TORONTO – Over the last couple of weeks, Canada’s sports networks have teamed up to give Toronto Raptors fans an opportunity to relive last spring’s historic championship run.
It’s been a fun and necessary distraction in dark and uncertain circumstances, especially without any live games or sporting events to pass the time. And most of us have had a lot of time to pass.
That team and that run brought so many people so much joy. Even now, a year later and with far more pressing things on most of our minds, the Raptors and everything they’ve accomplished over the past 12 months can be a beacon of hope.
On Tuesday, 850,000 Canadian viewers tuned in to watch the rebroadcast of Toronto’s Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers – a game that featured Kawhi Leonard’s iconic series-clinching, buzzer-beating shot.
Nick Nurse and his wife, Roberta, were among those viewers.
“I think it was actually the first time I’d ever watched it other than in a highlight,” Nurse said in a Friday morning conference call. “Obviously you see it all the time on highlights, just moving around the city or the arena or the practice facility or whatever, but that was the first time I’d ever seen [the full game since it happened].”
“It obviously lets it sink in a little bit. I don’t know if it’s good or not, but it’s enjoyable to see the guys play so well and it’s enjoyable to see the crowd and it’s enjoyable to see [all the fans] outside [the arena], and it’s somewhat enjoyable to see some of [the media] on camera doing your work too.”
Like any epic tale, the story of that 2018-19 title-winning Raptors team has plenty of ups and downs, twists and turns. It has heroes and villains. It has a beginning, middle and satisfying conclusion.
However, the sequel, which was shaping up to be just as intriguing, has been left open-ended, at least for now.
Toronto was in the middle of a remarkable campaign when the NBA season – along with just about everything else around the world, in and outside of sports – was put on hold in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
At the time in which play was suspended on the evening of March 11 – after Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus – the Raptors were 46-18; second in the Eastern Conference and owners of the league’s third-best record. Despite losing Leonard over the summer and being decimated by injuries to key players throughout the season, there they were, defying the odds and exceeding all expectations.
Pascal Siakam was growing into a superstar before our eyes. Kyle Lowry was continuing to stave off Father Time and cement himself as the greatest player in franchise history, while also building a compelling case for the hall of fame. Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby were all enjoying career seasons, and Nurse was running away as the top candidate for NBA Coach of the Year.
All the while they bonded over scarves and through hard play.
In late February, after what ended up being their final home practice before the pandemic closed their facility and forced them into self-isolation, the team’s most prominent players shared a fun moment together.
With SLAM magazine in town and featuring the Raptors in an upcoming edition, Toronto’s top-7 players posed for photos and recorded a brief and light-hearted video as a group.
Getting that many players together to participate in something like this is exceedingly rare after training camp, let alone this late in the season, but given the platform and the subject matter they all seemed genuinely excited to make it happen. And they clearly enjoyed poking fun at each other on camera.
They tried to coerce Anunoby into breaking out some of the dance moves he had shown off on TikTok a few weeks earlier. Ibaka playfully called Lowry out for trying to skip out on practices. They all gave Ibaka a hard time for his fashion choices and healthy eating. If they were likeable last year, they’re downright loveable now.
The cover of SLAM’s 227 issue, which dropped in the middle of March, read “After Ours: The reigning champs are running it back.”
We don’t know when or if their story will have an ending. The NBA is keeping its options open in the hopes of salvaging the campaign – or, at minimum, an abbreviated version of the playoffs – but the reality is there’s simply too much uncertainty in the world at this time to determine whether or not that will be feasible. Needless to say, there are more important things going on right now.
There are hundreds of good reasons to hope that life goes back to normal soon. In the grand scheme of things, seeing how the NBA season plays out should be very low on that list. Still, with that very important disclaimer out of the way, it would be nice to see if the feel-good Raptors can finish what they started.
“This is a really good team, and it’s a really fun team to coach,” Nurse said. “It’s a shame that we don’t get to be around each other and play some games and keep this thing going a little bit, you know what I mean? Shoot, I could coach these guys 12 months a year… They’re fun to be around and fun to coach. They compete and they’re tough, and they figure it out. It’s a true joy [to coach them] and they are missed, there’s no doubt about it.”
Nurse has been using this time to take a bit of a break from basketball and focus on what’s important. He was an early proponent of the guidelines most people are now following to stop the spread of COVID-19 – things like social distancing and frequent hand washing.
Occasionally he’ll flip on the TV and watch an old game or jump on a conference call with his coaching staff to “divvy up some projects” in the interest of “staying sharp”. But, mostly, he’s been spending time with his young children, playing his beloved piano or guitar, or starting to learn Portuguese.
Like a lot of people, he’s itching to get back to work. This is the time of year he and his staff would usually be ramping up their preparation for the playoffs, which were scheduled to begin on April 18 – two weeks from Saturday.
He was also looking forward to coaching the Canadian senior men’s team in Victoria, B.C., this June, as they made a last-ditch attempt to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics the following month. With the Olympics rescheduled for next summer, and the qualifying tournament likely to follow, Nurse remains “100 per cent” committed to the cause.
However, as Nurse stressed, the Raptors, the NBA, the Olympics, professional sports in general – all of those things can wait.
“I think that if they can figure out a way to play and it’s safe and we’re not putting people at risk, then I think we’ll play, if we can,” said Nurse. “But I don’t know anybody that has any feel for any of that stuff right now. I don’t know if anybody around the world’s figured out how to resume things at all and I guess we’ve just got to wait and see. But, I mean, I think that’s everybody’s hope. We all want to get back to work. Whether it’s basketball or reporting or writing or restaurant, whatever. We all want to get back to work and I think we hope and pray that when there’s a time that it’s safe for us to do so we’ll all join the world again, hopefully, in a healthy way.”
Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca
The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.
The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.
A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:
By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.
The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.
Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.
How did the Oilers do it?
I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.
The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.
Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH
In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.
In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.
With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?
Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.
McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.
I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.
I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.
An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump
Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.
The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.
When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.
In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.
Rangers focused on forcing Hurricanes to deciding game – Sportsnet.ca
After Carolina won 3-1 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 series lead, the Rangers will be looking to force a deciding game in the second-round series when they host the Hurricanes in Game 6 on Saturday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) on Sportsnet.
“We lost a game and we didn’t play as well as we could have, so I was disappointed,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “That’s playoffs, that’s the way she goes. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night and that’s what we’re looking forward to.
“Just worry about tomorrow and take care of business.”
A must-win game is nothing new for these Rangers. They trailed 3-1 against Pittsburgh in the first round, then won three straight — becoming the first team in NHL history to rally from a deficit in three consecutive elimination games — to advance.
“We’ve been in this position before,” New York forward Ryan Strome said. “I like our chances on home ice. … We’re familiar with the situation. Got a chance at home to push it to (Game) 7 and that’s all we’re worried about now.”
The Rangers also trailed in this series after losing the first two games in Carolina. They returned home and won Games 3 and 4 to even the series. Now, they have to win at home again to tie the series one more time.
“The feel in that dressing room is super confident at all times and I think the first series helped a little bit,” Strome said. “And having to win Games 3 and 4 (in this series), those are pretty must-win games and we did a pretty good job. We can draw from those experiences.”
And what those experiences have taught the Rangers is to have a singular focus on the task at hand, and not worry about the series or deficits.
“Well, your backs are against the wall,” Gallant said. “You go out and you play your game. You know if you lose this game there’s no tomorrow. We did that real well last series, hopefully we can do it again tomorrow. I don’t think we change anything strategy-wise. We just go out there and play our game.”
Forward Chris Kreider agreed, adding: “We’ve got to win one game. … Lot of things we could take from (Game 5 loss) and do a better job of. Learn from that and win one game. Win the first shift, win the first period and go from there.”
The Hurricanes are also trying to win one game — on the road, for the first time in the post-season. After their latest victory, they improved to 7-0 at home, but are 0-5 on the road.
Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t concerned by the team’s lack of road wins, though he acknowledges people talk a lot about it.
“That’s a non-issue,” he said. “It’s all I hear about endlessly. We haven’t played poorly on the road. Our game’s been fine. There’s a couple of things that have gone squirrelly. … We’re playing good teams. That’s how it goes.”
The Hurricanes regained the series lead with a strong defensive effort in Game 5, limiting the Rangers to 17 shots on goal — including five in each of the first two periods.
“Does it transfer over, obviously we hope so,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t usually take a lot of stock one game into the next, good or bad. It’s always about the next game and it takes a life of it’s own but definitely the way we want to do it.”
If the Hurricanes keep up their trend this post-season, the deciding Game 7 would be Monday night at home. But that’s not something they want to think about right now.
“We’re going to give it our best,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re going to try to win (Saturday). We do every night. Nothing really changes. Obviously, we don’t want to come back (home) and have another game. We’re going to do everything we can to win tomorrow night.”
Warriors top Mavs in Game 5, advance to NBA Finals – TSN
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As the clock ticked down the final seconds, Klay Thompson began dancing on the sideline before nearly being moved to tears during a celebration with his teammates.
After two major surgeries and two years of grueling rehabilitation, Thompson is rounding back into form and shot the Golden State Warriors back into the NBA Finals.
Thompson shimmied his way to 32 points and the Warriors advanced to their sixth finals in the past eight seasons by beating the Dallas Mavericks 120-110 in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night.
“It’s hard to put into words really,” Thompson said. “This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I’m just grateful.”
Thompson tore his left ACL during a season-ending Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals against Toronto and then tore his right Achilles’ tendon just before the start of the 2020-21 season. After Golden State missed the postseason in both seasons he was sidelined, Thompson finally returned to action in January.
The performance against the Mavericks showed he is getting close to returning to his old level of stardom.
Thompson scored 19 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that he punctuated with teammate Stephen Curry‘s signature shake as the Warriors raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and coasted the rest of the way.
“You could see how much was missing the last couple of years,” Draymond Green said. ”We’re lucky to have the Klay Thompson we know back because we know how good he is.”
Andrew Wiggins added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Green scored 17 points and Curry had 15 points and nine assists. He was named the MVP of the series.
Luka Doncic overcame a slow start to score 28 points for the Mavericks. Spencer Dinwiddie added 26.
After missing the playoffs in 2020 and ’21 in back-to back injury-plagued seasons, the Warriors are returning to a familiar stage. They join the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s and Bill Russell’s Celtics in the 1950s and ’60s as the only franchises to make it to the NBA Finals at least six times in an eight-year span.
“For our team, our guys, especially the core group, to be part of that six times in eight years, I don’t even know what to say,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It just takes an enormous amount of skill and determination and work.”
Golden State will host the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami on June 2 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics hold a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 at home on Friday night.
The Warriors followed their pattern from the first two rounds by bouncing back after squandering a chance to end a series on the road by winning at home. Golden State is now 9-0 at the Chase Center this postseason, tying the 2017 team for the the most consecutive home wins in a single postseason in NBA history.
After making just seven 3-pointers in the first four games of the series, Thompson had eight this game for the record-setting fifth time in the playoffs.
The last two have come in clinchers the last two rounds against Memphis and Dallas, prompting the question on whether his nickname should switch from “Game 6 Klay” for his history in that game to “Clinching Klay.”
“I’m satisfied with ‘Game 6 Klay.’ I don’t need another nickname,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s nice not having to bring him out yet.”
Thompson gave the Warriors a 13-point lead in the first half when he hit one from the corner before dancing and added two early in the third quarter for a 23-point lead.
Dallas cut a 25-point deficit down to eight in the final minute of the third quarter but couldn’t get over the hump in the fourth.
“I don’t like losing, especially not like this,” Doncic said. “I played terrible. But if we’re talking about our season, I’m really proud of this team. … Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end.”
Doncic had a rough start, shooting 2 for 10 in the first quarter. His eight misses were tied for the most in the opening quarter of a playoff game since LeBron James missed all nine of his attempts in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta in 2015.
Doncic was held to six points in the first half, his lowest opening half of his postseason career, on 2-for-12 shooting before finding his stroke in the third quarter.
“We need Luka to go big a lot of nights just to give us a chance, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t go for him tonight,” coach Jason Kidd said. “I think he carries the load as well as anyone, and I think for us as an organization, we’ll help lighten that load as we go forward.”
With Otto Porter (left foot) sidelined for a second straight game, the Warriors got a big boost in the first half from 19-year-old rookie Moses Moody.
Moody scored all of his seven points in the second quarter with his 3-pointer giving Golden State a 56-38 lead. Moody scored just six points the first three games of this series for the Warriors before scoring 17 the past two games with Porter sidelined.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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