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.
NBA roundup: Thunder shock Lakers with 26-point comeback
Alexander scored 27 points to help the host Oklahoma City Thunder rally from 26 down to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 123-115 on Wednesday night.
The comeback matched the largest in Thunder history and helped the team claim its first win of the season despite several late miscues.
Up three in the final minute, Oklahoma City had a timeout remaining but didn’t use it, and Gilgeous-Alexander couldn’t get the ball across halfcourt in time, giving the ball back to Los Angeles with 16.8 seconds remaining. Malik Monk then missed a 3-pointer, the Thunder gave up the ball again, and Carmelo Anthony missed another.
Russell Westbrook, making his first appearance for the Lakers in the city where he spent his first 11 NBA seasons, was ejected in the closing seconds after being called for his second technical foul of the game. Westbrook was upset after Darius Bazley’s steal and dunk in the last five seconds.
Kings 110, Suns 107
Harrison Barnes buried a tiebreaking 3-pointer at the final horn, allowing Sacramento, after blowing a late 13-point lead, to escape with a dramatic victory at Phoenix.
Buddy Hield came off the bench to score a team-high 26 points, Barnes finished with 22 and De’Aaron Fox chipped in with 18 for the Kings, who opened a four-game trip by snapping a two-game losing streak.
Devin Booker paced the Suns with a game-high 31 points while DeAndre Ayton had 21 to go with a game-high 21 rebounds, but the Suns never went ahead after losing the lead for good late in the third quarter.
Hawks 102, Pelicans 99
Trae Young scored 31 points and John Collins added a double-double as visiting Atlanta held off New Orleans.
Collins finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, including a tiebreaking putback in the final minute. Atlanta’s De’Andre Hunter scored 13, and Bogdan Bogdanovic added 12.
Devonte’ Graham scored 21 points, Brandon Ingram had 20 points and eight assists and Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points and 15 rebounds for the Pelicans.
Trail Blazers 116, Grizzlies 96
CJ McCollum recorded 25 points and six rebounds and Damian Lillard added 20 points and 10 assists to help Portland post a victory over visiting Memphis.
Jusuf Nurkic added 17 points, eight rebounds and three steals and Anfernee Simons scored 17 points off the bench for the Trail Blazers. Portland committed 14 turnovers after giving the ball up 30 times in Monday’s 116-86 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Desmond Bane scored 19 points for the Grizzlies on Wednesday before leaving with a cut over his eye late in the third quarter. Ja Morant had 17 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds for Memphis, which dropped to 1-2 on a four-game Western road swing that ends Thursday against the Golden State Warriors.
Raptors 118, Pacers 100
Fred VanVleet scored 26 points and grabbed a career-best 10 rebounds and Toronto defeated visiting Indiana.
OG Anunoby added 25 points with five steals and Scottie Barnes had 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds for the Raptors, who won for the second time in five games this season and for the first time in four home games.
Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon, who had 18 points, left the game early in the third quarter with a sore left hamstring and did not return. Chris Duarte scored 14 points for the Pacers, who have lost four of five games.
Cavaliers 92, Clippers 79
Collin Sexton scored 26 points, Evan Mobley recorded 12 points and 10 rebounds in his return to Los Angeles and Cleveland led the Clippers nearly wire-to-wire.
Cleveland never trailed en route to its third consecutive win and second on a five-game road swing, and the score was tied only once. A Sexton free throw inside the first three minutes gave the Cavaliers a 3-2 lead, and they were on top the rest of the way.
Cleveland locked up Los Angeles defensively, holding the Clippers to just 35.6 percent shooting from the floor and 22 percent (9 of 41) from behind the 3-point arc. The Cavaliers struggled from long range as well, going 3 of 20 (15 percent).
Timberwolves 113, Bucks 108
D’Angelo Russell scored a team-high 29 points and had six assists as Minnesota held on for a win at Milwaukee.
Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Edwards finished with 25 points apiece for the Timberwolves, who won their first road game of the season. Jarred Vanderbilt posted a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds in his first start of the season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo finished with 40 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists for the Bucks. Khris Middleton added 16 points and Grayson Allen had 13.
Heat 106, Nets 93
Bam Adebayo totaled 24 points and nine rebounds as visiting Miami dominated inside against Brooklyn.
Jimmy Butler added 17 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. P.J. Tucker added 15 points and seven boards as the Heat survived shooting 39.6 percent.
Kevin Durant led all scorers with 25 points, but the Nets shot just 38.8 percent and scored two baskets in the final 4:33. The Nets lost for the third time in five games this season, and each loss has been by double digits.
Wizards 116, Celtics 107
Montrezl Harrell tallied 25 points and 11 rebounds, Spencer Dinwiddie added 22 points and Washington held off host Boston.
Dinwiddie’s layup with 48.8 seconds to go made it 112-107 and he sealed the game with four free throws in the final 27.1. Beal had 17 points and 10 rebounds, Kyle Kuzma scored 12 with eight boards and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 11 for Washington, which has won three of four to open the season.
Jayson Tatum had 23 points and seven rebounds and Schroder scored 22 with six assists to lead the Celtics, who fell to 0-2 at home.
Hornets 120, Magic 111
Miles Bridges scored 31 points, Jalen McDaniels and Cody Martin combined for 28 points off the bench, and Charlotte returned to the win column vs. host Orlando.
Bridges went 11-for-21 from the floor, knocking down five 3-pointers, as the Southeast Division-leading Hornets rebounded from an overtime loss to Boston two days earlier. Bridges hit 20 points for a fourth straight game, marking the longest such streak of his career. Gordon Hayward contributed 24 points, five rebounds and five assists, helping Charlotte improve to 3-0 on the road this season.
Orlando, which fell to 0-2 at Amway Center this season, had five players score in double figures, led by Cole Anthony’s 24 points. Wendell Carter Jr. contributed 20 points and 10 rebounds and Terrence Ross came off the bench to score 18 points.
–Field Level Media
Chicago Blackhawks' Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane — Wish we did some different things to help Kyle Beach in 2010 – ESPN
Teammate Patrick Kane said he didn’t know that Beach was the “John Doe” who filed a lawsuit accusing the Blackhawks of mishandling his sexual assault allegations until Beach publicly came forward earlier Wednesday.
Toews and Kane, the last two holdover players from the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team, both made their first public comments Wednesday since the sexual abuse scandal broke.
“We wish we could have done something differently, myself included,” said Toews, who was also captain of the 2010 team. “My heart goes out to Kyle for what he dealt with. Wish I could have done something. It’s not an excuse looking back, but the truth is a lot of us were focused on just playing hockey.”
In an interview with TSN on Wednesday, Beach said he believed that everyone in the Blackhawks locker room knew what he alleged Brad Aldrich — the team’s video coach at the time — of doing and “word spread pretty quick.”
“Because the comments were made in the locker room, they were made on the ice, they were made around the arena with all different people of all different backgrounds — players, staff, media in the presence,” Beach said.
An investigation by the law firm Jenner & Block, commissioned by the Blackhawks, was made public Tuesday. The report concluded that “nothing was done” by senior leaders in Blackhawks coaching and management in 2010, after Beach reported that Aldrich sexually assaulted and harassed him.
In the report, witnesses say that Beach endured some bullying from Blackhawks players, including anti-gay comments, after he made the allegations.
Kane is still in COVID-19 protocol, but asked the team’s PR staff to join in a postgame videoconference on Wednesday night.
“I knew Kyle pretty well from a couple different training camps,” Kane said. “He seemed like a happy-go-lucky guy … I wish back then we could’ve done some different things or known some different things to help him.”
Toews said he first heard of the allegations ahead of training camp in 2010-11. He said he didn’t know more of “the gory details of it,” and it was moreso just players sharing rumors.
“At the end of the day, I don’t wish to exonerate myself in this situation in any way by saying I didn’t know, but the truth is I did not hear about it until training camp the next year,” Toews said. “At the end of the day, that doesn’t change what happened, that doesn’t make it go away.”
On Tuesday, the NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million for their handling of the situation, and general manager Stan Bowman resigned.
Toews on Wednesday defended Bowman, as well as Al MacIsaac, the team’s senior director of hockey administration who also was ousted as part of the fallout Tuesday.
“To me, Stan and Al, make any argument you want, they’re not directly complicit in the activities that happened,” Toews said. “Regardless of mistakes that may have been made, for someone like Stan, who has done so much for the Blackhawks — and Al as well — to lose everything they care about and their livelihoods as well… I don’t understand how that makes it go away, to just delete them from existence and (say), ‘That’s it, we’ll never hear from them again.'”
Kane lived with Bowman when the Blackhawks first drafted him. He called Bowman “a great man who did a lot of things for me personally,” but said he and MacIsaac’s exits were “necessary” and “right” moves.
Kane said he would like to reach out to Beach.
“Obviously he’s been living with this for a long time, and it takes a lot of courage for him to put his name behind the story,” Kane said.
Soler, Braves overcome Morton injury, top Astros in Game 1 – TSN
HOUSTON (AP) — A healthy swing by Jorge Soler powered the Atlanta Braves to a smashing start in the World Series.
In the lineup for the first time since a positive COVID-19 test, Soler became the first player to begin a World Series with a home run and the Braves, despite the loss of pitcher Charlie Morton to a broken leg, hushed the Houston Astros 6-2 Tuesday night in Game 1.
Boosted by a strong bullpen effort, Adam Duvall’s two-run homer and a late sacrifice fly from Freddie Freeman, the Braves coasted in their first Series appearance since Chipper Jones and their Big Three aces ascended in 1999.
“So much happened really quick,” Atlanta manager Brian Snitker said.
Every Braves starter wound up getting a hit and more than four hours later, this was the scene in their dugout: outlandish outfielder Joc Pederson sipping a glass of red wine and smoking cigars with closer Will Smith.
That victory party lasted a couple of minutes until a security guard ambled over and told them it was a smoke-free building.
Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and the Astros, meanwhile, mostly looked lost at the plate. This is their third World Series in five seasons — and first since their 2017 illegal sign-stealing scheme was revealed.
Before the game, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said there were plenty of sleuths monitoring the dugouts, clubhouses and stands to guard against any possible shenanigans.
“There’s a lot more people watching what goes on as a result of the issues that we’ve had,” he said.
Game 2 is Wednesday night, with Braves lefty Max Fried starting against right-hander José Urquidy.
“You’ve just got to like blow this game off and then come back and realize that tomorrow’s — that’s the beauty of baseball,” 72-year-old Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Tomorrow’s another day, and who knows? That’s the way I look at it. Ball’s going to bounce our way tomorrow.”
Soler’s no-doubt jolt into the left-field seats on Framber Valdez’s third pitch quickly drained all the juice out of Minute Maid Park, quieting a boisterous, sellout crowd.
“The energy was amazing and electric, especially after we took a 1-0 lead after that home run,” Soler said through a translator.
As for his feat?
“I didn’t know that was a thing until I was told a little later on in the game,” he said.
Fresh off dispatching the defending World Series champion Dodgers in the playoffs, the Braves weren’t done, either. Aggressive in every way, they kept teeing off against their former, longtime National League rivals.
Moments later, Ozzie Albies stole a base and Austin Riley hit an RBI double, taking a rare swing at a 3-0 pitch.
Soler, who missed five playoff games after testing positive for the coronavirus, added an RBI grounder in the second. And when Duvall launched a two-run homer, it was 5-0 and the Braves had made even more October history — the only team to score in each of the first three innings in a World Series opener.
“I think we obviously swung the bats there early pretty well, and doing that on the road, kind of getting them first at-bat jitters out of the way, it’s big,” Duvall said.
At that point, Braves batters were far from the only ones making noise. The few Atlanta fans sprinkled in the sea of orange had started their familiar chop chant, too.
Right then, it looked as if everything was going right for the Braves.
But baseball can be a fickle game, and the fates can spin faster than the best curveball.
Because in the bottom of the third, Atlanta absorbed its own big hit.
As he struck out Altuve, Morton suddenly grimaced and took an awkward step. His teammates, Snitker and a trainer soon joined him on the mound, and just like that, Morton was gone.
Turned out a hard comebacker by Yuli Gurriel that ricocheted off Morton’s leg to Freeman at first base for an out to begin the second had done more damage than anyone realized.
Morton stayed in for another inning, amazingly, before gingerly walking off with a fractured right fibula. The 37-year-old righty, the winning pitcher for the Astros in Game 7 of the 2017 World Series, will be replaced on the roster. He’s expected to be OK for spring training.
“God bless him, I hate it for him. Really hate it for him,” Snitker said. “He’s such a great person, great person and teammate. I do, I really hate it for him because I know he’s really looking forward to this run with us.”
A.J. Minter replaced Morton and got the win, permitting one run in 2 2/3 innings while throwing a career-high 43 pitches. Atlanta relievers Luke Jackson, Tyler Matzek and Smith finished it.
Altuve and the Astros did little all night. The All-Star second baseman struck out three times — he’d never done that in 73 prior postseason games.
Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez and the Astros never seriously threatened in the later innings. Their only runs, in fact, came on shortstop Dansby Swanson’s fielding error in the fourth and Correa’s groundout in the eighth.
The game wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. It was more like a romp — during the seventh-inning stretch, as fans did a sing-a-long to “Deep In The Heart of Texas,” Braves backup catcher William Contreras locked arms with starter Travis d’Arnaud and did a little Texas two-step as they switched places warming up Jackson.
STATS AND STUFF
It was the first World Series action with a packed stadium since Game 7 at this very park in 2019, when a sellout crowd silently filed out after watching the Nationals rally past Houston. … Soler and Duvall became the first teammates both acquired midseason to homer in the same World Series game. … Soler returned late in the NLCS and went 1 for 2 with a double in a pair of pinch-hit appearances. … The Astros fell to 0-4 in World Series openers. … No team has won a World Series game in its own park since the Dodgers beat Boston in 18 innings in Game 3 of 2018. The visiting team won every game in 2019, and last year’s Series was played at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.
Braves: After two fine playoff starts, Fried faltered in Game 5 of the NLCS at Dodger Stadium. With a chance to clinch, the Atlanta ace gave up five runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings.
Astros: Urquidy was tagged by Boston for six runs over 1 2/3 innings in his previous start in Game 3 of the ALCS. He has postseason pedigree, though, pitching five scoreless innings as a rookie to beat Washington in Game 4 of the 2019 World Series.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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