In the NBA playoffs, no two games are the same. Even in a series that pits the defending champion and No. 2 seed with 53 wins against the shorthanded No. 7 seed with 35 wins, there is no script. And Games 1 and 2 of the first-round series between the Toronto Raptors and Brooklyn Nets couldn’t have been any more different.
In Game 1 on Monday, the Raptors led wire-to-wire and by as many as 33 points. In Wednesday’s Game 2, Brooklyn jumped out to an early 26-12 lead and was on top for most of the first 40 minutes.
But in the fourth quarter, the champs looked more like the champs, figuring things out offensively and using a 19-5 run to take control. The Raptors held on for a 104-99 victory that put them up 2-0 as the series changes court graphics for Games 3 and 4.
+22 — Raptors’ point differential in the restricted area in Game 2.
As the Los Angeles Lakers would tell you right now, it’s a make-or-miss league. In Game 1, the Raptors made 22 3s. And in Game 2, there was a lot more missing, as they shot 9-for-35 from beyond the arc.
The Nets made a defensive adjustment by switching all screens. This is a team that had, all season, done everything to keep its rim-protecting centers in the paint. Only the Milwaukee Bucks had allowed a lower percentage of their opponents’ shots to come in the restricted area than the Nets (28%).
But in the playoffs, teams will abandon what they’ve done all season if the matchup calls for it. The Raptors’ offense relies on ball movement; It ranked third in secondary assists per game and eighth in passes per 24 minutes of possession. And to stifle some of that ball movement, the Nets had Allen do something he’d rarely done in his three seasons in the NBA: switch every screen and defend guards one-on-one.
The adjustment worked in the first half as the Raptors scored just 50 points on 52 offensive possessions, settling for a few too many jumpers. They attempted more 3s (21) than shots in the restricted area (17) and they got to the line for just 11 free throw attempts in the half.
Things changed in the second half. The Raptors scored just four more points in the final 24 minutes (54) than they did in the first 24 (50), but they did it on seven fewer possessions (54 on 45). In the second half, they took took more shots in the restricted area (16) than they did from 3-point range (10), and they got to the line for 17 attempts.
With the additional looks inside, the Game 2 scoring flipped most of the Game 1 numbers:
|Area||Game 1||Game 2|
|Total in paint||-20||+14|
|Total outside paint||+15||-9|
“I think this is a really good example of playoff basketball,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said afterward. “Each game takes a whole different shape. Now I would assume Game 3’s gonna take another one. It’s what makes it so interesting and intriguing, I think.
The Raptors aren’t the most complete team in this postseason. But their title run last year put them in a lot of different situations, and they’ve learned they can win in multiple ways. It’s just a matter of figuring things out before the clock expires at the end of the fourth quarter.
“I always say there’s a lot of ways to win a game,” Nurse said, “and you just got to find one of them.”
When the defense is switching screens, the offense can hunt mismatches, looking to isolate a guard against a slow-footed big or post a big against a small guard. The Raptors did some of that — “finding a matchup we could hit to the paint with and then make a good decision, either finish it off or dump it off or kick it out,” according to Nurse — and they got a late bucket from a Serge Ibaka post-up against Caris LeVert after a switch.
But their isolations against Allen mostly came up empty. According to Synergy play-type tracking, the Raptors scored just two points on six isolations against Allen (though Pascal Siakam left a couple of points at the line after a foul), with five of those six isos coming prior to the the fourth quarter.
In the final 12 minutes, the Raptors just didn’t use many screens, attacking more 1-on-1.
“You do a little more cutting and a lot less setting of screens,” Nurse said of his team’s approach to a switching defense. “Then we just try to stay away from ball screens, too. We tried to run some more off-ball, pin down actions and quite a few set plays. We usually like to play a pretty open concept type offense but tonight we were calling a lot of plays just to move ’em around and create a bunch of switches before we attacked the paint.”
Here’s a few ways they found success in the fourth quarter:
The Raptors’ second possession of the fourth lasted 20 seconds, but didn’t include a single screen. They almost lost the ball at one point, but late in the clock, VanVleet was able to get by Caris LeVert, draw help, and dump the ball off for an Ibaka layup.
Three possessions later, VanVleet waves his teammates to the left side of the floor so he can again go 1-on-1 with LeVert. He blows by the Nets’ bubble star (who’s maybe feeling the toll of the offensive load he’s been carrying) for another layup.
Ibaka sets a screen for VanVleet, but instead of using it and seeing a switch from Allen, VanVleet rejects the screen and attacks the paint again. Tyler Johnson is able to stay with him and force a miss.
VanVleet isolates against Johnson at the top of the floor, but makes a quick pitch to OG Anunoby, who attacks the seam created by Allen shading toward VanVleet. LeVert helps from the weak side and commits a foul.
After Norman Powell missed a jumper on their first possession of the fourth, the Raptors scored 21 points on their next 11 possessions to turn a six-point deficit into a seven-point lead. They figured out how to attack the Nets’ new defense, and they executed with the game on the line.
The Coaches’ Night
Wednesday was a day for the Raptors’ coaching staff to earn their paychecks. They have an experienced, veteran core of players that don’t necessarily need a lot of guidance from night-to-night. But with Game 2 being much more of a slog than Game 1, and with the Nets’ adjustments working well, the players needed some input from the sidelines.
“There’s games where they defer way more to the coaching staff than other games,” Nurse said. “Some nights, they got a lot of suggestions and a lot of answers and they want to do this and that because they’re on the floor doing it. And there’s some nights where everything seems to be going wrong and they’re like ‘You guys gotta help us man, what the hell are you doing over here?’
“So they’re good at kind of being on both of those things. Tonight was really way more about gutting it out, there was a lot of matchup changing, coverage changing, that kind of stuff.
“We really had to hang in there, we were getting hit around pretty hard, they were trying to deliver a knockout punch to us and we just kinda hung in long enough to keep fighting and gut it out.”
Nurse says we should expect something different in Game 3 on Friday (1:30 ET, NBA TV), so let’s expect something different. We did see a few possessions of 3-2 zone in the third quarter from Toronto on Wednesday, and maybe we see more of that going forward.
The Nets need to get LeVert all the way to the basket more than than they did in Game 2, when he shot 5-for-22, with only one of those 22 shots coming in the restricted area. Maybe they take a page from the Raptors’ book, forgo sending LeVert a screen, and let him isolate with more space.
After a brutal outing from Rodions Kurucs (only matched by that of Marc Gasol), we could see another rotation change from the Nets, who put Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in the starting lineup and only played eight guys on Wednesday. Brooklyn will likely be without Joe Harris, who left Orlando after Game 2 to attend to a personal matter.
The Raptors won’t get complacent, and should have another offensive wrinkle or two if Brooklyn continues to switch screens as liberally as it did on Wednesday.
In the words of the likely Coach of the Year, it’s what makes it so interesting and intriguing.
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
Report: Heat G Dragic tears plantar fascia – TSN
Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic reportedly suffered a torn plantar fascia in his left foot during Game 1 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.
Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN confirmed the injury and tweeted that Dragic has been able to put pressure on the foot and hasn’t ruled out returning to play in the series.
The Lakers won the opener 116-98 behind 34 points from Anthony Davis and 25 from LeBron James.
Dragic played 14:50 in Game 1 and contributed six points, three assists and two steals before leaving the game.
Game 2 of the series is Friday night in the Orlando bubble.
Blue Jays' latest implosion shows big changes are needed – The Globe and Mail
The book on the 2020 Toronto Blue Jays went like this – mercurial, prone to gaffes, will surprise you.
They managed all three on Wednesday, especially the last one. Because even the greatest Jays cynic (raises hand) could not have seen this collapse coming.
Toronto is one of those teams that puts a great deal of faith in the big-numbers theory of baseball. Make this little move or that little change and you increase your odds incrementally over time, which may result in 0.15 more wins.
We saw this approach in Tuesday’s Game 1 when cruising starter Matt Shoemaker was pulled early because a computer somewhere said so.
That loss set up for a more mundane approach in Game 2 – roll out your best pitcher, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and pray.
When the Jays spent US$80-million last summer on Ryu, it was a statement of intent. After several years of giving up, they were going to start trying again.
For the most part, Ryu performed as advertised. You could say of him the best thing you can say about any superstar free agent – he earned his money.
But on Wednesday, when it actually mattered, Ryu wasn’t bad. He was much, much worse than that.
Throwing a fastball that drifted toward the plate like a spiked beachball, Ryu could not consistently get north of 90 miles an hour. Without that effective deterrent, Tampa ran wild on all his offerings.
Ryu’s resultant boxscore read like a pitching coroner’s report – seven runs on eight hits in less than two innings, including two home runs.
That was that. All that remained was for the rest of us to spend two hours listening to the homers on the Sportsnet broadcast trying to convince themselves that a seven-run disadvantage against the best team in the American League isn’t that bad. It ended 8-2.
“That’s what happens in the playoffs,” Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said afterward. “Not always the good players hit.”
Amazingly, Ryu was not the worst Blue Jay in this game. Because while he was ineffective (which will occur), Bo Bichette was careless (which shouldn’t).
Bichette made two terrible errors in the early going. The second of them killed the Jays – extending an inning that should have been over and setting up a Tampa grand slam.
“It happens,” Montoyo said.
Bichette is the future of the Blue Jays, but on the evidence of Wednesday afternoon, he isn’t the present. That’s a tidy way of summing up where the Jays are right now.
Is this team good? Yes.
Is it good enough? Not even close.
The risk now is letting one weird season obscure that reality.
The main thing the Jays did this year was changing their fundamental question.
For most of the Mark Shapiro/Ross Atkins era, the question was, ‘When will this team be good?’
Management devoted most of their effort to obscuring the answer. They loved talking about their processes and talent-acquisition stratagems and performance maximization. Anything to avoid giving a deadline.
This year, the question became, “How good can we be?”
During their run at the Yankees in early September, they looked very good indeed. But baseball isn’t about the streaks. What matters is aggregate performance over the longest season in sports.
At what point this year did the Jays seem like a team that could regularly dominate the opposition? That point never arrived.
The team is young, and it plays that way. The players don’t know what they don’t know. They win games they shouldn’t and lose others they should.
In the midst of all this to’ing and fro’ing, Montoyo carries himself like a guy who still can’t believe he’s got the top job. Perhaps because it often feels as though he hasn’t. You think it was Montoyo’s idea to pull Shoemaker in Game 1? Because no fully empowered manager does that.
Do you work well when you feel micromanaged? People who are pressed on too hard are erratic. They may perform in spurts, but they have a tendency to crack when it matters.
How else would you describe what happened on Wednesday? The Jays didn’t lose. They imploded.
“Sky’s the limit,” Montoyo said, sounding far too happy for a manager who’d just lost the way he’d lost. “We’re just kids.”
“Days like today happen,” Bichette said.
There’s no point in self-flagellation, but a few light lashes might’ve suited the result better. It’s great they have all this perspective, but they did just get wiped out.
In the long run, it can be a good thing. That learning experience so-so teams always talk about when they’ve been run over by a much better team. But some things have to change.
For one, this club needs room to breathe. A good first move in that regard would be letting Montoyo do his job without a bunch of baseball-ops wonks sitting in his lap as he does it.
Second, investment. The expansion of the playoffs has widened the contention window for every team in baseball. But it does not follow that every team will do well in this new free-for-all.
The Jays have an opportunity this off-season to marry some experience to their surfeit of innocence. A few steadying hands on the roster might eliminate all the late-game collapses and post-season detonations.
Third and most important, the Jays oughtn’t kid themselves into feeling satisfied. If coming in third in the AL East is cause for celebration, the club should give former managers such as Jim Fregosi, Carlos Tosca and Tim Johnson a call. Someone in Toronto owes them a Champagne shower.
The only way this Jays season can be considered a success if it’s the beginning of actual success in the seasons to come. Not theoretical seasons years from now. Next season.
The short-term goal should be turning that institutional question into a statement: “We’re good.”
How will we know when that’s happened? When this team stops talking as though there’s nothing wrong with losing as long as you’ve won a little bit more than everyone expected.
It's LeBron vs. his old team (and Michael Jordan) in the NBA Finals – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.
Here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:
The NBA Finals tip off tonight
This year’s championship series features a lot of interesting characters and storylines for both avid and casual basketball fans. Here are a few things to know ahead of Game 1 between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat at 9 p.m. ET in the Disney bubble:
LeBron James is back — and facing his old team. After a one-year absence when the Lakers missed the playoffs in his first season with them, LeBron will play in the Finals for an incredible ninth time in 10 years and 10th time in his career. He made four straight appearances with Miami from 2011-14, winning the two in the middle. Then he ditched the Heat to return to Cleveland and reached the next four Finals (all vs. Golden State), going 1-3 to bring his lifetime Finals record to 3-6.
It’s also LeBron vs. Michael Jordan. Some basketball fans like to argue that LeBron is the greatest player of all time. Thanks to all those deep playoff runs, the 35-year-old has scored more playoff points than anyone in NBA history, and it’s not even close. He also ranks third all-time in regular-season points — two spots ahead of Jordan. But MJ is the all-time leader in points per game in both the regular season and playoffs, and he also leads LeBron in the all-important category of rings. Jordan went a perfect 6-0 in the Finals and, as that ’90s Bulls documentary series reminded us, James can’t touch him in terms of cultural importance. Some of that might be out of LeBron’s control, but the bottom line is that Jordan is still the GOAT. Though if LeBron adds another title (with his third different team), the debate will heat up again.
The Lakers have the two best players. LeBron was the runner-up to Giannis Antetokounmpo in MVP voting this year, and he has an MVP-calibre sidekick in Anthony Davis. The ludicrously skilled, unibrowed big man leads all Finals players with 28.8 points per game in this year’s playoffs. LeBron is second at 26.7. Both are also excellent defensively when they need to be.
But the Heat have more good players. If you drafted everyone in the Finals schoolyard-style, LeBron and Davis would definitely go 1-2. But L.A.’s roster really drops off from there. Mediocre Kyle Kuzma (10.5 points per game) is the only other Laker averaging double figures in the playoffs. Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo and former Raptor Danny Green are recognizable names, but they’re just role players at this point in their careers. So in our hypothetical draft, the next four guys picked (at least) would be from Miami. Bam Adebayo is an elite two-way big man, Jimmy Butler is a fearless crunchtime scorer who also does a lot of the unnoticed things that help win basketball games, and veteran point guard Goran Dragic is averaging a team-high 20.9 points per game in the post-season. Plus, rookie Tyler Herro looks like a rising star off the bench. The ace three-point shooter scored a career-high 37 points in Game 4 of the East final and can carry the team for stretches when he gets hot.
Two Canadians are involved in the series (technically). Both are on the Heat, but it’s unlikely they’ll have much of an impact. Veteran big man Kelly Olynyk has seen his minutes cut from about 19 in the regular season to 12 in the playoffs. He’s averaging six points. At least you’ll see him on the court, though. Rookie Kyle Alexander appeared in only two games this season and hasn’t seen any action at all in the playoffs.
The Lakers are heavy favourites to win. Miami’s lineup is deeper, and it also has the edge in harder-to-measure stuff like toughness, team spirit and coaching (L.A.’s Frank Vogel is fine, but Erik Spoelstra is one of the best in the NBA). The Heat are also (sorry) red hot. Since entering the playoffs as the No. 5 seed in the East, they’ve gone 12-3 — including a stunning five-game takedown of top-seeded Milwaukee. But the Lakers have been great all year. They had the third-best regular-season record in the league and are also 12-3 in the playoffs. Plus, having the clear two best players in the series is, historically, a near-unbeatable formula in the NBA. The betting line reflects that. Though it’s moved a bit in Miami’s favour, the market says the Lakers have around a 75 per cent chance of becoming champions of this very weird NBA season. Read more about the Finals matchup here.
The NFL postponed Sunday’s Titans-Steelers game because of a COVID-19 outbreak. This follows yesterday’s news that three Tennessee players (none of them stars) and five other team personnel tested positive. Another Titans player reportedly tested positive today. Luckily, no one has from the Minnesota Vikings, who played Tennessee on Sunday. But the NFL announced today that it will push back the Titans-Steelers game to either Monday or Tuesday to allow more time for testing. The league also leaked a memo it sent to all teams warning them to follow the mask-wearing rules and other health protocols or risk suspension and/or the loss of draft picks. Read more about the fallout from the Titans outbreak here.
The Genie Bouchard revival continues. For the first time since the 2017 Australian Open, the fallen Canadian tennis star is into the third round of a Grand Slam event. She battled back from a set down to win her second match at the French Open today. Bouchard is ranked 168th in the world. At 26 years old, she’s unlikely to return to the heights she hit in 2014, when she made the Wimbledon final and the semis of two other Slams and reached No. 5 in the world. But she’s having her second consecutive solid tournament after reaching a final in Istanbul earlier this month (caveat: the best players were playing in the U.S. Open at the time). Two other Canadian singles players can reach the third round of the French Open on Thursday: ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov and 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez. Read more about Bouchard’s latest win here.
Serena Williams’ window is closing. She dropped out of the French Open today because of an Achilles injury, meaning she’ll finish the year still one behind Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles. With four of the world’s top 10 players opting out of the French, this was a good opportunity for Serena. So was the recent U.S. Open, where she lost in the semifinals of a depleted bracket and played like someone well past her physical prime. Williams turned 39 last week, which is ancient by women’s tennis standards. And by the time the next Slam rolls around (January’s Australian Open), a full four years will have passed since her last major title. Whether she matches Court or not, Serena will go down as the greatest of all time. But it’s looking more and more likely she’ll have to live without the record. Read more about Serena’s latest setback here.
It’s a do-or-die game for the Blue Jays. After dropping their playoff opener 3-1 to Tampa Bay yesterday, the Jays are facing elimination in the best-of-three series. Game 2 was just about to get underway at our publish time. Toronto ace Hyun-Jin Ryu is the starter after getting an extra day of rest to recover from some soreness.
The WNBA Finals are set. League MVP A’ja Wilson had 23 points and 11 rebounds to lead the top-seeded Las Vegas Aces to a 66-63 win last night in the deciding game of their semifinal series. The Aces will face the No. 2-seeded Seattle Storm in the best-of-five Finals, which start Friday night.
Need a goalie? Good timing. The New York Rangers bought out Henrik Lundqvist today. Besides ending his 15-year run with the team, the move puts another Vezina Trophy winner on the free-agent market. Washington’s Braden Holtby is also expected to be available when the signing period opens next Friday, along with 2019 Vezina finalist Robin Lehner. Other potential unrestricted free-agent goalies include Anton Khudobin, who just backstopped Dallas to the Stanley Cup final; Corey Crawford, a two-time winner of the Jennings Trophy for helping Chicago allow the fewest goals in the league; and Jacob Markstrom, who’s coming off a strong year for Vancouver.
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