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Nathan MacKinnon is on a Gretzky-like run
We spent much of the last week or so marvelling at the hot streak Jamal Murray was on. The 23-year-old Nuggets guard’s three-game, 142-point explosion put him in the company of Michael Jordan when it comes to the best stretches ever recorded in an NBA playoff series.
Well, Murray has a doppelganger in the NHL, where another young Canadian who works out of Denver is on a tear that’s placed him right up there with his sport’s GOAT. If Nathan MacKinnon can get two points tonight, the Colorado Avalanche star will become the first NHLer to reach 25 points in 14 or fewer games of a post-season since Wayne Gretzky did it in 1993 for the Los Angeles Kings.
MacKinnon’s numbers right now are staggering. With 23 points in 13 games, he leads the playoff scoring race by a whopping five points. And get this: he’s already matched the leaders from last year’s entire post-season, Ryan O’Reilly and Brad Marchand, who needed 26 and 24 games, respectively, to reach 23 points.
One more fun fact: MacKinnon has at least one point in all 13 of his playoff games this year. The only players with longer scoring streaks to open a post-season are Bryan Trottier (18 games in 1981), Mark Messier (14 in ’88) and Bobby Orr (14 in ’70). Pretty nice group to be in.
One caveat to MacKinnon’s stats: they include three “seeding” games, the glorified warmups held prior to the first round for the top four teams in each conference under this year’s unusual playoff format. But while those contests may have lacked intensity, they did come against top-quality opponents.
Maybe the only thing that can stop MacKinnon right now is not having any more games to play. His Avalanche are down 3-2 in their series vs. Dallas and facing elimination tonight for the second straight game. That’s surprising after Colorado came into the playoffs as a trendy Stanley Cup pick and blew Arizona out of the water in the first round. But the Avs were also up against the wall in Game 5, and they responded with five consecutive goals in the first 14½ minutes — including one by (of course) MacKinnon.
Jamal Murray cooled off — but still helped his team advance. It took seven games, but the Utah Jazz finally realized it might be a good idea to actually try and stop the NBA’s hottest player. So after averaging 47 points in the last three games, Murray came back to earth with only 17 last night. But all the extra attention the young Canadian guard drew from Utah’s defenders may have opened things up for teammate Nikola Jokic. The Denver centre had 30 points and 14 rebounds as the Nuggets held off a second-half Jazz rally to win an 80-78 slugfest in the deciding game of their first-round matchup. The combined total of 158 points was 53 below the next-lowest-scoring game in the previously defence-free series. Murray and the Nuggets will face a much bigger challenge in the second round against Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angeles Clippers, who had the fifth-best defensive rating and second-best offensive rating this season. That series starts tomorrow night. Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, Canadians Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort can help Oklahoma City earn a second-round date with the L.A. Lakers when they face Houston in Game 7.
The Raptors are on the ropes. Toronto played better than it did in Game 1, but the result was the same. The defending champs are down 2-0 to Boston after losing 102-99 last night. For much of the season, it appeared the Raptors didn’t really miss Kawhi Leonard. They actually had a better winning percentage than they did last year. But having a truly elite go-to guy has long been considered essential for winning an NBA championship, and it would be a nice edge to have right now against a Celtics team that also prides itself on its balance. Five Raptors scored at least 16 points last night, but none had more than the 20 by OG Anunoby. He’s a useful player, but it’s not a great sign when he’s your top scorer in a playoff game. The Celtics had four guys score at least 16 and got 34 from rising star Jayson Tatum, who went 14-of-14 from the free-throw line. Defensive ace Marcus Smart scored 16 of his 19 during a magical three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, and star point guard Kemba Walker also came on strong late. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 6:30 p.m. ET. Read more about Game 2 and watch highlights here.
The Canucks stayed alive, thanks to Thatcher Demko. Thrust into his first-ever playoff start after Jacob Markstrom was designated “unfit to play” (“upper/lower-body injury” is so 2019), Vancouver’s backup goalie stopped 42 of Vegas’ 43 shots. The Canucks had only 17, but they escaped with a 2-1 win that forced a Game 6 on Thursday night. Philadelphia did the same by beating the Islanders 4-3 in overtime. There’s only one game tonight: the aforementioned Game 6 between Nathan MacKinnon’s Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. Get caught up on the lastest from the NHL playoffs by watching Rob Pizzo’s two-minute recap.
All five Canadian singles players are into the second round of the US Open. The bad news is that a maximum of four — and, most likely, no more than three — will advance to the third round. That’s because Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil face each other in the men’s draw tomorrow, while 104th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez is up against women’s No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin. Men’s No. 15 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime faces an interesting opponent in Andy Murray — a former world No. 1 who’s fallen to 115th. The only Canadian in action today is the highest-seeded one: men’s No. 12 Denis Shapovalov. He faces Soonwoo Kwon, who’s ranked 73rd in the world. The match will start sometime after 5 p.m. ET. Quick non-Canadian note from yesterday: Serena Williams picked up her 102nd US Open match win, passing Chris Evert for the professional-era record. Read more about that here.
We forgot a few things in our “September to remember” list. In yesterday’s newsletter covering the overwhelming amount of big sporting events happening this month, I left out the Kentucky Derby (this Saturday), the French Open (starts Sept. 21) and the Tour de France (on now through Sept. 20). Thanks to those who wrote in about the omissions. Add those to your calendar — if there’s any room left.
Did you know that three of Canada’s best young athletes were born in the same week? CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux unearthed this tidbit: Olympic swimming champion Penny Oleksiak, No. 3 NBA draft pick RJ Barrett and tennis star Bianca Andreescu arrived in a span of four days in the year 2000 — on June 13, 14 and 16, respectively. And soccer phenom Alphonso Davies was born a few months later, on Nov. 2. Read more about the four of them here.
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