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Sports digest: Sophie Cunningham's career game leads Mercury in WNBA playoffs

Sports digest: Sophie Cunningham's career game leads Mercury in WNBA playoffs

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Liberty Mercury Basketball

Phoenix Mercury guard Sophie Cunningham (9) reacts after scoring during the second half in the first round of the WNBA basketball playoffs against the Phoenix Mercury, Thursday, Sept. 23, 2021, in Phoenix. Phoenix won 83-82. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Sophie Cunningham career game leads WNBA's Mercury

Mizzou product Sophie Cunningham hit 6 of 9 3-pointers for a career-high 21 points and Brianna Turner made the winning free throw with less than a second to play, giving the Phoenix Mercury an 83-82 win over the New York Liberty in a first-round WNBA playoff game on Thursday night.

The upstart Liberty had tied the game on Betnijah Laney's long 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left, but the Mercury got the ball to Turner underneath the basket on the ensuing inbounds play, forcing Sami Whitcomb to foul with 0.4 seconds remaining.

Turner's first free throw rimmed out but she calmly made the second, moving the fifth-seeded Mercury into the second round. Phoenix will play another single-elimination game at fourth-seeded Seattle on Sunday.

Sabrina Ionescu's last-second heave didn't come close for the eighth-seeded Liberty, who at at 12-20 had the worst regular-season winning percentage of any playoff team in WNBA history.

Skylar Diggins-Smith led Phoenix with 22 points and Brittney Griner had 16 points, 10 rebounds and six assists. Turner had 12 points and nine rebounds. (AP)

Sabres’ Eichel stripped of captaincy: Jack Eichel was stripped of his captaincy by the Sabres on Thursday, raising further questions about his future in Buffalo due to a widening rift over how to treat a neck injury that has sidelined the center for six months.

With the two sides at a stalemate, general manager Kevyn Adams announced the decision to remove the “C” as the Sabres opened training camp without Eichel, who will be placed on injured reserve after failing his physical.

“I feel the captain is the heartbeat of your team,” Adams said. “And we’re in a situation where we were in the past and where we are now that we felt we needed to address that.”

The Sabres and Eichel remain at odds over how to treat a herniated disk he sustained after being checked into the end boards in a game against the New York Islanders in March.

Eichel favors having artificial disk replacement surgery. The Sabres are against him having the procedure because it has never been performed on an NHL player, and prefer him having the disk fused.

The 24-year-old Eichel has five years left on an eight-year, $80 million contract and features a no-trade clause that kicks in next summer.

In saying the Sabres aren’t budging, Adams had few answers on how the two sides can break the deadlock, declined to speculate on whether Eichel has played his final game in Buffalo and said he isn’t concerned over how the high-profile dispute with the face of the franchise is being viewed around the league. (AP)

Toews practices with Blackhawks: Jonathan Toews is practicing with the Blackhawks again. In late December, right before the start of the pandemic-shortened season, the Blackhawks announced Toews would miss the start of training camp because of an illness that included symptoms that left him feeling “drained and lethargic.”

What followed were months of mostly silence on Toews before he announced in June that he had been suffering from what he described as chronic immune response syndrome. He said Thursday he also had an antibody test that showed he had COVID-19 at one point. (AP)

Most NHL players get vaccine: Sporting a mask, Maple Leafs winger William Nylander opened his news conference at the start of training camp by informing reporters he was not yet fully vaccinated.

“Had couple medical things to take care of,” he said. “I’ll be fully vaccinated by the beginning of the season.”

The NHL is counting on it and said last week that 98% of its players will be vaccinnated by the time the season begins Oct. 12. That would leave 10-15 players out of 700 on 32 teams lacking the vaccine, including Detroit’s Tyler Bertuzzi.

“Just personal choice, freedom of choice,” Bertuzzi said. “It was a life decision.” (AP)

Long Beach opens up for grand prix return: One of the crown jewels of both motorsports and the North American street festival scene opened Thursday for the first time in 17 months after the pandemic snapped a 45-year run for the Grand Prix of Long Beach.

The annual event was one of the longest continuously run street events in auto racing dating to its 1975 opening as a temporary street course through the picturesque Long Beach downtown. The prestige grew during an eight-year run hosting Formula One, and the globetrotting series found it to be a favorable stop because of pleasant weather, proximity to Los Angeles and the demands of the worn-and-torn 1.968-mile stretch of city roads that run clockwise through 11 turns.

For four days a year, Long Beach is the intersection of fast cars and fancy stars, where motorsports and celebrity collide. (AP)

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