7 takeaways from a souped-up sports equinox


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This was sports equinox on steroids

Remember not long ago when we had no sports at all to watch? Now there’s almost too much to keep up with.

Yesterday, the four biggest sports leagues in North America — NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — all had games going on. This rare confluence of events, dubbed the “sports equinox,” normally happens only in October. But this year it arrived early — and with a lot more on the line. On a typical sports equinox, the only playoff games are in baseball. Yesterday’s souped-up version featured later-stage post-season matchups in both the NHL and NBA, plus the NFL’s first full Sunday slate and regular-season baseball.

And that’s not all. Sunday’s sports buffet also included the U.S. Open men’s final, the conclusion of the WNBA regular season, English Premier League and MLS soccer matches and the final round of a women’s golf major. A Canadian almost made a big splash (literally) in the last one, so let’s start there and get you caught up on the main stuff you need to know:

Brooke Henderson nearly won her second major title

It’s been more than four years since Canada’s highest-ranked golfer earned her first by winning the 2016 Women’s PGA Championship as an 18-year-old. Henderson turned 23 on Thursday, and she came within one stroke of gifting herself another major victory at the ANA Inspiration in California. But South Korea’s Mirim Lee caught fire late, chipping in for a birdie on 16 and again for an eagle on 18 to get herself into a three-way playoff with Henderson and American Nelly Korda. Lee then birdied the first playoff hole to earn the customary leap into Poppie’s Pond — a longstanding tradition at this tournament.

It’s the first major title for the 29-year-old Lee, who was ranked 94th in the world coming in. She won $465,000 US. Henderson pocketed $245,480 and jumped three spots to No. 6 in the world rankings. She then decided today to skip this week’s Portland Classic because of the poor air quality in that area caused by the wildfires. Read more about the final round of the ANA Inspiration and how a controversial feature on the 18th hole helped decide the winner here.

Dominic Thiem broke the Big Three’s grip on men’s tennis

The 27-year-old Austrian rallied from down two sets to beat Alexander Zverev in the U.S. Open men’s final and win his first major title. Thiem is the first man since 2016 not named Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer to win a singles Grand Slam. One of those three guys had taken the previous 13. But Nadal and Federer decided to sit this one out, and Djokovic got kicked out for hitting a linesperson with a ball.

On Saturday, Japan’s Naomi Osaka won her second U.S. Open title (and third Slam) by defeating Victoria Azarenka in the women’s final. The third and final tennis major of the year, the French Open, is only a week away after being moved from its usual slot in late May/early June. Canada’s Bianca Andreescu is doubtful to make the trip because of a foot injury. She hasn’t played an official match since hurting her knee last October.

Jamal Murray and the Nuggets forced a surprising Game 7 against the Clippers

The young Canadian guard has cooled since his Jordan-like hot streak in the first round vs. Utah, but he scored 26 points to help Denver avoid elimination in Game 5 and had 21 on an efficient 9-for-13 shooting in yesterday’s 111-98 win. Nikola Jokic led Denver with 34 points and 14 rebounds. Game 7 is tomorrow night. The winner faces the Lakers in the Western Conference final.

The East final tips off tomorrow night. Boston is the slight betting favourite over Miami after dethroning the Toronto Raptors on Friday night.

Tampa Bay and Dallas are both one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup final

The Lightning went up three games to one on the Islanders yesterday with a 4-1 win that saw the teams combine for three goals in a 27-second span. Playoff scoring co-leader Brayden Point had a goal and an assist for Tampa after missing Game 3, but he left in the third period after appearing to hurt himself again.

Meanwhile, the Stars are (surprisingly) in a position to finish off Vegas in five games tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Got caught up on everything you need to know from the NHL’s conference finals by watching Rob Pizzo’s two-minute recap video.

It was a tough day for some old quarterbacks

In the most-hyped matchup of the NFL’s opening Sunday, 43-year-old Tom Brady made his Tampa Bay Buccaneers debut against 41-year-old New Orleans Saints icon Drew Brees. Both of the former Super Bowl MVPs looked a little creaky, though. After running in a touchdown to cap his very first drive as a non-Patriot, Brady threw a pair of interceptions — one of which was returned for a TD — and the Bucs lost 34-23. This came a few hours after New England’s new QB, 31-year-old Cam Newton, led the Pats to a win over Miami.

Meanwhile, 38-year-old Philip Rivers threw two interceptions in his first game as a Colt, which ended with a big upset loss to Jacksonville. To be fair to the older guys, 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers had a huge, four-TD day in Green Bay’s win over Minnesota.

But you can sense a changing of the guard at football’s most important position. Twenty-four-year-old reigning Super Bowl MVP Patrick Mahomes was, well, Patrick Mahomes in beating Houston on Thursday night; 23-year-old reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson and the Ravens dominated Cleveland yesterday; and 23-year-old trendy 2020 MVP pick Kyler Murray did his best Jackson impression by throwing for 230 yards and running for 91 more in Arizona’s 24-20 upset of defending NFC champ San Francisco. Read about all of Sunday’s NFL action (which, despite the lack of fans, looked and felt pretty normal) here.

The Blue Jays solidified their playoff hopes

After taking two of three from the Mets over the weekend, Toronto has a 98 per cent chance of qualifying for this year’s expanded post-season, according to both ESPN’s and Fangraphs’ models. The top two teams in each division plus two wild cards per league make it this year, and the Jays (26-20) are currently second in the AL East with only two weeks left in the regular season.

Toronto opens a big three-game series tomorrow night against the division-rival Yankees, who are a half game behind. But even if the Jays drop out of the top two in the AL East, they should snag one of the wild-card spots, barring a complete collapse.

The WNBA finalized its playoff field

The shortened 22-game regular season ended yesterday, and the bottom four teams in the league have been sent home from the Florida bubble. The eight-team playoff tournament opens Tuesday. The top two teams — Las Vegas and Seattle — earned byes for the first two rounds, which are both single-elimination. The No. 3 and 4 teams — Los Angeles and Minnesota — get to skip the first round.

Only two Canadian players are involved in the post-season and they’re both on the Minnesota Lynx. Forward Bridget Carleton averaged 6.6 points this season while centre Kayla Alexander averaged 2.3 in very limited minutes off the end of the bench.

The most prominent Canadian in the WNBA, guard Kia Nurse, missed the playoffs after her New York Liberty finished a league-worst 2-20. New York lost No. 1-overall draft pick Sabrina Ionescu to an ankle injury in just their third game, which put a lot of pressure on Nurse. The Canadian led the remaining Liberty players in scoring with 12.2 points per game, but she shot a career-worst 27.3 per cent from the field. Read more about the final day of the WNBA regular season here.

Brooke Henderson celebrated her 23rd birthday by nearly winning the 2020 ANA Inspiration. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Genie Bouchard got into the French Open. The Canadian received one of the eight wild-card entries for the women’s draw at the Grand Slam event, which opens a week from today. Bouchard didn’t make it into the just-completed U.S. Open, but she reached the final of the Istanbul Open last week to improve her ranking by 105 spots to No. 167. Bouchard, 26, made the semifinals of the French Open in 2014 — the same year she also reached the Australian Open semis and the Wimbledon final and climbed to a career-high fifth in the world rankings. Read more about Bouchard’s landing a spot in the French here.

NHL GMs have a tougher job now. Back in early March, they expected the salary cap to rise by a few million dollars for next season. But that was before the pandemic caused the league to shut down for months and then come back without any fans in attendance. So now every GM is dealing with a cap that’s expected to stay flat for the foreseeable future, and some owners might demand cuts to the payroll during these tough economic times. That could lead to some interesting deals in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 6-7 draft and the Oct. 9 start of free agency. Read more about the new landscape NHL GMs are facing here.

The Calgary Flames made Geoff Ward their permanent head coach. He’d been working with an interim tag since being promoted in late November. Ward replaced Bill Peters, who resigned after being accused of using a racial slur toward Black player Akim Aliu during their time in the minors. Calgary improved under Ward, going 25-15-3 over the rest of the regular season before beating Winnipeg in a qualifying series and then losing in the next round to Dallas. Read more about the Flames’ officially giving Ward the job here.

And finally…

Bubbles are working great for the NHL and the NBA. Could speed skating be next? The first four World Cup stops of the season have been cancelled, but the sport’s world governing body is considering setting up a “hub” in the skating-mad Netherlands. Despite the difficulties involved, that sounds pretty good to many of Canada’s long-trackers. Their home base, the Olympic Oval in Calgary, currently has no ice because of a recent mechanical failure, so they’re looking for a place to train for a season they can only hope will happen. Read more about the challenges Canada’s speed skaters are facing in this piece by Vicki Hall.

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