TORONTO – After 25 years the Toronto Raptors and their fans were given the distinction of hosting a coveted Christmas Day game for the first time ever.
So then, what’s that like?
Well, other than a much more dolled-up production from the Raptors’ game operations crew, and playoff-level engaged crowd – though much more jovial and a lot less nervous than the springtime buzz – it’s a lot like any other regular-season game between two top-flight opponents.
Which is to say, the Raptors’ 118-102 drubbing at the hands of the Boston Celtics Wednesday afternoon was entertaining enough until it wasn’t because of its blowout nature and still, ultimately, just another regular-season game – if you’re looking at it purely from a basketball perspective that is.
The truth is, like the holiday itself, a Christmas game means so much more than just who won or lost, or anything at all to do with the game for that matter.
As such, it’s worth asking a different question: If it’s not about the basketball on a Christmas Day game, then what is it about?
The answer to this query is not so easily unearthed, but there were bits and pieces of a resolution seen throughout Wednesday’s matinee contest.
Most notably, with 4:49 left in the first quarter when Celtics backup centre Enes Kanter checked into the game for the first time to a mostly muted reply.
Likely because he was playing for the opposition, but the tepid applause for Kanter’s arrival into the game is a bit if a shame, for if more of the sold out Scotiabank Arena crowd knew what Kanter had been through to even step foot into the country for Canada’s first-ever Christmas Day NBA game, let alone onto the court, there maybe would’ve been a standing ovation that could’ve threatened to stop the game momentarily.
After all, Kanter didn’t even know he was going to be allowed into Canada until two days ago.
In a heartfelt op-ed he penned in the Globe & Mail on Monday, Kanter revealed that with help from the Canadian government, he would be able to enter the country and play on Christmas Day in Toronto.
A special moment as — because of comments Kanter has made criticizing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government’s treatment of its citizens — Kanter is a wanted man by his home country’s leader and has been threatened, bullied and even nearly kidnapped by pro-Erdogan agents when he’s left the United States, meaning he hasn’t been able to travel outside of the U.S. when his team goes abroad.
And up until Monday, Kanter’s status was still up in the air for this Christmas game.
“I didn’t know 100 per cent until the 23rd,” Kanter said before Wednesday’s game of when he knew would be able to play.
“The Celtics have been working on it since the beginning of the season,” he added. “As soon as we learned that we had a Christmas game in Toronto they just started working on it. I spoke to chief of staff for the ministry of immigration two days ago who actually said, ‘We all good.’ One of my friends reached out to [Canadian Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau’s office yesterday and they said, ‘We all good’ and told me not to worry about it and that everything’s gonna be smooth.”
Kanter hasn’t played an NBA game outside of the United States since Nov. 10, 2018 when he was a member of the New York Knicks – against the Raptors. It’s a time period that seems like years to him and, as such, to be able to play once again in Toronto on Christmas of all days meant so much more to him.
“It’s more than a game to me,” said Kanter. “It’s definitely a blessing to play on a Christmas Day, especially in Toronto, the defending champions. But it feels good to be out. It feels good to be free, it feels good to be enjoying this time with my teammates, for sure. It’s amazing.”
Later adding: “It’s not just about basketball, it’s something bigger than that. Now it’s like world leaders have got my back, now it’s like the government’s got my back. So take that Turkish government.”
This is what playing on Christmas is actually about for Kanter. Like he said, it’s so much more.
“I’m trying to use my story to tell other stories,” said Kanter. “I want to thank Canada because they are definitely like a model and taking Turkish refugees all over the world and that’s why it’s so important to give thanks to the Canadian government to Mr. Trudeau to support me, because it was really, really important.”
But you don’t have to have lived Kanter’s struggles to understand the importance and symbolism of what playing on Christmas Day means, either.
“It’s just special. To have an opportunity to have my kids see me play and to just enjoy the moment, it’s cool man,” said Kyle Lowry after the game of what it was like playing on Christmas. “It was something that took 14 years to get to, I got to it, unsuccessful, but it was a fun, great time.”
Lowry wasn’t playing for anything more than the Raptors and his family, but that doesn’t discredit the special feeling he had in regards to playing on Christmas — a time where seeing or being seen by loved ones just means that much more.
And this, to get back to the initial question at hand, is what a Christmas game is about.
Yes, Lowry’s Raptors got bombed out in what ended up being a non-competitive game, but he got to fulfill a dream of playing on the day itself and had his two precocious, rambunctious boys with him for the special occasion.
That’s not bad at all.
And sure, Kanter, had a nice game, scoring 12 points – 10 alone coming in the first half – with 11 rebounds, but the message he Sharpie’d on his Nike sneakers is another part of what the day is really about: “Freedom.”
Christmas is supposed to be a time when we celebrate humanity. Having fun watching or even playing a basketball game is part of that, and more than anything, so is the ability to enjoy whatever you do to celebrate without fear.
That’s not just what a Christmas basketball game is about, that’s what Christmas is about, period.
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
Kirk has HR, four hits, Jays beat Yankees – TSN
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rookie Alejandro Kirk became the first catcher 21 or younger since Johnny Bench with at least four hits that included two for extra bases, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 11-5 Monday night to drop New York 1 1/2 games behind Minnesota for home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Kirk, who played at Class A last season and made his debut Sept. 12, singled in the third off Michael King, doubled in the fourth against Jonathan Loaisiga, singled in the fifth off Nick Nelson and hit an opposite-field homer to right in seventh off Chad Green for his first four-hit game.
“He’s always looking for a pitch to hit, and he did that today,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said.
Speaking through a translator, Kirk called his big night “unbelievable.”
“I was just feeling so comfortable tonight,” he said.
Bench accomplished the feat as part of a five-hit game for Cincinnati at Philadelphia on Aug. 3, 1969, according to STATS.
Randal Grichuk hit his first homer since Aug. 28 and drove in two runs for the Blue Jays.
New York had won 10 straight before Sunday’s 10-2 loss at Fenway Park. The Yankees allowed 10 or more runs in back-to-back games for the first time since July 25 and 26, 2019 against Boston and lost for the third time in four games this year against the Blue Jays in Buffalo. Center fielder Aaron Hicks had trouble with the sky and the lights and allowed a fly ball to drop between himself and right fielder Aaron Judge.
New York (31-23) dropped 4 1/2 games behind Tampa Bay (36-19) for the AL East lead. The Yankees are in position to be the fifth seed in the playoffs and would play at Minnesota (33-22).
“Today was rough, but we’re good, we’re where we need to be,” Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton said. “We’ve got to try to solidify this these last few games to get home field. We know that.”
Judge also said he sees no reason for concern as the post-season approaches.
“The guys are still competing,” Judge said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. had three hits and three RBIs while Teoscar Hernández and Bo Bichette each drove in a pair as the Blue Jays (28-26) won their second straight following a season-worst, six-game losing streak. Toronto is on track to be the No. 8 seed and open the playoffs at the Rays.
“They did a lot of their damage with two strikes,” manager Aaron Boone said. “The inability to put guys away tonight really cost us.”
King (1-2) gave up five runs and five hits in 2 2/3 innings. Eight of 10 batters reached against Loaisiga, including one on a catcher’s interference call on Gary Sánchez. Loaisiga asked that a rosin bag be brought to the mound with the bases loaded. Boone said he would speak to Loaisiga to make sure he hadn’t needed the rosin bag sooner in that inning.
Blue Jays right-hander Matt Shoemaker was activated off the injured list before the game to make his first appearance since Aug. 21 at Tampa Bay. He allowed one run and three hits in three innings.
Right-hander T.J. Zeuch (1-0) allowed one run in 3 1/3 innings.
Plate umpire Chad Fairchild was hit on the face mask by a foul tip in the top of the second. Fairchild left the game between innings, with Paul Nauert moving behind the plate. Extra umpire Sean Barber replaced Nauert.
Blue Jays: RHP Ken Giles will have Tommy John surgery, likely causing him to miss all of 2021 and impacting the deal he will receive as a free agent this off-season. … RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) threw a 25-pitch bullpen before the game and is to be reevaluated Tuesday.. … RHP Julian Merryweather (elbow) was placed on the 10-day IL to make room for Shoemaker. … 1B Rowdy Tellez (right knee) jogged on the field and hit in the cage before the game. Tellez will take batting practice Tuesday. … RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a bullpen session Tuesday.
Boone said RHP Domingo Germán will not join the Yankees for the post-season because Germán will not be able to get ready in time after completing an 81-game ban for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He also missed the final nine games of the 2019 regular season and all nine of New York’s post-season games.
Yankees RHP Gerrit Cole (6-3, 3.00) will face Blue Jays RHP Tanner Roark (2-2, 6.41) on Tuesday. Boone said Cole will likely throw to catcher Kyle Higashioka instead of Sánchez. Cole has a 3.91 ERA in 46 innings working with Sánchez and a 0.90 ERA in 20 innings with Higashioka. Cole and Higashioka have worked together in each of Cole’s past three starts. For Roark, it will be his third consecutive start against the Yankees.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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