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Toronto Raptors come full circle with first-round series against Brooklyn Nets – TSN

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TORONTO – There were 22.5 seconds left on the clock as Deron Williams stepped to the free- throw line in Game 7 of the thrilling opening-round playoff series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors back in 2014.

Scotiabank Arena – formerly known as the Air Canada Centre – had already seen its share of special moments, and it’s certainly been the site of a few since then, but those who were in the building that day will tell you they’ve never seen or heard it like that.

With a two-point lead and a chance to ice the game and the series for Brooklyn, Williams stared into a seemingly endless sea of red and white – more than 20,000 Raptors fans standing, screaming and stomping, desperately trying to will the ball out of the basket.

The foundation shook and the noise was deafening. When Williams missed the first shot, the building erupted.

That’s just one of the lasting images from an iconic and franchise-altering few weeks. Masai Ujiri’s “F— Brooklyn” in Jurassic Park ahead of Game 1 and the subsequent fine from the NBA, Dwane Casey riding the subway on the way to the arena, and Terrence Ross’ Game 7 steal. Then there was the way it ended – Kyle Lowry, who’s buzzer-beating floater had just been blocked by Paul Pierce, laying under the basket while his friend and teammate DeMar DeRozan consoled him.

Brooklyn had won the battle, but Toronto won the war.

The Nets, who were built to compete for championships, lost in the second round that year. They haven’t won a playoff series – or more than 42 games in a season – since.

The Raptors have won eight postseason series, including an NBA title. They’ve qualified for the playoffs in each of the past seven years, and after failing to win 50 games during the first two decades of their existence, they’ve reached that plateau five seasons in a row – the longest active streak in the league.

Their remarkable and unexpected mid-season turnaround in 2013-14 sparked the most successful run in franchise history, and the “We the North” era was born in that series with Brooklyn – literally in the case of the team’s popular marketing campaign and rallying cry, which was launched a few days before Game 1.

“It was thrilling at that time for the Raptors to even be in that position,” said Nick Nurse, who was in his first season as an assistant with Toronto that year. “I don’t think anybody saw it coming. And the excitement. Man, was it something. The roar of the crowd in Game 1 was amazing for our home fans and fan base. To be there for the first year, that was my first year there, it was something cool, for sure.”

Six years later, the Raptors have come full circle as they prepare to open the postseason against a familiar – and fitting – first-round opponent: the Nets. Both teams look and feel a lot different this time.

For Toronto, it hasn’t exactly been a linear rise. There have been setbacks and casualties along the way. They were swept out of the playoffs three times in four years. Casey was let go. DeRozan was traded. But even as the personnel changed, their on- and off-court identity mostly remained the same, and it manifested itself in that first series against Brooklyn.

Everything seemed new and exciting back then – for the players, the team and its fans. It’s why there was such a buzz in the building and around the city for a first-round series.

The organization hadn’t made the playoffs in six years, and didn’t expect to that season. Three of the starters were making their postseason debuts, while the other two came in with just 24 games of playoff experience under their belts. The Nets’ starters – Williams, Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston – had 447.

The Raptors were actually the higher seed, but given their youth and Brooklyn’s championship pedigree, few picked them to win. That’s when Toronto truly embraced the idea of being the plucky underdogs. We the North. It fit the makeup of the team and resonated with the city and the fans.

Even in defeat, the experience of gutting out a hard-fought seven-game series against a tough veteran opponent helped prepare them for what they would become.

“[It meant] everything,” Lowry said of that 2014 series. He’s the only current Raptors player that appeared in it.

“It motivated me to great, to be better, to understand the situations that I want to be in and how to be successful in them.”

Lowry was 27 at the time. He was still learning what it meant to be a leader and only starting to scratch the surface of what he would blossom into as a player. He hadn’t made his first all-star team yet.

Now, he’s a six-time all-star, an Olympic gold medallist, an NBA champion and arguably the greatest Raptor ever. A lot has changed in six years, but with a game or a series on the line, they still want the ball in the hands of No. 7.

The roles are reversed for the rematch. The Raptors’ starters have appeared in 252 career playoff contests, and all five of them own a championship ring. The active roster has 493 games of playoff experience. Brooklyn’s has 149 games – 74 belonging to Jamal Crawford, who might not even play – and the Nets starters only have 51. They’re the kids. They’re the plucky underdogs with something to prove but nothing to lose.

This is the matchup that most teams wanted entering the restart. The Nets came to Disney without six rotation players. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving won’t return from their injuries until next season, while Spencer Dinwiddie, Wilson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince all opted out. They filled their roster with G League standouts, unclaimed veterans and whomever else they could find on short notice, so most people wrote them off.

But they may be a tougher out than people thought. Outside of the undefeated Phoenix Suns, Brooklyn has been the biggest surprise of the bubble, going 5-3 with wins over the Bucks and Clippers. On Thursday, they nearly ended Portland’s season, despite having nothing tangible on the line.

They remind you a lot of those 2013-14 Raptors that nobody saw coming. They play extremely hard. Without an established the star on the floor – although Caris LeVert is certainly blossoming into one – they share the ball and play together. If anybody should know how dangerous the plucky underdogs could be, it’s Toronto.

“I think they’re obviously one of the big surprises of the restart,” Nurse said. “LeVert’s outstanding. They’re really playing with a lot of confidence. They’re playing fast, Coach [Jacque] Vaughn has obviously got ’em dialled in, and I think there’s a lot of opportunity there for some guys that are pretty good players.

“You’ve got an up and coming guy in LeVert that’s a super, super scorer and player. You’ve got [some] veteran players around them, Garrett Temple and even Jamal Crawford, in their locker room. Even though he hasn’t played much, it’s still nice to have some vets around the team. They’ve got a lot of guys who are playing with a lot of energy and a lot of confidence right now. They certainly earned and deserve this playoff berth and we will respect them, for sure. We will have to prepare and play really well to beat them.”

It’s not just the teams that have changed in six years, so have the expectations. The Raptors aren’t just happy to be there anymore, and merely getting past Brooklyn is no longer good enough. The goal will be to advance in four or five games – they’ve been on the losing side of four series sweeps in franchise history, but never on the winning side.

The Nets won’t go down without a fight, they’ve made that clear, and that’s a good thing – the Raptors need and probably want to be pushed. It’s not an easy matchup but it’s a more favourable one than fifth-place Indiana (who will face Miami) or sixth-place Philadelphia (who will face Boston) would have been.

With the Celtics – Toronto’s likely second-round opponent – going toe-to-toe with the talented, albeit depleted 76ers in a series that could conceivably go the distance, the hope is that the Raptors can take advantage of their matchup and have a few extra days to prepare for what comes next.​

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Wolff comes up short in first U.S. Open – pgatour.com

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MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The kid will live to fight another day.

Matthew Wolff, the 54-hole leader by two, just didn’t have it for the final round of the 120th U.S. Open at Winged Foot on Sunday. He shot a final-round 75 to finish even par and in solo second, six behind Bryson DeChambeau (67), who shot the low round of the day by three.

“I played really tough all week,” Wolff said. “I battled hard. Things just didn’t go my way. But first U.S. Open, second place is something to be proud of and hold your head up high for.”

Wolff blinked first when he hit a wild hook and bogeyed the third hole. DeChambeau caught him with a birdie at the fourth hole, and took a lead he would never relinquish with a par at the fifth. Both eagled the par-5 ninth to remain separated by just one shot, but it was no contest from there as DeChambeau kept the pedal down while Wolff shot a 39 coming in.

“My advice?” said Zach Johnson (74, T8) “Leave this parking lot with the positives because, my guess, there’s a slew of them. Whatever he’s doing right now is not ineffective.

“… He’s going to slice and dice today,” Johnson added, “and he needs to really focus in on some of the things that he did the previous three days, I think more so than today.”

The two main combatants have a history of butting heads. When Wolff won the 3M Open last year, DeChambeau tied for second. When DeChambeau won the Rocket Mortgage Classic in July, Wolff was second. Both tied for fourth at the PGA Championship last month.

DeChambeau said he expects to run into Wolff again in the future, and it seems likely. Wolff is too good to just go away, and he’s also irrepressible, approaching golf as a game, not science. While DeChambeau had ear buds in prior to the final round, Wolff was on the phone cracking up laughing. Although he said he would play his usual “rip dog” game, he was just a little off.

“I really didn’t feel that nervous out there,” he said. “Maybe at the start I did, but at the start I played pretty well. I don’t think it was nerves that were holding me back. I just think it wasn’t meant to be.” A few breaks here and there, he said, and he might have made it closer.

The final pairing further accelerated a youth movement that was already in gear. Wolff (21) and DeChambeau (27) combined to make up the second youngest final pairing in the last 50 majors, behind only Jordan Spieth (22) and Smylie Kaufman (24) at the 2016 Masters Tournament. 

Wolff’s youthful exuberance will almost certainly come away from Winged Foot unscathed.

“He’s just a kid,” said fellow Oklahoma State product Rickie Fowler (79, 17 over). “Some of the things he’ll say, you sometimes forget that you’re around someone who’s – you look at him as one of our peers, someone you play against and compete against, but he’ll say something and you’re like, yeah, he’s still a kid. He’s 10 years behind us.

“There’s really no course that doesn’t suit him,” Fowler added, “just because he’s able to work the ball both ways easily. He’s a great ball-striker. His extra length, with the way the rough is, it helps on a lot of holes out here because you’re going to miss fairways, and to potentially have between two and four clubs less out of the rough, that makes a big difference.”

That’s the case on any course, and Wolff will almost certainly be a force on many of them.

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Lakers-Nuggets Game 2 Takeaways: Davis and Jokic deliver classic battle – Sportsnet.ca

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Midway through the third quarter, it looked as though Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals was going to be another laugher.

The Los Angeles Lakers, holding a 16-point lead with 8:11 to go in the period, appeared to be emulating their Game 1 performance, containing the Denver Nuggets’ go-to actions and scoring with relative ease on the back of LeBron James (who scored his club’s first 12 points) and transition opportunities.

And then the Nuggets tweaked their offence, won key minutes against the Lakers’ small ball lineups, and found some help from unexpected places (hello, PJ Dozier!) to go on a 24–12 run to close the quarter and set up a spectacular, nail-biting finish.

What follows here are some of the key takeaways from the game, including, yes, that marquee Anthony Davis shot.

Adjusting for Mismatches

It was no secret coming into this series that the Jamal MurrayNikola Jokic pick-and-roll was going to be difficult for the Lakers to defend, even with their surplus of (legitimately athletic) big men. And for the first half of this one, they did about as admirable a job as possible, having the big (whether that be Davis, JaVale McGee or Dwight Howard) drop back initially, ready to burst towards the arc if Jokic popped for a potential triple, while the guard fought through and over the ball screen to deter Murray pull-up threes and funnel him into the paint towards help.

Davis in particular showcased why he was voted All-Defensive First Team this year when involved in those actions, freely switching onto Murray if necessary and gobbling him up on drives or using his otherworldly athleticism to recover to Jokic to contest shots that typically would have been open.

Then, in the second half, the Nuggets not only adjusted well by aggressively forcing more switches than they had in the 24 minutes prior, they executed on those adjustments by attacking those switches, finding mismatches at every turn.

Suddenly, their offence roared back to life, with Jokic in particular finding himself pitted against smaller players who he could easily take advantage of.

On top of this, Denver’s two stars simply began doing what great players do, drilling tough shots against high quality defenders. Murray managed to squeeze past Davis a few times for some acrobatic layups, and Jokic hit some tough hooks and turnaround shots in the post against the opposing bigs.

In the end, of course, it wasn’t enough to get them across the finish line, but if they are able to continue to exploit the Lakers in the pick-and-roll going forward, Los Angeles is in for a tougher fight than they’ve had through the totality of two games.

Pulverizing the Paint

Again, this really was a tale of two halves.

After the first 24 minutes, the Lakers were leading the points in the paint battle 24–12. By the time the game finished, the Nuggets wound up outscoring them 38–34.

It’s not so surprising that the Nuggets gave up so many points inside—during the regular season, they had the 10th-worst mark (64.1) for defended field goal percentage at the rim in the league. They simply don’t have any particularly formidable rim protectors, and while their defence has been marginally better throughout the playoffs, the athleticism of the Lakers was always going to be problematic.

In a microcosm of these issues, the Lakers have found a pet play in backdoor lobs, with a big man (or even James, who completed the play Sunday night, for example) appearing to come up towards the arc before quickly spinning back towards the baseline and rising for a lob from a guard (often Rajon Rondo) standing up top.

The Nuggets’ interior dominance, however, was far more unexpected, as the Lakers house multiple big men who are plus-defenders. In stark contrast to their opponents, Los Angeles was the sixth-best team in terms of defended field goal percentage at the rim (61.7) this past season.

But Jokic finding his touch inside, cutters making smart reads whenever doubles appeared, and Murray managing to weave and glide his way to the hoop out of the pick-and-roll despite some tight defence surrounding him allowed Denver to erase Los Angeles’ edge in that category completely.

There would seem to be a fair amount of things that the Nuggets can take away from this game, despite the loss, and be pleased with, and their interior play will be high on that list.

No Laughing Matter



It looked as though Jokic was going to be stuck in the mud once again throughout the first half, finding it difficult to score with the Lakers doing a good job of keeping him matched up against an opposing big (Howard has been particularly good at getting beneath Jokic’s skin) to equal his size and strength, and guarding him in single coverage, thereby staying home on his teammates and lessening the chances of any potential cuts that would allow him to make use of his otherworldly passing.

In the latter half, though, that all changed, with Jokic getting loose as the Nuggets created more opportunities for him via switches, allowing him to match up with smaller players whom he could easily see over and score against. Once he’d scored once or twice in those scenarios, the Lakers’ resolve faltered, and they began to send double teams which he immediately capitalized upon, spraying pinpoint passes all across the half-court.

Once the fourth quarter came, he also simply began to nail extremely difficult looks he’d missed before and that the Lakers could only shrug at, including a massive three-pointer against a swiftly closing Davis to cut the lead to one point with 1:04 to play.

If it had been Jokic with the ball in his hands for the last shot of the game rather than Davis, the discussion right now could be about him instead (he finished with 30 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals). He’s as potent an offensive force as there is in the league today, and if he’s able to dictate the terms of Denver’s offensive possessions, this series could turn around in the blink of an eye.

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Hero Ball

As great as Jokic was in this game, Davis seemed to have answers at every turn.

Not only was he exceptional with his individual and team defence (flying around the floor to contest shooters and switching whenever necessary without giving up an advantage), Davis found his offensive rhythm in the second half after a rough early start and closed out the game by scoring Los Angeles’s final 10 points.

And, oh yeah, he hit a pretty nifty buzzer-beating three, too.

That triple was only the second time Davis has hit a buzzer-beater in his career, and the first time he’s done so in the playoffs. It was also the first time a Lakers player had hit such a shot in the post-season since Metta World Peace back in 2010.

Davis’s performance (he finished with 31 points, nine rebounds and two blocks) was perhaps made even more enthralling by the fact that the vast majority of his buckets came either against Jokic or in response to him, generating a classic clash of superstar versus superstar. He worked Jokic in isolation all game long, taking him off the dribble to muscle his way to the rim or pulling up for mid-range jumpers and sticking them in his grill.

These are exactly the kinds of battles that elevate NBA basketball beyond any ordinary limitations, fabricating something ethereal that will stick in one’s mind forever after. And with at least two games remaining in this series, there’s plenty of room left for more.

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Wilson throws 5 TDs, Seahawks make goal line stop to beat Patriots – TSN

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SEATTLE — Russell Wilson continued his sizzling start throwing five more touchdown passes. Unheralded second-year defensive end L.J. Collier made the play that assured those five TD tosses came in a victory.

Collier stuffed Cam Newton at the 1-yard line on the final play, and the Seattle Seahawks held off the New England Patriots 35-30 on Sunday night.

Wilson and Newton — two of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL — claimed the spotlight in a wild primetime showcase. Wilson was masterful, leading Seattle to a 35-23 lead with less than 5 minutes remaining.

But Newton took over the final minutes and yet another Seahawks-Patriots matchup was decided in the closing moments on a play snapped at the 1.

This time, it was the Seahawks erupting off the sideline in celebration.

“It’s an extraordinary moment for football players and for a team. You either come through or you don’t,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “There’s so much intensity in that moment. The guys on the field will never forget it.”

Newton led New England 80 yards in the closing moments. They reached the 1 on a pass to N’Keal Harry with 3 seconds left. On the final play, Newton tried to run power to the left, but was upended by Collier in the biggest play of his young career. Newton, who had two rushing touchdowns in the game, never got close to the goal line.

Collier and Jamal Adams said from the formation it was clear where the Patriots were going with the play.

“Just to finish it off it’s a hell of a play. Imagine if we had fans here today. It would still be shaking,” Collier said.

Newton was excellent in his first road game with the Patriots throwing for 397 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He ran for another 47 yards, but couldn’t get the last three feet to give New England a victory.

“We put ourselves in position to win. When you do that, you’ve just got to finish and we didn’t do that,” Newton said.

Wilson was masterful on the other side, completing 21 of 28 passes for 288 yards. It was his fourth career game with five touchdown passes. Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, David Moore, Freddie Swain and Chris Carson all took turns celebrating in the end zone. Carson was the last, running under a 18-yard rainbow toss from Wilson against the blitz with 4:32 left to give the Seahawks a 35-23 lead.

Wilson became the first QB in Seahawks history to throw at least four TDs in consecutive games after he had four TD tosses in Week 1 against Atlanta.

“They’ve got a great quarterback. Glad we only have to play him once every four years,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

The entire night in a normal setting would have left CenturyLink Field shaking with delirium, especially after the final play. But the stadium built for noise was empty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving fans to celebrate Seattle improving to 2-0 for the second straight year at home.

“You missed the fun of it all. This game is meant to be played in front of thousands and thousands of people, it’s so special,” Wilson said.

Newton did his best to spoil any celebration. His second TD run pulled New England to 35-30 with 2:16 left. It was his eighth career game with at least two rushing TDs, setting an NFL record.

New England held the Seahawks to a three-and-out after Seattle threw on third-and-1 and Wilson couldn’t connect with Lockett on a deep shot.

Newton needed just five plays to move New England from its 19 to the Seattle 36 with 41 seconds left. After a penalty, Newton hit Edelman for 18 yards to the Seattle 13 with 20 seconds left and the pair nearly connected again in the end zone but Newton’s pass was high with 9 seconds remaining. Newton found Harry but was stopped at the 1 and New England used its final timeout, setting the stage for the final play.

Edelman finished with eight catches for 179 yards.

RARE TD

Metcalf’s 54-yard TD catch came against Stephon Gilmore, the reigning defensive player of the year. It was the first TD allowed by Gilmore as the primary defender since 2018. Gilmore shadowed Metcalf most of the night and at one point the two tussled into the Seattle bench.

“Like I said, it’s a physical game,” Metcalf said.

NO WHITE

New England played without running back James White after his father was killed Sunday in a car crash in Florida, authorities said. The wreck that killed Tyrone White happened around 1 p.m. in Cooper City, Florida, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. White, who was the captain of the Miami-Dade Police Department, was pronounced dead at the scene.

SAFETY PLAN

Seattle lost its starting and backup free safeties in the first half. Starter Quandre Diggs was ejected late in the first quarter for a helmet-to-helmet hit on New England’s N’Keal Harry. On fourth-and-3 from the Seattle 30, Newton hit Harry on a slant for 13 yards. The rookie was immediately hit by Diggs in a violent collision that snapped Harry’s head backward. The penalty helped lead to Newton’s 1-yard TD run.

Diggs was the first Seattle player ejected since 2017 when Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson were both ejected in a loss at Jacksonville.

Marquise Blair moved from nickel cornerback to safety in place of Diggs, but left with a right knee injury in the second quarter. Blair had to be helped off the field and the team immediately ruled him out. Lano Hill took over at free safety with Blair out.

Carroll said Blair still needs and MRI but they believe it to be a significant injury.

UP NEXT

Patriots: Return home to host Las Vegas.

Seahawks: Host Dallas next Sunday.

___

More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL

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