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Gary Trent Jr. delivers the dagger as Raptors win thriller over Wizards

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 103-101 win over the Washington Wizards.

One — Wow: This was hardly a pretty game, which is what you would expect from the 11th and 13th seeds in the East, but the ending was worth enduring through the first three quarters. The Raptors were without a true point guard so the offense stagnated at times, and they were only 4-of-25 from three through three quarters which left them trailing by 19 points, but the Raptors stormed back and won it at the buzzer thanks to a running three from Gary Trent Jr. There was a questionable no-call involved as Raul Neto shot backwards as if Trent clubbed him with a baseball bat on his push-off, but that came on the heels of an even more questionable charge call that went against the Raptors, so it all evens out.

Two — Together: The game-winner was the cherry on top, but the best part of this win was seeing the Raptors playing together as a group. This game didn’t go according to plan, as Chris Boucher was off, OG Anunoby couldn’t buy a basket, and the Wizards kept hitting ridiculous threes, but the Raptors stuck together and fought back as a team. Pascal Siakam did most of the heavy lifting for the first unit, while the second unit actually contributed positively for what feels like the first time all season. The Wizards aren’t that hard to guard because Russell Westbrook can be very predictable with his blind aggression, and what the Raptors needed to focus on was keeping Westbrook in front of them, then boxing out to secure the rebound. They did just enough of that over the fourth quarter to get the win.

Three — Glue: DeAndre’ Bembry stepped up in a huge way in the absence of both Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry. Bembry is very different from the two starting guards since he’s not a threat to shoot, nor does he dominate the ball, but Bembry has a quirky skillset that often catches teams off-guard. Bembry loves to drive, but he moves with a zigzagging cadence so that it’s hard to anticipate the angle he’s going up at, and that’s how he got so many layups to fall despite Washington’s defenders being in position. Bembry also showed off some impressive passes, including one to split three defenders to find a cutter along the baseline (a role normally played by Bembry), and with an up fake as if he were going in for the layup, but keeping his pivot down and dropping it off to Aron Baynes rolling to the basket. Bembry won’t get to play this role all the time, but he was great tonight.

Four — Stubborn: The Wizards were moving the ball beautifully in the first half, which resulted in dunks and open threes, but all that went away in the fourth quarter. Most of it came down to Westbrook deciding to take the game over even though he had already been dominating with his playmaking for the first three quarters. Westbrook started settling and rattled off a run of eight-straight missed jumpers over the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, which opened the door for the Raptors to come back. Most of these were unforced too, as Westbrook had the ball and all the decision making in his hand, and it seemed like sheer stubbornness in how he kept repeating the same move which only played into the Raptors’ hands. He did make a three at the end and it looked to be his redemption, but the end result was a loss in which he shot 9-of-25. Bembry had the assignment for most of the night, and he said that while Westbrook is a great player and great players cannot be stopped entirely, that there is a trick to baiting Westbrook out of his game.

Five — Confident: The one thing every Raptors teammate keeps saying about Malachi Flynn is that he’s a confident player, which is an odd assessment given his approach as a rookie up until the past two games. Flynn went from being tentative, to suddenly driving and scoring on 7-footers at the rim through contact with his off hand, and he looks like an entirely different player. Flynn has been able to get to the basket at will, and it’s thanks to his quickness, which bested even the likes of Ish Smith, who has notoriously killed the Raptors with his speed in previous seasons. Flynn has good technique to get to his pull-up jumper, but he’s not settling anymore as he’s starting to read the gaps in the defense where he can take his shot. That’s a result of the game slowing down for him, which is allowing his confidence to show.

Six — Scrappy: The other part of Flynn’s game is that he competes defensively, which is an absolute must for small point guards. Flynn finished with four steals and three blocks, and had one stretch in the second quarter where he collected four straight stops, many of which put the Raptors on the fast break. Flynn even made two stops in transition, one time on a chasedown block, and another to redeem himself on a turnover where he made a play at the rim to erase a surefire 2-on-1 advantage. Those two plays speaks to his instinct and it is a reflection of good coaching, because the timing it takes to make those plays is mostly based on feel, and the will to get back with such urgency comes from it being drilled into you at lower levels.

Seven — Banger: The Raptors don’t win this game without Baynes stepping up off the bench. Chris Boucher was being thoroughly outplayed by former Raptors center Alex Len, to the point where Boucher was complaining each time he got swallowed up at the basket by the stronger player. Boucher was mostly in to provide spacing, but his three was off, and it allowed the Wizards to sit back and camp in the lane. The same effect happened with Baynes on the floor, but he was able to find the angle to roll to the basket, made the same number of threes on three fewer attempts, and most importantly, his physicality impacted the Wizards’ finishing at the rim. Baynes was in such a mood that he even took a heat-check three, which would be inexcusable in any other context but he really deserved that look tonight. Nick Nurse was smart to cash in his chips when he could, as Baynes started coughing up the ball and Nurse finished with a smallball group instead.

Eight — Determined: Siakam had a rough start and a shaky finish, but was dominant for large stretches of the game. He recognized that the Wizards had nobody who could check him 1-on-1, so Siakam made it a point to drive to the rim, and he forced the Wizards to adjust. Washington’s counter was to stack the lane against Siakam, putting a second defender on his side of the floor which was made possible by Bembry and the Raptors’ centers not being threats to shoot, and that’s when Siakam got into trouble. The next step for him is to slow down in those scenarios, to attack and bait the traps, while not being too out of control to find the right kickout play. Siakam has a tendency to rush, beat the defense to the spot, before jumping into the air to find the right pass, and that’s a bad habit that won’t work against disciplined teams.

Nine — Off: This was the first game since returning to the lineup where OG Anunoby looked shaky. He started great, including crossing up Robin Lopez to get free for an emphatic two-handed jam, and he finished strong with some clutch baskets that contributed to the comeback, but everything inbetween was questionable. Similar to Siakam, there is a rawness in how Anunoby attacks on offense, where he can get out of control and lose his balance. He’s curbed a lot of that this season, which is why he’s having a breakout year, but this is a learning experience where the coaches should review the tape and show the instances where Anunoby made the wrong reads.

Ten — Adorable: VanVleet was a late scratch due to the hip injury he picked up against the Warriors, but he was still a factor on the sidelines. He was up on the sidelines with the assistant coaches, chatting about strategy during the plays, while also getting into the ears of his teammates during timeouts. VanVleet was so into the game that he was even in a defensive stance on the baseline on the Wizards’ last few possessions, which is something his old coach Dwane Casey would also do. For players both active or retired, the habit of competitiveness is hard to kick.

 

Source:- Yahoo Canada Sports

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'Canadian tuxedo' no more: Lululemon replaces Hudson's Bay as Canada's Olympic clothier – CTV News

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TORONTO —
Canada’s Olympic team appears to be putting their meme-worthy formal wear to bed after announcing a partnership with Lululemon to provide their clothing for the next four Olympic Games.

The Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee announced on Thursday that Lululemon is the new “official outfitter” for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, in a deal that extends to the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles.

“Supporting these incredible athletes as they prepare to compete on the world’s largest sporting stage is a privilege,” Lululemon CEO Calvin McDonald said in a news release.

“Through this partnership, all of us at Lululemon are honoured to play our part to inspire, unite and transform the world through sport.”

Lululemon takes over the contract from Hudson’s Bay Co., which had been outfitting Canada’s athletes since the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

During the Tokyo Olympic Games, Canada’s athletes wore a “Canadian tuxedo” jean jacket for the closing ceremony that New York Times culture writer Dave Itzkoff described as “the gang that comes after you if you say you tried watching ‘Schitt’s Creek’ but couldn’t get into it.”

In 2018, the outfits given to Canada’s winter athletes included a red and black flannel shirt, similar to what a stereotypical lumberjack would wear. 

While many of Lululemon’s designs are still to be announced, the apparel company has unveiled a “future legacy bag” in support of the Canadian Olympic Foundation and Paralympic Foundation of Canada, as well as a teaser image that includes a red puffy jacket and red athletic wear.

“This is a partnership that will provide high-quality and stylish gear for Team Canada and also seek to promote and support sport for people of all abilities,” said Karen O’Neill, CEO of the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

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MLB playoff push: Blue Jays can’t afford to cool down in wild card race – Sportsnet.ca

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Wednesday’s loss to Tampa Bay escalated from disappointing to dramatic with a single pitch when Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Borucki hit Rays batter Kevin Kiermaier square in the back with an eighth-inning fastball, breathing new life into “cardgate.”

While tempers flared on the diamond with several heated exchanges between managers, players, and umpires, tensions rose in the playoff standings.

The Rays’ decisive 7-1 victory saw them clinch a playoff berth that for them was never in doubt, while the Blue Jays finished Wednesday outside the playoff picture after watching the New York Yankees defeat the Texas Rangers to temporarily break the two teams’ tie and grab sole possession of the American League’s second wild card spot.

After a red-hot September that saw Toronto’s offence propel it into the post-season picture, the club’s playoff pursuit has been slightly cooled thanks to two losses to the Rays. Thursday brings a fresh four-game series against the Minnesota Twins and an opportunity to fire up the offence once again.

Here’s a closer look at where things stand in the MLB playoff picture…

If the playoffs began today
The top teams in each division make the playoffs. In addition to the six division winners, the top remaining two teams per league qualify as wild cards for a total of 10 playoff teams.

The wild card teams in each league face off in winner-take-all games for the chance to advance to the LDS against the top seeded division winner. Meanwhile, the remaining two division winners match up against one another in each league.

If the post-season began today, these five American League teams would qualify:

Wild-card game: Boston Red Sox vs. New York Yankees

No. 1 Tampa Bay Rays (x) vs. winner of wild card game
No. 2 Houston Astros vs. No. 3 Chicago White Sox

And these five National League teams would qualify:

Wild-card game: Los Angeles Dodgers (x) vs. St. Louis Cardinals

No. 1 San Francisco Giants (x) vs. winner of wild card game
No. 2 Milwaukee Brewers (x) vs. No. 3 Atlanta Braves

(*x = playoff berth clinched)

In striking distance
In the American League, their series loss to the Rays means the Blue Jays are no longer in the post-season window but rather just outside of it, going from being up on the Yankees for the second wild-card spot heading into Wednesday’s action to being one win back of New York by night’s end. The Red Sox are two games up on New York, meanwhile, giving them a little bit of breathing room in that first wild card spot.

Behind the Blue Jays are the 83-69 Seattle Mariners, who aren’t out of the running but are 2.5 games behind New York.

Meanwhile, the National League is looking much more locked up with three teams having officially booked their playoff tickets. The Cincinnati Reds are the closest to the final (and only) wild card spot available with a record of 78-74, but hope is dwindling as they’re 4.5 games back of St. Louis. The same applies to the Philadelphia Phillies, whose identical record and win percentage (.513) has them still alive — barely! — in this race.

Playoff odds report
Objectively speaking, here’s where the Blue Jays stand in relation to their closest adversaries, according to FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference:

Blue Jays’ FanGraphs odds: 51.4% | Blue Jays’ Baseball-Reference odds: 68.5%

Yankees’ FanGraphs odds: 49.4% | Yankees’ Baseball-Reference odds: 33.1%

Red Sox FanGraphs odds: 96.2% | Red Sox Baseball-Reference odds: 94.3%

Next up
The Blue Jays will look to bounce back from their first series loss in a month when they send Steven Matz to the mound to open up a four-game stint in Minnesota while the Twins counter with Michael Pineda. Meanwhile, the Yankees and Red Sox embark on a three-game series Friday, which we’ll all be watching closely.

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Seven burning questions entering the Maple Leafs' 2021-22 training camp | Maple Leafs Hotstove – Maple Leafs Hot Stove

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Welcome back! I hope everyone had a nice summer and was able to get outside and enjoy some fresh air after what felt like an extremely long winter.

Naturally, that’s a great segue to the Toronto Maple Leafs


Training camp has officially started, and a new season is on the horizon.

It goes without saying at this point, but the pressure facing the Maple Leafs‘ core players, coaching staff, and management group is greater than it has ever been. They need to advance in the playoffs this season. It’s not hyperbole to suggest that jobs are on the line.

Adding to the tense situation is a disgruntled fanbase that probably won’t be forgetting about five straight first-round exits for the entire regular season. The team is also returning to a difficult division featuring several high-end teams.

The Leafs have a lot of questions to answer this season, and training camp should start providing us with some clues as to how they plan to approach the 2021-22 season.

Here are seven storylines to monitor over the next few weeks.

Will they spread out their talent to create three lines and some depth?


Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

In the offseason, I did a deep dive on the lopsided Leafs’ forward ice-time distribution. In a nutshell, the Leafs are asking their top players to play more than any successful Cup team in the last 12-plus years. In the regular season, Mitch Marner led all forwards in the league in average time-on-ice per game, which still feels a little crazy to write. Is this upcoming season going to be more of the same?

The loss of Zach Hyman is particularly notable in this sense. Not only did he play a ton as well, but he gave the Leafs a credible winger to play heavy minutes on the top line against the opponents’ best. Nobody the Leafs signed this summer credibly gives them an option to replace him.

The new additions are fine gambles — and they will probably even hit on a signing or two — but it doesn’t make them options to play against the Bergeron line, Point line, or the Barkov line for 20+ minutes a night. To some degree, the Leafs’ coaching staff really should try to create three lines, and that means one of their top four forwards would have to play on a de facto third line of sorts.

In that sense, it’s almost strange to picture the Leafs loading up the top six when each of their top two lines would have a clear weak link. In the case of a first line playing 22+ a night, there would be a gigantic leap of faith with the player in this spot, who would be playing well above his head based on previous results (unless, maybe, Ondrej Kase actually stays healthy).

We know that Matthews and Tavares will be the top two centers. Will Marner and Nylander be attached to their hips the whole time, as they have been since Keefe took over the bench? Will they swap Marner and Nylander at any point? Dare we ask, will one of Marner/Nylander be given a line of their own to shape a three-line Leafs attack?

Who will play left wing alongside Matthews and Tavares?


Nick Ritchie, new Toronto Maple Leaf
Photo: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

As we just noted, we know who the top two centers are pretty well no matter what. We have a rough idea of who the right wingers will be (Marner, Nylander, Kase, possibly Nikita Gusev, and maybe even Spezza is rewarded at some point).

The left wing is a completely different story. Nick Ritchie is in the mix and has a reasonable pedigree. Michael Bunting is intriguing, but he is 26 years old and has 26 NHL games to his name. Alex Kerfoot can slot there competently, but the Leafs might not have a suitable 3C if he does. Mikheyev can handle good minutes defensively, but he might not score enough to justify significant ice time alongside a top-end center. And Nick Robertson has the pedigree of a player that can play in the top six someday, but whether or not the time is now is the big question.

It will be interesting to see how creative Keefe becomes with his line building. For example, will he try Nylander on his off-wing at all? He has played there before and has the shot to be dangerous in that spot. The team’s right wing depth is strong if Kase is healthy (again, a massive if). Bumping one over to the left side to push their right-wing talent up a ring on each line is a reasonable idea.

One last note here: The Leafs can also feasibly plan to start the game with certain lines — spreading out their talent and having players playing high up the lineup in the first few periods — before loading up to close out games. It is a reasonable strategy that can be sustainable if managed the right way, and it won’t lead to players playing 2, 3, 4+ minutes more than they should/are capable of.

Maybe a Nick Ritchie starts each game on the top line but is bumped down the lineup in the third period? When Keefe took over as the Leafs’ coach, he moved players around regularly. Last season, he got away from it.

To start this training camp, Keefe expressed optimism about the team’s improved depth. Let’s see how he manages it.

Who is the third line center?


David Kampf of the Maple Leafs
Photo: Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports

This is a bit of a conundrum. Alex Kerfoot struggled last season as the third line center but handled himself well alongside Tavares and Nylander on the left wing. He also played well at center beside Nylander in the playoffs. Maybe he just needs to play with a puck carrier such as Nylander, allowing him to use his speed to forecheck and create turnovers. He can easily be one of the two top-six left wingers, but whether he can adequately center a third line without a top player on his flank is a different question.

If it’s not Kerfoot at 3C, who are the other options? The Leafs gave Kampf a two-year, $1.5 million AAV contract and he is in fact a natural center. If it’s not Kerfoot, he seems to be the logical next man up. Kampf is good enough defensively, but can the Leafs use a player in that spot if he is only putting up 20 points over a full season? There is a certain level of productivity needed to justify the ice time, and 20 points is not it.

For some reason, Spezza is often mentioned in the center conversation, but he hasn’t been a full-time pivot for at least three seasons now. There isn’t much reason to believe he could suddenly shift back there at age 38 while his skating falls off. I don’t think the Leafs coaching staff is even remotely considering him as an option in this spot.

Pierre Engvall played 3C at times last season and can do it. The question with him — and it’s one Keefe seems keenly aware of based on his poking and prodding of the player — is which Engvall is showing up each night? When he’s on his game, Engvall is a good third-line center. When he’s not, he’s borderline unplayable.

Adam Brooks also flashed a little offensively. If the Leafs want to have an offensive third line, he’s certainly a candidate. Of all the options, he might actually have the highest offensive upside in this type of role. Can he handle the defensive responsibility of a third-line role (where he wouldn’t be nearly as sheltered as he was in the 4C spot alongside Spezza and Thornton)? Can he produce consistently enough to outweigh any lapses on the other side of the puck?

How will the forward group round out?


Pierre Engvall, Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

By my count, the players guaranteed to start game one of the season in the top 12 are (in no particular order):

  1. Matthews
  2. Tavares
  3. Marner
  4. Nylander
  5. Kerfoot
  6. Ritchie
  7. Mikheyev
  8. Kampf (they didn’t pay him 1.5×2 just to sit him)
  9. Spezza

The final three spots are anyone’s guess. Keefe has consistently sat Pierre Engvall, so while I’d like to think he can be a contributor as a checker and possibly a center, history has shown us that Keefe has no problem making him a healthy scratch.

Bunting is unproven, so while he will get a shot at some point, you can’t necessarily etch it in stone to start game one of the season.

As a respected veteran, Simmonds will likely get into the game one lineup based on pedigree alone, but you can also quite easily envision the team’s best possible lineup not including him (that said, a two-year contract with an NTC almost certainly guarantees Simmonds is playing in game one, if we’re being realistic).

Kase will be in there if he’s healthy, but I will not bet on that anytime soon given his history.

Gusev is on a PTO and has had some success in the league – given he’s competing against a number of players with inconsistent track records, it’s quite easy to see him making the team.

You also have Adam Brooks and Kurtis Gabriel in the mix. And then there’s Robertson, who is probably the biggest wildcard among the forwards. If he’s ready to play a full NHL season and contribute, the domino effect on the Leafs’ forward depth would be notable.

All in all, that’s eight players vying for the final three spots. This should be a good battle.

Will the top two pairings stay the same?


Toronto Maple Leafs, Jake Muzzin, Ilya Mikheyev
Photo: Canadian Press

The Leafs were set-and-forget with their top four last season – Rielly paired with Brodie the whole time, as did Muzzin with Holl.

This year, they don’t have a veteran anchoring the third pairing. At some point, they have to start wondering about Muzzin’s injuries in the playoffs (two consecutive years of missing series-deciding games). Are they going to set the top four again and run with it, or are they going to move these pairings around at all?

Maybe an injury forces the team’s hand at some point during the season and they opt to keep the top four rolling as is. Maybe they get proactive and spread out the unit a little bit, trying out new combinations within the top four (Muzzin – Brodie, Rielly – Holl, for instance). Maybe they spread out the wealth among the entire top six, reuniting pairings in high-leverage situations (to close out periods, or in the final 10 minutes of a game, etc.).

Who wins the final spot in the top six on defense?


Rasmus Sandin of the Toronto Maple Leafs
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

On defense, I’ll comfortably project that Rielly, Brodie, Muzzin, Holl, and Dermott are all locks to start the season. Perhaps the inclusion of Dermott might shock some, but he’s coming off of a quietly solid season and has now played over 200 games in the league. It would be unexpected to me if not one but two rookies completely bumped him out of the starting six.

That leaves Rasmus Sandin vs. Timothy Liljegren. On one hand, Sandin has the better pedigree and has played more in the NHL. On the other, the Leafs might like the handedness with the rightie Liljegren (and he has also been a good player in the AHL — I don’t want to take anything away from him there).

After Zach Bogosian departed, the Leafs left this open to competition (they also signed Alex Biega for depth), and it’s presumed the intention here is to give both young defensemen a real chance to crack the lineup. They will both play at some point. This one will be more about who seizes the opportunity when it’s presented.

This also bleeds into the previous point – it’s possible the Leafs want to pair up these young defensemen with veterans and decide to insulate them rather than having a kids pairing, even if they would be sheltered.

How will the goaltending tandem be managed?


Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Calgary Flames, Jack Campbell
Photo: Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press via AP

I’m really fascinated to see how this goaltending tandem plays out, particularly in this market.

Years ago, the Leafs ran a James Reimer and Jonathan Bernier tandem, which was actually a fairly reasonable duo on paper (in their first year together, the Leafs were 10th in 5v5 save percentage, although they dropped to 22nd in their second year). The whole time, there was a non-stop storyline around who should start and who was the better goalie.

Now, Petr Mrazek arrives in a fairly similar situation: brought in to split starts with an inexperienced goalie coming off a strong season and a good showing in the playoffs. Bernier was brought in to be the guy, and while I wouldn’t necessarily say the same about Mrazek, he is born in the same year as Campbell and is signed for the next three years. He’s not coming in to simply accept the back seat.

There are plenty of great examples of 1A/1B goalie tandems working – Mrazek himself just came from a situation like that! – but this is not Carolina. Who should start will be a story throughout the season.

How will the goalies handle it? How will Keefe manage it? Is there going to be a preference for giving the net to the goalie who performed really well last season, or the netminder signed to a fairly sizable three-year contract?

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