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Stat Just Happened: Where the Toronto Raptors are proving to be a nightmare for the Boston Celtics – NBA CA

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Toronto Raptors

“Stat Just Happened” is our new series where we’ll pair an important stat with how it actually unfolded on the floor. Our aim? To answer key questions, uncover hidden truths and peel back the curtain on why some numbers matter more than others.

Today, the Toronto Raptors take the spotlight.

0.69

According to Gibson Pyper of Half Court Hoops, that’s how many points per possession the Boston Celtics are averaging against Toronto’s zone defence through three games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Why is that noteworthy? It’s an incredibly low figure.

For perspective, Cleaning The Glass had the Celtics averaging 0.97 points per halfcourt possession during the regular season, the 11th-best rate in the league. The New York Knicks had the least efficient halfcourt offence with an average of 0.89 points per possession.

To hold this Celtics team to a mark as low as 0.69 points per possession on anything is a huge victory for the Raptors.

Now, it’s based on a relatively small sample size – Toronto has played a total of 40 zone possessions so far in this series, per Pyper, which isn’t much – but it’s because Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has used it strategically. The risk of going zone for long periods of time is that teams are likely to figure it out because zones are vulnerable to certain shots (3s, for the most part), as well as offensive rebounds. By mixing it in at different points in the game, the Raptors have a better shot at catching the Celtics off guard with it.

The longest the Raptors have played zone was in Game 3. They played primarily a 2-1-2 zone, meaning they had two players on the perimeter, one player at the free throw line and two players on the baseline, like so:

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The Raptors then matched up accordingly, with each of them picking up the player that was closest to them.

On this particular possession, Kyle Lowry picked up Marcus Smart, Fred VanVleet picked up Jaylen Brown, Marc Gasol picked up Kemba Walker, Pascal Siakam picked up Jayson Tatum and OG Anunoby picked up Daniel Theis.

https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/NBA_Global_CMS_image_storage/ce/79/1-zonejpg_1fw12hhzvyf0v1o5u8u7fi14xc.jpg?t=1522915132&w=500

Those matchups changed slightly when the ball was reversed, with Walker switching onto Theis at the top of the perimeter and Anunoby switching onto Smart on the wing.

https://images.daznservices.com/di/library/NBA_Global_CMS_image_storage/56/37/2-zonejpg_1dkahi45rzkfz1iqmcp9licjb9.jpg?t=1522915132&w=500

The end result? Smart gets past Anunoby but is met by two help defenders when he gets into the paint, leading to a heavily contested layup that he misses.

That’s what makes the Raptors so difficult to score on when they play zone in a nutshell. As I wrote earlier in the season, I’m not sure there’s a team that rotates better defensively than the Raptors. It shows up in a number of ways, but especially when they go zone because it puts them in scramble mode, forcing all five defenders to move on a string to avoid breakdowns.

This possession serves as even better example of how well the Raptors rotate out of the zone:

It’s basically a game of helping the helper. VanVleet passes Walker onto Lowry, leaving Brown unguarded for a split-second. Anunoby and Siakam cover for Lowry when Brown puts the ball on the floor by walling off the paint, and Lowry immediately transitions into closing out on Tatum in the corner.

Had they matched up with the Celtics man-to-man, the Raptors would have been more susceptible to Walker walking into a 3-pointer following Theis’ screen because they’ve been dropping both Gasol and Ibaka in pick-and-rolls. Walker has made a career out of picking drop coverages apart, something the Raptors have already learned the hard way several times in this series.

It helps, of course, that the Raptors have some of the most versatile defenders in the league. Lowry and VanVleet defend much bigger than their size, and Anunoby and Siakam are both more than capable of keeping guards in front of them. It makes them difficult to attack in isolation because there’s rarely a clear mismatch that teams can exploit. Gasol and Ibaka are the weakest perimeter defenders in Toronto’s rotation – hence why the Raptors have been dropping them in pick-and-rolls instead of switching or hedging – but it’s easier to hide them in a zone than it is in man-to-man.

That’s not to say there aren’t ways Boston can beat Toronto’s zone, because there are. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens went to Enes Kanter for the first time in the series in Game 3 because he’s a far more competent scorer than Theis and Robert Williams. He’s also one of the best offensive rebounders in the league, the combination of which makes him better-equipped to punish the Raptors in zone.

The problem is Kanter comes with a huge target on his back on the other end of the court. While he was able to score a couple of quick baskets when he checked into the game, he gave those points right back, with VanVleet and Lowry wasting no time putting him in a pick-and-roll.

What does that mean for Game 4? Who knows. The Celtics will almost certainly be better prepared for Toronto’s zone defence after the amount of trouble it gave them in Game 3, but will they have enough success against it to prevent the Raptors from using it even more?

As good as the Celtics have been offensively this season, if there’s any reason to doubt them, it starts with that one key number…

0.69

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How the Tampa Bay Lightning built their Cup-contending team – Sportsnet.ca

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The Tampa Bay Lightning‘s success as an offensive juggernaut has had other clubs trying to capture that same kind of success ever since they went all the way to the Cup Final in 2015. You can see that blueprint unfolding across the Eastern Conference.

That flare for goal-scoring only took them so far, however — and we all know how last year turned out. This year’s focus on bringing in steady veterans to complement the exciting core has paid off in the form of a Stanley Cup Final berth.

While former general manager Steve Yzerman’s fingerprints are all over this team, current GM Julien BriseBois didn’t simply inherit this club — as assistant GM throughout Yzerman’s tenure, he had a huge hand in every part of this roster. Now front and centre, we’re about to find out if his adjustments over this past year will result in a Stanley Cup for a club who’s been on the brink ever since that trip to the Final five years ago.

DRAFTED & DEVELOPED

Forwards Mathieu Joseph (2015, fourth round, 120th overall), Mitchell Stephens (2012, second round, 33rd overall), and Alexander Volkov (2017, second round, 48th overall) were brought into the bubble in a depth capacity role, but when you look at the team’s top six (minus the sidelined Stamkos), none are first-rounders and all are a testament to the Lightning’s ability to draft and develop strong talent. Most are products of Yzerman’s draft board, but BriseBois should get plenty of credit here, too — while he inherited this team when Yzerman resigned in September 2018, he was part of Yzerman’s staff as assistant GM and oversaw the recruitment and development of so many of today’s stars who came through the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch.

Anthony Cirelli, Centre
Drafted: 2015, third round, 72nd overall
Cirelli, a success story for all other late bloomers to learn from, is yet another example of that mid-round draft success of Yzerman and the development chops of BriseBois. The RFA-to-be has got a nose for the net and is as clutch as they come.

Brayden Point, Centre
Drafted: 2014, third round, 79th overall
Looking at this roster, second- and third-round steals are this team’s bread and butter. Just imagine being a GM today and seeing Point still on the board in Round 3…

Andrei Vasilevskiy, Goalie
Drafted: 2012, first round, 19th overall
It took him just two seasons after getting drafted to get his first taste of the NHL, and two more after that to take over the starter’s job from former teammate — and now opponent — Ben Bishop.

Cedric Paquette, Centre
Drafted: 2012, fourth round, 101st overall
The fourth-round fourth-liner has been especially quiet this post-season. Feels like a contender for this year’s unlikely hero, no? It would seem fitting.

Nikita Kucherov, Right wing
Drafted: 2011, second round, 58th overall
Last year’s Hart Trophy winner is a steal in the second round. That he’s the No. 1 line’s lowest draft pick is a testament to Yzerman’s (and his scouting staff’s) draft-season chops.

Ondrej Palat, Left wing
Drafted: 2011, seventh round, 208th overall
Three picks later, and he would’ve been that year’s Mr. Irrelevant. Put alongside Point and Kucherov on Tampa’s lethal top line, he’s anything but.

(Fun fact: With Steven Stamkos sidelined, there are no first-round picks in the Lightning’s top six.)

Victor Hedman, Defence
Drafted: 2009, first round, 2nd overall
Brian Lawton’s tenure at the helm of Tampa Bay was short, but fortuitous in that it brought the club its No. 1 rearguard in Hedman.

Here’s a neat storyline for this Cup Final: Before Rick Bowness joined Dallas as an assistant (and then interim head coach), he was part of Jon Cooper’s staff in Tampa Bay. There, Bowness oversaw the club’s defence – which of course included Hedman, who achieved career-high stats across the board in his first season under Bowness, and credits the longtime bench boss with being able to get his game to the next level.

Hockey Central

Victor Hedman on his Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final

September 01 2020

Steven Stamkos, Centre
Drafted: 2008, first round, first overall
The captain is one of just two players on this roster, along with Alex Killorn, drafted by former GM Jay Feaster. Stamkos was Feaster’s parting gift to the franchise, as the longtime executive left his post on July 11, 2008 – just a few weeks after that year’s draft.

Including Hedman, he’s one of just three members of this year’s team not drafted by either Yzeman or BriseBois.

Alex Killorn, Left wing
Drafted: 2007, third round, 77th overall
He’s the longest-tenured Tampa teammate, as one of three players predating Yzerman and BriseBois’ time. His career is also a true testament to patience – six years passed between the forward getting the draft call and getting the call-up to the NHL, developing in the NCAA with Harvard and in the AHL under BriseBois’ guidance.

TRADE

Last year’s first-round exit is what hockey nightmares are made of. This year’s trade targets — Coleman and Goodrow — show a focus on bringing in grit and depth. And while they weren’t the flashiest of deals, the Lightning’s place in the Stanley Cup Final shows they’re key parts of the puzzle.

Blake Coleman, Centre/Right wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Devils
This deal, which saw forward prospect Nolan Foote and a first-round pick in either 2020 or 2021 sent to New Jersey in return, looked good at the deadline as Coleman was a strong candidate to head to a contending club. The deal looks even better now that the Lightning have gotten all the way to the Stanley Cup Final with the help of the gritty, skilled, depth forward who’s got another affordable year on his deal after this year.

Barclay Goodrow, Left wing
Acquired: Feb. 2020, from Sharks
Was it a bit surprising that Goodrow garnered a first-round pick? Yup. But if the depth forward can keep contributing en route to a Stanley Cup? Totally worth it.

Jan Rutta, Defence
Acquired: Jan. 2019, from Chicago
A depth piece on this roster, Rutta has appeared in just one game this post-season.

Ryan McDonagh, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2018, from Rangers
Tampa Bay’s rental at the 2018 trade deadline gelled so well in his new Florida home, the former Rangers captain signed on long-term a few months later.

Carter Verhaeghe, Centre
Acquired: July 2017, from Islanders
Being traded from the Islanders to the Lightning in exchange for goalie Kristers Gudlevskis in 2017 was just one step in what has been a long journey to the NHL for the forward — a journey that took him from the ECHL to now the highest level of the NHL.

Mikhail Sergachev, Defence
Acquired: June 2017, from Canadiens
Trading an unhappy Jonathan Drouin for a recently-drafted defenceman full of potential feels like one of Yzerman’s biggest trade-floor wins from his days as GM.

Erik Cernak, Defence
Acquired: Feb. 2017, from Kings
The second-pairing rearguard was part of the return from L.A. when goaltender Bishop was rented out to the Kings at the deadline.

Braydon Coburn, Defence
Acquired: March 2015, from Philadelphia
Yzerman has been known for some strong trade market moves, but this one doesn’t look great in hindsight. Tampa paid a steep price for Coburn back in 2015, sending Radko Gudas and the Lightning’s first- and third-round picks to Philadelphia in exchange for the rearguard.

FREE AGENCY

Picking up undersized, undrafted free agent forwards like Tyler Johnson (2011) and Yanni Gourde (2014) felt like Yzerman’s calling card.

Signing veterans to short-term, risk-free, rebound contracts to complement the club’s strong core might turn out to be that of BriseBois. Just like this year’s trade targets, BriseBois’ savvy, short-term deals to bring in veterans searching for a rebound have yielded strong results.

Zach Bogosian, Defence
Signed: Feb. 24, 2020 (one year, $1.3M)
A smart veteran signing after having his contract terminated by Buffalo, Bogosian’s strong play with Tampa Bay – his first playoff experience, no less – looks really good right now.

Kevin Shattenkirk, Defence
Signed: Aug. 2019 (one year, $1.75M)
Three years ago, Shattenkirk landed in New York on a four-year deal worth $6.65 million per season as one of the top UFAs on the market. After being bought out last August, Tampa Bay picked him up on a smart, mutually beneficial pact that has revived his career and paid off for the Lightning, too.

Pat Maroon, Left wing
Signed: Aug. 2019 (1 year, $900,000)
The big power forward and hometown hero with last year’s Blues is proof that every teams needs a little old-school on the roster.

Curtis McElhinney, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (two years, $2.6M)
He was one of the best stories out of Carolina’s Cinderella run in last year’s playoffs, and a strong insurance policy with Tampa this time around. Money well spent.

Scott Wedgewood, Goalie
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, 700,000)
The affordable depth option hasn’t played since signing with the club, but as we learn (and re-learn every playoffs), you can never have too much insurance in net.

Luke Schenn, Defence
Signed: July 1, 2019 (one year, $700,000)
Schenn is another example of players being picked up by Tampa Bay on low-cost, risk-free deals aimed at setting players up for a career revival. One of the first-round picks on this club (taken fifth overall by Toronto in 2008), Schenn is now an affordable depth forward with the Lightning and a complementary piece to this fast group.

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Nuggets’ customary comeback falls short as Lakers dominate Game 1 – Sportsnet.ca

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A funny thing happens when a professional sports team pulls off two minor miracles back to back: minor miracles start to feel inevitable.

The Denver Nuggets have made a habit in these playoffs of not just coming back from two 3–1 series deficits to the Utah Jazz and the Clippers, but massive in-game deficits as well. And so when the Los Angeles Lakers blew open Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals in the second quarter Friday night, it felt like just a matter of time until the Nuggets did what the Nuggets do.

But, of course, that feeling is more useful for making blowouts watchable than it is actually indicative of future success. And on this night, the comeback failed to arrive. Foul and turnover trouble — not to mention the one-two punch of newly minted all-NBA first-teamers LeBron James and Anthony Davis — teamed up to undo the Nuggets as the Lakers took Game 1 by 12 points.

Here are a handful of takeaways from the game:

SECOND YELPING

Both teams started off hot in this one. Davis led all players with 14 points on a mix of jumpers, stepbacks and aggressive play that got him to the line for free throws. Meanwhile, Denver’s Nikola Jokic netted 11 points in 11 first-quarter minutes, and teammate (and Canadian) Jamal Murray got nine of his own thanks in part to a buzzer-beating three in Davis’s face at the end of the frame.

But everything changed in the second quarter. The Nuggets came out as sloppy and cold as Winnipeg in March, and the Lakers started the frame on a 17–1 run. As mentioned above, a major culprit was turnovers.

Through the first five minutes of the quarter, the Nuggets had more turnovers (six) than shots (five — all of which they’d missed). Even worse for Denver was the Lakers managed to do all the damage with Davis on the bench.

Any hope of closing the gap was quashed by all three of Jokic, Murray and Paul Millsap leaving the game with three fouls. The Lakers shot 25 free throws in the second quarter alone, roughly equal to the 28 the Nuggets took over the entire game.

While the Lakers parade to the line ended in the second half, Davis didn’t need much more as he stayed hot. He finished with 37 points in 33 minutes.

THE ANKLE ROLL HEARD ’ROUND THE GYM

Early in the second quarter, James stepped on Jerami Grant’s foot while driving to the basket, and rolled his ankle slightly. The grimace on his face, the slow-mo replay, and eventually the super-shot first free throw made it seem like a bigger issue than it was, but roughly a minute later he rose for a huge dunk and put any questions to bed.

James didn’t need to score much in this one, but finished with 15 points on 11 shots, 12 assists and six rebounds in only 31 minutes.

After the game, James was asked about NBA MVP voting, in which he finished second to back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo. He wasn’t diplomatic.

Fair to assume James isn’t lacking for motivation at this point of either these playoffs or his career.

BIG TIME

Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before the game he intended to play his twin towers of Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee after giving them an average of 9.4 minutes combined throughout the team’s previous series against the uber-small Houston Rockets. On Friday, Howard matched his minutes total from the Houston series with 16 while McGee took the floor for 11, five of which came in garbage time.

And the bigs rewarded their coach’s renewed faith against the larger Nuggets lineup. Howard, in particular, was quick to shake off any rust that had gathered, blowing up Denver pick and rolls, and getting to the line eight times in the first half. For his effort, he got to start the second half in place of McGee, and put up eight points in the frame.

LOW-KEY DENVER STARS

Perhaps the biggest impact of the Lakers’ bigs was on Jokic, who had been one of the biggest stories of the playoffs to this point.

McGee helped set the tone by blocking a Jokic layup in the opening seconds of the game. Then the Lakers’ bigs played a big part in Jokic’s foul trouble, which resulted in just 25 minutes for the Nuggets’ MVP.

Jokic finished with 21 points but just two assists — his lowest total so far in these playoffs.

Murray also finished with 21, but the only other Nugget in double figures was Michael Porter Jr., who went on a late run to tally 14.

MIRROR BALL

(Is that a Neil Young reference or a Taylor Swift reference? You be the judge!)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: the Nuggets play an L.A. team super tight in the first quarter before getting trounced in the second and third, before both teams coast to the finish in the fourth.

The ebb and flow of this game was dead on Game 1 of the Clippers-Nuggets series. In fact, with four minutes left in Friday’s game, the score actually hit on 120–97 — the final score in Nuggets-Clippers Game 1 — exactly.

This, along with other recent evidence, should serve the Nuggets well in looking for reasons not to take the loss to heart.

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Stars savouring rare opportunity to live out long-awaited dream – Sportsnet.ca

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EDMONTON — Ryan Bowness was a 33-year-old scout for Pittsburgh back in 2017 when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, bestowing upon the Bowness family their first Stanley Cup ring.

He had his day with the Cup that summer, and brought it to the Halifax home of his parents. There, father Rick — a hockey lifer who had pursued that very chalice for far longer than Ryan had been alive — hosted a party in his son’s honour.

“I couldn’t have been more proud of him than when he brought that Stanley Cup home for the old man,” said Rick, the Dallas Stars head coach who gathered round ol’ Stanley for the requisite pictures.

“Of course, I didn’t touch it.”

After all these years in the game, Rick Bowness — drafted in 1975 by both the defunct Atlanta Flames and the Indianapolis Racers of the defunct World Hockey Association — will take his shot at earning his day with the Cup this summer, when he leads the Dallas Stars into Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night in Edmonton.

His is just another of the many tales that are authored whenever two teams of 40-some players, coaches, managers and organizational hockey folk get this close to The Dream.

For half of them, The Dream will be realized. For the other half, having spent two-plus months in the bubble only to lose the Cup Final, they will reel from the cruelest of blows. Some for years to come.

“When I was growing up (in Kazakhstan and Russia) my dream was to play in the NHL,” said Stars goalie Anton Khudobin. “I didn’t really think to win the Stanley Cup, but when I came here and realized it’s not so easy to get here to the Final, I start thinking it would be a great accomplishment to get there and sometime win the Cup.”

Today, Khudobin is 34 and near the end of the line. Like teammates Joe Pavelski (36) who has never won, and Corey Perry (35), who won as a sophomore in Anaheim and has never been back, this is very likely their last kick at the cat as well.

“My first time going to the Final (in 2007) we played Ottawa, and pretty much three-quarters of my family is from Ottawa,” recalled Perry. “So there were a lot of people at every game. Here, my wife is coming in (Saturday), and I’ll see her in four, five days — after the quarantine. It’s a little different. Not travelling across the country, everything is right here. It’s just a matter of going out and playing hockey.”

For every Bowness and Pavelski, however, there is a Tyler Seguin. He won a Cup as a rookie in Boston in 2011, defeating Vancouver, where Bowness was an assistant coach, in seven games. Seguin returned in 2013, where the Bruins fell prey to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Seguin was 21, and had two Finals under his belt and his name on the Stanley Cup.

At age 28, how does it feel to be back again?

“I have more respect for it. More of a smile,” he said. “You realize how hard it is to get to this point. Back in the Boston days you figured it was going to happen every other year, with how my career started. (Now) I know the worth of the Cup a lot more, and how it is to get here. So, I am definitely knowing every moment.”

If only we all had a chance in life to relive our biggest moments two or three times. To get enough reps so it’s not all a blur, whatever your moment may be.

“And with the experience I have, you want to go talk to guys if they look nervous, or they’re not smiling,” Seguin said. “This is what we all dream about. The best time of year, a best position to be in.

“It’s the opportunity you have. Everything that’s happened so far? Nothing matters. It’s one series. Anything can happen in these moments.”

Seguin recalls stressing over setting up tickets for family at his previous Cups, a rite of passage for any player who gets this far — until this season.

“Big Markets,” he said. “Back in Boston, playing in Vancouver and Chicago in the years I went to the Final, tickets were pricey. Worth every dollar to have your family and friends there, but these are different times. It’s 2020. Nothing is unexpected.”

Begrudgingly, Seguin smiles as he admits even to missing us scribes. OK, not personally. But the media presence at a Final is what helps make the experience, another facet that simply doesn’t exist in these bubble playoffs.

Friday was Media Day, which meant a series of Zoom calls. Woo hoo…!

“Honestly, you miss those (media) days,” Seguin admitted. “Being there twice, it feels like you’re a football player. There is so much media. Cameras in your face. It’s definitely surreal, and a memory I have.”

There are so many elements that are different this year. The result, however, will not be cowed by COVID-19.

Win the Stanley Cup, and it is something these players and coaches will never forget.

Lose? Same.

“The Vancouver one stays with you every day of your life,” Bowness admits. “When you get to Game 7 and you lose a Stanley Cup Final? That stays with you.

“I’ve only been there a couple of times, but any time you get to those Stanley Cup Finals, man, it stays with ya. The rest of your life.

“It’s painful.”

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