They cleared out and sent their big man Enes Kanter to the low block to post up Raptors reserve centre Chris Boucher.
Back when dinosaurs walked the earth and the NBA decided that having a slate of marquee matchups on Christmas Day was a good idea, posting up big men on the block was an every-other-play occurrence. Think Moses Malone of the Philadelphia 76ers doing damage against the Boston Celtics’ Robert Parrish, or the New York Knicks’ Patrick Ewing dueling with the Houston Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon.
Now big men play above the three-point line and have to rely on screen-and-rolls to eat.
But every once in a while, an opportunity presents itself and the wide-bodied Kanter being guarded by the slim Boucher was one of those.
It was all over in a matter of seconds. Kanter ran to the left block, caught the pass, spun back into the lane and Boucher was powerless to stop him.
The analogy here is the Raptors were similarly powerless against the visiting Celtics as a whole. A win would have made for a great stocking stuffer for the crowd who turned for the Raptors’ second-ever Christmas Day start and first at Scotiabank Arena.
Alas, all they got was a day out and a lump of coal as the short-handed Raptors’ pluckiness and never-quit factor was ultimately no match for a deep and talented Celtics team that looks like it is poised to be a force in the East a year after a frustrating season where they got caught up in a season-long Kyrie Irving melodrama.
With Irving now the Brooklyn Nets’ problem and newly acquired Kemba Walker meshing perfectly with the Celtics’ existing talent base, only the Raptors’ best are a match for Boston and they didn’t have it on Christmas Day as they fell 118-102 to the visitors.
The Raptors’ scrappiness in the face of injuries is a wonderful thing and a compelling storyline, but it is noteworthy for a reason: playing long stretches of an NBA season without your top talent is exceedingly difficult and the strain is showing.
“We’re pretty short on our roster,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse afterwards. “We’ve played a lot minutes, these guys, a lot of games in a lot of days, the schedule hasn’t been very good to us. This is our third game in four days, one was an overtime game, one was a come-from-30-points-behind game, where we used a lot of energy too, so I don’t know. Maybe we just need a little rest.”
Toronto did lead 10-0 in the early going, but was otherwise a non-factor for most of the game. A Gordon Hayward triple put Boston up by 21 with just under six minutes left after the Celtics led after the first quarter (by nine), at half (by eight) and heading into the fourth (by 19).
There was no roaring comeback in the Raptors’ arsenal this time around.
The Raptors got solid showings by Fred VanVleet (27 points and six assists) in his best game since missing five with a bruised knee and Boucher, who had 24 points on 10 shots – his second career-high in three games. But overall, the Raptors struggled to contain the Celtics, who had six players in double figures, led by Jaylen Brown with 30 on just 13 shots.
Boston was 14-of-33 at the three-point line to the Raptors’ 8-of-23.
The Raptors gave up 13 offensive rebounds, too – three to Kanter, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes.
If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.
Clearly the federal government has no sense of NBA gamesmanship or what it takes to make a precious holiday memory.
Kanter wrote a column in The Globe and Mail on Monday thanking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others, for facilitating his entry into Canada with the Celtics for the Raptors’ first-ever home date on Christmas. Kanter, an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, has said his passport was revoked by the Turkish government in 2017. He’s needed special consideration to travel outside the US since.
It was a big day for Kanter.
“I was just definitely so happy,” he said before the game. “And at the end of the day, I’m not a journalist or a politician, my job is as a player to come here and play basketball with my teams and try to help this organization win games. So that’s why I wanted to come here and play basketball and enjoy this time with my teammates. So it’s definitely a very special moment.”
With the Raptors already missing five rotation players – including mainstays Marc Gasol (hamstring), Pascal Siakam (groin) and Norm Powell (shoulder) – it wouldn’t have hurt Toronto’s cause had Kanter’s ability to travel north been delayed until, say, Boxing Day.
“I think even though you’re out-weighted or out-sized, you’ve got to fight for your position a little earlier,” said Nurse of the Kanter match-up. “I didn’t think we got a body on him soon enough so he was getting the deep catches … at the beginning we should have been more prepared for that.”
The point being that the short-handed Raptors needed every conceivable advantage to break their way in order to keep the red-hot Celtics – now winners of four straight and who came in on two days’ rest and having played only 27 games so far this season (three fewer than Toronto and two less than any other NBA team) – in check.
Kanter being available was just one example of a break that could have gone the Raptors’ way but didn’t. It meant the Celtics could dress the NBA’s most efficient offensive rebounder against the Raptors, who rank as the league’s third-worst defensive rebound team and are only worse without Gasol on the floor.
Not that Kanter was the difference alone. The Celtics are too deep to have the balance tipped by a single role-playing big off the bench, but Kanter made himself felt. His spin move on Boucher helped put the Celtics up 28-19 after the first quarter, with Kanter contributing six points in just under five minutes. By the time Kanter finished the second quarter with a layup on Boston’s last possession, the Turkish big man’s 12 first-half points had helped Boston to a 55-47 lead.
The past couple of games, a second-half deficit hasn’t meant much to the undermanned Raptors. They came back from down 30 in their historic comeback against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at home and wiped out a 10-point halftime hole in the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers – a game they ended up losing in overtime.
But like a dog chasing cars, chasing the lead in an NBA game will eventually end badly.
The Celtics’ primary weapons are the trio of Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and by the time Boston had pushed its lead to 19 heading into the fourth quarter, they had each made their presence felt. Walker had 20 points and five threes, Tatum was struggling from the floor, but had five helpers, while Brown was doing whatever he wanted, as he was 9-of-10 from the field for 27 points in 29 minutes. Toss in Hayward – another max player capable of making plays for himself and others – and the Raptors had their hands full.
“We’ve done that [make comebacks] the last couple of games,” said Kyle Lowry, who has sparked the comebacks the past two games but was flagging in his first Christmas Day start of his career as he was 4-of-13 from the floor with five turnovers. “And that’s a well-coached team, hard-playing team, Jaylen Brown and Kemba (Walker), those guys played extremely well, they made a lot of shots, so trying to get back was a little tougher tonight than before.”
The loss was the second straight for the Raptors as they – having played 13 games in 25 days this month – get a couple off before heading to Boston to complete the home-and-home Saturday night.
The gift they could use more than any other is a return to full health, but on that front, Santa skipped them this year.
Sharks look to extend perfect start vs. Bruins
It’s been eight years since the San Jose Sharks opened a season with five consecutive victories. And, nearly as long since they beat the Boston Bruins.
The Sharks look to continue their undefeated start when they visit the Bruins on Sunday.
San Jose has been one of the surprise teams through the early days of the 2021-22 campaign. Logan Couture had two goals with an assist and Adin Hill made 30 saves as the Sharks won a third straight game on the road, 5-3 at Toronto on Friday.
Outscoring opponents 16-7, San Jose is trying to go 5-0-0 for the first time since the 2013-14 season. It’s a pleasant beginning for a club that felt good about itself entering this season, despite not having made the playoffs since 2018-19.
“It’s huge to start like this,” Couture, who’s recorded all three of his goals in the last two games, told the official NHL website. “That was the main focus in training camp, to get off to a good start this year.
“We really had a good camp, a really good preseason and we’ve carried into the regular season.”
In addition to Couture’s strong play, veteran defenseman Erik Karlsson has notched two goals with four assists. Hill, meanwhile, has stopped 71 of the 77 shots he’s faced to win his first three starts. Backup James Reimer made 30 saves in a 2-1 victory at Ottawa on Thursday.
San Jose’s hot start, however, will truly be put to the test in this contest. Though these teams haven’t met since Oct. 29, 2019, the Sharks are 0-5-2 against the Bruins since a 3-2 home victory on March 15, 2016. Their most recent victory at Boston came on Nov. 15, 2016.
The Bruins have won two of their first three games of the season, and halted Buffalo’s 3-0-0 start with Friday’s 4-1 road victory. Members of Boston’s famed “Perfection Line,” David Pastrnak tallied his first goal of the season Friday while Patrice Bergeron assisted on the first-period score for his first points of 2021-22.
Boston also got a goal and two assists at Buffalo from center Charlie Coyle, his first points of the campaign. Coyle scored in the team’s most recent meeting with San Jose.
“Happy for him,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of Coyle. “(He found) a little offensive rhythm.”
Boston star Brad Marchand is already feeling it with three goals and two assists. He’s totaled four goals with four assists in his last six home games vs. San Jose.
After Linus Ullmark made 35 saves against his former Buffalo team Friday in his Boston debut, it’s possible starter Jeremy Swayman will be back in net for this contest. Swayman stopped 27 of 28 shots in a 3-1 season-opening home victory, but then allowed five goals during Wednesday’s 6-3 defeat at Philadelphia.
Couture has two goals with an assist in his last three games against the Bruins.
Boston could again be minus veteran forward Nick Foligno, who is in his first season with the team, but missed Friday’s game with an upper-body injury.
“We should know by Sunday,” Cassidy told the Bruins’ official website of Foligno’s availability. “I suspect he’ll miss Sunday, as well.”
–Field Level Media
Raptors outmuscle, out-hustle, and outplay Boston Celtics in dominant victory – Raptors Republic
Former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson famously said, “everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Last night, the Toronto Raptors threw haymakers at the Boston Celtics in a runaway 115-83 win.
The Raptors had carte blanche in their season opener. After a year in Tampa Bay, they were finally back home, and the fans and players were just happy to be in Scotiabank Arena.
This game painted a picture of what Toronto hopes to be this season: a physical team that uses its size and length to control games defensively and on the glass. The Raptors forced 25 turnovers and outrebounded Boston 60-42.
21 of those 60 boards came on the offensive end, resulting in 18 extra shot attempts for the Raptors. On a night where the team shot worst from the floor than in their opening game (42 percent versus 44.4 percent on Wednesday), their ability to set the tone with their physicality went a long way toward securing their first win of the season.
Five Raptors recorded five or more rebounds. The attack on the glass was spearheaded by two newcomers: Precious Achiuwa (15 rebounds) and Scottie Barnes (13 rebounds).
When asked after the game how a team without a traditional center can outrebound their opponent, specifically on the offensive glass, Raptors head coach, Nick Nurse, said it was because his team was able to “miss a lot of shots.”
Nurse has allowed Achiuwa to operate similarly to how he played during his lone season at Memphis. Then, after James Wiseman was suspended, the Nigerian was used as a small-ball center who was allowed to make plays with the ball in his hands and attack in transition.
Celtics center, Robert Williams III (nine points and six rebounds in 28 minutes), had a lot of preseason buzz about potentially making a leap this year; Achiuwa (15 points and 15 rebounds in 25 minutes) thoroughly outplayed him tonight.
However, the biggest takeaway from this game has to be the play of Barnes. After Dalano Banton stole the show in the first game, it was Barnes’ turn to be the rookie in the spotlight.
There was no hiding on defense as he was routinely matched up against one of Boston’s all-star wings. Between him, OG Anunoby, and timely help from others, the Raptors forced Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to shoot 11-25 combined.
On paper, Tatum’s 8-14 shooting numbers look fine, but Tatum did most of his damage in the second quarter. Speaking to the media postgame, Barnes said of the team limiting Tatum in the second half, specifically the third quarter, “he’s a really good player, so we just want to keep showing our length in gaps to try and influence him not to get in [the lane]. And when he gets real low, we just bring a bunch of guys and try to swarm him and don’t let him get easy looks.”
While the Raptors’ defense and rebounding were present throughout the game, Barnes’ play led the way for the team in the first half. Toronto only held a four-point advantage at halftime, and the fourth overall pick powered the team with 15 points and seven rebounds.
Offensively, he did a little bit of everything. He made an off-the-dribble three, he connected on catch-and-shoot midrange jumpers, he pushed the pace, he finished at the rim, and he made plays for his teammates.
After the game, Barnes attributed his performance to “playing hard throughout the game.” Barnes said, “it just matters about time and the situation. If we miss a couple, we’ve got to get the ball moving, then try to find the right shot, what’s best for us,” and he finished off with “If they leave me open, I’m gonna shoot it, no hesitation.”
It’s only game two, but this game showed a glimpse of what this franchise hopes peak Barnes will look like and why Masai Ujiri and Bobby Webster were elated when he was still on the board when Toronto was on the clock in the 2021 NBA Draft.
“What I liked the most was he was at the front of the rim a lot tonight. Putbacks and cuts and drives, and that’s what we like to see–be able to use some of that size and length,” said Nurse after the game.
The Gary Trent Jr. rollercoaster was ascending upward tonight as he pitched in 20 points and helped Toronto extend their lead in the third quarter where they outscored Boston 34-17.
Trent Jr. got the start tonight and it seems like he will remain in the starting lineup going forward. Nurse said starting, “made Gary more comfortable” and that he was able to “feed off the other [starters].”
The big takeaway from yesterday’s performance is that this group is not a pushover. Their shots weren’t falling once again, but they dug deeper defensively and used their effort to create extra opportunities that ultimately led to them producing a double-digit victory.
The shooting struggles remain a concern–particularly from Anunoby who had looked on the way to taking his game to another level during the preseason–and the half-court offense leaves a lot to be desired. Nurse mentioned after the game that the team needs to “clean up spacing issues,” however, the NBA doesn’t award style points, so a win is a win.
Astros shut out Red Sox, advance to World Series for third time in five years – Sportsnet.ca
HOUSTON — Rookie Luis Garcia showed the poise of an October ace, Yordan Alvarez stayed hot at the plate and the Houston Astros earned yet another trip to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
The Astros advanced to the World Series for the fourth time overall and the second time in three seasons. They won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in 2019.
Manager Dusty Baker’s team will open the World Series on Tuesday night, either at Dodger Stadium or home against Atlanta. The Braves lead Los Angeles 3-2 in the NL Championship Series going into Game 6 Saturday night.
Garcia pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning, leaving to a huge ovation with two outs after a triple by Kike Hernandez. It was an impressive bounce-back performance for the 24-year-old, who started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee.
Alvarez continued his scorching streak, a year after watching at home after surgery to both knees as the Astros came one game shy of reaching the World Series. The slugging designated hitter had four hits, including a triple and two doubles. He led a Game 5 win with three hits and three RBIs.
Catcher Martin Maldonado made the defensive play of the game on a strikeout-throwout double play to end the seventh with Houston ahead 2-0.
It will be the 72-year-old Baker’s second trip to the Fall Classic as a manager and first since leading the San Francisco Giants to the NL pennant in 2002. As a player, he made three trips with the Dodgers, winning it all in 1981.
Boston’s best shot to score came in the seventh. They had runners at first and third with one out in after a single by Alex Verdugo. But Kendall Graveman struck out pinch-hitter Travis Shaw and Maldonado made a perfect throw to Carlos Correa, who was covering second, to beat Verdugo there and end the inning.
Maldonado beat his chest with glee as Graveman and Correa both pumped their fists in celebration to roars from the crowd of 42,718.
Kyle Tucker broke it open with a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Television cameras flashed to Houston’s Hall of Fame duo of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who stood together and cheered as Tucker rounded the bases.
Ryan Pressly closed it out in the ninth. The Red Sox, who looked so formidable at the plate at the start of the season, were held to two hits in their final game.
Alex Bregman singled with two outs in the first before the double by Alvarez put the Astros up 1-0. Hernandez was in position to make the catch, but it hit off his arm below his glove and dropped in for the hit.
Consecutive romps by Boston and its bashers made it appear that the Red Sox were in complete control of the series after Game 3, but as the long fly by Alvarez proved, they didn’t have a firm grip on things.
The Astros, buoyed by their young pitchers and rediscovered offense, won the next two games by a combined 18-3 to return home a win away from a World Series. Then their rising 24-year-old stars, Garcia and Alvarez, did the rest.
Houston had a chance to add to the lead in the fourth when Bregman singled and another double by Alvarez left him at third with no outs. But they came up empty after Nathan Eovaldi worked out of the jam.
Alvarez tripled with no outs in the sixth to chase Josh Taylor and Tanner Houck plunked Correa. Tucker then smacked a grounder right at first baseman Kyle Schwarber who tagged Correa for the unassisted double play as Alvarez slid safely into home to make it 2-0.
Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.
On Friday, he permitted five hits and one run as the Red Sox lost a playoff game where he started for the first time after entering the game 5-0 in his starts.
Garcia is the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into sixth of a potential playoff clincher since the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard got two outs in sixth against the Giants in 2016 NL wild-card game.
Garcia allowed Schwarber to reach on a wild pitch after a strikeout to open the game and walked Verdugo with one out in the second. He settled in after that, sitting down the next 13 with five strikeouts, before Hernandez got Boston’s first hit on a triple with two outs in the sixth. Garcia finished with seven strikeouts.
Phil Maton took over and retired Rafael Devers to end the inning.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Boston manager Alex Cora has heard the speculation that the Astros are relaying signs from the bases and said the Red Sox protect themselves against that.
“It’s not about technology or other stuff,” Cora said. “There’s stuff that happens on the field that you have to be guarded. The same way that teams play defense against us, we play defense against other teams. Not only them we did it against the Yankees, we did it against the Rays. It’s the nature of the game. We’re prepared for that.”
Cora knows better than most about Houston’s sign-stealing history having been the team’s bench coach during the 2017 season when they were found to have violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs.
Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night where the Astros will host if the Braves advance or Houston will travel to LA if the Dodgers win the NL pennant.
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