The Toronto Raptors have thrived all season despite a revolving door of injured players, and their depth shone once again in Sunday night’s record-breaking rout of Brooklyn.
But the Raptors want Kyle Lowry on the floor when they face the Boston Celtics on Thursday.
“It would hurt us a lot,” coach Nick Nurse said of the possibility of playing without Lowry. “You guys know how big a cog he is to this whole thing. He’s our most experienced, toughest leader we got.”
Lowry was diagnosed with a left ankle sprain Monday after undergoing an MRI. The six-time all-star suffered the injury when he stepped on the foot of Chris Chiozza late in the first quarter of Sunday’s 150-122 series-clinching victory over the Nets.
The Raptors said they would update Lowry’s status when appropriate; for now, he’s a question mark ahead of Toronto’s second-round series against Boston that tips off on Thursday.
A sprain sounds more positive than Nurse’s suggestion Sunday night that Lowry injured the arch of his foot. But depending on the severity, sprains can take anywhere from days to weeks to heal.
Boston is missing Gordon Hayward who suffered a right ankle sprain in Game 1 against Philadelphia. Hayward left the bubble to continue his rehab and is expected to be out for at least the entire second round.
Dallas superstar Luka Doncic, on the other hand, sprained his ankle in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, but bounced back with a spectacular game Sunday, recording 43 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. Doncic hit the long step-back jumper at the buzzer to lead the Mavericks to a 135-133 overtime win.
Lowry sprained an ankle in the 2017 playoffs and sat out Games 3 and 4 of a four-game sweep by Cleveland in the conference semifinals.
The 34-year-old played through a serious hand injury, however, in last year’s historic championship run. Lowry damaged ligaments in his left thumb in the conference semis but didn’t miss a game. He was forced to wear a compression glove resembling a huge oven mitt while not playing, and underwent surgery soon after the season ended.
“I would imagine this: It’s going to be a helluva injury to keep him off the floor,” Nurse said. “It’s not going to be a little thing, he’s going to try to figure it out.”
While the Celtics, who won three of four meetings against Toronto this season, are expected to be a considerably tougher opponent than Brooklyn, particularly if Lowry’s not in the lineup, the Raptors have dealt with adversity all season.
The Raptors lost NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard in the off-season. Their 219 man games lost to injury, before the restart in Florida, was fifth worst in the league. Each of their top five scorers missed at least 10 games. Lowry missed 14, and the team went 12-2 in his absence.
Their motto has been: next man up. And the bench stepped up in record fashion Sunday, scoring 100 points, the most in any game since those stats began being tracked in the 1970-71. Toronto’s 150 points was a franchise record.
Norman Powell, who led the way with 29 points, said playing without Lowry would be “tough.”
“He’s our leader. He’s our focal point when we are out there, on and off the court,” Powell said. “Hopefully, with these days off, he’s able to recover and get back out there and play because we are going to need him. But it’s like we always say: It’s going to be next man up with everyone pulling for one another.”
While the Raptors (53-19) and Celtics (48-24), who were ousted by Milwaukee in five games in last year’s conference semifinals, know each other well, they’ve never met in the post-season.
“It is a little surprising we’ve never bumped into each other this whole run,” Nurse said. “They’re super–talented, they’re deep, they’re very well coached, they’re playing great at the moment. They put away a very talented Philly team with ease (in a four-game sweep).”
Toronto’s one loss since the restart was a 122-100 rout by Boston on Aug. 7.
“We know (the Celtics) are a great team,” said Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. “They don’t get a lot of talk but they are a great team . . . they play hard, and they play as a team. They have a good bench, so we need to come in and play basketball, man.”
Boston won three of four meetings against the Raptors in the regular season, including a victory in Toronto on Christmas. The Raptors avenged that loss in Boston three days later.
“I think it’s going to be fun,” Powell said about facing Boston. “It’s always back and forth. They beat us and then we come back at them. We are evenly matched teams. It’s going to be about the guys who can play harder, who can limit their mistakes and then go out there and execute. I’m kind of bummed that we are not going to have the fans down there at TD Garden or what our fans bring at Scotiabank (Arena). . . that is an added element that is going to be missed.”
Lowry averaged 19.4 points, a team-high 7.5 assists and five rebounds through 58 games with Toronto this season. Through the first round of the playoffs, he posted averages of 12.5 points, 4.8 assists and 7.0 rebounds and scored in double figures three times, including 21 points in Game 2 of the opening-round series.
Semifinal games will be held every second day with Game 2 going on Saturday.
Lightning strike twice on PP, beat Stars to even Stanley Cup final – TSN
EDMONTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning rediscovered the zap in their power play, using it to burn the Dallas Stars 3-2 on Monday and even up the Stanley Cup final.
Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat had goals on the man advantage as the Lightning scored three times in the first 16 minutes of the game then hung on for the victory.
It ties the best-of-seven series at one game apiece, with Game 3 set for Wednesday at Rogers Place.
Tampa’s power play was ranked fifth in the NHL in the regular season at 23.1 per cent but in the playoffs, heading into Monday’s game, had been spluttering along at 16.9 per cent and mired in an 0 for 14 slump.
Point said the success was not a huge relief because they hadn’t been dwelling on the previous power-play power outages.
“We’re staying positive with (it),” said Point.
“Tonight I thought we stuck with it. We were crisp on our passes and we had (Nikita Kucherov) making some great plays.”
Kucherov, the leading point getter in the playoffs, and defenceman Victor Hedman had the assists on both power-play goals.
Midway through the first period, Kucherov was the middle man in a tic-tac-toe passing play, taking a pass from Hedman and redirecting the puck into the slot area to Point, who then wristed it through traffic and high glove side past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin.
Three minutes later, on a second power play, Kucherov, at the right face-off circle, faked a one-timer shot off a Hedman pass, freezing Khudobin, and instead slap-passed it cross-seam to Palat, who had a wide open net and didn’t miss.
Less than a minute after that, Tampa defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk scored on a blue-line wrist shot through traffic that proved to be the game-winner.
It was a different story from Game 1, when Tampa got six minutes of power play time in the third period, blasted 22 shots on net but couldn’t score and lost 4-1.
Kucherov said they didn’t tinker with the power-play plan prior to Game 2.
“We had some good looks during the first game. We just couldn’t score,” said Kucherov.
“We just stuck to what we had to do: keep it simple, shoot the puck at the net and get those rebounds.”
Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 27-of-29 shots for his 15th victory of the playoffs, including the seeding round.
Joe Pavelski and Mattias Janmark, with his first of the playoffs, replied for Dallas. Khudobin turned aside 28 shots in the loss. His post-season record drops to 13-7.
Janmark said the penalties and the power-play goals proved to be a bridge too far.
“That’s where we lost the game today,” said Janmark.
“Most of the first period we didn’t come out like we wanted. I think they were better, so I would say they earned (the power plays).
“At the same time, we gotta be better. We were a little bit undisciplined. We were turning pucks over and they were coming at us.”
Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 14-6 in the first period but was outshot 18-5 in the second frame as the Stars found renewed life.
The Stars hit the scoreboard late in the period when a fluttering John Klingberg point shot was redirected in by Pavelski while he battled with defender Ryan McDonagh in front of Vasilevskiy.
Pavelski, signed as a free agent a year ago after 13 seasons with San Jose, has a team-leading 10 playoff goals.
Less than six minutes into the third, the Stars made it 3-2 on a tic-tac-toe play of their own — Alexander Radulov to Klingberg to Janmark, who tapped the puck in despite Shattenkirk being draped all over him.
It was a rough game with big hits and numerous post-whistle scrums and takedowns.
Late in the second period, the Stars’ Corey Perry had Lightning forward Cedric Paquette in a post-whistle head lock. He released him at the direction of the refs only to see Paquette turn on him, throw him to the ice and start raining down punches.
Stars forward Blake Comeau was levelled by McDonagh on an open-ice hit in the second period and didn’t return.
Kucherov now has six goals and 22 assists for 28 points in the playoffs. Hedman has nine goals and eight assists.
Tampa has 15 wins and six losses in the post-season and has yet to lose two games in a row.
The Lightning are seeking the second Stanley Cup in franchise history, the last one coming in 2004. The Stars’ only Cup came in 1999.
All games are being held in a so-called isolation bubble at Rogers Place, with the players sequestered from the public to prevent contracting COVID-19.
The NHL reported that in eight weeks of testing there have been no positive COVID-19 cases.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2020.
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.
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