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Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 110, Dallas Mavericks 107 – RaptorsHQ



A lot of my “thoughts” over the course of a season feature things I’ve never seen before. The crooked basket from a couple of weeks ago, for example.

Well, it’s safe to say I’ve never seen anything like what we saw yesterday afternoon. Erasing a 30-point deficit? In the span of about nine minutes? I don’t even know where to start with this… well, except with eight simple words.


If ever there was a compelling case why you don’t leave or turn off a game before it’s over, this was it. Some numbers:

  • It was 85-55 with 2:30 to go in the third.
  • It was 95-95 with 5:30 to go in the fourth.
  • A 40-10 run in nine minutes!?

Some more: The Raptors jumped out to an early 18-6 lead. They finished on a 55-22 run. In between the Mavericks outscore them 79-37. A 42-point swing!

During that 55-22 run, Kyle Lowry had 23 points. Yep, he outscored the Mavericks 23-22 in 14.5 minutes of game time!

And the Raptors had no timeouts for the final 2:30!

That’s a lot of exclamation points! But this game sure deserved them.


Would you ever have guessed that that 40-10 run was completed with Chris Boucher, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Malcolm Miller on the floor? The entire run! Undrafted rookie Terence Davis? Skinny Chris Boucher!? Constantly ineffective Malcolm Miller!?

I would not ever have believed it.

The group was led, of course, by Kyle Lowry. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that a Lowry + bench unit would succeed, as he’s been leading sub-heavy units to success for years, but this? No way.

Lowry + bench units, over everything, forever and ever and ever.


I gave Malcolm Miller a hard time the other day, because I felt like he was squandering his opportunity to contribute with all of the injuries. He was fantastic yesterday.

Now, he didn’t score, which, considering how much scoring the Raptors did in the time he was on the floor in the second half, is kind of amazing. But he did everything else! He had a perfect swing pass to Davis for a three that cut the lead to 20, and another assist, following a steal, that led to another Davis triple.

He had another steal that, while he didn’t get the assist, eventually turned into a Rondae Hollis-Jefferson bucket, and he had three rebounds.

Most of all, he used to length and quickness to play pretty much the entire middle section of the court during the Raptors’ full-court pressure. He bothered the hell out of the Mavericks in there, and he, and that trap, were a huge part of the turnaround.

And, even though he didn’t score, he shot the ball without hesitation, which was great to see. It’s the best he’s looked all year, and I hope it’s a confidence booster going forward.

The Heart

And how about that full-court pressure. Sure, the Raptors gave up a couple of easy ones, as sometimes happens with that kind of defense. But they stuck with it, which is key, and somehow found the energy to make it work over an extended period.

And when the Mavericks did get into their half-court offense, the Raptors’ D was stifling. Boucher blocked two three-point shots! Rondae guarded Kristaps Porzingis and held him to only three attempts — and kept him off the boards on the other end.

To play that group of guys for that long, without a sub, to deliver that kind of defensive energy and to score enough to make up a 30-point deficit? And their D on the final Dallas possession? After expending all that energy coming all the way back? Amazing.

Of a Champion

What else can I say about Kyle Lowry? How about just a list of some of the incredible things he did in that 55-22 run:

  • Scored the deep three-pointer that (ahem) cut the 30-point lead to 27
  • Hit back-to-back threes to cut it to seven
  • Tossed in a floater, with the and-1 to cut it to four
  • Barrelled to to the hoop to cut it to two
  • Hit a signature PU3IT to give the Raptors a four-point lead
  • Nailed another deep bomb to push it to five
  • Delivered the game-winning assists to Chris Boucher

Kyle Lowry is an NBA champion and also the champion of my heart.


I don’t know how this shorthanded team is going to recover its energy in time to play the Pacers tonight, but we just have to hope some of that same heart shows up once again!

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Sheldon Keefe Post Game, Leafs 2 vs. Flames 1: "Part of it is perhaps Willy being misunderstood… Part of it is that he still has to grow as a player" – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



Sheldon Keefe addressed the media after his team’s 2-1 overtime win over the Calgary Flames on Wednesday night, improving the Leafs’ record to 15-4-2 on the season.

On why William Nylander seems to be misunderstood within the market:

In the last couple of games, he has had real good legs. He has been skating well with the puck. I said the other night that it feels like he was ready to break out. That’s good.

Why is he misunderstood? Willy has to own some of that. He has got find more consistency in his game. He and I have talked a lot about those kinds of things. He has got to be engaged and good without the puck.

Part of it is perhaps being misunderstood. Part of it is that he still has to grow as a player.

On Michael Hutchinson’s performance:

I thought we did a good job once again here of not giving up [a lot] with the exception of the goal we gave up. That is the one big chance. That was really the way the game was going: Who is going to give up the big chance? We had a breakdown there. It felt like we stopped playing for a little bit and exposed ourselves there. That is an area where you never want to give that up. Aside from that, I thought we did a good job.

Certainly, I thought Hutch was really solid. He gave us lots of confidence to just keep playing today. He gave us a chance to win. He keeps it at 0 for most of the game, and he keeps it at 1. You’ve got a hope and a chance. We found a way through a nice group effort there at the crease to get one in. It gives us a chance for Will to do his thing and win the game on a spectacular goal.

On whether Auston Matthews’ wrist was bugging him as the game went along:

Yes, it was. Yeah.

On why he started Tavares-Marner and then Matthews-Nylander in OT:

It was really just as simple as Auston wasn’t comfortable taking the faceoff. It was just the way his wrist was feeling. The faceoff, to me, is really important at three-on-three. We sent John for that. We intended to send Auston on the fly. It just so happened we had a d-zone faceoff, but it was on the right side, and Will took it and won it. We won both of those faceoffs, and it gave us the puck for the bulk of the time we spent there.

If you have the puck, you give yourself a good chance at three-on-three to make something happen.

On whether Matthews’ wrist situation is a real concern and if it can be easily treated:

I think it is something that can be treated. He has been dealing with it for a long time now throughout the season. It hasn’t slowed him down. Today, it was a factor.

We do have a couple of days here before we play again — a full day off tomorrow, a practice and travel day, and then we get out West. We will see how he is. We will continue to take care of him and monitor it. We don’t think it is anything more at this point than what he has been dealing with.

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Report Cards: William Nylander solves Rittich, Toronto Maple Leafs triumph in overtime over Flames – Maple Leafs Hot Stove



We nearly had to start this article with, “Will the Leafs ever score again? My column:”

After getting stonewalled by Dave Rittich for 58.5 minutes, the Leafs were finally able to break through with a greasy William Nylander goal after pulling their netminder. Nylander also scored the game-winner in overtime, which feels oddly poetic after a week of extremely rational discourse on the Swedish winger.

The final score was 2-1 Toronto, although 95% of this game was played with the scoreboard showing zeroes. Calgary didn’t bury the game’s first goal until there was 3:27 remaining in the third period. It was a true battle of the backups.

Enough preamble. We all know why you’re here. It’s time to hand out some report cards!

5 Stars

Game Puck: William Nylander (RW, #88) — I’ve spent the last week reading and listening to a lot of William Nylander takes. Some are more nuanced than others, but the consistent trend you’ll notice among his critics is their disdain for low-effort plays like these.

That’s a bad look, especially considering the scoreboard.

Kudos to Sheldon Keefe for not making the typical 200 Hockey Men move and benching his star player immediately afterward.

By putting faith in one of his best offensive players with the game on the line, Keefe was rewarded with one of the greasiest goals I’ve ever seen Nylander score.

He somehow gets four separate whacks at it here and somehow finds a way to tuck it home.

His next goal required much more skill.

This is turning into a mini Nylander article — as it should. We’ve been talking a lot about him lately. Tonight’s game gave us a little bit of everything:

  • Battling hard along the boards with Mikael Backlund
  • Swinging low on the breakout and transporting the puck up the ice
  • A frustrating moment defensively
  • High-end skill to generate a few goals offensively

By now, I doubt anything I type is going to change your mind on how you feel about Nylander. Frankly, I just think he’s a good hockey player.

Michael Hutchinson (G, #30) — Other than that Alex Mangiapane goal from in tight he had little chance on, Hutchinson was perfect on Wednesday night. His biggest saves of the night came on a Josh Leivo wrister and 3v3 rush by Elias Lindholm.

We’re always dealing with small samples anytime we try to assess backup goaltenders, but that’s a couple of starts in a row where Hutchinson has looked solid.

Alex Barabanov (LW, #94) — I feel bad for essentially writing him off after playing poorly on the fourth line to start the year; he’s looked great in these past two games and is showing some encouraging signs he could be acclimating to the league. Right from Barabanov’s first shift tonight, you could tell he was playing with confidence. He tried that NHL 21 deke where you put the puck between your legs to dance around the defender.

Later in the third, he had a chance to pot the game-winner with a chance in tight off a Hyman pass, not to mention a breakaway shortly afterward where Barabanov almost tucked it five-hole.

Sign me up for more of this Barabanov moving forward.

Travis Dermott (LD, #23) — This was Travis Dermott’s best game of the season and I’m not sure it’s close. The coaching staff rewarded him by playing him over 22 minutes, by far the most they’ve trusted him with this season.

As always, he was making life difficult on opposing forwards by cutting them off early in the neutral zone. What impressed me more was how stable he looked defensively. He was getting his stick in the passing lanes and did a great job taking away the slot.

With Jake Muzzin out, Dermott was able to get some PK2 time with Bogosian. Both defenders did well to prevent Calgary from gaining the zone easily. This aspect of play is huge for Dermott; if he wants to earn more ice time in Toronto, he’ll need to find a way onto that second PK unit.

4 Stars

Auston Matthews (C, #34) — He picked up an assist on that mad scramble to tie the game and another apple in overtime with his drop-pass to Nylander. Earlier in the second period, Matthews showed off some of his new-found speed on what Chris Cuthbert called a “dangerous dash.”

He was flying the rest of the period, up until the point where his hand got jammed awkwardly into the boards. That appeared to make high-skill plays a bit more difficult for Matthews the rest of the way; he missed an easy pass to Nylander the shift right after the collision.

That’s definitely something to keep an eye on. Those hands were made for goal-scoring.

Jason Spezza (RW, #19) — Mitch Marner & Co could learn a lot from watching Jason Spezza’s direct approach on PP entries. He doesn’t overthink things. He just skates north as fast as he can to gain the zone.

He shot it on this play, but usually, he finds an open man right after stepping over the blueline. Spezza had the highest success rate on 5v4 zone entries last season among Leafs players. If I’m Matthews or Marner, I want to learn his secrets.

3 Stars

Team Length™ — Basketball scouts are obsessed with wingspan. Players who have a combination of length and athleticism are super annoying to play against.

On the Maple Leafs, that sounds a lot to me like Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev. Neither player is a game-breaker offensively, but they’re able to use their speed and length to apply pressure and force turnovers. It can be frustrating to watch Mikheyev fail to convert Grade-A chances on the penalty kill, but at some point, one of those is going to go in…right?

Alex Kerfoot (LW, #15) — It was Kerfoot who completed the 2-on-1 pass across to Mikheyev. Those two have created quite a few odd-man rushes on the penalty kill this season.

At even strength, Kerfoot has looked a lot more explosive in transition, using his speed to carry the puck up the ice. My theory is that John Tavares taking more of the defensive responsibilities at centre has helped open up ice for Kerfoot off the rush.

The 1st Pair — This was a good but not great game from Morgan Rielly and TJ Brodie. The former helped create two of Toronto’s most dangerous chances offensively, while the latter covered lots of ice when he was defending the neutral zone.

Brodie also does a great job of settling things down on the breakout, which I wanted to show by pulling up the following clip.

Again, you can make any player look good or bad by cherrypicking the right clips. It’s worth noting Brodie has a long history of advancing the puck up the ice with possession, which is why I don’t feel too bad sharing this clip.

The 3rd Pair — Early on, I loved Mikko Lehtonen‘s play. He was closing the gap well in transition and starting the breakout out of his own end. Lehtonen also uncorked a big shot on the power play that made it through traffic and appeared to give Rittich some trouble.

Zach Bogosian was excellent on the penalty kill. As we mentioned, that combination of him and Dermott works well when defending the blue line, which has also been the case at 5v5 this season. There were a few plays Bogosian completely botched in the offensive zone, but for the most part, I thought he was doing his job as the Leafs‘ stay at home 3rd pair defender.

2 Stars

John Tavares (C, #91) — One of these days, Tavares is going to score on Rittich. This is not that day. He got robbed in tight again by Calgary’s goaltender on his best chance of the game.

I’m not too worried about a goalie making a big save. What does concern me is the fact that it was Tavares’ only Grade-A scoring chance of the night. He hasn’t looked very dangerous off the rush this season, which was the case again tonight.

We all know Tavares is an elite offensive talent, but he certainly hasn’t been putting up those kinds of results lately.

Mitch Marner (RW, #16) — That tidbit on PP entries in the Spezza section was directed mainly towards Marner. He’s the one Toronto typically trusts to gain the zone for them at 5v4. In his last two games, he’s really struggled in that department.

Marner was excellent on the PK again, although you’d like to see a bit more from him at 5v5.

Zach Hyman (LW, #11) — Aside from a wrist shot that Rittich had to fight off, this was a fairly quiet game from Hyman. As Toronto’s “energy” forward, I’d like to see him bring a bit more in the 6:48 he played against Matthew Tkachuk.

Travis Boyd (C, #72) — He did have a couple of decent passes in this game, along with a strong net drive that resulted in a tripping penalty. Otherwise, I didn’t notice too much from Boyd tonight.

Justin Holl (RD, #3) — Although his pairing put up great results at even strength, I thought that had more to do with his partner. Holl flubbed a few passes on the breakout, which isn’t common for him. He also lost body position on Joakim Nordstrom, leading to a tripping penalty.

As a final piece of criticism, if you watch the Mangiapane goal again, you’ll notice Holl had a chance to block the passing lane out front. Multiple things have to go wrong for a puck to end up in the back of the net (i.e. Nylander on that play), but Holl deserves some share of the responsibility, too.

1 Star

Jimmy Vesey (LW, #26) — I’m starting to feel bad for Jimmy Vesey. For some reason, the Leafs tried him on PP1 tonight. It went about as well you’d expect. With his lack of passing ability, a lot of plays tend to die on his stick.

I don’t hold any personal vendetta against the guy. I just don’t think he’s been a very effective NHL player this season.

Heat Map

Here’s a quick look at where each team’s shots were coming from at even strength, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

The Leafs controlled 58 percent of the shots and 54 percent of the scoring chances at 5-on-5. They almost got goalie’d — then Calgary got Nylander-ed.

Game Score

Game score is a metric developed by The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn to measure single-game performance. You can read more about it here.

Final Grade: B+

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Why no one should count out a Tiger Woods comeback after car crash



The emotional impact of the events of Tuesday afternoon hit as hard as Tiger Woods himself did in his prime. Reports began to circulate on social media that Woods was in a single-car collision in California, and the feelings went from “This can’t be real” to “Is Tiger alive?”

The good news: Woods is very much alive. Battered, bruised and held together by literal pins and screws – but he’s still here.

The bad news: This very well could be the end of the line for Woods on the PGA Tour.

But, given the severity of the crash, it’s best to focus on that good news.

“It’s very fortunate,” said Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, the first on scene to speak with the legendary golfer, “that Mr. Woods was able to come out of this alive.”

Woods has always been superhuman on the golf course, but the last few years – the 2019 Masters aside – have shown him to be as human as the rest of us.

And mere mortals are not exempt from horrible accidents like the one Woods was involved in on Tuesday.

Dr. Steven Papp, an orthopedic surgeon at The Ottawa Hospital, told Sportsnet that with Woods’s tibia fracture being “open” (meaning it broke through the skin) there would be concerns about infection – something he said would needed to be monitored over the coming months – along with compartment syndrome in the leg.

However, Dr. Papp says, it sounds as if Woods has had the tibia fracture fixed and cleaned, and already had a compartment release.

“It’s a severe injury that will take a long time to recover from,” said Dr. Papp. “But without any complications, he should be able to walk again, and I think it’s reasonable he could play golf again. It’s not out of the question.

“A reasonable time would be something like 12 months. Six months is possible. To imagine he’s playing golf in three months would be a bit unlikely … but this guy is a special individual.”

At the PGA Tour’s World Golf Championships event in Florida, Canadian Mackenzie Hughes was on the 14th hole of his practice round with fellow Tour winner Lanto Griffin when they heard the news.

“We all immediately felt sick to our stomachs,” Hughes told Sportsnet in a text message. “We were just praying it was not too serious.”

Hughes said his thoughts quickly went to Woods’s children, who were likely pulled out of school (daughter Sam is 13 while son Charlie is 12) to be told about their father.

“It’s not about his (golf) career,” said Hughes, who is a father of two boys. “As a dad myself, that’s what I think about first.”

The question now is less about if Woods can physically come back to play golf again, but if he wants to.

He’s 45, and just went through another back procedure – his fifth – a couple of weeks ago. He was, for all we know, preparing to come back for the Masters in early April. We still don’t know the factors involved in the crash – local authorities say the curve Woods came around is known as a dangerous one – but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department did confirm Wednesday it would not be pursuing any charges of impairment against Woods.

The vehicle crash was “purely an accident,” said Alex Villaneuva, the L.A. County Sheriff.

Woods was in California for a two-day video shoot with content partner Golf Digest. He did not arrive for the second morning of shooting as the crash occurred just after 7:00 a.m. local time. Woods, as part of the shoot, was supposed to give golf lessons to celebrities including actor David Spade and former basketball star Dwyane Wade.

Wade, on Inside the NBA Tuesday night, said he and Woods talked about their kids during their day together.

That’s fitting, because the last time we saw Woods on the golf course back in December, he was paired with Charlie at the PNC Championship, a parent-child event. There, we saw true joy from Woods, who for almost two decades was stoic, focused and ready to take on any golf course or competitor in his path.

These days Woods appears softer. He loves talking about his children and doing things with them. Charlie stole the show at the PNC Championship with his golf prowess very clearly shining through. Sam, meanwhile, is a star soccer player in Florida. They are trying to be normal kids in an abnormal time.

For better or for worse, Woods owes his life to golf.

His success transcended the game and changed the way people — including this writer — view and play it. His dominance came at a time when golf was at a crossroads. Woods, a multi-racial young star, prioritized working out, and ripped woods made of metal and golf balls with multiple layers through the stratosphere.

Anyone on the driving range at a PGA Tour event will likely say it was Woods who got them motivated to play golf at a high level. Everyone who comes later in golf’s history will always be compared to him. Through the early 2000s, he had no equal, other than history itself.

More recently, Woods has been knocked off the pedestal.

“He’s a human being at the end of the day,” said Rory McIlroy. “And he’s already been through so much. At this stage I think everyone should just be grateful that he’s here, that he’s alive, that his kids haven’t lost their dad. That’s the most important thing.”

An inspiration to millions, a fascinating character and a tragic hero, Woods has always been able to come back – from myriad injuries and surgeries, from a front-page infidelity scandal, and from the loss of his father. So there should be no doubt he can come back to the PGA Tour after this accident.

Will he want to? Perhaps. Should we bet against him, if it’s what he wants? Absolutely not.

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