MVP would be a 'dream' for Rondo

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MVP would be a 'dream' for Rondo

BOSTON -- The question of whether or not Rajon Rondo would be able to return from a sprained right ankle was "the" topic of conversation prior to Saturday's game against the Toronto Raptors.

Within minutes of Rondo stepping on the court, his ankle became an afterthought. By the end of the game, the questions shifted from "How does your ankle feel?" to "How would it feel to be MVP one day?"

Rondo dished 20 assists in 32 minutes (including seven dimes in the first quarter), extending his 10 assist streak to 33 games dating back to March 11. He is now four games shy of tying John Stockton for the second-longest streak in NBA history (37).

The longer Rondo extends the stretch -- and the more consistently he knocks down his jump shots -- the more frequently his name is mentioned in MVP talks.

"MVP is in the picture. I would like to be one day, but we've just got to keep winning," Rondo said after the Celtics 107-89 win. "Who wouldn't want to be? That's a dream."

This season Rondo is averaging 13.3 points (52.0 FG), 13.4 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 2.0 steals per game. He doesn't shoot lights out and his jumper will continue to be critiqued, but his impact on the game is immeasurable.

"You know Ive always looked at someone as MVP as someone makes his players not only better, but is able to dictate the game from different stat wise, is able to get rebounds, does multiple things for his team," said Kevin Garnett. "Thats preference. Obviously I'm going to be bias because I play with him, I see his growth and I see how hard he works. But when it comes to his presence on the game, that's hard. That's up there with the modern day Kobes and LeBrons and all that. I think he gets his knocks because he doesn't score the ball and all that. When you look at the overall package, it's unbelievable what he's doing."

Rondo's game is enigmatic, and he likes it that way. Opponents and teammates alike are forced to read where his next pass is going, a learning curve for those who play with him and a challenging task for those defending him.

Even head coach Doc Rivers could not put Rondo's game into words. He considers Rondo "a rare bird" and likened his passing stretches to those of stars such as Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, and Stockton.

"Its an offense in itself," said Rivers. "Weve always said that about him. We have an offense and then he creates another offense at times. Hes a tough one. I sit with a lot of coaches and we brainstorm how to guard him, and I love hearing them because I know the wrong ones. I dont ever say much. But its hard because hes so smart. Now hes making the shot, its a lot harder."

Garnett knew within days of meeting Rondo five years ago that the young guard had immense potential, the kind that goes beyond his physical capabilities. After seeing how he dictated the flow of the game, Garnett offered a promising prediction.

"I evaluate the game from not just the scoring perspective but a defensive perspective too," said Garnett. "I told him a long time ago when I first met him that he had the potential to do both, he had the energy and IQ to do both, and it was up to him. Obviously you all are seeing what his product is coming out to be. The future is whatever he wants it to be. I've always said with Rondo, it's always between his ears. Consistency is everything and whatever you put into this, that's what you're going to get out. He's doing a great job of it."

Rondo will look to continue his streak on Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. He said his ankle felt "half-way decent" playing against the Raptors, assessed it as "79 percent" after the game, and expects he will be "94 percent" better for the next game. He proved on Saturday that a sprained ankle was no match for the way he plays his game.

"It's something I look forward to every night," Rondo said of his assists. "Just trying to make my teammates happy, and somehow I keep getting to ten."

STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

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STANLEY CUP FINALS: Guentzel's goal lifts Penguins by Predators 5-3 in Game 1

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel beat Nashville's Pekka Rinne with 3:17 left in regulation to put the Penguins ahead to stay in a 5-3 victory in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Guentzel snapped an eight-game goalless drought to help the defending champions escape after blowing a three-goal lead.

Nick Bonino scored twice for the Penguins. Conor Sheary scored his first of the playoffs and Evgeni Malkin scored his eighth. The Penguins won despite putting just 12 shots on goal. Murray finished with 23 saves for the Penguins, who used the first coach's challenge in finals history to wipe out an early Nashville goal and held on despite going an astonishing 37:09 at one point without a shot.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Ryan Ellis, Colton Sissons and Frederick Gaudreau scored for the Predators. Rinne stopped just seven shots.

The Penguins had all of three days to get ready for the final following a draining slog through the Eastern Conference that included a pair of Game 7 victories, the second a double-overtime thriller against Ottawa last Thursday.

Pittsburgh downplayed the notion it was fatigued, figuring adrenaline and a shot at making history would make up for any lack of jump while playing their 108th game in the last calendar year.

Maybe, but the Penguins looked a step behind at the outset. The Predators, who crashed the NHL's biggest stage for the first time behind Rinne and a group of talented defenseman, were hardly intimidated by the stakes, the crowd or the defending champions.

All the guys from the place dubbed "Smashville" have to show for it is their first deficit of the playoffs on a night a fan threw a catfish onto the ice to try and give the Predators a taste of home.

The Penguins, who led the league in scoring, stressed before Game 1 that the best way to keep the Predators at bay was by taking the puck and spending copious amounts of time around Rinne. It didn't happen, mostly because Nashville's forecheck pinned the Penguins in their own end. Clearing attempts were knocked down or outright swiped, tilting the ice heavily in front of Murray.

Yet Pittsburgh managed to build a quick 3-0 lead anyway thanks to a fortunate bounce and some quick thinking by Penguins video coordinator Andy Saucier. Part of his job title is to alert coach Mike Sullivan when to challenge a call. The moment came 12:47 into the first when P.K. Subban sent a slap shot by Murray that appeared to give the Predators the lead.

Sullivan used his coach's challenge, arguing Nashville forward Filip Forsberg was offside. A lengthy review indicated Forsberg's right skate was in the air as he brought the puck into a zone, a no-no.

It temporarily deflated Nashville and gave the Penguins all the wiggle room they needed to take charge.

Malkin scored on a 5-on-3 15:32 into the first, Sheary made it 2-0 just 65 seconds later and when Nick Bonino's innocent centering pass smacked off Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm's left knee and by Rinne just 17 seconds before the end of the period, Pittsburgh was in full command.

It looked like a repeat of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against Ottawa, when the Penguins poured in four goals in the first period of a 7-0 rout.

Nashville, unlike the Senators, didn't bail. Instead they rallied.

Ellis scored the first goal by a Predator in a Stanley Cup Final 8:21 into the second. Though Nashville didn't get another one by Murray, they also kept Rinne downright bored at the other end. Pittsburgh didn't manage a shot on net in the second period, the first time it's happened in a playoff game in franchise history.

Nashville kept coming. Sissons beat Murray 10:06 into the third and Gaudreau tied it just after a fruitless Pittsburgh power play.

No matter. The Penguins have become chameleons under Sullivan. They can win with both firepower and precision.

Guentzel slipped one by Rinne with 3:17 to go in regulation and Bonino added an empty netter to give Pittsburgh early control of the series.

Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

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Harper, Strickland throw punches in Nationals-Giants brawl

SAN FRANCISCO - An enraged Bryce Harper charged the mound, fired his helmet and traded punches to the head with San Francisco reliever Hunter Strickland after getting hit by a fastball, setting off a wild brawl Monday during the Washington Nationals' 3-0 win over the Giants.

Drilled in the right hip by a 98 mph heater on Strickland's first pitch in the eighth inning with two outs, none on and Washington ahead 2-0, Harper didn't hesitate. The slugger pointed his bat at Strickland, yelled at him and took off.

No one got in Harper's way as he rushed the mound. His eyes were wide as he flung his helmet - it sailed way wide of Strickland, it might've slipped - and they started swinging away. The 6-foot-4 Strickland hit Harper in the face, then they broke apart for a moment before squaring off again. Harper punched Strickland in the head as the benches and bullpen emptied.

Giants teammates Michael Morse and Jeff Samardzija collided hard as they tried to get between the two fighters. Three Giants players forcefully dragged Strickland from the middle of the pack all the way into the dugout, while a teammate held back Harper.

Harper and Strickland were both ejected. They have some history between them - in the 2014 NL Division Series, Harper hit two home runs off Strickland, and the All-Star outfielder glared at the reliever as he rounded the bases after the second shot in Game 4.