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Washington Wizards teammates laud Russell Westbrook’s ‘great’ overall impact in his debut

Russell Westbrook drove the lane, found Thomas Bryant open for an easy dunk as the Washington Wizards’ big man drew a foul and then immediately ran to Bryant to scream his approval.

In his first match with the Wizards, Westbrook logged only 17 first-half minutes in Washington’s 99-96 triumph over the Detroit Pistons. But his impact was felt with his energy, pace and ability to get the ball moving and draw the defense’s attention.

“You could see in the first half really how many open shots we got,” Wizards forward Davis Bertans said of Westbrook’s impact. “And how many good looks we had and it was all I would say Russ.

“He set the tone for driving and kicking … I am pretty sure it is going to get better from here.” After being held out of the Wizards’ first two preseason games, Westbrook played in the team’s final tuneup before the regular-season opener at Philadelphia on Dec. 23. Westbrook ended with 8 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and shot 4-for-10, including 0-for-3 from behind the arc.

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“It was good,” Westbrook said of his first game as a Wizard. “We won, the most important part … I like where we were tonight.

“My job is to try to set the tone. Have them be ready to play.”

The Wizards saw Westbrook’s encouragement on offense in the ability Bradley Beal had to work one-on-one against defenders and how much the Wizards tried to push the pace. Washington led by as much as 16 and had 10 fast-break points in the first half when Westbrook played.

“It just felt great,” Beal said of playing with Westbrook. “It was great energy … I don’t think it will be tough as people are trying to make it out to be. We both do a really good job off of feeding off of each other, just adjusting to how each other plays.

“The most important thing is his pace and energy he brings to the table … it just works out well. We just continue to play off each other, feed off each other and push each other.”

While Beal missed all seven of his 3-point attempts, he scored 15 points and hit seven field goals.

Beal averaged 30.5 points last campaign but drew the majority of the opposing defense’s attention as the Wizards’ lone star.

“Our job is to make the game easier for him,” Westbrook said. “Find a way to constantly feed him the ball so he can score at a high rate. He has shown he is able to do that. He is going to be great. I am not worried about Brad one bit.”

Bryant benefited from the attention Westbrook drew, scoring 22 points and making 7 of 12 shots. And Wizards coach Scott Brooks loved seeing an animated Westbrook celebrating Bryant’s dunk with the foul and encouraging the big man in the first quarter.

“Really good,” Brooks said when asked about Westbrook’s first preseason action. “He’s been looking like that all training camp. His spirit is about winning, not about stats. He plays the right way and teaches our young fellas the right things. He’s great. “He’s nothing short of spectacular, what he tells the guys, how he coaches his teammates and they listen. What he’s done, how he prepares and how he trains and how he looks at the game is priceless.”

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Darren Clarke wins TimberTech Champions by 1 stroke for first PGA Tour Champions title

Darren Clarke won the TimberTech Champions on Sunday for his first PGA Tour Champions title, two-putting for birdie on the par-5 18th for a 1-stroke triumph over Jim Furyk and Bernhard Langer.

Clarke hit his second shot on 18 to 30 feet and rolled his eagle try just past the hole. After Furyk missed a 20-foot eagle try, Clarke tapped in for a 4-under 68 and the breakthrough victory in his 40th senior start.

“I’ve had a lot of opportunities the last few years, so it’s great to finally win one,” Clarke said. “I wouldn’t be working this hard if I didn’t think I could still win.”

The 52-year-old major champion from Northern Ireland had a 17-under 199 total at The Old Course at Broken Sound. Clarke shot a 62 — with a penalty stroke for picking up his ball on the second fairway — Saturday for a share of the lead with Robert Karlsson.

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Clarke won for the first time since the 2011 British Open at Royal St. George’s.

“Well, the last victory I had, I was drunk for a week, so this time I won’t be,” Clarke said.

The 50-year-old Furyk also closed with a 68. He won this year in his first two starts on the senior tour.

“I really feel like I’m putting well, but I was burning a lot of edges and not able to get some putts to go in,” Furyk said. “At 18 had a nice look for eagle there from about 20 feet and thought I hit a great putt. I didn’t even sniff the hole, I probably missed it a good cup low and we just misread the putt. I’m a little stunned it broke as much as it did.”

Langer, the 63-year-old German star who won the event in 2010 and 2019, shot 67. He was 16 under until making bogeys on the 15th and 17th holes that cost him. He regained the lead in the Charles Schwab Cup.

“I didn’t drive the ball well and I could feel there was something wasn’t right with my swing and it showed up over and over,” Langer stated. “I hit probably six or seven tee shots just way right and that’s going to bite you sooner or later — and it did on 16.”

The PGA Tour Champions wraps up 2020 next week with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix, although the season will be extended to include 2021 because of tournaments lost from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was fourth at 15 under after a 66.

Karlsson (71) and Gene Sauers (68) followed at 14 under.John Daly, tied with Furyk for the first-round lead after a 64, had weekend rounds of 73 and 71 to tie for 26th at 7 under. He was making his fourth start since exposing he has bladder cancer.

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Giolito pitches 1st no-hitter of year, White Sox top Pirates

Lucas Giolito pitched the first no-hitter of the pandemic-delayed major league campaign, striking out 13 and permitting just one runner in leading the Chicago White Sox over the Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0 Tuesday night.

With the seats at Guaranteed Rate Field empty, the hollers of his teammates echoed around the ballpark after right fielder Adam Engel extended to catch Erik Gonzalez’s slicing drive toward the line for the final out.

“I’ve been working for this type of game for a while now and it’s really cool that we got it done,” Giolito stated.

An All-Star last year, the 26-year-old Giolito (3-2) matched his career high for strikeouts set in his previous start versus Detroit.

Only a four-pitch walk to Gonzalez leading off the fourth inning got in Giolito’s way of perfection. The right-hander threw 101 pitches and made quick work of the Pirates — Pittsburgh came into the game batting just .229 this season and has the worst record in the majors. The White Sox rushed toward the mound after the final out to celebrate Giolito’s first career no-hitter.

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Giolito was fully aware in the later innings what was at stake.

“After the seventh, six more outs, looking at who I was facing, became very, very, very possible,” he said, “and then we were able to get it done.”

Giolito said his approach never wavered.

“Just staying with the same, like, mental routine for every single pitch. One pitch at a time. Full focus, full execution, straight through the target,” he said.

Giolito pitched the 19th no-hitter in White Sox history and first since Philip Humber threw a perfect game at Seattle in 2012. This was the seventh time the Pirates have been held hitless, previously by Washington’s Max Scherzer in 2015.

White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson made a nifty play on a grounder by Bryan Reynolds up the middle in the seventh to preserve the gem. In the ninth, Gonzalez hit a liner that Engel, a fleet center fielder for most of his career, caught on the run at knee-high height.

“Yeah man, I think I got it,” Gonzalez said. “With that at-bat, I was a little bit mad because I don’t want to be part of history.” Giolito improved to 30-28 in his big league career. He made his debut with Washington in 2016, then was traded after that season to the White Sox in a package for outfielder Adam Eaton.

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