There is no margin for error in the top-heavy National League (NL) West, and the Los Angeles Dodgers kept the pace Monday with an impressive 9-4 win over the St Louis Cardinals. 

Trevor Bauer surrendered three home runs in a game for the first time since July 13, 2019, but the defending World Series champions got enough timely hitting to prevail. 

Chris Taylor led the way with three hits for Los Angeles, including the second of back-to-back home runs along with Gavin Lux to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the second inning. 

But the real highlight for Taylor came in the sixth, when he capped a remarkable 14-pitch at-bat against Genesis Cabrera with a three-run double that gave Los Angeles a 6-3 lead. 

The Dodgers gained a game on the San Diego Padres with the win and sit two back of the rival San Francisco Giants for the division lead. 

 

Rays finish May on fire

The Tampa Bay Rays may be sad to see May come to an end, as their 3-1 victory against the New York Yankees gave them a 35-20 record to finish the month after a 13-14 start to the season. According to Stats Perform, they are the first MLB team to be under .500 at the beginning of a month and at least 15 games over at the end since the Boston Braves did it in August of 1933.

Making his first start for the Chicago Cubs, Kohl Stewart shut down the powerful Padres line-up for five innings, allowing three hits and one unearned run, as the Cubs rolled to a 7-2 win that moved them past the Cardinals and into first place in the division. 

The Houston Astros closed in on the Oakland Athletics in the American League (AL) West with an 11-2 pounding of the Boston Red Sox, the hitters backing a strong outing by Jose Uquidy. 

 

Orioles come up empty again

The Baltimore Orioles took the Minnesota Twins to extra innings but fell once again, 3-2 in the 10th, for their 14th defeat in succession. On the plus side, the Orioles have a long way to go before matching their club-record losing streak of 21 in a row to open the 1988 season. 

While the Arizona Diamondbacks managed to break their lengthy losing streak Sunday, a 6-2 defeat to the New York Mets on Monday gave them a 5-24 record in May as the month came to a close.

 

Two-way heroics for deGrom

Jacob deGrom was his usual dominant self on the mound against the woeful Diamondbacks, allowing two hits and striking out eight in six scoreless innings to lower his ERA to 0.71, but the Mets star also demonstrated his abilities at the plate with a run-scoring single. According to Stats Perform, deGrom is the only pitcher since ERA became an official stat in 1913 to have a sub-1.00 ERA and a batting average of at least .450 over any span of eight starts with a minimum of 10 plate appearances. 

 

Monday's results

Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 New York Yankees
Minnesota Twins 3-2 Baltimore Orioles
Cincinnati Reds 11-1 Philadelphia Phillies
Milwaukee Brewers 3-2 Detroit Tigers
Chicago Cubs 7-2 San Diego Padres
Chicago White Sox 8-6 Cleveland Indians
Cleveland Indians 3-1 Chicago White Sox
San Francisco Giants 6-1 Los Angeles Angels
Houston Astros 11-2 Boston Red Sox
Seattle Mariners 6-5 Oakland Athletics
Atlanta Braves 5-3 Washington Nationals
Kansas City Royals 7-3 Pittsburgh Pirates
Los Angeles Dodgers 9-4 St Louis Cardinals
New York Mets 6-2 Arizona Diamondbacks

 

Rays at Yankees

Domingo German will get the ball for the New York Yankees (29-25) as they attempt to end a four-game losing streak against Tyler Glasnow and the seemingly unstoppable Tampa Bay Rays (35-20), who have won 16 of their last 17 games.

The Washington Wizards took advantage of Joel Embiid's early departure, beating the Philadelphia 76ers 122-114 to avert a sweep in their NBA playoff series. 

The top-seeded 76ers started strong Monday but faltered when Embiid injured his knee late in the first quarter of Game 4 and saw the Wizards come alive. 

While Bradley Beal led Washington with 27 points and Russell Westbrook recorded another triple-double, it was Rui Hachimura playing a key role at the end to seal victory for the home side. 

The Japan native, playing in his first playoff series, had a dunk and a three-pointer in a 30-second span to give the Wizards a 118-112 lead in the final minute. 

Hachimura finished with 20 points on eight-of-12 shooting from the field and added 13 rebounds. 

Westbrook, meanwhile, had 21 rebounds and 14 assists to go with his 19 points despite making only three of 19 shots from the field. 

Westbrook's triple-double was the 12th of his career in the playoffs, breaking a tie with Jason Kidd and putting the Wizards star third on the all-time list behind Magic Johnson (30) and LeBron James (28).

Game 5 of the series is Wednesday in Philadelphia. 

 

Mitchell, Jazz take 3-1 lead

Donovan Mitchell had 30 points and eight assists to lead the top-seeded Utah Jazz to the brink of the conference semi-finals with a 120-113 win away to the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Jazz survived another spirited effort by the eighth seeds to take a 3-1 series lead and can advance with a win in Game 5 on Wednesday. 

Ja Morant scored 23 and had 12 assists but made just one of seven three-pointers for Memphis, who were 10 of 35 from distance as a team. 

 

Simmons' free-throw struggles continue

Ben Simmons made his first free throws of this year's playoffs in Monday's loss, but the 76ers guard is now just five-for-20 from the line in the series. 

 

Gafford's emphatic follow

Daniel Gafford was four-of-four from the field in the Wizards' win, thanks in part to high-percentage shots like this.

 

Monday's results

Washington Wizards 122-114 Philadelphia 76ers
Utah Jazz 120-113 Memphis Grizzlies

 

Celtics at Nets

Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics need to win to stay alive as their series against the Nets shifts back to Brooklyn. 

One down, plenty more to go. While the opening round of the NBA playoffs has already produced plenty of drama, the Miami Heat's hopes of a repeat run have been extinguished.

The 2020 finalists fell at the first hurdle this time around, swept aside by a Milwaukee Bucks team now waiting to find out who they will face next. As for the defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are finding the going tough against the Phoenix Suns, that series one of three in the Western Conference delicately balanced at 2-2 through four games.

In the East, the picture looks somewhat clearer. Still, as the Denver Nuggets demonstrated last year in the NBA's Florida bubble, no 3-1 series lead is safe in the playoffs.

As the contests keep coming thick and fast, Stats Perform takes a brief pause to review those stepping up in the the playoffs, as well as the players who could do with finding some form again.


RUNNING HOT

Ja Morant

Having helped the Memphis Grizzlies come through the play-in tournament, Morant has continued to dazzle in the series against the Utah Jazz. After 26 points in the opener, the second-year point guard has dropped 47 and 28 in the next two meetings, albeit on neither occasion were his efforts enough to secure his team a victory.

Still, he is averaging 33.7 points per game against Utah, a huge upturn from 19.1 in the regular season. So, just how good has he been? Well, in reaching a century of points through his first three playoff games in the NBA, Morant matched a feat previously only achieved by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and George Mikan.

Derrick Rose

Rose has claimed the starting point guard spot from Elfrid Payton for the New York Knicks as they go up against the Atlanta Hawks, a series the latter now leads 3-1 after a 113-96 triumph on Saturday.

Elevated off the bench, Rose has managed a combined total of 48 points in back-to-back losses on the road, during which he landed five of his nine attempts from deep. Payton, meanwhile, has scored one point in just 13 minutes of court time during the playoffs and did not get off the bench at all the past two games after averaging 10.1 points per game in the regular season.

Kawhi Leonard

"This is playoff basketball, we've just got to figure it out." Those were Leonard's words as the Los Angeles Clippers faced a 2-0 deficit as they headed to Dallas to continue their battle with the Mavericks.

It is safe to say the two-time NBA Finals MVP has done just that on his travels, helping his team fight back to level the series between the fourth and fifth seeds in the West. Across the past week, Leonard has averaged 35.7 points, aided by sinking 21 of his 23 attempts from the free-throw line, as well as contributing 24 rebounds. Playoff Kawhi means business this year.

GOING COLD

Shake Milton

Having averaged 13.0 points per outing in the regular season, Milton has endured a playoff slump for the Philadelphia 76ers as his minutes have been reduced. So far, the 24-year-old has managed nine points in a series that has seen his team hold control throughout.

Milton has managed to land only two of his 12 shot attempts, including missing all six in Game 2. In the following outing, head coach Doc Rivers opted to use Tyrese Maxey ahead of his team-mate off the bench, a move that may become a regular feature as the 76ers look set to move on to round two.

Enes Kanter

For the Portland Trail Blazers in the regular season, Kanter averaged 11.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, however, it has been a different story for the veteran center.

After playing over 32 minutes across the first two games against the Denver Nuggets, Kanter has now figured in a little over nine in the following two. During his limited opportunities, there have been no points, two rebounds and a solitary blocked shot. Up against Nikola Jokic, the Blazers have opted to go with alternative options when starting center Jusuf Nurkic is taking a seat on the bench.

Montrezl Harrell

Make no mistake, the Lakers are locked in a battle with the Suns. Phoenix were impressive in taking Game 4 on the road on Saturday to draw level, during which the 2019-20 Sixth Man of the Year was finally called into action again by head coach Frank Vogel.

However, Harrell's appearance was fleeting. Having averaged 13.5 points during the regular season when playing just under 23 minutes per outing, he has been a non-factor in the playoffs. After not even making it onto the court in the previous two games, his brief cameo at the weekend saw him fail to muster a shot as LA lost at home. Across the past week, he has not scored a single point.

Serena Williams started her quest to match Margaret Court's grand slam record by seeing off Irina-Camelia Begu in the first round of the French Open.

Williams, who reached the semi-finals in Melbourne earlier this year, has been stuck on 23 slam triumphs – one shy of Court's career haul – since winning the 2017 Australian Open.

But the seventh seed in Paris did just enough in a challenging opening outing on Monday, the first official night match in French Open history, overcoming Begu 7-6 (8-6) 6-2 in one hour and 44 minutes.

Begu proved a worthy match, winning four straight games and at one point holding two set points in the opener, but the world number eight's quality and experience ultimately came to the fore.

Having charged into a 5-3 lead, Williams found herself at 0-30 down when serving for the first set, and an overhit slice followed by another errant, awkward backhand gave Begu the break.

More unforced errors followed from Williams as her hopes of clinching the set with a return break were dashed, before the 39-year-old scooped long on her own serve to give Begu the advantage.

The American regained her composure to hit back, though, and force a tiebreak. Begu had two set points to play with at 6-4 up, but Williams rallied, winning the next four to take a hard-fought lead.

A superb drop shot teed Williams up for a break at the start of the second set, yet she tensed up again in game six.

Williams was applauding Begu for a supreme forehand down the line, but the former world number one was soon frustrated as the Romanian clawed back to deuce three times.

Begu's resolve finally crumbled, however, and Williams was left to serve out a win which sets up a second-round tie with Mihaela Buzarnescu.

DATA SLAM: Error-strewn Williams will have to sharpen up

By 3-3 in the tiebreaker, Williams had made 21 unforced errors, in contrast to just seven from Begu. Williams tightened up after nosing ahead, making just nine more in the remainder of the contest, but she will know such issues cannot continue if there is to be a chance of reigning again in the French capital this year.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Williams – 27/30
Begu – 18/17

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Williams – 5/2
Begu – 2/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Williams – 5/8
Begu – 3/5

Sergio Aguero signed on the dotted line at Barcelona but refused to discuss the possibility of Pep Guardiola following him from Manchester City to Camp Nou.

Barcelona are in a state of upheaval amid doubts over Ronald Koeman's future, with club president Joan Laporta describing the Dutchman as "a coach that we did not ask for" on Monday.

Laporta has not excluded the possibility of Koeman staying in charge for the second year of his contract, but it appears the club are also looking at alternative options to come in and take charge.

Aguero is also thought of as a potential upgrade on the talent Barcelona have as striking options, besides Lionel Messi, having become Manchester City's record goalscorer during a highly successful decade in England.

The new recruit also said he thought Messi would be staying at Barcelona, continuing their partnership from the Argentina national team.

However, asked about the possibility of Barcelona re-hiring Guardiola, who coached the Blaugrana from 2008 to 2012, Aguero stayed well clear.

He said: "I don't have the right to talk about that. He has a contract with City and I'm not the one who has to talk about the coach."

The 'one' would be Laporta, the president who was elected in March. His predecessor, Josep Maria Bartomeu, appointed Koeman.

Asked about the latest situation with Koeman, during what was Aguero's presentation news conference, Laporta said: "I already said that we have started a period of reflection, for the reasons I said.

"As he was a coach that we did not ask for, we needed that period. There are contacts, I have already said that he is a coach with a current contract and our will is to respect it as long as this period of reflection occurs."

Koeman almost led Barcelona to a domestic double in 2020-21, but a dip in league form over the closing weeks of the season meant their charge since the turn of the year was only good enough for third place in LaLiga. They won the Copa del Rey, but that may not be enough to save him.

Laporta was also questioned about whether Aguero had been brought in to please captain Messi, who has yet to sign a new contract with his current deal to expire at the end of June.

The president replied, according to Mundo Deportivo: "The signing of Aguero is because he is a desired player and an exceptional player. It is the first of a series of signings that you will get to know. Naturally, we want Messi to continue."

The news conference was perhaps a sign of what Aguero can expect at Barcelona, at least in the short term. Messi signing a new deal would bring a sense of calm to proceedings, as would clarity on the coaching situation.

Aguero is looking forward to playing with his compatriot on a week-by-week basis.

He said the prime motivation to join his new club was: "To be at Barca, where the best player in the world is.

"If he [Messi] continues here, which I think he will, we will try to do our best, as we have always done, in the national team."

Laporta could announce a new signing every day of this week – and he might yet, with Eric Garcia, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum heavily linked – but the coaching situation also needs to be a priority.

Aguero steered away from recommending Guardiola's appointment, but spoke of his admiration for the City coach.

"We all know that Pep, since he arrived at City, has proposed a different football," Aguero said. "He proposes to keep the ball all the time and to keep that is important. It made me and the whole team better."

Injuries and a COVID-19 absence caused Aguero to miss chunks of the 2020-21 season, but he came through a medical on Monday and said his left knee, which was operated on last June, was "perfectly fine".

Messi has benefited from some outstanding forwards lining up alongside him during his Barcelona career, notably David Villa, Neymar and Luis Suarez.

Barcelona averaged 2.7 goals per game when Villa and Messi played together, and it was the same when Neymar played with the six-time Ballon d'Or winner, dipping to 2.6 when Messi and Suarez featured in the same side.

There are overlaps to bear in mind when looking at those figures, but not in the case of Villa who left Barca in July 2013, with Neymar arriving effectively as his replacement. Suarez then came in a year later from Liverpool.

Neymar departed for Paris Saint-Germain in August 2017, while Suarez was sold to Atletico Madrid last year.

Barcelona's win percentage stood at 74.1 per cent when Neymar and Messi played in the same team, 73.6 per cent with Villa and 73.2 per cent with Suarez.

Yet Barca's points per game were curiously slightly lower at 2.3 when Messi played with Neymar compared to when Suarez and Villa were in the team alongside the little maestro (2.4).

It was a sign of the times that Barcelona, led by Guardiola for two of Villa's three seasons, averaged 71.8 per cent possession while the Spain striker was at Camp Nou. When Messi and Neymar played together that figure was 67.2 per cent and when Messi and Suarez teamed up it was 65.3 per cent.

Messi, Suarez and Neymar frequently played in the same side, forming the feared 'MSN' forward line.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku headlined the list of Serie A's MVP winners for the 2020-21 season.

Ronaldo finished the campaign as the leading scorer in the competition, netting 29 times across 33 appearances for Juventus to be named the most valuable forward.

Lukaku ranked second in the scorer's list with 24 goals from 36 outings, though the Belgium striker did provide 11 assists compared to Ronaldo's tally of three as he was named "the best overall" MVP.

Both forwards only netted one goal from outside the area and scored six penalties apiece, while Lukaku had a better shot conversion rate than Ronaldo – 25 per cent compared to 17.26 - as he helped Inter finish as champions.

 

Meanwhile, Gianluigi Donnarumma – whose future remains unclear as his contract at Milan nears an end – was selected as the top goalkeeper.

No other keeper played more games than the 22-year-old (37), while his tally of 14 clean sheets was level with Inter's Samir Handanovic for most in the league.

Cristian Romero was named as the best defender after a fine season with Atalanta, while Inter's Italy international Nicolo Barella scooped the midfield MVP honour.

Barella played 36 times for Antonio Conte's champions, scoring three goals and setting a further up seven. On average, he created 1.46 chances per 90 minutes.

There was also recognition for Dusan Vlahovic, named the best player under the age of 23 in Serie A after netting 21 league goals for Fiorentina.

Roger Federer returned to grand slam tennis with a rout typical of the Swiss great as he breezed past Denis Istomin in the French Open first round.

Even at the age of 39, and with his 40th birthday coming up in August, Federer is capable of brutally dismantling inferior opponents on the big stage, and a 6-2 6-4 6-3 win took just an hour and 33 minutes.

It was every bit the masterclass that such a scoreline suggests, although far more strenuous tests await Federer in Paris. The outcome means he has not dropped a set in round one at Roland Garros since 2003, when he was beaten by Peruvian Luis Horna.

Expectations are different of him this year after knee surgery, with Federer drawn in the same half of the draw as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic but widely regarded as being a major outsider, having not featured at any grand slam since losing to Djokovic in the 2020 Australian Open semi-finals. He has barely played since then, winning just one match until this demolition.

A French Open champion in 2009 and four times a runner-up, Federer has not made clay a priority in his schedule over recent years and has been absent for four of the last five editions of this tournament.

That did not mean there was a lukewarm reception for him on Court Philippe-Chatrier, however, with the 20-time major winner instead greeted enthusiastically.

This was an eighth career clash between Federer and his Uzbek opponent, and a third in the first round of a slam. The aggregate set score in those three clashes is now 9-0 to Federer, Istomin unable to find a way into such matches, with this loss following Australian Open pastings in 2006 and 2019 – their one-sided rivalry going back a long way.

He has never lost to 34-year-old Istomin, who served two double faults in his opening service game here and was broken immediately, Federer striking again in game seven before serving out to take the first set against the qualifier in 22 minutes, having served six aces and landed 95 per cent of his first serves.

Rusty? Far from it, so it seemed.

Istomin, in glasses and a headband, was helped by that first-serve percentage coming down to 57 in the second set, but Federer's overall play stayed at a high level. Victory was his when Istomin paddled an attempted drop shot into the net.

DATA SLAM: Federer in fine fettle

Federer won five of 13 break-point opportunities across the contest, while Istomin did not have a single chance against the world number eight's serve. Federer's winners-to-unforced-errors ratio of 48:20 also spoke volumes of his performance, a fortnight on from losing to Pablo Andujar in his opening match in Geneva.

The surprise Andujar defeat was given some context on Sunday when the Spaniard sank the Roland Garros hopes of fourth seed Dominic Thiem.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Federer – 48/20
Istomin – 18/14

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Federer – 8/0
Istomin – 3/4

BREAK POINTS WON
Federer - 5/13
Istomin - 0/0

Christian Eriksen was stunned by Antonio Conte leaving Serie A champions Inter and does not know what it means for his own future at the club.

Former Tottenham and Ajax midfielder Eriksen won over Conte to become a regular starter in the second half of the season.

He previously admitted to not understanding Conte's tactical ways, but the Dane became increasingly influential during the Scudetto-winning campaign.

Inter's success meant it was jarring to many that Conte should leave by mutual consent last week following post-season talks with club leaders. Eriksen, currently preparing for Euro 2020 with Denmark, admitted he was among those staggered by the news.

"It was a huge surprise. It is very special when you have just won a championship with the team and the squad. I read about it like everyone else did. And all of a sudden he was gone," Eriksen told TV 2 SPORT.

"I had not seen it coming at all. We knew they were going to have this conversation, but they did too after last season. It came as a real football shock, because one did not have the feeling that he wanted to leave now."

Eriksen, 29, was a popular figure at Tottenham before opting to join Inter in January 2020, with his contract in London close to its end.

He may still have Premier League admirers, and Eriksen wants to know who will replace Conte before he reaches any decision on whether Inter remains the right place for him.

Former Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi appears the front-runner for the post.

"We do not have a coach right now, so what is going to happen, I do not know either," Eriksen said.

"I have no idea if it's good or bad for me. I have not really thought about it. I really just thought that the European Championships should start now. And that's what it's about now.

"Then I have to see if we have got a coach before the European Championships are over. And then you can take it from there. Right now it's about Denmark, and then Inter will be put aside."

In a mostly deep-lying role, Eriksen was not as influential to Inter in an attacking sense as he was during his Spurs career.

During his final full Premier League season at Tottenham, the 2018-19 campaign, Eriksen averaged 0.26 goals per 90 minutes, 0.39 assists and 2.37 chances created.

He managed three goals for Inter in their title-winning effort, at 0.19 per 90 minutes, but did not make a single league assist and created an average of 1.94 chances.

Eriksen said he had Conte to thank for becoming a league champion in Italy, as Inter ended a nine-year run of Serie A triumphs by Juventus.

"We had a professional relationship," he said, looking back at his time with Conte. "I had a good relationship with him. Of course, we probably had some different ideas about how football should be played and delivered.

"But personally there was nothing to put a finger on. It was about winning and that was what we did."

Mats Hummels revealed his exile from the Germany team "felt like a personal defeat" as he vowed to make up for lost time at Euro 2020.

The 70-cap defender was ousted from the national squad after the 2018 World Cup when head coach Joachim Low decided Hummels, Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng belonged to Germany's past.

Low said the time had come for "a new beginning", but he performed a U-turn this year when asking Hummels and Muller to return to Die Mannschaft.

Now Hummels and Muller, former Bayern Munich team-mates, could have big roles to play in what will be Low's final tournament in charge.

Germany have upcoming friendlies against Denmark and Latvia before they begin their Euro 2020 quest with a titanic group-stage clash against France on June 15 in Munich.

"I want to be fully involved on the sporting side, but also as a man," Hummels said in a news conference. "I hope that I can take the role on the pitch. As a spokesman and leader, especially when things don't go well, I want to lead the way.

"In the last six months there have been phone calls and messages about what we think about it. Ultimately, it only became concrete in the last two weeks before the squad announcement. Jogi [Low] believes that I can give the team a lot for the tournament. I want to."

Speaking about his time in the international wilderness, Hummels said: "It felt like a personal defeat, it hurt. I have always been proud to play for the national team.

"It was my goal to come back. It's an honour to play for Germany. It is a nice confirmation of the work we have done over the past few years.

"It was nice [to return], I saw many familiar faces again. I was a little nervous and excited upon my arrival and felt a certain tingling sensation. I was looking forward to the day."

No defender won more aerial challenges (129) or made more interceptions (73) than Hummels achieved for Borussia Dortmund in the 2020-21 Bundesliga, and nobody scored more than his five goals among players in his position.

He was top 10 among defenders for duels won, clean sheets, tackles, blocks and headed clearances, and Low could not continue to ignore a player with such high numbers.

Hummels won the DFB-Pokal with Dortmund too, while Muller was a driving force behind Bayern's Bundesliga success.

Of all defenders who entered 150-plus duels in the Bundesliga, only Hummels (68.77) and Borussia Monchengladbach's Matthias Ginter (68.22) – another who features in Low's 26-man squad – had a success rate of above 65 per cent.

Opta defines a duel as a "50-50 contest between two players of opposing sides".

Hungary and Portugal also feature in Germany's group, a testing start to the tournament, but Hummels predicted: "If we bring our quality to the pitch, we will prevail in the group."

He also dispelled any suggestion of possible conflict as the old guard, with their leadership qualities, return to join a squad who had been attuned to their absence.

"We won't take anything away from them; we will act together," Hummels said. "It's about having a competitive spirit in training. Muller and I bring that in, but we're not the only ones."

There is the possibility of Hummels being paired with Antonio Rudiger, a Champions League winner with Chelsea, in Germany's backline.

"We have a lot of good central defenders. Toni has shown that he can be outstanding," Hummels said. "You can even use the word 'world-class' with him."

Luka Doncic refused to blame his injury for what he described as a "terrible" performance in the Dallas Mavericks' 106-81 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Mavs were pegged back to 2-2 in the series, having led 2-0, with Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspiring the Clippers on the road.

Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points.

Doncic was cleared to play despite a neck strain and put up 19 points, but the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas, where he frequently showed signs of pain as he grimaced his way through proceedings.

He did not want to use it as an excuse, though.

"I don't think that matters right now," Doncic said. "We lost. Injuries are part of basketball, but I was 100 per cent. I played terrible, so we've just got to move on to the next one.

"The pain is like neck and then the nerve down. I don't really know how to explain that. It felt way better today morning than yesterday.

"I'll just keep doing massages, ice it down and then be ready for Wednesday."

Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is hopeful Doncic will be free of the symptoms of his injury by Game 5.

"He's in pain," he said. "It appeared to me that he couldn't turn left, couldn't look to his left. He couldn't turn his neck to his left, and that's difficult for a guy that relies on peripheral vision and basically has played his whole life with his head on a swivel.

"We've got to hope in the next couple of days that he can get better, hopefully substantially better. There is a two-day break between games, which is a positive in this case."

It has been a long time coming but Euro 2020 finally gets under way on June 11.

A year later than scheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic, 24 teams will contest a tournament that will be staged in 11 cities.

Italy and Turkey do battle in the first match at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, with the final staged at Wembley exactly a month later.

Holders Portugal face strong competition for their crown from the likes of world champions France, Belgium, England and Germany.

Stats Perform picks out some of the standout fixtures from the six groups in a European Championship that promises to be well worth the wait. 

 

Sunday June 13 - England v Croatia: Group D, Wembley (15:00 - all kick-offs shown are Central European Time)

Croatia came from behind to reach their first World Cup final with a 2-1 victory over England after extra time in Moscow three years ago.

Mario Mandzukic's goal proved to be decisive and England will be out for revenge in the first Group D contest.

The two nations have only met once at a European Championship and it was England who came out on top, Wayne Rooney scoring twice in a 4-2 group victory in Lisbon back in 2004. 

England have never won their first match at the Euros, while Croatia have not lost any of their last three opening fixtures in the tournament.

 

Tuesday June 15 - France v Germany: Group F, Allianz Arena (21:00)

Germany and France will meet for the first time in the group stage of either a European Championship or World Cup in Munich.

Joachim Low, who will end his reign as Germany head coach after the tournament, has suffered four defeats at the hands of France during his tenure, winning two and also drawing twice. 

Antoine Griezmann scored both goals in a 2-0 semi-final victory for Les Bleus over Germany in the 2016 Euros.

The world champions are unbeaten in five games against Germany (W3 D2), with the last win for Low's side coming when Mats Hummels scored the only goal in a 2014 World Cup quarter-final in Rio de Janeiro.

 

Friday June 18 - England v Scotland: Group D, Wembley (21:00)

England and Scotland will come to a standstill when the fierce rivals do battle in their second group game.

Scotland face Czech Republic before a highly-charged clash with their neighbours from south of the border 25 years after they met at Wembley in a dramatic Euro 96 group match.

Paul Gascoigne scored a stunning solo goal in a 2-0 victory for Terry Venables' side on that occasion, England's mercurial midfielder leaving Scotland shattered soon after Gary McAllister's penalty was saved by David Seaman.

England are unbeaten in the past four games against their fellow Brits, but needed a stoppage-time goal from Harry Kane to salvage a 2-2 draw the last time they met at Hampden Park in a World Cup qualifier four years ago.

 

Saturday June 19 - Portugal v Germany: Group F, Allianz Arena (18:00)

Germany will have home advantage in all three of their group games and they may have to be at their very best to beat Portugal in Munich.

Cristiano Ronaldo will get yet another opportunity to show he is the man for the big occasion. The Portugal captain has scored nine goals in 21 European Championship games, also providing five assists in the tournament.

History does not bode well for the defending champions, though, as Germany have beaten them four times in a row since Sergio Conceicao scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win at Euro 2000.

Portugal may be haunted by the return of Thomas Muller, who helped himself to a treble when they last met in a 4-0 rout for Low's side at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

 

Wednesday June 23 - Portugal v France: Group F, Puskas Arena (21:00)

It will come as no surprise that the final match to catch the eye in the group stage is what could be a crucial tussle in Budapest.

While Germany face Hungary in Munich, France and Portugal will lock horns on the last day of group games.

Les Bleus had won all three competitive games against Portugal before they suffered the agony of a defeat in the 2016 European Championship final, which was settled by substitute Eder in extra time.

France have won 18 out of 25 meetings between the two nations, with N'Golo Kante scoring in a 1-0 victory in their last encounter in the Nations League just over six months ago.

Thomas Tuchel's transformation of Chelsea's defence was the key to their stunning turnaround in fortunes following Frank Lampard's dismissal, according to former Blues midfielder and assistant head coach Eddie Newton.

Lampard was sacked on January 25 after a run of just two wins in eight Premier League games left Chelsea ninth, 11 points off the summit. 

Former Paris Saint-Germain boss Tuchel was swiftly appointed and oversaw an impressive second half of the season, culminating in a stunning 1-0 win over Manchester City in the Champions League final on Saturday, Kai Havertz scoring the decisive goal shortly before half-time. 

Tuchel also sealed a top-four finish for Chelsea and guided them to the FA Cup final, although they ultimately lost that to Leicester City. 

Lampard and Tuchel were both in charge for 30 games across all competitions in the 2020-21 campaign, with the Blues conceding just 16 under the German compared to 31 in their former manager's games. 

And Newton, who played for Chelsea between 1990 and 1999 and had spells as assistant head coach in 2012 and 2015-16, is in no doubt the success is down to Tuchel's work on remodelling the backline. 

"Frank wanted to be on the front foot and the team was fundamentally in his personality," Newton told Stats Perform.

"He's a very offensive-thinking person, which leaves gaps at the back and towards the end they were getting punished on a regular basis. What Tuchel has done is put right the defensive side.

"He's also brought back senior players into the fold that were not in favour under Frank. Seniority brings stability and more nous about how to get through games when you're struggling. He brought that in.

"He changed the formation by playing three defenders at the back. It became multi-faceted.

"It's been fantastic stuff since he's come in. He's grabbed the bull by its horns and put down the foundations of what he wants to do.

"He's giving clear, concise information to everyone. Getting the results that he has, the players have bought into him. You can see the fight and that comes from the belief the coach has instilled into that team."

Tuchel once again chose Timo Werner to lead the line against City despite the Germany international's struggles in front of goal this season. 

He arrived from RB Leipzig last June for a fee in the region of £45million (€50m) with a reputation of being one of the most prolific attackers in Europe.

Werner scored 34 goals and supplied 12 assists in 45 appearances in all competitions for Leipzig in 2019-20, departing as the club's all-time leading scorer with 95 goals in total.

He has not been able to scale the same heights in his maiden campaign in English football, though, the 25-year-old scoring 12 times in 52 appearances across all competitions. He finished the Premier League season with a shot conversion rate of just 7.59 per cent.

While Newton is impressed with Werner's work ethic, he believes Tuchel will need to sign an established central striker for the 2021-22 campaign, with Chelsea having been linked to Harry Kane and Erling Haaland.

"He hasn't played with a number nine," Newton said. "Werner's work rate, even though he's not been clinical in front of goal, is what he admires and I'm sure his team-mates do as well. 

"He's willing to commit for the team. He's selfless, unlike other strikers, and works immensely hard for the team and that's where their defending starts from. It makes it easier for the team to defend.

"It's going to be interesting to see what he does next season. They can't continue without a number nine. Havertz is not a nine and won't be happy playing there. Werner is not a natural number nine; he likes to come in off the left and right. 

"It's going to be interesting to see how Tuchel addresses that situation. If they bring in a number nine, where do you put Havertz and Werner?"

Kyrie Irving called out "underlying racism" and a "human zoo" environment in the NBA after a Boston Celtics fan threw a water bottle in the direction of the Brooklyn Nets star.

The Nets topped the Celtics 141-126 in Game 4 on Sunday for a commanding 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series, but it was overshadowed by another unruly incident.

Ex-Celtics star Irving posted 39 points and 11 rebounds to help fuel the Nets at TD Garden in Boston, where a fan appeared to throw a bottle at the 2016 NBA champion as he left the court.

It comes after former MVP and Washington Wizards guard Russell Westbrook was showered in popcorn during a defeat away to the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2, while a New York Knicks fan spat on Atlanta Hawks star Trae Young in Game 1.

Following the latest incident in a worrying trend of fan behaviour across the league, Irving – who spent two years with the Celtics from 2017 to 2019 – told reporters: "You're seeing a lot of old ways come up.

"It has been that way in history in terms of entertainment, performers and sports for a long period of time and just underlying racism and just treating people like they're in a human zoo.

"Throwing stuff at people, saying things. There is a certain point where it gets to be too much."

Irving added: "You can see that people just feel very entitled out here. They paid for their tickets -- great, I'm grateful that they're coming in to watch a great performance.

"But we're not at the theatre. We're not throwing tomatoes and other random stuff at the people that are performing."

"Fans got to grow up at some point," Durant said. "I know that being in the house for a year and a half with the pandemic got a lot of people on edge, got a lot of people stressed out, but when you come to these games, you have to realise these men are human.

"We are not animals; we are not in the circus. You coming to the game is not all about you as a fan. So, have some respect for the game. Have some respect for the human beings, and have some respect for yourself. Your mother wouldn't be proud of you throwing water bottles at basketball players or spitting on players or tossing popcorn. So, grow the f*** up, and enjoy the game. It's bigger than you."

On the court, the second-seeded Nets flexed their muscles to move within one win of the Eastern Conference semi-finals.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving and Harden (23 points and a playoff career-high 18 assists) inspired the Nets.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

On Irving's performance, Nets head coach Steve Nash said: "It's Kyrie Irving. He didn't have a great game last time out. My money's on him any time after a performance he had. I loved his will, to take some of this adversity and have a great game."

Harden – on what was most satisfying about the victory – added: "Defensively. That's going to be our key every single game. Offensively, that should be the last thing we're worried about because we have so many weapons, so many guys that can get it going.

"Defensively, we have to be engaged, to be locked in possession by possession. I think in Game 3 we weren't consistently locked in on the defensive effort and it showed. Tonight was a lot better and obviously offensively we're wrecking when we come down, the ball moves, and we play with pace.

"Defensively, our effort, and then our rebounding was great too. Ky did an unbelievable job with 11 rebounds. That's elite right there. That's winning basketball."

The star-studded Brooklyn Nets are on the cusp of the Eastern Conference semi-finals after Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden helped take down the Boston Celtics 141-126 in Game 4.

Durant, Irving and Harden led the way to silence the Celtics crowd in Boston, where the second-seeded Nets claimed a commanding 3-1 lead in the opening-round series following a franchise playoff scoring record.

A game-high 42 points from Durant, and double-doubles from Irving (39 points and 11 rebounds) and Harden (23 points and 18 assists) fuelled the Nets at TD Garden on Sunday.

Durant, Irving and Harden tied the playoffs record for most points scored by three team-mates (104), after John Havlicek (54), Jo Jo White (34), Dave Cowens (16) in 1973 and Dominique Wilkins (50), Randy Wittman (35), Spud Webb (19) in 1986.

Brooklyn duo Durant and Irving also became the first pair of team-mates in NBA history to each score 35-plus points while going 10-for-10 shooting or better from the free-throw line in the same game, according to Stats Perform.

After his mammoth 50-point haul in Game 3, Jayson Tatum followed up with 40 points, seven rebounds and five assists but it was not enough for the Celtics, who are facing elimination.

 

Clippers fightback

After dropping the opening two games, the Los Angeles Clippers are now level with the Dallas Mavericks at 2-2 in the west following their 106-81 rout. Kawhi Leonard's efficient double-double of 29 points (on 11-for-15 shooting) and 10 rebounds inspired the Clippers on the road. Paul George added 20 points as the Clippers became the first team in league history to lose the first two games of a playoff series at home and then win the next two on the road by a combined 35-plus points, per Stats Perform.

The Atlanta Hawks relied on their usual stars to get past the New York Knicks 113-96 and move within one win of the second round of the playoffs. Trae Young had 27 points and John Collins chipped in with 22 of his own as the Hawks earned a 3-1 advantage.

 

Davis injury caps Lakers loss

The Los Angeles Lakers lost 100-92 to the Phoenix Suns, who levelled the matchup in the west. Anthony Davis' injury headlined the defeat as the Suns capitalised on his second-half absence. Davis suffered a groin injury late in the second quarter and did not return for reigning champions the Lakers in Los Angeles. 

Luka Doncic was cleared to play against the Clippers, despite a neck strain. While he put up 19 points, the Mavs star was just nine-for-24 shooting in Dallas. Doncic also had little support on the court after starters Tim Hardaway Jr. (four points on one-for-eight shooting), Dorian Finney-Smith (eight points on three-for-nine shooting) and Maxi Kleber (0 points on 0-for-three shooting) struggled.

 

Caruso-LeBron combo

The Lakers lost but Alex Caruso and LeBron James still produced a highlight moment in the second quarter. Caruso lobbed the ball to James off the backboard and the latter finished emphatically. James registered 25 points and 12 rebounds.

 

Sunday's results

Atlanta Hawks 113-96 New York Knicks
Phoenix Suns 100-92 Los Angeles Lakers
Brooklyn Nets 141-126 Boston Celtics
Los Angeles Clippers 106-81 Dallas Mavericks

 

76ers at Wizards

Eastern Conference top seeds the Philadelphia 76ers can seal a 4-0 series sweep of the Washington Wizards in DC on Monday.

Philadelphia Union used an action-packed first half to see off Portland Timbers 3-0 as Seattle Sounders had to settle for a goalless draw with Austin in MLS.

Goals from Kacper Przybylko and Sergio Santos in the opening 45 minutes helped the Union ease past the Timbers on Sunday.

Przybylko headed home the opener in the 26th minute and Santos doubled the lead five minutes later at Subaru Park, where he redirected his team-mate's shot.

VAR and a handball denied the Union a third goal, but Philadelphia made it 3-0 in the 63rd minute when Jack Elliott poked home to heap further misery on Portland.

The result snapped the Union's run of five consecutive defeats against the Timbers – Portland's four successive regular-season wins equalled Philadelphia's second longest losing streak at the hands of an opponent in regular-season play.

Philadelphia are second in the Eastern Conference – three points behind New England Revolution after eight games – while Portland are seventh in the Western Conference, nine points behind leaders Seattle.

The Sounders were forced to share the spoils against Austin but remain undefeated through eight rounds.

Seattle are off to the best start in their history and had lost just one of their eight home games against expansion sides heading into the Austin fixture.

The Sounders did find the back of the net via Fredy Montero with 15 minutes remaining, however a video review deemed Raul Ruidiaz was offside in the build-up.

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