Nick Nurse likes to prepare for all eventualities. But even he didn’t know what to expect when his team was getting ready to open a new series against a division rival, after a week off, and in the midst of an unprecedented moment of social justice reckoning — all while also getting ready to kick off their ninth week in Florida because of the pandemic.
What else? Oh yeah, Kyle Lowry, their tone-setting point guard, was coming off an ankle injury and maybe — likely for the first time in career — not completely at one with playing basketball at the moment.
“I’m kind of waiting [to see what happens],” said Nurse, the Toronto Raptors head coach, before Game 1 of their second-round series against the Boston Celtics tipped off Sunday afternoon. “… I think everybody is trying to see what happens when it goes up and see what kind of mental capacity everyone has.”
Based on the Raptors being handled easily 112-94 by Boston, it’s fair to say his team wasn’t operating at their typical level.
Take Lowry. His ankle was fine, but his spirit — and likely those of others in an NBA bubble that seems immune from the novel coronavirus but not protected from some of the world’s other ills — remains bruised after a week in which Lowry’s responsibilities as a Black man, husband and father came before his duties as point guard.
“Basketball always matters, but in this situation — this time — it’s taken a backseat,” Lowry said. “Yes, it’s our job and we’re gonna go out there and perform at the highest level we can possibly perform at, there’s no excuses, but we still have an obligation right now and that’s to use our platform …”
Lowry said the Raptors were “very close” to leaving the bubble and ending their season but bought in to staying because of the bigger picture.
“We’re still here because we can get these messages out there,” he said.
That’s what the two-day strike that delayed the start of the Raptors-Celtics series was about and the players earned some significant concessions from the league and the franchise owners, including a commitment from the NBA to establish a social justice coalition, use of arenas for voter registration and polling and more public education spots during playoff broadcasts.
But from this point on the playoffs platform has to be earned, and the Raptors’ opportunity to keep sharing their message from the bubble depends on their ability to quell the Celtics.
In a series that projected to be a toss-up, the added uncertainty made what might happen after Game 1 started Sunday afternoon at Walt Disney World Resort that much more of a crapshoot.
The Raptors rolled snake eyes.
Was it their mindset? Their game plan? The match-up with the Celtics broadly?
Maybe — or likely — all of the above.
The defending NBA champions, winners of 32 of their past 37 games and 11 of 12 in Florida, simply didn’t have it for whatever reason and the Celtics — a popular pre-season pick to emerge from the Eastern Conference — weren’t going to cut Toronto any slack.
There was no category of the game that Toronto can take comfort in having out-played their Atlantic Division counterparts.
The No. 3 seeded Celtics got better performances out of their key players — Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart combined for 42 points on 15-of-28 shooting, while Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet managed just 8-of-32 from the floor. The Raptors’ bench — thought to be an area of strength before the series — was a non-factor, with Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka contributing 25 points on 8-of-22 shooting. The Raptors lost the battle of the centres, too, with Daniel Theis out-performing Marc Gasol by a margin.
Most concerning was the Raptors’ defence — the source of their identity — looked ordinary against a multi-faceted Celtics attack that got to the paint easily and whipped the ball around the perimeter to open shooters all afternoon, as they shot 47 per cent from the floor and 17-of-39 from three.
It has been a tough week and how the teams were going to handle it was a fair question in the buildup, as the league worked its way through the wildcat strike in response to the police shooting of Jacob Blake that delayed the start of the series and rendered basketball matters a distant concern for a few days.
For the Raptors at least the notion of competition as a temporary sanctuary or salve didn’t quite pan out.
“I didn’t have any sense that things were off [before the game],” said Nurse. “But there was no joy. There was no joy. First of all the pre-games take like half an hour from the time the horn sounds to the time they throw the ball up, so I don’t think anybody really enjoys that big delay between warming up and the ball going up, and there’s not any joy in that part of it. It was a tough day for us, right? So, we didn’t have [it], nothing was much fun out there today.”
It has to be pointed out — and this is where Raptors fans might start feeling anxious — that the Celtics have been sharing precisely the same experience, other than the Raptors’ extra two weeks in Florida.
They didn’t know what to expect either and, to their credit, weren’t about to look for possible excuses.
“I’ve said this before, I think there are bigger things to worry about in the world than [the circumstances in the NBA bubble],” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We are just going to go out and play as well as we can. Toronto and us have been on the exact same schedule. There is nothing normal about this experience so what we’ve tried to do this entire time is prepare as well as we can and play as well as we can. We will see how we play at one o’clock.”
They played great and if Raptors fans are looking for something to be worried about (beyond real life, we mean) they might start with having to reconcile the fact that Boston is now 4-1 against Toronto this year, and more relevantly 2-0 against Toronto in Florida — with both wins coming in blowouts, going back to Boston’s beatdown against Toronto when they met during the seeding games that ended the regular season.
In that sense, Sunday afternoon was just more of the same. By the end of the first quarter Boston led 39-23 and shot 59.1 per cent against the Raptors’ defence — the best in the NBA since Jan. 15 and second only to the Milwaukee Bucks on the season.
The Raptors came out flat. After the game Nurse was asked how his team creates the energy they need to play the kind of hard, connected basketball that has made them such an inspiration this season.
“I think that there’s a number of factors there,” he said. “I think it’s just locker-room feel, energy from the bench, obviously some connected play early on both ends of the floor, the ball going in. There’s a lot of ways to try to feel your energy/rhythm. And we seemed to be battling it from, virtually, the start.
“Really, right from the start, it seemed tough. I thought we created some really good things, and we came out with, like, nothing to show for it five minutes into the game. Three or four minutes into the game, we had no points. And we literally had a layup to start the game and a couple of wide-open threes early. And just nothing went. I don’t know. We’re gonna have to do a heck of a lot better a job to find the energy and rhythm come Tuesday [for Game 2].”
Toronto came out of the gates clanging, and never stopped. They were just 8-of-22 from the floor in the first quarter and 4-of-12 from three on their way to shooting 10-of-40 for the game, compared with Boston’s 17-of-39.
That, combined with being on the wrong end of 11 first-quarter fouls (to five for Boston), and coughing up six turnovers simply gave the Celtics too many chances. Granted, some of the calls seemed ticky-tacky at best. Nurse used his coach’s challenge on what looked like a very good close out by Siakam on a Jaylen Brown three and ended up losing the challenge, forcing Siakam to sit with his third foul, which prompted Nurse to take a technical foul to shake things up.
It didn’t work. The Raptors rallied briefly, cutting the Celtics’ lead to nine at one point, but it was an Ibaka turnover on a late post-up that was picked off by Tatum that led to a solo fastbreak. When Brown followed up with a buzzer-beating three the Celtics were able to take a 59-42 lead into the half. The closest the Raptors got in the second half was when Lowry converted a three-point play on the first possession of the fourth quarter to cut the Celtics’ lead to 12 only to watch Boston respond with a 10-2 run to push their lead to 20.
The Raptors had all kinds of reasons to come and play at less than their best. The problem is the Celtics did, too, and were able to execute when the ball went up, so the Raptors were not looking for an out.
“I mean, both teams was in the same situation,” said Ibaka, who scored 12 of his 15 points in the first half. “We are not the only team that was in that situation they were in that situation, too, and they played better than us today so I don’t think that was the reason or excuse we need to find.
“We have to give them a lot of credit, they played better than us and we have to learn from it, be better the next game.”
It was that kind of day and has been that kind of week. The Celtics navigated it better than Toronto did, it would seem, and now the Raptors can only look ahead.
Source: – Sportsnet.ca
Jays thump Yankees – Bluebird Banter
It is so much more fun playing the Yankees in Buffalo than playing them in Yankees Stadium. I’m going to love hearing them whine about the park.
Matt Shoemaker made his first start coming back from the IL and he was very good. Just 3 innings (they were going to keep him around 60 pitches, he finished with 54), 3 hits, 2 walks, 1 earned with 1 strikeout. He seemed to be thrown out of rhythm when a foul tip went into the mask of the plate umpire and there was a long delay.
My continuing complaint is that, the umpire clearly got rocked by that pitch, the trainer comes out, and they stand and talk and joke and leave him in the game. There should be a rule that takes the umpire out of the game, at least for an inning, so he can be evaluated properly.
At the end of the inning the umpire comes out of the game and a spare umpire, who for some reason was at the game, takes over (boy was he terrible at calling balls and strikes).
Shoemaker was getting his fastball up to 95-96 and looked healthy. He’ll get another start on the weekend and, all being well, should be our third starter for the playoffs.
T.J. Zeuch came in for the fourth and threw 3 perfect innings. He gave up a walk and a double in the seventh and came out of the game at 3.1 innings, 1 hit, 1 earned, 1 walk in 3.1 innings. He looked calm and kept the Yankees hitting the ball on the ground. He gets the win.
Patrick Murphy followed up. He got us out of the seventh and pitched the 8th, giving up 2 hits with a strikeout. He’s pretty impressive with a 97 MPH fastball and a very pretty 12 to 6 curve.
Wilmer Font started the ninth and was just awful, giving up a single and 2 walks to load the bases and then a double to unload them, while getting 2 outs. Font forced Charlie to get Shun Yamaguchi into the game, to get the last out, a strikeout.
Mike Wilner mentioned that Font only hit 89-91 on the fastball, maybe something is wrong.
Lots of guys had a big night, but Kirk was the most fun to watch, going 4 for 4, with the home run, a double and a long single off the right field wall that only needed to be about 2 feet higher to be home run. Kirk scored from second on a single, which may have been the most entertaining moment of the night. Amazing that he’s in the MLB without playing above A ball.
Vladimir Guerrero was 3 for 3 with a walk. He had a “triple” that Yankees’ center fielder Aaron Hicks lost in the night sky (that we didn’t score him was a sin), a double (on pitch he really shouldn’t have swung at but he managed to pull it down the left field line) and another double that was hard hit, well earned double. let’s hope that it is the start of a hot stretch.
- Cavan Biggio had 2 walks (should have been 3, did I mention the hastily dressed plate umpire had a rough night).
- Bo Bichette was 2 for 5, with 2 RBI.
- Teoscar Hernandez was 2 for 5, 2 RBI, 3 strikeouts.
- Randal was 2 for 4, with the homer, walk and 2 RBI.
Being the Jays, we couldn’t make it through the game without an error. Biggio had an easy grounder hit to him at third but threw wide of first. Vlad got over to make the catch but couldn’t put a tag on the runner. Next batter hit another ground ball to third, this time Cavan threw a strike.
That brings our Magic Number to 3, with the Mariners still playing.
Jays of the Day: Vlad (.161 WPA), Bo (.110) and Hernandez (.102) all had the number. And, of course, I’m giving one to Kirk. And let’s give one to Zeuch for throwing the 3.1 innings, saving us from using more pitchers.
No Suckage Jays. Gurriel had the low mark at -.071. On the other hand, lets give one to Font for an awful ninth.
We had 898 comments in the GameThread. I led us to the win. I tell you, I have a beer, the team wins. I’m willing to keep it up.
Stars surrender control to Lightning in Game 2 as tug-of-war for Cup begins – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — So, how are we going to play this?
In Game 1 the Dallas Stars called the tune, winning the first 40 minutes with their heavy, win-the-net-fronts game that made the Tampa Bay Lightning look slow and pushed their skill to the outskirts of the rink.
But by taking three minor penalties in the opening period of Game 2, the Stars surrendered control, allowing a power-play exhibition to erupt — which is right up the Lightning’s alley.
What resulted was a 3-2 Tampa win, a series tied at one game apiece, and the beginning of that annual tug-of-war over which team is going to impose its style on this Stanley Cup Final.
“For sure,” agreed veteran Dallas centreman Joe Pavelski, who scored his 10th playoff goal on a dandy deflection. “There’s a couple of good teams that have somewhat of a foundation to win games, how you play. We were definitely closer to ours in Game 1, and we got away from it early in this game and it cost us. But there was no quit, and we started to find our game. It came back, and we need to stay at that level moving forward.”
From the Stanley Cup Qualifiers to the Stanley Cup Final, livestream every game of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, blackout-free, on Sportsnet NOW.
And isn’t that always where the discussion goes? We start with how Tampa was able to wrest away the style of play from Dallas, and then we argue over exactly how long it lasted, until the Stars looked up at a 3-0 scoreboard in the second period and decided to make a game of it.
“It’s two very good teams battling it out. Who controls the puck the most comes back to faceoffs, and special teams were obviously the difference tonight,” said Stars head coach Rick Bowness, whose team has made a habit of over-utilizing the penalty box throughout this COVID Cup. “This is going to be a tough series. They’re an elite team. They’ve been here before. We’ve got a lot of guys who have never been here before. Hopefully we’re just going to keep getting better.”
Dallas had killed of five-straight Tampa power plays in this Final and had the Bolts top producers right where they wanted ‘em: Squeezing the sticks and feeling the pressure of a Cup Final that began with the Lightning leaders firing blanks.
Then, on the first power play of the game, Nikita Kucherov was a turnover machine, handling the puck more like a ham-and-egger than the player whose Hart Trophy reign had ended just before the game, when Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl was named the 2019-20 winner.
It looked like Tampa may have been stuck in Game 1 gear. So what did the Stars do?
They took another penalty. And another.
The cardinal sin when the opponent’s skill guys are rusty is to give them power-play touches. To allow them to start to feel good with the puck on their sticks again.
“When we stay out of the box we’ve seen … we’re a good team,” Pavelski said. “When you feed their top guys that kind of confidence, they play with the puck, they get a little momentum… We can kill one, two, three [penalties] a night. We don’t need to be killing three, four a period.”
Before the first period was out, Kucherov had set up Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat for power-play snipes, and when Kevin Shattenkirk’s long-range seeing eye shot found twine the Stars were down 3-0 at the first intermission.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Mattias Janmark. “We don’t want to take penalties. We have taken way too many throughout the playoffs.”
But don’t just blame the Stars. This is how a skilled team like Tampa turns the game back their way: They find a way to get on the power play, then they bury you with the man advantage.
Then you get tentative about taking penalties, and the extra half-second or six inches of ice that creates is what they use to beat you on the next shift.
“It’s easy to explain,” argued Bowness. “We lost faceoffs, we were turning the puck over and we were taking penalties. It was an even game up until we started taking penalties. Their power play connected.
“Faceoffs, turnovers and penalties. Things you can’t afford to do against a team like that.”
Here we go folks.
It’s now a best-of-five, and we’re looking forward to when it becomes a best-of-three.
Because whoever seizes controls of how this Final gets played, don’t worry. The other team will steal it back.
Steelers knock out Lock, hold off Driskel, Broncos 26-21 – TSN
PITTSBURGH — A game seemingly in hand suddenly on the cusp of slipping away, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t overthink things. His team’s defence is built on one principle: attack.
Needing a stop to turn back the surprisingly resilient Denver Broncos, the Steelers dialed up one final blitz in an afternoon filled with them.
Safety Terrell Edmunds raced in unblocked to take down Denver backup quarterback Jeff Driskel on fourth-and-2 at the Pittsburgh 15 with less than two minutes to play to preserve a 26-21 victory Sunday. The sack was Pittsburgh’s seventh of the day.
“That’s just the code we live by,” Tomlin said, later adding, “I wouldn’t necessarily call it a game plan, it’s just our personality.”
A personality his team believes can carry it into January and beyond. There’s still plenty to work on; the Steelers (2-0) committed 10 penalties and turned it over twice.
So the Broncos (0-2) hung around despite losing starting quarterback Drew Lock (right shoulder) in the first quarter.
Driskel led an unlikely comeback despite taking six sacks and absorbing 17 hits. Denver trailed by 14 points at halftime and 12 in the fourth quarter — but was 15 yards away from a stunning upset before Edmunds came off the edge and sent Driskel to the turf one last time.
“I thought in lieu of all the circumstances, going against a good defence, I thought (Driskel) did an admirable job and he’ll only get better if we have to continue with him,” Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said.
Fangio might not have a choice.
Lock wore a sling over his right arm following a very strange case of deja vu. He missed three months in 2019 after injuring his right thumb while stumbling to avoid a sack.
Midway through the first quarter he was tripped up in the backfield by linebacker T.J. Watt and staggered to his right before linebacker Bud Dupree crashed on top of him, driving Lock’s throwing shoulder into the ground.
“I fell on it weird,” said Lock. “I tried to tuck it last second.”
Instead, he fumbled. The Steelers recovered and went downfield for a touchdown while Lock was in the blue medical tent getting evaluated. He attempted to throw the ball but it “felt funny.”
Driskel completed 18 of 34 for 256 yards with two touchdowns and a pick and absorbed that serious pounding. Still, he had the Broncos in position to win it until Edmunds’ No. 34 swallowed him up with the game on the line.
Tomlin will take a somewhat ugly win over the alternative.
“We understand early in the season we’re not going to be perfect (but) we were good enough to win,” Tomlin said.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 311 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in his second game back from right elbow surgery. The 38 year old connected on 29 of 41 passes, including a rainbow down the left sideline to rookie Chase Claypool that turned into an 84-yard touchdown.
Still, he wasn’t exactly thrilled on a day the Steelers never trailed but struggled to put the Broncos away.
“The good news is when you play poorly and you still win the football game, that’s something to be thankful (for),” Roethlisberger said. “I just need to trust myself making the throws. The guys are in the right spot.”
The Steelers spent a portion of the week dealing with a self-inflicted public relations mess after putting the name of Antwon Rose Jr. — a Black Pittsburgh teenager shot in the back and killed by a white East Pittsburgh Police officer in 2018 — on the back of their helmets last week against the Giants. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva called an audible and put the name of fallen U.S. soldier Alwyn Cashe on the back of his helmet instead. Villanueva opted to honour Cashe again Sunday while centre Maurkice Pouncey, a longtime police advocate, used the space to pay tribute to fallen officer Eric Kelly, who was killed in the line of duty in 2009.
While all Steelers stood for the national anthem, Claypool, a Canadian, raised his right fist. He said he considers himself a “visitor” in the United States but wanted to provide some sign of unity.
Denver WR Courtland Sutton, who missed the opener against Tennessee because of a sprained shoulder, caught three passes for 66 yards before leaving in the second half with knee and leg cramps. … DE DeMarcus Walker exited in the second half with a calf injury. … DE Dre’Mont Jones left in the second half with a knee injury.
Steelers RB Conner, who left the win over the Giants with a sprained left ankle, finished with 106 yards rushing, including a 59-yard sprint after Edmunds’ sack that let Pittsburgh run out the clock.
Broncos: host Tom Brady and the Buccaneers next Sunday. Brady went 7-6 against Denver while playing for the Patriots.
Steelers: welcome the Texans next Sunday in the first-ever “Watt Bowl.” The game will feature Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt and fullback Derek Watt facing older brother J.J. Watt, the standout defensive end for the Texans.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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