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Norm Powell was the difference for the Raptors in Game 2. Fred VanVleet saw it coming – Toronto Star

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There is an even keel to Norm Powell’s nature that runs counter to the frenetic way he sometimes plays basketball.

He can be thoughtful and introspective, and is constant in his desire to do whatever it takes to win each night.

He calls it purity, and he’s right.

“I think that’s the foundation of my game: playing with a pure heart, trying to be aggressive and make winning plays for the team,” Powell said after leading the Raptors to a scrappy Game 2 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday afternoon. “That (was) all within me when I was growing up, is doing whatever it takes to win.”

Powell’s stretches of maddening inconsistency are now a thing of the past. He’s been very good very often all season, and now that the playoffs have arrived the more mature, equally confident, more at peace Powell will be a huge factor in whatever success the Raptors ultimately have.

He’s the primary scorer off the bench, he’s going to play starter’s minutes despite being a backup, and all the mental work he’s put in will now augment his prodigious athletic talents when the stakes are highest.

“It’s just about focusing on what we’ve got to do, staying present, staying within yourself, and staying confident in your abilities and taking what the game has given you,” he said after a 24-point showing in Toronto’s 104-99 victory. “I work a lot on my mental side and staying focused and locked in, and just letting the game flow, and I feel like in the playoffs nothing else matters. I’m just able to focus in on what we have to do.”

And he does it well consistently at timely moments, showing a knack for big plays. The ill-fated, out-of-control drives are in the distant past. The quick three-pointers while heavily guarded aren’t chucked up like they were in his excitable youth. He’s in control while still aggressive and, at 27, just an all-around smarter player.

“When (he plays) with confidence … just kind of taking whatever the defence gives him, he’s always special,” Pascal Siakam said of Powell. “That’s what he did tonight, and he played a great game on both ends of the floor. Once you try to match that same energy on defence, your offence is going to take care of itself.”

Powell was the difference in a scruffy game the Raptors pulled out with a decisive seven-minute run in the fourth quarter. He made 10 of 11 shots from inside the three-point arc (just 1-for-6 from distance) and his drives slaughtered Brooklyn’s interior defence. He got a few easy baskets on a day when scoring did not come easily, and that eased a ton of pressure on the Raptors’ halfcourt offence.

“He gets in the open floor and even though it’s him and there’s three guys back, you can almost tell he’s going to try to punch through there. And a lot of times he does, and that’s just being aggressive,” coach Nick Nurse said. “If he punches through there a little bit, he’s usually going to be in good shape.

“He had some awesome drives, really timely, too. We needed some of those. We needed some easy offence in transition that he provided.”

Powell may play with abandon — it’s what makes him special — but now it’s with more precision and contemplation, that purity he talked about coming to the fore. He studied his so-so Game 1 to see what he could do better, and then did it.

“I watched (Game 1) a couple times … seeing where I could have been effective,” he said. “And there was a couple times I could have been more aggressive and punched the gaps to get the defence rotating, and seeing if they were going to help. And if they didn’t, finish at the rim and create kickouts within the flow of the offence.

“So I just made an adjustment and take my time in attacking off the dribble — especially in transition, once we got a stop before their defence got set up.”

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Powell’s closest teammate might be Fred VanVleet. They’ve grown together and developed a bond. Knowing what his pal is like, VanVleet had an idea what was coming before Game 2.

“I told Norm before the game, this felt like a Norman Powell game,” VanVleet said. “Just wanted him to stay ready and stay explosive. He can get hard on himself when he doesn’t play up to his standards.”

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Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart Had Heated Confrontation After Game 2 Loss – RealGM.com

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Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart had a heated confrontation following their Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat and had to be separated by teammates, multiple sources told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Smart stormed into the locker room saying that other players needed to be held accountable. 

As Smart continued and his voice grew louder, Brown shouted that players must stay together and that their actions must come as a team and not individually. 

Objects were thrown around during the interaction between Smart and Brown with teammates diffusing the situation before a physical altercation could take place. Smart and Brown have smoothed over tensions.

“They will move past this and focus on the task,” a source said late Thursday.

Smart also had verbal exchanges with a couple of assistant coaches during the game.

The Boston Celtics trail 0-2 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

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Marcus Smart Heard Yelling At Teammates Following Game 2 Loss – RealGM.com

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Marcus Smart reportedly yelled at his teammates in the locker room following the Boston Celtics’ 106-101 loss to the Miami Heat in game 2, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The Celtics, who blew their second straight lead in the second half, are now down 2-0 in the series.

“Y’all on some bulls—,” Smart yelled while leaving the locker room. Several other teammates were also reportedly heard yelling following the game.

Smart did not talk to reporters after the game.

Brad Stevens, Kemba Walker, and Jayson Tatum all downplayed the situation, chalking it up to the emotion of the loss.

“It really just, a lot of emotions just flying around. Obviously we feel like we could have won, we should have won, but we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it,” said Jaylen Brown. 

The Celtics were outscored 37-17 in the third quarter.

Walker added that the Celtics were simply outplayed during the third. 

“Man, they outplayed us. They outplayed us. It’s really unacceptable on our behalf. It was just a really bad quarter for us. We didn’t continue to do the things that we did to get us up and get us that lead. I think we got kind of comfortable and those guys, they took great advantage of it. They played hard. They played really hard. They played a lot harder than us. They wanted it.”

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Lightning cherishing every moment of opportunity for Cup Final redemption – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — What I’ll remember most was the pure guttural scream.

It echoed up through Rogers Place when the Tampa Bay Lightning gathered 48 of the 52 members of their travelling party on the ice with the Prince of Wales Trophy to take a photo here Thursday night.

You’d never know that a celebration could be so emotional in an empty building because, until three days ago with the Dallas Stars, this was completely unprecedented.

The Lightning left their hearts out there. This was a moment six years in the making, or more, for so many members of this organization. And it was clear that booking a trip to the Stanley Cup Final was no less rewarding under these circumstances than it would have been before any of us had ever heard of COVID-19.

“It is so hard to explain, because regardless if there’s fans in the building or not, the exuberance and relief, it’s unparalleled how you feel inside,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “When you look back at this — and it’s not over — but we’ve been in a hotel for 54 straight days. And when people said this might be one of the hardest Cups to win, it might be one of the hardest Cups ever to win. There’s two of us left standing, they’re going through the exact same thing we are.

“You want your fans there, but it’s not about the fans, it’s about the players and the effort and dedication and perseverance they’ve put into this. And they’re the ones that deserve this, because they’ve done all the work.”

For the Lightning, it was also about Steven Stamkos, even though the captain hasn’t played a game since late February. He’s been rehabbing an undisclosed injury inside the NHL bubble without playing a game and was called out to join Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn for the trophy presentation with deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

The pride on Stamkos’s face was unmistakable. He let Hedman and the others who played in the six-game series victory over the New York Islanders touch the trophy — at least until Hedman skated it over to him with instructions to carry it into the team’s dressing room.

“It was obviously a great feeling,” said Hedman. “Even though Stammer’s not playing, he’s still the leader of this team and he’s such a good influence on the room. During practices and morning skates. He’s still a big reason that he’s here where we are.

“I’m just so happy for the whole group obviously to once again — you know, a few of us went there in 2015. To go back in the Final with the Lightning again is an unreal experience.”

They had good reason to believe this would have happened sooner. It was a young team that lost the 2015 Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.

Tampa has been the NHL’s top team in basically every measurable category since that happened but they’ve experienced nothing but heartbreak. A Game 7 loss in the Eastern Conference Final in 2016 and 2018, and then a record-breaking 62-win season last year followed by a sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Losing this would have been the ultimate gut punch.

The Lightning were the better team against New York, but there’s a price to be paid against the Islanders. Brayden Point was in and out of the series, Ondrej Palat took a shot off the foot during Thursday’s series-clinching 2-1 victory and Anthony Cirelli left for a time after an accidental knee-on-knee collision with Anders Lee.

It was Cirelli who finally froze the clock in overtime with his first goal and first point of the season.

The celebration was incredible. These guys understood on a fundamental level what this meant.

“You have to cherish these moments and try your best to take advantage of them,” said Cooper. “We’ve been knocking at the door and it can get frustrating. It can make the summers, time-wise they’re so short, but mentality-wise they’re long. You just have to believe in your process and you have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to have players that jump on board.

“In the end, it’s a player’s game.”

The players celebrated this one together. The Lightning brought every extra skater they have here on the ice for this Eastern Conference Championships photo. There was Mathieu Joseph and his wonderful hair, Braydon Coburn and his thick playoff beard, Stamkos and his ever-present smile.

“Definitely a special moment for that group and then to get the whole team involved,” said veteran defenceman Ryan McDonagh. “Great moment.”

Hedman is always the last player on the ice after a Tampa victory and had to wait out a four-question Killorn interview with NBC after they eliminated the Islanders. You could hear him banging his stick while Killorn spoke with Pierre McGuire inside this empty building.

He knew his teammates were celebrating without them but still wouldn’t skate off.

What a cool scene, all of it.

The Lightning will be back out here against the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night and they didn’t shy away from the fact they may have emptied a couple veins just to get the opportunity.

“As for gas in the tank, I guess we’ll see,” said Cooper. “This is unlike any other Stanley Cup Final where we’d get days rest. If you don’t go seven, you usually get days rest. We’re not here, but if you were going to tell me, ‘Hey Coop, you get to play in the Stanley Cup Final.

“You’re only going to get 45 hours to rest before the game but you’re going to get to play in it,’ I’m taking that all day.”

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