Isaiah Thomas to NBA: I’m Here to Stay

11 Feb Emmanuel Basulto
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Emmanuel Basulto

OLD AS David and Goliath from the Old Testament are the stories of hope and heart. The size of the fight in the dog, rather than the size of the dog in the fight; basically, any underdog cliché one could think of is upheld by the likes of point guard Isaiah Thomas.

In a basketball world loaded with freak athletes and dominating builds, an average looking player is anything but common. Thomas has been overlooked since he got into the NBA and now as a polished veteran, and MVP candidate behind the likes of Russell Westbrook and James Harden, Thomas has found what seems to be a home with the Boston Celtics — one of the two most historic franchises in NBA history.

But, nothing came easy for Thomas, whose confidence in himself is reflective of his friendship with Floyd Mayweather Jr., who can be seen sitting court-side at Thomas’ basketball games on occasion.

IT’S DECEMBER of 2011 and upwards of a thousand fans sit inside Power Balance Pavilion in Sacramento to witness the first showing of Kings basketball. The lockout’s coming to an end in a couple of weeks and fans are eager to witness another “revamped” Kings team. The addition of Chuck Hayes, John Salmons and J.J. Hickson are something Kings no fans are looking forward to. The real reason thousands flocked to the arena on that Thursday? Jimmer Fredette.

A team scrimmage is set for the evening after fans get to enjoy games and prizes, among other festivities.

As some fans scream, “Shoot!” just about every time Fredette touches the ball, others in attendance begin whispering about another rookie. The 5’9” Thomas. The player who came to be known by Kings’ fans as “The Hustlin’ Husky”, thanks to Jerry Reynolds, was outperforming every guard that was put on him that day, including the first-round pick Fredette.

Thomas was the third player drafted by Sacramento in 2011; the other two being Fredette and Tyler Honeycutt (both of which are now playing in overseas). Known by most only for his name being similar to the Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas and for hitting the “cold-blooded” game-winner during the Pac-10 championship earlier that year.

“People still tweet the video at me,” Thomas wrote in a 2015 Players’ Tribune article. “Every time, I watch it over and over. Aside from getting drafted, it was the biggest moment of my basketball life.”

While all eyes were on him as the clock hit zero of that college career-defining game, Thomas was all but written off as the last pick — Mr. Irrelevant — of the NBA Draft.

And when Kings fans met the draft picks at Sacramento International Airport, lost in the crowd was Thomas. Men and women gawked at the sight of Fredette as they practically chased him around the airport after the three rookies descended from the escalator. Thomas, along with Honeycutt, seemed just happy to be there. He chatted with a few members of the crowd that didn’t flow with the majority as he signed some items, but it was clear Thomas was an afterthought to many.

If it wasn’t obvious enough for Kings fans at that scrimmage, it became more clear who the better guard was when the regular season began.

IT TOOK Thomas 28 games to become a starter for the Kings that season.

Fredette had six starts in Jan. as Sacramento attempted to implement him into the starting lineup. However, outside of merchandise sales, Fredette never had an impact with the Kings. His best game as a starter came against the Denver Nuggets when Fredette dropped 19 points in 36 minutes of work, going 5 for 8 from beyond the arc, according to Basketball Reference. It was one of the eight times in his 61-game season Fredette had a shooting percentage of better than .385 while shooting the ball 10 or more times (BBR).

To compare, Thomas (who got his first start in Feb.) had 24 games with double-digit field goal attempts where he shot better than .385 that year (BBR). In Thomas’ 37 starts for the Kings, he played 31 minutes per game and averaged almost 15 points, 5.4 assists and 3.1 rebounds. In Jimmer’s starts, he played 28 minutes, averaged 11 points, 2.1 assists and 1 rebound.

Thomas never backed down from competition. Three times the Kings brought point guards in to start and three times Thomas came out on top.

“They didn’t want me.” That’s what Thomas told ABC10’s Sean Cunningham when Thomas made his return to Sacramento as a two-time NBA All-Star.

Just like Fredette, though, Aaron Brooks and Greivis Vasquez each got their opportunity to run the point for the Kings and the result was always Thomas bringing up the ball.

That was until Thomas was traded to the Suns.

In between his three-year stint with the Kings and his successful makeover in Boston came a season of questionable lineups and a lack of support from the front office to put Thomas in the starting rotation.

He only started in one game that season while he came off the bench 55 times. Thomas played almost 26 minutes per game that season. In that single start, Thomas had 26 points and five dimes in a two-point loss to… Sacramento. Thomas’ next game two days later against the Houston Rockets would be his last on the Suns.

Thomas was traded to the Celtics where he played his final 21 games of the season.

Once again relegated to the bench, Thomas this time didn’t mind, he says. He played on a team that made it to the playoffs and, though swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thomas got his first taste of the NBA Playoffs.

In three of Thomas’ four playoff games, he topped 20 points, with 22, 22 and 21 points in Game 1, Game 2 and Game 4, respectively. However, Thomas’ scoring came with a price that some would say at the time was the reason for him playing on three teams in two years: he shot too much. Thomas had shot .300 in the playoffs. In addition, he only secured a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in the series racking up 28 assists and 14 turnovers in the four games combined.

STILL, EVEN after the All-Star selections, some say Thomas, who’s averaging a career-high 29.9 points per game (second-best in the league) and more than six assists this season, can’t be a leading scorer on a championship-caliber team. Part of that would have to be due to the LeBron James-led Cavs being the pinnacle in the East, but the other concern is the amount of dribbling and shooting Thomas does.

He’s a score-first guard, which has been the new wave that basketball’s been trending towards for the better part of a decade. It’s not happenstance that some of Thomas’ favorite players were the likes of Damon Stoudamire and Allen Iverson. Two height-challenged (by NBA terms) guards that looked for their shot first, then the pass. That mindset has led to Thomas being the highest scorer in the fourth quarter this season, however.

When it comes to players 6’ and under, Thomas’s best season (measured by win shares) is buried by the likes of Chris Paul, Allen Iverson, Mark Price and Tim Hardaway. But, if the height requirement is dropped two inches (5’10”), Thomas is the only player in the last 15 years at his height to have more than 7 WS.

In his sixth year, Thomas already has three top-15 win share seasons for a player 5’10” or less. The only player with more win shares in the top-15? Calvin Murphy who made his mark in the ‘70s for the Rockets.

And it’s no coincidence that it’s been over 40 years since there was a player of that stature competing at the level of Thomas. It’s also no coincidence that Thomas’ stats as a starter in his career (20.8 ppg, 5.8 apg, 2.8 rpg) are eerily similar to Kyrie Irving’s career stats (21.2 ppg, 5.5 apg, 3.2 rpg), who was taken with the No. 1 pick the same year Thomas was selected last. As a starter, Thomas also has a higher true shooting percentage, .585 to .558, than Irving with less usage percentage, 27% to 28.5%, per BBR.

While fads in the NBA come and go, any signs of Jimmer-mania and Lin-sanity are all but covered in dust as the NBA world continues on. One thing’s becoming obvious: Isaiah Thomas is a stalwart in the league. He’s not going anywhere any time soon, so get used to him.

Bellator Comes to San Jose Swinging

8 Feb

Bellator made its return to the SAP Center in San Jose on Saturday night for the second time of 2016 and with it came a tremendous list of who’s who mixed martial arts fighters.

The preliminary matches, which weren’t shown on tv had a large amount of Bay Area and Northern California local fighters, but the majority of the crowd came to see familar faces such as Benson Henderson, Michael “Venom” Page and Bellator’s lightweight champion, Michael Chandler.

In addition fans were able to meet and greet with some legendary MMA fighters such as Phil Davis, Royce Gracie, Matt Mitrione and Rory MacDonald in the concourse of the arena before the main card began at 6 p.m.

Linton Vassell vs. Francis Carmont

In the first match of the main card, the first round was all Linton Vassell as he earned a takedown of Francis Carmont and controlled the round from the ground. Multiple times he was close to getting in a rear naked choke but he wasn’t able to lock it in deep enough.

The second round, after a few punches were thrown, Carmont got a takedown of his own and latched himself to the back of Vassell. Vassell would work his way out of it after about half a minute and once again took control.

In the third round it was all Vassell once again as they went to the floor and he got triangle control and continuously threw punches and elbows as he dominated Carmont. The fight ended and went to the scorecards where Vassell won by unanimous decision.

Keri Melendez vs. Sheila Padilla

In Keri Melendez’ pro debut she faced Sheila Padilla. As the two fighters were feeling each other out, Melendez faked a left and threw a solid right cross that landed square on Padilla’s nose and dropped her. Melendez jumped on Padilla and ended the fight just under a minute into the first round. It was Melendez’ first pro victory and it was Padilla’s first loss of her pro career (2-1).

Adam Piccolotti vs. Brandon Girtz

A somewhat slow beginning of the first round turned into a speedy combination of kicks and punches by undefeated Piccolotti who ended round one extremely well and left Girtz staggered.

Piccolotti picked up where he left off I. The second round, Piccolotti landed some shots on the button, but Girtz took them.

In the third round, with Piccolotti winning the first two rounds, Girtz came out strong and was going for the knockout. However, even with a couple punches that landed and an absolute monster of a take-down of Piccolotti, the young Piccolotti was able to survive the round. He countered with a leg lock once the two were on the mat and as the bell rung with Girtz swinging on Piccolotti, the fight ended and went to the scorecards where Piccolotti expectedly won unanimously 29-28 on the cards.

Piccolotti, who fights out of Half Moon Bay, said he felt the encouragement from the crowd as the fight went on.

“It drives me, it motivates me,” Piccolotti said. “Especially, deep into that third round, I was tired from taking that body shot, you know. I was pulling on the knee bar and I felt that crowd behind me.”

Fedor Emilianenko signing and fight promotion with Matt Mitrione

The loudest roar of the night may have been the surprise announcement of the signing of heavyweight, and MMA legend, Fedor Emilianenko. The 40-year-old was signed to a multi-fight deal and will face Matt Mitrione in February in San Jose.

Mitrione, signed his contract for the fight  was basically blindfolded to who his opponent was going to be. Mitrione, at the press conference talked about how surprised he was to find out he’d fight the man many fans simply call Fedor.

“It’s the chance of a lifetime,“ Mitrione said. “When you start looking at this sport you set targets … on certain people whether it’s realistic or not. It’s what you look for and he’s the man. He’s done everything in this sport, he’s beaten everyone with a name and he’s beaten them in incredible fashion.”

Michael Page vs. Fernando Gonzalez

Michael Page put his 11 – 0 record to the test against veteran Fernando Gonzalez in a three-round bout. After a couple minutes of Page’s flamboyant antics, the fans at SAP Center let their voices be heard as the boo-birds landed in San Jose.

In the second, Page took it even a step further as his hip thrusts and constant winding of his arms turned the fight into more of a one-man dance off. But, to Page’s credit, he controlled both rounds to head into the third with the lead in points.

Gonzalez began the third round shooting in on Page and getting him up against the cage. With Page’s reach advantage, Gonzalez had to find a way to get inside to cut the distance and he did so for a moment, but Page regained control as the match ended. Overall, the fight didn’t live up to the expectations Page had set, but it ended with the expected result as Page won by split-decision.

Page, who’s had a lot of buzz as of late due to some eccentric celebrations and bone-shattering knockouts, didn’t feel like he put on the performance he expected to.

“Obviously, you don’t ever want to get booed,” Page said. “It just added to the frustrations for me and the performance that I know I can put on. Everybody has a bad day at the office and I had a bad day at the office and still took the win.”

(C) Michael Chandler vs. Benson Henderson

Lightweight Championship Match

The main event was for the lightweight belt and it faced the champion, Michael Chandler, against Benson Henderson.

Round one started quickly for Chandler who connected on some shots as he was able to control the round. The loudest pop of the round came from the crowd when Chandler suplexed Henderson towards the end of the round. Henderson was able to survive the assault, however and the round was over.

The second round was a bit slower to start as Henderson connected on Chandler to flip the script.

Both fighters had their moments as each fighter had the upper hand at one time in the round.

Round three, Henderson had the advantage as the two were standing but mid-way through the round Chandler took Henderson down and controlled his neck as he gave some strikes to the body and closed the round strong.

In the fourth round, Chandler once again took Henderson to the ground and pounded away. But, Henderson was able to escape and ended the round with a flurry of shots that left Chandler’s ear bleeding. Henderson also had a couple of chances to get Chandler in a submission. But slipped out of an arm bar and a guillotine.

The fifth and final round was all Henderson as he picked up where he left off in the fourth with a couple punches and a big takedown before ground and pounding away at Chandler. But it was too little too late as Chandler got the split decision.

Chandler, at the press conference, had to wipe blood away from his eye after the bout, and even joked about the leaking from the right side of his face.

“I think I did well,” Chandler said. “I did a lot of things right in that cage and I feel like I became a better fighter because of this fight and I added another set of stitches to my legacy.”

Pat Tillman: A Lasting Legacy

8 Feb

November 6, 2016 marked Pat Tillman’s 40th birthday.

Born in San Jose, California Tillman was a star football player at Leland High School, at Arizona State University and later with the Arizona Cardinals.

Tillman, however, decided to go after something bigger than his football dreams when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2002. Sadly, in 2004, Tillman was killed in the line of duty.

Since that time, Tillman’s legacy has lived on through his family, friends and foundations such as the Pat Tillman Foundation, which according to the Foundation’s website, “supports veterans and spouses through educational scholarships, tools and a support network.”

Alex Garwood, who co-founded the Pat Tillman Foundation (PTF), says the foundation took some time figuring out just how they wanted to go about keeping Tillman’s memory with them.

“After Pat was killed in April of 2004, immediately people started sending in checks,” Garwood said. “And all of a sudden we had hundreds of thousands of dollars and what do you do with it? We knew we wanted to carry forward Pat’s legacy.”

The PTF has now given 460 scholarships to former military members and has helped send these men and women to over 100 different universities.

Halli Smith, who is a current scholar at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, said she’s gained invaluable experience since she’s been awarded the scholarship.

“We are a network of people who are all striving to leave the world better than we found it,” Smith said. “Being involved in the Pat Tillman Foundation has taught me that struggles can be strengths if you view them as positives.”

The Foundation has not only helped students further their education, but has educated many on just the type of person Tillman was.

“Prior to being selected, I knew Pat was in the NFL and left his football career to serve his country after September 11th,” Smith said. “Listening to those who knew him best, he was a great friend … Knowing what a wonderful person he was, makes being a Tillman Scholar even more of an honor.”

Garwood, who met Tillman as both men were courting their future wives — who are sisters — is technically Tillman’s brother in law, but he says he thinks of him more as his friend.

“You’ve heard the expression about, ‘a friend a friend would like to have’, he was that,” Garwood said. “A person that cared, he took the time to call you, he took the time to understand what was going on with you, to get to know you, to ask you questions to find out what made you tick and was there for you if you were down, was there for you if you were up.”

As Garwood describes, Tillman was a modest man. Garwood said when asked about work, Tillman would say he worked in Arizona, rather than that he was a professional football player.

Another sign of his modesty was clearly shown when Tillman retired from the NFL and denied publicly discussing the decision he made. Tillman turned down more than $3 million when he decided to enlist.

The Tillman Scholars isn’t the only way the foundation honors Tillman, however. The foundation also created a run that takes place in Tempe, Arizona every year.

Named Pat’s Run, the race is 4.2 miles long, to honor the now-retired number Tillman wore while at Arizona State and ends on the 42-yard line of ASU’s Sun Devil Stadium.

“Now it’s evolved, we’re into year 13 and for several years now, we’ve had 30,000 people there,“ Garwood said. “People come from all different states, we’ve had runners from all 50 states, people all over the world who’ve done it.”

The foundation also has shadow runs in over 30 cities, including Pat’s hometown, San Jose.

“When you’re around the Tillman scholars, when you’re at Pat’s run, it’s not somber,” Garwood said.

Although Tillman’s life tragically ended at the young age of 27, he had already touched many lives through his friendly demeanor. Garwood says that Tillman’s ability to think for himself, his desire to understand and push others was something where Tillman was ahead of his time.

“One of the things that helps me and one of the things I’ve often tried to say … we’re not talking because Pat was killed,” Garwood said. “We’re talking because he lived. We’re talking because this man lived an incredible life, was an incredible person and set a very positive example, almost an extreme example of being good. Of following your convictions, of stepping up.”

It’s that desire of stepping up, where those who are engaged with the PTF find their true calling. Garwood says that scholars who go through the PTF are future leaders in the making and that when companies are hiring, they’ll see that classification and lean toward those scholars.

“In order to represent Pat, I set out every day to accomplish all I can with passion, integrity and service,” Smith said. “I feel it is my responsibility to give back and help improve society in any way I can.”

Tillman left an NFL career to follow what he believed was his purpose. Now through his foundation and in his memory, it’s on others to follow in his footsteps.

The Wrestling Way

8 Feb

Located in the center of a strip of businesses is Pro Wrestling Revolution’s training center. The only sign of the center is its scarlet red and black logo on the glass door.

Upon entry, is a small room with just enough space to fit a couple chairs and a couch, but through a second door lies a room with wall to wall event posters that boast some of the company’s wrestlers as well as some big names from once upon a time.

The focus of the room, however, is on the wrestling ring that takes up half of the space. With nothing but a five-foot fan and an open roll-up door to keep the area ventilated, sweat drips from the athletes as they attempt to train their way to the top.

Every professional wrestler comes with a different story. In many cases, that story begins with them as a child watching the sport.

“For me it’s always been something that my dad watched, I watched, my family watched,” said Gabriel Ramirez, founder of Pro Wrestling Revolution in San Jose.

Ramirez’s background includes a large amount of lucha libre, which his father got him into at an early age. Ramirez said that his family would even vacation in Mexico and enjoy some of the pro wrestling events that’d be happening down there.

But for Arianna Sarchi, her love of pro wrestling has taken her a bit further. Born in Milan, Sarchi has trained with PWR for the last three years. She would come to San Jose in the summer to train and leave when school started, but now that she’s graduated from high school in Italy, the 19-year-old lives in San Jose to be closer to the training center.

“My brother got me into wrestling. We used to watch it when we were smaller,” Sarchi said. “It’s just part of me. If I think of me without wrestling, it doesn’t sound right to me. … What keeps me wrestling is the passion for this sport.”

While some don’t always see the thrills of pro wrestling, Sarchi says that her family has completely supported her decision.

Ramirez mentions much of the same support when talking about his family. His two kids are both on hand at the center and both say they spend plenty of time there. Ramirez’ wife, Shannon, is also helping with some duties around the center.

Ramirez says his father, father in law and mother in law all played a huge part in getting PWR started.

“If it wasn’t for the family aspect of what we do, it would have never happened,” Ramirez said.

The idea of starting his own company didn’t just come from his love of pro wrestling, better yet, a drive he wanted to instill in his kids.

“It was time to show my children … to chase your dreams, you know and not always be content,” said Ramirez. “To always fight for what you want.”

And much like Ramirez, in Jeremy McMaster’s opinion, the sport is more important than just seeing two wrestlers go at it.

“You get to see a little guy take on a big guy — and win?” said McMaster, who’s training to be a professional wrestling manager. “Professional wrestling is a true American art form that has really caught on worldwide, but it is one of the few art forms that is truly an American invention, much like rock and roll.”

Still, it’s not just those who have stepped in the ring that experience a passion for pro wrestling.

Nick Souza, a lifelong wrestling fan, says his father got him interested in sports entertainment at a young age.

“My family had a huge effect on me watching pro wrestling,” Souza said. “My father would bring me and my brother to local Indy promotions, WCW, when it was around, and WWF/E events all the time. My mother would buy me toys as well.”

In the wrestling ring there aren’t any do-overs, McMaster says.

“If someone says wrestling is fake, so what?” McMaster said. “Yeah, there’s pre-determined outcome, but there’s no cut, second take, cut, third take. What you see is what you get.”

It’s that example that pro wrestling athletes and fans appreciate. There are no stunt-doubles and there isn’t any way to hide when you’ve messed up a move. There may be pyrotechnics but there aren’t any smoke and mirrors in the ring.

“I think I’ll watch it for the rest of my life,” Souza said. “Even though people bash it for being scripted or fake, I’ll always get a kick or enjoy professional wrestling.”

The Legacy of Peja Stojakovic

17 Dec

A relatively unknown 19-year-old playing in Greece became the greatest shooter in Sacramento Kings history. Predrag aka Peja Stojakovic, was drafted by the Sacramento Kings in what may be the second-best draft class ever, and that’s where his legacy began. The sure-shooter was selected as the 14th pick when many analysts and Kings fans ridiculed the decision, thinking John Wallace, who shined in his four years at Syracuse, was the best option for the team.

In what was the start of Geoff Petrie‘s legacy with the Kings and the beginning of Sacramento’s ascension, Stojakovic would remain in Greece for two years joining the Kings in 1998. Stojakovic would play minimal minutes behind Corliss Williamson for the most part in his first two years before shooting onto the scene in 2000, when Williamson was traded for Doug Christie, averaging 20 points per-game for the Kings.

From there, Peja took the role of starting small forward for the “Greatest Show on Court” Kings where his off-the-screen shooting and passing capability made him a lethal threat alongside the likes of Jason Williams, Christie, Chris Webber and Vlade Divac, who took over as mentor of Stojakovic in 1998 when he signed with Sacramento.

With Divac as role model and fellow Serbian, Stojakovic’s comfortability and confidence boosted year by year, as he flourished in his shooting role. A career .401% three-point shooter, which ranks him 36th in NBA history, his effortless, unorthodox step-back shot along with his 6’10” frame made him all but unstoppable if given the slightest bit of room. His lack of one-on-one capability was overshadowed by his off-the-ball movement which rewarded him from a team of passers, from the point-guard position to center.

With 1760 three-pointers made,the quintessential shooter is ninth on the all-time NBA list, but if you dig a little deeper, you see Stojakovic’s true efficiency from beyond the arc. In the three-pointers made category, according to Basketball Reference, of the top-10, Peja has the least played games, at 804, while the second-least games played is Jamal Crawford at 980. With Crawford still in the league, if he remains healthy and plays in 20 more games, he’ll leave Peja as the only player on the top-10 list to not play in over 1000 games.

Peja is second on the list at 3P-per-game, making 2.2, only behind Jesus Shuttlesworth himself, Ray Allen who hit 2.3. However, when it comes to percentage, Peja (.4007) edges out Allen (.4002), out of the eligible top-10, for the top-spot. Reggie MIller comes in third with an average of about .395%.

So is it fair to claim that Peja is the best shooter of all time? Realistically, yes. However, due to injuries to his foot, back, neck and knee later in his career, Peja was never able to see the same success he had in Sacramento.

Stojakovic, a three-time all-star and two-time 3-point shootout champ finished his Sacramento career at the top of many Kings lists.

Stojakovic also played for the Indiana Pacers, whom the Kings traded him to, for the New Orleans Hornets, Toronto Raptors and Dallas Mavericks, the team which he won his championship ring with in 2011.

Peja will be remembered tonight in Sacramento as his #16 jersey is retired by the Kings. Thanks for all the memories!

Silver and comeback

13 Dec

Don’t ever say the Oakland Raiders are out of it. At least not this season. Right now, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing or what the deficit is. The Raiders just win, baby.

Oakland won its sixth straight game Sunday, 38-24 over the Buffalo Bills.

After falling behind 24-9 with nine minutes left in the third quarter, the Raiders then went on a 29-0 run. From that point on the Raiders offense outgained the Bills 230 to 70. The Bills had six offensive drives from that point on and the Raiders defense forced three straight three-and-outs and two turnovers from the Bills (Buffalo’s last drive ended as time expired in the fourth quarter).

One of the issues heading into the game for the Raiders was how Derek Carr’s injured right hand was holding up, but after a handful of drops in the first half Raiders’ wide receivers were probably being asked that same question.

Seth Roberts and Michael Crabtree each dropped catchable balls in the end zone on an arduous red zone chance before Sebastian Janikowski kicked his second field goal of the game.

Due to the drops and a couple mistimed penalties, the Raiders’ offense stalled for much of the first half. However, they found themselves only trailing 10-9 after Janikowski capped off the second quarter with his third 40-plus yard field goal of the game.

The Raiders’ defense, secondary especially, has been the biggest concern for most fans this season and they didn’t offer much optimism on the Bills’ first two drives of the game as Buffalo drove down the field with ease, settling for a field goal on their first possession and punching in a one-yard touchdown on their second.

Bills’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor started the game 9 of 10 passing and LeSean McCoy and Mike Gillislee each ran for big chunks of yards. Gillislee scored the aforementioned rushing touchdown for the Bills.

The Bills opened the second half with a kick return to their own 34-yard line, then a McCoy 54-yard run would set up the Bills at the Raiders’ 12. Taylor optioned on the next play and ran to the right side untouched into the end zone to put the Bills up 17-9.

After going three-and-out, the Raiders punted and Buffalo once again drove down the field for another score. Now 24-9, the Raiders had to respond and respond they did. Carr led Oakland on a 75-yard drive capped off by a three-yard touchdown to Crabtree. Crabtree finished the game with seven catches for 74 yards.

After Jalen Richard returned the punt to the Bills’ 38, Carr hit Crabtree on first down for four. Richard followed with a 21-yard run to the Bills’ 13. A couple plays later, Latavius Murray would get into the end zone to bring the Raiders within one.

On the Bills’ next drive, the Raiders shut them down for -5 yards as they forced another punt and once again Carr and the Raiders moved the ball down the field effortlessly. A double-move from Amari Cooper freed him enough for Carr to drop in a dime for a 37-yard touchdown. The Raiders led 30-24 at that point.

As the momentum had all but left the Bills, Khalil Mack made his presence felt on the first play of the drive as he got his hand on Taylor’s pass and Nate Allen intercepted it. Once again Murray would finish the four play, 16-yard drive with a rushing touchdown. Carr would also link up with Seth Roberts for the two-point conversion to make it 38-24. Carr finished the game 19 for 35 for 260 yards.

As the Bills attempted to make it a one score game, Mack, for the second game in a row, got a strip sack that all but sealed the Raiders’ win. It was the seventh straight game that Mack recorded a sack and was his 10th sack of the year.

The Raiders once again had a second half comeback victory and won their sixth straight game to improve their AFC West-leading record to 10-2. According to Josh Dubow of the Associated Press, Oakland hadn’t overcome a 15-plus point deficit since 2000.

The Raiders now have a short week as they prepare for a Thursday night AFC West showdown at Arrowhead Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs. The winner of that game will sit in first place of the division.

Hot Raiders Cooled by Chiefs

13 Dec

In Kansas City, with AFC West supremacy on the line in below freezing temperatures the Oakland Raiders couldn’t take advantage of their opportunities and fell to the Chiefs 21-13.

The win for the Chiefs not only gave them their 10th win of the season, but it also put them into a tie for first place with the Raiders, who fell to 10-3 on the year. With the Chiefs winning the season series 2-0, it also gave them the tiebreaker in the series. To add insult to injury, the loss dropped the Raiders from first place in the AFC to fifth place and ousted them from the first-round bye position they had comfortably found themselves in for over a month.

The Raiders rolled into Kansas City on a six-game win streak and the Chiefs boasted seven wins in their last eight games as well. The Raiders were missing their starting offensive guard, Kelechi Osemele, due to an illness as well as safety Karl Joseph, who was injured last week.

The Raiders caught a break when Chiefs’ punt returner Tyreek Hill muffed a punt in the first quarter, but Oakland was unable to punch the ball into the end zone after recovering the fumble in Kansas City territory. This would be a repeating story as the game went on.

The first quarter was quiet from both sides as the Raiders went into the second quarter with a 3-0 lead, however, the Chiefs made their presence known in the second when quarterback Alex Smith connected with Hill on a 42-yard touchdown to give Kansas City the lead.

After a Raiders punt, the Chiefs would once again march down the field for their second score of the game to take a 14-3 lead. One more punt from Raiders’ Marquette King set up a Hill punt return to the house, which gave the Chiefs a commanding 21-3 lead.

With the Raiders faltering after what had to feel like a hard left hook, Derek Carr led the Raiders on a 14 play, 92-yard touchdown drive to beat the imaginary 10-count. Amari Cooper on the drive was able to beat Chiefs cornerback Terrance Mitchell for two receptions and 19 yards as well as a pass interference in the end zone which set up a Latavius Murray (who finished the game with 22 carries for 103 yards) touchdown run. At the half, Chiefs led 21-10.

The Raiders magic seemed to be in full effect to begin the second half as Kansas City had two turnovers in their first two drives, but the Raiders were only able to get three points off the pair of turnovers and the Chiefs still held a 21-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

One of the turnovers was forced by defensive end Khalil Mack, who earned his third strip sack in three straight games.

With only six points resulting from the Chiefs’ three turnovers, the biggest miss for Oakland had to be in the fourth quarter when Carr had a wide open Cooper down the middle of the field on third down but he lost sight of the ball somehow, resulting in another Raiders’ punt.

It was an uncanny off night for Carr who was limited by the Chiefs defense to just 17 of 41 passing and a lowly 117 yards.

With the clock winding down in the fourth quarter and the Raiders driving, a false start penalty (the 10th penalty of the night for Oakland) would turn a 4th and 1 to a 4th and 6 and a pass breakup from Mitchell would give the Chiefs the ball back. A first down for the Chiefs allowed Kansas City to settle into victory formation.

The Raiders will have a long break before heading to San Diego to face the Chargers in another AFC West battle.