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Raptors record biggest comeback in franchise history to beat Dallas – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors had dug themselves a 30-point hole and looked headed for their worst game of the season. The mood in the huddle, said coach Nick Nurse, was “really bad.” His team had a flight to catch to Indiana later that night, and another game to play less than 24 hours later.

The Raptors could have called it a night early. Instead, led by a remarkable fourth-quarter performance by Kyle Lowry, the Raptors recorded their greatest comeback in franchise history Sunday in a 110-107 victory over the Dallas Mavericks.

“We have always been a team that fights,” Nurse said. “In my time here, we hardly ever mail it in. It’s a good characteristic to have.”

Lowry scored 20 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter, and the Raptors roared back from a 30-point third-quarter deficit.

“I think that was a one-off game, but you could see how hard we played, and that’s something you take from and you continue to build on,” Lowry said. “That’s the part of that game you take and say ‘Yeah, that’s a hard-playing team right there,’ no matter what, we were down whatever we were, it didn’t even feel like it, we just went out there and played.”

The all-star point guard added 10 assists and eight rebounds and, with a couple of minutes to play, the capacity crowd of 19,800 fans Scotiabank Arena broke into chants of “Low-ry! Low-ry!”

“He was unbelievable, right?” Nurse said. “And he really didn’t have that good a game going until that point, too. Then he started firing and making and driving and and-one-ing — he was doing it all. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it.”

Montreal’s Chris Boucher scored a career-high 21 points, including a huge dunk in the dying seconds. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 18 points for the undermanned Raptors (21-8), who were playing without Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder).

Jalen Brunson had 21 points for the Mavericks (19-10), who were missing star guard Luka Doncic for the fourth consecutive game (ankle). Toronto native Dwight Powell added 17 points.

Toronto’s largest comeback before Sunday came when it erased a 25-point deficit to beat the Detroit Pistons 120-116 on Dec. 11, 2010.

It’s also the first 30-point comeback in the league since Dec. 21, 2009, when the Sacramento Kings overcame a 35-point hole to beat the Chicago Bulls 102-98.

Dallas has been one of the best road teams this season, arriving in Toronto with an 11-2 away record. The Raptors played the gracious host for most of the afternoon. The Raptors had an early 12-point lead, but without any sustained energy on either side of the court, saw that quickly evaporate. When Powell slashed to the rim for a layup late in the third quarter, the Mavericks went ahead by 30.

Trailing 86-63 to start the fourth, the Raptors finally showed some life. They chipped away at the deficit and when Lowry drilled a three-pointer with 8:05 to play, glancing over at the Dallas bench as the ball dropped, the Raptors were within 10 points.

“All (Lowry) said was ‘keep pushing,”’ Boucher said. “He led us the right way, put us in great spots. Kyle does that every time. Even when people don’t see it. Kyle’s a great leader.”

Lowry’s heroics continued, and when he dropped a shoulder and drove to the hoop for a layup with 5:59 to play, it was a two-point game. Back-to-back Lowry three-pointers had the Raptors up by five with 3:05 to play. It was Lowry again with a layup with 1:18 to play to give Toronto a four-point cushion.

Dallas took a one-point lead on a pair of Kristaps Porzingis free throws, but Lowry handed off to Boucher for an emphatic dunk with 19 seconds to play to put the Raptors back on top.

“I’m surprised (Lowry) saw me,” Boucher said. “I was just running for the offensive rebound and he saw me coming through. I missed a couple of layups today so I made sure I was going to hit that one and finish strong.”

Bunson’s shot with two seconds left bounced off the rim, then Boucher headed to the line for a pair of free throws, the icing on the Raptors’ 47-point quarter.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle took “full responsibility” for his team’s loss.

“Very disappointing loss,” he said. “We got to a point where we lost our aggression. When you get hit with that kind of force, you’ve got to respond with equal or greater force, and we just didn’t do it soon enough.”

Tim Hardaway Jr., who had 16 points on the night, said it was a great lesson for Dallas.

“They were just taking it to us. Before you knew it, they cut the lead to 10 and then cut the lead to five,” he said. “It shows that whenever you’re up that much, you can’t let up, you can’t back down from the competition, you can’t ease yourself into the win because the game isn’t even over yet.”

The Raptors, who lost 110-102 in Dallas on Nov. 16, raced out to an early 12-point lead, thanks largely to the Mavericks’ poor shooting in the quarter — 21.7 per cent. But the Mavs started to find their shooting groove toward the end of the frame, and pulled to within 20-17 heading into the second.

Toronto struggled mightily in the second quarter, connecting on just one of seven shots from behind the arc. Porzingis’s three with just under four minutes left in the half capped a 16-2 Mavericks run that put the visitors up by eight points.

The Mavs had possession for just 4.1 seconds to end the half, but Porzingis still managed to launch a 30-footer at the buzzer, and Dallas headed into halftime with a 51-42 lead.

The Raptors are in Indianapolis against the Pacers on Monday, then return home to host the Boston Celtics on Christmas day.

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Atkins says Blue Jays’ organizational changes a result of pandemic hardship – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Ross Atkins says restructuring the Toronto Blue Jays’ five special assistant positions, including one held by Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, is a by-product of financial hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and that all are welcome to remain at a lower pay rate.

Alomar, his father Sandy, fellow Hall of Famer Tim Raines, Pat Hentgen and Paul Quantrill were all impacted by wider organizational changes that hit Thursday hours before the club clinched a post-season berth.

All five performed a variety of tasks for the Blue Jays, from attending events in the community to helping groom young players in the farm system. Their full-time positions were eliminated and the club is said to have offered them part-time spots instead.

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Where things stand with them wasn’t immediately clear, although Atkins called them “incredible,” and praised “the impact and influence they’ve had long before I was here on so many different players, and obviously on the fan base and just to this organization, what they’ve meant, I think the world of all of them.”

“Really, the way that we view it is they’re helping us transition through a pandemic and through a financial hardship and through a minor-league restructure,” he continued. “We would love to have them here, to continue to be here. They will be compensated very differently. They will always be welcome. And our hope is that we look up a year from now or maybe two years from now, and they’re back into similar, if not similar, even more significant roles with us.”

All five have been with the organization for years, with Alomar among the franchise’s most recognizable figures and Hentgen part of the organizational fibre. Other clubs in the past have asked about Hentgen’s availability but he was never interested, fully committing his heart to the Blue Jays.

“A thousand per cent,” said one scout from a rival club. “All the players love him.”

The changes didn’t stop at the special assistants. The Blue Jays are also parting with triple-A manager Ken Huckaby, pitching rehab co-ordinator David Aardsma, pitching rehab coach Darold Knowles, and perhaps others. More changes are expected, too.

“Going through a pandemic with what that has meant for the industry financially, what it’s meant for the Toronto Blue Jays financially, then having a minor-league restructuring process in the industry where we’re going to all but certainly be operating with two less teams, and a significantly less number of players, it would have been irresponsible us not to think about how we could operate more efficiently,” said Atkins. “Any business has had to do that, and it would be very difficult not to.

“At least in our view, felt like it was something we had to do. As it relates to Ken, and specifically as we thought about how we could be more efficient, we had to decrease the overall number of leaders in our organization.

“It was more just circumstance. He has certainly done great things for us and will continue to do great things in baseball. He’s had a significant impact here. I feel strongly about the person, the character, his contributions, just a very tough decision that we had to make.”

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

Atkins added that Huckaby’s replacement as manager of the triple-A Bisons “will definitely be an internal candidate.”

The reduction of two minor-league teams Atkins mentioned is part of a wider Major League Baseball plan to streamline the minor leagues, triggering significant tumult among owners of teams on the chopping block.

Last November, in a list published by Baseball America of 42 teams proposed for removal from the affiliated minor-leagues, the only Blue Jays affiliate mentioned was rookie-ball Bluefield.

Their other affiliates are: triple-A Buffalo, double-A New Hampshire, advanced-A Dunedin, low-A Lansing, short-season Vancouver, the rookie GCL Blue Jays, and Dominican Summer League Blue Jays.

The draft was reduced to only five rounds this year and industry speculation is that next year’s draft will be pushed back to July and perhaps reduced to 20 rounds from the usual 40.

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Steven Stamkos ruled out for Game 4 of Stanley Cup final – CBC.ca

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Tampa Bay Lightning captain Steven Stamkos will not play in Friday’s Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Dallas Stars, head coach Jon Cooper announced.

In making the announcement, Cooper did not rule out his star for the remainder of the series. That would include Game 5, which is Saturday — the only back-to-back games in these finals.

“He’s not going to play, but we haven’t ruled him out for the series,” Cooper said. “But he’s not going to play tonight.”

Stamkos, 30, played for the first time since Feb. 25 when he suited up for Game 3 on Wednesday. Stamkos underwent surgery in March to repair a core muscle injury. He had an initial recovery timeline of six to eight weeks, but it’s believed he aggravated the injury and experienced at least one setback since then while trying to join the team.

WATCH | Stamkos scores in 1st period back from injury:

In his daily recap, Rob Pizzo compares Steven Stamkos comeback in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the Karate Kid. 2:55

He scored in the first period of the Lightning’s 5-2 win in Game 3 — giving Tampa Bay a 2-1 series lead — but then did not return to the bench after the first intermission. He logged 2 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time.

“Obviously, there is an issue that I’ve been working through. We’ll see what happens from here, but I was just extremely happy to be out there with these guys and have a chance to just be on the bench and contribute to a win,” Stamkos said after the game.

Despite his limited ice time, Stamkos made a big impact on his team by simply being on the ice — with the goal an added bonus.

“He only had five shifts, but probably as efficient a five shifts as you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game,” Cooper said. “Here we are watching a player come back, and then do what he did on the biggest stage at the biggest time of year … you have to marvel at it, and it was pretty damn cool.”

“‘Stammer’s obviously he’s our leader, he’s our captain,” Tampa Bay forward Anthony Cirelli said. “To have him with us there, you give Stammer one opportunity he’s going to make it count. Just having him there with us, the emotion was high, he got that goal there for us which was a huge, huge goal and … we fed off that.”

Stamkos finished second on the team in scoring in the regular season with 66 points in 57 games. His 29 goals were also second on the team.

Taken first overall in 2008, Stamkos has 832 points (422 goals, 410 assists) in 803 regular-season games in his 12-year career, all with the Lightning. He also has 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists) in 71 career playoff games.

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Manfred wants expanded playoffs format to continue, but with adjustments – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Rob Manfred wants expanded playoffs to continue beyond this year with fewer than 16 teams and better rewards for division winners, a shift from the format the Toronto Blue Jays capitalized on to return to the post-season.

The current system was agreed to by Major League Baseball and the players association hours before opening day on July 23 and applies to the 2020 season only. In an interview with sportsnet.ca on Friday, the commissioner said he’s in favour of proceeding with more than the 10 teams that have reached the post-season since 2012, but with a tougher barrier-to-entry.

“I think the 16-team format was a good format for the 60-game unique season we’ve been playing in 2020. The principle reason for that is in a shortened season, it seemed like giving more teams access to the post-season was the right thing to do, the fair thing to do, No. 1,” he said. “No. 2, I do think the way things played out this year, the 16-team format has created a lot of excitement right up through the last weekend. Our biggest problem right now is that we don’t know where the heck people are going and can’t plan as far in advance as people might like. I do think it’s been really exciting for the fans.

“The third thing I would say,” Manfred added, “over the long haul, if we continue with the expanded playoffs, I think it would be fewer teams — not 16 — and I think there could be structures that are built in that preserve the incentive, for example, to win the division, preserve the incentive to play hard all the way through the 162-game season, so that the additional teams in the playoffs do not detract from the regular season. The regular season is a really important product for us and believe me, believe me, whatever we do more permanently, we will protect the value of that regular-season product.”

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Alterations to the playoff format in 2021, the final year of the current collective bargaining agreement, would require union approval.

The only advantage for division winners this year under the 16-team format is that they, along with the top second-place finisher, host all the games in the best-of-three wild-card round. Advancing clubs will then gather in bubbles in California and Texas for the division, league championship and World Series.

The Blue Jays, who clinched a post-season berth Thursday, are likely to enter the playoffs as the eighth seed — although they can still surpass the New York Yankees as the second-place finisher in the American League East.

Manfred said he’s “thrilled at the rebuild Toronto has gone through and the success they enjoyed this year,” coming after the club was denied permission to host its regular-season home games by the Canadian government, and had subsequent plans to tenant in Pittsburgh and Baltimore shot down by state governments.

That led the Blue Jays to settle on Buffalo’s Sahlen Field, a plan that initially worried Manfred but ultimately exceeded his expectations.

“My concern when the decision was finally made about Buffalo was, No. 1, timing. It wasn’t just where they were going, they didn’t have a heck of a lot of time to get organized. No. 2, look, no rap on minor-league facilities in general or Buffalo in particular, our major-league facilities are really, really nice and players are used to a certain level of facility to go to work in.

“I was really concerned about our ability to deliver that,” said Manfred. “On both of those topics, the Toronto Blue Jays management team, Mark (Shapiro), Marnie Starkman, what they accomplished – and I did go to Buffalo, I saw it myself – is unbelievable, literally unbelievable.

“Not only was it playable, and serviceable, but the work they did actually created that feeling of this is the Blue Jays’ home, which I think is really important to the psyche of the team and the ability of the team to perform, and an unbelievable accomplishment given the tight timeframe.”

Livestream Toronto Blue Jays games all season with Sportsnet NOW. Plus, watch marquee MLB matchups, the post-season and World Series.

Whether the Blue Jays will be allowed to return home next season is far from certain and Manfred doesn’t know whether baseball’s rebound from early-season outbreaks among the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals is enough to change the Canadian government’s outlook.

“The one thing I can say is that we will do everything humanly possible to convince the government that the Blue Jays should play in Toronto next year,” added Manfred, who also answered questions about how adapted protocols helped save the season, considerations for next year, the future of expanded rosters and whether the pandemic has impacted the Tampa Bay Rays’ dual city plan with Montreal.

Sportsnet: After the outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals, which of the mid-stream changes you implemented do you feel helped turned the tide and allowed you to reach this point?

Rob Manfred: I would point to two things. First, after the, and as a result of, particularly the Cardinals situation, we realized that the key consideration was not when could you play again, but instead, what do we have to do to make sure the virus doesn’t spread among the team. You saw a change in approach after the Cardinals where immediately when we found a positive, we shut everybody down and just waited it out until we were sure we didn’t have spread. That was really important.

The second thing is kind of nature. Throughout the year we asked a lot of the players, we asked them to change the way they play the game on the field, we asked them to change the way they lived their private lives, to tell you the truth. The two early incidents just drove home to everybody involved, us, our managers/coaches, front office personnel and the players, that attention to detail, the masks, the distancing is just absolutely crucial.

SN: Hopefully the world is a safer place next year as it relates to COVID-19, but if things level off where we’re at right now, could the protocols currently in place be employed over a 162-game season?

Manfred: That’s too much of a crystal ball for me. Obviously the longer you go, the tougher it is to maintain the (current) model, the more likely it is you’re going to have lapses. All I can say to you about that is what happens next year is going to be dictated by the course of the virus.

SN: The Blue Jays, among others, really leveraged expanded rosters this year. Given all the injuries experienced this year, the shortened body of work for pitchers, and interrupted player-development supply, can a season be safely conducted with only 26 on the roster next year?

Manfred: I think it’s realistic that at some point next year, we could get back to 26. What I would say to you is I suspect, depending on the course of the virus, that there would be a number of operational issues that we’ll have to work through with the MLBPA.

Even if we have a vaccine and everything is good on the health front, there are going to be some results from 2020 that are going to require us to have those kinds of conversations and to continue to show some type of creativity and flexibility to put a quality product out there.

Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

SN: What’s your sense at this point of what the minor-leagues are going to look like in 2021 between the expected cutting of teams and the need to restart some wider scale player development?

Manfred: Too early to tell on that one. The only thing I can say on that is we recognize that player development is the long-term lifeblood of the industry and whatever form it takes, there probably will be more activity next year than there was this.

SN: For baseball fans in Montreal, how has the pandemic impacted the Rays’ dual-city plan and MLB’s outlook for potential expansion?

Manfred: The Rays process, probably not significantly affected given the timing of that process. With respect to expansion, it’s hard not to admit that, to the extent that there was a certain timeline where expansion was going to be considered, I would say that the pandemic has probably pushed that timeline back.

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