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

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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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No Alphonso Davies, no party for Whitecaps in loss to Sounders

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The Vancouver Whitecaps suffered their fourth straight loss away from home, falling 2-0 to the Seattle Sounders in their Cascadia Cup clash at CenturyLink Field on Saturday afternoon.

The dynamic Alphonso Davies was given the “club’s permission” to miss Saturday’s game, and it was apparent that he was sorely missed as the Whitecaps were dour without him.

Here are three takeaways from the match.

No Davies, no party

Alphonso Davies (three goals, eight assists) has been involved in 11 of the Whitecaps’ 30 goals in MLS this season. Only Kei Kamara (eight goals, three assists) has been as integral to Vancouver’s attacking output.

It’s natural for an attack to decline when a key player is unavailable, but it should never be this drastic, especially with Kamara, Yordy Reyna and Cristian Techera starting. All three have been strong contributors.

Not for the first time, Brian Schmetzer and the Seattle Sounders coaching staff knew immediately how to shut down the Whitecaps attack. With Kamara up front, there is always a steady stream of crosses into the box. No player has won more aerial duels per game in MLS this season than Kamara, per WhoScored.com, but unfortunately for him, Chad Marshall and Kim Kee-hee are pretty dominant in the air themselves.

Kamara finished the game without a single duel won in the air.

The Whitecaps didn’t stray from that strategy, either. Almost all of their passes into the box were rather direct.

Coach Carl Robinson would benefit by giving his forwards more creative freedom. It adds more unpredictability and provides far more options when attacking. Perhaps the inclusion of Anthony Blondell, who is far more involved in the build-up than Kamara, would help, too.

However, this isn’t the first time the attack was completely nullified and it likely won’t be the last.

Whitecaps midfield struggles. Again.

Another major issue for the Whitecaps in this game, and throughout the season, has been the midfield.

Up until Nicolas Mezquida entered the match on 59 minutes, no player was making runs between the Sounders’ lines. It’s significantly easier for an opposing defence to keep an attack at bay when there are no runners penetrating those deep blocks.

The midfield trio of Efrain Juarez, Felipe and Jordon Mutch barely cut into the final third. One of them have to follow their passes, run into the pockets of space, receive the ball, and then the opposition’s shape becomes disjointed. That was sorely lacking for Vancouver.

Pass map for Juarez (6), Felipe (8) and Mutch (77).

Considering the Whitecaps had a numerical advantage in the midfield – the Sounders started Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson in the middle – it’s inexcusable for such little circulation in the central channels.

The buildup from midfield was also incredibly slow, which helped the Sounders, who were exposed in the middle, as seen below.

Average positioning for the Whitecaps (left) and the Sounders (right), via SofaScore.

Defensively, the Whitecaps midfield was a mess as well. The second goal was aided by Stefan Marinovic’s gaff, but no one closed down Nicolas Lodeiro, who had tons of space and time to place his shot.

In total, the three Whitecaps midfielders won a combined eight duels. Roldan and Svensson had 10 as a duo. Osvaldo Alonso, who was substituted into the match right before halftime, recovered possession four times.

The Whitecaps clearly lost the midfield battle and it showed.

Indiscipline rears its ugly head for Vancouver

If losing 2-0 to their Cascadia rivals wasn’t enough, Efrain Juarez wrapped a bow on the proceedings with an unnecessary red card.

After a needless challenge on Lodeiro, Juarez profusely protested the booking. After bumping referee Chris Penso and shouting in his face, the Mexican international received another yellow and a sending off.

That was the Whitecaps’ seventh red card of the season, the highest total in MLS. It’s also the 30th sending off in all competitions for the team under Robinson.

After Brek Shea was sent off for dissent against Toronto FC on March 18, 2017, head coach Carl Robinson said he “100 per cent” doesn’t condone indiscipline.

Seventeen months later, players are still receiving unnecessary red cards.

Whatever the issue may be with this, it needs to be eradicated, or else the Whitecaps will keep shooting themselves in the foot.

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Ryan Straschnitzki returns to the ice for 1st time since Humboldt Broncos bus crash

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Ryan Straschnitzki was back on the ice Friday, for the first time since the tragic bus crash that changed his life.

Straschnitzki and his father Tom both played sledge hockey for the first time Friday in Okotoks, Alta., where they were given a tutorial by Team Canada's Chris Cederstrand.

For Ryan — who wore his Humboldt Broncos gear — the day was both emotional and a little frustrating, too, said Tom in an interview with CBC.

"It was huge for him just to get on the ice.," he said.

"Last time he was on the ice was the day before the accident, so this was his first time [since] on there. And as soon as those blades touched the ice, I've never seen a smile that big. It was massive.

"And then he just took off."

Humboldt Broncos survivor Ryan Straschnitzki does muscles strengthening exercises during a physiotherapy session at the Shriners Hospital in Philadelphia on June 25. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Ryan was left a paraplegic in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in April that left 16 people dead and 10 others injured.

A whole different geometry

While returning to the rink was a joyous turning point for Straschnitzki, it was also a moment of discovery in many ways, as he learned that sledge hockey has its own unique geometry, and even a few secret tricks.

"He was trying to figure out how to turn," said Tom.

"So we're saying, drop a shoulder — then he gets the hang of it."

Shooting from a sled is different too.

"You have to have the stick flat now to get the shot off — like the whole stick," Tom said.

"Where in hockey, you're standing, and you kind of angle it — so it's a whole new different way shooting — so it's just [like] re-learning hockey."

Ryan can be a perfectionist, too, Tom said.

"If he can't do anything, he will practice and practice and practice until he can get it done," he said.

"He already texted me this morning and wanted me to bring the sled into the parking lot of the hotel, so he could practice shooting."

"I said yeah — let's take a day off pal. He was pumped."

Insider tips

Straschnitzki also got a few insider tips from Cederstrand, who arranged ice time at the Okotoks rink.

They were joined by former Flames draft pick, Corban Knight, who's now with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Chris was showing us little tricks they did in the Olympics," Tom said.

"Once you're ahead of a guy, it's hard for them to catch up. And to get ahead of him, you do the little tricks, like move the nose of the sled because you turn the opposite way, because there's no blade at the end. The blade is under your butt.

"If you lean back too far, well your feet are going straight up in the air."

A summer of physiotherapy

Straschnitzki is home doing physiotherapy for the summer, and hopefully picking up the nuances of sledge hockey ahead of the Cowboys and Sleds tournament and fundraiser set for Sept. 15 in Okotoks.

It's a joint fundraiser for Straschnitzki and first responders, and there will be chuckwagon drivers, NHL players, Team Canada sledge players, in addition to Tom — who says he's terrible at sledge — and Ryan.

Tom Straschnitzki and Ryan try out sledge hockey in Oktoks (Tom Straschnitzki)

Living in hotel during renovations

In the meantime, the family is living in a hotel while their home gets renovated to make it accessible for Ryan.

It might have been the first time back on the rink, but it didn't take long for him to settle in.

"We couldn't get him off the ice," Tom said. "But eventually the rink rats had to come in and go, 'OK guys, the ice is rented for someone else.'"


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Stroman stellar over seven as Jays win

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TORONTO — Marcus Stroman was feeling so great on the mound Saturday that not even a slight jab from Baltimore’s Adam Jones could bring him down.

When the Blue Jays pitcher missed badly on a breaking ball to Jones in his at-bat in the sixth inning, the Orioles star responded by mimicking Stroman’s signature shimmy.

Stroman didn’t seem fazed. And he got the last laugh anyway.

The right-hander pitched seven solid innings and Toronto scored three unearned runs to beat Baltimore 4-1 in the second game of a series between the AL East’s worst teams.

“Me and Jonesy were kinda talking to each other during the ABs and during the game,” Stroman said. “I love Jonesy, he’s been someone who’s reached out to me when I got into the league and he’s been a mentor of mine. … He’s someone who’s always been there for me and he makes the game very fun.”

Stroman (3-7) allowed one run while scattering five hits over a season-high 107-pitch performance. Three of those hits came in the first inning and included an RBI single from Jones that gave Baltimore (28-71) its only run.

The damage was minimized when Toronto left-fielder Teoscar Hernandez threw a laser into the infield to tag out Jonathan Schoop at second base for the first out.

“I didn’t come out very strong today, just kinda leaving pitches up in the zone. Whenever you can get a big play like that from your defence it’s definitely a momentum shifter,” Stroman said. “It kinda told me I need to kick it in gear and start making better pitches.”

Stroman struck out seven, hit a batter and issued two walks, continuing a strong stretch since a stint on the disabled list caused him to miss six weeks of the season.

He has a 3.03 earned-run average over his last six starts, compared to a 7.71 mark in seven starts before hitting the DL.

“Since he’s come back from the DL he’s been really good,” Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. “I just think he’s pitching like he’s always pitched. I thought he did a good job today working ahead in the count.”

Second baseman Devon Travis said Stroman’s “got his fire back.”

“Stro’s got the ability to ignite an entire team,” he said. “Obviously he’s a very animated guy. He brings a lot of energy, very competitive. You can feel that, you can feel that behind him. It give you a little extra edge. I’m just happy to see Stro getting back to his old self.”

Randal Grichuk and Luke Maile drove in runs for the Blue Jays (45-52) and Hernandez scored on a balk.

Ryan Tepera pitched the ninth for the save, getting some help from Grichuk on a nice defensive catch in deep centre field on the first out.

Jones, who also doubled in the fourth inning, was 2 for 4 at the plate just hours after he and some teammates were stuck in an elevator at their hotel. The incident, which Jones shared on his Instagram account over a series of videos, happened after Friday night’s Blue Jays win in extra innings and lasted about 30 minutes. They were rescued by Toronto firefighters.

Alex Cobb (2-13) allowed four runs — only one of them earned — and four hits over five innings. He struck out four and walked three batters.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter said Cobb developed a blister during his start.

Toronto scored three unearned runs to take the lead in the fourth inning, after an error on Tim Beckham, his fourth in six games.

Toronto and Baltimore are fourth and fifth respectively in the AL East this year, a stark contrast from two seasons ago when the Blue Jays edged the Orioles in a thrilling wild-card game at Rogers Centre en route to Toronto’s second straight ALCS appearance.

With a playoff spot fading fast, Stroman said Toronto’s goal for the rest of the season is to “show up every day and compete.”

“I think that’s something that us as Blue Jays have been able to do over the past few years regardless of what the expectations are,” he said. “I love my team, I wouldn’t want any other guys. It’s just a matter of going out there and knowing what we’re capable of.”

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