By this point, the unexpected should be expected.
And yet, the fact that the Eastern Conference Finals won’t be featuring reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and his Milwaukee Bucks, the team that looked invincible during the regular season to the point where they were breaking all sorts of statistical records, remains a mind-bending reality that is difficult to comprehend.
The Miami Heat club that ousted them, meanwhile, has been sitting poolside in the Orlando bubble for seven days now after handling their business in a shocking five games. They’re sure to be rested and well-prepared coming into their first ECF since 2013–14 (the final year of LeBron James’ Heatles).
As for the Boston Celtics, they’re entering the series battered and beaten after surviving a seven-game defensive slog against the Toronto Raptors, and their energy early on may be a telling sign for how the first couple games, at least, could go.
Still, both teams are playing as well as they could be expected to at this point, and will find in one another here a challenge (another for Boston, the first for Miami) that should make for an entertaining, if not extended series.
Regular-season review: Celtics won series 2–1
Unfortunately, there’s not much data from these games that tells us anything meaningful heading into this series.
In the initial meeting between these clubs, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and Goran Dragic didn’t play (but Justise Winslow, who is no longer on the Heat, did!). In the second, Jayson Tatum was out. In the final contest, which took place during the seeding games, Hayward (presently injured) logged 36 minutes.
To top it all off, the Heat aren’t even starting the same group(s) that they were during any of those games, with Bam Adebayo now acting as the team’s de facto centre (a decision that’s proved massively beneficial) and Goran Dragic having taken over the starting role formerly belonging to Kendrick Nunn.
Perhaps the only takeaway (which will be expounded upon further momentarily) worth noting here: Adebayo absolutely bullied the Celtics during their last meeting, taking 18 free-throw attempts and looking entirely unstoppable.
Key matchup: Bam Adebayo vs. Daniel Theis
This may not be the matchup that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of these two teams going head-to-head, but Adebayo is such an integral cog in Miami’s offence and will be such an enormous concern for Boston on defence that focusing on anything else here would border on dishonesty.
With Adebayo now featured as the lone centre and surrounded by shooters, a version of the team the Celtics have yet to play, his place as a pillar of the offence has been heightened significantly. The Heat will often begin actions with the ball in Adebayo’s hands at the top of the key, the place he’s most dangerous. From there, he can await the outcome of off-ball actions designed to get those aforementioned shooters open and then deliver timely hand-offs or pinpoint passes (an underrated element of his game).
Of course, if the matchup is favourable, Adebayo can power through smaller or similarly-sized players to get to the rim. If he’s guarded tightly by a plodding big, he’s typically too fast for them to stop with his explosive first step. If his opponent sags off of him, he can hit elbow jumpers with regularity. And if he’s doubled, his passing and recognition is good enough that he can punish teams by kicking to the perimeter.
Boston will probably opt to have their starting centre, Daniel Theis, begin the series on Adebayo, though that may not last long. Boston’s other options are limited, though, as any smaller defender like Jaylen Brown or Smart increases the likelihood of Adebayo living at the free throw line.
Livestream the Raptors’ quest to defend their NBA title with select NBA playoff games on Sportsnet NOW.
On the other side of the ball, Adebayo is Miami’s most versatile and dangerous defender, and having him guard Theis will be an easy place to start. Boston’s centre is typically the screener in most of the team’s pick-and-roll actions, but with Adebayo as his man and more than capable of switching onto a smaller player (such as Kemba Walker) and swallowing them up, the advantages the Celtics are usually able to create there are suddenly gone.
Even if the Celtics don’t bring Theis into actions as a screener, but instead choose to leave him in the corner and operate through alternate means, Adebayo can cheat off of him (Theis is only shooting 18.2 per cent from three this post-season) and act as a defensive rover, patrolling the paint and blowing up plays as a help defender, something he’s adept at.
Adebayo’s multifaceted defensive prowess and ability to successfully switch at a moment’s notice will be the greatest obstacle the Celtics face in this series. The answer to this problem may very well be to attack the Heat in isolation, something the Indiana Pacers did quite well in the moments they got the appropriate matchups in the first round.
By having Tatum, for example, exploit his matchup (likely to be Jae Crowder, a capable defender) one-on-one, it keeps Adebayo out and away from the action as much as possible. The Celtics were an excellent isolation team during the regular season, too, ranking sixth in the league in isolation possessions per game and posting 0.96 points per possession on those plays, good for the 86th percentile.
Honourable mention: Jimmy Butler vs. Jaylen Brown
While Adebayo is the player whose performance will likely tell that tale of this series, Jimmy Butler is still the guy Miami expects to go get buckets in the big moments. And though he’s been a consensus perennial all-star for some time now, he’s never broken into the discussion of the league’s crème de la crème, his name always absent from the sect of basketball discourse ruled by the likes of LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard.
This series will provide him with the opportunity to change that.
T.J. Warren and Wesley Matthews certainly weren’t pushovers (and Butler has had some games this post-season where his play was well-contained), but Butler will find himself in a situation with even less room for error against a Boston team that contains a bevy of superior perimeter defenders that allows them to switch freely without giving up an advantage.
To single out a particular matchup, though, it will likely be Brown that starts on Butler, as he spent the most time on him (25.4 partial possessions) during two regular-season matchups. The Celtics trust Brown’s strength, even when he’s undersized (see: Last series against the Raptors, in which he guarded Pascal Siakam the majority of the time), against physical opponents like Butler.
With a significant portion of his offensive output coming from his ability to draw fouls by penetrating the defence (he’s averaging 10.7 free throws a game and converting 84.4 per cent of them this post-season), this will be the most difficult it’s ever been for Butler to just go get a bucket, regardless of the moment.
Celtics: Gordon Hayward
The verdict is still out on whether or not Hayward will even find his way into this series after spraining his right ankle in Game 1 of the Celtics’ first-round bout with the Philadelphia 76ers (though ESPN’s Malika Andrews did report that he went through a “hard, small group workout” on Monday), but if he does, he could make a considerable impact.
Assuming he doesn’t come out exceedingly rusty and force a quick hook from Stevens, Hayward can eat some of the minutes of Boston’s deeper rotation players while also providing Tatum and Walker more relaxed resting periods since he can act as a pick-and-roll handler, shooting threat, and general creator to keep the offence afloat with those two off the floor.
Hayward’s return also means that the Celtics could close with him, Tatum, Walker, and Brown on the hardwood together, a four-man unit they obviously haven’t had available to them in the bubble, but one that boasted a formidable plus-9.6 net rating in the regular season.
Heat: Goran Dragic
Since making his triumphant return to the starting lineup, Dragic has looked like the all-star player he has shown he can be in the past, and it’s a big reason the Heat are where they are at the moment. In his first six playoff games, Dragic dropped at least 20 points (the second-longest streak of his career) before faltering somewhat in the conference semifinals.
If the Heat are to survive this series, they’ll need Dragic to continue to produce, a task that will prove more difficult than ever with Boston’s perimeter defence. He’ll likely have Smart assigned to him as well, by far the toughest individual defender he’s had to face these playoffs.
Thus far, he’s accumulated a 26.1 usage percentage, the highest on the team. That may have to change (and force Miami to seek out a substitute offensive option) should he be unable to find success early.
Celtics in seven.
This series certainly—and surprisingly—feels like a coin flip and is just brimming with questions (e.g. How much zone defence will Miami play? Will Boston’s shooting be enough? Does the Heat’s inexperience show itself at some point?). Ultimately, the decision to go with the Celtics here is rooted in the belief that their stifling perimeter defenders combined with their ability to exploit matchups in isolation will be enough to nudge them over the edge.
Wolff takes lead into final round at U.S. Open – pgatour.com
The final tee time will feature two of the most iconoclastic talents in the game. DeChambeau is trying to win his first major and his second title (Rocket Mortgage Classic) since bulking up to add driving distance.
“The past two majors I’ve played in I’ve been right in contention,” he said, noting his T4 finish at the PGA Championship last month. “It’s definitely validating, albeit there’s a lot more to go. I’ve got to figure out a lot more. I am excited to be in this position for sure. There’s no better place to be.”
Should Wolff hang on, he would be the youngest U.S. Open champion since Bobby Jones in 1923, and the first 21-year-old U.S. Open winner since Jordan Spieth in 2015. Wolff would also be the first player to win the tournament in his debut since Francis Ouimet in 1913.
He would also stamp an exclamation point on an up and down 2020.
Wolff, who edged Morikawa and DeChambeau for his first PGA TOUR victory at the 3M Open just over a year ago, finished 35th in the recently concluded FedExCup. That wasn’t great, but he began playing better over the summer. The 54-hole leader at the Rocket Mortgage, he shot 71 to finish second to DeChambeau (65), and they each tied for fourth at the PGA.
His mistake in Detroit, Wolff said, was looking ahead and getting “antsy” to start the final round, a gaffe he is hoping to avoid Sunday. He said he has played this week while thinking about his agent, who was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, putting the golf into perspective.
Those behind Wolff and DeChambeau include Louis Oosthuizen (68, 1 under, four back), plus the threesome of Harris English (72), Hideki Matsuyama (70) and Xander Schauffele (70).
“You know, it doesn’t take much around here,” said Rory McIlroy, whose 68 got him to 1 over for the tournament, six back. “Someone gets off to a decent start, maybe 1- or 2-under through 5 and then the leader goes the other way, 1- or 2-over through 5, and all of a sudden you’re right in the thick of things.”
The weather for Sunday’s final round is expected to be more of the same, which is to say cold in the morning, followed by crisp sunshine in the afternoon. Autumn in New York.
“It feels like I should be tailgating right now,” said Zach Johnson (68, 2 over total).
Much like Morikawa in San Francisco last month, Wolff will play the final round not in front of boisterous New York galleries, or any type of galleries, but amid the quiet of his own thoughts.
That’s not insignificant.
Said McIlroy, “Just makes it a touch easier for the guys at the top.”
Wolff, sometimes described as fearless, admits he will almost certainly be nervous for the final round but doesn’t argue with that adjective. Sunday might be his greatest test yet.
“I go out there and I play my game,” he said. “There’s a lot of holes out there that maybe people would try to hit it in the fairway or maybe take the safe play because it is a U.S. Open and they know that pars are a good score, but I don’t really like to think of it that way.
“I like to go out there and do what I feel comfortable with,” he added, “rip dog and see how it goes from there. I feel comfortable with every part of my game so I don’t like to shy away from things when I’m feeling confident, and I’m probably going to do the same tomorrow.”
Lightning not reaching for easy excuses after Game 1 letdown – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — The evidence that the Tampa Bay Lightning are going to make this an interesting Stanley Cup Final can’t be found as much in what they did as what they didn’t do.
Namely, they didn’t seize on any of the excuses easily on offer after a 4-1 loss here to the Dallas Stars in Game 1.
The most clear example came on the Jamie Oleksiak goal that stood up as the winner. The puck was clearly fired into the Tampa zone from the wrong side of centre ice by Miro Heiskanen, which was accompanied by an animated response from the Lightning bench in real time.
Yet, by the time everyone had a chance to double-check the receipts, a collective set of amnesia had taken hold.
“I didn’t really see it,” said Tyler Johnson.
“I didn’t look at the play,” said Yanni Gourde. “I don’t know.”
“To be honest, I can’t really remember the play,” said Kevin Shattenkirk. “Sorry, me either.”
As dull as those quotes might read in print, that’s exactly the response a team needs following an emotional loss. The Lightning had a built-in explanation for why this game might not have turned out in their favour, but the true reason for a 1-0 series deficit was found more in the slow start and a strong goaltending performance by Anton Khudobin than anything else.
Tampa didn’t respond particularly well to the 48-hour turnaround after winning the Eastern Conference Final and couldn’t reverse a 3-1 deficit even while outshooting Dallas 22-2 in the third period.
The Oleksiak goal was a back-breaker. The lineseman didn’t raise his arm for icing when Heiskanen fired the puck in from the wrong side of centre, which is almost certainly why Victor Hedman never got below the faceoff dot to get the puck there.
“Well you wouldn’t be asking the question if you didn’t think the same that we may have thought. But it’s a moot point now. So you can’t go back and change the call,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper.
They also couldn’t go back and find more purpose in the opening minutes. Dallas dictated the pace, grabbed an early lead and parked the bus.
That raised some questions about a Lightning team that has given up the first goal in six straight games. However, they’ve responded with the 1-1 goal each time, and lost their grip here in a second period where Dallas regained the lead.
“I’m just disappointed in the fact that we got away from our strengths,” said Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “They’re a great skating, great structured team, but I think we could have played to our strengths a little bit better. Simplified our game and get going north a little bit more early on and allow ourselves to so-called find our game with our forechecking and our offensive zone play.”
Those will be key talking points before Monday’s Game 2 at Rogers Place.
When the Lightning look at this Cup opener with clearer eyes, they’ll focus on creating more chaos in front of Khudobin. The power play will be a natural focus after going 0-for-3 in the third period and seeing it fall quiet late in the Islanders series.
“He’s a very good goalie,” said Johnson. “When he’s on, he’s on. I thought we generated some pretty good chances and he made some really big saves. Did we do enough? No, because we lost the game. I mean we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to do more than score one goal.”
Still, deep down, there were no excuses in this loss. Tampa didn’t play with nearly the same verve it had in the previous rounds.
But the Lightning have been buckling in for a real series.
“I think we probably dipped our toes in the water a little bit and watched them skate around for a bit,” said Cooper. “It’s too bad, but you’ve heard me say it a million times: Turn the page and move on.
“Short memory in the playoffs.”
Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees – 9/19/20 MLB Pick, Odds, and Prediction – Sports Chat Place
New York Yankees (29-21) at Boston Red Sox (19-32)
MLB Baseball: Saturday, September 19, 2020 at 7:30 pm (Fenway Park)
J.A. Happ (1-2) (3.96) vs. Chris Mazza (1-1) (5.57)
The Line: Boston Red Sox / New York Yankees — Over/Under:
Click Here for the Latest Odds
The New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox meet in an AL East division matchup in MLB action from Fenway Park on Saturday.
The New York Yankees will look to keep the ball rolling after nine straight wins following a 6-5 win over the BoSox on Friday. Gary Sanchez led the way, going 2 for 5 with a home run, a double and three RBIs while DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton each had a double and an RBI and Luke Voit added an RBI as well to finish off New York’s scoring as a team in the win. Aaron Hicks went 2 for 5 at the dish while Clint Frazier, Gio Urshela, Gleyber Torres and Aaron Judge all had base hits as well to finish the offense for the Yankees in the victory. Jordan Montgomery allowed four runs on five hits with seven strikeouts over 4.2 innings in the start, not factoring in the decision. Jonathan Loaisiga got the win to improve to 3-0 on the year in relief. J.A. Happ will start here and is 1-2 with a 3.96 ERA and 30 strikeouts this season. In his career, Happ is 12-4 with a 2.95 ERA and 116 strikeouts against Boston.
The Boston Red Sox will try to rebound after blowing an opportunity against the Yankees on Friday. Christian Arroyo went 3 for 5 with a home run and four RBIs while Christian Vazquez went 3 for 5 with a pair of doubles and an RBI to round out Boston’s scoring as a team in the win. Xander Bogaerts went 2 for 5 while Alex Verdugo and Jackie Bradley Jr. all had base hits to finish off the offense for Boston in defeat. Martin Perez threw six shutout innings, giving up just three hits while striking out seven, not factoring in the decision. Ryan Weber took the loss in extras to fall to 1-3 on the year, Chris Mazza is expected to start here and is 1-1 with a 5.57 ERA and 22 strikeouts this season. This will be Mazza’s second career start against the Yankees.
Trends will be updated once they’ve been released.
Part of me would’ve liked to consider the over as I don’t trust either of these pitchers as far as I can throw them, and you never really know about which Happ you’re going to get. With that said, I think that the Yankees keep the train rolling here and Mazza’s already faced New York this season, allowing four runs in three innings of work. I don’t see how Mazza keeps the Red Sox in this one. Give me New York by at least two so I’ll side with the Yankees on the run line in this one.
New York Yankees -1.5
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