TORONTO – Nick Nurse isn’t likely to forget about the Raptors’ last trip to Cleveland any time soon. That’s the kind of experience that tends to stick with a head coach, even one who’s seen an awful lot in his three decades around the sport.
It came on Boxing Day, just after Toronto’s roster was decimated by a team-wide COVID outbreak. With 10 regulars out of the lineup and four emergency signees joining the club ahead of the game, half of his eight available players met each other on the bus ride over to the arena.
“I do remember that, it was a lot of fun” Nurse said in jest, looking back at that night and what turned out to be a predictable 144-99 blowout loss to the Cavaliers.
With the Raptors back in Ohio for Sunday’s game – an important one in the very tight Eastern Conference standings – that loss in late December seemed relevant again. If nothing else, it brought some much-needed perspective.
This time, they only had to introduce one new teammate ahead of tip off.
They were already without a couple of key starters, Fred VanVleet and OG Anunoby, when they found out that emerging sophomore point guard Malachi Flynn would miss time due to a hamstring strain. So, with less than 24 hours to go before taking on the Cavs, they called Armoni Brooks, who was in Atlanta playing for the G League’s College Park Skyhawks, and told him to get on the first flight to Cleveland.
Toronto needed to cut the injured D.J. Wilson’s 10-day contract short to bring Brooks in, also on a 10-day. He arrived in time to go through shoot around with his new team Sunday morning, and even got in the game for five scoreless minutes to open the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been moving pieces around like crazy anyway,” Nurse said. “Might as well move another one, right?”
It could always be worse, as the Raptors know, but this was going to be a tall order. Here were two slumping teams – Toronto came in having lost six of its last nine games, while Cleveland had dropped six of seven – fighting for one guaranteed playoff spot. However, one club was faced with the unenviable task of trying to steal an unlikely win on the road with minimal shooting and no traditional point guards on the floor.
It wasn’t for a lack of effort. The guys that were out there fought hard and made a game of it in the end, cutting a deficit that was once as large as 18 points down to five in the final minutes. But it’s tough to win in this league without shooting, playmaking and depth.
The Raptors had 12 players available on Sunday. 11 of them logged at least three minutes. Ten of them took at least one shot. Only six players scored, and four of them had 83 of the team’s 96 points on the night. Overall, they hit just six of their 24 three-point attempts and were outscored 33-18 from beyond the arc. They shot 25-for-55 from inside the paint, including an abysmal 13-for-34 in the first half, and 16-for-26 from the free throw line. They went nearly seven minutes without a field goal to close the third quarter.
“We just had a couple stretches where things really didn’t go our way, but we kept fighting our way back in there,” Nurse said following his team’s 104-96 loss. “We kept battling and that’s a credit to our guys, to keep playing. I thought they gave everything they had tonight.”
In the absence of VanVleet and Flynn, the Raptors started big, with Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher and Khem Birch in the frontcourt and Scottie Barnes as the acting point guard next to Gary Trent Jr. in the backcourt. Although Siakam handled a large share of the playmaking duties, as he usually does, Nurse wanted to get Barnes more reps as primary ball handler. It’s a role he’s filled before, mostly as a reserve in college last year and here and there throughout his rookie season, but this was his chance to do it as a starter.
They had a tough time generating offence out of the gate. It took more than eight minutes for them to record their first assist of the night – a Boucher layup from Dalano Banton late in the opening quarter – but that’s a reflection of poor shooting as much or more than the lack of ball movement. You’re not getting an assist if nobody can hit a shot. Barnes and Siakam were doing their best to push the pace and get the Raptors into their sets, but there was very little space to operate in the half court – a running theme while VanVleet and Anunoby have been out, made even worse without Flynn, who had been playing the best basketball of his young career.
In seven games since the all-star break – all of them without Anunoby and the last five without VanVleet – Toronto is hitting 9.4 threes per game (29th in the NBA over that stretch) on 33 per cent shooting (26th in the league). It was hardly a surprise to see the Cavs break out their zone defence as often as they did on Sunday. The Raptors simply couldn’t beat it.
All things considered, Siakam is doing everything he can, despite drawing more defensive attention than he is to. He followed up an admirable 34-point performance in Friday’s loss to the last-place Magic with 24 points against Cleveland, although he missed six of his 13 free-throw attempts. Barnes was solid in spite of some defensive lapses, finishing with 19 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in his 42 minutes. Trent’s shooting slump continued; he was 2-for-8 from long distance and is hitting just 22 per cent of his threes since the break, but looked better overall, scoring 19. Boucher had 21 points in his spot start and helped fuel the late-game rally with his energy.
“I think we came in and knew what was at stake [and] obviously they did too,” Boucher said. “It’s two good teams playing for good position in the playoffs. Kudos to them, we tried to make runs, and they fought back. That’s a good team too. It was a fun game. Obviously we would have liked to have the win, but there’s only so much you can do.”
Once again, the Raptors were a victim of circumstance in a loss to Cleveland, and this one feels especially costly. With a win, Toronto would have pulled within one game of sixth place. Instead, the Cavs cushion for sixth grew to three games. They’ll also win the season series (they lead 3-0, with the final meeting coming in Toronto later this month) and take the tiebreaker.
Whatever chance the Raptors had of earning a guaranteed spot in the playoffs and avoiding the play-in tournament took a major hit on Sunday. The red-hot Celtics, who beat Brooklyn in a thriller earlier in the day, have won 14 of their last 16 games. They’ve got the best point differential in the conference, the league’s top-ranked defence since January 1, and have looked like a legitimate contender atop the East, on par with Miami, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Chicago.
Of the East’s top-six, the young Cavs, who have started to look vulnerable of late, seemed like the team that could be pushed out. It’s still doable, if the Raptors can get healthy and go on a run. With a couple more days to rest his wonky knee, the hope is that VanVleet will be ready to go in San Antonio on Wednesday. Anunoby could be back when the team returns home from its six-game road trip in about 10 days, at which point the plan is for Flynn to be re-evaluated. That all-star big man Jarrett Allen is expected to miss some time for Cleveland after fracturing his finger in the first half of Sunday’s game could make things interesting. Even still, with 18 regular season games to go, it’s a long shot, at best.
After Sunday’s loss, the Raptors seem destined for the play-in tournament, and given how competitive the East has been this year, that’s not going to be an easy path. To earn their way into the playoffs, they’ll likely need to beat one of, or perhaps two of Brooklyn (a sleeping giant if they’ve got Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons on the floor at this time next month), Charlotte and Atlanta (a couple teams that they lost to by a combined 59 points last week).
Oilers on the lookout for Flames' desperation after watching Avs-Blues Game 5 – Sportsnet.ca
CALGARY — Everyone knows how hard it is to eliminate a group of National Hockey League players, or more specifically, to send a Calgary Flames team that won 50 regular season games into its summer.
But just in case any of the Edmonton Oilers needed a refresher, many were watching Wednesday night as the St. Louis Blues forged a heroic comeback on the road in Denver. Down 3-1 in the series and 3-0 in the game, the Blues scored four goals, two in the last five minutes including one after going down 4-3, and won a game in overtime to stay alive.
Game 5 can be seen on Sportsnet, starting at 9:30 a.m. ET / 7:30 p.m. MT.
“Just another thing to see in your head, that you know it’s not going to be easy,” said Edmonton defenceman Brett Kulak, who played for the Montreal Canadiens team that came back from down 3-1 to beat Toronto a year ago. “We’re in a good spot this series (up 3-1), but the job’s not done. We all we all know what needs to get done and we got one more win to go. Now, we’re looking to get it.”
So, how does Edmonton match Calgary’s desperation in Game 5?
“We are desperate to close the series. That’s how,” said Oilers captain Connor McDavid, who was all business Thursday morning. “We want to come out and have a strong performance. play our best game in the series, and close the series out.”
Matthew Tkachuk scored 42 goals in the regular season, and opened this series with a Game 1 hat trick. Since then, he chipped in just a single assist in the next three games, all Flames losses.
There was a time when No. 19 wore the black hat in the Battle of Alberta, and used that antagonistic side of his game to inject himself into the series. Usually offence followed, and when it was all said and done, “Matthew” and “Tkachuk” were the two words trending in both Northern and Southern Alberta.
Thus far in Round 2, Tkachuk has been neither pest nor producer, something that will have to change if the Flames are going to turn this thing around.
What has to change?
“Just the skill set. He’s got to use it more to his advantage,” his coach, Darryl Sutter, said. “It’s got nothing to do with effort, with any of our guys who haven’t been as productive after Game 1 of the series. But you have to give Edmonton credit in that too.
“Maybe our guys are doing all they can. Maybe Edmonton is just a little bit better,” Sutter proposed. “That’s kind of the (sidebar) that nobody’s talked about. It’s always been about the negative. Not the good stuff that’s gone on.”
So far, the best Flames forward in this series has been Mikael Backlund, but he’s a 12-goal guy. If the big boys don’t weigh in — starting with Game 5 — it’s hard to see Calgary winning three straight over Edmonton.
As for Johnny Gaudreau, who is a pending UFA, Thursday night could be his last game at the Saddledome — or for the Flames organization, for that matter. He’s not looking ahead that far, of course.
“I really enjoy playing with all these guys in this locker room,” Gaudreau said. “We have a good group in there. It’s been fun all year long.”
Defenceman Chris Tanev took the morning skate next to Oliver Kylington and looks to be in for the Flames again in Game 5. His suspected shoulder injury cost him four playoff games — from Game 7 of Round 1 through Game 3 of Round 2 — and left him doubled over in pain on the Calgary bench at times upon his return in Game 4.
The Flames like their leader on the ice and in their midst, even if it’s pretty clear they are getting something less than 90 percent of their assistant captain.
“You know, even-strength minutes, he was really good last game,” said Sutter of the 17:12 Tanev played at even-strength (19:24 in total). “He made his partner a better player, and with the experience on our back end — or lack of experience or back end — he was important.”
Plenty of players are playing through the pain here, on both sides. Namely, Leon Draisaitl and Darnell Nurse for Edmonton, who have both gutted their way through these playoffs at something less than 100 per cent.
“He’s such a huge part of our team on and off the ice.” Tkachuk said of Tanev. “So, when you get a guy like that to come in for a big game, that definitely motivates you to be a lot.”
“We won 55 games this year. We’re pretty good at getting set for the next one.”
Looks like the same lines as Game 4 for both teams, with Tanev still a bit of question mark and Draisaitl and Nurse once again eschewing the skate.
Evander Kane, whose partner gave birth to a newborn son on Wednesday, remained at home in Edmonton. He’ll be down in time for the game. In other Oilers news, the Finnish media continues to report that goalie Mikko Koskinen is headed for Lugano in the Swiss League next season.
Here are Thursday night’s expected lineups.
CFLPA voting on new tentative agreement with CFL on Thursday – TSN
The CFL and CFL Players’ Association have reached another tentative seven-year agreement.
According to a league source, the two sides hammered out a second agreement in principle Thursday, two days after CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie unveiled the league’s final offer to its players.
The source spoke on the condition of anonymity as neither the CFL nor the CFLPA have confirmed the deal.
The new agreement is pending ratification by both the CFL Players’ Association membership and the league’s board of governors. According to two sources, the players will vote on the deal Thursday night.
Players on six of the nine CFL teams must vote to ratify the deal, with the required margin being at least 50 per cent plus one of ballots in favour.
Time is of the essence as the CFL pre-season schedule is slated to kick off Friday night with two games.
On Monday, the players voted against a tentative deal that the union had recommended they accept. The CFLPA is also recommending the ratification of Thursday’s tentative agreement.
According to sources, CFL teams will have seven Canadian starters and 21 in total on rosters this year. In 2023, that number increases to eight with one being a nationalized Canadian — an American who has spent either five years in the CFL or at least three with the same team.
Clubs will also be able to rotate two nationalized Canadians for up to 49 per cent of snaps. Teams can move to three nationalized Canadians in 2024 but the two franchises that play the most Canadians at the end of the season will receive additional second-round draft picks.
And the seven pure Canadian starters per game will remain intact throughout the term of deal, which can be reopened after five years when the CFL’s broadcast agreement with TSN expires.
The CFL will also provide $1.225 million in a ratification pool for players.
The biggest asset the CFL receives in the deal is extended labour piece and the opportunity to really rebuild its business.
Last December, the league announced a partnership with Genius Sports, a data, technology and commercial company that connects sports, betting and media. In August 2021, the CFL signed a multi-year partnership with BetRegal to become its official online sports-gaming partner.
Last month, the single-game sports betting industry opened fully in Ontario.
But Canadian Justin Palardy, a former kicker who spent time with five CFL teams from 2010-15, took to social media to voice his displeasure with the deal.
“Like I said on another tweet, what’s the point of drafting more (Canadians) if we’re getting rid of Canadian starters?” he tweeted. “You may think it’s a terrific idea, doesn’t mean it makes sense.”
The two sides had been at odds regarding the Canadian ratio.
Last Wednesday, the CFL and CFLPA reached a tentative seven-year agreement, ending a four-day strike by seven of the league’s nine teams. At first glance, there seemed to be many positives for the players, including a revenue-sharing model, the ability to reopen the pact in five years once the CFL signed a new broadcast deal, and veteran players having the ability to negotiate partially guaranteed contracts.
But the agreement also called for CFL teams to increase the number of Canadian starters from seven to eight. The extra would’ve also been a nationalized Canadian.
In addition, three other nationalized Canadians could play up to 49 per cent of snaps. And the deal didn’t include a ratification bonus.
On Tuesday, Ambrosie unveiled an amended proposal that included a $1-million ratification pool and the abolition of the three nationalized Canadians playing 49 per cent of snaps. However, it also reduced the number of Canadian starters to seven, including one nationalized Canadian.
Not only did Ambrosie say it was the CFL’s final offer, but it was good until midnight ET on Thursday, given the league’s exhibition schedule was slated to begin Friday night with two games. Ambrosie added if the players rejected the offer and opted to go back on strike, they’d be served notice to vacate their respective training-camp facilities.
It marked the second time Ambrosie had gone public with a final contract offer to the CFLPA. On May 14, he posted a letter to fans on the league’s website detailing the league’s proposal to players hours before the former CBA was set to expire.
The next day, players on seven CFL teams opted against reporting to training camp and went on strike. The Edmonton Elks and Calgary Stampeders both opened camp as schedule because they weren’t in a legal strike position, as per provincial labour laws, at the time.
It marked just the second work stoppage in league history and first since 1974.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2022.
Rocket advance with win in 3OT thriller | TheAHL.com – American Hockey League
The Laval Rocket are off to the Eastern Conference Finals after a wild 6-5 triple-overtime victory over the Rochester Americans on Wednesday night.
The Rocket completed a three-game sweep of the Amerks and will face either Charlotte or Springfield in the next round.
Working on a power play following a delay of game penalty against Rochester, former Amerk Jean-Sébastien Dea wristed a shot that beat Aaron Dell at 1:51 of the third OT period to give the Rocket the victory. It was the second goal of the night for Dea, and came on Laval’s 60th shot of the evening.
Rochester nearly escaped with a Game 3 victory, scoring three times in the third period to take a 5-4 lead before Jesse Ylönen netted the equalizer for the Rocket with 1:07 remaining in regulation.
Back home in front of an energetic crowd of 10,662 fans at Blue Cross Arena, the Amerks struck quickly when Mark Jankowski pounced on a loose puck and scored his sixth goal of the playoffs just 1:04 into the contest.
JJ Peterka made it 2-0 in favor of Rochester with a power-play goal at 8:05, and that lead held until late in the second period, when Laval scored four goals in a span of 3:56 to swing the game in their favor.
Brandon Gignac started the comeback with 6:08 to go in the second period with a nifty deflection of a Corey Schueneman shot from the point. Danick Martel tied things up 55 seconds later, taking Gabriel Bourque’s pass from behind the net and snapping home his fifth goal of the series.
Just 76 seconds after that, the Rocket took their first lead of the night as Xavier Ouellet floated a shot from the left point through traffic that found the top corner over the glove of Aaron Dell.
And with 2:12 to go before intermission, Dea put Laval in front by two, hitting an open cage with Dell out of position following a collision with a teammate in front.
Rochester regrouped during the break and needed just 1:32 to tie things back up. Brett Murray scored 13 seconds into the third period to pull the Amerks to within 4-3, and Peterka got his second of the night 1:19 later off a slick feed from Peyton Krebs.
Murray then scored his second of the period at 8:35, getting a piece of Ethan Prow’s shot from the point and deflecting it home to put Rochester back in front.
Laval outshot Rochester 24-12 during sudden death and killed off two Amerks power plays before converting on their own for the winner.
Cayden Primeau (6-1) made 34 saves and earned his fourth consecutive victory in net for the Rocket. Dell (5-5) stopped a career-high 54 shots for Rochester.
North Division Finals (best-of-5)
N3-Laval Rocket vs. N5-Rochester Americans
Game 1 – Sun., May 22 – LAVAL 6, Rochester 1
Game 2 – Mon., May 23 – LAVAL 3, Rochester 1
Game 3 – Wed., May 25 – Laval 6, ROCHESTER 5 (3OT)
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