkari was almost reeled in by Halep from the point of victory in the second set, being unable to finish off the match on her own serve after building a 5-1 lead. Halep twice broke back, before dropping her own serve.

"It was a very tough match today," Sakkari said in an on-court interview. "It was the first time I'd played Simona, but I knew what to expect: she makes a lot of balls, more than any other player. I had a tough moment in the second set when I was 5-1 up, but finally, I found a way. I got a little nervous, a little bit tired.

"The last couple of months have been tough, I've been travelling a lot so haven't recovered enough. I just tried harder in the last game and just went for it."

Alexandrova's shock win over Sabalenka gave her a sixth career victory over a top-10 player. Second seed Garbine Muguruza followed Sabalenka out of the tournament, walloped 6-1 6-1 by in-form Estonian Anett Kontaveit, who has won 19 of her last 21 matches on tour, including beating Sakkari in the Ostrava final last month.

Kontaveit's semi-final opponent at the WTA 500 event will be Marketa Vondrousova, who claimed a 6-4 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

At the Tenerife Open, Italian Camila Giorgi is the only seeded survivor in the semi-finals. The Italian fourth seed saw off Arantxa Rus 6-1 6-1, with Frenchwoman Alize Cornet and American Ann Li also among Friday's winners at the WTA 250 tournament.

Kyle Shanahan needs to get the San Francisco 49ers winning again if their playoff potential is to be fulfilled, and this Sunday looks like a major opportunity.

To snap a three-game losing streak, the Niners (2-3) must get the better of an Indianapolis Colts side who, much like San Francisco themselves, have made an inconsistent start to the season.

By contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are riding a three-game run of wins and have started 5-1 for just the fifth time in the history of the franchise, heading into a tussle with the Chicago Bears (3-3). Tom Brady has been a driving force so far as the Super Bowl winners carry on where they left off last season.

Patrick Mahomes has been hit and miss for the slow-starting Kansas City Chiefs, who will hope the NFL's highest-paid player can cut out throwing interceptions as they face the Tennessee Titans.


Indianapolis Colts @ San Francisco 49ers

If coach Shanahan's 49ers are to turn around their season, then facing a Colts side who have begun 2-4 seems like a pretty good place to start. Yet the Colts have dominated this series of late, winning on their last four meetings, albeit most recently in 2017 when they snatched a 26-23 overtime success. It would not be stepping out of line to predict this could be tight, given the 49ers have played nine consecutive games that have been decided by eight or fewer points, going back to last season.

That is the longest active streak of such close games in the NFL and the longest streak in team history, and the Niners do not have the best recent return when games go close, posting a 3-6 record in this sequence.

San Francisco fell 17-10 to the Cardinals in their most recent game, two weeks ago, while the Colts hot-footed their way to a 31-3 trouncing of Houston last Sunday. That came despite Indianapolis earning just 15 first downs for the entire game. It was the first time the Colts had won by 28 or more points while only having 15 or fewer first downs since 1972 against New England.

In his 21st career game, Colts running back Jonathan Taylor rushed for 145 yards and two touchdowns, meaning he surpassed 1,500 rushing yards, 500 receiving yards and chalked up his 15th rushing touchdown in the NFL. Only four running backs in NFL history have hit all three of those milestones in fewer games than Taylor, with two of those doing so with the Colts – Edgerrin James and Marshall Faulk.

San Francisco will hope to be recharged after a bye week. Deebo Samuel scored the fourth rushing touchdown of his career against the Cardinals, with Jerry Rice (10) the only wide receiver with more rushing touchdowns in 49ers history.

Chicago Bears @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

After a dispiriting loss to the Green Bay Packers last time out, the Chicago Bears encounter a Tampa Bay team in sparkling recent form. Tampa Bay have started the season 5-1, doing so for the fifth time in franchise history, and on each of the previous occasions (2005, 2002, 1997 and 1979) they backed it up by reaching the playoffs. History could be made on Sunday, given the Buccaneers have never started a season with six wins through their first seven games.

Yet this is a game in which the Bears have traditionally, and recently, had the upper hand. Chicago have stacked up 40 wins in 60 all-time meetings against Tampa Bay, which is the most wins by any team against the Bucs. The Bears have also won the last two in the series, scoring victories in 2018 and 2020.

Tampa Bay can seemingly do no wrong when Brady is pulling the strings so masterfully. Brady leads the NFL with 2,064 passing yards, the second-highest total he has ever had through six games of a season – beaten only by his 2,163 passing yards at this stage in 2011. Prior to this year, no Tampa Bay quarterback had ever thrown for more than 1,800 yards through six games.

What have the Bears got to offer? Chicago are averaging 246.2 net yards per game, which is more than 20 yards per game less than any other team. The 1,477 yards is the fewest Chicago has had through six games since the 1993 season. Rookie quarterback Justin Fields needs to make something happen, but others must step up too. In his first career start, Khalil Herbert ran for 97 yards and a touchdown against Green Bay last time out.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tennessee Titans

"He's trying to make things happen," said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, explaining away the two interceptions thrown by Patrick Mahomes in Week 6 against Washington. For Mahomes, that was a second straight game with at least two interceptions. He is tied with Jacksonville's Trevor Lawrence in second position on the list of the most interceptions thrown this season, with his tally of eight so far only topped by Zach Wilson of the Jets.

This is only the second run that Mahomes has endured of throwing two or more interceptions in consecutive games, the previous dating back to Week 5 and 6 of the 2018 season, and Reid will hope his radar is better set for the clash with the Titans. Mahomes is still doing an awful lot right in 2021, but the fact remains he threw just six interceptions last season.

The Chiefs' unsteady 3-3 opening is their worst of the Mahomes era, and it was 2015 when they got off to a slower start. On that occasion they followed a 1-5 opening with 10 consecutive wins, a single-season record for Kansas City that was matched last season.

Tennessee's bright start has featured some notable performances. The Titans ran for 146 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in the 34-31 win over Buffalo on Monday night, taking them to 985 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns for the season. It is the first time in franchise history that the Bills have 10 or more rushing touchdowns and at least 975 rushing yards through six games.

Running back Derrick Henry has 10 rushing touchdowns so far, beating his career best of seven through six weeks in 2020. It puts him tied for the fourth most rushing touchdowns of all time through six weeks (Jim Brown 14, Shaun Alexander 12, Emmitt Smith 11).

Elsewhere...

The Detroit Lions face a tall order on the road against the Los Angeles Rams (5-1). Detroit are 0-6 for the first time since their 0-16 season in 2008 and have not scored more than 17 points in any of their last five games. Former Rams quarterback Jared Goff, now with Detroit, has thrown zero touchdown passes and an interception in each of his last two games.

The 5-1 Baltimore Ravens have recent history on their side ahead of a clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, having won five successive games in their head-to-head series, including the last three by a brutal average of 31.7 points.

Heading into a home game against the Houston Texans (1-5), the Arizona Cardinals are on a 6-0 roll. This has only happened twice before in franchise history, but never before in Arizona. The St Louis Cardinals in 1974 and Chicago Cardinals in 1922 are the teams who both started their seasons 6-0 as well.

Philadelphia QB Jalen Hurts could match an NFL record as the Eagles (2-4) tackle the Las Vegas Raiders. Hurts has rushed for two touchdowns in each of his last two games. Billy Kilmer, for San Francisco in 1961, is the only quarterback to achieve the feat in three straight games.

The Green Bay Packers last lost at home to Washington in 1988, winning five in a row since with home-field advantage, and they put a 5-1 season record to the test when the teams meet again. Washington (2-4) are yielding an NFL-worst 31.0 points per game in 2021, matching the team's worst mark through six games of a season in the Super Bowl era (1998).

Backup quarterback Case Keenum won the praise of Cleveland Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski after he led the team to a narrow and crucial victory over the Denver Broncos.

Cleveland emerged from Thursday Night Football with a 17-14 home win despite playing without injured starting QB Baker Mayfield.

Star running back duo Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt were also ruled out, putting the Browns under huge pressure as they looked to rebound from consecutive losses to the Los Angeles Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.

Defeat could have left the Browns – who are targeting a postseason run in 2021 – floundering, but instead they improved to 4-3, as Keenum played a clean game with 199 yards, one touchdown and no turnovers and ran for a key redzone fourth-down conversion in the second half.

"Case fought like he always does," Stefanski said after Keenum claimed his first NFL win since 2019.

"I thought he orchestrated the operation. He took care of the football and that was a huge play in the end zone there on fourth down. 

"Just to make a play, fighting for extra yardage. He did a great job fighting."

D'Ernest Johnson stepped in for Chubb and Hunt to record 146 rushing yards and his first career touchdown, while the Browns' defense was impressive with Myles Garrett getting 1.5 sacks and John Johnson intercepting Teddy Bridgewater.

"Unfortunately, some people are going to get hurt," said Keenum. "At the same time, you love other young guys getting chances.

"I felt calm and poised. It was a great first drive there. Kevin put together a great first 15 and the offensive line did a great job.

"Defense played really, really well. To hold those guys to what they did in some pretty clutch moments was big.

"It feels pretty good, it was a lot of fun. We have a great group of guys and they fought their tails off."

Mayfield has a shoulder fracture and a torn labrum but still hopes to be back for the Halloween clash against AFC North rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8.

For the Broncos (3-4), pass-rusher Von Miller will undergo an MRI scan on Friday due to an ankle injury he suffered after colliding with a team-mate in the second quarter.

But head coach Vic Fangio believes Miller has just suffered a sprain while the player himself said he thinks he has "dodged a bullet".

"My pride is hurt more than anything," said the former Super Bowl MVP.

Mike Budenholzer accepted the Milwaukee Bucks "got our butts kicked" by the Miami Heat but insisted the NBA champions are just getting started.

Even accounting for the absence of Jrue Holiday (right heel), Brook Lopez (back) and Bobby Portis (left hamstring), the Bucks were wildly out of sorts in a 137-95 rout, which marked the Heat's season opener.

A 19-0 stretch early in the first had Miami 22-3 ahead. By the end of the first quarter, it was 40-17 and by half-time Milwaukee trailed 72-43.

Bucks coach Budenholzer made no excuses when addressing reporters after the game.

"We'll get some of the guys back and every team is going to deal with this at different points, most likely," he said. 

"It's a long journey and we're just getting started.

"We got our butts kicked. That happens in the NBA."

Tyler Herro had 27 points from the bench, which matched a record for any Heat player as a reserve playing 25 minutes or less.

The Heat's 137 points was a franchise benchmark for opening night, which was previously 128 against the Detroit Pistons in 1999, while it was their biggest margin of victory for a first game of a season, falling just short of the overall record of 43 points set against the Los Angeles Clippers in 1994.

It meant a measure of revenge given the Bucks routed the Heat 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs last season.

"Last year, we felt like we got embarrassed," Herro said.

"I mean, 137's a lot. Hopefully, we can see that a lot this season."

Andy Murray fumed at his own mentality and "poor" attitude after falling to a straight-sets defeat to Diego Schwartzman at the European Open.

Two days on from beating Frances Tiafoe in a three-set epic, Murray fell to a 6-4 7-6 (8-6) loss to the second-seeded Argentine in Antwerp.

The three-time grand slam winner, who in January 2019 underwent hip resurfacing surgery, was 4-1 up in the first set but was reeled back in and lost out in a hard-fought contest.

Following the defeat, a frustrated Murray said: "I didn't make as many good decisions as I would have liked in the second set dealing with adversity.

"Mentally I was poor, and my attitude was poor on the court."

Murray is still slated to play in Austria and Stockholm before the season is out, while he could also enter the Paris Masters either via a wildcard entry or going through the qualifiers.

"There'll be a decision on the final Paris wildcard on Monday, but I might even play the qualis there," Murray added. 

"Sport is a results business. Play well or poorly doesn't really matter if you lose matches. You need to be winning. 

"That's what I want in the last few tournaments. They are really strong tournaments and there are no guarantees the results will come, but I want to win more matches."

Hideki Matsuyama has hit the front at the halfway mark of the Zozo Championship on home soil, holding a one-shot lead from Cameron Tringale.

The 2021 Masters champion, who had been second following the opening day, carded a two-under-par 68 on the second round to claim the lead at eight under after 36 holes.

Opening-round leader Hiroshi Iwata struggled with a three-over-par 73 to slip four shots off the pace.

Matsuyama had three birdies and one bogey for his round in cold and rainy conditions in Chiba.

Tringale moved up the leaderboard with a four-under 66 that included five birdies, finishing by sinking a long putt to be within one shot of Matsuyama.

Englishman Matt Wallace birdied his final three holes to be two shots behind the Japanese leader and level with Brendan Steele at six under after 36 holes.

Tommy Fleetwood is five under, with Sebastian Munoz equaling Tringale's round to be four under after two days alongside a group of five other players including Iwata.

Open champion Collin Morikawa is seven strokes behind after a two-under 68, while Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele struggled with a round of 74 to be 12 shots back.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts labelled Chris Taylor "remarkable" and in an "elite class" after his three home-run display in their National League Championship Series (NLCS) Game 5 win over the Atlanta Braves.

Taylor joined Enrique Hernandez as the only Dodgers player ever to have a three-homer postseason game as they won 11-2 over the Braves to avoid elimination.

The victory sees the World Series champions pull the NLCS back to 3-2 but Taylor's hitting was all the talk as he became only the fifth player with a three-or-more homer and four-or-more hit postseason game.

"He's in an elite class of very few. When you're talking about Gil Hodges and Duke Snider who didn’t do it, it's pretty remarkable," Roberts said during a news conference after the win.

"He's one of the best I've seen at just being in the moment. When his career is over, he can look back and appreciate that.

"For me being a Chris Taylor fan and seeing he's a part of history now, it's pretty remarkable. He just does things the right way."

Taylor received a curtain call from the fans at Dodgers Stadium, as they turned around an early 2-0 deficit, piling on 11 unanswered runs.

A.J. Pollock also hit two home runs but was overshadowed by Taylor who finished the game with four hits from five at-bats and six RBIs.

"That was my first one [curtain call]," Taylor said. "Anytime you do something cool, when you do it at Dodgers Stadium it makes it that much sweeter.

"This is a special place. These fans are awesome. For that to happen for the first time on this stage in front of this crowd was a special moment.

"Mechanically I'm in a good place. Once you get a couple of hits and the confidence is there, that's when everything comes together."

The Dodgers become the third team in postseason history to have two players with a multi-home run game in the same postseason encounter. They also set a new franchise record for hits in a postseason game with 17, tying their postseason home-run record of five.

In bad news for the Dodgers, Roberts revealed starting pitcher Joe Kelly would likely not return this season after sustaining a biceps injury in the first inning.

"It's a bicep strain and we're going to continue to evaluate but the way it reads right now, that'll be it for the rest of the season for him," Roberts said.

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