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Celtics’ star power may be too much for Raptors to overcome –



TORONTO – The Boston Celtics have something the Toronto Raptors simply don’t.

At least, that’s what it looked like as Boston took Game 2 102-99 Tuesday evening to go up 2-0 on the Raptors in their second-round playoff series.

Entering the fourth quarter on the heels of a quarter-finishing 11-2 run in third, the Raptors looked poised to put the game to rest in the fourth and even their series.

Instead, Marcus Smart went volcanic, hitting five straight three-pointers in the frame to help the Celtics take the lead and hold onto it.

Smart’s fourth-quarter outburst ended up being the catalyst for Boston in the fourth, but if not for the heroics of one of his teammates before, it’s unlikely he’d even be able to get a chance to bring his team back the way he did.

Celtics all-star Jayson Tatum finished Tuesday’s affair with a new playoff career-high 34 points on 8-of-17 shooting and helped Boston when it was on life support to stay in the game.

Livestream the Raptors’ quest to defend their NBA title with select NBA playoff games on Sportsnet NOW.

Going back to that third quarter when the Raptors were rolling, Toronto probably should’ve been able to put the contest to bed in the frame, but weren’t able to because of Tatum.

In the third, Tatum scored 13 of Boston’s 20 points, doing the brunt of his damage from the free-throw line, of which he got eight attempts and converted on all of them.

“The talking point for Tatum coming into the day, ‘He’s the one that’s gotta decide to do it,’ is just making quick decisions when he catches the balls, and he did that,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game. “Once he gets [a] step by, he’s hard to guard. He can slither by you, he can pull up, but he’s going to draw a lot of attention and I thought he did a good job of not only getting to the line but trying to get some and-ones, and I think he can finish even better so that’s a good [thing].”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse had a different view of Tatum’s game – particularly in regards to the number of free throws he was able to take.

“The only frustrating part about it is this. He shoots 14 free throws which is as much as our whole team shoots,” said Nurse. “That’s the frustrating part. I think our guys were working hard on him and were doing a pretty good job but he did make some good shots. They were obviously getting him the ball a lot, getting him in space. We could have helped a little bit better here and there, but they took very good care of him tonight.”

The “they,” in case you were wondering, that Nurse was referring to was in regards to the officials.

Regardless of what Nurse thought of the kind of whistle Tuesday night, Tatum still got his, even if that meant putting the onus on the officials to make a call and send him to the line, and this is what the Celtics have that the Raptors don’t.

A genuine go-to scorer who you can rely upon to get your team a bucket when needed.

The Raptors are a team that have been rightfully celebrated for their ability to win without a lottery pick on their roster, but guys who are chosen in the lottery are generally taken there because they’re talented players and these are the kind of players that the Celtics boast.

Remember, Boston’s core four of Tatum (third overall), Jaylen Brown (third overall), Smart (sixth overall) and Kemba Walker (ninth overall) were all lottery picks in their respective draft classes.

Lottery picks aren’t ever a guarantee, but in the Celtics’ case – who drafted all of Tatum, Brown and Smart – it’s worked out beautifully and in Game 2, in particular, there looked to be an obvious talent disparity between Boston’s best players and Toronto’s.

All but Brown of Boston’s best players were truly instrumental in their come-from-behind win.

Obviously, Tatum was the game’s high scorer and his heroics in the third quarter were game-changing. He also nailed a big triple midway through the fourth to put Boston up by six.

And, of course, Smart had his fourth-quarter eruption.

“Marcus has always affected winning in a big way. He always does what he needs to win. Tonight we needed a little jolt offensively – we missed some open shots against that zone at the end of the third and the early fourth,” said Stevens. “Marcus has been a winning player since he’s gotten here. I’ve said many times, we’ve been in the playoffs every year since he’s been here and it’s not a coincidence.”

And it wasn’t just Smart’s hot shooting stroke that impacted winning, it was also his smothering defence on Raptors star Pascal Siakam, most notably with 35 seconds to go when he stripped Siakam on a drive and managed to keep the ball inbounds.

“I ain’t never played with anybody like Smart, I ain’t never met anybody like Smart. He is one of a kind,” Tatum said of his teammate. “Anybody that watches him play, knows him or ever plays with him knows that there’s nobody like Smart. Any time I’m going to war, take him on my team every day of the week.”

Another player Tatum would take on his team any day of the week is Walker, who hit the two most dramatic shots of the night.

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Walker was struggling from the field, shooting just 4-for-16 from until about two minutes to play, when he managed to get Fred VanVleet caught up enough on a Daniel Theis screen to find daylight and bury triple to put the Celtics up 100-94, followed by a signature, Walker step-back mid-range jumper with 41 seconds to play to put Boston up 102-99.

The shot Walker hit was one he’d done many times before and in many clutch situations dating back to his days starring for the University of Connecticut and playing in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time ever, he made sure that not even a bad shooting night would stand in the way of this victory.

“I’ve missed so many shots in my life. I have missed so many shots throughout my career. I’m never going to get down on myself,” Walker said. “I thought I got great looks, and they weren’t falling. It happens to the best of us. I just stayed aggressive, and just stayed within myself.”

In the end, Walker’s talent prevailed in the most dire of situations for his team and the overall talent his Celtics squad boasts seemed to be the real difference-maker in Game 2.

Yes, the Raptors did play poorly in the fourth quarter, going just 5-of-21 from the field in the final period – a recipe for disaster. But credit must be given to the Celtics, who saw their best players rise to the occasion and steal the win to put the Raptors in an early hole in this second-round playoff series.

Uncomfortable as it may be to come to such a conclusion, Boston’s star power may just be too much for Toronto to overcome.

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Blue Jays sit 1 win away from clinching playoff berth after thumping Yankees –



The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.

Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.

“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”

Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.

Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.

Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.

The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.

Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.

With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.

Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.

Ray earns timely outs

Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.

New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.

“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”

Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.

The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.

“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”

New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.

Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.

Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.

Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.

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Jays win big, magic number is 1 – Bluebird Banter



Yankees 1 Blue Jays 14

Our magic number is now 1. A win tomorrow (or in any of our last four games) would put us into the playoffs.

It is nice when the other team forgets how to play baseball. The Yankees made 4 official errors and a few unofficial ones. They were just playing bad baseball all night.

We got a good start from Bob Rae (as much as it hurts the old man in me to say that 4+ innings is a good start). Through four innings he allowed just 2 hits and 3 walks with 5 strikeouts. There was an unearned run against him, scoring on a passed ball (he and Jansen got crossed up, Ray threw a fastball, Jansen thought something bendy was coming). He went to full counts too much, but he kept the Yankees off the bases.

Ray allowed a walk and a single to start off the fifth and that was it. A.J. Cole came in a gave up a walk to load the bases. Looking at the final score, it doesn’t seem like there should have been a big moment of the game on the pitching side, but this was a big moment. We were up 5-1 with Giancarlo Stanton, Luke Viot and Gleyber Torres coming up. But Cole got a strikeout, popout and fly out. It was nice to see because Cole has had a rough time of it lately.

Ross Stripling pitched the last four inning, giving up just 1 hit with 1 strikeout. He gets a save on a game we won by 13.

We scored 2 in the first, 1 in the third, 2 in the fourth, 8 in the sixth and 1 in the eighth. Our hitters:

  • Cavan Biggio was 2 for 5 with a walk, double and 2 RBI.
  • Bo Bichette was 2 for 4, with 2 walks, double, 2 RBI (he had 3 walks on the season before tonight).
  • Teoscar Hernandez 1 or 4.
  • Randal Grichuk 1 for 4, 1 walk, 1 RBI.
  • Vladimir Guerrero was 2 for 5, double, 3 RBI. He had an interesting night. He misjudged a popup in the first inning. Thankfully it didn’t cost us a run. He drew a pick off throw from Gary Sanchez, by taking a few steps towards second on a strike and Sanchez threw wide of first, getting us a free run. Then an crushed RBI double in third, an RBI ground out. And he made a very nice play, again a going a long way off first to get a ball, but Stripling got to the bag at first in plenty of time, and Vlad made a nice throw hitting the moving target.
  • Lourdes Gurriel was 3 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Travis Shaw was 1 for 5 with an RBI.
  • Joe Panik only managed a walk.
  • Danny Jansen hit 2 home runs on a 4 for 4 night, with 3 RBI. Yes, one of the home runs was off Yankees’ catcher Erik Kratz (but it still counts).

Jays of the Day: Cole (.119 WPA), Vlad (.190) and Jansen (.107).

No Suckage Jays. Shaw had the low mark at -.063.

Tomorrow is our last game of this four game series against the Yankees and then we have a weekend series against the Orioles to end the season.

We had 847 comments in the GameThread. I led us to victory (and I didn’t even have a beer tonight). But I did have a nice day. I took a drive out in the country and saw the changing of the colours, while avoiding the news for a day. I’d say it was a mental health day, but there really is no mental health left.

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Lightning’s Stamkos secures place in Cup lore with Game 3 goal vs. Stars –



EDMONTON — Seven seconds.

That’s how much time the puck spent on Steven Stamkos’s stick blade on this night, and perhaps that’s all it will spend there throughout the entirety of this Tampa Bay Lightning playoff run.

That’s all the hard-luck captain needed to secure his place in Stanley Cup lore. Seven freaking seconds.

Somehow, after spending 60 days as a practice-only player inside the NHL bubble and going 210 days between games, Stamkos scored the biggest goal of a career overflowing with them.

He was in full stride down the right boards when Victor Hedman hit him in the neutral zone. He blew past Esa Lindell, who defended the play poorly and managed to settle a bouncing puck in time to tuck it up under the crossbar behind Anton Khudobin.

The Lightning bench exploded. Jon Cooper said the reaction was “just a little bit louder” than any of the others during a playoff run that has included five overtime goals. The coach saw it as a sign his team wouldn’t be denied, and they weren’t while grabbing a 2-1 series lead over the Dallas Stars with a 5-2 victory Wednesday.

“It was pretty damn cool,” said Cooper.

Stamkos called it a dream come true.

Forget the unfortunate timing of the injuries that have cost him big playoff games and a chance at playing for Team Canada at the Olympics in recent years. Just being trapped inside the bubble with no guarantee of playing would be agony for someone who has given as much to the Lightning as Stamkos.

And then to get in for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and only be able to play five shifts and score on one of them after not playing for seven months?

Hollywood might not accept that script.

“At this time of the year, you want to do anything you can to help your team win,” said Stamkos. “I’ve watched these guys be so committed to what our end goal is, and to be part of it tonight, it was a dream come true and I’m so proud of these guys. And to be able to share that moment with them and just even be on the bench and watch how well we played tonight, I have told these guys before: It’s inspiring.

“It was great to be part of.”

Quickly, the backstory: Stamkos underwent core muscle surgery on March 2 and was supposed to be recovered in time for the second round of a normal playoffs. Then we had the COVID-19 pause, he had some kind of setback while preparing for the NHL’s return to play and the Lightning have gone on a run without him.

But he’s remained a large figure in the shadows.

You could see him dousing Brayden Point with water after he scored a quintuple overtime goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1 and he was summoned to the ice to help the Lightning accept the Prince of Wales Trophy after they eliminated the New York Islanders.

Everything he had to endure in order to even play for two minutes 41 seconds of Wednesday’s game has happened behind the walls. And based on the fact he sat on the bench while not taking a shift for the final 46 minutes here suggests we might not see him in uniform again for the rest of this series.

So that goal? That was something.

“He’s worked extremely hard to get back to a spot where he could play,” said Brayden Point. “Just seeing him day in and day out — the positivity that he brings, and the leadership that he brings. It’s nice to see him work that hard to get back into the lineup. And then to score one? It’s pretty inspirational for everyone.”

Added Victor Hedman: “This is how much he means to us as a teammate and as a leader and as a friend. We were just super happy for him.”

Stamkos played six games against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Final and didn’t manage to score. In this situation, the Lightning put him on the fourth line alongside Cedric Paquette (zero goals this playoffs) and Pat Maroon (one goal this playoffs) and he produced one in limited minutes before his injury forced him to become a spectator.

What happens next will determine what this means historically.

But what it meant to Stamkos and the Lightning won’t change no matter what. He’s only going to get so many chances like this one.

“It was amazing to be a part of a huge win for us,” he said. “I was just really happy to obviously contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”

This was a kid who used to go to shooting school twice per week and fire 500 pucks per session. That’s a skill that endured the injuries, the layoff, everything.

It made this moment possible.

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