TORONTO – It was early in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s surprising road win over Milwaukee, and the Raptors were leading by two points.
OG Anunoby had just grabbed a defensive rebound and was bringing the ball up the court, something that Nick Nurse has been encouraging him to do more of this season. With Aron Baynes coming over to set the screen, Anunoby functioned as the ball handler in the pick and roll, which we don’t often see.
Getting the switch, Anunoby took Bucks forward Bobby Portis off the dribble, spun towards the basket, laid the ball up and banked it in as he absorbed the contact, drew the foul and fell on his backside.
“You read the defence,” Anunoby said of his crafty layup, which he converted into a three-point play, following Toronto’s 124-113 victory. “I knew once [Portis] turned his hips that I could spin, and then once he fouled me I just tried to get a shot off. But we all work on that kind of stuff.”
It was a productive return for the Raptors’ fourth-year forward, who had missed the previous 10 games with a calf strain. He scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds while spending the night chasing around the league’s reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but if there was one play that screamed “I’m back,” it was that one.
It almost didn’t happen – the play, or the return. Initially, Anunoby’s injury – which he sustained late in last month’s loss to Indiana – was expected to be a minor one, an ailment that might keep him out of a game or two.
But it didn’t heal as fast as he or the team had hoped, and with Toronto and its medical staff exercising caution, he wound up sitting out for three weeks. Although he was listed as doubtful ahead of Tuesday’s contest, he felt good enough to play.
The Raptors are certainly happy to have him back. For Nurse, a head coach who wants to tinker and experiment with different lineups, Anunoby is invaluable.
His versatility on both ends of the floor unlocks a multitude of options they simply don’t have the luxury of trying without him. He can play and guard the centre position in some smaller units. He can be the two or three and defend elite perimeter players in bigger or more traditional units. He can switch across all five positions defensively, and with an expanding offensive toolbox, he’s a threat to knock down the three or beat you off the dribble.
“Having him back out there is a different feel,” said Fred VanVleet. “It gives us more flexibility. A lot of times this year it has felt like we were at the mercy of teams quite a bit, and tonight I thought from the tip we were pretty aggressive and a lot of that has to do with OG’s versatility and taking some of the pressure off Pascal [Siakam]… It just kind of put everybody in a better position, having one of our better players back on the floor. It’s not rocket science, but definitely good to have OG back.”
With Norman Powell playing so well in Anunoby’s absence, Nurse opted to start small on Tuesday, opening the contest with his five best players – Siakam, Anunoby, Powell, VanVleet and Kyle Lowry.
That unit was limited to nine minutes, with Lowry turning his ankle and leaving the game early in the second half, but it looked good. They shot 11-for-19 from the field and 5-for-12 from three-point range, outscoring the Bucks by five points during their time on the floor together. Despite giving up size, they even held their own in the paint and on the glass, mitigating some of the concerns with going small for extended periods.
The lineup change allowed Nurse to bring Baynes off the bench – a more suitable role for the struggling big man, who actually played well in 18 minutes as a reserve. It also enables them to use Chris Boucher in the frontcourt with Baynes, shifting him to his more natural position at the four.
It’s unclear if the small starting lineup is here to stay. Speaking earlier this week, Nurse wouldn’t commit to using it full time, indicating that it could be a situational thing, depending on the matchup. At minimum, you can probably expect to see it again in Thursday’s rematch against the Bucks, assuming that Lowry is able to play (he’s listed as questionable).
While rebounding and rim protection should continue to be a challenge for that group, those things weren’t exactly strengths of this team with Baynes starting either. Their upside – particularly on the defensive end, where they’re holding opponents to 88.1 points per 100 possessions in 38 minutes together this season –exceeds any potential drawback. The players themselves would seem to agree.
“It better be,” VanVleet said bluntly when asked whether that unit is sustainable. “We don’t have a choice at this point. We are past theories and hypotheticals. It was a good start tonight and it worked. When you win everything you did worked and when you lose it doesn’t. The bad part is we have to beat this team again in 48 hours, so we have our work cut out for us.”
Anunoby is the piece that ties it all together. He’ll take on the Antetokounmpo assignment again on Thursday, and if Nurse decides to stay small after that, he’ll likely become the de facto centre in daunting matchups when the Raptors seek revenge on Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday and then host Joel Embiid and the 76ers in consecutive games next week.
“I think he’s definitely a big piece and having him out there on defence, there’s a lot more switching that we can do knowing that he can hold up some of the bigs and guard the guards on the perimeter,” Siakam said. “So there’s just a lot that we can do as a team. His versatility as a defender definitely helps us, and I think the more guys like that that we have, the better our small lineup could work, because we can do a lot of different things.”
Evaluating Sheldon Keefe on the Maple Leafs – Pension Plan Puppets
It’s always a tricky bit of business to judge NHL coaches. The standard method in the league itself as practiced by GMs is to fire coaches when their own chair in the executive suite starts to feel like the seat in their Lexus after the seat heater got left on too long. And the standard method in the league for ownership to use to fire GMs is to chomp their metaphorical cigars call it a results-based business and fire them when the win/loss record tips to losses for too long.
The problem with all of that is the illusion of results-oriented judgement is just another way for men making more and more money out of a losing NHL team to shout, “It’s not my fault!” in a way that their own bosses/shareholders/personal willingness to lose money can be placated with. Eventually that stops working too, and the real problems need to be fixed.
When Sheldon Keefe was given the keys to the Maple Leafs, the next thing that happened was Kyle Dubas traded for a decent backup goalie and then another defenceman after the acquisition of Jake Muzzin less than a year before Keefe took over. Those three changes, and a recent offseason of player signings as well, make it difficult when looking back to sort out what was down to the coach, and what the changes on the team.
I call this sort of analysis post hoc, ergo propter hockey, and there is a huge appetite for explaining a largely unexplainable game by pointing at whatever thing has changed recently and asserting with total certainty that that’s the cause. That plus too much faith in the standings leads us all measuring with a faulty ruler. What does an NHL coach really do? How much do the affect the game? Is it all about motivating the players, group dynamics or what?
I don’t know, so I’m asking other people.
You could say that a bad coach can ruin a good team, but a great coach can’t make a bad team good. Do you think that’s true, and to what extent can a coach boost a good team to greatness?
Fulemin: All coaches are judged by expectations, and expectations are set by roster quality. We look at the names on the team first and estimate how good it ought to be, and if the actual results diverge from that, we attribute it to coaching greatness or lack thereof. This sounds like I’m just being glib here, but I really mean it: the Jack Adams is awarded on this basis every year. My suspicion is that the vast majority of NHL coaches don’t have a huge impact in either direction, except in really emotional circumstances where the team has given up or when it’s excited to play for somebody new. The biggest impact, I think, is that a well-suited coach can get a grinder team to play aggressive defence and that’s probably the best way to get a lot out of a grinder team. Shorter version: however good you think the New York Islanders are compared to their results under Barry Trotz ought to be your answer for maximum coaching impact.
Arvind: As usual, I’m going to be annoying and equivocate. No coach could turn the staff of PPP into a competitive NHL hockey team. However, I do buy that there are coaches who can get more than others would out of a given NHL-quality roster, depending on the skills of that roster (and obviously, the opposite holds too). The degree to which this occurs is tricky, and hard to analyze. The quintessential ‘coaching up’ example in recent NHL history is Gerard Gallant with the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s hard to allocate precise amounts of credit for their unexpected success between Gallant coaching up a roster of players who were not thought of as particularly great, and the players themselves being better than we initially thought.
Similarly, a coach can take a strong roster and push them to greatness. He’s a persona non grata at this point, but Mike Babcock took a strong 2007/2008 Red Wings roster and contributed at least to some degree to one of the most dominant Stanley Cup champions in the post-2005 lockout. Again, it’s hard to know the degrees. Was Babcock elevating those players, or were they just better than we thought? The one robust mathematical attempt I’ve seen to isolate coaching impact on 5v5 play is Micah McCurdy’s work, where over multiple year periods, coaches top out at providing an estimated 3-4% boost to the xG differential of a team. Obviously, this ignores one of the more obvious ways coaching staffs can improve a team, which is through special teams strategy.
Katya: I don’t think I’d trust an answer that didn’t equivocate on this to some extent. I think that coaches are kind of like goalies. They aren’t really part of the team, but they affect what the team does, and they often get the credit or blame for outcomes where it’s not warranted. The Vezina used to be a GAA award, straight up, so they are lauded on how good the skaters are as well. And like a goalie the extent to which they can be bad is infinite, but the range of good ones is very tight, hard to identify and predict and subject to a lot of mythologizing.
Also, I do seriously wonder if for regular season results, the person creating and maintaining the power play might be the single most import coach there is. Imagine if Montreal had a good power play, for example.
Brigstew: I actually wrote out a completely different answer, realized I didn’t like it at all and then re-wrote this. I guess I think of it as if a given roster of players on a team has a theoretical maximum potential for how good they can be. That will take into account the system they play, their motivation to try their best at any given time, and the development of them as players (mostly for younger guys). There’s other stuff too, like health, but none of those have to do with coaching. Let’s say that this theoretical potential starts at 100%. I do think that great coaches can get a team to that 100% for most of the time. Good coaches can get them close, to varying degrees. Bad coaches sink them. That’s more philosophical I suppose, but I guess TL;DR I don’t think a great coach can make a bad team good. He can only make them as good as the best they can be.
Hardev: This article is long so I’ll be short. I think a good coach can mask deficiencies caused through roster building. If a team has poor shooters, work to increase volume. If a team doesn’t have the ability to do either, limit chances against. If they’re the 2014 Rangers, don’t make them look like a turtle with an ass the size of Henrik Lundqvist.
Is it player performance, motivation, group dynamics or is it systems, personnel choices and player usage that matters?
Fulemin: I think motivation—ability to get buy-in, specifically—is most of it. Motivation is a more complex thing than just cracking the whip until the players play right, to be clear. It’s getting the players to follow the system effectively and instinctively, which there are many roads to. I think an NHL system effectively executed is going to be better than one executed half-heartedly, even if the latter is theoretically better. This is probably a variation on my feeling that most coaches don’t make that much difference because it’s very hard to be a brilliant motivator game in, game out over a long stretch; you see a bounce when a new coach busts in partly because the previous guy was likely fired in the depths of a PDO slump and partly because the team gets a new lease on life and chance to prove themselves. But sustaining that commitment longer term is tough.
Arvind: All of the above, but to different degrees with different teams and personalities. The way I view it is that a coach is essentially the manager of a small business. The content of what they’re trying to implement matters, but so does the messenger and the way the message comes across. Some coaches are not cut out for the talents and personalities of certain teams, even if they have great ideas systemically.
Katya: Okay the coach as boss is an interesting metaphor because we’ve ported the sports concept of teams and team dynamics into workplaces, often where it doesn’t belong. But sometimes, in some workplaces, you just need to get out of people’s way. I think of Jon Cooper here, and this is partly lore, because none of us have played for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he has managed, most of the time, to handle a team playing at their peak for a very long time, with boring meaningless regular seasons and then a need to switch to playoff mode very well. And I don’t say that because they won last year, but because of the long period they’ve been in striking distance.
On player usage, I think most coaching choices are largely non-factors, but dumb ones can sink a team more than smart ones will really help. Players will play as they play. I actually think the worst thing a coach can do is expect players to do things they are not capable of or that cannot lead to success. That’s when what seems like motivation becomes demoralizing. Biggest example of that I can think of is Patrick Roy (who is popular with most players) who created a system guaranteed to lose.
Brigstew: Motivation I think is something that coaches have the most impact on. A coach is essentially a player’s boss, or manager. I think we all know from experience in our working lives that a good manager can have you working at your best, and a bad manager saps your motivation to try as hard as you could. Usage and personnel choices I think do matter as well, especially since it can impact motivation. Deciding to play Hyman higher in the lineup makes sense because he is genuinely great at making a line work, and that’s more important for your top lines. Deciding to stack all your stars on one line, leaving the rest of them to be essentially third/fourth lines, is not a good coaching decision, Sheldon.
Hardev: They’re all tied together. Performance ties to systems (within the bounds of randomness), motivation ties to usage, and group dynamics ties to personnel choices.
Does Sheldon Keefe make the Leafs better (not better than the previous coach, but better than they’d be with some imaginary average-quality coach)?
Fulemin: I haven’t seen a convincing case that he makes them either much better or much worse. I resolutely want to avoid any more Babcock discussion for the rest of my life, and I’m sorry to ignore the parenthetical, but since he’s the only other coach this version of the Leafs has had: the team looks like a somewhat possession-heavier version of about the same thing it did under Babcock. Which is progress, I suppose. If Keefe has a mark in his favour I think it’s that he genuinely is very flexible and gives lots of chances to different combinations, which theoretically should pay off when come playoff time he’s found the best answers with his given personnel…but it didn’t seem to help against Columbus and he also routinely tries things that I think are silly. So we’ll see.
Arvind: I think so, though not by an enormous amount. It’s hard to criticize the W/L ratio in Keefe’s time as a coach. The numbers are solid, if not elite, and they seem to match up with a roster that I’d consider between the 5th and 10th best in the league. The elite power play helps a lot, and while that may not strictly be Keefe’s doing, I’m crediting it to him since it’s his coaching staff.
Katya: I’m really, really not sure about this one. I think his system is complex, and okay, does anyone remember this?
If you just let the Leafs play as they play, would you get the moment when they go from the Farandole to grooving to Bowie? Or would you get chaos? Is Count Adhemar scowling away there every hockey coach ever? And is he, when it comes to hockey, right to scowl?
Something happened to the Leafs, and they went from this team that a Dallas Stars fan once called puck-a-doodle-doo that was like Patrick Roy’s misguided system only good, and it was fun, and I miss it. I want to see that with Muzzin and Brodie there to guard the back door. None of this is an answer, but that’s how I feel. There’s been three games already this season where I turned the sound off and played Iggy Pop’s Chairman of the Bored instead. Oh, and the Talking Heads’ Road to Nowhere. And it’s not a case of defensive success is boring to watch because the Leafs have not pulled up the red carpet that invites the opposition to cruise down the slot.
Brigstew: Thus far I am of the opinion that Keefe is an okay coach. He has some interesting ideas to manage the best and worst of the team. I don’t think he is a great coach by any means. I don’t think he has unlocked the utmost potential of the roster, but at least to his credit I do think he is good at having them motivated… at least compared to before.
Hardev: He is/has been the average-quality coach. Some things have been good, others bad, on the whole medium. He’s not going to sink this team or carry it to the promised land. That comes down to the things we talked about at the end of last playoffs.
What one thing would you like to see the coaching staff do that they don’t?
Fulemin: If they could convince the team to stop turtling when they get a multi-goal lead, that would be great. I know this is the lament of many fans of many teams and it may just be a fact of life given that they’re not a great in-zone defensive team, but the Leafs bleed chances against at an absolutely incredible rate once they’re up two. Look!
Arvind: I’m speaking with a lot of ignorance here, but for the sake of preserving Matthews and Marner somewhat, I’d like to get a little closer to equalizing the time between the first and second lines. The John Tavares / William Nylander duo has good overall numbers, even if they pale in comparison (especially offensively) to Matthews / Marner. They’ve received justified criticism, especially within the lens of how they match up to the good 5v5 teams in the division (a notable chunk of Tavares’ and Nylander’s strong overall 5v5 results come from games where they wipe the floor with Ottawa and Vancouver).
It makes us a worse team in the short-term to play Matthews / Marner less, but in a pretty compressed season, lowering the burden on them in lower leverage environments could be useful.
Katya: Shooot! I’m not sure if this is coached or if it’s something about this division, but they’ve now gone so far from the all point shots bad times to endless searches for the perfect high-danger chance. The only teams that have done that over a lot of time are the Wild and the Canes and that hasn’t worked out so great.
Brigstew: I know we all hated Babcock for his extreme lack of roster flexibility, and we wanted him to try out certain things more often. I feel like Keefe is the polar opposite. He’ll try tons of weird shit, seemingly just like throwing a bunch of stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. But I wish he’d be smarter with it, and not go so bonkers. Trying out a 7D lineup and then saying he almost immediately regretted it (for good reason) does not instill faith in me that he will make well thought out decisions and experiments. And it’s one thing to say he only does it in the regular season, but I happen to remember what he did in game 5 against Columbus which he also just did against Calgary and I don’t have faith that he can reign in his impulsivity when it’s really fucking important to do something you know will work as well as it can.
Hardev: This is a nitpick but I feel Nylander has been underused at 5v5. Play him more with Tavares, maybe sometimes with Matthews? On the power play we’ve seen them give teams different looks, why not do that at 5v5? Mix the top-four up around on occasion, maybe you’ll find a better look against a specific opponent, or at the very least it keeps everyone on their toes.
What one thing would you like to see them stop doing?
Fulemin: Running a super line to start games. Tavares-Matthews-Marner is something you do in the last ten minutes when you plan to play that trio for six of them. Don’t do it in the first period.
Arvind: Playing Nylander at LW. I know he did it last year with success, but it’s been more dogmatic this year, to my eye. I feel like it neuters his puck carrying and passing too much, and in particular, it makes it harder for him and Tavares to pass to one another, as they have to make and receive passes between each other on their backhands.
Katya: Give up the dream of a shutdown line with Alex Kerfoot as the centre and Ilya Mikheyev on it. The idea seems to be to lighten the load on Tavares/Nylander, and as Arvind tells you above, it’s not working. Somewhere in the soul searching after the defeat at the hands of the Blue Jackets, the Leafs decided they needed to pull back from Kyle Dubas’ lean in to offence. I wonder if they pulled too far back?
Brigstew: Messing around with the third line. This is something that’s had a lot of experimentation and nothing so far has seemed to really work. Having a lot of injuries to most of your third/fourth line depth hasn’t helped, but man I’d like to see them get to a point where they can have a better impact. They’re not really shut down-able, but neither are they big offensive threats for putting up points. Pick a path, find a solution that works the best out of all the others, and stick with it until Dubas can find someone better to fill the hole.
Hardev: Stop giving up goals. Boom, fixed the team! That was easy.
Canadiens at Winnipeg Jets: Five things you should know – Montreal Gazette
This will be the first meeting this season between the Habs and the Jets, who hold the No. 3 spot in the North division, one point ahead of Montreal.
Here are five things you should know about the Canadiens-Jets game at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg on Thursday (8 p.m., TSN2, TSN3, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM):
The matchup: This will be Dominique Ducharme’s first game behind the bench as the Canadiens’ head coach and he takes over a team that has lost five of its last six games, although Montreal did salvage a couple of points in overtime and shootout losses to the last-place Ottawa Senators this week. This will be the first meeting this season between the Canadiens and the Jets, who hold the No. 3 spot in the Canadian division with 23 points, one point ahead of Montreal.
Do we have a goaltender controversy? It will be interesting to see who gets the start in goal for the Canadiens. Carey Price and his US$10.5-million cap hit started the season as No. 1, but Jake Allen, who was brought in to ease Price’s workload, has been a better netminder. Price made several spectacular saves in Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to Ottawa, but also let in a softie from Brady Tkachuk that tied the game and he let in two goals on three shots in the shootout. He has a 5-3-3 record and has some of the worst numbers of his career — a 2.95 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage.
Reunion time for Drouin: Ducharme and Jonathan Drouin have some history and it will be interesting to see what effect the coaching change has on Drouin’s performance and whether Ducharme can persuade him to shoot more. Drouin played for Ducharme as a junior with the Halifax Mooseheads and they were together for a Memorial Cup win in 2013, although the star of that team was Nathan MacKinnon, who is starring for the Colorado Avalanche. Drouin had a good start with a goal and 10 assists in 13 games, but he went four games without a point before scoring his second goal of the season on Tuesday.
Some bright spots: Newcomer Tyler Toffoli is living up to his reputation as a sniper and he scored his team-leading 12th goal on Tuesday. Auston Matthews (18) and Connor McDavid (13) are the only players who have scored more goals this season. And Shea Weber used his booming shot to score twice, but it would have been nice if he had been able to score on the power play. The Canadiens went 0-for-3 Tuesday and are 0-for-10 in their last six games. Montreal has one power-play goal in its last 22 opportunities.
Tiger Woods has a long, uncertain road ahead after car crash, emergency doctor says – CP24 Toronto's Breaking News
Madeline Holcombe and Cheri Mossburg, CNN
Published Thursday, February 25, 2021 7:10AM EST
(CNN) — Even after his emergency surgery, the path to recovery is long and uncertain for golf legend Tiger Woods, following his car accident in California.
“He is still in that acute phase where they may still have a lot of work to do in the present, in moments, in days to come,” Dr. Jeremy Faust, emergency physician Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told CNN on Wednesday. “It’s unclear to me whether he will be going back to the operating room or not.”
The 45-year-old was driving Tuesday in Rancho Palos Verdes, near Los Angeles, shortly after 7 a.m. PT when his SUV crossed a median and veered across two lanes of road before hitting a curb, hitting a tree and landing on its side in the brush, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday.
Woods sustained injuries to his leg that required a rod, screws, pins and a surgical release of the muscle covering — one that surgeons likely believed would save his leg from amputation, Faust said.
Authorities believe that the incident was “purely an accident,” but will have to pull the black box event recorder from the vehicle to make that determination, Villanueva said. When he saw Woods in the hospital Tuesday, the 15-time major champion told investigators he had no memory of the crash.
Just a month after his fifth career back surgery, the most recent crash threatens to set back his hopes of returning to golf glory.
He has made comebacks before
Though fellow golf professionals have acknowledged that Woods’ health and his family are the most important things to consider at this time, they are also not counting him out.
He has done it before, Rory McIlroy said.
Famous from an early age, Woods turned professional in 1996 at just 21 years old, and his talent and charisma transformed him into a global icon. He won a remarkable 14 golf majors from 1997 through 2008 and looked set to stroll past the all-time record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus.
But a series of injuries and personal issues derailed that career trajectory. In 2009, a car crash outside his Florida home led to tawdry revelations about his rampant infidelity and the collapse of his marriage.
After a break from the sport, he returned to golf but without the smothering dominance of his earlier years. There was also a growing list of injuries, leading to four back operations, including spinal fusion surgery, as well as the “dark times” where the pain was so bad he couldn’t even get out of bed or play with his kids.
The operations and pain led to an addiction to opioid painkillers, and he was arrested on a DUI charge in 2017 in Florida. He pleaded guilty to reckless driving as part of a program to keep him from serving prison time.
That low point made his return to the top of the sport in 2019 all the more stunning. At the Masters, he surged to the lead and, followed by roaring crowds, clinched his first major win since the US Open in 2008 in one of the great comebacks in sports history.
World No. 2 John Rahm said he hoped Woods would be able to play golf and win more tournaments.
And that he would be able to then have a proper retirement, by standing on the iconic Swilcan Bridge in St. Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland “and just being able to properly say goodbye to the game.”
Earlier this week, Woods said he hoped to compete at this year’s Masters.
Safety features and the seat belt saved his life, authorities say
Woods was driving a Genesis SUV courtesy vehicle by himself and is believed to have been traveling at a high rate of speed before the crash, authorities said. There were no skid marks or other indications of braking, Villanueva added.
Villanueva said that section of road is “downhill on a curve,” and he and Gonzalez said the area is known as a trouble spot for speeding and accidents. The road has seen 13 accidents since last January.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Carlos Gonzalez, who responded to the crash, found a lucid Woods still strapped into his seat belt but trapped as the SUV had rolled over onto the driver’s side door.
“I do think the fact that he was wearing a seat belt and that the vehicle safety features worked as designed by the manufacturer likely resulted in either reducing his injury or saving his life,” Gonzalez told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.
The car he was driving also featured an all-new safety platform, an executive for the automaker said in a statement to CNN.
The safety features of the Genesis GV80 include a strong focus on “passenger compartment protection/reinforcement areas,” said Dana White, Chief Communications Officer for Genesis Motor North America. “This includes the use of advanced high strength steel for rigidity and safety.”
The vehicle was equipped with 10 standard airbags, including a “center-side airbag unique to Genesis that deploys between the front seats,” according to White.
While the exterior of the vehicle was mangled in the crash, the interior damage was such that Woods could survive.
“We have seen accidents with far less obvious (damage) that are fatalities,” Villanueva told CNN.
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