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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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Boston Bruins Add Offense With Solid Taylor Hall Trade – Boston Hockey Now

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The Boston Bruins clearly understood they had serious deficiencies on their NHL roster this season and credit them for going and doing something about it.

The B’s finished off their Sunday night fireworks ahead of the NHL trade deadline by sending a second round pick and Anders Bjork to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for top-6 winger Taylor Hall and bottom-6 forward Curtis Lazar. TSN’s Darren Dreger, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and ESPN’s John Buccigross were the first to report about the completed deal between the Bruins and Buffalo Sabres in the hours following the B’s getting stomped by the Washington Capitals, 8-1, at TD Garden.

The Buffalo Sabres retained half of the $8 million salary that Hall signed for prior to the start of the 2021 hockey season.

The 29-year-old Hall is having a terrible season in Buffalo with just two goals and 19 points in 37 games along with a minus-21 rating after he chose to sign a one-year deal with the Sabres during the offseason. But he brings legitimate offensive talent as a former No. 1 overall pick and Hart Trophy winner to a Boston Bruins team that’s ranked in the bottom third of the NHL offensively all season.

The Bruins were one of the suitors for Hall prior to him choosing the Sabres months ago, and now they get him for a deep discount while keeping their own first round picks after making their deadline deals.

Holding onto their own first round pick was a priority for Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney after spending first rounders at the deadline in two of the last three deadlines in trades for damaged goods Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase.

The 26-year-old Lazar has five goals and 11 points in 33 games as a bottom-6 forward for the Sabres this season and is signed for $800,000 for next season. It seemed clear that something was going on with the 24-year-old Anders Bjork over the last couple of weeks as he was a healthy scratch for five straight games, including Sunday night against Washington, and heads to Buffalo hoping to further develop a game built on speed and skill level that hasn’t translated into offense as of yet.

Hall should fit right into the top-6 with the Bruins as a skilled winger for playmaking center David Krejci, but it remains to be seen how he’s going to fit as another left winger on a team with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk.

Either Ritchie or DeBrusk is going to have to play the off wing with a Krejci/Hall combo, but that’s a problem that Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will gladly figure out after being forced to piece together lineups all season due to injuries and offensive inconsistency. With the acquisition of Hall, Lazar and left-handed defenseman Mike Reilly on Sunday night, it would appear the Boston Bruins are largely done with deals ahead of Monday’s NHL trade deadline.

Interestingly enough, the Boston Bruins are set to play the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday night at TD Garden.

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Drouin must return to mentality that’s led to success this season – Sportsnet.ca

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It was something Dominique Ducharme said after his Montreal Canadiens played an abysmal game against the Ottawa Senators last week, something that only truly resonated after they lost 3-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday — a game that emboldened the struggle Jonathan Drouin’s currently enduring.

“Ninety per cent of the mistakes we made were mental, and the rest of it was above our shoulders.” the coach said after the 6-3 loss to Ottawa last Saturday, somewhat channelling New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra with this bit of wit and wisdom.

It was hard not to think of those words watching Drouin play the way he did on Wednesday. For much of this season, the talented left winger has played a primary role in Montreal’s success. He’s led them with 19 assists, been tenacious on the forecheck, physically engaged all over the ice, cerebral as always in his execution and, as he’s said on several occasions, relatively unconcerned by whether or not his name has been featured on the scoresheet.

But it seemed clear, after watching Drouin dump a breakaway into Jack Campbell’s chest with one of 32 shots the Maple Leafs goaltender turned aside to set a franchise record with his 10th consecutive win, he had diverted from that. And that affected the way he played the rest of the game.

It was Drouin’s fifth in a row without a point, his 18th without a goal, and he’d have to be a robot not to be suffering the mental wear of not seeing the puck go in more than twice since the season started, the torment of seeing only three per cent of his shots hit the back of the net through 36 games after 10 per cent of them resulted in goals through the first 348 games of his career.

“It is weighing on me where, when I have a chance and miss the goal, I might be trying to score too much,” Drouin said. “It’s something I obviously think about — every player would — and I’ve just gotta put it past me and just keep shooting pucks.”

Ideally, the 26-year-old wouldn’t be thinking about any of this. These are thoughts that weigh a player down and right now the Canadiens are in tough without Brendan Gallagher for the rest of the season and Drouin needs to be light and free to help account for that loss. And in order for him to do that, he needs to focus on what he does best.

Because the reality is that even though Drouin can score more, scoring isn’t what he needs to do in order to be at his best and really help this team.

“When his feet are moving and he’s making plays, Drou’s a pass-first guy,” explained Jake Allen, who made 29 saves in Carey Price’s absence. “When his feet are moving, his head’s always in it. When his feet are moving, he’s controlling the play, controlling the puck. He’s a guy who really can control the play for a whole line. You want the puck on that guy’s stick and let the other guys do the dirty work and he’ll find them.”

But when Drouin’s feet aren’t moving, there just isn’t enough of that other stuff happening.

When Drouin’s feet weren’t moving, he lost a battle for the puck in the offensive zone and allowed the NHL’s leading goal scorer to start the rush that resulted in the winning play of Wednesday’s game.

Auston Matthews to Mitch Marner, back to Matthews, off Allen and slammed into Montreal’s net by Zach Hyman with 9:39 remaining in the third period, with Drouin watching from just inside his own blue line.

“You give a 3-on-2 to the Matthews line and it’s the kind of play they’re going to make you pay on,” said Ducharme.

Was Drouin still thinking about that shot he didn’t bury in the second period?

It’s understandable if he was, but those are the kind of thoughts he needs to shake right now.

“He wants to do well, and I’m sure it’s getting a little bit in his head,” said Ducharme. “I think the best remedy for him is to be scoring that goal or making that big play, and I think he’s going to be energized by that and less thinking, more acting.

“It is a fine line. Those kind of thoughts is not something that you want to happen. But when you receive that puck and you see the opening and stuff, (the slump) comes back to (your mind). That’s why the mental part of the game is something that’s very tricky. It’s not his will to be thinking that way. Every player who’s going through a time like that will have that thought and scoring that goal will take him to a different level. At those kind of times you need to make it even simpler and being even more inside going at the net and finding a garbage (goal) right there and you put it in and sometimes you go on a little run. It might be that kind of goal that he needs to get that monkey off his back.”

It’s the kind of goal Corey Perry scored twice to give the Canadiens a chance in this game.

But Drouin isn’t Perry, who rightly pointed out after the game he’s made a career of scoring goals that way. And even if Drouin can borrow from what Perry does next time he has a chance like the one Brett Kulak set him up with for that breakaway, there are other ways he can positively impact the game.

You can appreciate that Drouin said he’s putting pressure on himself to score more and help make up for the goals the team will be missing with Gallagher sidelined, but that might not get him to where he needs to be mentally to contribute as much as he already has this season.

What would, though, is a sharp turn towards the mentality he described just days ago. The one that’s enabled him to be a much more consistent player this season than he has in seasons past.

“When I was younger, I’d stay on one game or stay on one play for too long and wouldn’t be able to let it go for a bit or a couple of days,” Drouin said. “But I think for me now it’s can I look at myself in the mirror after a game and did I give my good effort? Was I a part of this game? Was I doing something right in a lot of areas?

“That’s what I do now. I think points are there, goals are there, assists are there, but it’s just about playing that real game and playing to help your team win.”

Drouin’s done a lot of that this season and has a chance to get right back to it when the Winnipeg Jets visit the Bell Centre Thursday.

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Scioscia to lead U.S. baseball bid for spot at Tokyo Olympics

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(Reuters) – Mike Scioscia, who won World Series both as a player and manager, was named manager of the U.S. men’s national baseball team on Tuesday, as they seek a spot at the Tokyo Olympics.

After 19 seasons as manager of the Anaheim Angels, guiding them to their only World Series win in 2002, Scioscia will make his international coaching debut in June when the United States hosts the Baseball Americas Qualifier in Florida.

For the tournament the U.S. will be grouped with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Nicaragua in Pool A while Canada, Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela will make up Pool B.

The top two teams from each pool will advance to the Super Round, where the country with the best overall record will earn a spot in the Tokyo Olympic tournament.

Second and third-place finishers will advance to a final qualifier, joining Australia, China, Taiwan, and the Netherlands.

“Mike’s tenure with the Angels’ franchise was nothing short of spectacular, creating and celebrating a culture of success with six division titles, an American League pennant, and its first-ever World Series title,” said USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler in a statement. “More impactfully, his leadership, integrity, and character are unparalleled in our game, making him the perfect fit for the USA Baseball family.”

The Olympic tournament will take place from July 28-Aug. 7 in Fukushima City and Yokohama.

Hosts Japan, Israel, South Korea, and Mexico have already secured a berth in the six-team field.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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