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Lewenberg: Playoff battle sparks budding rivalry between Toronto Raptors, Boston Celtics – TSN



TORONTO – It’s clear that there’s mutual respect between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics – and there has been since well before they met in what’s turning into an all-time great playoff series – but so is something else: these two teams don’t like each other very much.

It came to a head following Wednesday night’s double-overtime thriller, a season-saving 125-122 win for the Raptors to force a deciding Game 7. After an exhausting 58 minutes of intense, emotionally charged basketball, tempers were running high.

With Toronto inbounding the ball, a half-second away from evening the series up at three games apiece, Celtics guard Marcus Smart threw his body into the stationary Marc Gasol, embellishing contact and trying to sell a call, as he’s been known to do. It worked earlier in the night, but this time the officials weren’t buying it. Game over.

Taking issue with the flop – and there’s been plenty of them, on both sides, in this series – Gasol exchanged a few words with Smart. Then Fred VanVleet intervened and the teams were separated. But the fireworks didn’t end there.

Seemingly upset over a play late in regulation – where Jayson Tatum threw the ball in the direction of Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, who was standing a bit too close to the corner of the three-point line, and committed a crucial turnover – Jaylen Brown took aim at Toronto’s coaching staff in his post-game media conference.

“There’s a lot of emotions,” Brown said after the loss. “It’s an intense series, so things like that tend to happen. We’ve got to be ready to fight. That’s a respectable organization. I expect them to act accordingly. Things seemed to get out of hand at time, from the coaching staff, etc. Let’s keep it under control. Let’s keep playing basketball. Let’s be ready to fight.”

Imagine how awkward it must have been at the Gran Destino breakfast buffet on Thursday morning.

But on the eve of Game 7, both clubs downplayed the animosity, chalking these tense moments up to the heat of battle – two really good teams playing hard and doing whatever it takes to win. That’s why it’s been such a competitive series.

A lot of people waited a long time to see this matchup play out under the bright lights of the postseason, including the two teams themselves. Considering how good both franchises have been for the better part of the past decade, it’s hard to believe it took them this long to cross paths.

Over the past six seasons, no Eastern Conference teams have appeared in more playoff games than the Raptors and the Celtics. They mirror each other in many ways: their tough and hard-nosed styles of play, their innovative coaches, their rising stars, their crafty – and, at times, irritating – vets. Even their fan bases don’t get along.

For years, Raptors-Celtics seemed to be a rivalry in the making. They just needed something to ignite that spark. Well, nothing fuels that fire quite like a seven-game series.

“I think that we’re close in proximity, we’re in the same division, both teams have been in the playoffs a lot of years in a row,” said Nurse. “It just seems like the regular-season matchups against these guys seem to be big moments, and we always talk about how big a game they are. And then you find yourself in a tough series like this. It feels like a rivalry already, even though this is the first time we’ve met. I think a lot of factors have gone into that.”

With a couple of notable exceptions, this series has lived up to the hype. If you look past the lopsided results of Games 1 and 5, the other four contests have been determined by seven points or fewer. One came down to the final half-second. Another required an extra 10 minutes to decide.

Coming in, most expected this to go the distance, and while there were certainly moments where that appeared unlikely, a Game 7 seems fitting.

“It’s [the] two [seed] versus [the] three [seed], two teams in the same division, they’ve got some young studs that are coming up, we’ve got a team that has been through some battles,” said Kyle Lowry, who is averaging a team-high 21.5 points in the series and has been a catalyst in all three of Toronto’s wins.

“Well, I would have thought that at the start of the series,” Nurse said. “Even before [the series], you would have thought if Boston and Toronto got on a collision course it was going to be a hell of a series. We almost didn’t make it one because of our play a couple of times, and obviously we won a couple of close ones, but we got a good series. We got a Game 7. Let’s see what happens.”

Whatever happens on Friday, the Raptors have been pushed to their limit by this Celtics team, tested like never before.

A year ago, the road to their historic championship was paved with adversity. They had to exorcize some demons after dropping the opener to Orlando. They had to overcome a 2-0 series deficit in order to get past the NBA’s MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and his top-seeded Bucks. Then, with the help of some injury luck, they had to hold off the Steph Curry-led Warriors.

In hindsight, though, their toughest challenge came in the second round, when they needed seven games – and four iconic bounces – to outlast the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, even if they can knock off Boston and advance to face a very good Miami Heat club in the East Finals, there’s a good chance they look back at Round 2 as the stiffest test to their title defence.

The Raptors are really good, the Celtics are really good, and when both teams are at their best this thing is as evenly matched as it gets. Fortunately, there’s another game left to be played, and if Wednesday night is any indication, it could be one for the ages.

“When both teams bring it at a level where you know one can’t necessarily impose their will on another, that’s where the games become special,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said on Thursday.

“I think that that’s why I have nothing but respect for Toronto, I’ve said that from the get-go. We know that there’ll be good tomorrow and we know that we need to be our best tomorrow. So, whatever happened yesterday, whatever happened in the past doesn’t have any real meaning tomorrow. And so, we look forward to it. These are great opportunities.”​

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Canadian Bills fans revel in team's success despite agony of being parked at home –



Once again, Jason Tangorra, Wayne Kretz and Leslie Churchill will be glued to their respective television sets watching the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night.

And once again, their hearts will be in Orchard Park, N.Y.

The three Canadians are Buffalo season-ticket holders and they’re reveling in the Bills’ success this year. But they’re unable to attend games in Western New York due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has closed the border to non-essential travel.

That couldn’t come at a worse time for fans of an NFL team that hasn’t tasted playoff success in decades.

Buffalo (13-3) finished atop the AFC East Division this season to secure the conference’s No. 2 seed. That gave the Bills their third playoff berth since 2017. but the club’s 27-24 victory last weekend over the Indianapolis Colts was its first post-season win since 1995.

It also was Buffalo’s first home playoff contest since 1996.

On Saturday night, Buffalo hosts the Baltimore Ravens in second-round action. Like last week, New York State has approved admission for about 6,700 fans after not allowing any fans into the nearly 70,000-seat facility during the regular season. Fans must get a COVID-19 test at the stadium two to three days before the game and then have a negative result to be admitted.

Instead of sitting at Bills Stadium with his uncle — a native of nearby Jamestown, N.Y. — and four cousins, Tangorra will be watching on television with his wife and daughter. The 40-year-old real-estate agent has been a fan of the team since 1990 and a season-ticket holder for the past six years.

Fans celebrate after the Buffalo Bills win during their AFC Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 9. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

“My daughter is conflicted because her stepdad is a Bears fan,” Tangorra said. “But my wife will cheer with me because she knows what we [Bills fans] have been through all these years so she has empathy.

“Oh what I wouldn’t give to be there. The emotion you feel when you go to a game, especially when you’re with family, it’s comradery, it’s friendship and it’s culture. I remember when [Bills coach Sean McDermott] came in, he was saying, ‘The process, the process, the process,’ . . .and when you see the team grow and you’re like, ‘Wow, this is cool.'”

Financial as well as emotional hurt

Tangorra isn’t alone. Bills Mafia, the moniker for the club’s rabid fanbase, is alive and well in Ontario and Quebec with Bills Backers chapters located throughout the provinces. It’s estimated between 3,000 and 8,000 Canadians are season-ticket holders.

The stadium is located about a 30-minute drive away from the Peace Bridge, which connects Fort Erie, Ont., to Buffalo.

“I go back to 1990 but it’s funny because I watched that Super Bowl [a 20-19 loss to the New York Giants when Scott Norwood missed a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds] but I wasn’t fully invested until the following year,” Tangorra said. “My uncle is from Jamestown, which is close to Fredonia and where the Bills used to hold their training camp.

“I’d go there and watch those and I can tell you I met every single player from 1991 to ’92 though ’93. It was a pretty amazing experience for a kid and so cool [because] you get to engage. It was one of the best experiences.”

Kretz, 49, owns The Manhattan Bar and Grill in St. Catharines, Ont., and it would usually be very busy when Buffalo plays. Not only is Kretz a Bills season-ticket holder, he organizes bus trips to various events, including Buffalo football games

“The financial hurt as a business owner is crippling but then just as a life-long Bills fans it’s devastating to not be able to be there,” said Kretz, who”s been attending Bills games since the late 1980s. “It is affecting my fun as well as my business.”

‘Verge of tears’

Kretz had arranged to attend a Bills home game in Las Vegas but, predictably, had to cancel those plans this year. He also took a serious look at all possible ways to make the trip to Orchard Park for Saturday’s contest.

“There’s a company doing helicopter trips to fly you over the border,” he said. “It crossed my mind but I think this is a team that could go all the way.

“If they go to Tampa [site of this year’s Super Bowl] I will seriously consider flying down and quarantining and doing all that . . . I’m that big of a fan.”

Micah Hyde (23) of the Buffalo Bills bats down a Hail Mary pass thrown by Philip Rivers, not pictured, of the Colts. Buffalo’s 27-24 victory last weekend over the Indianapolis was its first post-season win since 1995. ( Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

Churchill, 38, operates R U Serious Tap and Grill in Guelph, Ont., with her sister, Kim, also a diehard Bills fan. Churchill has been a Buffalo season-ticket holder since 2015 but members of her family have had tickets for upwards of 30 years.

“Obviously we own a bar and it’s an industry being hit the hardest but I feel like we’re going to muscle that out and be OK,” Churchill said. “On a personal note, the most difficult thing this year and what I miss the most is being in Buffalo.

“I drive my son [three-year-old Jack] to daycare every morning and just as the sun comes up I roll my windows down for the cold air to come in because it reminds me of getting to the border on gameday and I get emotional and am on the verge of tears and I’m hiding it from my son.”

Family-like bond

One of Churchill’s fondest memories of attending a Bills game was Sept. 24, 2017 when fans threw her an impromptu baby shower.

“It was the game against Denver and I was eight months pregnant and it was the hottest game we had in history there,” she said. “That afternoon I was sitting there in the shade and friend after friend was showing up and they threw me a baby shower in the parking lot.

“It makes me so emotional now just to think about it because these are the people that are your family.”

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen attempts a pass during an AFC Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 9. (Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images)

The road to the Super Bowl is a difficult one for Buffalo. Baltimore finished with an 11-5 record this season and looming for Saturday’s winner could be a road contest against the defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs, who posted a league-best 14-2 record this season and will face Cleveland (11-5) on Sunday.

“Kansas City is a very good team,” Tangorra said. “[But] I think Buffalo can win the Super Bowl, I really do.”

If the Bills and Chiefs both win to set up an AFC title showdown in Kansas City, Tangorra said he’ll take a look at the logistics of attending — Canadians still can fly out of the country, though the government is recommending against travel. However, with Ontario enacting a stay-at-home order this week, he doesn’t like his chances.

“Am I going to look into it? Yes,” he said. “Do I have any hopes for it? No.

“But I’m going to look into it.”

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Canadian Nick Taylor finishes second round strong to lead in Hawaii at Sony Open – TSN



It wasn’t the best start for Nick Taylor, but the finish was pretty good.

Taylor played the first five holes of his second round of the Sony Open in 1-over and looked as if he might have trouble making the cut. Instead, he went 9-under over the next 13 and takes a two-shot lead into the weekend.

“Early on today, the first four or five holes, I made some nice par putts,” said Taylor. “I was 1-over and then I started hitting it better and giving myself opportunities and kept making putts.”

His hot stretch started on the 15th hole, his sixth of the day, when he hit his approach to seven feet and made the birdie. He made a four-footer on the next hole to get to red figures, and then pitched in for eagle on par-5 18th to close out the front side.

He made five birdies on the back nine, none more eventful than his final hole of the day. His tee shot darted left, coming to rest against a fence that bordered the driving range. At first, it appeared Taylor would have to play his shot left-handed and hack it back into play, but he got relief from the netting above the fence and was able to play a full shot into the fairway. A wedge to three feet and a simple putt added a final birdie for a round of 62.

“Whenever you get another birdie, it’s obviously a nice finish, but after everything that happened, it’s nice to walk away with four,” said Taylor. “It was a fortunate break and nice to take advantage of it.”

The Canadian, who is leading the tournament in Strokes Gained: Putting, will have to keep making birdies if he hopes to earn his third PGA Tour win. There are five players grouped two shots back and another eight players trailing by three shots. The cut came at 4-under with the Waialae Country Club course playing easier in the afternoon as the winds that usually provide a defense, died down.

“I feel like you can make four, five, six pars in a row you’re probably getting lapped,” Taylor stated, “especially with how the fairways are running.”

It marks the second time in his career that Taylor has held the 36-hole lead. The other time was last year at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am where he went on to win. Since that victory, however, he hasn’t finished inside the top 25 in 15 starts.

The 62 is also his career-low on the PGA Tour; he’s posted rounds of 63 on four previous occasions.

“I’ve always liked this golf course,” Taylor said. “It kind of suits my eye off the tee. I’ve driven the ball well the last couple days and really putted well. Obviously when you’re doing that you’re going to shoot some good scores, and reading the greens well, so hopefully I’ll keep doing that.”

Taylor tees off in the final group with Stewart Cink and Webb Simpson at 5:50 pm ET.

Mike Weir and Mackenzie Hughes, the two other Canadians to make the cut, will play together at 3:50 pm ET.

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Maple Leafs’ Robertson to make NHL regular-season debut vs. Senators –



Nick Robertson will make his NHL regular-season debut Saturday in prime time for the Toronto Maple Leafs — and his coach predicts the teenager to come out flying.

“He’s got lots of energy and lots of confidence. He’ll be movin’ out there tonight, for sure,” said Sheldon Keefe, less than three hours before puck drop in Ottawa.

“We’re looking for him to make an impact on each shift that he gets—and he has the ability to do that. He showed that even in the bubble.”

The 19-year-old Robertson appeared in four of the Leafs’ five post-season games in last summer’s Columbus series and registered his first goal.

He then remained in Toronto throughout the off-season to train with his teammates, skipping out on Team USA’s gold-medal run through the world junior championships in order to pour all his efforts into cracking the big leagues.

Tonight, Robertson will replace seldom-used fourth-line winger Alexander Barabanov in the lineup as Toronto looks to avenge Friday’s 5-3 loss to the Senators. Barabanov has yet to register a point and is a minus-1 through two NHL appearances.

Keefe said he is eager to see how the OHL’s leading goal-scorer has improved his details away from the puck and how Robertson looks from a strength perspective, facing a bullish Sens squad that outhit the Leafs 33-12 on Friday.

“Over the off-season, he has put in a lot of work. How can he handle the physicality of the NHL and the strength of the defenders?” Keefe said. “He and I have talked about that that was a big area that took out of the Columbus series, that gave him some struggles.”

Despite his Leafs scoring eight goals over their first two games of the season, Keefe has been unsatisfied with his offence at even strength, prompting the lineup change.

Second-string goaltender Jack Campbell will get the start in net for Toronto, and third-stringer Aaron Dell will back up, giving No. 1 netminder Frederik Andersen a full two days’ rest ahead of next week’s busy schedule.

On the Senators side, coach D.J. Smith announced Mike Reilly would sub in for Christian Wolanin. Smith would not confirm whether forwards Colin White and/or Alex Galchenyuk would play. Both were healthy scratches in Friday’s Ottawa victory.

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