Kyrie Irving's absence isn't hurting the Celtics but it's crushing LeBron James, Cavs - Canadanewsmedia
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Kyrie Irving's absence isn't hurting the Celtics but it's crushing LeBron James, Cavs



Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics is missed by both teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Cleveland Cavaliers lost Game 2 to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday night in spectacular fashion. A seven-point lead at the half disintegrated into a seven-point deficit entering the fourth quarter, which then turned into a 14-point hole with less than three minutes to play in regulation, leading to a 107-94 loss, putting Cleveland in a 2-0 bind that few teams recover from.

James did his part, finishing the game with 42 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists, his 22nd career postseason triple-double, but it was not enough to get the Cavaliers even in the series.

We’ve got to help ‘Bron,” JR Smith told reporters on Tuesday night after the loss. ”We can’t just expect him to do everything. As role players, we’ve got to play our role.”

Role players are part of the problem but there is plenty of blame to go around. Coach Tyron Lue’s most used lineup of James, Smith, Kevin Love, George Hill and Kyle Korver were outscoring opponents by 17.5 net points per 100 possession leading up to the series against Boston, but the Celtics have dominated that lineup, outscoring Cleveland’s starters by 21.1 net points per 100 possessions. The second-most frequently used lineup, which swaps in Tristan Thompson for Korver, is getting beat by 9.0 net points per 100 possessions. If only Cleveland had another superstar that could run the floor with James and Love in an effort to even things out. Oh wait, they did — Kyrie Irving — whose absence appears to be hurting Cleveland more than it has his current team, the Boston Celtics.

Irving was traded to the Celtics this summer and immediately made an impact. An all-star in 2018, Irving averaged  24.4 points, 5.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds plus shot 41 percent from behind the arc before a knee injury sidelined him in March for the remainder of the regular season and playoffs.

When Irving and James shared the court during the 2017 NBA playoffs, the Cavaliers scored 124.9 points per 100 possessions. This year that offensive rating has dropped to 109.8 with James on the court and declines even further to 94.4 during the 99 minutes James has been on the bench. Sure it’s a small sample size, but that offensive efficiency without James is worse than we saw from the Phoenix Suns, winners of Tuesday night’s draft lottery and holders of the No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft, during the regular season. And since Cleveland’s defense, which at one point was one of the worst in the NBA, also took a step back, it is clear the Cavaliers don’t have enough firepower to make up the difference. The Celtics, meanwhile, scored 107.7 points per 100 possessions in Irving’s absence during the 2017-18 regular season.

Irving’s ability as a spot-up shooter who could also beat his man in isolation made him a formidable weapon for Cleveland in the regular season and playoffs, and it’s both those play types where the Cavaliers are having problems.

In the playoffs, its spot-up shooters are shooting 35 percent from the field, producing less than a point per possession — only the San Antonio Spurs were less efficient on these possessions this postseason. Love has been particularly bad (0.86 points per possession) as has Smith (0.94), James (0.94), Jose Calderon (0.82) and Rodney Hood (0.80). Not only has James been off the mark on these attempts, some of them are occurring so late in the shot clock he has no choice but to heave desperate attempts from way beyond the arc.

Boston, meanwhile, has excellent spot-up shooters in Terry Rozier III (1.4 points per shot), Marcus Morris (1.1) and Jaylen Brown (1.08), with Rozier producing an effective field goal rate of 74 percent on his spot-up opportunities, the fourth-highest rate among players taking at least 25 spot-up shots in the playoffs.

During last year’s run to the NBA Finals, Cleveland used both James and Irving in isolation, with Irving finding himself man-to-man almost 32 percent time, significantly higher than James played in isolation (23 percent). In 2018, James is going at it alone 29 percent of the time, making it the most-frequently used play type by James in the 2018 playoffs. In fact, James has used 114 postseason possessions in isolation this year, more than twice as many possessions as the rest of his team combined (55). Boston runs more isolation plays than Cleveland, but Coach Brad Stevens also spreads out the responsibilities more. Tatum leads the team this postseason with 54, followed by Morris (32), Rozier (31), Marcus Smart (21) and Al Horford (17).

It’s perhaps unfair to say all of Boston’s good fortunes are tied to the Cavaliers having one fewers star on their roster, yet it’s also clear that Boston had the talent to make up for the loss of Irving, whereas Cleveland did not. And now, James and the Cavaliers are left scrambling to find an answer. But they better find it quick: in the history of the NBA, teams that fall behind 0-2 in the conference finals have come back to win the series just six percent of the time.

“We have an opportunity to go back home, protect home court,” James said to the media after the game. “We’re going to use these days to really dive in on what needs to be done to help our ball club be successful. They did what they had to do, and that was protect home, and now it’s our time to try to do that, as well.”

Read more from The Post:

‘They’re gooning the game up’: Cavs’ Tyronn Lue wants his players to act like the Celtics

The Phoenix Suns got what they earned: The top pick in the NBA draft

Steve Kerr abandoned his conservative nature in Game 1, and the Warriors rolled

For sports leagues, legalized sports betting offers new risks, and massive rewards

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Eugenie Bouchard retires in French Open qualifying




Eugenie Bouchard's rough ride is showing no signs of slowing down.

The Canadian tennis star retired after trailing Dalila Jakuopovic of Slovenia 6-0, 2-1 in the first round of French Open qualifying on Wednesday.

Now ranked 167th in the world, Bouchard is well outside a spot that would earn her direct entry into a Grand Slam.

The 24-year-old native of Westmount, Que., has experienced a steady tumble since reaching No. 5 in the world in 2014, highlighted by an appearance in the Wimbledon final.

Meanwhile, Bianca Andreescu of Mississauga upset top qualifying seed Vera Lapko of Belarus 6-4, 7-5 in another first-round qualifying match. Carol Zhao of Richmond Hill dropped a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 decision to Francesca Schiavone of Italy.

In men's second-round action, Montreal's Felix Auger-Aliassime meets Spain's Jaume Munar later Wednesday.

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Can the Jets Afford Stastny?




When Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff acquired Paul Stastny at the trade deadline, the general consensus was that he was the quintessential “rental” — one that turned out quite well for the Jets. But can he be more than that?

Going into the offseason, one of Cheveldayoff’s main quandaries will be whether he has the greenbacks to go after Stastny and plant him in the middle of his second line for years to come.

Stastny Open to Re-Signing With Jets

A discussion on whether the Jets can afford Stastny would be pointless if he didn’t want to stay in Winnipeg. It’s a cold, unforgiving city bereft of most of the extra perks — like nightlife or year-round access to beautiful beaches — one can glean from playing in markets like New York or Florida.

However, Stastny recently told Winnipeg media he is open to returning to the Jets, saying coming to Winnipeg “made the game that much more fun again” and that it was the best decision of his career to waive his no-trade clause.

Paul Stastny was very productive in his stint with Winnipeg. Between the regular season and the playoffs, he had 28 points. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

He posted 13 points in 19 regular-season games plus 15 more in 17 playoff games, and he found quick chemistry with prolific young guns Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. In so doing, he added yet another dimension to the Jets’ already multi-faceted and dangerous offense.

Money Matters

Finding enough money to entice Stastny won’t be easy. The Jets currently have $54.4 million dollars committed for next season, which gives them roughly $25 million to work with.

However, there are several restricted free-agent youngsters Cheveldayoff needs to ink before he can shift the focus to re-signing Stastny. Simply put, the Jets’ GM owes a lot of dudes a lot of dollars. Stastny understands this and knows the Jets’ brass will target homegrown guys first.

“We all know there are a lot of players who need to be signed here,” Statsny said. “There’s not just one person. When you have success like this, a lot of guys need to get rewarded. And you’ve got to take care of those young guys first. Those guys really earned it. We’ll talk with Chevy down the road.”

Hellebuyck Will Get Big Bucks

The first man to be paid will likely be Connor Hellebuyck. The 25-year-old goaltender was signed to a one-year, “ship up or ship out” deal prior to the 2017-18 season and wasn’t even slated to be the starter. He shattered all expectations and had a 44-win, Vezina-calibre campaign, acting as the cornerstone for the Jets’ success.

Hellebuyck is obviously not going settle for a modest, short-term bridge deal now. He’s going to cash in big time (and deservedly so). He will likely command $5 million per year — if not more.

Defensemen and Depth Forwards Will Get Payday, Too

Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, the pair of defensemen who were often tasked with shutting down opponents’ top players this year, are also both restricted free agents.

It’s been two years since Trouba’s infamous 2016 holdout. He’s now committed to Winnipeg and wants to sign a long-term deal.

Jacob Trouba Winnipeg Jets

Jacob Trouba is just one of many home-grown players Cheveldayoff must focus on locking up before he can think about Stastny. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“(Trouba has) done enough to earn a long-term pact and join the likes of Morgan Rielly, Colton Parayko and Seth Jones in the $5-million-plus range,” Matt Larkin of The Hockey News wrote recently.

Morrissey, too, has become a big part of the Jets’ present and future. While he won’t elicit as handsome a salary as his partner, one could conservatively estimate that the steady blueliner’s salary will at least double, if not triple, landing him in the $2-million to $3-million-per-year range.

Moving to depth forwards, half of the Jets’ bottom-six are unsigned. Adam Lowry, Joel Armia, and Brandon Tanev will chew up cap space as well — probably between $1.5 million and $2 million each.

If you’ve been doing the math in your head as you go, that’s about $19 million committed. That figure doesn’t factor in players who are less of a guarantee — but still a possibility — to be back in Jets colours come October, such as Marko Dano, Tucker Poolman, and Joe Morrow.

Stastny Will Be in High Demand

Stastny, an unrestricted free agent, is free to go wherever he pleases this offseason. He’ll be sought after: the field of UFA centres is looking like it’ll be a bit bare come summertime. 

The 32-year-old veteran of 12 NHL seasons is one of the best options available for teams looking to bolster their top-six. John Tavares is the belle of the free-agent ball, but his asking price could scare away potential suitors. Joe Thornton will be 39 years old by the time the puck drops on the 2018-19 season and was limited to 47 games as he suffered a knee injury. Tyler Bozak is only debatably a top-six forward.

Several squads will certainly be seeking Statsny out, and he knows he can charge whatever the market will bear for his services.

How Much is Stastny Worth?

Statsny is coming off a five-year deal worth $33 million, an average of $6.6 million per year. He could command a similar figure this time around based on the factors at play. He’ll be looking for a long-term deal to take him all the way to retirement.

Paul Stastny - Winnipeg Jets

Stastny is fetch a handsome salary this year given the short supply of top-six centres.  (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If Statsny does command $6 million-plus, the Jets may be hard-pressed to come up with the scratch to sign him, given the $20 million they will likely be spending on their aforementioned in-house talent.

Obviously, Statsny likes Winnipeg and enjoyed finishing his season with the Jets. However, it’s doubtful the city, the hockey culture, or the organization — regardless of the fact that it’s poised to be a strong Stanley Cup contender for the next several seasons — made enough of an impression in three months for him to give the Jets a “hometown discount.” Winnipeg isn’t his hometown, after all.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Even if Stastny has played his last game for the Jets, the trade should be considered a win. He was about as good as a “rental” could be. He was a key contributor in both the Jets’ final quarter of their historic regular season and their deep playoff run. Perhaps just as importantly, the Jets’ acquisition of Stastny communicated to the fan base, in the clearest possible terms, that the organization was done being patient and ready to compete in the present.

If the Jets can’t re-sign Stastny, the two sides will part amicably — like two people in a relationship that could have worked out if the circumstances were a little different. It’s truly just a numbers game. Sometimes you just can’t afford to fill your entire wish list.

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5 ways Unai Emery can improve Arsenal




LONDON — Arsenal’s new head coach will have to overcome some problems that developed both on and off the field during the final part of Arsene Wenger’s long tenure.

Unai Emery, who was hired Wednesday to replace Wenger after 22 seasons in north London, will take over a club that finished sixth in the Premier League last season — its worst showing under the French coach.

But Emery has proven himself both in domestic soccer and in Europe, winning league titles at Paris Saint-Germain and the Europa League at Sevilla. Still, he was fired by PSG after failing to deliver Champions League success to the French club.

Here are some issues Emery must address at Arsenal:


The Arsenal teams that finished in the Premier League’s top two places for eight consecutive seasons at the turn of the millennium was packed with leaders, including players like Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams. Following a third and final title-winning campaign under Wenger in 2004, the squad gradually lost its experienced core.

Emery will look to fill that void and consider the character – as well as the quality – of the players he brings in this off-season.


Arsenal already needed a new central defender, and that was before captain Laurent Koscielny ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final weeks of the season.

With the France defender set to be out until the end of 2018, Emery may be in the market for two new centre backs.

Arsenal conceded only five fewer Premier League goals than Swansea and West Bromwich Albion, who were both relegated.

Shkodran Mustafi has also struggled, and while there is still hope that the youthful duo of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers can develop into first-team regulars, the pair have yet to prove they are ready.


One of the reasons Arsenal’s defenders have been so often exposed is the lack of protection in front of them.

During Wenger’s final two seasons in charge, he insisted on playing Granit Xhaka in a holding role, despite the Switzerland midfielder’s defensive frailties.

While Xhaka certainly has the ability to be a useful player, Emery will be looking to recruit someone with more discipline to sit at the base of his midfield.


On paper, the strongest part of Arsenal’s squad is up front. Strikers Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both joined the club over the past 12 months for a combined total of more than 100 million pounds ($133 million).

After arriving last year, Lacazette had a mixed first Premier League campaign and was in and out of the starting lineup, eventually scoring 14 goals. Aubameyang settled in quickly after his mid-season arrival and netted an impressive 10 goals in 13 appearances. However, there was still a feeling that Arsenal wasn’t fully utilizing all of the Gabon forward’s assets, particularly his blistering pace.

Emery will attempt to avoid alienating either of the club’s major investments by finding a way to incorporate two of his most talented players into the starting lineup.


A toxic atmosphere has surrounded the club in recent seasons, mainly because of fan opposition to Wenger.

This discontent was even felt in the team, highlighted by a divide between Alexis Sanchez and his teammates before the Chile forward departed for Manchester United.

Emery is likely to benefit from a warm welcome from the club’s fan base, but maintaining unity, both on and off the field, will be high on his list of priorities.

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