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One Play: The intrigue of the Toronto Raptors playing Pascal Siakam at centre – NBA CA

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Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2019-20 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, a certain Toronto Raptors lineup takes the spotlight.

Context: In Toronto’s Game 2 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, we finally got to see a lineup that I’ve been excited about for a long time.

The lineup? Pascal Siakam at centre with Fred VanVleet, Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and OG Anunoby surrounding him. As ESPN’s Tim Bontemps noted, the five of them logged only two minutes together during the entire regular season.

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse went to it more out of necessity than anything else – Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka both struggled in Game 2, forcing Nurse to go with Toronto’s “five best guys” to close the game – but we still caught a glimpse of why it can be effective in the right situations.

There was one particular play that stood out. Let’s take a closer look.

The play: Powell blows by Jarrett Allen for the dunk.

Breakdown: Lowry pushes the ball up the court following a missed shot from Garrett Temple.

The Nets get back in time to prevent the Raptors from scoring a quick basket, so Lowry passes the ball to VanVleet at the top of the 3-point line to reset.

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Allen starts the possession on Siakam but switches assignments with Temple when Siakam makes his way towards VanVleet to set a screen. Why? So he’s in better position to protect the rim should someone drive to the basket.

Anunoby, meanwhile, balances the court by clearing out from the right side to the left side.

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Rather than having Joe Harris fight through Siakam’s screen, Temple switches onto VanVleet while Harris switches onto Siakam, who pops to the 3-point line instead of rolling to the basket.

The floor is now clear for VanVleet to attack Temple one-on-one.

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Temple does a decent job keeping VanVleet in front of him, but VanVleet is able to get deep enough to draw Allen away from Powell in the strongside corner. VanVleet makes the right read, kicking it out to Powell rather than continuing his drive.

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Powell shot only 1-for-6 from 3-point range in Game 2, but he made 44.0 percent of his catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts during the regular season. Allen closes out on him out of fear of him getting a clean look at a 3-pointer, paving the way for Powell to take him off the dribble.

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With Allen being Brooklyn’s only rim protector on the court, there’s nobody in position to prevent Powell from getting an uncontested dunk.

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Why it matters: The intrigue with playing Siakam at centre should be obvious – it gives the Raptors the luxury of putting five players on the court who can shoot, pass and dribble at a high level. Gasol and Ibaka are both capable of doing those things, but them trying to make a play off the dribble is a little different than VanVleet, Lowry, Powell or Anunoby doing it.

Offensively, there’s no reason why building lineups around Siakam at centre shouldn’t work. If teams don’t downsize themselves, it basically becomes a game of who has the biggest mismatch. Allen is guarding Powell on the 3-point line? OK, give him the ball and see what he can do against Allen on a closeout. Siakam is being defended by someone his size? Have him set a screen on VanVleet or Lowry to force a switch and let him feast in the post against a guard while everyone spaces the floor around him. VanVleet or Lowry are the ones who have the favourable mismatch? Clear out to let them go one-on-one.

Anunoby is the weakest link of those five offensively, but he’s shown some promising signs of growth as a scorer in the season restart. He’s been looking to attack smaller players in the post a little more and he’s improved tremendously as a driver. He might not quite be at a point where you’re confident that he can consistently create a solid look for himself against a mismatch, but he could get there eventually.

Besides, Anunoby is the key to the lineup working defensively. What lineups with Siakam at centre lack is size. It’s why it’s not an answer to every team in the league. (Can you imagine the Raptors going that small against Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo? It probably wouldn’t work). But against a team like the Nets who don’t have a centre who is going to overwhelm opponents with their back to the basket – no team averaged less points per game in the post than the Nets this season – the Raptors can get away with it.

It helps that Anunoby and Siakam have spent time matched up with fives this season. According to data collected by Krishna Narsu of The Bball Index, Anunoby spent 13.7 percent of his minutes in the regular season guarding centres compared to 15.3 percent for Siakam. Again, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Raptors want either one of them guarding Embiid in the post – although it is worth noting that Anunoby did a tremendous job against Nikola Jokic in one game this season – but they’re each capable of hanging with someone like Allen in spot minutes.

“It’s the versatility, knowing me and Pascal can both switch onto [Allen],” Anunoby said about Toronto’s small lineup after Game 2. “We can spread the floor, all shoot, drive and pass. Just play five out. Spreading the floor so the rim is open. Make them adjust to us.”

Another benefit of playing them all together: Toronto can switch more aggressively. The Raptors are home to some of the most versatile defenders in the league, with Anunoby and Siakam being able to defend all five positions and VanVleet, Lowry and Powell being able to guard three or four positions depending on the matchup. With all five of them on the court, the Raptors can switch almost across the board.

We even caught a glimpse of that in Game 2:

This doesn’t mean that playing Siakam at centre is suddenly going to become a staple in Toronto’s offence, but Game 2 of its first-round series with Brooklyn proved that it can be a game-changer in the right situation.

Hopefully the next time Nurse breaks it out won’t be because Gasol and Ibaka haven’t given him any other choice.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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Rays win AL Wild Card Series 2020 – MLB.com

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ST. PETERSBURG — Making the postseason in 2019 was a big accomplishment for the Rays. It was the first taste of the playoffs for a young core, something the organization knew would pay dividends moving forward.
Following that experience, the Rays secured the No. 1 seed and won the American

ST. PETERSBURG — Making the postseason in 2019 was a big accomplishment for the Rays. It was the first taste of the playoffs for a young core, something the organization knew would pay dividends moving forward.

Following that experience, the Rays secured the No. 1 seed and won the American League East for the first time since 2010, both things they appreciated and acknowledged. But their level of success this season will be determined more by what they accomplish in October.

ALDS presented by Utz, Game 1: Mon., time TBD on TBS

Tampa Bay’s chase for the first World Series championship in franchise history is off to a strong start, as it completed a sweep of Toronto in the best-of-three American League Wild Card Series with an 8-2 win in Wednesday’s Game 2 at Tropicana Field.

Box score

The Rays advance to the AL Division Series and will face the winner of the Indians-Yankees Wild Card Series matchup in Game 1 on Monday at Petco Park in San Diego.

“Every win in the postseason is that much more [momentum],” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “We played good right at the end of the year and got where we needed to be from a pitching standpoint. Now, it’s just trying to ride that wave of momentum, and these guys do an unbelievable job at creating that.”

In order for the Rays to accomplish all their goals, their pitching staff will likely have to lead the way, much like Blake Snell and the bullpen did in their Game 1 win over the Blue Jays. But in Game 2, it was the offense that carried Tampa Bay.

The Rays rattled off four singles, including a Manuel Margot RBI hit, in the first inning against Blue Jays ace Hyun Jin Ryu to take an early 1-0 lead. In the second, the offense delivered the knockout punch against Ryu. Kevin Kiermaier led off with a single, and that was quickly followed by a Mike Zunino two-run homer to extend the lead to 3-0.

Randy Arozarena continued the rally with a one-out double. Yandy Díaz drew a four-pitch walk, and then the Rays were given a gift by the Blue Jays’ defense, as Margot reached on a Bo Bichette error to extend the inning and load the bases. That proved to be costly as Hunter Renfroe hit the first postseason grand slam in franchise history to cap off the six-run second.

“We showed the potential of what we can do on both sides of the ball,” Zunino said. “Obviously, in Game 1 we had Blake throw an absolute gem and we were able to scrape enough runs to win, and today showed the bats coming alive and Tyler allowing just two and the bullpen keeping it where it was. I think it just solidifies who we are as a team.”

On the mound, Tyler Glasnow picked up right where the pitching staff left off Tuesday. The right-hander opened the game with three consecutive fastballs to Cavan Biggio to record a strikeout. The last heater came in at 99.3 mph at the knees to get Biggio looking and set the tone for the rest of the evening.

Glasnow struck out eight and allowed two runs on six hits over six strong innings. His only mistakes were two pitches to Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen, who turned both into solo home runs. Rays pitching has allowed only three earned runs over the past 29 innings, dating back to the regular season. Tampa Bay also improved to 10-2 in games started by Glasnow in 2020.

“It feels great,” Glasnow said of moving on to the ALDS. “We had a bunch of confidence going into this. Everyone went out there with no pressure, just kind of loose like we’ve been all year. Especially in that second inning, just to watch the momentum and the adrenaline from the grand slam, it was a pretty special moment.”

The Rays will play in the ALDS for the sixth time in franchise history. Over the weekend, they’ll fly to San Diego, a city they hope to call home for the next few weeks, as Petco Park will also host the AL Championship Series. The World Series will take place at Globe Life Field in Arlington beginning Oct. 20.

Now, Tampa Bay will play either Cleveland, which it hasn’t faced this season, or New York, which it went 8-2 against during the regular season.

If the Rays play the Yankees, it’s fair to assume that the two teams won’t be smiling at each other on or off the field. The last time the two AL East rivals faced off, New York closer Aroldis Chapman threw a 100 mph fastball over Mike Brosseau’s head, which led to Cash’s postgame warning about his “stable” of pitchers that throw 98 mph.

Regardless of whether the Tribe or Yanks advance, they’ll be tasked with knocking off a Rays team that is tough to beat.

“Who we play, I don’t want to say is irrelevant, but if we can control what we can control, that’s the biggest thing for us,” Zunino said. “Our pitching staff, our bullpen and if we can have quality at-bats, I like our odds against anybody.”

Juan Toribio covers the Rays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @juanctoribio.

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Jays season comes to an end – Bluebird Banter

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Blue Jays 2 Rays 8

Unfortunately this one was over early. It wasn’t the way I expected Hyun Jin Ryu to do in his first (hopefully not last) playoff start in a Blue Jays uniform. Obviously the extra day of rest didn’t help.

Ryu wasn’t sharp and Bo Bichette forgot how to play short. By the end of the second it was 7-0.

In the first inning, Ryu gave up four singles, allowing just one run, helped out by a great throw from Lourdes Gurriel when Mike Brosseau tried to stretch his single into a double. Then, with 2-outs, Hunter Renfroe hit a ground ball to Bo, and, instead of taking a step and getting his momentum going to first, he threw it flat footed and well high. This one didn’t cost us any runs.

Second inning started out single and Mike Zunino home run. 3-0. Then it was out, double, out, walk followed by an easy ground ball to short. But Bo booted it. It should have been the last out of the inning, but instead Renfroe hits a grand slam and it was 7-0 and it was pretty much game over.

The Rays got another run in the third off Ross Stripling.

About the only fun we had was watching Nate Pearson throwing 2 innings of perfect relief, with 5 strikeouts.

On offense the only fun was Danny Jansen hitting two solo homers.

We had 7 hits total. Danny’s 2 and a single each from Vlad, Grichuk, Hernandez, Shaw and Panik.

Jays of the Day? Well, let’s give one to Danny and one to Pearson.

Suckage: Bichette (0 for 3, plus the 2 errors) and Ryu (7 runs, 3 earned).


That was a heck of a ride. What a weird season.

Thank you to everyone for joining with us for all the ups and downs. I’m lucky to have you all to share this little sandbox.

We don’t close shop for the off-season. We’ll be looking back at the season and looking forward to next season (presuming). And, among the other stuff, I’ll return to the OOTP season that we were playing before the actually season started. That should carry us through to Christmas.

We had 889 comments in the GameThread. I led us to crushing defeat.

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Five intriguing Henrik Lundqvist destinations if he doesn’t retire – Sportsnet.ca

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The Henrik Lundqvist era in The Big Apple officially ended Wednesday when the New York Rangers bought out the final year of the star goalie’s contract.

The 38-year-old Swedish star has been associated with the Rangers organization for the past 20 years after being selected by the team in the seventh round of the 2000 draft.

Lundqvist finished top-six in Vezina Trophy voting in each of his first 10 NHL seasons, however his goals-against average has increased in each of the past six seasons so his $8.5-million annual salary cap hit became a burden for a Rangers team about to begin a new chapter in its history.

The Rangers — the team that won the 2020 NHL Draft Lottery and now hold the No. 1 overall pick — will roll with their two young Russian puck-stoppers, Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev, starting in 2020-21. As for Lundqvist, it’s unclear what his future holds, at least in terms of his playing days.

Will Lundqvist consider retirement? If not, will he want to earn a starter’s role in a new city? Could he thrive as part of a tandem? Might he be an ideal backup on a team with a young starter he could mentor?

Or, could the veteran struggle to find the right fit altogether? This off-season, after all, boasts a fairly crowded goalie market and with the salary cap not increasing it puts some teams in a budget bind.

With all that in mind, here are five teams that could be interesting fits for the decorated netminder.

Colorado Avalanche

The Avalanche were looking like a legitimate threat to emerge from the Western Conference before Philipp Grubauer went down with an injury. Backups Pavel Francouz and Michael Hutchinson struggled and Colorado was eliminated by Dallas. Adding some insurance in the form of a possible future Hall of Famer could contribute to Colorado reaching that next level.

GM Joe Sakic has plenty of cap space with which to work and Lundvist will prefer going to a team with realistic championship aspirations. Grubauer and Francouz are both under contract next season, with a combined cap hit of $5.33 million, which could complicate things slightly.

Vancouver Canucks

The Canucks have something potentially special cooking in B.C. They were the only Canadian team to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs this summer. A huge reason for that was the play of Jacob Markstrom, who is expected to be the most sought-after goalie available in free agency – it’s either him or countryman Robin Lehner.

If Markstrom does leave, Vancouver will need to fill that void and who better to mentor Thatcher Demko than someone like Lundqvist? If he isn’t interested in playing second fiddle to a 24-year-old, though, then Vancouver might not be the right fit. Lundqvist could join former Team Sweden teammates Alex Edler and Loui Eriksson, plus star forward Elias Pettersson and Calder Trophy runner-up Quinn Hughes, on a growing team that would benefit from his experience and leadership.

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Washington Capitals

With Braden Holtby hitting the open market, Lundqvist would make sense as a replacement. The Capitals will be handing the keys to the crease to 22-year-old Ilya Samsonov. Lundqvist could provide the Russian some valuable support. Lundqvist might’ve struggled in 2019-20 but his .905 save percentage was better than Holtby’s .897.

Dallas Stars

Did Anton Khudobin price himself out of town after his playoff heroics that fell a couple wins shy of a Stanley Cup championship?

Khudobin is a pending UFA and if he leaves town the Stars will be left with Ben Bishop. The Stars should be contenders again next season. If they don’t think 2017 first-rounder Jake Oettinger is ready to be a full-time NHL backup next season and/or they don’t fully trust Bishop to stay healthy and perform at a high level consistently, then why not take a look at Lunqvist?

Henrik’s twin brother, Joel Lundvist, spent three seasons with the Stars from 2006-2009.

Chicago Blackhawks

This would be a wild jump from one Original Six franchise to another.

Chicago needs an upgrade in net with Corey Crawford a pending UFA and both Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia unproven as starters. Lundqvist wouldn’t be their first choice, but if they miss out on their top handful of targets then Lunqvist could be an excellent contingency plan.

Chicago has plenty of proven winners on their roster and they upset the Oilers in the qualifying round. As mentioned above, Lundqvist will want to go to a place where he can actually start some games. If he thinks the Blackhawks will be a playoff-calibre team next season, then who knows?

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