'Jimmy had his fingerprints on that': How Butler took over Game 1

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MIAMI — Jimmy Butler is worth the drama.

That isn’t exactly how Erik Spoelstra termed Butler’s game on Tuesday night, of course. The Miami Heat coach was his usual controlled self after guiding his team to a 118-107 victory over the Boston Celtics, fueled by Butler’s greatness, to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.

“If you’re driven by competition, and the stakes get raised, you’re going to raise your level of play,” Spoelstra said after Butler assembled a brilliant 41-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, four-steal, three-block masterpiece.

“This level is high-level, this competition, and he senses it, and he knows it. He feels it. And he was able to produce and put us in a position to feel comfortable to be able to win this game.”

But back in March when Butler had pushed Spoelstra to the brink, in the midst of a sideline outburst during a game against the Golden State Warriors, he barked at Butler, “I always knew you were crazy!” as the argument spilled onto the court.

Spoelstra has long known Butler is maniacal. With his training, with his intensity and, yes, with the way he needles teammates and coaches. And he can be driven to incredible feats by his thirst to win.

In the 48 hours after the outburst, as the meetings between Butler and team management took place, it wasn’t clear how the crossroads moment would play out. Of course, now that moment can be spun as galvanizing. The Heat are 15-6 since, have the No. 1 seed in the East and are three wins from reaching the Finals.

But even some of Spoelstra’s closest friends had never seen him like that, not just the emotional outburst in the huddle, but the dark brooding he did for the rest of that quarter, almost stopping coaching as he managed the fury.

For Butler, three seasons worth of give-and-take with Spoelstra finally led to finding the line. It wasn’t just that moment with Butler verbally shoving back at his coach, it was a long build-up.

“Spo was exasperated,” one team source said.

Even Butler, who sometimes seems to actually enjoy creating conflict on his team, wondered whether this was a breaking point, sources said. Two days later, after Spoelstra missed a game because of an unrelated personal matter, he returned, reset and ready.

Butler was relieved, so was the rest of the team and they started over because at the end of the day and the end of the season, Butler is worth it.

What he brings, especially in a playoff setting, buys him more leeway. It’s the NBA way, always has been and always will be. It’s a little tougher at times for the Heat, an organization that thrives on holding players to high standards and not being afraid to attack problems, but it’s true just the same.

So Tuesday night in the third quarter, after the Heat had fallen down by as many as 13 points in the first half, Butler wasn’t afraid to test his coach again. The game was in its fragile moments, the Heat were on a run to take the lead and Butler made two gambles to try for steals.

If he missed them, it might have led to easy baskets for the Celtics and a turn in momentum. But Butler didn’t, picking off Jayson Tatum passes and made a 3-pointer and a dunk, the most powerful of his 17 points in the quarter.

“I tell you right now, Spo doesn’t like me, he doesn’t like whenever I do it,” Butler said of the gambles. “Luckily, I was 2-for-2 on those particular shoot-the-gap passing lanes. But I don’t get them all the time, and then you see him give a look over there.”

Butler does it because he trusts his instincts and because he knows he has developed a line of credit with Spoelstra, even if it sometimes dips into the red. And Spoelstra gives some latitude, even if inside it can infuriate him, because he knows Butler is the driving force behind Miami’s pursuit of a championship.

He was in the last series against the Philadelphia 76ers, when Butler averaged 27.5 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He was again the motivating force in Game 1.

“Those two steals kind of changed the momentum,” Spoelstra said, totally unfazed by their break in his preferred protocol. “Every time and pocket in the game when we needed to control the game or get the right shot or make the right decision, Jimmy had his fingerprints on that.”

Butler’s fingerprints on games sometimes end up with Spolestra’s fingerprints on wine glasses trying to unwind. Back when the younger Spoelstra was still finding his legs as a coach more than a decade ago, team president Pat Riley would have Spoelstra come to his office after rough losses. Riley would select a bottle from his shelf and they would sit and sip in silence.

Earlier this year, Spoelstra was named one of the top 15 coaches in NBA history as part of the league’s 75th anniversary celebration, making the list with Riley. If Spoelstra, 51, wants it, he will probably have a good chance of being the national team coach in the future. He’s at the top of his craft and very likely in the prime of his coaching years.

Butler can still drive him up a wall. And he can also get him one step closer to a championship by doing the same to the Celtics.

“I want to run into people and see who falls down first, who is going to quit first,” Butler said. “I think that’s the style of basketball I like to play.”

By |2022-05-18T02:56:30-04:00May 18th, 2022|News|

Butler-led Heat ride 39-14 third quarter to G1 win

MIAMI — The Boston Celtics exited their locker room at halftime Tuesday night firmly in control of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

But then the third quarter happened. And, after the Miami Heat demolished the Celtics, outscoring them 39-14 and using their physicality to send Boston into a death spiral of miscues and unforced errors, the Heat were on their way to a 118-107 victory to take the opening game of this best-of-seven affair.

“More than anything, it just shows us what we are capable of whenever we worry about getting stops, getting into the open floor, getting to the free throw line, all those good things,” said Jimmy Butler, who led the way for Miami with his latest spectacular performance in these playoffs, finishing with a game-high 41 points — including 17 in that decisive third quarter — nine rebounds and five assists in 41 minutes.

“It just reminds me, we can do it. I see it on this piece of paper. I lived it. So I expect us to do that every quarter from here on out.”

That’s a high bar to live up to. Miami pummeled Boston into submission in that third quarter to the point where the Celtics played not only their worst 12 minutes of these playoffs so far — but one of the worst quarters Boston has had, period.

“[We] got out-toughed, out-physicaled,” Celtics coach Ime Udoka said. “They looked like they came out in the second half and wanted to up their physicality and aggression on both ends, and they did that.”

They certainly did.

Here’s a sampling of the disastrous statistics dredged up by that quarter:

  • The Celtics shot 2-for-15 from the field in the quarter, their worst shooting quarter over the past four seasons, either regular season or playoffs.

  • After Boston went 15-for-28 on contested shots in the first half, the Celtics went just 1-for-12 on them in the third quarter.

  • The 7 minutes, 7 seconds it took for Boston to score its first basket of the third quarter was Boston’s longest drought to start a quarter without a field goal all season.

  • The last time Boston took at least 7 minutes to score in a quarter was Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Detroit Pistons. The final score of that game? 66-64, in favor of Boston.

  • Jayson Tatum had six turnovers in the third quarter alone, and Boston had eight as a team — as many as Boston had in the other three quarters combined. The Heat also scored 12 of their 19 points off Boston turnovers in that third quarter.

All of it was enough to add up to the fact that, despite losing the first, second and fourth quarters, Miami finds itself up 1-0 in this series.

“The guys were just really disappointed at halftime,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I barely needed to say anything. Everybody was just disappointed at our defensive effort and focus. But look, this is a very good team that we’re playing against. So it’s not only us saying that, hey, we have to do that better. They are putting a lot of pressure on our defense, and that’s what you expect when you get to this level.”

The Heat needed to have that kind of reversal after Boston had controlled the first half with relative ease. Coming off a seven-game slugfest with the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks — a series Boston closed out in emphatic fashion on its home court in Game 7 — the Celtics appeared to carry that momentum over into the first half of this game. The Celtics staked themselves to a 62-54 first-half lead, led by 21 points from Tatum, and shot 59% from the field.

In that first half, Tatum had 16 paint points — tied for the most he’s had in any half in his career — as Boston outscored Miami 42-24 in the paint.

But just as Tatum’s play was emblematic of Boston’s strong first half, his horrendous third quarter was a symbol of Boston’s absolute collapse after the break. Tatum scored 2 points on 1-for-7 shooting in the second half, in addition to those six disastrous turnovers in the third quarter, as Miami got three straight pick-6 turnovers that turned into layups or dunks at the other end that blew the game open as part of a 22-2 run to start the second half that gave Miami the lead for good.

“I think obviously I don’t want to turn the damn ball over and s— like that,” Tatum said. “But I guess throughout the course of a game, things happen, and they go on runs. That’s what they did.

“Throughout the course of the playoffs, we’ve done a great job of responding to runs after calling timeout, things like that. But for whatever reason we didn’t today. I’ll be the first one to say I’ll take the blame for that. I’ve got to lead better. I’ve got to play better, especially in those moments. I’m just looking forward to responding next game.”

Boston will hope to respond in Game 2 with Marcus Smart in the lineup. Smart gave the team a rousing speech on the bench to try to turn things around after that ugly third quarter, but that was all he could do as he sat out with a right midfoot sprain.

Not only was Boston missing Smart, who had been questionable all day to play, but they also were without Al Horford, who was a surprise entrant into the NBA’s health and safety protocols a couple hours before tipoff, and who is unlikely to return until at least Game 3.

“We’ve got to be even more disciplined,” Jaylen Brown said. “Obviously, we weren’t prepared to be without Al. We definitely weren’t prepared to be without Al and Smart. It’s not an excuse; we’ve got to be better.

“We still had control of the game in the first half. We lost control in the third quarter. We’ve just got to be better. Got to play better on both sides of the ball, more discipline. We fouled entirely too much, and we let the game slip away from us. That’s the story.”

ESPN Stats & Information contributed to this report.

By |2022-05-18T01:56:26-04:00May 18th, 2022|News|

Kevin Durant and LeBron James debate which 1990s centers would be MVPs in the modern NBA

Over the past few seasons in the NBA, big men have made a resurgence. In fact, the last four MVPs have been paint-oriented players. Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic secured his second consecutive MVP a few weeks ago, and Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo also won it in back-to-back years from 2019-2020.

With the big man renaissance in full effect, Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant took to Twitter with a debate-worthy question. What center from the 1990s era would be in contention for Most Valuable Player honors in the modern NBA? He suggested Basketball Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing, David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon. The latter two won the MVP hardware in their playing days, with Olajuwon winning it in 1994 and Robinson securing the honor the following season.

Basketball Twitter had a plethora of answers, including some from players of past and present. Rayford Young, the father of Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, only had one name in mind in response to Durant’s question. The elder Young played for Texas Tech in college from 1996-2000 and then professionally in France.

A little later, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and four-time MVP LeBron James chimed in with his choices. He and Durant agreed on Robinson and Olajuwon, but The King selected Shaquille O’Neal over Ewing. Shaq won MVP in 2000 when he played for the Lakers.

Although it is great conversation to have, we’ll never know if these old school centers could truly contend for the MVP hardware in today’s NBA. Who would make your list?

By |2022-05-18T00:41:34-04:00May 18th, 2022|News|

Liz Cambage's all-Gucci fit, Sami Whitcomb's NBA Jam spinoff highlight eye-catching WNBA fits

The WNBA season is only a couple of weeks old, but it has provided exceptional basketball. Much like their play on the court, the fashion choices by players off it have turned some heads.

This week’s fashion across the association featured a variety of looks. One star showed love to a fellow hooper by rocking his jersey, and color coordination was at its best from a couple of athletes throughout the week. We even saw a fun twist on a classic basketball video game that deserves some props.

Here’s a look at some of the exceptional wardrobe selections from WNBA players:

Natalie Achonwa, Minnesota Lynx

Achonwa donned a custom letterman jacket that featured her initials and jersey number (11) on the front. The color red and maple leaf on the left sleeve symbolize her Canadian roots, and her alma mater’s logo, Notre Dame, is stitched on the right sleeve.

Liz Cambage, Los Angeles Sparks

Rocking Gucci from head to toe? That’s what Cambage decided on before she took the floor for the Sparks on Tuesday.

Sabrina Ionescu, Sami Whitcomb, and Michaela Onyenwere, New York Liberty

Onyenwere showed her coordination skills ahead of her contest against the Connecticut Sun, rocking a blue outfit with an accent of orange via her handbag and shades.

Second-year star Ionescu came into Tuesday’s matchup against the Connecticut Sun wearing the jersey of Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry. The NBA’s all-time 3-point king became a fan of Ionescu when she played for the Oregon Ducks. Since then, she and Curry have become closer and stay connected through the Bay Area and its youth basketball scene.

“I love having a relationship with [Curry], just being able to remember when I was little, watching him and kind of emulating my game after him, to now being able to call him or text him any time that I need help with something,” Ionescu told ESPN.

Whitcomb’s shirt depicted a WNBA version of the player selection screen from the classic arcade game, NBA Jam. Pictured on the piece were teammates Ionescu and Betnijah Laney.

Arike Ogunbowale, Dallas Wings

Ahead of the Wings’ matchup with the Washington Mystics on Tuesday, Ogunbowale’s shirt had Grammy Award-winning artist Janet Jackson pictured on it. Her fit also included some jewelry and a Von Dutch hat.

By |2022-05-17T22:11:19-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Silver: NBA working with WNBA for Griner release

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Tuesday that he is working “side by side” with WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert to try to bring Brittney Griner home.

Silver, speaking to ESPN’s Malika Andrews in a televised interview from Chicago prior to the NBA draft lottery, said his league was following the advice of experts when it did not take an aggressive approach during the early stages of Griner’s detention in Russia.

“We’ve been in touch with the White House, the State Department, hostage negotiators, every level of government and also through the private sector as well,” Silver said. “Our No. 1 priority is her health and safety and making sure that she gets out of Russia.”

The State Department also said Tuesday that it still is pushing to have regular contact with the Phoenix Mercury star.

A consular official was able to meet with Griner last week, when her pretrial detention in Russia was extended for one month. Griner has been detained — wrongfully, U.S. officials have said — since February, after vape cartridges containing oil derived from cannabis were allegedly found in her luggage at an airport in Moscow.

“That consular official came away with the impression that Brittney Griner is doing as well as might be expected under conditions that can only be described as exceedingly difficult,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in Washington. “But sporadic contact is not satisfactory. It also may not be consistent with the Vienna Convention to which Russia has subscribed.”

The 31-year-old Griner — a two-time Olympic gold medalist for the U.S. — faces drug smuggling charges that carry a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. The Biden administration says Griner is being wrongfully detained. The WNBA and U.S. officials have worked toward her release, without visible progress.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked with Griner’s wife in recent days, Price said.

“He conveyed once again the priority we attach to seeking the release of all Americans around the world, including Brittney Griner in the case of Russia, Paul Whelan in the case of Russia, those Americans who we consider to be wrongfully detained,” Price said. “That has been a priority of Secretary Blinken since the earliest days of his tenure.”

Whelan is a corporate security executive from Michigan who has been held in Russia. He was arrested in December 2018 while visiting for a friend’s wedding and was later sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage-related charges that his family says are bogus.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

By |2022-05-17T21:11:27-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Eovaldi 3rd pitcher ever to allow 5 HRs in 1 inning

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Boston Red Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi became the third pitcher in major league history to allow five home runs in one inning Tuesday night.

In his Fenway Park start against the Houston Astros, Eovaldi lasted just 1.2 innings, allowing eight hits and six earned runs while striking out none. In the second inning, after working a three-up, three-down first, Eovaldi allowed homers to Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Jeremy Pena, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez as Houston raced out to a 9-1 lead amid boos from the Boston faithful.

Reliever Tyler Danish was called upon by manager Alex Cora to finish the inning. It was the Astros’ first five-homer inning in team history, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, and it was the first time Boston had allowed five in the same frame.

Eovaldi, Boston’s opening day starter this season, had a strong campaign last year as the Red Sox advanced to the American League Championship Series. The veteran allowed 15 homers in 32 starts last season, but so far this season, he’s allowed 14, the most in the majors.

Eovaldi is among a number of Red Sox veterans struggling in the early going. Boston, which rallied to defeat the Astros, 6-3, Monday in the series opener, began Tuesday at 14-21, a half-game out of last place in the American League East.

The other two pitchers to match Eovaldi were Chase Anderson in 2020 and Michael Blazek in 2017.

By |2022-05-17T20:42:17-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Magic win NBA draft lottery; OKC to select No. 2

For the fourth time in franchise history, the Orlando Magic have won the NBA lottery and will pick No. 1 in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Orlando had a 14% chance to get the top pick along with the Houston Rockets and the Detroit Pistons.

It’s the Magic’s first chance to pick No. 1 overall since 2004 when they selected Dwight Howard. Orlando also won the lottery in back-to-back years in 1992 (Shaquille O’Neal) and 1993 (Chris Webber, who was traded to Golden State for Penny Hardaway and three future first rounders).

The Oklahoma City Thunder will pick at No. 2, the franchise’s first top four pick since 2009 when they drafted James Harden. The Thunder have a second lottery pick at No. 12 because of the Paul George trade with the Los Angeles Clippers.

At No. 3 will be the Houston Rockets who also picked No. 2 in last year’s draft. It’s the first time the Rockets have picked in the top four in consecutive years since 1983 and 1984.

The Kings had a 7.5% chance to jump into the top four and were the only team to leap into the top group that didn’t have the best four odds. They knocked out the Detroit Pistons who will select fifth now.

The Indiana Pacers will pick at No. 6, the first time they’ve had a top nine pick since 1989.

Because the Los Angeles Lakers pick fell in the top 10 at No. 8, that pick goes to the New Orleans Pelicans as a part of the Anthony Davis trade from the summer of 2019.

The pick had a 99.6% chance of conferring to the Pelicans and if it didn’t it would have gone to the Memphis Grizzlies as a part of the trade that sent Jonas Valanciunas to New Orleans and Steven Adams and Eric Bledsoe to Memphis.

Instead, Memphis gets Cleveland’s 2022 second-round pick via the Pelicans as well as New Orleans’ 2025 second-round pick.

By |2022-05-17T20:42:15-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Follow live: Lightning, Panthers meet again in the playoffs

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After rallying past a slow start and leading Dallas back to the postseason, Stars coach Rick Bowness, 67, said Tuesday he intends to keep coaching, and if that means a new organization, he’s confident that “the options will be there.”

By |2022-05-17T19:31:38-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Transfer Talk: PSG, Real Madrid, Man Utd have Milinkovic-Savic in sight

The summer transfer window is approaching, and there’s plenty of gossip swirling about who’s moving where. Transfer Talk brings you all the latest buzz on rumours, comings and goings and, of course, done deals!

TOP STORY: Milinkovic-Savic on top clubs’ radar

Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Manchester United are interested in landing Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in the summer, according to Calciomercato.

The 27-year-old midfielder has long been a standout performer for Lazio in Serie A, and after missing out on Champions League qualification this season, he could now be about to leave the Stadio Olimpico.

The Biancocelesti are looking for a fee in the region of €80 million, and it is understood that they believe that their demands can only be met from a club outside of Italy, with three currently at the front of the queue for his services.

Having produced a perfect split of 11 goals and 11 assists in 36 league matches, the Serbia international has found the best form of his career so far. But while that has helped Lazio almost certainly secure fifth place, it has also alerted clubs across Europe, who could finally make their move for the highly-rated midfield star.

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LIVE BLOG (by Adam Brown)

08.00 BST: Barcelona president Joan Laporta says painful sales will not be necessary to pull off a big summer signing if they close a series of financial agreements they are working on before the end of June.

Frenkie de Jong has been linked with a move away from Camp Nou to raise money, while sources have confirmed Barca are interested in signing Robert Lewandowski, who confirmed his desire to leave Bayern Munich last weekend.

“Let [sporting advisor] Jordi Cruyff and [sporting director] Mateu Alemany work,” Laporta told Catalunya Radio on Tuesday when asked about a move for Lewandowski.

“The financial situation is not great, remember. I can’t give details [on signings], but we are working hard to build a competitive team. It’s not easy. We are working to turn things around.

“If we manage to sort the club’s finances out, which I think we will, we can pull off all the operations that we are contemplating.”

ESPN revealed last week that De Jong is keen to stay at Barca despite interest from Manchester City and Manchester United. Coach Xavi Hernandez has also expressed a desire to keep the Dutch midfielder, but has conceded the club’s financial situation will dictate their summer business.

– Hunter: Firing coach worked for Barca, but not every LaLiga club got it right

PAPER GOSSIP

Sven Botman has been heavily linked with AC Milan in recent months, but Football Insider reveals that Manchester United could swoop in for the Lille centre-back. The 25-year-old is currently available for a fee of around £25m, but despite it looking like the Serie A side were going to acquire him uncontested, the latest indicates the Old Trafford hierarchy are now considering making him the first defensive reinforcement of Erik ten Hag’s era.

Juventus have made the first move for Paul Pogba, with reports the 29-year-old midfielder has been offered a three-year deal to return to the Bianconeri, writes Goal. The Manchester United star’s representatives met with the Serie A side on Monday, and despite suggestions that the France international was not discussed, the latest reports indicate that he has received an official offer worth €7.5m-per-season. Pogba is set to leave Old Trafford in June as a free agent.

Tottenham Hotspur are keen on Rennes forward Martin Terrier, Foot Mercato understands. The 25-year-old’s form in Ligue 1 has seen him produce 24 goals in 36 appearances, and it is revealed that Antonio Conte’s have begun to keep tabs on him, with hopes of reinforcing their forward line. Spurs have also been reported to be looking to activate the purchase option on the loan deal of Dejan Kulusevski from Juventus.

Arsenal could face competition from Brentford for the signature of Bologna‘s Aaron Hickey, according to the Daily Mail. The 19-year-old wingback has impressed this season, having won the club’s Golden Boy award in his first professional campaign. The Bees could make a move as soon as the transfer window reopens, in a bid to beat Mikel Arteta’s side in the race.

Atletico Madrid have prepared a €15m bid for Fenerbahce star Miguel Crespo, reports Ekrem Konur. The 25-year-old midfielder joined the club from Portuguese side Estoril last summer, and he has since made 22 appearances for the Istanbul side while contributing to three goals. He has previously been linked with Premier League side Everton.

By |2022-05-18T03:43:02-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|

Liverpool's deep bench pushes Premier League race to the end, but destiny may decide with Man City in control

SOUTHAMPTON, England — After a case of history repeating, Liverpool have earned the chance to find out if destiny is calling.

The Premier League title race will go to the final day of the season after Takumi Minamino and Joel Matip struck to overturn Nathan Redmond‘s 13th-minute opener to ensure the Reds beat Southampton 2-1 here at St. Mary’s Stadium.

For the second time in seven days, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp made a host of changes, watched his team fall behind before responding impressively to earn a deserved win on Tuesday. Last week it was Aston Villa, and although Southampton were much more culpable, this still felt like a stiffer test of Liverpool’s resolve, coming less than 72 hours after their marathon FA Cup final win over Chelsea on penalties, a draining exertion that prompted nine changes to Klopp’s starting lineup.

Mohamed Salah and Virgil van Dijk were missing as expected after picking up injuries at Wembley, but the sheer volume of absentees felt even greater than first feared: Trent Alexander-Arnold, Andrew Robertson and Sadio Mane were all left out completely while Thiago Alcantara, Naby Keita, Jordan Henderson and Luis Diaz were rotated onto the bench.

To perfectly encapsulate the madcap menagerie Klopp assembled for this task, James Milner began as a No. 6 with Harvey Elliott playing slightly ahead of him in midfield. It was the first time they had even been named in a starting lineup together and Milner, 36, made his Premier League debut in November 2002, 145 days before Elliott was born.

Liverpool really are a team for the ages. The Quadruple bid remains alive, albeit firmly in the balance with Manchester City holding a one-point advantage ahead of Sunday’s final round of matches.

“Making nine changes, if it hadn’t have worked out it would have been 1000% my responsibility,” Klopp said. “Now it worked out and it is 1000% the boys’ responsibility because I can ask for a lot, the boys have to do it. I thought they did exceptionally well, some incredible performances.

“Actually, I am so happy about the performance because it was a bit touching to be honest. Wow, these boys. Like having Ferraris in the garage and then you let them out and they directly go like this. Harvey, I’m not sure when he played last time, Curtis [Jones], no rhythm, Minamino, it is a crime he is not playing more often.

“It is really tough for the boys but whatever happens this year happens because of this group. It is exceptional and tonight they showed it again.”

Southampton offered a contest largely in name only. Redmond’s opening goal was a bolt out of the blue, a well-struck shot which benefitted both from a deflection of Milner and VAR’s decision not to revisit a foul by Lyanco on Jota in the build-up.

Minamino’s 27th-minute equaliser was the product of a fine move that began with Joe Gomez firing a ball into Jota, who laid it off to the Japan international to fire home his tenth goal of the season.

Minamino is something of a statistical curiosity in that he spent the second half of last season on loan at Southampton, starting nine Premier League matches, more than the five he has managed for Liverpool in almost two years since arriving from Red Bull Salzburg. Yet no player has scored at least three goals in the League, Carabao Cup and FA Cup this season and, remarkably, Minamino was Liverpool’s top-scorer in the latter two competitions.

After Liverpool lost Gomez at the break to an ankle injury, Henderson came on with Milner switching to right-back but the pressure on Southampton’s goal was unchecked.

Matip may not have known much about the winner, coming as it did as he battled with Kyle Walker-Peters to head Kostas Tsimikas’ corner after Mohamed Elyounoussi’s inadvertent flick-on, but it was no less than Liverpool deserved on the night.

Southampton ended with an xG, or expected goals, of 0.14 from four shots, 29% possession and boos from the home crowd, many of whom showed what they thought of the planned “lap of appreciation” by immediately heading for the exits.

Arguably the most defiant resistance all night came from the stadium DJ, intent on several half-time swipes at the opposition. Three days on from Liverpool supporters booing the English national anthem and multiple members of the Royal Family including Prince William, the interval playlist was particularly pointed. Sex Pistols’ “God Save The Queen” was followed by Spin Doctors “Two Princes” and Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Aint Bad.” It might yet be three out of four for Liverpool or, remarkably, all four after a precious win that keeps them in the hunt.

However, all that stands in the way of City and a fourth title in five years is Steven Gerrard, the most iconic and influential Liverpool player of the Premier League era now in charge of their opponents on Sunday, Aston Villa. Pep Guardiola’s side hold a one-point and six-goal advantage over Liverpool, who must beat Wolves and hope for a favour from their former talisman. Klopp won’t be making contact.

“He prepares now for Burnley,” said Klopp. “There’s no reason to talk to him, we all know Villa wants to win because Villa wants to win, that’s it.

“Of course [the title] is unlikely because City play at home against Aston Villa, who play only on Thursday,” said Klopp. “It will be tough against Burnley [for Villa] — they fight for survival.”

The mischievous Southampton DJ greeted full-time with the Killers’ song “Mr. Brightside,” the chorus of which includes the line: “But it’s just the price I pay, destiny is calling me.”

Liverpool have paid the price for a mammoth 63-game campaign which has left many players fatigued or carrying injuries. We will all find out on Sunday if destiny really is on their side.

By |2022-05-17T18:44:01-04:00May 17th, 2022|News|
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