In keeping with the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Next Gen theme for Monday’s holiday matinee versus the Carolina Hurricanes — and in keeping with my general Christmastime laziness — I tasked my nine-year-old son, Will Fox, to report on the game and give Dad a break.
I’m certain the next generation will uphold the proud Fox family tradition of barely passable sports reporting. Take it away, Willie! I’ll just transcribe your opinions and observations. (Just don’t read the comments, bud.)
TORONTO – Oooh, snacks.
[Fetches miniature bag of Munchies off pressbox stats table. Informed that Maple Leafs often flip pucks to kids during warm-ups.]
Saw it! Number 23, Dermott, gave a puck to someone.
I have a question: Every period, do they clean the ice?
I think Carolina is going to lose.
It was scary being this high up, but after 10 minutes you’re fine.
Thirty seconds in, Jason Spezza has made the lead for the Toronto Maple Leafs. That was quick.
The Leafs have five shots to zero – that’s a lot.
I’ve noticed the fans are cheering a lot. Now I get why everyone wants to be the home team – it makes a difference.
Great pass by John Tavares, and William Nylander’s goal was great, spectacular and awesome.
I also noticed that the puck is mostly in the Hurricanes’ zone.
Marner scores, Barrie scores, and Marner scores again off the draw. Three Maple Leafs goals in 59 seconds completes the comeback.
Incredible. I can’t describe it. I’m getting chills.
[Maple Leafs add an empty-netter to win 8-6.]
If the Canes kept Reimer in net, I wonder what the score would be.
[Post-game, Will fights off the scrum to secure a hard-hitting, one-on-one interview with Mitch Marner to get the inside scoop on his five-point effort.]
WILL FOX: How does it feel to win a crazy game like that?
MITCH MARNER: It’s fun. It got a little high scoring there at the end, but it’s fun for the players. I think it’s fun for the crowd. I’m sure the coaches don’t love it as much and the goalies don’t, but it’s a big win for us. We’re happy with it.
WF: What’s your favourite food?
MM: Ooh, that’s a good one. I’m a big fan of a cheat day. Any kind of burger, pizza, I also enjoy pasta a lot. Any of those three, I’m into.
WF: What’s the best Christmas gift you’ve ever gotten?
MM: Maybe when I was really young, a hockey stick. I used to always ask for hockey sticks on my birthdays and Christmases, especially the new ones. Usually when I got one of those, it was a pretty great Christmas.
WF: And what’s your greatest fear?
MM: Oh, wow. Sharks. I don’t like sharks. I’m scared to go into the ocean too deep. Especially when I’m tubing in the ocean, I think for sure there’s a shark in the ocean underneath me.
The Celtics have fallen in a 2-0 hole to the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals after blowing double-digit leads in each of the first two games of the series. With the infamous 3-0 deficit looming large, Boston needs Gordon Hayward back in the lineup now more than ever.
The Boston Celtics could be up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals just as easily as they are down 2-0.
Blowing double-digit leads in each of the first two games of the series, the Miami Heat have out-hustled the Celtics for 48 (and some change) minutes in back-to-back games to give themselves a commanding lead.
With Boston on the brink of the infamous 3-0 deficit that no NBA team has ever come back from, Game 3 becomes a must-win if the Celtics are going to continue their push for their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
There’s been a common thread in Games 1 and 2 (aside from the double-digit comebacks) that have placed Boston in this situation: Miami’s 2-3 zone defence. Our Scott Rafferty analyzed that issue in detail, and it’s been a glaring weakness for Boston’s offence all season.
But luckily for the Celtics, they still haven’t used all the cards up their sleeve. They still have a weapon stored away that could present itself at any moment now, as former All-Star forward Gordon Hayward‘s return is on the horizon.
Hayward, who suffered an ankle injury in the Celtics’ first game of the postseason and has been out since, was upgraded to “doubtful” before Game 2. While that wasn’t much of an update, it showed he was getting closer to returning to the floor. The Athletic’s Jared Weiss confirmed that following Thursday’s loss, stating that Hayward is “progressing toward a return for Game 3,” adding that he felt good after Wednesday’s practice and will “get more on-court work Friday with the hope of playing Saturday.”
It will surely take some time for Hayward to get back into the flow of things after missing one month of action, but he immediately helps Boston take steps toward breaking that impenetrable zone defence.
His 19.0 points per game in the bubble speaks for itself, giving the Celtics an extra scoring threat that the Heat will have to worry about. He can shoot from the perimeter (converting 38.3% of his 3s this season), he’s a solid slasher with the ball and cutter without the ball, and he’s a strong midrange shooter, pairing well with sharp playmaking skills that should help dissect that zone.
Most importantly, Hayward loves working in the soft spot of the 2-3 zone (right at the foul line), which should give Miami’s defence more trouble than its seen thus far.
In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics elected to go with Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis to try and pierce the heart of that zone. Smart’s passing makes him an OK option for that middle spot, but he’s better off on the perimeter, where he’s converting 42.1% of his 3s this series. The Heat will live with him or Theis taking that midrange pull-up, whereas it becomes a much more efficient source of offence for Boston with Hayward taking that shot.
According to NBA Stats, Hayward shot 49.3% on midrange jumpers and 43.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area) this season. Having him in the middle will prevent the zone’s two defenders up top from expanding so far out, shrinking that long and athletic defence even just a tad bit more.
The Heat will be forced to collapse on Hayward, where he can showcase his playmaking ability to find open shooters on the perimeter. That makes Miami much more reliant on perfect and quick rotations to challenge Boston’s 3-point shooters.
If the Heat’s defenders don’t collapse on him or the centre (typically Bam Adebayo) doesn’t take a step up, Hayward will gladly take looks like the one below over and over again.
Even though he misses that particular jumper, it’s a shot Miami is much less likely to live with compared to Smart or Theis pulling up from there. Even when Hayward attacks from the perimeter, he has no problem stopping short of that centre defender for little pull-up jumpers like this one against the Heat earlier this season:
The Celtics have been dependent on quick passes for (often contested) 3-pointers, which has also developed into bad decisions for live ball turnovers or long rebounds going the other way to spark Miami runs off of offensive droughts. Having someone that can hit shots like the ones above makes that zone defence much more vulnerable than it has been so far.
Hayward’s return wouldn’t just be a luxury for the Celtics, it’s essential for them to keep their season alive in trying to even the series.
The Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever if their title pursuit is going to continue.
The views on this page do not necessarily represent the views of the NBA or its clubs.
There’s no shortage of history that’s been made by Bill Belichick or Pete Carroll in their sterling coaching careers.
When their teams stand on opposing sidelines Sunday night, they’ll make a little history together.
Carroll and Belichick, 69 and 68-years-young, respectively, are the two oldest coaches in the NFL and their combined age of 137 years and 162 days on game day will set a record for the oldest head coaching matchup in the history of the league, per NFL Research.
Like fine wine, Bill and Pete will age past Marv Levy and Don Shula, who were a combined 136 years and 117 days old when they battled one last time back in Week 16 of 1995, according to NFL Research.
In previous head-to-head matchups, Carroll owns a 2-1 advantage.
Between the two, their NFL success is historic, as well, obviously. The two have combined for 455 wins in the regular season and seven Super Bowl trophies — although Belichick clearly has a huge advantage there.
And who knows how long they’ll keep building on to their Hall of Fame resumes.
“I don’t know,” Carroll said when asked who would retire first. “Ask him. I’m feeling great. I’m kind of on a five-year plan. Five years from now I’ll figure it out and reassess. I actually owe that to David Brooks. And he taught me that a while back. Something he wrote, ‘Why are you looking year-to-year? Why don’t you just plan it out over a five-year period?’ So, each year is five more years. So it was five years last and it’s five years this year and we’ll figure it out when the time comes.”
Though their ages are adding up to history, their past and present success offers no reason that their futures will be up anytime soon.
For now, it’s all about this Sunday and another historic marker in two historical coaching careers.
ROME — Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarterfinals Saturday.
When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger.
With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.
“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.
“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”
The top-ranked Djokovic was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger.
At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.
“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”
The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.
Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted 2 hours, 57 minutes.
Nine-time Rome champion Rafael Nadal was playing Diego Schwartzman later in the other half of the draw.
Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarterfinals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.
While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.
Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after — was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.
“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.
In the women’s tournament, top-seeded Simona Halep reached the last four when Kazakh opponent Yulia Putintseva retired midway through their match due to a lower back injury.
Halep, who lost two straight finals in Rome to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018, will need to beat two-time Grand Slam winner Garbiñe Muguruza to return to the championship match. Muguruza required more than two hours to eliminate U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“(Muguruza) feels really well on (the) clay court and here,” Halep said. “It’s a big challenge.
“I really want to win this tournament,” added Halep, who will be playing her fifth semifinal in Rome. “I love playing here. … It’s one of the biggest goals now.”
Halep was ahead 6-2, 2-0 when Putintseva decided she was in too much pain to continue — having already taken an off-court medical timeout between sets.
The 30th-ranked Putintseva was coming off two long three-set matches, having upset eighth-seeded Petra Martic and 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina. Entering the match, she had been on court for 7 hours, 22 minutes — far more than Halep, who had a bye in the opening round and won her next two matches in straight sets.
Putintseva also reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals in her previous tournament, while Halep decided to skip the event in New York due to coronavirus travel concerns.
Halep improved to 8-0 since the tennis restart and 12-0 overall stretching back to February.
More AP Tennis: https://apnews.com/apf-Tennis and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/AndrewDampf
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