It was an NBA playoff night unlike any other in history — but a familiar result for the Toronto Raptors.
Spurred on by a stirring rendition of “O Canada” sung atop Toronto’s iconic CN Tower, and then introduced via video by their own family members, the NBA defending champions beat the Brooklyn Nets 134-110 in the opening game of their first-round playoff series Monday.
Fred VanVleet had eight three-pointers as part of a playoff career-high 30 points, and the Raptors connected on 22 from deep, matching a season high and setting a franchise playoff record.
Seven Raptors scored in double figures. Serge Ibaka had 22 points off the bench, while Pascal Siakam added 18 points, Kyle Lowry had 16 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Marc Gasol finished with 13 points, OG Anunoby chipped in with 12, and Terence Davis had 11.
The NBA’s unprecedented restart comes after a four-month hiatus due to COVID-19. While the Raptors would have played this game in Toronto in front of a raucous home crowd, the only fans in attendance Monday at Walt Disney World were virtual. The 300 fan faces on the 17-foot-high video boards conjured images of a giant video game.
Players, coaches kneel again for anthems
Still, the night got off to an emotional start. Both teams knelt with locked arms as Juno Award-winning Toronto singer Jessie Reyez performed a goosebump-enducing rendition of the national anthem while kneeling on the CN Tower’s outdoor EdgeWalk.
“Man, it was awesome. Caught me by surprise,” Nurse said. “I thought the camera and the shots of Toronto and all that stuff . . . kind of took your breath away a little bit.”
Then Raptors’ family members introduced the team’s starters via video. Lowry’s young sons Karter and Kameron introduced their dad with an energetic: “From North Philly to your city, No. 7, Kyle luh-luh-luh-luh-Lowry!”
“It touched a lot of guys’ hearts, I know guys were like ‘Holy crap,’ and they wanted to kind of cry and they wanted to smile at the same time,” Lowry said with a laugh. “That right there shows who we play for . . . It’s just a proud moment for us.”
WATCH | VanVleet paces Raptors in Game 1 win over Nets:
The Raptors then went out and put their stamp on the game, running roughshod over Brooklyn in building a 33-point first-half lead.
“We didn’t really get that playoff atmosphere in terms of [a crowd], but I thought we hyped ourselves up,” VanVleet said. “I thought this is the most locked in we’ve been all year. It felt like guys were amped up and energized. Having won one [the title], it kind of puts you at a peace throughout the year, and now it’s time to kick it into gear.
“I loved our energy, our attentiveness and focus. That’s all you can ask for. We can’t duplicate 20,000 of the best fans in the world.”
VanVleet also had 11 assists with just one turnover, becoming the first Raptor to have 30-plus points and 10-plus assists in a playoff game.
The Net made things interesting in the third, slicing the lead to just eight. And when Jarrett Allen hit a buzzer-beat to end the quarter, the Raptors led just 95-86 to start the fourth.
“Everything was rolling, right?” Nurse said. “It’s an NBA game [against] a team that’s been playing extremely well, you know they’re going to make their run a little bit. I was certainly happy to see us answer back once we kind of regrouped.”
Anunoby, who was sidelined for last season’s championship run after undergoing an appendectomy, drew a foul on a driving dunk, and then scored from behind the arc and the Raptors were back up by 17 with 4:26 to play. Ibaka’s three capped an 11-0 Raptors run that extended their lead to 22 points. Both coaches subbed in their benches for the remainder of the night.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had 26 points to lead the Nets, while Joe Harris added 19, Caris LeVert had 15 points and 15 assists, while Jarrett Allen collected 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Game 2 is Wednesday.
“They are champions and have played on a big stage before. Seems like they were trying to deliver an early message to the group, but I did like the way our group responded after halftime and accepted that first punch from Toronto. The rounds will continue,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn.
The Raptors had beaten the Nets in three of four regular-season games, their one loss ending their league-high 15-game winning streak.
‘Expect to win!’
Raptors teams have traditionally struggled in series openers, going 5-15 all-time in Game 1s.
But a theme this season is that winning an NBA championship is a great lesson in how hard they have to work. Nurse and his staff are wearing bracelets that say “Expect to win!” and “ASO” — short for August, September and October (the NBA finalists will live and play in the Disney bubble until mid-October).
“I wouldn’t say they’re looser, there was a very serious group going out on the floor today, the locker room was pretty quiet, they were focused and I think their play showed that,” Nurse said. “This is where it starts, you have to handle your successes and you’ve got to be able to bounce back from your failures. You have to learn a lot even though you won the game because it’s a long series.”
The Raptors faced the Nets in a thrilling 2014 first-round series that saw the debut of “We the North!” and Jurassic Park, and was the first of seven straight post-season appearances for Toronto. Lowry, who’s shot at the Game 7 buzzer was heartbreakingly blocked, is the only player remaining from either roster.
Lowry set the tone early, knocking down a three for the game’s first points, hurling a long pass to Siakam for a running layup, and taking a charge before the game was five minutes old. The Raptors quickly took a double digit lead and Lowry’s free throws had Toronto up 37-20 up to start the second.
VanVleet, whose previous playoff high was 22 points versus Golden State in Game 6 of last season’s Finals, had four threes in the second, and his long bomb on the run with 4:42 left in the half stretched the gap to 33 points. The Raptors took a 73-51 lead into the halftime break.
Canadian opera singer Doug Tranquada sang the American anthem.
Cam takes blame for failed SNF final play: 'Just thinking too much' – theScore
After running for his second 1-yard touchdown of the contest to bring New England within one score with 2:16 remaining, Newton again advanced his new team to the goal line, this time with three seconds left.
But Seattle was ready for Newton’s run. The defense swarmed to stuff the quarterback and seal the 35-30 victory.
“I just didn’t make everybody right and that’s the only thing I regret,” Newton said after the game, according to USA Today’s Mark Daniels. “In that type of situation, it’s humbling to be able to have the respect of a team to have the ball in my hands. I just have to deliver. I saw a clip of it; I could’ve made it right by just bouncing it (outside). I was just trying to be patient. Just thinking too much, man. Or even just diving over the top. There’s so many things that flashed over me.
“Playing a fast defense like that, as soon as you guess, you’re wrong. I’ll definitely learn from this. The play was there. The play was there all game.”
Newton couldn’t finish the job, but the 31-year-old arguably produced one of his best career performances.
In addition to the two short touchdown scampers, Newton finished with 397 passing yards – his highest total since 2011 – and one passing touchdown against one interception. He also added a team-high 47 yards on the ground.
Russell Wilson ultimately outgunned Newton, pushing himself to the front of the early MVP race with a five-touchdown outing.
While New England sent a clear message to the rest of the league that it can contend without Tom Brady and a host of key defenders who departed this offseason, Newton isn’t satisfied with a moral victory.
“It’s many ways you can win in this game. We don’t want to become one-dimensional,” Newton said. “We had our opportunities. Just moving forward, we have a lot of things about being optimistic about but yet, we still have to get better.
“The reason why you play this game is for (one) stat and one stat only. We didn’t get that statistic today and that’s the win. For us, this is a disgusting taste in my mouth. I’ve just got to grow and get better in this offense and hopefully have a better result next week.”
Wolff comes up short in first U.S. Open – pgatour.com
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.
Lakers-Nuggets Game 2 Takeaways: Davis and Jokic deliver classic battle – Sportsnet.ca
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.
ANTHONY DAVIS CALLS GAME!
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 21, 2020
Adjusting for Mismatches
It was no secret coming into this series that the Jamal Murray–Nikola 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.
The Lakers bench was FIRED UP after Alex Caruso’s dunk.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) September 21, 2020
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.
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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