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Tkachuk sends Panthers to Stanley Cup Final, after topping Hurricanes 4-3 for sweep

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk scored a power-play goal with 4.9 seconds left, Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 36 shots to cap off a brilliant series, and the Florida Panthers earned their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in 27 years by beating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 to win the Eastern Conference title in a sweep. Tkachuk’s goal was his second of the night — and maybe the biggest in Panthers’ history. The Panthers will play either Vegas or Dallas for the Stanley Cup starting sometime next week; Vegas currently leads the Western Conference title series 3-0.

Still down 3-1 to Heat, Celtics cling to hope as East finals shift back to Boston

BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics finally found cohesion between their defense and offense in their Game 4 win, capitalizing off 16 Heat turnovers and finding their 3-point shot. Now down 3-1, the question is whether Boston can carry that energy home, a place where it is just 4-5 this postseason to keep alive its hopes of extending the series. At the very least the Celtics’ win made their hopes of becoming the first NBA team in 151 tries to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven series shift from insurmountable back to possible heading into Game 5.

Ja Morant is ‘fine,’ taking a social media break, police say after welfare check due to cryptic post

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Police in Tennessee have conducted a welfare check on suspended Memphis Grizzlies guard Ja Morant and say “he is fine” after cryptic messages appeared on his Instagram account and were later deleted. The post from Wednesday included messages and pictures saying “Love ya ma,” “Love ya pops” and “You da greatest babygirl love ya.” A fourth message simply read: “Bye.” Shelby County Sheriff’s Office spokesman John Morris told The Associated Press deputies checked on Morant at his home Wednesday morning. Morris says Morant told them he was “taking a break from social media.” Morant was suspended from all team activities May 14 after a video showed him flashing a gun for a second time.

NBA Playoffs: It’s going to be the best season from the foul line in league history

This season will be the best in NBA history when it comes to shooting free throws. Players have never been more accurate from the foul line than they have in recent years — and this year is the best of all. Including the regular season, teams are connecting on 78.2% of their free throws this season. That’s 0.4% better than the record, set two seasons ago.

FRENCH OPEN 2023: Alcaraz, Djokovic on same half of draw; Swiatek-Gauff could be in quarterfinals

PARIS (AP) — Carlos Alcaraz and 22-time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic have been placed in the same half of the French Open field in the draw and could face each other in the semifinals. Alcaraz is seeded No. 1 at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time and was automatically placed in the top section of the bracket. Djokovic is No. 3 and so could have ended up on either half. Alcaraz beat Djokovic in their only previous meeting. Defending champion and top-seeded Iga Swiatek could face American teenager Coco Gauff in the quarterfinals. That would be rematch of last year’s final in Paris.

Pressure building on Team Penske to get Indianapolis 500 results

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Team Penske has struggled at the Indianapolis 500 the past few years, both in qualifying and the race, and the pressure has been building to produce some results. Will Power qualified 12th for Sunday’s race, matching the best qualifying effort of any Penske driver since the 2019 race. That’s when the team dominated both qualifying and race day, and Simon Pagenaud gave team owner Roger Penske his 18th Borg-Warner Trophy. Scott McLaughlin will start 14th and Josef Newgarden 17th for the 107th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Power was fastest in practice Monday, giving the team a jolt of confidence.

4 people accused of hanging Vinícius Júnior effigy released from custody

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Four people accused of hanging an effigy of Real Madrid player Vinícius Júnior off a highway bridge have been released from custody while still under investigation for perpetrating a hate crime. A Spanish judge has prohibited the four people from attempting to communicate with Vinícius. They also have a temporary restraining order banning them from getting too close to Madrid’s stadium and training facilities and from any soccer stadium between four hours before and four hours after a Spanish league game. The court statement says the four people are also being investigated for trying to damage the moral integrity of Vinícius.

Panthers throwing knockout blows to anyone in their path, on way to Stanley Cup Final

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Panthers are headed to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 27 years. They swept the Carolina Hurricanes and became the third team in NHL history to eliminate three of that season’s top four teams in the same postseason. The first to do it was the 1969 Montreal Canadiens. The second was the 1980 New York Islanders. They both won the Stanley Cup. Florida now has a chance to join them.

A’s, Nevada leaders reach tentative ballpark agreement

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Republican Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo announced Wednesday a preliminary agreement between his office, legislative leaders in the state and the Oakland Athletics for a stadium funding plan. It comes after weeks of negotiations over how much public assistance the state will contribute to a $1.5 billion ballpark in Las Vegas. The preliminary agreement indicates a funding bill could come to the Nevada Legislature in the coming days. It still needs approval from both the Senate and Assembly, with less than two weeks until the session ends. The A’s have been looking for years for a home to replace Oakland Coliseum, where the team has played since arriving from Kansas City for the 1968 season.

Chinese basketball legend Yao Ming steps down as head of national league

BEIJING (AP) — Former Houston Rockets star Yao Ming has stepped down as head of China’s struggling national basketball league. The eight-time NBA All-Star had been leading efforts to commercialize the 20-team league and to bring it out from under the control of government bureaucrats and Communist Party officials. Allegations of corruption have dogged the league in recent years. Two teams were ejected from the league finals last month after being found to have engaged in unsporting conduct over a series of turnovers that resulted in a come-from-behind win that was judged as suspicious. Managers and coaching staff from the team have been barred from the league for up to five years.

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