In year 17 of his NBA career, LeBron James is still peaking up to his prime
September 28 2020
Michael Hutchinson made 29 saves while Zach Hyman and Auston Matthews both scored twice as Toronto beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Saturday for its fourth win in a row, and first of the season with a back-up goaltender in net.
The crowd at Scotiabank Arena gave the 29-year-old Hutchinson a standing ovation as the final seconds ticked down on his first NHL win since Jan. 10 of last season.
“That was a special moment. Obviously I haven’t been getting the results this year so it was nice to put a win in the column and hear the fans support you,” said Hutchinson, who entered Saturday 0-5-1 with a 4.55 goals-against average and .876 save percentage in six starts.
Andersen, who has been a work horse for Toronto (19-14-4) and leads the NHL in victories, is 18-8-3 with a 2.52 GAA and .919 save percentage in 29 games.
“I’ve been on the bench watching Freddy make big saves, I tried not to over think things,” said Hutchinson. “I feel like I’m in a good head space right now, feeling relaxed.”
Jonathan Bernier started in net for Detroit (9-25-3) — stopping the only three shots he faced. Bernier lasted less than seven minutes before leaving with a lower-body injury that Wings coach Jeff Blashill referred to as a “sore groin” that was bothering the netminder in warmup.
Calvin Pickard came on in relief and made 16 saves for the loss.
Toronto, which was playing the second game of a back-to-back after a 6-3 win Friday against the Rangers on the road, started slow and were sloppy through the opening 10 minutes before settling down.
If it wasn’t for Hutchinson, who stopped two Dylan Larkin breakaway chances early on, the Leafs easily could have been trailing instead of going into the first intermission scoreless.
Hutchinson was there again when needed early in the second.
First he stopped Andreas Athanasiou on another breakaway chance as his teammates appeared to be a tired group for much of the first 40 minutes, and followed that up with a blocker save on Larkin, who was streaking down the wing.
“You get the chances but if one of those go in it’s a different game tonight, that’s the frustrating part for myself,” said Larkin, whose club has dropped 15 of their last 17 games.
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe added: “We got the saves early, clearly we needed that.”
Toronto trailed 21-14 in shots when it caught a break for the game’s first goal with 2:50 to go in the second.
Hyman was pulled down by Mike Green on a breakaway leading to a tripping penalty. But video review showed the loose puck bounced off the trailing Red Wings defender and crossed the goal line before the Leaf forward crashed into the net, negating the penalty and giving the Leafs a 1-0 lead.
“I thought it was going to be a penalty shot when they called the trip,” said Hyman.
Toronto appeared to find its energy for the third period, with Keefe dropping William Nylander and moving Mitch Marner onto the wing with Hyman and Matthews.
Matthews doubled the lead 2:18 into the third with a snap shot that beat Pickard five-hole, and Hyman added his second of the game at 8:51 with a backhand over Pickard’s glove.
Any chance of Detroit keeping it close went out the window when Matthews finished off a Marner pass out front at 13:39.
“I just felt the need to mix it up and change the chemistry and try and spark something,” said Keefe.
“The Matthews line didn’t have much going on and I wanted to give them a chance to get going.”
Detroit forward Anthony Mantha had to be helped off the ice in the dying minutes after being thrown to the ice by Toronto defenceman Jake Muzzin near the sideboards in the Leafs’ end. Mantha hit his head on the play and was left wobbly.
Muzzin was given a 10-minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct along with a two-minute minor for roughing. The Red Wings took advantage of the man advantage to spoil Hutchinson’s shutout bid on a Tyler Bertuzzi shot that got past him with just 1:44 remaining in the game.
Mantha’s teammates were upset with Muzzin’s actions, and Athanasiou appeared to be out for vengeance when he took a kneeing penalty with just 34 seconds left to play that led to the 25 year old dropping the gloves with Leafs blue liner Justin Holl.
“I think it’s preventable. I think the league really needs to look at that,” Larkin said of the Muzzin play. “A wrestling move can’t be in our game like that…. He takes his legs out and it’s dangerous, not a hockey play.”
Both Mantha and Bernier will miss Sunday’s home game against the Arizona Coyotes according to Blashill. Toronto hosts the Carolina Hurricanes on Monday.
Decades of NBA lore are built on rivalries — epic, titanic, ego-driven clashes that lend context, subtext and the weight of history to what are otherwise just games.
People pay for that stuff, and the league and its players have cashed in, with money spilling in so quickly that it can barely be counted, let alone spent.
It’s good versus evil; pride and prejudice, and pride going before the fall. It’s Celtics-Lakers; Bird-Magic; Michael vs. the Pistons, Shaq vs. Kobe, KD vs. the Warriors and LeBron over everyone.
Some of it is straight out of the Vince McMahon playbook: storylines that keep the plot twisting through never-ending winters until games that matter finally arrive, at which point the hype machine kicks it up another notch.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
But some of it is real. Some of it is based on men of giant accomplishments and massive, never-satiated ambitions coming together and pulling apart like tectonic plates on ephedrine, the league’s foundations quaking along the way.
This time it’s not an on-court rivalry that lends the final series of the NBA’s most unusual season its weight — though on paper the young, upstart Heat testing themselves against LeBron James and his insta-dynasty Lakers has all the ingredients to make it suitably delicious.
But what could make it memorable and a new plot point in the league’s decades-long drama is the way it pits two of sport’s most significant, preening, powerful, proud and successful figures against one another.
Heat president Pat Riley is 75 and his Goodfellas-inspired, slicked-back hair has long gone gray. But even in the bubble and wearing a mask, behind a glass partition, he has a presence. When current Heat star Jimmy Butler is looking for approval, he looks up into the stands, devoid of fans, for a post-game thumbs up from Riley. The Heat figurehead is the former Lakers role player turned coach turned executive turned living legend, the one who rode shotgun for Jerry West on the floor; earned Magic Johnson’s trust from the bench before pushing him too far and losing that war of wills after five championships.
Cast out from L.A., Riley perfected bully ball with the New York Knicks in the 90s, very nearly toppling Jordan in the process, before bolting for Miami, where he has somehow fused L.A. cool with New York edge, South Florida weather and no state income tax to create an NBA destination out of almost nothing.
It was Riley’s presence that attracted James after the kid from Akron was all grown up and looking to leave home. Riley plunked down a bag with the nine championships he’d won as a player, coach and executive and promised James he’d win a bunch more if they joined forces in Miami. James, without a title to show for seven years as a good soldier in Cleveland, followed the sun.
It was a perfect union – the world’s greatest player with the NBA’s most recognized superstar whisperer; the coolest, most gangster executive in the game with one more legend to pour his wisdom into. But after four Finals appearances and two championships, James was ready to graduate.
Pat Riley is Pat Riley because he’s his own man. He followed his basketball vision and in Miami created something in his image. “Heat Culture” is Riley: toughness, accountability, loyalty and no compromises.
In year 17 of his NBA career, LeBron James is still peaking up to his prime
September 28 2020
But James took his lessons and wanted to improvise, play his own tune and win on his terms. When James left Miami to go back to Cleveland, he was following his own muse, looking to close his own circle and bring a championship back to the most un-Miami place in the league — taking what he learned and bringing it home.
Riley wasn’t having it. He wasn’t used to people saying “No” to him, let alone South Beach. For a moment he lost his cool. He lashed out.
“This stuff is hard. And you go to stay together, if you’ve got the guts,” he said after the Heatles had come up short against the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, triggering the break-up, and plenty of hard feelings. “And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.”
It was a ridiculous thing to say. All James was doing was taking his career into his own hands, launching himself on a trajectory few athletes in any sport have ever aspired to, let alone pulled off. James went back to Cleveland and completed one of the greatest stories in all of sports – bringing a title to his (adjacent) hometown after 52 years of being kicked around or forgotten by the coastal elites. He engineered a comeback from 3-1 against the Golden State Warriors, one of the greatest teams in NBA history. Along the way, James found his voice as a philanthropist and an activist — and proved that he didn’t need Pat Riley to be the primary figure in the NBA.
Riley couldn’t help but be chastened.
“I had two to three days of tremendous anger (after James left),” Riley told Ian Thomsen in 2018’s “The Soul of Basketball,” acknowledging that he hadn’t spoken with James since.
“I was absolutely livid, which I expressed to myself and my closest friends. My beautiful plan all of a sudden came crashing down. That team in 10 years could have won five or six championships.
“But I get it. I get the whole chronicle of (LeBron’s) life.
“While there may have been some carnage always left behind when he made these kinds of moves, in Cleveland and also in Miami, he did the right thing,” Riley told Thompson. “I just finally came to accept the realization that he and his family said, ‘You’ll never, ever be accepted back in your hometown if you don’t go back to try to win a title. Otherwise someday you’ll go back there and have the scarlet letter on your back. You’ll be the greatest player in the history of mankind, but back there, nobody’s really going to accept you.’”
In the moments before Game 7 in 2016, Riley reached out to James, via text: “Win this and be free.”
James never responded. He didn’t need Riley’s affirmation, but from the winner’s circle, he let on the vindication his third title provided.
“When I decided to leave Miami — I’m not going to name any names, I can’t do that — but there were some people that I trusted and built relationships with in those four years (who) told me I was making the biggest mistake of my career,” James told ESPN at the time.
“And that s— hurt me. And I know it was an emotional time that they told me that because I was leaving. They just told me it was the biggest mistake I was making in my career. And that right there was my motivation.”
Having paid his debt to Cleveland, James eventually set out to make one more bold move in a career defined by them, leaving to join the Lakers in the summer of 2018, all while making a masterful long play to recruit the greatest teammate of his career, Anthony Davis.
After a season in limbo, it has worked out perfectly. The Lakers have been the best team in the West all year and have looked stronger as the playoffs have gone on.
But while Riley may have begun to show his age in the decade since he brought James to Miami as the centrepiece of what he thought would be a dynasty that would challenge the Lakers’ historical hegemony, he hasn’t lost any of his edge.
Since James left, Riley has been rebuilding on the fly: adding, positioning, developing and drafting. This past off-season he pounced and found a new soulmate in Jimmy Butler to lead his hand-picked crew of young talent.
The Heat have grown before everyone’s eyes, including Riley’s, as he looks down approvingly from behind his mask.
Now one more test: will Riley’s new team, built in James’ wake, be able to hand James one more bitter Finals disappointment, a seventh loss — this time to his former mentor — obscuring his three championships?
Or will James have the last laugh, winning his fourth title with his third team and proving that Riley needed him more than the other way around?
There are legacies at stake, and history, and two of the NBA’s proudest, vainest and most successful characters are awaiting one more chapter to be written.
But only one of them is one the floor. Advantage, LeBron.
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Sixty-five days after entering the bubble, 201 days after the NHL shut down, nearly a full year after the season started and almost a year and a half after suffering one of the most humiliating defeats in playoff history, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally finished the job. With last night’s 2-0 win over Dallas in Game 6 of the final, they became the Stanley Cup champions of the most bizarre NHL season ever.
Tampa had one of the best regular seasons of all time in 2018-19, winning a record-tying 62 games. But it won zero in the playoffs, getting swept by Columbus in one of the most shocking playoff defeats ever. The Lightning took it easier this season but still cruised to the league’s second-best record before the pandemic hit and the NHL closed shop for five months. Tampa kept its edge and exacted revenge on Columbus by beating them in five games in the first round. Then came an impressive five-game takedown of heavyweight Boston before six-game victories over the plucky Islanders and Stars. And they did it without injured captain Steven Stamkos, who played a grand total of less than three minutes in the playoffs — but did score a goal in Game 3 of the final and got to be the first to hoist the Cup last night.
It’s a great redemption story. And similar to Washington’s from 2018. Like Tampa, the Capitals had by far the NHL’s best regular-season record and were everyone’s pick to win the Cup before flaming out early in the playoffs, then bounced back the following year to become champions. Boston comes closest to fitting that bill for next year. The Bruins ran away with the NHL’s best regular-season record before becoming the fifth consecutive Presidents’ Trophy winner to lose in the second round of the playoffs or earlier.
A few other takeaways from Tampa being crowned champion of this very weird season:
The Lightning had so many good Conn Smythe choices. Victor Hedman won the playoff MVP award after scoring 10 goals — the third-most ever by a defenceman in the playoffs. But it just as easily could have gone to Brayden Point, who scored the opening goal last night for his league-leading 14th of the playoffs. Or Nikita Kucherov, who won the playoff scoring race and had more assists than anyone except Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have ever recorded in a single post-season. You could even have built a case for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made some big saves again last night and finished with a sparkling 1.90 goals-against average for the playoffs. He was the only goalie Tampa used after the restart, setting a new record for minutes played in a post-season.
The NHL pulled it off. Be honest: back in the spring, did you believe the Cup would be awarded this year? And even if you did, could you imagine it would go this smoothly? Zero players or other team personnel tested positive for COVID-19 in what the NHL said were more than 33,000 tests conducted since teams arrived in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles on July 26. The quality of play was top-notch too. That’s not to say there weren’t some tough moments. Even the joyous Lightning were palpably relieved to be getting out of Dodge last night. And two days’ worth of games were postponed back in late August as part of the sports-wide walkouts in protest of racial injustice and police brutality started by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The NHL’s delayed reaction to that extraordinary moment drew criticism. But, from a playing-in-a-pandemic standpoint, this was a remarkable achievement by the NHL and its players.
So what’s next? After rushing to complete the playoffs, the NHL is cramming its big off-season events in before the Thanksgiving/Columbus Day weekend. The draft is next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the free-agent signing period opens Friday, Oct. 9 at noon ET. The NHL and the players’ union will meet soon to discuss scenarios for the 2020-21 season. The players have no desire to bubble up for the whole thing, but the NHL could follow the lead of baseball and the NFL and have teams play out of their home arenas with enhanced health protocols. That’ll be trickier for the NHL, though, because it has seven Canadian-based teams. The earliest possible start date for the new season is Dec. 1, but it’s more likely to be later than that, which could mean a shortened regular season. Read more about the possibilities for next season here.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo recaps the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win:
The NFL has its first outbreak out of the season. Eight members of the Tennessee Titans have tested positive for COVID-19 — including three players. The Titans played the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Both teams cancelled their in-person activities for today, though no one from the Vikings tested positive. Tennessee and Minnesota both play next on Sunday afternoon — the Titans host Pittsburgh while the Vikings visit Houston. As of now, those games are still a go. Read more about the Titans’ positive tests and the potential fallout here.
The Blue Jays open their playoff series vs. Tampa Bay today. First pitch is at 5 p.m. ET. Toronto is sending so-so starter Matt Shoemaker to the mound, even though ace Hyun-Jin Ryu has had the regular four days of rest. Ryu felt “a little sore” after his last regular-season start, according to manager Charlie Montoyo, so the team wanted to buy him more time. It’s a best-of-three series with games on back-to-back-to-back days, so Ryu would only be able to make one start anyway. But saving him for Game 2 probably removes the possibility of using him in relief in a potential Game 3. Shoemaker’s start is likely to be a short one, so the Jays may have to lean on their questionable bullpen early and often. An x-factor there is top pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who just returned from an arm injury and will work out of the pen. Read more about the Jays’ key players and their outlook for the playoffs in this piece by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter. If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, brush up on how baseball`s new playoff format works here.
Canadian women have flipped the script at the French Open. Heading into the final Grand Slam of the year, Canada looked a lot stronger on the men’s side, where it had four players (two of them seeded) compared to just two in the women’s event (neither ranked higher than 100th in the world). But Canada is already down to its final men’s player after 19th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime and qualifier Steven Diez lost their first-round matches yesterday, and unseeded Vasek Pospisil got smoked in straight sets today by No. 7 Matteo Berrettini. That leaves only ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov, who advanced to the second round today by beating Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets. But both Canadian women are still alive. Yesterday, 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez upset the No. 31 seed in her first-ever appearance in the main draw of the French Open. She and 168th-ranked Genie Bouchard both play their second-round matches tomorrow.
Doc Rivers took the fall for the Clippers’ collapse. He’s one of the most respected coaches in basketball, and he guided L.A. to the fourth-best record in the NBA this season. But the Clippers brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (and mortgaged their future to do so) to win championships, and the supposed title contenders got upset in the second round by Denver. Worse, they choked away the final three games of the series and seemed to just straight-up quit in the second half of Game 7. Tough to blame Doc for that. But this is pro sports, so nine times out of 10 the axe falls on the coach. The team said Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer arrived at the decision jointly. Believe that if you choose. Read more about what went wrong for Doc and the Clippers here.
Patrick Mahomes is still the king. By his lofty standards, the Super Bowl MVP had a so-so start to the season, averaging only 256 yards passing in wins over the mediocre Texans and Chargers (and barely escaping an upset in the latter). But Mahomes and Kansas City showed last night that they’re still the ones to beat. They steamrolled the NFL’s consensus other-best team, the Baltimore Ravens, 34-20 on Monday Night Football. Mahomes threw for four TDs, ran in another and executed coach Andy Reid’s brilliant play designs to perfection. Mahomes also outplayed reigning regular-season MVP Lamar Jackson, who threw for only 97 yards. Jackson ran for 83 but was also sacked four times. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s vaunted defence failed to sack Mahomes at all despite blitzing him all night (might want to rethink that strategy). Read more about K.C.’s convincing win in the marquee matchup here.
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PARIS — Novak Djokovic‘s backhand clipped the net and landed wide, so he shook his head. That was it.
Later, a too-soft drop shot found the white tape and bounced back on his own side, finally ceding a game in a dominant debut performance at the 2020 French Open. Djokovic simply bowed and walked to the sideline.
And when he flubbed yet another drop shot — he kept using them on the slow red clay during a 6-0, 6-3, 6-2 win over 80th-ranked Mikael Ymer — and got broken Wednesday, Djokovic pulled an extra tennis ball out of his pocket and merely gave it a gentle tap with his racket strings.
The ball landed right behind him, safely in the middle of the court.
Playing his first Grand Slam match since his US Open disqualification for smacking a ball after dropping a game and accidentally striking a line judge in throat, Djokovic never really gave himself reason for histrionics or shouts of dismay or displays of anger. Sure, there was some eye-rolling and one sarcastic kiss directed at one of the few fans on hand under the roof at Court Philippe Chatrier.
But otherwise, what was there for Djokovic to be disturbed about?
“I just felt very suffocated out there,” Ymer said of Djokovic’s dominance. ” It’s just corner, corner; very, very rarely miss. His position is unreal in the court.
“You know how the snake kills its prey?” Ymer said, pantomiming a boa constrictor’s attack by bringing his arms around and putting his hands together. “That’s a little bit how I felt being out there.”
Ymer said he didn’t pay any attention to Djokovic’s mood or energy.
And Djokovic, for his part, said that what happened in Flushing Meadows was of no concern to him, either, as he began his pursuit of a second title at Roland Garros and 18th Grand Slam trophy overall.
“I have not had any traces of New York in my mind. I’m over it. Honestly forgot about it. I’m not thinking about it,” the No. 1 seed said after improving to 32-1 in 2020, the only blemish being that fourth-round default this month.
“Winning a 6-love first set is the best possible way to start a Grand Slam,” Djokovic said. “This is exactly what my intentions will be — trying to get off the blocks very strong, with a good intensity, obviously, because players in the early rounds have nothing to lose.”
Tsitsipas trailed Jaume Munar before advancing 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4, while Rublev knelt on court and covered his face with his hands after turning things around to beat Sam Querrey 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 7-5, 6-4, 6-3.
Querrey led the third set 5-2 and served for the victory at 5-3 but let things get away from him.
“I went 0-4 in serving out sets,” Querrey said. ” I would like to think that will never happen to me again. It’s probably never happened. Someone with my serve, I can’t let that happen.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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