Goodbye to Lance Armstrong's 7 Tour titles

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Goodbye to Lance Armstrong's 7 Tour titles

From Comcast SportsNetGENEVA (AP) -- Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life by cycling's governing body Monday following a report from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that accused him of leading a massive doping program on his teams.UCI President Pat McQuaid announced that the federation accepted the USADA's report on Armstrong and would not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport."Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling and he deserves to be forgotten in cycling," McQuaid said at a news conference. "This is a landmark day for cycling."The decision clears the way for Tour de France organizers to officially remove Armstrong's name from the record books, erasing his consecutive victories from 1999-2005.Tour director Christian Prudhomme has said the race would go along with whatever cycling's governing body decides and will have no official winners for those years.Armstrong's representatives had no immediate comment.USADA said Armstrong should be banned and stripped of his Tour titles for "the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen" within his U.S. Postal Service and Discovery Channel teams. Under the penalties, he loses all his race results since August 1998.The USADA report said Armstrong and his teams used steroids, the blood booster EPO and blood transfusions. The report included statements from 11 former teammates who testified against Armstrong, including testimony that he pressured them to take banned drugs."I was sickened by what I read in the USADA report," McQuaid said, singling out the testimony of former Armstrong teammate David Zabriskie. "The story he told of how he was coerced and to some extent forced into doping is just mind boggling."Armstrong denies doping, saying he passed hundreds of drug tests. But he chose not to fight USADA in one of the agency's arbitration hearings, arguing the process was biased against him. USADA's report, released earlier this month, was aimed at showing why the agency ordered the sanctions against him."At the moment Lance Armstrong hasn't admitted to anything, yet all the evidence is there in this report that he doped," McQuaid said.Former Armstrong team director Johan Bruyneel is also facing doping charges, but he is challenging the USADA case in arbitration.On Sunday, Armstrong greeted about 4,300 cyclists at his Livestrong charity's fundraiser bike ride in Texas, telling the crowd he's faced a "very difficult" few weeks."I've been better, but I've also been worse," Armstrong, a cancer survivor, told the crowd.While drug use allegations have followed the 41-year-old Armstrong throughout much of his career, the USADA report seems to have marked a turning point in the saga. Longtime sponsors Nike, Trek Bicycles and Anheuser-Busch dropped Armstrong last week, as did other companies, and he stepped down as chairman of Livestrong, the cancer awareness charity he founded 15 years ago after surviving testicular cancer which spread to his lungs and brain.Armstrong's astonishing return from life-threatening illness to the summit of cycling offered an inspirational story that transcended the sport. However, his downfall has ended "one of the most sordid chapters in sports history," USADA said in its 200-page report published two weeks ago.Armstrong has consistently argued that the USADA system was rigged against him, calling the agency's effort a "witch hunt" which pressured witnesses into cooperating."It is for Mr. Armstrong to defend himself against such witness statements that he deems to be incorrect. It is not for the UCI to do so," the governing body said in a statement.If Armstrong's Tour victories are not reassigned there would be a hole in the record books, marking a shift from how organizers treated similar cases in the past.When Alberto Contador was stripped of his 2010 Tour victory for a doping violation, organizers awarded the title to Andy Schleck. In 2006, Oscar Pereiro was awarded the victory after the doping disqualification of American rider Floyd Landis.USADA's position is that the Tour titles should not be given to other riders who finished on the podium, such was the level of doping during Armstrong's era.The agency said 20 of the 21 riders on the podium in the Tour from 1999 through 2005 have been "directly tied to likely doping through admissions, sanctions, public investigations" or other means. It added that of the 45 riders on the podium between 1996 and 2010, 36 were by cyclists "similarly tainted by doping."The world's most famous cyclist could still face further sports sanctions and legal challenges. Armstrong could lose his 2000 Olympic time-trial bronze medal and may be targeted with civil lawsuits from ex-sponsors or even the U.S. government.McQuaid said the UCI's board will meet Friday to discuss the Olympic issue and whether to update other race results taking account of Armstrong's disqualifications.A so-called "Truth and Reconciliation" commission, which could offer a limited amnesty to riders and officials who confessed to doping practices, will also be discussed, UCI legal adviser Philippe Verbiest said.In total, 26 people -- including 15 riders -- testified to USADA that Armstrong and his teams used and trafficked banned substances and routinely used blood transfusions. Among the witnesses were loyal sidekick George Hincapie and admitted dopers Tyler Hamilton and Landis.USADA's case also implicated Italian sports doctor Michele Ferrari, depicted as the architect of doping programs, and longtime coach and team manager Bruyneel.Ferrari -- who has been targeted in an Italian prosecutor's probe -- and another medical official, Dr. Luis Garcia del Moral, received lifetime bans.Bruyneel, team doctor Pedro Celaya and trainer Jose "Pepe" Marti opted to take their cases to arbitration with USADA. The agency could call Armstrong as a witness at those hearings.Bruyneel, a Belgian former Tour de France rider, lost his job last week as manager of the RadioShack-Nissan Trek team which Armstrong helped found to ride for in the 2010 season.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.