TORONTO – Before the ball went up there was a sense the Toronto Raptors were stepping into the great unknown.
For instance, with three regulars out — joining two others already on the injured list — the sequence of pre-game shooting was thrown way off.
Players take the floor in groups of three or four in 15- or 20-minutes intervals — kind of like batting practice in baseball. The lower you rank on the seniority list, the earlier you go out.
Roughly, it’s rookies first and vets last.
But with Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder) all sidelined indefinitely, and the likes of Matt Thomas (finger) and Stanley Johnson (groin) already out, the floor was open.
Malcolm Miller, in his third season with the team, typically goes out to shoot shortly after 5 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. tip. He wasn’t due until 6:25 on Friday and by 6:15 found himself in the locker room still counting down the spare minutes.
“I’ve eaten, lifted, stretched and I’m still twiddling my fingers,” he said.
Figuring out how to thrive in unfamiliar situations was the theme of the night as the Raptors played their first game since Gasol, Siakam and Powell were all injured in Wednesday’s win against Detroit.
Let’s just say the road ahead may have some bumps.
NBA on Christmas Day
The Raptors and Celtics tip off a full Christmas Day schedule on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW with coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT, followed by 76ers vs. Bucks, Lakers vs. Clippers and Nuggets vs. Pelicans.
The Raptors needed 26 points and nine assists and – most significantly – 40 minutes from Kyle Lowry to finish off the otherwise non-threatening Washington Wizards. Some shaky bench minutes from the Raptors suddenly razor-thin reserves allowed the Wizards to come back from down 12 in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 3:43 to play.
A five-point Lowry flourish in the final two minutes and four key free throws by Fred VanVleet (18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) in the final 9.9 seconds were enough to hold the Wizards off despite 37 points from Washington’s Bradley Beal.
They will have to get used figuring things out on the fly as none of the missing regulars are expected back sooner than two weeks at least, with Siakam thought to be the closest to returning. Gasol and Powell could be out significantly longer. Meanwhile the Raptors have a heavy holiday schedule to plow through.
It was not for nothing that Toronto head coach Nick Nurse grabbed a random roll of duct tape left on the lectern before the game and joked: “just what I needed.”
Taping together a starting lineup wasn’t all that difficult. Serge Ibaka was in for Gasol – reprising the role he’d before the big Spaniard was acquired by trade last season. Fred VanVleet was thinking he might get another game to heal a bruised knee that had kept him out of the past four, but no such luck. He returned to the starting spot that Powell had looked so comfortable filling in for Lowry and lately VanVleet.
The wildcard would be who would soak up Siakam’s 37 minutes. Nurse opted to go small and start Patrick McCaw, who was playing just his fifth game since missing 19 after knee surgery.
It wasn’t what might have been envisioned out of training camp, but it was familiar.
After that? Nurse was open to pretty much anything from the 11 healthy bodies he had on hand.
“I look at it as it’s a chance, it’s certainly a big opportunity for some some guys. And it’s not just the new guys that are playing, there’s more usage and shots et cetera going for OG and Serge and hopefully McCaw,” said Nurse before the game. “Then now you’re getting Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Chris [Boucher] are back into a serious rotation, where they know they’re gonna be in the rotation … and you usually get better play out of ’em there when they can relax a little bit.
[So] maybe we’ll learn something and find something new out about some of these guys. One thing is we’ve gotta go play the games. Nobody’s gonna hold up and wait on us, so we’ve gotta go play ’em, and I expect us to play ’em with great energy and confidence, and play really really hard, because we’re gonna have to.”
There were some rough patches, to be sure.
“Well, we won the game. That helps, but it’s going to be a work in progress,” said Lowry afterwards. “I think guys are just going to continue to get more comfortable every game and we’re going to continue to have to have everyone step up.”
It stands to reason that when you lose three key pieces and elevate two bench players to the starting lineup there might be some gaps elsewhere.
Late in the third quarter of a game the Raptors had largely controlled, Nurse rolled out what was left of his bench along with Lowry. Safe to say that Boucher, Miller, Terence Davis and Hollis-Jefferson struggled to create offence unless Lowry was doing it for them. Miller and Boucher in particular looked uncertain at times, but their job was really to hold the fort.
Over a six-minute stint spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarter against the bench of the NBA’s worst defensive team, the Raptors were outscored 21-16. The ball movement was not – let’s say – fluid.
Nurse went back to more starter-heavy unit at that point but the Wizards had momentum as a Beal triple cut the Raptors lead to seven with 6:58 to play and another three by Admiral Schofield cut the lead to two a moment later and an Ish Smith three tied the game with just over five minutes left, setting up an unnecessarily tight finish.
If the Raptors are going to break even during their short-handed stretch, they’re going to have to find production from their second unit, if only to take pressure off their thinned out starters.
To that end, not only will Lowry be playing heavy minutes, he’ll be wearing many hats:
“Mentor, scorer, playmaker, just a confidence giver,” he said of his duties with the second unit. “Continue to give these guys confidence in what they are doing. Kick the ball ahead and make sure they shoot their shots and if they miss their shots, never put their head down. Just continue to communicate with them.”
But there were bright spots too as the Raptors won their fourth straight and improved to 20-8.
The first quarter couldn’t have worked out better for the undermanned Raptors. It helped that Lowry looked determined to set the tone as he played 10 minutes and shot 4-of-5 from the floor with a pair of triples. He stuck around after the starters filtered off to organize a bench unit made up of Boucher, Hollis-Jefferson, Malcolm Miller and rookie Terence Davis.
On that stint there was no let up as a pair of quick Davis threes sparked an 11-4 run that helped the Raptors open up a 40-23 lead.
It helped that the Raptors were playing the Wizards, decimated by injuries themselves and who limped in with an 8-18 mark and sporting a league-worst defensive rating of 116.1 per game which their fourth-ranked offence can’t quite offset. That Wizards sharpshooters Beal and Davis Bertans combined to shoot just 5-of-22 from three probably helped matters, too.
Still, it was encouraging to see Ibaka finding room to operate in the pick-and-roll with Lowry and VanVleet – a marked difference from Gasol who tends to drift along the three-point line. Ibaka scored eight of his 23 points in the period and was a force at the rim with three blocks in the first half alone. His last one of the half sparked a fast break that Anunoby finished with a dunk off a pretty feed from VanVleet that gave the Raptors a 68-52 lead at the half.
Things will get more difficult from here as six of the Raptors next opponents are in playoff positions, beginning with the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday and then Indiana Monday before hosting Boston on Christmas Day, but Toronto can only do what they can with what they have and Friday they did enough.
“We’ve got capable guys, and we certainly can’t have any other mindset than that [we can survive.]” said VanVleet. “Those guys [out with injury] there’s no magic pill for them to be better by tomorrow. And we want them to take their time and get as healthy as they’re gonna get. In the meantime the rest of us have to band together and do our best given the circumstances.”
New York Mets vs. Tampa Bay Rays – 9/23/20 MLB Pick, Odds, and Prediction – Sports Chat Place
Tampa Bay Rays (36-19) at New York Mets (24-30)
MLB Baseball: Wednesday, September 23, 2020 at 7:10 pm (Citi Field)
Tyler Glasnow (4-1) (4.21) vs. Michael Wacha (1-3) (6.75)
The Line: New York Mets +190 / Tampa Bay Rays -210 — Over/Under:
Click Here for the Latest Odds
The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Mets meet Wednesday in MLB action from Citi Field.
This will be the third and final installment in a three-game series between the Mets and Rays this week. Tampa Bay landed the first blow with a 2-1 win on Monday. In the Tuesday game two, the Mets were able to strike back with a 5-2 victory of their own. Check back all season long for free MLB picks and MLB predictions at Sports Chat Place.
The Rays posted just five hits to the Mets’ 10 in the Tuesday loss, and could only come up with a pair of runs. Willy Adames put up a solo homer with two runs for Tampa Bay in that one, and starting pitcher Blake Snell took the loss with 5.2 innings, three earned runs, six hits, three walks and nine strikouts.
For the Wednesday starting pitcher outing, Tampa Bay will go with Tyler Glasnow. In his 10 starts this year, Glasnow has a 4-1 record with a 4.21 ERA and 83 Ks in 51.1 innings. Over his MLB career, Glasnow is 14-18 with a 4.46 ERA and 375 Ks in 309.0 innings.
Over on the Mets’ side, starting pitcher Seth Lugo put up 6.1 innings in a win on Tuesday with four hits, two runs (one earned), one walk and seven strikeouts. Pete Alonso slapped a homer with three RBI and two hits on the night.
In the Wednesday game three starter job, the Mets are going with Michael Wacha. In his seven games (six starts) this year, Wacha is 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA and 33 Ks in 28.0 innings. Across his MLB career, Wacha is 60-42 with a 4.00 ERA and 792 Ks in 895.2 innings of work.
The Rays are 12-2 in their last 14 games following a loss and 4-1 in their last five Wednesday games. Tampa Bay is 18-6 in their last 24 road games and 12-4 in their last 16 games as a road favorite.
Meanwhile, the Mets are 14-3 in their last 17 Wednesday games and 2-5 in their last seven home games. New York is 6-16 in their last 22 games as an underdog and 24-53 in their last 77 games as a home underdog.
Pick: Going Rays again here. There aren’t a lot of teams I’d pick over Tampa Bay right now; they’re just cooking. Glasnow has been great lately as well, with at least seven strikeouts in each of his last seven starts. In all likelihood, this will be Glasnow’s final start before the playoffs begin, and he’s got a nice opportunity to help the Rays put one of the final nails in the Mets’ 2020 season coffin.
Tampa Bay Rays -210
Blue Jays rout Yankees, inch closer to playoff berth – TSN
BUFFALO, United States — The Toronto Blue Jays showed Wednesday night why they could be a dangerous wild-card team in the playoffs.
Danny Jansen hit two solo homers as the Blue Jays used a 16-hit attack and eight-run sixth inning to bulldoze the New York Yankees 14-1 at Sahlen Field. Jansen had four hits and three runs to help the Blue Jays move closer to nailing down a playoff berth.
“Putting ourselves in this spot is a great feeling,” Jansen said. “But we’ve still got work to do.”
Toronto (29-27) trimmed its magic number to one with the victory and can secure its first post-season spot since 2016 with a win in Thursday’s series finale.
Cavan Biggio scored three times, Randal Grichuk added a pair of runs and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., had three RBIs. Starter Robbie Ray was effective over four-plus innings and A.J. Cole threw a scoreless fifth inning for the win.
Under Major League Baseball’s expanded playoff structure, 16 teams will reach the post-season. Division winners will be seeded No. 1 through No. 3 in each league, second-place teams will be seeded fourth through sixth, and two third-place wild-card teams will get the seventh and eighth seeds.
The Los Angeles Angels, currently ninth in the AL, kept their faint playoff hopes alive earlier Wednesday with a 5-2 win over the San Diego Padres.
Facing veteran right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (3-3), the Blue Jays took advantage of a couple breaks to put up two quick runs in the first inning.
With Biggio on after a leadoff walk, Teoscar Hernandez hit a double-play ball up the middle that took an unexpected high bounce near the lip of the grass and rolled into the outfield.
Guerrero stroked a single that scored Biggio with the game’s first run. Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez tried to pick the young slugger off first base but a wide throw went down the right-field line as Hernandez trotted home.
Ray breezed through the first inning but issued two walks in the second. Gio Urshela singled to load the bases and a passed ball allowed Luke Voit to score the Yankees’ lone run.
New York loaded the bases with none out in the fifth inning. But Cole (3-0) held off the heart of the Yankees’ order by fanning Giancarlo Stanton and getting Voit — who leads the majors in homers — on an infield fly and then Gleyber Torres on a flyout.
“That was really the game,” Jansen said. “Saving that was huge for us. Bases loaded, no outs, coming in and getting that. There’s a lot of momentum swing right there.”
Toronto followed New York’s lead by putting its first three batters on base in the sixth. The Blue Jays took full advantage by batting around with a two-run single by Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Biggio’s two-run double serving as highlight blows.
The victory came a day after New York dumped Toronto 12-1.
“Today was a big game after yesterday,” said Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo. “That’s what they’ve done all year — come back from top losses. It was great to see, facing another good pitcher like Tanaka, coming back tonight and scoring all those runs. A big win for us.”
New York (32-24) had four hits and a season-high four errors. The Yankees have a magic number of one to secure a second-place finish in the East Division.
Ray, who was pulled after the first two batters reached in the fifth, allowed three hits, four walks and had five strikeouts. Tanaka gave up three earned runs, eight hits and three walks while striking out five.
Jansen, who went deep off Tanaka in the fourth, added another shot in the eighth off Yankees catcher Erik Kratz, giving the Toronto backstop six homers on the season.
Toronto was a wild-card entry when it last reached the post-season four years ago. The Blue Jays went on to reach the AL Championship Series for the second straight year.
Notes: Ross Stripling threw four shutout innings of relief for his first save. … The game took three hours 39 minutes to play. … The Blue Jays will send ace Hyun-Jin Ryu (4-2, 3.00 ERA) to the mound on Thursday. The Yankees will also start a left-hander in Jordan Montgomery (2-2, 5.12). … The Blue Jays will close out their regular season with a three-game weekend series against the Baltimore Orioles.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2020.
Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.
Lightning’s Stamkos returns, scores in Game 3 of Cup Final vs. Stars – Sportsnet.ca
Steven Stamkos is back.
The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is playing his first NHL game since February as he returns to the ice for Game 3 of the team’s Stanley Cup Final matchup with the Dallas Stars on Wednesday.
And in his third shift of the game, Stamkos buried a goal over the blocker of Stars goalie Anton Khudobin. Stamkos took a pass in the neutral zone from Victor Hedman, glided into the Stars’ zone and sniped a shot past Khudobin to lift Tampa Bay to a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Stamkos had yet to suit up in the 2020 post-season, suffering an injury before the Lightning reconvened from the season pause to begin training. The centreman’s last game came on Feb. 25 — amid a 15-game, 22-point scoring streak — after having core muscle surgery. 210 days have passed since then. The 30-year-old finished the campaign with 66 points across 57 games.
The Cup Final is level at one game apiece after the Lightning’s 3-2 win over the Stars on Monday.
Watch Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT on Sportsnet and SN NOW.
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