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Jamal Murray is on a run for the ages
The 23-year-old Canadian guard is, improbably, the most unstoppable player in the NBA right now. Murray scored 50 points last night to once again rescue the Denver Nuggets from elimination in Game 6 of their playoff series vs. the Utah Jazz. In his last three games, he’s scored 50, 42 and 50.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, only two players in NBA history have scored more points over a three-game span in the playoffs than Murray’s 142: Jerry West in the mid-1960s and Michael Jordan in 1988. The latter is the greatest player of all time. The former is the guy depicted on the NBA logo. So, yeah, pretty good company.
What makes Murray’s run even more astonishing is that it kind of came out of nowhere. Sure, the Kitchener Ont., native’s talent has always been obvious. He impressed as a barely-out-of-high-school teenager at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto, then had a strong season of college ball at powerhouse Kentucky before Denver picked him seventh overall in the 2016 draft. Last summer, the Nuggets handed him a five-year, $170-million US contract extension. But Murray averaged only 18.5 points per game this season — a career high, yet not even enough to lead his team. And his first three games of the playoffs were typical of his pro career to that point: flashes of brilliance (10 points in OT to finish with 36 in Game 1) followed by frustrating lulls (14 and 12 in the next two games).
Since then, though, Murray is playing like an absolute superstar. His three-game fever dream has pushed his 2020 playoff scoring average to 34 points per game. That’s second in the league, ahead of luminaries Kawhi Leonard, James Harden, Luka Doncic and Giannis Antetokounmpo. The only guy averaging more points than Murray is Utah’s Donovan Mitchell, which is a bit of a tell: points aren’t hard to come by in the Jazz-Nuggets series.
But that still shouldn’t take much away from what Murray has done over the last three games. His first 50-point performance came in a loss that put Denver in a 3-1 hole, but he’s the biggest reason why the Nuggets have been able to force a deciding Game 7 with two consecutive wins.
Murray is also meeting the moment, as they say, in other ways. During an on-court interview immediately following last night’s 50-point effort, he fought back tears while describing the range of emotions involved in returning to the court after the league-wide walkout in response to the Jacob Blake shooting. “In life, you find things that hold value to you, things to fight for,” he said. “We found something worth fighting for.” He added later during his digital press conference: “My skin colour should not determine whether I live or die.” Read more about Murray’s compelling statements here.
Game 7 is Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. ET. That’s shortly after Game 2 of the Raptors-Celtics series ends, so it’s shaping up to be a great night for Canadian basketball fans. In case you need another reason to watch, here’s one more fun Murray stat: if he can reach 40 points again in Game 7 (almost an off night for him at this point), he’ll become only the second player ever with four straight 40-point games in a playoff series. The other guy? Michael Jordan.
WATCH | Jamal Murray leads Nuggets to Game 6 win:
The US Open is underway
Normally the final Grand Slam event of the tennis season, the US Open is going second this year. The Australian Open went off as scheduled, finishing in early February, before the pandemic devastated the world. But the French Open was moved to Sept. 21 and Wimbledon was cancelled altogether as the big tennis tours paused for months beginning in early March. The women’s tour resumed in early August in Europe, and the men’s didn’t return until last week’s Western & Southern Open, which was moved from Cincinnati to the US Open venue in New York City.
Many things are different about this year’s US Open, and none of them are good. For instance, no qualifying draws were held prior to the main events. And the entire thing will be played without spectators, robbing players and fans of those electrifying primetime matches at 23,771-capacity Arthur Ashe Stadium, which draw the best crowds in tennis.
The biggest downer, though, is that several of the world’s top players decided not to make the trip. Both reigning singles champions — Canada’s Bianca Andreescu on the women’s side, Rafael Nadal on the men’s — pulled out over health and/or travel concerns. Andreescu still hasn’t played a competitive match since hurting her knee last October. Five-time champ Roger Federer withdrew after having two knee surgeries. Five of the top seven-ranked women are out, including world No. 1 Ash Barty and No. 2 Simona Halep.
But let’s end on a positive note and talk about who is there. The weakened field gives Serena Williams a much better chance of winning her 24th Grand Slam singles title, which would match Margaret Court’s all-time record. Williams is ranked eighth in the world but seeded No. 3 for this tournament, behind Karolina Pliskova and Sofia Kenin. Men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic is also playing. The 17-time Slam winner can move to within one title of Nadal and two of all-time men’s leader Federer.
Five Canadians are entered in the main singles draws. The only woman is 17-year-old Leylah Annie Fernadez, who’s ranked 104th in the world. The men are Denis Shapovalov (seeded 12th), Felix Auger-Aliassime (15th), Milos Raonic (25th) and Vasek Pospisil (unseeded). Raonic is coming in hot after reaching the final of the Western & Southern, which he lost to Djokovic on Saturday.
Shapovalov was the only Canadian in action today. He advanced to the second round by beating unseeded American Sebastian Korda in four sets.
The Blue Jays made some moves before the trade deadline. Nothing huge as of our publish time, but the Jays did get left-handed pitcher Robbie Ray from Arizona and, reportedly, speedy infielder Jonathan Villar from Miami today. If anything else of note trickles in after the 4 p.m. ET deadline, we’ll tell you about it tomorrow. Ray and Villar are both depth guys who aren’t likely to move the needle too much. But it’s encouraging to see the Jays being buyers rather than sellers at the deadline. With a solid 18-14 record so far in the shortened 60-game season, Toronto is looking like a good bet to make this year’s expanded playoffs. Fangraphs had the Jays’ chances at 79 per cent this afternoon. Read more about today’s trades here.
Jon Rahm made an outrageous 65-foot birdie putt to win the second PGA playoff tournament. How’s this for an exciting ending: World No. 1 Dustin Johnson nailed a 45-foot putt on 18 to force a sudden-death playoff with Rahm, the No. 2-ranked player. Then Rahm did him one better, draining an absurd 65-footer down a huge slope into that same cup to win the BMW Championship. Rahm and Johnson weren’t the only players to come up big in the clutch. Canadian Mackenzie Hughes needed to par the 18th hole to clinch a spot in next week’s playoff finale, which is only for the top 30 players in the FedEx Cup standings. He did it, tying for 10th at the BMW in the process and also earning automatic entry to all four of next year’s majors. Hughes will be the only Canadian in the field at this week’s Tour Championship. He’ll start with a score of even par — 10 shots behind Johnson, who leads the FedEx Cup chase. The winner of the tournament wins the FedEx Cup and the $15-million US prize that goes with it. Read more about Rahm’s dramatic win at the BMW and watch his ridiculous putt here.
The Raptors have their hands full. The defending NBA champs got routed 112-94 by Boston in the opener of their second-round playoff series yesterday. Kyle Lowry’s ankle seemed alright as he led Toronto with 17 points, but he shot just 1-for-5 from three-point range. He wasn’t alone: the Raps hit only 10 of 40 from behind the arc. Fred VanVleet, who’d been great in the playoffs, went 2-of-11 from downtown and finished with only 11 points. Toronto’s shooting should improve, and there’s plenty of time for NBA coach of the year Nick Nurse to make adjustments. But the concern for the Raptors is that the Celtics might just have their number. Boston is 4-1 in head-to-head matchups since the start of the season, and both of their meetings in the bubble have been Celtics blowouts. Game 2 is Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. ET. Read more about Game 1 here.
The Stanley Cup playoffs could be down to the final four by tomorrow night. In all four second-round series, which are best of seven, someone leads 3-1. Tonight, Tampa Bay can finish off Boston at 7 p.m. ET, and suddenly-high-scoring Dallas can complete an upset of Colorado at 9:45 p.m. ET. Tomorrow night, the Islanders can eliminate Philadelphia and Vegas can put away Vancouver. For a fast and fun recap of yesterday’s three games, which included some coach-player chirping and a fantastic glove save by Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, watch Rob Pizzo’s two-minute recap here.
Canada’s Kadeisha Buchanan won her fourth consecutive Women’s Champions League title. The 24-year-old defender from Brampton, Ont., played every minute of Lyon’s 3-1 victory over Wolfsburg in yesterday’s final. Buchanan, who helped the Canadian national team take bronze at the 2016 Olympics, has won the Champions League title every year since joining Lyon in 2017. The French club has now won five in a row. Read more about their latest victory here.
The annual Peewee hockey tournament in Quebec City was cancelled. Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Guy Lafleur and Steve Yzerman are some of the future NHL stars who have played in the famous event, which was founded in 1960. This year’s edition was to include about 2,500 players from around the world. But it was called off today, with organizers citing a potential second wave of COVID-19 infections as a big reason.
Also cancelled: Three World Cup speed skating stops in Canada. The first four long-track events of the season were scratched today, including the Dec. 11-13 one in Calgary. Speed skating’s world governing body said it’s considering replacing the events with a “hub concept” in the Netherlands. The organization also nixed the first two short-track World Cups, in Montreal Nov. 6-8 and Laval, Que., Nov. 13-15. The short-track season could start as early as mid-December with back-to-back stops in South Korea and China, but a final decision hasn’t been made. Read more about the speed-skating cancellations here.
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