“As of late, I haven’t made enough of the Grade-A saves.” — Mike Smith, pregame.
EDMONTON — Deep in his crease and deep into his career, Mike Smith is now officially in a deep hole.
Playing behind an Edmonton Oilers team that isn’t what you’d call air-tight defensively, Smith gave up a softie early on and simply failed to give his team the big save it needed in a 5-2 loss.
“You make one of those breakaway saves, and it’s probably a different game,” sighed Smith, who was beaten on both Pittsburgh breakaways on the night.
Now, clearly, giving up breakaways belies a team that makes mental mistakes, and the first of the two clearly belonged to Oscar Klefbom, who failed to heed calls from the bench that Joseph Blandisi was coming out of the penalty box.
But teams that win get big saves. Teams that lose — and Edmonton has now lost six of seven — talk about all the big saves they didn’t get.
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“You’d like to get a save out of one of those, but they were Grade-A chances,” head coach Dave Tippett said. “Other than the first one.”
Leon Draisaitl went minus-4, the 13th consecutive game he has not been a plus player. He has gone minus-18 in that span.
“In the last couple of weeks, he hasn’t been nearly as good as he was earlier in the year,” admitted Tippett. “He is one of those guys that when we get behind in the game, he gets chasing the game and trying to do whatever he can to get us back in the game. But that leads to a lot of chances against.”
Pittsburgh, playing without Sidney Crosby, Justin Schultz, Patric Hornqvist and Brian Dumoulin, handled a healthy Oilers roster with relative ease. Tristan Jarry was far better in goal than Smith, and the skaters were quicker, played the game faster, and with far more attention to detail than the loose Oilers.
It’s going sideways in Edmonton, and now the red-hot Montreal Canadiens are in for a 5 p.m. MT start on Saturday. Yikes!
“It’s not easy to play a team like Pittsburgh where you have to score three goals in the third period,” Klefbom said. “You’re not giving yourself a chance.”
With the team in free-fall, it is likely time to play Mikko Koskinen three out of every four games, and see if he can handle the load. We would expect that Smith has played his final game in 2019, the way the games are spaced out.
After that, it’s up to the veteran to find his game. Right now, his save percentage is .893 — a few points lower than the .898 he posted in Calgary last year.
“You’ve got to makes saves. You’ve got to make more saves,” Smith repeated. “At important times in games we’re either making too many mistakes, and they can’t get covered up for. Or, myself, I can’t get a big save at the right time in the game. You make one of those breakaway saves, and it’s probably a different game.”
The last time these two teams met, Smith made 51 saves in a 2-1 overtime win. Since that game in Pittsburgh, however, Smith is 2-5 with a ghastly save percentage of .854. The Oilers aren’t exactly the 1995 New Jersey Devils defensively, but Smith’s game has fallen off a cliff.
“You can only do so much,” said Smith, 37. “The numbers impact the way you assess a goalie, from the outside looking in. But you only control what you can control as a goalie. You can’t control what’s going on in front of you, whether it’s deflections or breakaways, power plays, penalty kills.
“The last couple of games I feel like I’ve played pretty well. I just haven’t made those big saves at important times in games. I feel like I’m not letting in soft ones. It’s the important ones, the big saves where it’s a higher (pedigree) chance? You need to make more of those.”
In a 3-2 league, this is the sixth time in eight games the Oilers have allowed four or more goals on home ice. That is in part due to lacklustre goaltending, but more so, defensive mistakes made by a loose team.
It needs to get fixed, or another year outside the playoffs awaits.
Heat advance to NBA Finals with Game 6 win over Celtics – Sportsnet.ca
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It was exactly one year ago Sunday when Jimmy Butler walked into the Miami Heat practice gym, took a seat on a makeshift stage and said he wanted to be part of the team’s next title run.
He’ll have that chance.
The Heat are going to the NBA Finals — surprising many, perhaps, but not themselves. Bam Adebayo scored a season-high 32 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Butler scored 22 points and the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals for the sixth time by topping the Boston Celtics 125-113 on Sunday night.
“A great series. It was so competitive,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I mean, in many ways, this was a seven-game series, just how competitive it was. Extremely well-coached and well-put together and we are just honoured to be a part of that type of series in the conference finals, and then we get an opportunity for the next stage. Our guys will look forward to it. We’re going to try to enjoy it for a night.”
The Heat won the series 4-2 — and now, waiting on that next stage to decide the NBA title, are LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. Game 1 is Wednesday night.
Tyler Herro scored 19 points, Duncan Robinson and Andre Iguodala each had 15 and Goran Dragic added 13 for the Heat.
“We deserve to be here,” Dragic said.
Jaylen Brown scored 26 points, Jayson Tatum had 24 and a career-high 11 assists, and Marcus Smart and Kemba Walker each scored 20 points for Boston — which fell in the East finals for the third time in the last four seasons.
“Miami deserves a lot of credit,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “They’re super physical, super tough, very, very savvy. I think they’re the best team in the East and deserve to be representing the East in the way that they have played.”
Miami was down by six early in the fourth before regaining control. A 6-0 burst — Herro had the last five of those points, needing only 31 seconds to do so — tied it at 96. Boston took the lead twice more, with Adebayo answering both times, first with a dunk, then a go-ahead three-point play with 6:16 left.
He smacked the floor in celebration.
It’s like they knew what was coming. They never trailed again. Herro had a pair of baskets in a 9-0 burst that put the Heat up by 10, Adebayo found Butler for a layup and a 116-102 lead everyone on the Heat bench was on their feet.
“This means everything,” Herro said.
And before long, all the Celtics could do was offer their congratulations.
“Regrets, I don’t have any,” Walker said. “I don’t have any, man. I thought we fought hard. A lot of credit to Miami. Those guys are really good.”
The Heat are the only NBA franchise with six Finals appearances in the last 15 years. They’re seeking their fourth title, and this chance didn’t come easily.
The Heat had a 5-for-5 stretch from 3-point range in the first quarter, but otherwise struggled again from beyond the arc in the first half. They were 6 for 14 from deep in the first 24 minutes, Boston was 11 for 23 before the break and the Heat took a 62-60 lead into halftime.
And the margin remained two going into the fourth.
Iguodala’s fourth 3-pointer — in as many attempts — with 4:20 left in the third put the Heat up eight, before Brown had five points in a 10-2 Boston spurt to tie it. Dragic had a go-ahead layup on Miami’s final shot of the quarter and it was 88-86 Heat with 12 minutes remaining.
The Celtics scored 10 of the first 12 points of the fourth, going up 96-90. From there, all Miami.
The Heat scored 35 of the game’s final 52 points. The game was theirs. So was the silver trophy that conference champions get.
“Four more,” Adebayo said. “That’s what matters.”
Celtics: Tatum took 15 shots in the first half, the first time in his 270-game career that he’s done that. He had taken 14 on four other occasions. … Tatum’s top four assist-total games of his career have come in the bubble.
Heat: The Heat are now guaranteed no less than $4,399,686 for their playoff share, and that number would rise to $5,791,041 if they win the title. … Udonis Haslem is the only player to be on all six Heat teams that have made the finals.
WALKER VS. HEAT
Walker has been to the playoffs three times, and his team has been eliminated by Miami in all three of those appearances — with three different nicknames. Charlotte was still the Bobcats when the Heat swept them in the 2014 first round, the Heat rallied to beat Charlotte’s then-rebranded Hornets in seven games in the 2016 first round, and now this win over the Celtics.
The Celtics and Heat were getting some support from afar before Game 6. Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased to hear video of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick signing off from his postgame news conference Sunday by saying “good luck to Brad and the Celtics tonight. We’ll be pulling for them.” And at the Miami Marlins’ regular season finale, outfielder Lewis Brinson had a Butler jersey (in the popular Heat `Vice’ theme) underneath his game jersey.
Is what Jamal Murray did in the playoffs sustainable? We asked NBA executives – Hoops Hype
Can Jamal Murray’s historical play in the bubble be sustained next season and beyond? Will he become an All-Star?
HoopsHype posed those questions to two general managers, one executive and three scouts to get the answers.
“I think All-Star is likely, but I would argue he’s been playing at All-NBA borderline superstar level in the bubble,” one Eastern Conference general manager told HoopsHype. “That level I’m not sure about.”
Murray shot 50.5 percent from the field, 45.3 percent from three-point range and 89.7 percent from the foul line this postseason. How good are those numbers? Since the NBA added three-pointers in the 1979-80 season, only Larry Bird, Mark Price, Reggie Miller, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Malcolm Brogdon have shot 50-40-90 over a full season.
“I don’t know if he can shoot this consistently over time, but he’s still a very good player,” one Western Conference scout told HoopsHype. “He’s probably a guy who can be an All-Star, but not a game-changer like this like a superstar level. I’m not sure he can do that consistently. Maybe he can, he’s still young, but I’d bet a little lower than what he’s doing right now.”
In Game 4, Murray displayed a new bag of tricks in his scoring repertoire with an off-balance left-handed floater, a high-arching one-handed fall away shot over Anthony Davis, and an up-and-under layup that drew comparisons to Michael Jordan.
After leading the league in playoff minutes, and battling through a right knee contusion in Game 5, another Eastern Conference general manager believes Murray’s bubble play is sustainable and could be a preview of him scratching the surface of his potential.
“I expect him to continue to get better,” the general manager told HoopsHype. “His confidence should be through the roof going into next season. He can score so many ways. He doesn’t have the pressure to create for others since they play through (Nikola) Jokic.”
Murray proved to be a willing passer averaging 6.6 assists in the playoffs, but his mentality has always been scorer-first. Murray dropped 20 or more points in seven straight playoff games. The last Nugget to do this in a single postseason was Carmelo Anthony in 2009.
“He’s an All-Star for years to come in my book,” one Eastern Conference scout told HoopsHype. “I forget which game it was, but in last year’s playoffs, he scored like 21 straight points to beat the Spurs in a game. He has a high-level skill and confidence with a green light.”
“It’s been pretty impressive,” another Western Conference scout told HoopsHype. “I feel it will springboard him into the All-Star conversation each year. He’ll make it, maybe just not every year.”
Next season, Murray begins his five-year, $170 million maximum-salary contract extension, so All-Star expectations are certainly warranted given his play in the bubble and upcoming paycheck.
While Murray is now on the verge of realizing his potential, the groundwork was laid several years ago while he was in high school. According to one Eastern Conference executive, Murray’s All-Star foundation was built while learning from a Canadian legend and playing against older competition.
“I don’t think it’s a fluke at all,” the executive told HoopsHype. “I saw him work out with Nash the year before he went to Kentucky and saw the talent then. It’s just a matter of time for him, not if, in my opinion. I’m happy that it’s coming together for him. During that time, he was a high school graduate going at Cory Joseph and CJ McCollum after Canadian National team practices.”
Those workouts with Nash, Joseph and McCollum raised Murray’s game rapidly. The former Kentucky Wildcat became the second Canadian to win MVP of the Jordan Brand Classic International Game in 2013. Two years later, Murray scored a game-high 30 points and was named MVP of the Nike Hoop Summit.
Soon, the Canadian guard could add some hardware for his country in the Olympics as well.
“He’s really becoming a superstar in the league,” Toronto Raptors and Canadian National team coach Nick Nurse said. The coach added all signs point to Murray playing for Canada.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto
Eugenie Bouchard wins 1st match at French Open on heels of Istanbul Open success – CBC.ca
Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard advanced to the second round of the French Open by downing Anna Kalinskaya of Russia 6-4, 6-4 on Sunday in Paris.
Bouchard, ranked No. 168 and a wild-card entry at the clay-court Grand Slam, converted 6-of-8 break points and had 18 winners to dispatch the No. 108-ranked Kalinskaya in one hour 21 minutes.
Bouchard is coming off a finals appearance at the clay-court Istanbul Open two weeks ago, her first time playing for a title at a WTA tournament since 2016.
“I really think she looks like a much better athlete than she’s been in the past,” Tennis Canada analyst Tom Tebbutt told CBC Sports recently. “So, you know, she’s in good condition and she’s fit enough, I think, to play really good tennis, whether that’s top 50, top 30, top 20, top 10, I don’t know. … But I mean, she has that pedigree and she’s a really, really good tennis player.”
WATCH | Eugenie Bouchard wins 1st match in Paris in 81 minutes:
The 26-year-old Bouchard’s best appearance at the French Open was a semifinal appearance in 2014. She reached a career-high No. 5 ranking later that year.
Bouchard will play Daria Gavrilova of Australia in the second round.
Work with Agassi’s former trainer paying off
Gavrilova, ranked No. 251 in the world, upset No. 24 seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine in their first-round matchup.
Bouchard, from Westmount, Que., is one of six Canadian entries at Roland Garros but the only one in action Sunday.
The French Open usually takes place in the spring but was postponed by four months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bouchard spent the WTA season suspension in Las Vegas working with Andre Agassi’s former trainer Gil Reyes, known as one of the toughest fitness enforcers in the sport.
Often riddled with criticism about her commitment to excellence, Tebbutt said the move to Reyes shows Bouchard’s focus on getting back on track.
“Bouchard has pulled herself up by her bootstraps. She’s really, really worked hard in Las Vegas,” noted Tebbutt. “And Gil Reyes is maybe one of the very, very best guys to work with to get her fit. She’s got the basic fitness thing. Now, that’s not a concern for her anymore.”
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