The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

756958.jpg

The best day in the history of the Phoenix Coyotes?

From Comcast SportsNetGLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- An hour before one of the biggest games in franchise history, the Phoenix Coyotes learned a deal was in place for a new owner, one they hoped would end three years of uncertainty.They celebrated in typical fashion: grinding out another victory.This one, though, will take them somewhere they've never been before: the Western Conference finals.Relying again on their grit and the superb goaltending of Mike Smith, the Coyotes beat the Nashville Predators 2-1 on Monday night to earn their first trip to the conference finals in 33 years as an NHL franchise."It feels great right now, a lot of hard work," Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. "It's been a battle the past few years, but it's a lot of fun and we're blessed to be where we are right now."The day started off with news the Coyotes and their fans had been anticipating for three years.Speaking as players from both teams warmed up in the hallway, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced that a tentative deal had been reached to sell the Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison.The Coyotes paid it no mind. They had spent the previous three seasons with the uncertainty hanging over them and had learned to keep their focus on the ice, not what happens off it.Playing its usual counterpunching style, Phoenix withstood an early flurry by Nashville and followed with goals from Derek Morris and Martin Hanzal in the second period.And, as usual, the Coyotes gave up a late goal to make it interesting, this one by Colin Wilson with just under 6 minutes left.Phoenix has become accustomed to seat-of-their-pants victories, though, and they pulled out another one, nearly getting an empty-net goal by Smith before setting off a raucous celebration on the ice rink surrounded by desert.Next up for the Coyotes are the Los Angeles Kings, the first No. 8 seed to knock off Nos. 1 and 2 in the same playoffs."We've learned a lot as a group who we are and every guy has contributed in the series and the playoffs," said Smith, who stopped 32 shots. "It's been different guys in different series and it's been a big part of our success."Nashville, as it did all series, had plenty of good chances against Smith. Even forwards Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn back from two-game suspensions, the Predators couldn't find a way to capitalize, hitting the post at least three times and managing one goal despite outshooting the Coyotes 33-17.The loss knocks Nashville out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals for the second straight season."They found a way to keep the puck out of the net," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "In the end, we had enough chances to win this series, but we didn't win. We couldn't bury anything past Smith."The Coyotes got some long-awaited good news before the game, when Bettman announced the league had a tentative deal to sell the team to Jamison.There's no official sale agreement yet and Jamison still needs to work out lease details with the city of Glendale, which could be a dicey proposition with conservative watchdog group the Goldwater Institute lurking. Still, after three years of waiting, the move toward ownership and staying in the desert took a big step.It had already been a great season.Relying on Smith and their protect-at-all-costs mentality, the unflashy Coyotes won their first division title as an NHL franchise and advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 25 years.Phoenix moved within the brink of the conference finals for the first time by beating Nashville twice in the desert and again in Game 4 on Smith's second shutout of the playoffs.With Jobing.com Arena juiced and Bettman, not to mention their potential new boss in the house, the Coyotes played their pack-in-and-counter game the way they have all playoffs.Nashville had the advantage early in a tight first period, Phoenix took it late, but neither scored.The Coyotes broke through early in the second, when Pekka Rinne made a kick save on a breakaway by Shane Doan, but couldn't stop Morris' shot from the point after Phoenix reset.The Predators tried to rally, turning up the pressure.Instead of the tying goal, they hit the post three times -- twice in one rapid-fire sequence -- and had another shot blocked by diving Coyotes. Smith also made a snatching save on a wrister by Gabriel Bourque.Phoenix then went back to its counterattacking ways, with Kyle Chipchura breaking out, holding, then setting up Hanzal's wrister that Rinne couldn't see with a defender in his way."That is kind of how the series went," Predators defenseman Ryan Suter said. "We didn't capitalize on their chances and they came back and it ended up in the back of our net."Up 2-0, the Coyotes packed it in, diving to block shots while giving the Predators only slivers of shooting lanes.Wilson squeezed a puck through one of them with 5:59 left, flicking a pass from David Legwand past Smith, ending his scoreless streak of more than 160 minutes.The Coyotes wouldn't let them score again and Smith nearly ended it with a flourish, missing an empty-net by a few inches with 2 seconds left.It didn't matter at that point -- the Coyotes were on their way to the conference finals, capping one of the biggest days in franchise history with another wipe-the-brow victory."Coyote ugly -- that's kind of been the motto here," Smith said. "We just find a way to win."Notes: Doan played his 50th career playoff game. ... The team that scored first won every game in the series. ... Nashville went 0 for 4 on the power play. ... Phoenix played without D Rostislav Klesla, who was suspended a game by the league for his Game 4 hit on Nashville forward Matt Halischuk.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Wizards shoot ridiculous 65 percent from field

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Wizards shoot ridiculous 65 percent from field

After Boston’s last game against Portland – a loss – Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said he was encouraged by some of the things his team did defensively.

It’s safe to say Stevens won’t be singing that tone if the Celtics continue along the path they’re on defensively right now as the Washington Wizards went into the half with a 66-59 lead.

Washington, donning all-black clothes when they arrived at the Verizon Center, were very much looking as though they were digging a basketball grave for the Boston Celtics who allowed the Wizards to shoot a ridiculous 65 percent from the field in the first half and 61.5 percent (8-for-13) from 3-point range.

The Wizards scored the first four points of the game and spent all of the first half playing with a lead.

But the Celtics showed some fight late in the second quarter, going on a 14-6 run to cut Washington’s lead to 55-52 with 3:39 to play in the quarter.

Boston would later have a chance to tie the game, but Marcus Smart’s 3-pointer was off the mark.

And the Wizards, as they had done all game, made the Celtics pay as Bradley Beal drained a jumper that made it a two-possession game.

Here’s a look at the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half.

 

STARS

Bradley Beal

It was his idea to go with the all-Black look, and he backed up his talk with a strong first half of play. He has a team-high 14 points at the half along with five assists.

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas delivered yet another all-star caliber scoring performance in the first half for Boston. He led all scorers with 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting along with a game-high eight assists.  

John Wall

After scoring just nine points when these two met on Jan. 11, Wall has 13 points at the half on 6-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds and three assists.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

It was an extremely efficient game offensively in the first half for Horford. He had 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting with three assists.

Markieff Morris

He’s one of four double-digit scorers in the first half for the Wizards. In addition to his 10 points, he also has five rebounds and three assists.

 

DUDS

Celtics defense

At this end of the floor, the Celtics were absolutely atrocious in the first half. The Wizards shot a ridiculously high 65 percent from the field, and were just as lethal (8-for-13, 61.5 percent) from 3-point land. They have no shot at competing let alone winning tonight’s game, if they don’t turn things around and do so soon!

Beyond the numbers: 'Game is slowing down' for Isaiah Thomas

Beyond the numbers: 'Game is slowing down' for Isaiah Thomas

Just about every part of Isaiah Thomas’ game offensively has seen tremendous growth this season.

But what has really separated him from earlier versions of himself, has been his 3-point shooting.

He comes into tonight’s game against the Washington Wizards shooting a career best 38.4 percent from 3-point range.

When asked about how he has elevated his game this season, the answer isn’t that simple.

“I don’t know” he told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “The game is slowing down for me. My teammates put me in position, my coach does … and I’m just knocking down shots.”

Because of his shot-making, Thomas has made it difficult for defenses to give him a steady diet of any style of play in trying to limit him.

And because they have to change things up with regularity, that has created more scoring opportunities.

“Sometimes they forget what they want to do (defensively) and leave me open for a three,” Thomas said. “Those are the the types of shots I need to knock down and I’m being aggressive.

He added, “I need to get to the free throw line, trying to make plays for my teammates. It’s one of those things where I’m in a really good zone now; a really good rhythm.”

A good rhythm?

According to NBA statistics guru Dick Lipe, Thomas is the first Celtic ever to make at least four 3-pointers in five straight games. Taking it a step further, he has made at least three 3-pointers in seven straight games which equaled Antoine Walker’s streak in 2001.

Thomas has also attempted 11 three-pointers in five straight games which is a franchise record. There have only been three longer streaks in NBA history - Golden State’s Stephen Curry (7 straight games, 2016); Washington’s Gilbert Arenas (7 straight games, 2005) and Dallas’ George McCloud (6 straight games, 2006).

He’s also averaging 3.1 made 3’s per game which would be a franchise record that’s currently held by Antoine Walker who averaged 2.7 during the 2001-2002 season.

And all those 3’s have added up to Thomas scoring at least 27 points in seven straight games, something that hasn’t been done by a Celtic since Larry Bird had eight such games in March 1988 as well as the 1987-1988 season.