With everything on the line, Kyle Lowry carries Raptors to the Eastern Conference finals

From there, everything changed. Lowry had 29 of his 33 points in the second half of Game 3, and then went for 25 in Game 5 followed by a postseason career-high 36 in Game 6.

In Game 7, he shot 11-for-20 from the field, 5-for-7 from 3-point range and 8-for-11 from the free throw line.

Still, his impact was always felt. He currently holds a plus-77 postseason plus-minus rating. As a team, the Raptors are plus-eight for the playoffs.

“I just wanted to stay poised and level-headed no matter what happened,” said Lowry, who was nearly traded to the New York Knicks in December 2013. “We knew it was going to be a 48-minute game and they weren’t going to give up easily and they were going to make a run. We just had to stay focused on the task at hand and get back on defense. Their coaches did an unbelievable job in going small, but we had to be big and just play our game.”

After back-to-back first-round exits, the Raptors won a franchise-record 56 games and advanced to Round 2 for the first time in nearly 15 years despite being pushed to Game 7 by the Indiana Pacers.

Now, they’ve bested Dwyane Wade and the Heat as well.

It certainly has been a bumpy ride to get to this point. Just ask embattled coach Dwane Casey, GM Masai Ujiri, Lowry or DeRozan.

The scrutiny has come with the ups and downs, but somehow the Raptors have been able to go where they’ve never gone before.

Even better: For once, they made it easy on themselves, outscoring the Heat 30-11 in the fourth quarter and leading by as many as 28. The key stat was the rebounding column, which Toronto dominated by a margin of 20.

“It’s very important for our program,” Casey said. “I think we’ve done everything we’ve set out to do, but we’re not done yet. I know what it’s like to win a championship. I’m not saying we can do that, but I think this group is hungry and never say never. I know one thing: Our guys will compete.”

Lowry and DeRozan (28 points) closed the series by scoring 59 points combined in Game 5, 59 in Game 6 and a career postseason-high 63 in Game 7.

Bismack Biyombo had 17 points and 16 rebounds in Game 7, Patrick Patterson finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds, and DeMarre Carroll was outscored by Wade only 16-14, meaning he harassed the future Hall of Famer defensively all game long.

“We never doubted Kyle and DeMar,” Casey said. “They’re our guys. They’re here, they’re our All-Stars and I thought they played like it tonight. They both stepped up and carried us.”

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding whether Jonas Valanciunas (right ankle sprain) will be ready for the start of Round 3, as he has not resumed basketball activities since two days before Game 1 against Cleveland. At this point, it doesn’t look promising.

The Cavaliers hit 77 3-pointers during their four-game sweep of the Atlanta Hawks, and will be a tough opponent for the Raptors, who usually put more emphasis on defending the paint than the perimeter.

“It’s been unbelievable,” Lowry, who averaged 31 points on 66 percent shooting and posted a 46.2 PER against Cleveland in the regular season, said of what the Cavaliers have been able to accomplish.

“We’ve all watched it and we’ve witnessed all the things they’ve done, like hitting 25 3s in a game and 70-something 3s in the series, but that’s why we have books and film and we’ll have time to scout it and make adjustments.”

Nevertheless, Toronto’s season already has been a resounding success, and the Raptors are playing with house money now.

Just don’t tell them they’re the “underdogs.”

“We look at ourselves as a team that’s going to continue to play hard and grow and go from there and let the chips fall where they may,” Lowry said.

“It’s been a crazy ride. DeMar’s been here for the long run, and I’m more happy for him and these guys that have been with this franchise for 21 years to finally get to this point. Our owners, [senior basketball advisor] Wayne Embry — for me I’m happy for the other people that we’ve done it for.”

PITTSBURGH — When puck drops for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at Consol Energy Center, chances are good that the goaltenders at either end of the ice will be 21 years old.

Fans have already seen what Penguins rookie goalie Matt Murray can do in the postseason, with his 7-3 record in 10 playoff games, while veteran Marc-Andre Fleury serves as the backup. And it appears the Lightning will have to rely on Andrei Vasilevskiy for Game 2 after starter Ben Bishop suffered a lower-body injury in Game 1 and is listed as day to day.

Most would think that it would be a challenge for a pair of 21-year-olds to perform at their best with a berth to the Stanley Cup finals at stake. Murray has proved to be poised and confident, and Vasilevskiy seems to have the same mindset. Having little NHL postseason experience could also help, in a way.

Former NHL goalie Andrew Raycroft was 23 when he played for the Boston Bruins during the 2003-04 season. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year and led the Bruins into the first round against the Montreal Canadiens. It was his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“I want to be able to be looked back on and know that ‘He was one of the greats in the game.’ If I have the opportunity to do that, I’m going to try my best,” Day said after his 4-shot victory. “And I have the opportunity to do that right now, try and work as hard as I can to really leave my footprint in this game. I’m very motivated to win as much as I can right now.”

He stomped his way all over everyone at The Players Championship, even though he had a few nervous moments. Day made bogey on No. 6, had to make a 15-foot par putt on the next hole and really looked out-of-sorts from just 40 feet right of the green on the par-5 ninth. He muffed three straight chips and had to make a 6-foot putt just to escape with bogey, which dropped his lead to two shots.

“If I walk away with a double-bogey there, I let everyone [back] in the field,” he said. “I was right there next to the green in two and felt like an amateur chopping my way to the pin. That putt was probably the most crucial putt of this tournament for me.”

John Elway explains why Broncos are ready for Paxton Lynch to start soon

“He’s a young guy with tremendous athletic ability, he’s got the strong arm, can make all the throws, he’s smart, and he’s a guy that can fit into this offense real well,” Elway said.

The system in question was a perfect fit for a hyper-athletic talent like Elway back in the day (Kubiak was his boss’ quarterbacks coach when Mike Shanahan ran things in Denver) and it makes sense for Lynch.

Roll him out, get him on the edge, let him take shots down the field and use his athleticism to make plays where necessary … it’s a perfect fit.

The Broncos should be scary not because they have to play Lynch in 2016 but because they can play Lynch. He has weapons (Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders) and fits the offense, and they’ll run the ball and play tons of defense.

Denver already won a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning limping through the season. It’s not unreasonable to expect success with a rookie either.

Outfield options: Ryan Braun, Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Dexter Fowler, Carlos Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Odubel Herrera, Matt Holliday, Starling Marte, Andrew McCutchen, Marcell Ozuna, Angel Pagan, Joc Pederson, Hunter Pence, Stephen Piscotty, Gregory Polanco, Yasiel Puig,Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich

Holy crowded outfield.

Outfield picks: Bryce Harper, Nationals; Yoenis Cespedes, Mets; Dexter Fowler, Cubs

Harper is easy and doesn’t need discussing.

So, yeah, fair to say I am less than convinced this is the answer to the Texans’ lingering QB problem. Coach Bill O’Brien will have to stick with him, but after drafting more weapons on offense there won’t be any excuses here. While Houston’s defense made strides in the second half of last season, this isn’t the 2015 Broncos defense.

Playing in the AFC South would generally make things much easier for Osweiler, only that division might actually be halfway decent this year, too.

My crystal ball says: There will be some tears and disappointment here. And I have a hunch that this ends up being only a two-year, $38 million deal that leaves a fair amount of carnage in its wake.

Kirk Cousins
This can’t be all doom and gloom.

The fourth inning in Wrigley Field was pretty wild on Saturday. First up, the Pirates scored a pair of runs off Jake Arrieta, erasing a streak of 26 straight scoreless innings against the Cubs’ ace, which included a shutout in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game.

That top of the fourth Saturday ended when a hard grounder up the middle hit Arrieta’s lower leg and redirected into a double play to kill the rally.

And then Jeff Locke gave it right back. Jason Heyward singled, Kris Bryant walked and Anthony Rizzo hit a three-run homer. A Ben Zobrist walk followed, and then pitching coach Ray Searage went to the mound.

As the Pirates broadcast noted, that’s a rarity. Searage did appear to be giving home plate umpire Brian Knight an earful.

Dick’s Sporting Goods has released its latest jersey report — an “official ranking of the best-selling players jerseys nationwide” through the first three weeks of the NFL season, according to sales at their stories — and suffice it to say, there is plenty of shake-my-head data on the most popular teams in certain states.

Neither the Giants nor Jets sells the most jerseys in the state of New York; the Bills somehow hold that distinction.

The Redskins have apparently taken over Nebraska, while the Ravens own not only their own state of Maryland, where the Redskins also play home games, but DC as well.

Despite residing nearly 4,700 miles away from the stadium, football fans in Hawaii are big supporters of the Carolina Panthers.

WHITE SOX HOST ASTROS, ROYALS FOR THE FIRST TIME

The White Sox haven’t played the Royals yet, but will see plenty of them coming up. Including this three-game set, the White Sox travel to Kansas City for a four-game series after the 10-game homestand.

WHITE SOX TRIPLE-A PROSPECT TIM ANDERSON EARNS BATTER OF WEEK HONORS

Staying patient could be hard for the White Sox if Anderson — named the International League batter of the week Monday after he .432 with three home runs and six RBIs in eight games — continues to perform like this.

“He certainly has the ability and the raw talent,” Hahn said. “At the same time, when we drafted this kid out of a junior college only a couple years removed from playing basketball primarily as opposed to baseball, we felt that he was going to be a level-to-level guy and spend if not a full season, close to a full season at each level. If we were to stick with that original plan then he’s slated for Charlotte this year. The good ones have a way of forcing that timeframe up a little bit and Tim’s certainly in our opinion is one of the good ones. So we’ll see what happens.”

Much like most of the Knights’ offense, Anderson got out to a slow start at Charlotte. His OPS currently stands at .672 even after a fantastic week in which he scored 12 runs, had five multi-hit games and homered in three straight games.

Anderson has a .761 career OPS, with 99 extra-base hits and 91 steals in 1,365 professional plate appearances. He spent all of the 2013 season at Single-A Kannapolis and the majority of 2014 at Single-A Winston-Salem. He received a late promotion in 2014 to Double-A Birmingham and stayed there for all of the 2015 season.

While Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones — in true Jerry Jones fashion — said earlier this month his team won’t put former Jaylon Smith on injured reserve, it looks clear the former Notre Dame star linebacker won’t play in 2016.

The issue with Smith is waiting for the peroneal nerve in his left knee to “wake up.” Once that happens — and the prevailing sense out of Dallas is that it will — Smith should be ready to return to the field, most likely sometime in 2017.

Ultimately, the Yankees scored four times against White Sox relievers in their final three times at bat.

Zach Duke surrendered a go-ahead, two-run shot to Carlos Beltran in the sixth, the 400th home run of the outfielder’s career putting the Yankees ahead 5-4. Chase Headley’s pinch-hit RBI double in the seventh off Matt Albers broke a 5-all tie. And Brian McCann added a critical insurance run with a solo homer off Nate Jones in the eighth.

NBA approves on-jersey advertising program

The first season of the program will be in 2017-18, which will also be the first season that Nike makes the NBA’s uniforms after taking over from Adidas. The Adidas logo is not currently on game jerseys.

“It’s my hope, independent of whatever additional revenues are generated through this patch program, that the greatest impact will be in this amplifying effect of companies choosing to associate directly with a team jersey, then going out and promoting that relationship to the largest market,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver said.

Silver said the league had calculated that the program will be worth about $100 million a year. It’s a small opportunity relative to the league’s overall revenues, which Silver said are projected to be $7 billion in the 2017-18 season.

Silver said Friday that the Nike swoosh will appear on every jersey for 29 of the league’s teams, but that the Charlotte Hornets will likely have the logo of the Nike-owned subsidiary Brand Jordan because the team is owned by Michael Jordan.

The money will be counted as basketball-related income and, therefore, split with the players. What isn’t yet clear is how a team will resolve a conflict if a company buying a patch is a competitor of a company that endorses that team’s star player.

Silver said that the NBA must also have conversations with its TV partners, ESPN and Turner, as well as the league’s top sponsors, based on who the jersey ad sponsors turn out to be.

Silver said there is “enormous uncertainty” around the patch program, which is one reason the initial idea is to restrict sales to a three-year period. The plan is also facing some backlash from fans who want to see the jerseys remain commercial-free.

“There’s a reason this is a pilot program,” Silver said. “We listen very closely to our fans.”

“We didn’t think that was fair. We have revenue sharing already and we think that is fair,” Alexander said.

The NBA is moving a step closer to putting advertisements on jerseys.

Sources told ESPN.com that the league sent out a memo this week, ahead of the owners meeting Sunday at the All-Star Game in Toronto, where the topic of putting corporate logos on uniforms is expected to be discussed.

Towns routinely greeted questions about his success with a shrug. The Timberwolves still won only 29 games and finished far out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference.

“People who know me know I’m never satisfied. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a good game,” Towns said near the end of the season. “It’s hard to get me to even say I played good. That’s just in me. I’m just never satisfied. A lot of my friends get annoyed by it. I’m never happy about anything, playing-wise. I always think there’s things I messed up on, things I should’ve done differently that could’ve A) made us win or B) made the win easier.”

How to Spot Counterfeit NFL Merchandise

This haul here, worth about $100,000, is just from greater Phoenix and from the past few days.

So how does a consumer to spot a fake jersey while in Glendale?

“Their main goal is to make money. So they’re going to crank these things out as quickly as possible. And so, you’ll see that they don’t even bother to lift the needle when they go from one letter to the next. So you’ll see the cross-stitching from one letter to the next to the next. It’s all one seam,” Modricker said.

It’s not just stitching; there is also shoddy coloring and rip-off holograms. Authorities also warn that some of the material used for this knock-off merchandise can be potentially harmful to your body. Modricker pointed to a pair of fake NFL team earrings.

“When you look at it, you have no idea who made this, what materials they used. I know lead is a lot cheaper than silver. So you don’t know what you’re putting into your body,” he said.

Plus, Modricker says, it’s crushing the economy, since up to 1.4 million Massachusetts jobs rely on intellectual property.

One man is in custody facing felony charges in Wednesday’s sting.

Browns cornerback Justin Gilbert was not injured after crashing his car into a ditch following a road rage incident with another driver.

Gilbert was cited Friday for failure to “maintain reasonable control of his vehicle” and released by Brunswick, Ohio, police. Gilbert, who had a disappointing rookie season after being drafted in the first round in 2014, is traveling with the Browns to New Jersey for their season opener on Sunday against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.

On the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Chicago Bears head coach John Fox recalled his memory of the fateful day, when he was a defensive coordinator for the New York Giants.

On Sept. 10, 2001, Fox was returning from Denver where the Giants had just lost to the Broncos. The overnight flight landed in New Jersey, and the players went home while the coaches headed to their offices at Giants Stadium to begin preparing for Sunday night’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Last June, Merullo traveled from his home in Massachusetts and returned to Wrigley Field as part of the ballpark’s 100th celebration.

NFL May jersey sales: Mariota tops Winston as Tebow lurks at No. 15

For the month of May, Mariota led the NFL in jersey sales, just topping Winston and Tom Brady, who finished in third and doesn’t appear to be suffering from too big of a popularity hit after the release of the Wells Report.

It’s been a good month or so for both first-round quarterbacks. Mariota impressed his wide receivers during the first round of OTAs and surprised the team’s defense with his blinding speed.

And, for Winston, it’s been nothing but rave reviews. The only complaint Lovie Smith has is that the coaches have to tell Winston when to go home and there have already been multiple reports of Winston’s dedication to studying the playbook and watching film.

It’s probably not surprising to see quarterbacks other than the two rookies dominate that list, with seven of the top 10 jerseys belonging to signal callers. And once again, just like the Madden cover vote, Odell Beckham Jr. found a way to beat out Rob Gronkowski.

And, of course, Tim Tebow somehow and someway ended up in the top-15.

DeMarco Murray has only donned his new Eagles game jersey in pictures, but that is not stopping people from wanting to get their hands on it. Murray’s No. 29 Eagles jersey was the top-selling jersey among NFL running backs for the month of May.

The rankings information was provided by the NFL’s online shop.

Just to give you an idea of how bad things are, Tim Couch went 22-37 as a starter and he’s ranked No. 4.

Ironically, Manziel is replacing Hoyer, who just happens to be the only guy on the list who has a winning record with the Browns since 1999.