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Raptors’ Nick Nurse gets rare chance to catch breath during shutdown – Sportsnet.ca

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For the first time in a long time, Nick Nurse can catch his breath.

The circumstance are less than ideal and he would contend he didn’t need to, but now that COVID-19 has brought the NBA season and just about everything else to a full halt, the Toronto Raptors head coach has time on his hands.

He’s been going mostly full out since June of 2018 when he was hired for his first NBA head coaching job, immediately jumping into the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas and then jetting around the continent to connect with his new players while meeting and hiring his staff and preparing for training camp and the addition of Kawhi Leonard.

His rookie NBA season couldn’t possibly have gone better as everyone knows. He was on the sidelines for 82 games and 24 more in the post-season, culminating in the Raptors winning their first NBA title in Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Oakland on June 13.

Then it was a celebration, a parade, free agency and Summer League again. There was a brief pause in late July but then it was back to Toronto to prepare the Canadian senior men’s team to play in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball in China, returning in mid-September when he jumped right into preparing the Raptors for their title defence.

“It was a pretty good run, from June 13, 2019, on, it was a pretty fast, fast, fast-lane life for a little while,” said Nurse. “Really moving in from one thing to the next constantly. So it has, has enabled me to slam on the brakes and catch my breath a little bit, which is good and I don’t feel like I really needed it. You know what I mean. But now that it’s here, you know when you’re looking for silver linings or positives about it you can say it was, you know, it’s been OK.”

The brakes slammed pretty hard for Nurse — as they did for just about everyone else.

On March 11 he was at the launch party for his charitable foundation aimed at implementing basketball, music and literacy programs in and around Toronto when news reports began circulating that Utah Jazz centre Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the virus. It was barely an hour later that the NBA season was suspended. The Raptors had just come home from their longest road trip of the season, one which took them through California where a state of emergency was declared while they were there and which finished in Utah where two Jazz players – Donovan Mitchell was the other – eventually tested positive.

Nurse went from a party at Hotel X to testing at North York General Hospital to being quarantined in his room for the next 14 days. No one in the Raptors’ travelling party has tested positive for the virus.

“Obviously it hit really close to home because it was, really, a member of really the NBA family,” said Nurse. “So I think the… immediacy of it. And the closeness of it. I think made it very serious for all of us.

“I think I shifted into the mode of right away, ‘let’s do what we’re supposed to do, let’s get home and stay home and try to start spreading that message of, ‘let’s make sure we do what we’re told here and try to stay healthy.’

“…people were concerned about working out and going to the [training facility] and all this stuff, and I was really, really strong in my messaging to everybody that we’re gonna close this and stay shut,” said Nurse, who recorded a number of public service announcements about the importance of hand-washing and social distancing.

“Let’s make sure we get out and if we can provide any messages, washing hands and those kinds of things, I just really wanted it to be focussed on that.”

The forced rest has provided unexpected benefits. Rather than preparing for what would have been a much-hyped showdown against the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night and likely a battle between the first and second seeds in the East, Nurse is at home helping tend his toddlers, aged three and one.

He’s even been able to watch last year’s title run from a different perspective, tuning into the replays of the games running every night on Sportsnet and TSN, including Game 7 against Philadelphia which ended on Leonard’s iconic shot from the right corner, directly in front of Nurse and the Raptors bench.

“I think the other day when Game 7 against Philly was on, I think it was actually the first time I’d ever watched that other than in a highlight,” he said. “Obviously you see it all the time on highlights, just moving around the city or the arena or the practice facility or whatever, but that was the first time I’d ever seen it.”

And?

“I guess I didn’t really realize that Kawhi put so much arc on that shot, that was my first takeaway. My other takeaway is you don’t really remember some of the specifics. And… I was sitting there watching it with [his wife] Roberta, and she was like ‘what happens here? How does it get to be a tie game.’ I go, ‘well, Kawhi must have missed one of these free throws’ [Leonard was at the line with 10 seconds left and went 1 of 2, opening the door to the Sixers tying the game on a lay-up with four seconds left, setting the stage for Leonard’s dramatic game winner].

“So you’re seeing things and obviously you don’t remember every little detail. But yeah, the big picture stuff, it obviously lets it sink in a little bit.”

What hasn’t sunk in yet is what shape the basketball calendar will take when it does get up and running.

Already postponed until 2021 are the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Nurse said he remains “100 per cent’ committed to coaching the Canadian senior men’s team through qualifying and ideally into the Olympics next summer.

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As for the remainder of the NBA season, Nurse is like anyone else — unsure of what comes next.

In the meantime he’s meeting with his coaching staff regularly, if virtually. Normally they would be well into preparing for any of the No. 2-seed Raptors potential playoff opponents with each member of his coaching staff being assigned a particular opponent to study, the result presented to Nurse in long individual meetings at his office.

“It’s probably a two-hour video that we would go through in about three hours, on each of the certain teams, in the East, and then a handful of them in the West as well,” said Nurse. “The coaches had started in on that already, and they’ll continue on that, the only difference is there’s no real one-on-one time with me yet.

“The way we can do it they’ll probably just have to send me their edit and I’ll just have to watch it, and talk to them on the phone or something like that; FaceTime or something.”

Otherwise? The time at home with his kids has been “fantastic,” and Nurse has been pecking away at his musical hobbies — piano and guitar. He’s even trying to learn Portuguese [his wife Roberta is from Brazil].

But like everyone he’s eager for routines to resume and with the Raptors in the middle of a promising title defence, hungry to find out how good his team can be.

When that might be or in what format — there have been reports that the NBA might attempt to finish out the season by quarantining teams in a single location and playing games for the benefit of a television audience only with a truncated playoff system — Nurse doesn’t know and hasn’t thought too much about.

“What I do think about it in terms of is this: this is a really good team, and it’s a really fun team to coach, and I think about it in terms of… it’s a shame that we don’t get to be around each other and play some games and keep this thing going a little bit,” he said.

“You know what I mean? I’m not saying it very well, but this is a really unique situation that I don’t think happens every day in this type of team. Shoot, I could coach these guys 12 months a year, just keep on going, we could keep playing all the time, they’re fun to be around, and fun to coach and they compete and they’re tough, and they figure it out.

“And it’s a true joy, and they are missed, there’s no doubt about it.”

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Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.

The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.

A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:

By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.

The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.

Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.

How did the Oilers do it?

McDavid-Draisaitl

I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.

The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.

Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH

In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.

In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.

With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?

Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.

McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.

Good coaching

I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.

I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.

An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump

Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.

The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.

When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.

In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.

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Rangers focused on forcing Hurricanes to deciding game – Sportsnet.ca

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The New York Rangers return home knowing they need a win at home to keep their post-season going. The Carolina Hurricanes are still looking for their first road victory in these playoffs.

After Carolina won 3-1 on Thursday night to take a 3-2 series lead, the Rangers will be looking to force a deciding game in the second-round series when they host the Hurricanes in Game 6 on Saturday night (8 p.m. EDT, ESPN) on Sportsnet.

“We lost a game and we didn’t play as well as we could have, so I was disappointed,” Rangers coach Gerard Gallant said Friday. “That’s playoffs, that’s the way she goes. We’ll be ready to go tomorrow night and that’s what we’re looking forward to.

“Just worry about tomorrow and take care of business.”

A must-win game is nothing new for these Rangers. They trailed 3-1 against Pittsburgh in the first round, then won three straight — becoming the first team in NHL history to rally from a deficit in three consecutive elimination games — to advance.

“We’ve been in this position before,” New York forward Ryan Strome said. “I like our chances on home ice. … We’re familiar with the situation. Got a chance at home to push it to (Game) 7 and that’s all we’re worried about now.”

The Rangers also trailed in this series after losing the first two games in Carolina. They returned home and won Games 3 and 4 to even the series. Now, they have to win at home again to tie the series one more time.

“The feel in that dressing room is super confident at all times and I think the first series helped a little bit,” Strome said. “And having to win Games 3 and 4 (in this series), those are pretty must-win games and we did a pretty good job. We can draw from those experiences.”

And what those experiences have taught the Rangers is to have a singular focus on the task at hand, and not worry about the series or deficits.

“Well, your backs are against the wall,” Gallant said. “You go out and you play your game. You know if you lose this game there’s no tomorrow. We did that real well last series, hopefully we can do it again tomorrow. I don’t think we change anything strategy-wise. We just go out there and play our game.”

Forward Chris Kreider agreed, adding: “We’ve got to win one game. … Lot of things we could take from (Game 5 loss) and do a better job of. Learn from that and win one game. Win the first shift, win the first period and go from there.”

The Hurricanes are also trying to win one game — on the road, for the first time in the post-season. After their latest victory, they improved to 7-0 at home, but are 0-5 on the road.

Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour isn’t concerned by the team’s lack of road wins, though he acknowledges people talk a lot about it.

“That’s a non-issue,” he said. “It’s all I hear about endlessly. We haven’t played poorly on the road. Our game’s been fine. There’s a couple of things that have gone squirrelly. … We’re playing good teams. That’s how it goes.”

The Hurricanes regained the series lead with a strong defensive effort in Game 5, limiting the Rangers to 17 shots on goal — including five in each of the first two periods.

“Does it transfer over, obviously we hope so,” Brind’Amour said. “I don’t usually take a lot of stock one game into the next, good or bad. It’s always about the next game and it takes a life of it’s own but definitely the way we want to do it.”

If the Hurricanes keep up their trend this post-season, the deciding Game 7 would be Monday night at home. But that’s not something they want to think about right now.

“We’re going to give it our best,” Brind’Amour said. “We’re going to try to win (Saturday). We do every night. Nothing really changes. Obviously, we don’t want to come back (home) and have another game. We’re going to do everything we can to win tomorrow night.”

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Warriors top Mavs in Game 5, advance to NBA Finals – TSN

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As the clock ticked down the final seconds, Klay Thompson began dancing on the sideline before nearly being moved to tears during a celebration with his teammates.

After two major surgeries and two years of grueling rehabilitation, Thompson is rounding back into form and shot the Golden State Warriors back into the NBA Finals.

Thompson shimmied his way to 32 points and the Warriors advanced to their sixth finals in the past eight seasons by beating the Dallas Mavericks 120-110 in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals on Thursday night.

“It’s hard to put into words really,” Thompson said. “This time last year, I was just starting to jog again and get up and down the court. Now to be feeling like myself, feeling explosive, feeling sure in my movements, I’m just grateful.”

Thompson tore his left ACL during a season-ending Game 6 loss in the 2019 NBA Finals against Toronto and then tore his right Achilles’ tendon just before the start of the 2020-21 season. After Golden State missed the postseason in both seasons he was sidelined, Thompson finally returned to action in January.

The performance against the Mavericks showed he is getting close to returning to his old level of stardom.

Thompson scored 19 points in the first half, including a 3-pointer that he punctuated with teammate Stephen Curry‘s signature shake as the Warriors raced out to a 17-point halftime lead and coasted the rest of the way.

“You could see how much was missing the last couple of years,” Draymond Green said. ”We’re lucky to have the Klay Thompson we know back because we know how good he is.”

Andrew Wiggins added 18 points and 10 rebounds, Green scored 17 points and Curry had 15 points and nine assists. He was named the MVP of the series.

Luka Doncic overcame a slow start to score 28 points for the Mavericks. Spencer Dinwiddie added 26.

After missing the playoffs in 2020 and ’21 in back-to back injury-plagued seasons, the Warriors are returning to a familiar stage. They join the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls of the 1990s, Magic Johnson’s Lakers in the 1980s and Bill Russell’s Celtics in the 1950s and ’60s as the only franchises to make it to the NBA Finals at least six times in an eight-year span.

“For our team, our guys, especially the core group, to be part of that six times in eight years, I don’t even know what to say,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It just takes an enormous amount of skill and determination and work.”

Golden State will host the winner of the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami on June 2 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The Celtics hold a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 at home on Friday night.

The Warriors followed their pattern from the first two rounds by bouncing back after squandering a chance to end a series on the road by winning at home. Golden State is now 9-0 at the Chase Center this postseason, tying the 2017 team for the the most consecutive home wins in a single postseason in NBA history.

After making just seven 3-pointers in the first four games of the series, Thompson had eight this game for the record-setting fifth time in the playoffs.

The last two have come in clinchers the last two rounds against Memphis and Dallas, prompting the question on whether his nickname should switch from “Game 6 Klay” for his history in that game to “Clinching Klay.”

“I’m satisfied with ‘Game 6 Klay.’ I don’t need another nickname,” Thompson said with a smile. “It’s nice not having to bring him out yet.”

Thompson gave the Warriors a 13-point lead in the first half when he hit one from the corner before dancing and added two early in the third quarter for a 23-point lead.

Dallas cut a 25-point deficit down to eight in the final minute of the third quarter but couldn’t get over the hump in the fourth.

“I don’t like losing, especially not like this,” Doncic said. “I played terrible. But if we’re talking about our season, I’m really proud of this team. … Nobody had us here. But I promise we fought until the end.”

SLOW START

Doncic had a rough start, shooting 2 for 10 in the first quarter. His eight misses were tied for the most in the opening quarter of a playoff game since LeBron James missed all nine of his attempts in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals against Atlanta in 2015.

Doncic was held to six points in the first half, his lowest opening half of his postseason career, on 2-for-12 shooting before finding his stroke in the third quarter.

“We need Luka to go big a lot of nights just to give us a chance, and unfortunately the ball just didn’t go for him tonight,” coach Jason Kidd said. “I think he carries the load as well as anyone, and I think for us as an organization, we’ll help lighten that load as we go forward.”

MOODY MANIA

With Otto Porter (left foot) sidelined for a second straight game, the Warriors got a big boost in the first half from 19-year-old rookie Moses Moody.

Moody scored all of his seven points in the second quarter with his 3-pointer giving Golden State a 56-38 lead. Moody scored just six points the first three games of this series for the Warriors before scoring 17 the past two games with Porter sidelined.

___

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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