When Toronto tipped off the season without superstar Kawhi Leonard, almost no-one believed the NBA defending champions would have any hope of repeating.
The Raptors apparently didn’t get the memo.
Toronto opens the playoffs on Monday against the Brooklyn Nets after bulldozing through the toughest schedule of the 22 teams in the NBA bubble seeding round (7-1), earning the second-best record in the NBA (53-19), and setting a franchise record for win percentage (73.6).
Persevering through a laundry list of injuries, and then a four-month layoff due to COVID-19, the Raptors’ season has come down to beating teams just four times. They believe they’re better at that than anyone.
“We know who we are and that we’re good enough to do it and that we’re tough,” said guard Fred VanVleet. “It’s going to be hard to beat us four times. If you can do that, we’ll shake your hand and congratulate you. But I think we all like our chances.”
The Raptors earned the No. 2 seed like they did last year, while Brooklyn is seeded seventh.
Toronto’s all-star guard Kyle Lowry said the Raptors have built a culture of winning. That ideology didn’t disappear when Leonard went to the L.A. Clippers last season.
“We’ve been continuously getting better every single season I’ve been here. . . on the same page from top to bottom,” he said.
And while Lowry and his teammates hoisted the Larry O’Brien Trophy last season in the Canadian team’s historic championship run, they didn’t plan on stopping at just one.
“That feeling is unmatched,” Lowry said. “Other than my children being born, I don’t think I’ve had a feeling like that, ever. And that’s the motivation to keep doing that.”
Lowry plays with a 100-miles-an-hour motor that is virtually unparalleled – especially at 34 years old. He had 19.7 points, 7.5 assists and 5.0 rebounds this season, earned a spot on his sixth consecutive all-star team, and led the league in charges drawn.
The undisputed leader on the floor and in the locker-room said the Raptors are “the same exact team” they were last season.
“We play hard. We go out there and we defend. We’ve got pros. We’re just trying to win every single game. That’s what we’ve always done,” he said.
“We play to provide for our families and do what we can for our communities,” he added. “But we play to win championships. We play for a higher level and now we’re playing for social injustices and keeping that conversation going. But we’re also playing to win a championship.”
No Raptors were named to either the NBA seeding round’s first or second teams announced Saturday. Nick Nurse was fourth in voting for top coach of the eight games.
If Toronto were feeling any disrespect, they’re used to it. In fact the roster is built out of players with “chips on their shoulders,” said VanVleet.
“I think all of us at some point have had to work for it. Nothing has really been given to us. We kind of take that identity,” he said. “All of our coaches kind of fit that. It’s our identity from the top down. Whatever narrative people will write about is what it’s going to be.”
After Leonard’s MVP performance in last season’s playoffs, much of the narrative have been around who’ll be the clutch player to close out games?
But this year’s roster had five players who averaged 15 or more points: Lowry, VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell and Serge Ibaka. According to Elias, the last team to do that with at least 50 games played for each player was the Buffalo Braves in 1973-74.
Is strength in numbers better than one superstar?
“We have a lot of guys who can take over at the end of the game. Maybe that’s better. Maybe that’s better than having one guy you can load up on,” VanVleet said. “We’ve got a bunch of different guys who can make shots. We’ll roll the dice and see what happens.”
This historical post-season at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., poses unique challenges, but also has some positives such as no travel.
Nurse said the verdict is still out on his thoughts on bubble playoff basketball.
“Right at this moment, it feels pretty similar. It’s actually felt a little easier to kind of get organized. Usually you’re flying back from Miami or something and you’re trying to recoup for a day, but we’re not. The coaches are all here. We go to breakfast, we get together, we start talking about the game plan,” he said.
He senses the extra energy and “blood pumping” that always comes with the start of the playoffs.
“(But) I just had a big thought of not doing this in front of fans,” Nurse noted. “Because as you know, man, that first game when the Raptors go to the playoffs and you walk into that arena and the fans get up, it’s really something. It’s really something for us to be a part of, and we’ll miss that, for sure.”
The Raptors faced the Nets in a thrilling 2014 post-season series, losing 104-103 in Game 7 after Lowry’s shot was blocked at the buzzer.
More recently, the Raptors beat Brooklyn six consecutive times before the Nets’ 101-91 victory in the final game before the all-star break snapped the Raptors’ franchise-record, 15-game winning streak.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 15, 2020.
Mickelson struggles Thursday at Winged Foot – pgatour.com
For a few brief moments Phil Mickelson’s dream of conquering Winged Foot to complete a career grand slam was on track at the U.S. Open, but inaccuracy off the tee once again gave him nightmares.
A week after hitting just 12 of 56 fairways at the Safeway Open, Mickelson managed to find the short grass off the tee just twice in Thursday’s opening round on the way to a dismal 9-over 79.
The 50-year-old’s chance at redemption from 2006 looked a chance after he rolled in back-to-back birdies out of the gate. Perhaps he truly had let go of the infamous 72nd hole double bogey that helped Geoff Ogilvy claim the trophy over 14 years ago.
Mickelson’s early birdies came despite missing both fairways left into deep rough and the fairytale writers lifted their eyebrows and dared to think something special might be on its way.
However, the inaccuracy quickly caught up. From the moment a four-foot par putt on the third hole lipped out, Mickelson found himself in a deep spiral not even his 44-time PGA TOUR winning experience could fight.
Bogeys on the fourth, fifth and eighth followed with Mickelson not chalking up his first fairway until the par-5 ninth hole. It didn’t help as he would go on to make par after another missed putt.
Bogey at 10 and another at 13 came soon after the turn with the latter the start of a six-hole finishing stretch that the six-time U.S. Open runner-up played in six over. Ultimately, he would finish 14 shots off the pace and all but officially be eliminated from contention. Only U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Lukas Michel (80) was behind him on the leaderboard.
The words he said as he left Napa must have been ringing in his ears throughout the round.
“The last couple of months I’ve been missing it more to the right and not worried about the left and the left crept in again,” Mickelson had said after the Safeway Open. “For years I missed it left. I haven’t been fearing that at all lately, but this week I missed it left, which is not good. I can deal with missing it right now, but not left.”
He went on to say he was confident of being able to turn it around before the opening round in New York but sadly that was not the case. Prior to the Safeway Open he had won his debut start at PGA TOUR Champions.
“I actually have had some nice breakthroughs in the last year and I feel like I’m on the precipice of playing really well, but I’ve got to get it to click,” he said.
Jays lose third in a row to Yankees – Bluebird Banter
Well, game three end up a lot closer than the first two games.
There were lots of Yankees home runs. Lots. Yankees seem to have that swing down to loft the ball to the short porch to left.
Julian Merryweather ‘opened’ and he managed not to give up a home run. But he wasn’t good, 2 hits, 2 walks, 2 earned. I hoped he could go two innings but no such luck.
Chase Anderson followed and threw a very good second inning. Then he gave up 5 home runs in the third, while getting just 2 outs. He gave up three consecutive home runs on three pitches.
It did remind me of a joke from my youth. What goes whoosh, crack, whoosh, crack, whoosh, crack. A pitcher going down to the minors.
Wilmer Font finished out the third inning and got through the fourth without allowing a run. Our pitching MVP of the series.
T.J. Zeuch pitched 3 innings, giving up just 1 run on, you guessed it, another homer. He allowed 3 hits, 3 walks with 3 strikeouts.
We had a rally in the ninth, giving us a few moments of fun. . With one out:
Aroldis Chapman came in:
- Bo Bichette singled home 2. 10-7, bringing the tying run to the plate.
- Randal Grichuk struck out.
- Teoscar Hernandez struck out to end the game. Hernandez was 0 for 5 with 4 strikeouts in his first game back. It will take couple of games to get his timing back
Jay of the Day: Lourdes (.124 WPA).
Matt Shoemaker can’t come back quick enough.
Tomorrow is a double-header, in Philadelphia. first game is 4:00 Eastern.
We had 753 comments in the GameThread. 13yearoldbaseballfanatic led us to defeat.
The series had me thinking of this song, the chorus is ‘Burn this cabin down’. I’m thinking we should do that to Yankees Stadium, burn it to the ground.
Blue Jays lose big again – Bluebird Banter
We held them to a couple of touchdowns today. Progress of sorts.
Yankees hit 7 home runs. 4 off of starter Tanner Roark. The first, a solo homer in the first inning, was a Yankees Stadium special, one that would only be a home run with the short porch in the Bronx. But the other ones were crushed.
Roark went 4 innings, allowed 6 hits, 6 earned, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.
Jacob Waguespack pitched the next 2 innings, giving up 5 hits, 5 earned, 1 walk with 2 home runs.
Hector Perez got into his first MLB game. He pitched 1.2 innings with 3 hits, 2 earned, 3 walks, 1 k with 1 home run.
Anthony Bass got the last out.
Someone named Kyle Higashioka (the Yankees backup catcher) hit 3 home runs.
Offensively, we only had 5 hits. We didn’t get our first hit until the sixth inning, when Jonathan Villar led off with a double. He would score our first run on a wild pitch. Joe Panik homered in the ninth, to get our second run.
Can’t blame the defense today.
No Jays of the Day today. Danny Jansen had the high mark at .007 WPA for his 0 for 2 and a walk.
Suckage: Roark (-.246).
It’s possible that the Jays will send out Wags before tomorrow’s game, if they decide they need someone who can give them a few innings.
We had 643 comments in the GameThread. FlipDown Shades led us to crushing defeat.
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