Canada's Jamal Murray is a breakout star of the NBA playoffs
Young Denver guard has 92 points in his last 2 games
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The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted an NBA playoff game
Right at our publish time, a bombshell of a story broke ahead of Game 5 of the Milwaukee-Orlando series.
As the scheduled 4 p.m. ET start time passed, the Bucks still hadn't taken the court. Soon after, it was reported that the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference was refusing to play the game.
The Bucks didn't immediately explain their move, but it's almost certainly a response to the recent police shooting of a Black man named Jacob Blake in Wisconsin (more on that below).
It was unclear at our publish time whether the game would be postponed or the NBA would consider this a forfeit. Milwaukee leads the best-of-seven first-round series three games to one.
The Raptors and Celtics are considering boycotting too
Three months after the killing of George Floyd, another disturbing video showing police violence against a Black man is causing anger and drawing the attention of pro athletes. In this one, a 29-year-old named Jacob Blake is shot multiple times in the back by police in Wisconsin. LeBron James has commented on it, and yesterday the NFL's Detroit Lions cancelled their practice in response to the shooting. Today's boycott by the Bucks appears to be an act of protest against the shooting.
Some Raptors players have also made powerful statements. Yesterday, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell expressed frustration that gestures like kneeling for the anthem and displaying slogans don't seem to be causing meaningful change yet when it comes to racial injustice. Asked if the team had considered boycotting games, VanVleet said "there's a lot of different things being discussed."
Today, the possibility of such a move seemed to increase with reports that Raptors and Celtics players met to talk about potentially refusing to play Game 1 of their series on Thursday. Toronto head coach Nick Nurse said that option is "on the table." Star forward Pascal Siakam added his explanation for why players are considering this: "It just feels like we're stuck. It feels like things are not changing. It feels like we're not doing anything productive." Read more about the chance of a Raptors-Celtics boycott here.
Canada's Jamal Murray is one of the breakout stars of the NBA playoffs
The 23-year-old Denver Nuggets guard had his second monster game in a row last night, following up his 50 points in a losing effort with 42 in a 117-107 win that kept his team alive against Utah.
Two of those points came on this mesmerizing 360 layup on two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert:
🤯 OH MY, JAMAL MURRAY! 🇨🇦 <a href="https://t.co/d89yFSNEYM">pic.twitter.com/d89yFSNEYM</a>—@NBACanada
Murray, who's from Kitchener, Ont., has been considered a promising young player for a while. After one excellent year of college ball at Kentucky, the Nuggets picked him seventh overall in the 2016 draft, and last summer they gave him a five-year, $170-million US contract extension. He's put up solid numbers as a pro, but hadn't made the big leap many expected. In his three seasons as a full-time starter, Murray has averaged 16.7, 18.2 and 18.5 points per game.
Now, suddenly, he's one of the best players in the NBA playoffs. Through five games vs. Utah, Murray is averaging an eye-popping 30.8 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.8 assists. It's been a high-scoring series, and Murray is far from a great defensive player, but still — wow. He ranks fifth in playoff scoring, and the only other players who have matched him in each of those three major stat categories are Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden — the winners of the last two MVP awards.
More impressive facts: among the top 15 playoff scorers, only Antetokounmpo is making a higher percentage of his shots than Murray, who's converting 55.7 per cent. Murray has drained 22 of his 42 three-point attempts — an outstanding 52.4 per cent success rate that's way above his 34.6 clip from the regular season and puts him ahead of each of the top 14 playoff scorers. Murray doesn't get to the line a ton, but he's a perfect 14-for-14 on free throws in the post-season. And he takes care of the ball: he committed zero turnovers in the last two games — remarkable for someone who scored 92 points.
Murray is back in action Thursday at 4 p.m. ET, when he'll try to help Denver keep its season going again in Game 6. Read more about Murray's big Game 5 and watch his highlights here.
Along with Murray, two other Canadians are playing prominent roles as starters in this year's NBA playoffs:
Before Murray went nuts, SGA was widely considered the Canadian player you'd most like to build a team around. The second-year Oklahoma City guard averaged 19 points and led his countrymen in the NBA's efficiency metric. He also helped the Thunder put together the most surprising regular season in the league.
The 22-year-old Torontonian has been overshadowed by Murray in the playoffs, but he's still playing great ball. In a dogfight of series vs. Houston that's tied 2-2 heading into tonight's game, Gilgeous-Alexander is averaging 20.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and his efficiency rating is up slightly too.
Gilgeous Alexander's rookie teammate has become a cult favourite in OKC and among NBA aficionados. He can't shoot (30 per cent for the playoffs), but the Montrealer's powerful body and hustle make him one of those guys no one wants to see guarding them. That includes Houston star James Harden, who's found out Dort is one of the few guards in the league he can't easily outmuscle.
Dort missed Game 1 with an injury. But he's started all three since returning (averaging 8.7 points and 5 rebounds), and OKC has swung the series back in its favour with two straight wins.
There are three other Canadians whose teams are still alive and who have appeared in a playoff game this year. Veteran big man Kelly Olynyk is moving on to the second round after averaging 6.3 points and 6.5 rebounds off the bench in Miami's sweep of Indiana. Orlando big man Khem Birch is averaging 5 points and 4.8 rebounds, but his season will likely end soon with top-seeded Milwaukee expected to finish off the Magic. Chris Boucher played only 18 minutes and scored a total of three points in the Raptors' sweep of Brooklyn.
The NHL came down hard on the Coyotes. Arizona was stripped of a first-round draft pick next year and a second-rounder this year for violating league policy by physically testing prospects outside the confines of the NHL scouting combine. In a statement, the Coyotes accepted the ruling while also mentioning, cryptically, that "under new leadership, we have added thorough internal controls and compliance measures." This appears to be a reference to former general manager John Chayka, who left the job recently and was accused of having "quit" by the team in a bizarre press release at the time. Chayka was the GM when the NHL began investigating the Coyotes' testing of draft prospects in January. Read more about the punishment here.
Vancouver and Tampa Bay bounced back in the NHL playoffs. The Canucks rebounded convincingly from a 5-0 drubbing by Vegas in the series opener by winning 5-2 last night. Bo Horvat scored two goals and Elias Pettersson (a goal and two assists) was fantastic. Tampa evened its series with Boston at 1-1 with a 4-3 OT win. Those two teams, unusually, are right back in action tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The other games today are the Islanders vs. Philadelphia at 3 p.m. ET (New York leads the series 1-0) and Colorado vs. Dallas at 10:30 p.m. ET (the Stars are up 2-zip). Get caught up on everything that happened last night by watching Rob Pizzo's 2-minute NHL playoff recap here.
The Montreal Impact had 250 fans at their home opener last night. In a taste of what you might soon see from some NFL teams (and maybe, down the road, in the NHL and NBA), the Impact allowed a limited number of spectators into their match last night vs. the Vancouver Whitecaps. This made the Major League Soccer club the first Canadian-based pro team to welcome fans back during the pandemic. Montreal's stadium seats close to 21,000, but 250 is the max allowed right now under Quebec's public-health guidelines. The fans were scattered throughout the stands to ensure distancing. MLS recently restarted its regular season with teams playing out of their home stadiums. Due to government travel restrictions, the three Canadian teams are facing each other three times each before, MLS hopes they can start playing against the U.S.-based teams again. Read more about Montreal's unusual home opener here.
Milos Raonic reached the quarter-finals of the U.S. Open tuneup event. The Canadian veteran beat former world No. 1 Andy Murray in straight sets last night and now has a pretty good chance to reach the semis at the Western & Southern Open. His opponent tonight in New York is Filip Krajinovic, who's ranked 32nd in the world. Raonic is 30th. He's the only Canadian left in the men's or women's draws. The U.S. Open starts Monday.
Giannis Antetokounmpo joined an exclusive club. The Milwaukee Bucks star became only the fifth NBA player to win an MVP and a Defensive Player of the Year award in his career. The others were all slam-dunk Hall of Famers: Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson and Kevin Garnett. Giannis is favoured to win his second consecutive MVP award when that's announced soon. If he does, he'll join Jordan and Olajuwon as the only players to pull off the MVP/DPOY double in the same season.
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