Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 113, Boston Celtics 97 - RaptorsHQ - Canada News Media
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Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 113, Boston Celtics 97 – RaptorsHQ

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It’s been 10 days since Norman Powell, Marc Gasol and Pascal Siakam all got hurt, and we’ve spent that time wondering which Toronto Raptors might step up in their absence — the same way Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Terence Davis and Chris Boucher stepped up when Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka were out, and the way Powell himself did when Fred VanVleet was out.

We may have finally gotten some answers, at least for one night — a very enjoyable Christmas revenge victory over the Boston Celtics.

Patrick McCaw: Faith Rewarded

During last year’s Eastern Conference Semi-Finals I worried that Nick Nurse’s faith in Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell was going to cost Toronto that series. VanVleet and Powell were terrible, and although (obviously) Toronto the series, I might go so far to say they won despite the play of VanVleet and Powell.

Then in the Eastern Finals Powell was excellent from the get-go, and VanVleet eventually turned it around (shoutout to Fred VanVleet Jr.) and was absolutely brilliant in the Finals.

If Nurse had benched those guys in Round 2, would they have contributed the same way in Rounds 3 and 4? We’ll never know for sure, but Nurse believed in them, and that belief paid dividends.

So we can, perhaps, give Nurse the benefit of the doubt that his belief in Patrick McCaw will reap similar rewards. It sure did last night; McCaw was aggressive from the tip, with a strip block and a steal in the opening minutes, along with a layup and a banked-in J. He had two more buckets and a nice swing pass to VanVleet during a 12-2 run later in the quarter.

Perhaps most notably, McCaw was on the ball at the top of the arc more, freeing up both VanVleet and Kyle Lowry to be in better scoring position. This worked brilliantly, as VanVleet and Lowry combined for 48 points and 36 shots, and McCaw finished with a career-high eight assists.

We’ll see if McCaw can be trusted to run the offense for extended periods, but for one night, Nick Nurse’s faith was rewarded — and once again he made the rest of us look pretty dumb for questioning him.

Matchup Mania

Speaking of Nick Nurse, let’s also give him credit for subbing Serge Ibaka out early last night, so that he could bring him back earlier and match up with Enes Kanter.

Kanter bullied Chris Boucher on Wednesday, and Nurse smartly wanted the stronger Ibaka to body Kanter up. It worked: Kanter scored 5 points and grabbed six boards in his 17.5 minutes, better (for the Raptors) than the 12 and 11 he had in his 18 minutes on Christmas.

I also liked that this strategy gave Boucher more time with the starters; VanVleet and Lowry can put Boucher in position to succeed better than McCaw or Terence Davis can at this point.

OK Oshae

So who saw Oshae Brisset making a difference in this game? The undrafted rookie played a career-high 15 minutes last night, and they were impactful — none moreso than a stretch at the end of the third where he hauled in two big rebounds and played great D on Jayson Tatum, all of which helped the Raptors maintain a 10-point lead heading into the fourth — and gave Nurse confidence that he could trust Brissett in the fourth.

Sure, he made some rookie mistakes (a dumb foul and missed layup at the start of the fourth) but overall his D and his hustle were much-needed factors in the win.

It’s too early to say if Brissett has found a spot in the rotation (and it’s unlikely there’ll be room for him when the team is healthy), but maybe Nick Nurse has found one more reliable guy on his bench.

Hit the Boards

The Celtics killed the Raptors with their rebounding on Christmas, so it was nice to see the Raptors respond by dominating the boards last night. On Christmas, the Celtics were +11 on the glass, and had 13 offensive boards that led to 24(!) second chance points.

Last night, the Raptors were +22(!) on the boards, and held the Celtics to just seven offensive boards and five second-chance points.

The Ibaka-Kanter matchup, and Oshae Brissett’s energy, helped, but credit the guards too: VanVleet (three rebounds), Lowry (four), McCaw (seven) and Davis (seven) all hit the boards as well.

I’m Happy for Kemba

Sometimes you just root for a guy to find success, you know? Kemba Walker always seemed like a good guy and a good teammate, along with being a heck or a scorer. But he was stuck for so long on those terrible Hornets teams. So it’s nice to see him making an impact on a good team with a good coach and quality, reliable players around him.

Now, Kemba’s been a Raptor killer forever, and remains a terror (22 points on Christmas, 30 last night) so I don’t wish him too much success — not against us, anyway. Against the other 28 teams? Go get yours, Kemba.

********

Man, five thoughts already and I didn’t even get to Kyle Lowry, who had 30 points and seven assists last night? What does that guy have to do to get some respect around here! Sheesh.

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Team Mayweather sends a warning to Conor McGregor ahead of UFC 246 – BJPENN.COM

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Floyd Mayweather, Conor McGregor

Team Mayweather has sent former adversary Conor McGregor a warning ahead of his UFC 246 bout with Donald Cerrone.

McGregor and Mayweather faced off in a blockbuster boxing match back in August of 2016, with ‘Money May’ emerging victorious by tenth round TKO.

With that said, the Irishman did have his moments in the contest, especially early in the fight. Due to that success, ‘Mystic Mac’ is confident that a rematch with Floyd Mayweather would go much differently.

However, the folks at Team Mayweather do not share the same confidence in Conor McGregor. Floyd’s longtime friend and bodyguard Ray Sadeghi, can’t imagine a scenario in which McGregor would ever get his hand raised against Mayweather Jr.

“Conor talks a lot, and one thing we do know is he talks a lot, and he doesn’t back it up,” Sadeghi told MMAJUNKIE. “He can say, ‘Oh, he did this in the beginning and in the third round.’ One thing we know as a fighter is everyone starts off fresh and strong. As the rounds go on and on he’ll show the true colors of who is the better fighter and who is the more skilled fighter.

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

Conor McGregor, Floyd Mayweather

“One thing we do know: Conor McGregor, you can say what you want to say, but you got knocked out, and you got severe head trauma and a concussion that was reported by your doctor. Is the outcome going to be the same? I truly believe that no one can outbox Floyd. No one can outwork Floyd. His offense and his defense and his technique – this man is just made for this.

“His dad, his uncles have been in this for decades, and he’s been doing this since he was a little boy. You can try. If that fight happens and the negotiations go so you guys can put it together and the fight is going to happen, will I love to see that? Absolutely. Is the result going to be the same? I don’t know. It’s going to be a very exciting fight, and I’m sure Conor is going to come out stronger, but you cannot underestimate the best ever.”

Do you think Conor McGregor will try and secure another boxing match with Floyd Mayweather if he proves victorious at UFC 246 this evening? Sound off in the comments section PENN Nation!

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Game Preview 49.0: Edmonton Oilers vs Arizona Coyotes (1pm MT, SNW) – Oilers Nation

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Good morning, Nation! Here we are with yet another Saturday matinee edition of the GDB as our beloved Edmonton Oilers get set to take on the Arizona Coyotes in what will surely be a massive Pacific Division matchup.

Before the Oilers take off for their bye week, they’ve got one last piece of business to take care of as Taylor Hall and the Arizona Coyotes visit Rogers Place for a Saturday matinee, and with the Pacific Division standings being as close as they are, this is undoubtedly a huge game for Edmonton. Right now, the Oilers are chasing the Coyotes for the division lead and winning today’s game would be a huge step towards grabbing that spot as they head into a 10-day break. Now that we’re in the back half of the season, it seems like the pressure to win rises exponentially and these divisional games become as important as it gets. As of this morning, first and fifth place in the Pacific are separated by only two points and that means closing out these four pointers are crucial for not only maintaining pace but also for putting space between Edmonton and the teams chasing them. Needless to say, the Oilers need to do whatever it takes to put two more points in the bank before the break.

The other obvious storyline for tonight’s game is that Taylor Hall will be making his return to Edmonton for the first time as a Coyote after being acquired from the Devils back in mid-December. Now that he’s back in the Pacific Division and playing along with the likes of Phil Kessel, the Coyotes have a different look and feel than we’re used to, and it will be up to the Oilers to figure out a way to shut them down while also producing opportunities for themselves on the offensive side of the puck. As you’ll see in the numbers section below, the Coyotes score less than the Oilers do (they have five fewer goals in two more games), but they allow far fewer goals against which will certainly be a challenge to overcome. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that the Coyotes are still the defensive team we know and hate but they’ve found a way to add some offence into the mix which makes them a different animal to handle.

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Tonight’s contest marks the third of four meetings between these two clubs with the next coming up on February 4th in Glendale. Over the first two games, each side has secured a win with both contests requiring extra time to reach a conclusion.

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Numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick (fancies at 5×5)

Oilers

Neal – McDavid – Archibald
RNH – Draisaitl – Yamamoto
Nygard – Sheahan – P. Russell
Gagner – Haas – Chiasson

Klefbom – Larsson
Nurse – Bear
K. Russell – Jones

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Smith

Over the past couple of weeks, the Oilers have really started to hit their stride in terms of producing offence from through their lineup and it’s a trend that I’m really hoping can continue after this afternoon and beyond the bye-week break. The lines shown above were what the Oilers were rocking at practice, but there haven’t been any updates since but I’ll go ahead and update things if anything changes.

Coyotes

Hall – Dvorak – Garland
Keller – Soderberg – Schmaltz
Course – Stepan – Kessel
Grabner – Richardson – Hinostroza

Ekman-Larsson – Demers
Chychrun – Goligoski
Oesterle – Hjalmarsson

Hill

Looking at the Coyotes’ stats page, the thing that stuck out to me was the balanced scoring they have from through their lineup, and that the real battle could come from how the depth lines match up against each other. If the Oilers’ third and fourth lines can outscore what the Coyotes can produce then we should be in line for a nice little afternoon here. At least, that’s the theory anyway.

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From Howlin’ Hockey:

When the ‘Yotes played deep and cycled in their “O” zone, it posed problems for the Canucks’ “D” men. Unfortunately, there was too much puck-watching by the Coyotes and not enough support for their linemates or movement away from the puck to generate many scoring chances.

In essence, there was too much “one and done” and loss of the precious puck to the home team. Many of the ‘Yotes seemed invisible at times, mere passengers on a slow-moving train to a destination called defeat. It seemed a blessing that the Canucks were at times just as inept as the Coyotes were.

It was certainly disappointing to watch the Coyotes’ performance against the Canucks, especially after they made it clear the day before and again pregame that this contest was going to be approached as if it was a playoff game. Coach Tocchet stated that with the NHL break coming up after Saturday’s matinee game in Edmonton, the Coyotes needed to “empty the tank.” Instead, it looked as if the tank was empty from the start.

Let’s hope there’s an effective “response” game that reminds us all of the desert dogs’ resilience come Saturday afternoon in Edmonton. Win and come home to warmer weather, boys. Let’s go Coyotes!

Photoshop: Tom Kostiuk

Game Day Prediction: Oilers take it 3-2 and head off into the sunset to enjoy their bye week. I believe.

Obvious Game Day Prediction: Seeing as it is a tundra outside right now, Rogers Place sells twice as much alcohol as normal as Oilers fans will do anything to keep themselves warm. Or, at least, numb the pain a little bit.

Not-So-Obvious Game Day Prediction: Gregor predicted he’d score on Tuesday night against the Predators and it never happened, so I’m going to go ahead and call Patrick Russell’s first NHL goal here and now. One of us needs to get this one. 

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Daily news and chat: The last Leafs game before bye-week is tonight – Pension Plan Puppets

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The Maple Leafs are getting ready for vacation. The team will be released from any immediate obligations shortly after playing tonight against the Blackhawks for their annual bye week. This year the end of the bye week coincides with the All-Star Game break, so there is extra time off, except for Frederik Andersen, Mitch Marner, and Auston Matthews who will be participating in that game.

Yes, it’s going to be a long time until the next gamen on Monday January 27th, so enjoy tonight while you can.

We’ll have a preview of the game out later this morning. And don’t worry, we have lots of interesting things planned for you to read here next week.

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The Blues went from completely being all-in on a Pride Night celebration to not even having a night of inclusiveness. And if you’re wondering why inclusiveness matters, just do a simple Google search of why Pride still matters.

‘Sometimes it’s tough love’: Bond among Leafs’ Kapanen, Keefe pays off – Sportsnet
Kapanen and Keefe’s relationship dates back to the AHL. There has been some friction along the way, but there are benefits, too. Keefe, still adjusting to life in the NHL, already knows what buttons to push.

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