LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – There comes a moment in most NBA playoff series where the better team establishes itself, and the Boston Celtics put this one off as long as they could. Monday, they showed why they are the Toronto Raptors’ superior — and, possibly, their successor.
Game 5 of this series will go in the book as Celtics 111, Raptors 89, to take a 3-2 series lead, but it felt more like an early-round knockout punch. Jayson Tatum did not shoot well but it didn’t matter. Gordon Hayward just arrived on campus for his quarantine but he wasn’t needed. The Raptors’ main advantage in this series was their championship mettle. The Celtics countered it with exceptional energy — “you could feel that from the get-go,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said — and it felt like one of those games where it didn’t really matter who scored for the Celtics, because you knew somebody would. When Kemba Walker ended the first half by weaving his way to the net for a bucket, the Celtics led, 62-35.
There would be no last-second Raptors heroics, like in Game 3, and no game-long Celtics lethargy, like in Game 4. This was just an old-fashioned Game 5; both teams know each other’s tricks by now, and the Celtics have more of them.
“You can’t go through the playoffs without some heartbreak,” Stevens said. “You can’t go through the playoffs without some bad things happening.”
Survive the heartbreak, and you can move on. The Celtics need one win to do so. Beyond that looms the Miami Heat, and then a probable NBA Finals matchup against one of the favorites from L.A., and yes, we are getting way ahead of ourselves, and I apologize. I had some time on my hands during the second half.
Growth in the NBA is rarely linear. The Celtics team that pushed LeBron James’s Cavaliers to the brink two years ago were supposed to contend for a title last year with a healthy Kyrie Irving. We all know what happened: bad chemistry, disappointing result. There are many reasons the Celtics are better now — Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are much-improved, Kemba Walker fits like Irving never did — but the point is, they are better. This is obviously a weird postseason. It should not shock anybody if we get a surprising champion.
Of course, we got a surprising champion last year, too. Then Kawhi Leonard left Toronto for L.A., and in his absence, the Raptors did just about everything you could ask of them this year except develop a vaccine. They still have the toughness and excellent coaching that brought them a title. They just don’t have Kawhi. For all the talk about how they could win a title, and all the moments when they looked the part, they now need to beat the better team twice just to advance.
This feels over, because of plays like this one: Up 39-25, Marcus Smart ripped the ball out of Kyle Lowry’s hands on a break, stayed inbounds, and passed it to a teammate. Smart has been making plays like that since college, but on this night, it felt completely in line with how his team was playing. The Celtics seemed determined to avoid lulls – Stevens called a timeout after the Raptors cut it to 18-7.
Brown, the best player on the floor, said the focus for Game 5 was on keeping it simple: “Hit singles.” Less thinking might have led to more energy, and in basketball, more energy plus more talent usually equals more points.
Toronto is not going to fold. Lowry won’t allow it. And if the Celtics assume this is over, they will have to deal with an anything-can-happen Game 7. But all the Celtics have to do now is what they have done already. They know it. The Raptors probably know it, too.
Blue Jays set to play Rays in playoffs after dropping finale to O's – TSN
BUFFALO, United States — Feeling healthy, confident and ready for the next challenge, the Toronto Blue Jays capped their regular season Sunday by tuning up for their first playoff appearance in four years.
A series against the top-seeded Tampa Bay Rays was locked in when the Blue Jays dropped a 7-5 decision to the Baltimore Orioles in a game that meant little for either team.
Toronto gave slugger Teoscar Hernandez the day off and rested most of its relievers so they’d be fully charged for Game 1 on Tuesday at Tropicana Field. The Rays have been the class of the American League but did have some trouble with the Blue Jays at times, making this best-of-three wild-card series all the more intriguing.
“They’re looking forward to the challenge and I love that about our kids,” said Toronto manager Charlie Montoyo. “They really want it.”
By losing to Baltimore, the Blue Jays — who sealed a post-season berth last Thursday — secured the eighth and final seed.
At the start of the day, Toronto had a chance to rise to the No. 5 seed. Potential outcomes existed that could have seen first-round matchups against the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians or the Chicago White Sox.
Toronto was 4-6 against Tampa Bay this season. Four of the Blue Jays’ losses were by one run.
“They’re a good baseball team, they do everything well collectively,” said Toronto starter Tanner Roark, who gave up two earned runs to the Orioles over four innings.
“I think it’s going to come down to whoever makes the least mistakes in that series (will) win it. We’ve played them tough all year. We’ve lost a lot of one-run games and we’ve won a lot of one-run games.”
Toronto looked like it was on its way to closing the 60-game season on a five-game win streak after homers by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., in the third inning. But the Orioles scored three runs in the fourth and tacked on three more in the fifth.
Shun Yamaguchi (2-4) shouldered the loss after working two frames. Gurriel had four hits and scored three runs.
Toronto right-fielder Jonathan Davis made an all-world play in the second inning to take a home run away from Cedric Mullins. Davis extended his left arm over the top of the wall near the foul pole and managed to squeeze the ball as he crashed to the warning track.
Davis drove in the game’s first run in the bottom half of the frame as his sacrifice fly scored Gurriel, who led off with a double. An inning later, Guerrero hit a solo shot for his ninth homer and Gurriel hit a no-doubt two-run blast for his 11th homer of the season.
Mullins helped the Orioles (25-35) cut into the lead with a two-run triple in the fourth inning and Austin Hays drove him in with a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Yamaguchi gave up three straight hits at the start of the fifth and the Orioles pulled ahead to stay.
Travis Lakins Sr., (3-2) worked two innings for the victory. Cesar Valdez pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.
The Blue Jays finished the pandemic-shortened 60-game campaign with a 32-28 record. Toronto was 17-9 at Sahlen Field, normally home of the team’s triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons.
“Our confidence right now is great,” Gurriel said via translator Hector Lebron. “We have pretty much everybody healthy. From one through nine, the lineup is good and everybody is feeling great right now which is what you want going into the playoffs.”
Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will play in the post-season. Division winners are seeded Nos. 1-3 in each league, second-place teams are seeded fourth through sixth and two wild-card teams get the seventh and eighth spots.
The Blue Jays last reached the post-season in 2016 as a wild-card entry. Toronto went on to reach the American League Championship Series for the second straight year.
Toronto’s last World Series victory came in 1993. A long playoff drought followed until the Blue Jays returned to the post-season in 2015.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2020.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Heat advance to NBA Finals with Game 6 win over Celtics – Sportsnet.ca
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was exactly one year ago Sunday when Jimmy Butler walked into the Miami Heat practice gym, took a seat on a makeshift stage and said he wanted to be part of the team’s next title run.
He’ll have that chance.
The Heat are going to the NBA Finals — surprising many, perhaps, but not themselves. Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Butler scored 22 points and the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth time by topping the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday night.
“A great series. It was so competitive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I mean, in many ways, this was a seven-game series, just how competitive it was. Extremely well-coached and well-put together and we are just honoured to be a part of that type of series in the conference finals, and then we get an opportunity for the next stage. Our guys will look forward to it. We’re going to try to enjoy it for a night.”
The Heat won the series 4-2 — and now, waiting on that next stage to decide the NBA title, are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is Wednesday night.
Tyler Herro scored 19 points, Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala each had 15 and Goran Dragic added 13 for the Heat.
“We deserve to be here,” Dragic said.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 and a career-high 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points for Boston — which fell in the East finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
“Miami deserves a lot of credit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re super physical, super tough, very, very savvy. I think they’re the best team in the East and deserve to be representing the East in the way that they have played.”
Miami was down by six early in the fourth before regaining control. A 6-0 burst — Herro had the last five of those points, needing only 31 seconds to do so — tied it at 96. Boston took the lead twice more, with Adebayo answering both times, first with a dunk, then a go-ahead three-point play with 6:16 left.
He smacked the floor in celebration.
It’s like they knew what was coming. They never trailed again. Herro had a pair of baskets in a 9-0 burst that put the Heat up by 10, Adebayo found Butler for a layup and a 116-102 lead everyone on the Heat bench was on their feet.
“This means everything,” Herro said.
And before long, all the Celtics could do was offer their congratulations.
“Regrets, I don’t have any,” Walker said. “I don’t have any, man. I thought we fought hard. A lot of credit to Miami. Those guys are really good.”
The Heat are the only NBA franchise with six Finals appearances in the last 15 years. They’re seeking their fourth title, and this chance didn’t come easily.
The Heat had a 5-for-5 stretch from 3-point range in the first quarter, but otherwise struggled again from beyond the arc in the first half. They were 6 for 14 from deep in the first 24 minutes, Boston was 11 for 23 before the break and the Heat took a 62-60 lead into halftime.
And the margin remained two going into the fourth.
Iguodala’s fourth 3-pointer — in as many attempts — with 4:20 left in the third put the Heat up eight, before Brown had five points in a 10-2 Boston spurt to tie it. Dragic had a go-ahead layup on Miami’s final shot of the quarter and it was 88-86 Heat with 12 minutes remaining.
The Celtics scored 10 of the first 12 points of the fourth, going up 96-90. From there, all Miami.
The Heat scored 35 of the game’s final 52 points. The game was theirs. So was the silver trophy that conference champions get.
“Four more,” Adebayo said. “That’s what matters.”
Celtics: Tatum took 15 shots in the first half, the first time in his 270-game career that he’s done that. He had taken 14 on four other occasions. … Tatum’s top four assist-total games of his career have come in the bubble.
Heat: The Heat are now guaranteed no less than $4,399,686 for their playoff share, and that number would rise to $5,791,041 if they win the title. … Udonis Haslem is the only player to be on all six Heat teams that have made the finals.
WALKER VS. HEAT
Walker has been to the playoffs three times, and his team has been eliminated by Miami in all three of those appearances — with three different nicknames. Charlotte was still the Bobcats when the Heat swept them in the 2014 first round, the Heat rallied to beat Charlotte’s then-rebranded Hornets in seven games in the 2016 first round, and now this win over the Celtics.
The Celtics and Heat were getting some support from afar before Game 6. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased to hear video of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick signing off from his postgame news conference Sunday by saying “good luck to Brad and the Celtics tonight. We’ll be pulling for them.” And at the Miami Marlins’ regular season finale, outfielder Lewis Brinson had a Butler jersey (in the popular Heat `Vice’ theme) underneath his game jersey.
Is what Jamal Murray did in the playoffs sustainable? We asked NBA executives – Hoops Hype
Can Jamal Murray’s historical play in the bubble be sustained next season and beyond? Will he become an All-Star?
HoopsHype posed those questions to two general managers, one executive and three scouts to get the answers.
“I think All-Star is likely, but I would argue he’s been playing at All-NBA borderline superstar level in the bubble,” one Eastern Conference general manager told HoopsHype. “That level I’m not sure about.”
Murray shot 50.5 percent from the field, 45.3 percent from three-point range and 89.7 percent from the foul line this postseason. How good are those numbers? Since the NBA added three-pointers in the 1979-80 season, only Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Malcolm Brogdon have shot 50-40-90 over a full season.
“I don’t know if he can shoot this consistently over time, but he’s still a very good player,” one Western Conference scout told HoopsHype. “He’s probably a guy who can be an All-Star, but not a game-changer like this like a superstar level. I’m not sure he can do that consistently. Maybe he can, he’s still young, but I’d bet a little lower than what he’s doing right now.”
In Game 4, Murray displayed a new bag of tricks in his scoring repertoire with an off-balance left-handed floater, a high-arching one-handed fall away shot over Anthony Davis, and an up-and-under layup that drew comparisons to Michael Jordan.
After leading the league in playoff minutes, and battling through a right knee contusion in Game 5, another Eastern Conference general manager believes Murray’s bubble play is sustainable and could be a preview of him scratching the surface of his potential.
“I expect him to continue to get better,” the general manager told HoopsHype. “His confidence should be through the roof going into next season. He can score so many ways. He doesn’t have the pressure to create for others since they play through (Nikola) Jokic.”
Murray proved to be a willing passer averaging 6.6 assists in the playoffs, but his mentality has always been scorer-first. Murray dropped 20 or more points in seven straight playoff games. The last Nugget to do this in a single postseason was Carmelo Anthony in 2009.
“He’s an All-Star for years to come in my book,” one Eastern Conference scout told HoopsHype. “I forget which game it was, but in last year’s playoffs, he scored like 21 straight points to beat the Spurs in a game. He has a high-level skill and confidence with a green light.”
“It’s been pretty impressive,” another Western Conference scout told HoopsHype. “I feel it will springboard him into the All-Star conversation each year. He’ll make it, maybe just not every year.”
Next season, Murray begins his five-year, $170 million maximum-salary contract extension, so All-Star expectations are certainly warranted given his play in the bubble and upcoming paycheck.
While Murray is now on the verge of realizing his potential, the groundwork was laid several years ago while he was in high school. According to one Eastern Conference executive, Murray’s All-Star foundation was built while learning from a Canadian legend and playing against older competition.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke at all,” the executive told HoopsHype. “I saw him work out with Nash the year before he went to Kentucky and saw the talent then. It’s just a matter of time for him, not if, in my opinion. I’m happy that it’s coming together for him. During that time, he was a high school graduate going at Cory Joseph and CJ McCollum after Canadian National team practices.”
Those workouts with Nash, Joseph and McCollum raised Murray’s game rapidly. The former Kentucky Wildcat became the second Canadian to win MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic International Game in 2013. Two years later, Murray scored a game-high 30 points and was named MVP of the Nike Hoop Summit.
Soon, the Canadian guard could add some hardware for his country in the Olympics as well.
“He’s really becoming a superstar in the league,” Toronto Raptors and Canadian National team coach Nick Nurse said. The coach added all signs point to Murray playing for Canada.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto
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