IBAKA COULD HAVE STAYED WITH RAPTORS, HE CHOSE NOT TO
“How to explain what Toronto, Canada, and the Raptors mean to me?
“I was welcomed to a new country and a new team more than three years ago and I felt at home from day one. I feel really blessed to have played for this city, these fans, and this organization.”
That was Serge Ibaka’s emotional goodbye to the city. It was also pretty much social-media, agent-driven packaged bunk.
Ibaka had a choice to make about his NBA career. He was a free agent, had earned that right, and the key word being free. From that, you can decide what you, as a player, want to do and where you want to play and if there’s more than one offer, and there was in this case, then the decision gets a little more complicated.
Let’s be clear here: For all Ibaka loved Toronto, Canada and the Raptors, and how much it apparently tore him apart to leave, the first opportunity he had, he left. He signed on with the Los Angeles Clippers. With Kawhi Leonard. He was championship chasing here, not unusual in the NBA, and in this case it’s championship chasing and getting the opportunity to live in LA.
Serge Ibaka could have stayed and played with the Raptors at least one more season, maybe more. He made a decision in his best interest. It was his choice to leave.
TORONTO DESERVES NEW BALLPARK. MAYBE JUST NOT NOW
In downtown Pittsburgh, hardly the economic centre of the U.S., there is one of the great ballparks in all of America.
Source: – Toronto Sun
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs favourites to punch ticket back to Super Bowl against Bills – TSN
Championship Weekend has arrived, and it sure looks like it won’t disappoint.
On the AFC side, we see the Kansas City Chiefs host their third-consecutive AFC Championship game, this time against Josh Allen and his Buffalo Bills.
After leaving Sunday’s divisional round game with a head injury, quarterback Patrick Mahomes told reporters on Friday that he has cleared the NFL’s concussion protocol and is good to go for Sunday.
Allen and the Bills enter this week on the heels of the franchise’s first two playoff wins since 1995, and need just two more to capture their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
These two teams met earlier in the season, with Kansas City getting the better of Buffalo 26-17 in Week 6.
Allen’s 122 passing yards that night was the lowest number he posted all season, however, the playing conditions weren’t the best and Mahomes was held to a 225 yards – one of his lowest numbers on the season as well.
We have come a long way since Week 6, and have a lot to dive into, so let’s get going.
Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs -3, O/U 53.5
ALL I DO IS WIN
The formula for success has been pretty easy for the Kansas City Chiefs in recent years.
Starting Patrick Mahomes equals winning games.
Since entering the league, Mahomes is 38-8 in the regular season as a starter, and 5-1 in the playoffs.
The only blemish on his playoff resume came in just his first season as a starter, when Dee Ford lined up offside, negating a Tom Brady interception, leading to a Patriots win and Super Bowl.
But let’s get back to this season.
Before exiting the game with a concussion, Mahomes was hobbled by a foot injury that clearly had the superstar quarterback a bit limited with his mobility.
And yet, Mahomes started six drives on Sunday, two of which ended in touchdowns, three of them ended with field goals and one ended with a missed field goal.
Mahomes looked physically limited, but it really had no effect on his game, as he completed 21 of his 30 passes for 255 yards, threw for a touchdown and rushed one in.
Meanwhile, the Chiefs defence continued its solid play against the Browns, holding them to just 17 points and keeping Baker Mayfield to just 204 yards and forcing two turnovers.
Kansas City’s defence has been very opportunistic this season and has forced a turnover in 15 of their 17 games.
Meanwhile, the Bills had 22 turnovers in the regular season, and Josh Allen has fumbled in both playoff games as well.
I think Buffalo has been fortunate to be on the right side of a number of plays in their last two games, and this Kansas City offence (and defence) won’t make the same mistakes that Indianapolis and Baltimore made.
A few weeks ago it was tight end Jack Doyle having a big day with seven catches for 70 yards, while Michael Pitman Jr. added five receptions for 90 yards.
The winds in Buffalo didn’t allow much success in the passing game last week, but wideout Marquise Brown had four catches for 87 yards and Mark Andrews had a touchdown go off his hands late in the fourth quarter.
I expect Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill to be just fine Sunday night coming off a combined 16 catches for 219 yards and a touchdown against Cleveland.
Speaking of Buffalo…
The Buffalo Bills have played two playoff games this season.
In those two games, they have been outgained 812-521, have gone just 6-22 on third down conversions and have gotten three kicks to doink off the uprights in their favour.
Yup, after a staller 13-3 regular season campaign, the Bills have won in the playoffs, but it hasn’t been pretty.
That being said, what has been pretty has been the connection between quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Diggs has caught 14 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo’s two playoff wins, and after failing to record a catch against the Colts, John Brown chipped in with eight catches for 62 yards last week in the win over Baltimore.
But the Bills’ passing game has taken a hit in the playoffs due to Cole Beasley dealing with a knee injury.
Beasley, in his second season with the Bills, was the perfect No. 2 to Diggs’ No.1 this season.
He finished second on the team with 82 catches, and 967 yards.
But his production has taken a hit since injuring his knee in a Dec. 28 win over the Patriots.
The 31-year-old had just three catches for 17 yards in that Week 16 win, was held out of the lineup in Week 17, had seven catches for just 57 yards against the Colts, and was targeted just twice Saturday night, with no catches.
The 5.67 yards per reception in Week 16, and 8.14 yards per reception during the Wild Card Round were the two lowest numbers he posted all season, until he failed to bring in a pass the following week.
On top of that, the team remains without Zack Moss after he was injured against the Colts.
Moss had emerged as the team’s top back late in the season, and got the start in the playoffs, he had seven rushes for 21 yards, with four catches for 26 yards before exiting the game.
Last week, the Bills had just six rushing yards at halftime and ended the game with a grand total of 32 yards on the ground.
I think this is finally the week everything catches up to the Bills.
Pick: Chiefs -3
Brooks’ milestone helps patchwork Maple Leafs pick up win over Oilers – Sportsnet.ca
So you can imagine how thrilled the 24-year-old was Friday to have the veteran set up his first NHL goal. Never mind that it required a member’s bounce for the Toronto Maple Leafs inside Scotiabank Arena — with Spezza throwing a pass to the high slot on the power play and seeing it bounce in off Brooks’ right skate.
“It was a lot of fun, a great moment that I’ll remember forever obviously,” said Brooks. “To say that [Spezza] assisted on my first goal, a guy that’s played for that long and of that calibre, it’s a pretty cool moment for me.
“Just the whole thing was pretty exciting.”
It helped propel the Maple Leafs to a 4-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on a night where they played without Auston Matthews (upper body) and Joe Thornton (rib fracture), two-thirds of their No. 1 line as recently as 48 hours earlier.
Under these circumstances, goals were not going to be easy to come by.
There would have been no way to predict that Brooks would get on the board for Toronto this season before Spezza, Wayne Simmonds or Ilya Mikheyev found the back of the net. This was his first time playing in a game that counted since last February and he only had a few hours notice once it was confirmed that Matthews wasn’t able to go.
For the Leafs, that goal wiped away Edmonton’s 1-0 lead just 43 seconds after a Leon Draisaitl short-handed strike. For Brooks, it was a massive milestone on a professional journey that began when he was a fourth-round pick in 2016.
“I think there was a lot of pressure taken off me,” he said.
Some pressure was relieved for the entire team after the 3-1 loss to the Oilers earlier this week. We came into this two-game set expecting an offensive explosion and instead found two North Division combatants much more concerned about their own end of the rink.
Absent Matthews, in particular, the Leafs didn’t look nearly as imposing.
The injuries forced head coach Sheldon Keefe to rearrange all four of his lines and he found success with the Jimmy Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot and William Nylander trio. They enjoyed the better ice while largely matching up against Edmonton’s second line of Dominik Kahun-Draisaitl-Kailer Yamamoto, and saw Vesey score the 2-1 goal during a shift against Edmonton’s bottom six.
That came after Kerfoot, Vesey’s former teammate and linemate at Harvard, stole the puck from Adam Larsson beneath the goal-line and fed it to Nylander, who fooled Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen by sliding it over.
“Kerf made a nice anticipation play and picked it off and found Willy, who made a great play to me,” said Vesey. “I think a lot of people thought he would have shot that puck but froze the goalie and slid it over. I just tried to bury it.”
The new-look line rebounded from a sputtering start to produce a sterling stat line with 88 per cent of the shot attempts, 86 per cent of the expected goals and a 5-0 advantage in shots during its nearly 10 minutes together at even strength.
“They skated well,” said Keefe. “It took them a little while to get going in the game, I thought, like it did our whole team. But they were on the puck, on the puck hard. I think what I liked mostly is that they scored us a 5-on-5 goal.
“Those have been hard to come by and it was good to get one.”
The other goals came from two usual suspects: John Tavares and Mitch Marner.
Tavares got the winner by tipping home a Marner shot after Connor McDavid had tied things up — giving the Leafs captain four power-play goals already on the season. Marner finished the job with an empty-netter.
It was a grind from start to finish, but there was satisfaction to be found in limiting the damage inflicted by McDavid and Draisaitl at even strength.
“Well I think it’s a good sign in seeing how much pride guys take in the defensive role and especially when you face two of the better players in the league,” said Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. “It’s obviously a great task and it’s been great to see the team respond and really take that role seriously and not give them anything for free.”
It’s going to take everyone in a year this unusual.
Even players like Brooks, summoned off the taxi squad to play just his eighth career NHL game here. The Winnipegger helped add two points to the standings and claimed another souvenir in the process: The puck that pinballed off his skate and eluded Koskinen.
“I’m sure my parents will steal it and put it in their basement,” he said.
Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes says he’s cleared NFL’s concussion protocol – Sportsnet.ca
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was cleared Friday from the league’s concussion protocol after his third consecutive day of practice and will be under centre when Kansas City plays the Buffalo Bills in the AFC championship game.
Mahomes was hurt in the third quarter of the Chiefs’ divisional-round win over Cleveland. He returned to take the majority of snaps in a light workout Wednesday, then did the same during the longest practice of the week Thursday, before team doctors and an independent neurologist gave him the green light following Friday’s workout.
“The week has been a bunch of testing, a bunch of different things, to make sure I’m good to go and there’s no lingering effects and things like that,” Mahomes said. “Everything has been good. I went through everything; three or four different doctors have said everything is looking good.”
The reigning Super Bowl MVP was hurt when he was tackled around the head by Browns linebacker Mack Wilson while running a quarterback option. It never appeared that Mahomes hit his head on the turf — and if he did, it was not the kind of impact that usually leads to a concussion — raising the possibility that he had actually compressed a nerve.
Either way, Mahomes immediately showed the symptoms of a concussion. He remained on the turf for a couple of minutes, then nearly collapsed when he got to his feet. He was still wobbly as trainers helped him to the sideline and into the blue injury tent, though he looked more steady when he ran into the locker room a few minutes later.
The Chiefs wasted little time ruling Mahomes out, though. Chad Henne wound up finishing off the 22-17 victory.
“We had an option play called we ran a little earlier,” Mahomes recalled Friday, “and I ran out to the right. I got hit. I tried to get up, felt my legs go out and knew that wasn’t a good thing.”
Still, Mahomes had enough wits about him to tell the trainers to let him remain on the turf so that Henne would have a chance to warm up — “because I knew we were going to go for it on fourth down,” Mahomes said.
“You want to be out there, but you have to go through the protocol and do everything the right way. You have to look at everything long term as much as short term,” said Mahomes, who signed a 10-year contract in the off-season that could pay him close to a half-billion dollars over the course of the deal. “We have the belief there will be no lingering effects and I’ll be able to go out there and be myself and be who I am every single week.”
Mahomes was second in the NFL with 4,740 yards passing this season, despite skipping the regular-season finale with the Chiefs already assured of the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. The long layoff between Week 16 and last Sunday wasn’t a problem, either, as Mahomes threw for 255 yards with TDs running and passing before he was hurt.
He has 15 touchdowns, including three on the ground, without an interception in five post-season starts at home.
“I mean, he’s flying around as much as he can,” Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce said. “I know that guy is a tough son-of-a-gun, and he’s going to go out there and try to get ready the way he knows how, which is take every rep as if it’s a game rep. And his attention to detail, his preparation throughout the week, that hasn’t changed. Just him playing within the guidelines he was given knowing he’s in the concussion protocol.”
Mahomes also does not appear to be bothered by a toe injury he picked up against Cleveland. He acknowledged it was sore on Monday, but it has gotten progressively better throughout the week.
His injury status doesn’t just provide some clarity for the Chiefs, who otherwise would have started Henne with Matt Moore as the backup. It also provides some for oddsmakers and the gambling public. The opening line Sunday night varied widely depending on the sportsbook, with those confident Mahomes would play listing Kansas City as a 4-point favourite and those thinking he might not play giving the Bills a 2 1/2-point advantage.
The line had settled on the Chiefs as 3-point favourites by Friday afternoon.
NOTES: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire (high-ankle sprain) also practice for the third straight day and appears likely to play for the first time since Week 15. CB Bashaud Breeland (concussion) is also likely to be cleared to play. … LB Willie Gay Jr. (high-ankle sprain) and RB Le’Veon Bell (swollen knee) were the only players that did not practice Friday.
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