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Thompson’s leadership, consistency would be valuable for Canada –



It’s never pretty with Tristan Thompson but the veteran Canadian big man with the movie star looks (yes, he’s been mistaken for Michael B. Jordan) and the celebrity romantic relationships has never bothered with that.

In his ninth season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Thompson has won a championship, played in three other NBA Finals and earned nearly $100 million and counting but his ”see ball, get ball” formula has never wavered.

“It’s just my DNA,” Thompson told Sportsnet in a near empty visitor’s locker room at Scotiabank Arena after his Cavaliers were thumped by his hometown Toronto Raptors 133-113 as the Cavs fell to 6-21 on the season.

Thompson was Thompson, though, as he put up 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds and dished three assists in his 33 minutes.

“At the end of the day I’m the leader of this team, it’s on me to punch the clock with these young guys and these new guys,” he says. “I have to set the tone with my energy and come in ready to play and not just on the court but off the floor, holding myself to a higher standard because they’re watching everything I do. I was lucky to break in with vets who did it the right way so it’s up to me to pay it forward.”

Over his career, Thompson has changed his free-throw shooting from left-handed to right-handed and worked some more nuanced skills into his tool box while matching a high basketball IQ with a world-class motor, but making his game glamourous or aesthetically appealing has never been on the agenda.

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So the game might be an ungainly collection of floaters and last-man-standing put-backs, but the most beautiful thing of all is you always know what you’re going to get from the Brampton, Ont., native: a battle to the end for every rebound, speed in transition and the ability and willingness to switch out and guard on the perimeter while hustling back to the paint to protect the rim and collect the scraps.

“He’s one of those guys that has an incredible motor,” says Cavs teammate Larry Nance Jr. “He doesn’t know any better. Whether it’s practice, whether it’s a game, whether it’s pick-up, he just plays hard as hell. He doesn’t know any better. It’s impressive to see but it’s not even a decision to make, it’s who he is.

Playing against him?

“It’s a total pain in the ass to be honest with you,” says Nance Jr., having matched up with Thompson in practice and pick-up games. “But that’s just who he is, and he’s made a hell of a career out of it. I wish more people had that.”

This season with the Cavaliers will provide the ultimate test and Thompson will pass it. Two years ago, Cleveland swept the Raptors for the second straight year and played in their fourth straight NBA Finals. But when LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Cavaliers had no choice but to rebuild, and they showed why it’s a project with no end in sight. They allowed the Raptors to shoot 58.4 per cent from the floor – not all that unusual for a team that came into the game ranked 28th in the NBA in defensive efficiency.

But Thompson still put in work. He doggedly wrestled with Marc Gasol in the paint, giving up four inches and 30 pounds and then gave the quicker and more skilled Pascal Siakam a challenge out to the three-point line.

In good times and bad, Thompson has proven reliable. From that perspective, he’s a coach’s dream.

“He has been a Cav his entire life and he has a lot of pride so he’s working really hard to lead this young team and do the best he can,” says Cleveland head coach John Beilein, an NBA rookie at age 66 after a storied NCAA coaching career.

When unnamed Cavs were complaining recently about some of their new coach’s methods, it was Thompson who spoke up in support and quelled the mini-uprising.

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“He’s been a warrior. You watch him tonight, he’ll go after virtually every rebound every single time with everything he’s got.

“So it’s a wrestling match at one end, a wrestling match at the other end and by the way he has to sprint. And he’s usually going to the basket so he’s got further than everyone else to run. He’s been a warrior on so many games and has really helped us with the successes we’ve had and some of the tough losses we’ve had we wouldn’t be in it without him.”

A pending free agent Thompson’s contract status might preclude him from playing for Canada at the Olympic Qualifying tournament in Victoria, B.C., in June although if they make it through, the Olympics in Japan might be in play. Raptors and Canadian national team head coach Nick Nurse would love to have him.

“We hope he plays,” said Nurse, who spoke with Thompson during his pre-game warm-up. “He’s one of the best rebounding bigs in the world. We’re playing on the world stage. He’d look good on our team.”

He’d look good on a lot of teams. In the short term, the ultimate reward for Thompson might be a ticket out of Cleveland, his only NBA home, although there is talk that they should re-sign him as a pillar in their rebuild. In his last year of his five-year, $80-million contract, Thompson is the kind of veteran playoff-bound teams would love to add. Could his hometown Raptors use his blend of grit, size and smarts?

Absolutely, although price is always a big part of the equation. The Cavs may be holding out for a first-round pick for Thompson, but there are doubts they’ll get one for a role-playing rental.

Regardless, Thompson will be sought after because he brings certainty.

As one NBA executive put it when assessing the attractiveness of Thompson to a contender between now and the Feb. 6th NBA trade deadline: “You know what you’re getting.”

His teammates take note and try to follow his example. There aren’t many NBA players who don’t find a way to bring it when things are rolling and a long playoff run is in sight. But when things go south?

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.

Different story.

“We’re all very competitive. You don’t get to this point by losing,” said Nance Jr., who is in his third season playing alongside Thompson. “But now that you’re here, struggling, it is easy to kind of drop your head and get frustrated with what’s going on.”

But broke in with a losing Cavs team by establishing himself as one of the most energetic bigs in the NBA; Thompson earned the trust of LeBron James in Cleveland’s runs to the finals by being one of the league’s most energetic bigs and he hasn’t shifted down now that the Cavaliers are lottery bound again.

“You do it on a championship team, you do it in the playoffs, that stuff is noticed more,” he says. “But whether you’re in the playoffs or not, you have to be true to yourself. For me, what I bring to the table is play hard every night and I can’t waver regardless of what the situation is.”

Along the way he’s learned some tricks. The rookies might be drenching their waffles in maple syrup, but if they’re paying attention, they’ll notice Thompson helping himself to avocado spread on whole grain toast.

He’s the first one at the practice facility for treatment and one of the last to get more treatment after, the better to keep the motor running smoothly.

Thompson’s approach adds up. He’s one of three players to average six offensive rebounds per 100 possessions since he broke into the league; his 1,993 offensive rebounds is third in the NBA over the same period and his 17.4 total rebounding percentage is eighth among players with at least 500 games.

Thompson’s game has never been pretty and he’s never worried about making it so. The Michael B. Jordan comparisons will have to do.

“Me and Mike are cool. I know him. People always mistake us,” says Thompson.

But his consistency and commitment to his role just might earn him an elegant exit from Cleveland by the trade deadline.

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Winter’s Coming. Will Canada’s Pandemic Bicycle Boom Last? – The New York Times



Since 1992, July for me has often meant spending three weeks driving thousands of kilometers to report on the cyclists competing in the Tour de France.

Credit…Christophe Petit Tesson/EPA, via Shutterstock

So even though I’m not there this year, it has still taken a bit of adjustment to deal with the tour being in September. Delayed and being held under special pandemic protocols, the race is nevertheless going on as coronavirus cases spike in France. Indeed, Nice was declared an infection red zone just as it was about to host the opening stages.

[Read: Masks in Place, the Tour de France Puts On a Brave Face]

Within the race, it looks as if the protocols have more or less worked. No team has had two positive tests, which would have forced it to withdraw. Although there has been a sprinkling of positives, including one from Christian Prudhomme, the race director.

[Read: A Relieved Tour de France Has the Finish in Sight]

While I’m not in France to experience the tour, another development in the world of cycling — a local one — has helped offset my disappointment. Canadians have gone crazy about cycling.

I don’t just write about cycling. As a low-performance athlete, I usually spend my summers putting in dismal results in time trials, races against the clock, and preparing for cyclocross, the end-of-season racing that mixes in some running and nearly every possible riding surface on its circuits, including deep mud and smooth tarmac. Lately, when I’ve been riding outdoors, I’ve been doing it with a lot more people.

Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

By late spring, it was becoming nearly impossible to buy a bike anywhere in the world. That was a reflection both of the unexpected surge in demand and a supply chain that was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. Most bikes, aside from high-end, customized offerings, are churned out by a small number of companies based in Taiwan that have extensive operations in China. My colleague Raymond Zhong recently profiled the biggest of those companies, the aptly named Giant, and its chairwoman, Bonnie Tu.

[Read: Sorry, the World’s Biggest Bike Maker Can’t Help You Buy a Bike Right Now]

In Ottawa, Canada’s bicycle boom has exhibited itself in an unusual way. The morning and afternoon bicycle rush hour didn’t return. But when I’m out doing errands by bike, it’s now often a struggle to find a parking space outside stores. And on weekends, when I’m on rides measured in hours, it’s increasingly common to see people on very inexpensive bicycles, who are not wearing fancy cycling clothes, cycling well outside the city.

Many cities have responded. Cars have been temporarily barred from some lanes or entire roads in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere. In addition to closing streets, Halifax has moved to slow motor traffic on some streets and limit vehicles to residents.

The question now is, will this enthusiasm for cycling survive winter and the post-pandemic period?

To get some sense of what’s to come and how cities might keep cycling fever going, I spoke with Beth Savan, a senior lecturer and adjunct professor in the geography and planning department of the University of Toronto. Dr. Savan was the main investigator in a study published last year by researchers at her university, along with others at McGill University and Simon Fraser University, about how to increase cycling in Canada.

Credit…Ian Austen/The New York Times

She said she was encouraged that people rushed out to buy new bikes rather than dust off old ones because it suggests that they may be more invested in sticking with cycling. She also noted that this is the first bicycle boom since the advent of the e-bike. (Gretchen Reynolds recently reported on studies looking at whether electrically assisted bikes are safe and if they actually provide good exercise.)

Dr. Savan has also noticed in recent months that the lines between recreational and transportation uses of bikes are blurring, another sign that the national interest in cycling might persist.

“People will now take a nice route to go on their errands to get some exercise or some pleasure along the way,” she said. “It’s kind of a new situation.”

Augmenting that effect has been the large number of people working from home who are now also largely shopping within their neighborhoods. Many of those people, she said, have discovered that bicycles are more effective than cars for those short trips.

For the winter, Dr. Savan said that Canadian cities should think about adopting the model of some places in Scandinavia, where sidewalks are cleared first, then bike paths and finally roads. Her group’s study, by the way, shows that winter cycling before the pandemic was strong in many places that bore the full brunt of the season.

Dr. Savan urged local government to view their current cycling accommodations as pilot projects to cycling rather than as temporary pandemic measures.

“To try and engineer lower a lower proportion of trips undertaken by car, that’s really where the challenge is,” she said. “As people start to feel more confident about going back to work in indoor spaces, they will be tempted to drive more.”

Credit…Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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Novak Djokovic damages racket in fit of anger during Italian Open quarter-finals –



Less than two weeks after getting defaulted from the U.S. Open, Novak Djokovic lost his cool again midway through a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 win over German qualifier Dominik Koepfer in the Italian Open quarter-finals Saturday.

When Djokovic was broken at love to even the second set at 3-3, he slammed his racket to the red clay in anger in Rome.

With the frame broken and the strings all mangled, Djokovic was forced to get a new racket and received a warning from the chair umpire.

“It’s not the first nor the last racket that I’ll break in my career,” Djokovic said. “I’ve done it before and I’ll probably do it again. I don’t want to do it but when it comes, it happens.

“That’s how, I guess, I release sometimes my anger and it’s definitely not the best message out there, especially for the young tennis players looking at me, and I don’t encourage that — definitely.”

WATCH | Djokovic loses his temper yet again:

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic was angry after being broken at love during the 2nd set but would go on to defeat German qualifier Dominik Koepfer 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in the Italian Open quarter-finals. 0:34

The top-ranked Djokovic had said Monday that he learned “a big lesson” after he was thrown out of the U.S. Open for unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball in a fit of anger. Djokovic also acknowledged then “that I have outbursts and this is kind of the personality and the player that I have always been.”

At the Foro Italico, Djokovic had already appeared frustrated during the game before he broke his racket, glaring toward the umpire following a couple of overrules and a point that was ordered to be replayed.

“That’s just me,” Djokovic said. “Of course I’m not perfect and I’m doing my best.”

WATCH | Novak Djokovic hits line judge with ball at U.S. Open:

Novak Djokovic’s U.S. Open was cut short after he hit a line judge with a discarded tennis ball during his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta. 4:17

Ruud 1st Norwegian to reach semis of Masters 1000 tourney

The 97th-ranked Koepfer, who screamed at himself in frustration throughout the match, was also warned for misbehaviour early in the third set.

Aiming for his fifth title in Rome, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent will be Casper Ruud, who eliminated local favourite Matteo Berrettini 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5) in a match that lasted two hours 57 minutes.

Ruud is the first Norwegian to reach the semifinals of a Masters 1000 tournament. His father, Christian Ruud, got as far as the quarter-finals of the Monte Carlo Masters in 1997.

Shapovalov into semis

The other semifinal will feature No. 12 seed Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill, Ont., against No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Shapovalov edged No. 15 seed Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2, while Schwartzman upset clay court specialist and world No. 2 Rafael Nadal 6-2, 7-5.

WATCH | Shapovalov’s 100th win sends him into semis:

21-year-old Denis Shapovalov of Richmond Hill earns his 100th career ATP tour-level win by beating  Grigor Dimitrov 6-2, 3-6, 6-2.  2:23

While fans have not been admitted to the tournament yet — Italy’s sports minister said Friday that 1,000 spectators will be allowed in for the semifinals and finals — workers, family members and other onlookers inside the picturesque Pietrangeli stadium provided some support for Berrettini, who is from Rome.

Nicola Pietrangeli, the 1957 and 1961 Rome champion and the man the stadium is named after, was also among those sitting on the white marble stands.

“There would have been a lot more adrenaline with fans,” Berrettini said.

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NBA Playoffs 2020: The Boston Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever – NBA CA



8h ago

Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics could be up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals just as easily as they are down 2-0.

Blowing double-digit leads in each of the first two games of the series, the Miami Heat have out-hustled the Celtics for 48 (and some change) minutes in back-to-back games to give themselves a commanding lead.

With Boston on the brink of the infamous 3-0 deficit that no NBA team has ever come back from, Game 3 becomes a must-win if the Celtics are going to continue their push for their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.

There’s been a common thread in Games 1 and 2 (aside from the double-digit comebacks) that have placed Boston in this situation: Miami’s 2-3 zone defence. Our Scott Rafferty analyzed that issue in detail, and it’s been a glaring weakness for Boston’s offence all season.

But luckily for the Celtics, they still haven’t used all the cards up their sleeve. They still have a weapon stored away that could present itself at any moment now, as former All-Star forward Gordon Hayward‘s return is on the horizon.

Hayward, who suffered an ankle injury in the Celtics’ first game of the postseason and has been out since, was upgraded to “doubtful” before Game 2. While that wasn’t much of an update, it showed he was getting closer to returning to the floor. The Athletic’s Jared Weiss confirmed that following Thursday’s loss, stating that Hayward is “progressing toward a return for Game 3,” adding that he felt good after Wednesday’s practice and will “get more on-court work Friday with the hope of playing Saturday.”

On Friday, he was officially listed by the team as “questionable” for Game 3.

It will surely take some time for Hayward to get back into the flow of things after missing one month of action, but he immediately helps Boston take steps toward breaking that impenetrable zone defence.

His 19.0 points per game in the bubble speaks for itself, giving the Celtics an extra scoring threat that the Heat will have to worry about. He can shoot from the perimeter (converting 38.3% of his 3s this season), he’s a solid slasher with the ball and cutter without the ball, and he’s a strong midrange shooter, pairing well with sharp playmaking skills that should help dissect that zone.

Most importantly, Hayward loves working in the soft spot of the 2-3 zone (right at the foul line), which should give Miami’s defence more trouble than its seen thus far.

In Games 1 and 2, the Celtics elected to go with Marcus Smart or Daniel Theis to try and pierce the heart of that zone. Smart’s passing makes him an OK option for that middle spot, but he’s better off on the perimeter, where he’s converting 42.1% of his 3s this series. The Heat will live with him or Theis taking that midrange pull-up, whereas it becomes a much more efficient source of offence for Boston with Hayward taking that shot.

According to NBA Stats, Hayward shot 49.3% on midrange jumpers and 43.4% on shots in the paint (non-restricted area) this season. Having him in the middle will prevent the zone’s two defenders up top from expanding so far out, shrinking that long and athletic defence even just a tad bit more.

The Heat will be forced to collapse on Hayward, where he can showcase his playmaking ability to find open shooters on the perimeter. That makes Miami much more reliant on perfect and quick rotations to challenge Boston’s 3-point shooters.

If the Heat’s defenders don’t collapse on him or the centre (typically Bam Adebayo) doesn’t take a step up, Hayward will gladly take looks like the one below over and over again.

Even though he misses that particular jumper, it’s a shot Miami is much less likely to live with compared to Smart or Theis pulling up from there. Even when Hayward attacks from the perimeter, he has no problem stopping short of that centre defender for little pull-up jumpers like this one against the Heat earlier this season:

The Celtics have been dependent on quick passes for (often contested) 3-pointers, which has also developed into bad decisions for live ball turnovers or long rebounds going the other way to spark Miami runs off of offensive droughts. Having someone that can hit shots like the ones above makes that zone defence much more vulnerable than it has been so far.

Hayward’s return wouldn’t just be a luxury for the Celtics, it’s essential for them to keep their season alive in trying to even the series.

The Celtics need Gordon Hayward now more than ever if their title pursuit is going to continue.

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