Giannis Antetokounmpo’s final play of Thursday night’s loss to the Toronto Raptors might have been the most telling play of the night.
It started with Khris Middleton bringing the ball up in transition. All night the Raptors swarmed Middleton, the Milwaukee Bucks’ two-time all-star. Every time he got the ball they seemed to attack him, forcing him to make the right pass over and over again. Late in the fourth quarter, things were no different. As he drove through the lane the Raptors defence collapsed around him, forcing him to wisely pass the ball over to Antetokounmpo. Against other teams, the 6-foot-11 two-time MVP would have gone up cleanly and dunked the ball with ease. But not against the Raptors. All that attention Toronto had just paid to Middleton quickly shifted over and OG Anunoby and Fred VanVleet’s pesky hands got in the way of an easy layup.
Instead of finishing with ease, Antetokounmpo let his emotions get the best of him. After 37 minutes of frustration, he leaned in to Anunoby’s chin with his shoulder tried to go through the Raptors’ 6-foot-7 defensive stopper. Anunoby fell to the floor emotionless, of course. The ball went straight up and straight down. No bucket and a flagrant foul.
See, the thing about the Raptors is they’re pesky. They run what might be the most aggressive and frustrating defensive scheme in the NBA. So when you’re a star, even a star as talented as Antetokounmpo and Middleton, Toronto is going to get on your nerves.
“Their activity, their length, they’re scrambling, lots of double teams and trapping,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Toronto’s defence. “They were very active, and we weren’t as good as we need to be offensively in the first half.”
The Raptors make you make decisions in a hurry. They send pressure from every angle, constantly creating chaos for opposing offences. It’s how they force an NBA leading 16.8 turnovers per game.
On Thursday, they played textbook defence against Antetokounmpo. Of course, that makes sense considering Raptors coach Nick Nurse happened to write the textbook in the 2019 playoffs. Toronto sagged off of Antetokounmpo when he pulled up for a jump shot and swarmed him anytime he got deep in the paint. Against Middleton, it was constant double teaming to stop him from getting off his deadly jumper.
“Just makes you uncomfortable; you cannot get into your rhythm,” Antetokounmpo said of the Raptors defence. “Being able to get to your spot and rise up or get to your spot and get a bucket gives you rhythm, gives you energy then you find the right pass, you play harder defensively, but just like whenever you’re in office. They just make you, they make you feel uncomfortable. Whenever you get the ball there’s somebody coming. Whenever you drive the ball somebody is coming to catch the spin. Whenever Khris has the ball in pick-and-roll they’re double teaming. So it’s just hard.”
It helps, of course, having some elite defenders as the first line of defence against the Bucks superstars. Anunoby spent nearly five minutes or 18.59 partial possessions covering Antetokounmpo and didn’t surrender a single point, according to NBA Stats. Actually, he didn’t surrender a single point to anyone he covered all night.
DeAndre’ Bembry’s night was very much the same. He spent the plurality of his evening on Middleton and didn’t surrender a single point in over five minutes or 19.53 partial possessions as Middleton’s primary defender, per NBA Stats.
“He’s got a good feel for what’s going on out there,” Nurse said of Bembry who made his first start of the season against Milwaukee. “He knows who he’s guarding and he can apply some heat.”
Part of being that aggressive is knowing you’re going to get burned once in a while. On some night, against some superstars, that pressure is going to create open shots either at the rim or behind the arc. It’s not always a recipe for success, but when it works, it can be really really frustrating for opposing teams.
Gushue Falls to 2-1: Smith Makes Shot of the Tournament – VOCM
It was a classic matchup at the Tim Hortons Brier last night between defending champ Brad Gushue and former champ Kevin Koe.
They were tied in the eighth end but Koe eventually put it away 9-7 to remain undefeated.
Gushue, whose next match comes tonight against Saskatchewan, falls to 2-1.
Greg Smith, representing NL, dropped to 0-4 after an 11-4 loss to Nova Scotia.
Down 7-1 and nothing to lose, Smith made the shot of the tournament in what TSN is calling the “Rock Around the Clock.” Smith plays tonight against winless PEI.
— TSN Curling (@TSNCurling) March 8, 2021
James unbeaten as captain as Team LeBron beat Team Durant at NBA All-Star Game – TSN
ATLANTA — In the midst of a pandemic, this was assured of being an NBA All-Star Game like no other.
The stands were mostly empty. The crowd noise was largely piped in. There were no A-list celebrities sitting courtside. Two players had to sit out after getting haircuts.
But in the end, it had a familiar feel.
Team LeBron won again.
Knocking down shots from all over the court, LeBron James’ powerhouse squad closed the first half with a dominating run to set up a 170-150 romp over Team Durant in the league’s 70th midseason showcase Sunday night.
The top vote-getters in each conference have picked the teams the last four years, a duty that James has earned every season.
He’s now 4-0, having defeated Stephen Curry’s squad in 2018 and teams selected by Milwaukee’s two-time reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo the previous two years.
This time, James drafted his two former adversaries and blew away Kevin Durant’s team.
“I think he’s got a future as a GM,” said Damian Lillard, another of James’ inspired selections. “He always gets it right.”
Antetokounmpo was the game’s MVP after shooting 16 of 16 for 35 points, even making all three of his attempts beyond the 3-point stripe. It was the most baskets without a miss in All-Star Game history.
“I’m just having fun,” the Greek star said. “Sometimes when you’re having fun and not thinking about the outcome, you just let your instincts take over.”
Curry chipped in with 28 points, while Lillard had 32.
James spent most of the night admiring his drafting skill from the bench. He played less than 13 minutes, scored just four points, and didn’t return to the court in the second half.
Instead, he munched a snack on the bench.
“I know he was managing his minutes tonight,” Curry said. “We had a great time, representing him as captain. It was a memorable night for sure.”
It sure was for Curry, who won the 3-point competition beforehand, then went 8 of 16 from beyond the arc in the game.
Lillard matched him, also making 8 of 16 from 3-point range.
This All-Star Game sure was different than the previous 69.
Determined to pull off an exhibition that is huge for TV revenue and the league’s worldwide brand, the NBA staged the game in a mostly empty downtown arena, a made-for-TV extravaganza that was symbolic of the coronavirus era.
Despite extensive safety protocols in place, two players didn’t even make it to tipoff. Philadelphia stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were ruled out because they got haircuts from a barber who tested positive for COVID-19.
The only good thing for Durant: He didn’t have to participate in this shellacking, sitting out the game with an ailing hamstring.
Bradley Beal led Team Durant with 26 points.
On a night highlighting Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Team LeBron swept the first three quarters and cruised to the final target score, earning a total of $750,000 for its charity, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
The game got out of hand late in the second quarter.
With scant defence being played, Team LeBron took turns dunking off alley-oop passes. Chris Paul delivered back-to-back lobs that Lillard and Curry slammed through. Then, it was Paul on the receiving end of a payback pass from Curry.
After showing it could handle shots up close, Team LeBron headed outside in the final seconds of the half.
Lillard pulled up for a 3-pointer from the half-court line. Not to be outdone, Curry knocked down one from virtually the same spot.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lillard said. “Me and Steph shoot a lot of 3s. We shoot deep 3s. It was 3, 3, 3, 3, 3.”
Amid the joyful moments, the atmosphere at State Farm Arena was downright eerie compared to a normal All-Star Game.
Instead of a packed house, with A-list celebrities crammed into prime courtside seats, this game was attended by a smattering of hand-picked guests. They had plenty of room to spread out in a 17,000-seat venue that was essentially transformed into a giant television studio, with socially distanced spectators kept far from the court.
Towering video screens were set up behind the benches. Vegas-style lights flashed around the arena. Recorded crowd noise blared over the sound system. The entertainment was provided by the host Atlanta Hawks, who didn’t have any players in the game but were represented by their cheerleaders, drum line and DJ.
To address fears that one of its biggest events would become a super-spreader for a virus that has killed more than a half-million Americans, the NBA pared down its usual weekend-long ritual of extravagant parties, gridlocked streets and people watching
This All-Star Game was a one-night-only event, with a pair of skill competitions held shortly before the game and the Dunk Contest squeezed into the halftime break. The players flew in Saturday afternoon and were largely confined to a nearby hotel except for their time on the court.
“This is when everyone in basketball all over the world comes to one city,” James said before the game. “We’re able to sit back and go, ‘Wow, this is the game we have built.’ It’s a beautiful weekend for all walks of life, on the floor and off the floor.
“But I’m sitting here in my hotel room, isolated. My family’s not here. I’m by myself. It’s just different, to say the least, compared to previous years.”
All-Star Weekend was crammed into a few hours.
During the pregame, Indiana forward Domantas Sabonis defeated Orlando centre Nikola Vucevic in the Skills Challenge, redeeming last year’s finals loss to Bam Adebayo. That was followed by Curry knocking off Utah’s Mike Conley to capture the 3-Point Contest for the second time. The Warriors star added to the long-range title he won in 2015.
At halftime, Portland’s Anfernee Simons defeated New York Knicks rookie Obi Toppin in the Slam Dunk Contest, nearly kissing the rim with his winning throw-down. Cassius Stanley of the Indiana Pacers was eliminated in the opening round.
Team Durant: Zion Williamson of New Orleans started the game in place of Embiid. The Pelicans forward had 10 points. … Durant’s team heaved up 72 3-pointers, but made only 27 (37.5%).
Team LeBron: Paul had 16 assists, passing Magic Johnson’s record for most career All-Star assists with 128. … Lillard ended the game with another long 3-pointer. Curry was waiving to the spectators before it even went in. … James’ team shot 63.6% from the field, including 31 of 61 from 3-point range.
The 71st All-Star Game will be held Feb. 20, 2022, at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse in Cleveland. The 2023 game is set for Salt Lake City, followed by Indianapolis in 2024.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Oilers’ depth to be tested again with McDavid, Draisaitl reunited – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — As the Ottawa Senators arrive in Northern Alberta in hopes of solving an opponent who is 4-0 against them this season, a special surprise awaits the North’s last place team: Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl on the same line.
Welcome to Edmonton!
Since moving on to separate lines last season, reuniting the Oilers’ two superstars has been a tactical last resort for Oilers head coach Dave Tippett. Like on Saturday, when his team needed a spark against Calgary he re-jigged his lines mid-game, and McDavid and/or Draisaitl were in on all three goals in a 3-2 Oilers win over Calgary.
So he’ll stick with that unit tonight — with Kailer Yamamoto on the right wing — while building a second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins between Tyler Ennis and Jesse Puljujarvi. It’s a relatively new look that will test Edmonton’s support scoring.
“It puts pressure on that depth to contribute. We haven’t tried it to this point,” Tippett said. “We know that Connor and Leon are going to drive some offence, but to be a good team we have to have that throughout our lineup. Not just chipping in, but we need consistency.”
On one hand, with last change against an Ottawa team with a young defence corps — and likely giving rookie Joey Daccord only his second NHL start in goal — putting No. 97 and 29 together might give you all the offence you need from one line. As a backup, it’s fair to expect the Oilers’ other three lines to win their matchups against an Ottawa team that has given up the most goals per game (3.89) in the NHL this season.
“It’s fun to watch for us (players) too, watching them out there together. They elevate each other,” said Ennis of the Oilers’ two top players. “For us, it’s important that we contribute. We’re going to have to — they can’t play the whole game. Our depth becomes even more important.”
Here’s a look at the lineups tonight, after an optional morning skate for the Oilers and nothing for Ottawa, which won 4-3 in a shootout in Calgary Sunday night.
Dominik Kahun is out of this lineup, Mikko Koskinen gets the start, and after a decent outing against Calgary, Tippett is going back to a D-pairing of Ethen Bear and Caleb Jones. He’s trying to help them both find their games — neither player has been as good this season as they were last.
“If they can get their game together it just makes us a lot better back there,” Tippett said.
Draisaitl, McDavid, Yamamoto
Ennis, Nugent-Hopkins, Puljujarvi
Shore, Khaira, Turris
Neal, Haas, Chiasson
As for the Sens, they’re looking for a way to beat an Oilers team that defeated them four times in a 10-day span from Jan. 31 to Feb. 9. After two more decisive wins in Edmonton (8-5, 4-2), the teams played two competitive games in Ottawa, where the Oilers prevailed 3-1 and 3-2.
Matt Murray played Sunday in Calgary, so we expect Daccord to go tonight. It is believed that Christian Wolanin could be in for Erik Brannstrom on defence.
Tkachuk, Tierney, C. Brown
Paul, White, Dadonov
Stützle, Norris, Batherson
Dzingel, Anisimov, Watson
Centre of Attention
With Nugent-Hopkins moving back to centre, one of the issues Edmonton could have on its second lines is faceoffs. This season, the trio of Nugent-Hopkins (37.5%), Ennis (75% on just four draws) and Puljujarvi (0-for-2 all season) has had little success or experience in the circle.
Nugent-Hopkins has evolved into a nice second-line centre or left-winger, but his career 44.3% faceoff percentage has been an issue through 10 NHL seasons. He’s taking the line swap in stride, a chilled veteran who can play wherever the coach asks him to.
“I don’t think we’ve thought about it as much as you (media) guys,” he said after the fourth question on the new lines. “Nobody is going to be gripping their sticks too tight, or thinking ‘We have to score now because (McDavid and Draisaitl) are playing together.’
“We want to have secondary scoring, no matter who’s playing with who. The good teams in the league, they get scoring from every line.”
Tippett built the unit with the right components to provide some offence, he figures.
While Nugent-Hopkins and Ennis are both adept at making “good plays in tight places,” Tippett said, “Puljujarvi is probably our best forward at creating loose pucks and getting to the front of the net. (He is) a big guy whose work ethic has been very good for us.
“When you put a line together you’re looking for some chemistry, some symmetry between the three. On paper it looks like it should be effective, but you’ve got to get in games to see where it goes.”
The game begins a run of 12 contests in 21 days for Edmonton. Put another way, that’s three straight four-game weeks.
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