TORONTO – For the Toronto Raptors, Friday’s Game 3 felt a bit unusual, and it wasn’t just because they were able to take a stranglehold on their first-round series – an unusual feeling in and of itself.
The Raptors have had home-court advantage in 10 of their last 13 playoff series, and they would have had it in this one too, if not for the pandemic. Meaning that, in the days leading up to Game 3, they’re accustomed to travelling, getting settled in a different city, and preparing to play a crucial, momentum-shifting contest in front of a raucous road crowd.
However, in their new normal as residents of the NBA’s bubble, it was just another day.
“I think it feels a whole lot different [from past years],” head coach Nick Nurse admitted before the game. “It feels the same as Game 1 and 2.”
They changed locker rooms and switched benches. There were Nets logos and virtual Brooklyn fans on the screens surrounding the court. But they didn’t have to deal with airports or travel time. They didn’t have to pack or unpack a bag. The arena environment wasn’t hostile and, in this Game 3, there was no momentum shift.
With a 117-92 victory over Brooklyn on Friday – their second wire-to-wire win in three games – the Raptors took their first 3-0 playoff series lead in franchise history.
“It’s definitely different,” Fred VanVleet said afterwards. “To be honest, I can’t really tell because we’ve been here long enough that we’re adjusted to the situation we’re in. Comparing it to last year and the previous years I’ve been in the playoffs, it’s an extremely different environment. I can’t say if it’s better or worse. We’re 3-0 right now so obviously it’s going well for us.”
The Raptors arrived in the Disney bubble six weeks ago and have been in Florida, away from their friends and family, for almost two months – longer than any other club. If their strong showing in Round 1 is any indication, they should be there a while longer.
It hasn’t fazed them at all, though. They’ve gone 10-1 since the restart and can sweep their way through the first round – which would also be a first for the franchise – with another win on Sunday.
It’s the sense of urgency and the level of commitment from their best players that have allowed them to find success in these adverse conditions, and they proved that again on Friday.
With the Nets reeling following a demoralizing Game 2 loss – in which they led for all but nine minutes – and after losing sharpshooter Joe Harris, who had to leave the bubble due to a personal matter, Toronto showed them no mercy in Game 3. The Raptors took control right out of the gate, like they did in the series opener, and never let up.
Their defence was stifling, holding Brooklyn to 33 per cent shooting, and they were crisp offensively, recording a franchise playoff record 35 assists and hitting 18 of their 38 three-point attempts.
It was a win in more ways than one. Pascal Siakam, who had been quiet offensively, finally broke through with a 26-point performance – 14 of which came in the third quarter. After missing his first four shots, Serge Ibaka made his next eight and turned in his best game of the series, going for 20 points and 13 rebounds off the bench. Kyle Lowry attempted just seven shots but was brilliant defensively and posted a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with seven assists.
But, once again, it was VanVleet – the Raptors’ best player in the bubble – that was their driving force. The fourth-year point guard hit eight of his 13 shots and six of his 10 threes for 22 points. He’s averaging a team-leading 25.3 points and 8.7 assists and shooting 17-for-31 (55 per cent) from three-point range in the series.
He’s in one of those grooves right now – he even banked in a 60-foot heave to close the first half – but his impact extends beyond his hot shooting.
“In the halftime huddle as we were getting ready to go on the floor [VanVleet] grabbed the guys real quick and said, ‘Hey, they are coming out fast and hard and we got to come out faster [and harder]’,” said Nurse. “He’s coaching that part of the game a little bit. He wants to compete and he wants to keep everybody sharp and he wants to play to win at all times. The guy is a big-time winner, man.”
“I mean look, I’ve said it for four years now, and when I’m not shooting well it sounds like cliché garbage, and when I am it sounds like what I should be saying, but it’s the same confidence that I always have,” said the 26-year-old VanVleet. “The ball is just going in for me right now.”
“As long as I can [continue] to get looks off I feel good about the ball going in. So I don’t think about it from a standpoint [of] how you’re thinking about it, but I do know that I’m feeling good right now and obviously got to keep being consistent with that.”
With all due respect to the Nets, who are well-coached and have played hard in this series, despite coming in undermanned and overmatched from a talent standpoint, the degree of difficulty is about to go up significantly. The Celtics are also making quick work of their first-round series with Philadelphia, setting up an intriguing second-round matchup between Boston and Toronto.
The Raptors have gotten everything they’ve needed to from this series. They haven’t taken their opponent lightly or waited until late in games to flip the switch. From start to finish, they’ve been all business. They’ve executed on both ends of the floor and gotten standout performances from everybody in their rotation.
They’ve got Brooklyn on the ropes. Don’t expect them to pull any punches now.
“We play to win,” VanVleet said. “You play your big guns early and you try to get it over with. The purpose of going 3-0 is so you can go 4-0.”
Lightning-Stars stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final – NHL
NBC’s coverage of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs continues with Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final matchup between the Lightning and Stars. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. Watch the Lightning-Stars stream on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.
Boosted by the long-awaited and “inspirational” return of Steven Stamkos, the Tampa Bay Lightning got goals from all three of their first-line forwards, their top defenseman and their captain in a threee-goal win to move within two wins of the franchise’s second Stanley Cup. For the second straight game, Tampa jumped out to a multi-goal first-period lead before the Stars got on the board. The Dallas Stars cut the deficit to one entering the second period, but the middle frame was all Lightning, outscoring Dallas 3-0 in large part thanks to a 21-4 shot differential.
After Game 2, Kevin Shattenkirk said, “when we play our best game it’s hard for teams to win.” In Game 3, Tampa played one of its best games this postseason, getting major contributions from its usual suspects in the top line trio and Hedman and also a quantifiable (one goal from Stamkos) and unquantifiable lift from the return of its captain.
The top line of Palat, Point and Kucherov carried the day once again, combining for three goals and six points in Game 3, their second straight game with four-plus points. Point leads all players this postseason with 11 goals and with Palat and Hedman also reaching double-digit goals in Game 3, the trio make Tampa the first team in a decade to have three players with 10-plus goals in the same postseason.
Tyler Seguin has struggled mightily in the 2020 playoffs. The 28-year-old has now gone 12 consecutive games without a goal and has just one assist over that span (which was six games ago). His last goal came in Game 3 of the Second Round vs. Colorado
Along with Seguin, some of Dallas’ other forwards have been quiet recently as well:
▪ Jamie Benn: Zero points this series after ending West Final on a three-game goal streak
▪ Denis Gurianov: Zero points, three shots this series (OT goal and assist in series-clincher vs. Vegas)
▪ Alex Radulov: Zero goals, three assists this series
Tampa can become the first team in the NHL expansion era (1967-present) to win the Stanley Cup the season after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Saturday, September 26, 8 p.m. ET
ON THE CALL: Mike Emrick, Eddie Olczyk, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Dallas Stars (TB leads 3-1)
Stars 4, Lightning 1 (recap)
Lightning 3, Stars 2 (recap)
Lightning 5, Stars 2 (recap)
Lighting 5, Stars 4 [OT] (recap)
Game 5: Saturday, Sept. 26, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
*Game 6: Monday, Sept. 28, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
*Game 7: Wednesday, Sept. 30, 8 p.m. ET – NBC
Stars have no choice but to believe after gut-wrenching OT loss in Game 4 – Sportsnet.ca
EDMONTON — It was what so many Game 4s turn out to be. The fact was, the Tampa Bay Lightning could lose and still win the series. The Dallas Stars could not.
If the Stars couldn’t turn this Stanley Cup their way in Game 4 on Friday, in a game that meant everything to their Cup dreams, then they wouldn’t be able to turn it at all.
You can’t lose three of four against a team like Tampa, look yourself in the mirror the next day and say, “you’re going to beat the Lightning three games in a row,” and believe the guy talking to you.
Well, that’s where the Stars find themselves after a game in which everyone played as hard as they could play — they scored four times, yet lost 5-4 on a Kevin Shattenkirk power-play goal in overtime.
“I think we’ve got more,” said a defiant Tyler Seguin, who was simply fantastic for the full 66:34. “We would have won if we got everything out of everybody.
“I believe in the team, believe in the boys. We’ve got another level here.”
What choice does he have? What choice do any of them have?
“We’ll bounce back,” said head coach Rick Bowness, roughly 20 hours before puck drop in Game 5 on a rare set of back-to-back games in this COVID Cup. “I have full faith in our hockey club. We will fight back. We will bounce back and we’re going to play (Saturday) like we played tonight.”
This was, undoubtedly, a fine effort wasted by Dallas. Perhaps their finest in this Final.
On how many nights are they going to pin a minus-3 on stud defenceman Victor Hedman? Or pump three of their first nine shots past annual Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy?
How many more times can the Stars ask 36-year-old Joe Pavelski for two goals? Or get as stunning an effort by Seguin, who had two assists, three shots on goal and was an amazing 70 per cent in the circle?
“That’s his best game of the playoffs,” Bowness said of Seguin, whose lack of production has been rightly criticized up ’til now.
As playoff games go, this surely was not one of those nights when you walk out of the rink wondering who officiated the game, as the zebra tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Francis Charron had a bit of an adventure for three periods and overtime.
The pair missed some calls on Tampa early, including an inadvertent trip by Tyler Johnson that sent Roope Hintz into the boards so hard that he did not return. Then, with 29 seconds left in regulation, Corey Perry jabbed his stick into Brayden Point’s private parts, and somehow Sutherland called Perry for interference and Point for embellishment.
Seguin drew a legit penalty early in OT when he drove the net for a scoring chance, and the Lightning managed to kill a lengthy 4-on-3 and the remaining 5-on-4 disadvantage. Then Benn got a tad overzealous in a battle with Johnson 5:10 in overtime, and he gave Charron a chance to raise his arm.
Shattenkirk would score on the ensuing power play, and that might just be it for the Stars, who went down with their captain in the box.
“I see it. It’s in front of Kelly (Sutherland),” replayed Pavelski. “He’s got a great look at it, and the back ref (Charron) calls it.
“I don’t have a ton of time for a play where Tyler Johnson steps in front of Jamie Benn and has no real effect on the play,” the veteran continued. “There’s a battle going on there. It’s playoffs. It’s overtime. We expect 5-on-5, to battle it out.”
You hear it every year. All a hockey player asks for is a chance to decide it for themselves, but by taking the penalty, perhaps that’s exactly what Benn did.
“The players want to play 5-on-5 and let’s see what happens. The players are right,” said a disappointed Bowness. “I saw two guys going after a loose puck. Their guy hooking our guy and our guy trying to fight through the hook. That’s a hockey play. Two guys, in the playoffs, going for a loose puck.”
What Bowness also saw was his own power-play unit with a chance to end the game earlier in OT, and it failed.
“We had the 4-on-3. You have to put the puck in the net — simple as that,” he admitted. “Our power play had a chance to end the game and they didn’t get it done.”
They didn’t get it done.
Every year, whether in spring or fall, we say that about one of the teams fortunate enough to make it this far.
The guy in the Stars’ mirror Saturday morning is telling them they can still get it done. That being down 3-1 to the Tampa Bay Lightning isn’t a death sentence.
It says here, fat chance.
Celtics use second-half surge to beat Heat, hold off elimination – TSN
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Their season saved for at least two more days, Boston coach Brad Stevens offered the most succinct assessment of his Celtics.
“We’re prideful,” Stevens said.
Celtic Pride. It was on display Friday night — when Jayson Tatum and his teammates announced very loudly that they’re not ready to see the world that exists outside the NBA’s restart bubble quite yet.
Tatum had 31 points and 10 rebounds, Jaylen Brown added 28 points and the Celtics shook off a slow first half to top the Miami Heat 121-108 in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals and stave off elimination.
“Our deal was to come out and play, come out and compete, give it our best shot and I thought we played pretty well in the second half,” Stevens said. “But we’re going to have to do it again and again because of the position we’re in.”
The Heat lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 on Sunday.
Daniel Theis had 15 points and 13 rebounds for the Celtics, who trailed by 12 early but outscored Miami 41-25 in the third quarter and never looked back. Kemba Walker scored 15 points, Marcus Smart had a 12-point, eight-rebound, eight-assist night and Gordon Hayward scored 10 for the Celtics.
Goran Dragic scored 23 points before fouling out with 4:27 left for Miami, which got 20 from Duncan Robinson.
“It’s certainly not going to be easy,” Robinson said. “We’ve got to band together to do difficult things.”
Jimmy Butler scored 17, Tyler Herro and Jae Crowder each had 14 and Bam Adebayo 13 for the Heat — which could get nothing to fall from 3-point range.
Miami was 7 for 36 from beyond the arc, now shooting 24.8% on 3’s in its last 13 quarters — after shooting 38.3% on those in the playoffs before that drought.
“Boston played great in that second half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “They deserved and earned what they got. We understand how tough it is to win in the playoffs. We did not compete hard enough defensively and we paid the price for that. But you do have to credit Boston. They played with great force.”
Brown made back-to-back 3’s in the fourth quarter to turn an eight-point lead into a 103-89 margin with 8:05 left, and things weren’t in doubt again. He turned a blew a kiss to the Heat bench after the second of those 3’s, reminiscent of something Herro did during his 37-point barrage in Game 4.
Game on. Series on.
“It’s not going to be perfect,” Tatum said. “You just want to give yourself a chance.”
The opening minutes didn’t go according to plan for Boston, which missed 11 of its first 12 shots, committed four turnovers in that dismal stretch to make matters even worse, and got into a 17-5 hole very early.
But they weathered all that and, even after shooting only 40% in the first half, Boston trailed 58-51 at the break — never leading, but never letting Miami get too far removed from view.
The Heat scored the first basket of the third quarter. The next few minutes were all Celtics.
They went on a 13-0 run over a stretch of only 3:06 to turn a nine-point deficit into a 64-60 lead, and the game changed just that fast. A separate 7-0 burst followed, Walker connected on a 3-pointer with 4:26 left for a 77-67 edge — Boston’s first double-digit cushion of the night.
“In all sincerity, first time I’ve seen Celtics basketball in the last few games,” Stevens told his team during a time-out.
And it was good enough to ensure that Friday wouldn’t be the last time he’d see Celtics basketball this season.
Heat: Adding to the woes of the third quarter was this — Miami was outrebounded 16-5 in those 12 minutes. … With their fourth 3-pointer Friday, by Robinson with 47 seconds left in the first half, the Heat passed the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors (1,161) for 14th place on the single-season 3’s list. Next up: The 2016-17 Warriors, who had 1,198.
Celtics: Not that any of this should count on a neutral floor, but Boston ended what officially goes down as a five-game “home” losing streak. … The Celtics are 2-0 when facing elimination games this season. The last time Boston won multiple elimination games in the same season was 2008, when it prevailed in first- and second-round Game 7’s and going on to win the NBA title.
This was the 18th playoff game in Celtics history where they scored at least 41 points in a quarter — and probably not surprisingly, they’re 18-0 in those games. It has happened in 20 different quarters; they did it in three separate quarters in a 157-128 win over the Knicks on April 28, 1990.
The only other time Miami allowed 41 points in a post-season quarter was June 10, 2014, when the Heat were outscored 41-25 in the first quarter of Game 3 of that season’s NBA Finals against San Antonio. Coincidentally, Friday’s third-quarter debacle had the same score: 41-25.
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