Is this the end of Venus Williams' career?

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Is this the end of Venus Williams' career?

From Comcast SportsNet Thursday, September 1, 2011
NEW YORK (AP) -- Two days after playing her first match in two months, Venus Williams suddenly pulled out of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, revealing she recently was diagnosed with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain. The 31-year-old American has won seven Grand Slam titles, including at Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001. "I enjoyed playing my first match here, and wish I could continue but right now I am unable to," Williams said in a statement released by the tournament. "I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon." She was supposed to face 22nd-seeded Sabine Lisicki in the second round Wednesday. Williams cited a virus when withdrawing from hard-court tuneup tournaments since losing in the fourth round at Wimbledon in late June. She returned to action Monday, beating Vesna Dolonts 6-4, 6-3 in the first round in New York, then said: "No one is more in one-match-at-a-time mode than me now at this tournament. It will just be one match at a time, for sure." According to the Sjogren's Syndrome Foundation website, the disease is a chronic autoimmune illness in which people's white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Common symptoms include dry eyes and dry mouth. As many as 4 million Americans have the disease. In rare cases, it can cause arthritis and joint pain, said Dr. John Fitzgerald, director of clinical rheumatology at UCLA. Fitzgerald is not involved in treating Williams and does not know her symptoms or medical history. But, he said, if Williams has the typical symptoms, "it does not seem life-threatening or career-ending." Williams arrived at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday hours before her match was scheduled to begin and tried warming up by hitting balls. When Williams left the site shortly before 5 p.m., wearing a white sweater and purple shorts, she was asked by reporters whether she would say anything. She smiled and waved and shook her head to indicate, "No," then climbed into the back of a tournament transportation car and rode away. "All of us came with the full expectation she'd be playing today. She was geared up to play her match," said Williams' agent, Carlos Fleming. "I just hope she's OK," Fleming added, "and I hope she's healthy and going to be fine." Despite all of her past success, including a brief stint at No. 1 in the rankings, Williams was unseeded at the U.S. Open, because she has fallen to 36th after a year of little action. Since reaching the semifinals at last year's U.S. Open, Williams has played only 11 matches, and the WTA projects that her ranking now will slide out of the top 100. Her younger sister, Serena, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, is scheduled to play her second-round match Thursday. "A lot of times, they've drawn a lot of criticism. But, trust me, (in) five years, when they're gone, everyone is going to miss them. Everyone is going to realize they're going to be living legends for the rest of their lives. Two girls from Compton, dominating tennis -- that's not an everyday story," said 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, who's known the Williams sisters for about two decades. "Venus is just the epitome of class, the way she's gone about it," he said. "I don't think she's ever even had a sniff of controversy around her. She's just done it the right way." On Monday, Venus Williams was asked about the illness that caused her to skip tournaments this summer. She said that night that her ailment had been diagnosed, but wouldn't say what it was. "It was just energy-sucking, and I just couldn't play pro tennis," she said Monday. "It was disappointing, because I had huge plans for this summer, of course, to improve my ranking. To miss out on all those points was definitely devastating. Just to miss so much time off tour was just disheartening. But I'm just really excited to be back." Lisicki said she saw Venus Williams on the practice courts and in the locker room and expected to play their match -- until the tournament referee passed along the news of the withdrawal. "She's a tough girl, and I think she'll come back. You know, it would be unfortunate if she couldn't," Lisicki said. "Serena and Venus both are amazing players, and it's nice to have them in the women's sport. I hope she comes back."

At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

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At the half: Sixers applying pressure early and often against the Celtics

The Celtics are getting more than they bargained for against the Philadelphia 76ers who are once again, record-wise, among the worst teams in the NBA.

They didn’t look like it in the first half which ended with the Celtics trailing the Sixers 53-45.

Boston came into the game having won its last four road games. And they did so by playing solid defense, something that has been noticeably absent in the first half.

Philadelphia came into the game as one of the NBA’s better 3-point shooting teams and has lived up to the lofty ranking.

In the first half Philadelphia made nine of its 18 three-point attempts while the Celtics are way, way, way at the other end of the 3-point shooting spectrum while missing eight of their 11 3s with Isaiah Thomas making a pair with the lone other made 3-pointer coming from Marcus Smart.

The defense struggled, the offense never had any kind of flow and not surprisingly, the Celtics found themselves playing from behind most of the first half.

Here are the first half stars from Saturday’s game.

STARS

Sergio Rodriguez: His playmaking was solid as usual, but it was Rodriguez getting it going with his jumper that really produced surprisingly strong results for the Sixers. He had 11 points, four assists and a steal in the first half.

Isaiah Thomas: Playing his game which is shooting and attacking the rim, Thomas was Boston’s lone double-digit scorer in the first half with 15 points which is tops among all players.

STUDS

Dario Saric: It was a solid first half as Saric contributed both on the boards and the scoreboard. He had 10 points in the first half along with five rebounds.

Gerald Henderson: Henderson had one of those high efficiency-type games with 11 points on 4-for-5 shooting.

DUDS

Celtics 3-point shooting: It was a miserable first half for a team that has been among the NBA’s leaders in 3-pointers made and taken this season. At the half, Boston has shot 2-for-10 on 3's.

Celtics defense: Boston has shown little to no signs of providing the kind of push-back they’ll need in order to leave Philly with a win. In addition to allowing Philadelphia to shoot 47.4 percent from the field, Boston also allowed the Sixers to knock down nine 3's.

Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

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Thomas becoming one of the NBA's best in the fourth quarter

Isaiah Thomas has established himself as one of the NBA’s top players in the fourth quarter of games this season.

“I’d rather play that than any other quarter,” Thomas said.

But there will be times when the game’s flow or head coach Brad Stevens’ gut will tell him to go in a different direction with Thomas’ minutes which is something the two have had conversations about which has helped eliminate any confusion or misunderstandings.

“We’ve had player-coach talks, how he feels and how I feel,” Thomas said. “That’s the relationship we have. We changed it up a little bit (in the win over Sacramento) and I’m just happy we got the win.”

In that game, Thomas was replaced by Terry Rozier with 3:20 to play in the quarter and Boston trailing 66-63. He returned to the floor at the 8:31 mark and the Celtics were down 76-74.

“The key is, there are some times where you feel like those last few minutes of the third quarter will be real important moving forward,” Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “Especially based on how your team is playing. And you just have to make that decision. You have to make that decision, you take him out early in the third like we did (against Sacramento) and put him back in earlier; or play him through until the two or one-minute mark in the third, and then give him his rest up until the seven or six. Either way, we’ve talked about it like I do with all our guys, especially the guys that are playing and big in the rotation.

Stevens would love to come up with a game plan and stick to it with little to no changes being made.

But the NBA game is unpredictable and his job as the head coach is to make the necessary on-the-fly changes that best position the Celtics for victory.

“Ultimately there will be days that it will be very consistent and there might be a time or two where I’m gonna go with my gut,” Stevens said. “They know that and we’ve talked about it.”

And while Stevens’ decision may not sit well with some, players understand it’s all done to achieve one goal – win. 

“There’s a number of reasons why you make a decision to leave someone in or take someone out,” Stevens said. “Ultimately, we have to figure out game to game, moment to moment, what’s best for our team. That’s what I’m charged with. That doesn’t mean I’m always right. I’m not gonna act like that. Ultimately, those guys know I’m thinking about it all the time.”