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10 things: Raptors should look for a floor-spacing centre to help VanVleet and Siakam – Sportsnet.ca

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 98-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies.

One — The Raptors keep coming up short. As soon as they find a way to shore up their defence, they begin to struggle with their offence. That’s the sign of a team that just doesn’t have enough to compete at the moment. The Raptors really only have seven dependable players in the first place and three of them are out. It’s too much to ask of third-stringers to be even half-decent second unit reserves.

The results are frustrating, but it’s not unexpected in the slightest. This is now the youngest team in the league with Goran Dragic not on the scene, and they very much play like it. You can’t play as many inexperienced players as the Raptors do and expect consistent results. It’s going to take a lot of patience to follow this team while they battle injuries.

Two — Scoring looks impossible at times for the Raptors, especially against big frontcourts. The Grizzlies had the two beefiest players in the game with Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. and the Raptors couldn’t overcome their size in the paint. Again, the Raptors have no spacing threat in the frontcourt which is an open invitation for opposing teams to camp out in the middle to cut off driving lanes, and so long as the defence can bottle up Fred VanVleet, it’s a wrap for the rest of the offence.

If Drake were to rap about the Raptors offence, the track would be titled “5 p.m. on Highway 401.” This is not something that will improve until the Raptors upgrade the frontcourt, which they have resisted for two consecutive off-seasons.

Three — Precious Achiuwa continues to swing wildly in his performances. Achiuwa was one of the biggest positives in the last meeting against Memphis, pouring in 17 points in the third quarter to spark the comeback. But he was an entirely different player tonight, struggling in every aspect of the game in 29 empty minutes before fouling out. In all fairness to Achiuwa, the Grizzlies extended Adams’ minutes since he had 50 pounds on the smaller defender, but Achiuwa was getting rag-dolled on every loose ball or play at the rim.

Offensively, Achiuwa missed every shot except for a lob dunk courtesy of VanVleet, and his 1-for-8 stat line is especially damming considering that he isn’t guarded a majority of the time. Achiuwa is missing the basics like angling his screens to free the ball handlers, and his cutting and movement aren’t clever enough to make himself open for the pass. The Raptors clearly valued him highly, going as far as spending $19 million on three games of Dragic, so they will continue to give Achiuwa chances.

Four — This was a rare off night for VanVleet. It’s not so much what he did wrong, as much as he wasn’t brilliant and playing above his level. The Grizzlies had an extra defender back to cut off his drives, while basketball’s equivalent of Wario in Dillon Brooks was hounding VanVleet all game, and when you also factor in Achiuwa being a total dud as a pick-and-roll partner, it was hardly a surprise to see VanVleet quieted.

That being said, he’s faced the same uphill battles all season and he has produced, so this showing does stand out. You have to wonder when exhaustion catches up to him, because he’s the league leader in minutes and the Raptors need him to play out of his mind to compete. How sustainable is that over the course of a season? VanVleet can’t even have one pedestrian game without the offence completely collapsing.

Five — Pascal Siakam’s production came down to his matchup. When he was matched against Jaren Jackson Jr., Siakam couldn’t get his shot off as he neither had the quickness advantage nor the edge in length. Jackson Jr. blocked him and forced Siakam into a handful of hopeless misses. But in the moments where Siakam had Brandon Clarke or Kyle Anderson on him, he immediately went to work in the post and was able to twist and twirl his way to the basket. At one point he had three straight baskets on Anderson after Jackson Jr. picked up his fifth foul, but the scoring dried up immediately after he returned.

On the flip side, Siakam was limited by foul trouble of his own, picking up his fourth foul early in the fourth, and his fifth immediately after checking back into the game. This was hardly a bad game for Siakam, as it’s becoming routine to see him produce, but just not at a level where he can take over the game, which leaves him as a B-level star. If those were the expectations for him, then he’s right where you want him to be. But if you want more, then that’s where frustrations begin.

Six — The Raptors should look for a floor-spacing centre to help VanVleet and Siakam. They are willing passers, and in both cases, they are most adept at making the kickout to open shooters. Siakam in particular can be very effective when he’s free to attack one-on-one, but most of the time he will see the centre rotating over in the paint. Of the players on the roster, the one who comes closest to filling that bill is Scottie Barnes, who is absolutely not a centre, nor is he spacing the floor much, but he is big enough to handle most post players, and the shot is coming around. Barnes is 10-of-21 from three over his last five games since Nick Nurse publicly gave him the green light to fire, and the Raptors have been increasingly open to Barnes playing as the de facto centre, particularly with the second unit.

Seven — Yuta Watanabe is the only bench player who is reliable at the moment. Watanabe’s defence is always sharp, and while he didn’t collect a steal or block, his impact was most evident in the 5-for-18 shooting performance of Brooks. Watanabe was the primary defender on Brooks despite coming off the bench, and he was effective in limiting him all night with how he pressured the ball and stayed in the play.

Offensively, the only expectation for Watanabe is that he knocks down open shots and that he mixes in a cutting layup or a putback, and the shot looked sharp Tuesday. He looked overextended when the Raptors were having him run around for his shot like Klay Thompson, but on standstill catch-and-shoot or even trailing jumpers, Watanabe is accurate. The fact that he was able to play 29 minutes is encouraging since he was previously capped at 14 minutes in his last showing in his return from a calf injury.

Eight — Nurse benched Svi Mykhailiuk in favour of Malachi Flynn. It’s a strange move in the sense that the two guards serve entirely different functions on offence, but Nurse presumably wanted the dual point guard look in hopes of freeing VanVleet as an off-ball option since he wasn’t able to create much against Brooks in pick-and-roll settings.

Flynn does provide more ball-handling, but where he came up short was on his shotmaking. Flynn had so many open chances that were semi-contested at best, but he couldn’t knock them down until his seventh attempt. What’s really confounding about Flynn is that he looks the part as a decent shooter in terms of his form and the consistency is there in warmups, but it doesn’t translate over to the games. It’s almost as if he’s paranoid, either that he’s afraid to be yanked if he misses, or that he’s going to get his shot blocked since he’s short. Either way, confidence is lacking.

Nine — Chris Boucher got one shift in the second half after being skipped in the rotation for a second game. Boucher played seven minutes starting at the end of the third quarter, checking in to replace Siakam who battled foul trouble, and he did look noticeably more active which is what Nurse wanted. Boucher got free for a dunk on an inbound play to beat the clock, and popped free for a lob.

There’s no doubt that he can score if he’s going full speed, even if his throw-in-style jumper isn’t dropping, and it mostly comes down to his determination in attacking the basket. Even though he hasn’t performed up to standards, and even though Nurse has benched him a handful of times, there will still be chances for Boucher to regain his spot in the rotation because of the Raptors’ injuries.

Ten — Isaac Bonga isn’t ready offensively but he holds his own on defence. His ability to read the game allows him to use his length and quickness to good effect as a help defender, and he’s not shabby in guarding the ball just because he’s so long. The Raptors used a zone defence for extended stretches in the second quarter and Bonga didn’t look out of place in his assignments. Offensively, however, Bonga needs to be more prepared.

On one play, he didn’t have his feet set when the kickout pass reached his hands, so he fired up a missed jumper with both feet straddling the three-point line. The next trip down, Bonga did catch it behind the arc at the exact same spot on the left wing, but didn’t opt to take the shot and drove instead into traffic. The path for Bonga to find minutes would be to copy what Watanabe does.

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Bandwagon or 'mental anguish': Calgarians say they'll root for Edmonton in NHL playoffs – CBC.ca

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The Battle of Alberta ended with the Calgary Flames getting knocked out of the series on Thursday — making Edmonton the sole Canadian team left in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

The Edmonton Oilers emerged victorious in the NHL’s first playoff Battle of Alberta in 31 years. It was a tough loss for Calgarians who were rooting for their home team, but some say they’ll get over the rivalry and root for the Oilers in the fight for the Stanley Cup.

For Flames fan Austin Hill, it comes down to Canadians cheering for their own teams. 

Flames fan Austin Hill says he’ll cheer for the Edmonton Oilers now. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“Definitely have to get behind the Oilers,” he said. “When your local team gets eliminated, you have to put your support behind the next Canadian team. It’s the right thing to do.”

It’s bittersweet, though, as the Red Mile on 17th Avenue — the centre for a lot of cheering from bars and restaurants — was quiet Friday morning. 

“I really wanted to feel the energy of Calgary, be down here, 17th, feel the Red Mile,” Hill said. 

“I would love to see the Oilers and [Connor] McDavid do a playoff run. That would be amazing. That would be a great time for the Oilers and Alberta as well.” 

Diehard fans like Brian Baker, who watched the game at the Saddledome, had to take the day off to recover from the loss. 

Brian Baker watched Thursday’s game at the Saddledome. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

“It was a great game until overtime, and then I didn’t like the ending at all. I had to take today off to recover from the mental anguish of seeing the Oilers go on,” he said. 

“They [the Flames] had a good season. Nothing to complain about there. It would have been nice to see them go further.… I would like to see a Canadian team continue on.” 

Some might call it jumping on the bandwagon, but others call it being a part of a community. 

Australian Thomas Stefoulis, who previously lived in Calgary for a few years, says he thinks Albertans can get past their rivalry, albeit begrudgingly. 

“It just leads to feeling that sort of a sense of community, which I think is very valuable. So even if people want to be bandwagon fans, that’s totally fine. Get involved for the day, get involved in the game. It’s just important for keeping community alive,” he said. 

Kate James-Loth is new to Calgary but already knows where her loyalties lie. (Charlotte Dumoulin/CBC)

Other Calgarians won’t be rooting for the Oilers, or anyone else, for that matter. 

“I feel like because it’s kind of done in the city with the Flames being out, I will probably stop watching,” said Kate James-Loth, who is new to the city but got swept up in the playoff excitement and tuned in to the games. 

“I have to be loyal now that I live in Calgary.” 

With an early end to the series, in Game 5, it’s still unclear who the Oilers will face next, the Colorado Avalanche or St. Louis Blues.

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Jays Win a Close One – Bluebird Banter

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Blue Jays 4 Angels 3

My first Apple TV+ game and there was good and bad. I liked the cleanness of the video. I liked the field noise.

I hated the commentary. They didn’t seem to know anything about the Blue Jays. Talked about Kirk’s speed (speed doesn’t slump), talking about Star Wars way, way too much. The sideline woman talked too much, for my liking.

And they missed action on the field. The Jays’ first run scored while they were showing some set-piece. And they talked to people dressed in Star Wars gear while the game was going on, instead of showing the play.

The game?

A heck of a good game.

Alek Manoah was good, maybe as great as he’s been all season, but good. He gave up a couple of solo homers (Jared Walsh and Tyler Wade taking him deep). And he was hurt by some poor defense. Raimel Tapai had a single get through him, giving the runner an extra base and setting up the Angels’ first run.

Manoah went 6, allowed 7 hits, 3 runs, 2 earned, 0 walks and 9 strikeouts.

He was also helped out by a nice play by Bo Bichette. In the fifth inning, with Mike Trout on third, Walsh ground one at Bo. Bo threw home and Trout was just barely out. Called safe on the field, the replay showed that he was out by the slimmest possible margin. I was surprised that they overturned the call on such a close play.


Offensively? Well, we did enough. Barely enough, but enough.

We had 11 hits, 3 extra-base hits (all doubles). We scored:

  • 1 in the second: Bo started off the inning with a ground-rule double in the right-field corner. Teoscar Hernandez beat out an infield single. And Bo scored on Alejandro Kirks’ double-play ball. Not that we got to see it or anything.
  • 1 in the fifth: This time Kirk started it off with a double. Tapia singled him to third. And Lourdes doubled home Kirk (doubling home Kirk from third is about as good a description of Kirk’s speed as you will ever get). Something of a miracle happened that inning. We had two hits with RISP. That’s where the fun ended. With runners on second and third. Cavan (not Kevin as the announcer called him) lined out (bad luck for Cavan, he hit it good), George Springer popped out and Santiago Espinal struck out.
  • 1 in the seventh: Danny Jansen (pinch-hitting), had a one-out single. Bradley Zimmer pinch-ran (a good move as it turned out). Gurriel lined a single to left, Zimmer to second. Matt Chapman (also pinch-hitting) got an infield single to the second baseman and Zimmer came all the way home from second. He has amazing speed. Unfortunately, Springer struck out and Espinal hit a soft fly out.
  • 1 in the ninth: Kirk had an infield single (prompting the commentator to tell us that speed never slumps). Zimmer put down a nice sac bunt (but with all that speed at first, it didn’t have to be that good). And Gurriel singled to right, a ball that bounced past right-fielder Juan Lagares and Kirk scored. Again that would be all we’d get. Chapman struck out and Springer ground out.

Lourdes had 3 hits (can we hope he is out of his slump?). Kirk had 2 hits. Everyone else had 1 hit except for the 3 guys at the top of the order. Springer, Espinal (he did make a very nice play at third base), and Guerrero went 0 for 11, with 3 strikeouts, and 2 walks.


Our bullpen did a great job.

  • Yimi Garcia had a clean inning.
  • Trevor Richards’ clean inning featured 2 strikeouts. He gets his second win.
  • Jordan Romano picked up his 15th save. He struck out the side in the ninth, getting pinch hitter Shohei Ohtani for the last out of the game. I thought it was nice that Angels fans chanted MVP for Romano during the at-bat.

Jays of the Day: Gurriel (.573 WPA), Chapman (.172), Romano (.187), Chapman (.172), and Richards (.102). Tapia came close (.090) but that error cost him a JoD.

Suckage: The top of the order, Springer (-.259), Espinal (-.251) and Vlad (-.159). Manoah had the number too (-.119) but I don’t think that’s fair.

Tomorrow night the Jays go for their fourth win in a row. Yusei Kikuchi (2-1, 3.47) vs. Michael Lorenzen (5-2, 3.05). It is a 10:00 Eastern start.

Of note, Lourdes was miked up, but about all we got was him huffing his way into a double. I was hoping for more.

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Never mind the disallowed goal, Flames couldn’t keep up with the Oilers’ track meet – Sportsnet.ca

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The Calgary Flames built their reputation on Darryl Sutter Hockey – that heavy-forechecking, quality-defending style that smothers opponents and wins back pucks, which makes the burden of creating offence a struggle for their opposition. On the backs of that plan, the Flames allowed the third-fewest goals during the regular season. They were a force.

The Edmonton Oilers can be given no greater compliment than the way the Flames were reduced to playing in the Battle of Alberta, chasing more and more offence to try to keep up with an Oilers top-six that simply could not be stopped. There was a desperation there that we hadn’t seen from the Flames, and by Game 5 I kept thinking, “Just catch the pass and shoot it” rather than trying to rush a one-timer on a hot pass or on one that was in a bad spot. Their usual poise disappeared.

A look at a few of those fanned one-timers in Game 5:

By the end, little of the Flames’ identity was left, not the physical play, not the elite goaltending, or the line of Gaudreau-Lindholm-Tkachuk, which was arguably the best in the league in 2021-22.

The Flames played with offensive impatience, which left room for the Oilers to fly back the other way. Too often it became a track meet, and with that style imposed on the series, the Flames, ironically, were cooked. Rush chances were 11-3 for the Oilers in Game 5.

Apparently, there was also a goal disallowed, but the things below are about how the Oilers got the Flames in a position where one play not going their way could mean the end of the series, and their season.

How did the Oilers do it?

McDavid-Draisaitl

I was tempted to skip over this obvious point because you, the reader, are well aware of what Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do. But I just couldn’t. How could I? Everything about the Oilers hinged on this, with two players combining for **checks stats** – no, that can’t be right – **checks again** 29 points in five games. They set all kinds of records.

The Flames got much better at slowing down McDavid in Games 4 and 5, but it took all their focus and attention, which opened them up everywhere else.

Depth contributions from Kane, Hyman, RNH

In Game 5, Zach Hyman had one goal and two assists for three points, he was plus-4, he had seven shots, he played nearly 24 minutes, he led the team in hits, he had a big blocked shot, there’s just not much more I can say about this guy.

In the summer, I use a plastic oar to stir my kids’ kiddie pool and get the water going in a “whirlpool,” and that’s what happens when Hyman is on the ice. He’s an oar, and he gets the play going in the direction he’s skating whenever he’s out there.

With McDavid and Draisaitl sucking up all the attention – as they have in years past – the question was asked of the Oilers depth: when those guys see all the best defending, can you capitalize on your extra space or weaker opposition?

Hyman said yes. Evander Kane said yes; he’s on pace to threaten the all-time playoff goals record of 19 (he has 12, so if they Oilers play two more rounds … ?). Ryan Nugent-Hopkins had six points in five games; the Nuge said yes too.

McDavid and Draisaitl were like a collective boxer doing so much damage to the body in the early rounds that their opposition starts to drop their hands, while these guys were suddenly free to take shots at the head.

Good coaching

I thought Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft showed a willingness to be flexible and go away from what’s worked if it wasn’t working on a given night. Case in point: Kane had been on an unbelievable run alongside McDavid, as mentioned above. It would’ve been easy to leave him in that role, no matter what. This is speculation on my part, but I don’t think the Oil loved how Kane defended a Flames set breakout early in the game, followed by his positioning on the Andrew Mangiapane goal. Whether it was that or something else, Woodcroft bumped Kane off that line for Hyman, who did … all the things I mentioned in the section above. It was the perfect change in a game McDavid didn’t have an inch of room and couldn’t create much or drive play. Hyman did it for that line at times.

I also given Woodcroft credit for sticking with what would give the team the best chance in the big picture: Mike Smith over Mikko Koskinen. After Game 1, he could’ve bailed on Smith and been justified. Then Game 2 starts with two softies, where you’d think he’d have a hair trigger, but he stuck with Smith yet again. The roller coaster Mike Smith Experience includes the type of highs you need to get by great opponents, and Woodcroft gave their team the chance to see that through.

An exposed weakness, and a surprise goaltending slump

Flames coach Darryl Sutter gave a telling response in a post-game when he talked about their “inexperienced defence.” They don’t have guys who’ve seen deep runs playing D for them, and, in the end, the little defensive gaffes made just enough room for the Oilers (a miscommunication with Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm on the OT winner cost them) to expose them. In Game 5, the Oilers had 18 slot shots to the Flames’ nine.

The Flames needed goaltending to bail them out, but Edmonton has had Jacob Markstrom’s number all year. He ended up posting just an .852 save percentage in the series, and the crease was supposed to be where the Flames had a clear advantage. I haven’t heard it said much lately, but McDavid is in an awkward body position on that OT winner and doesn’t get a ton on it. They needed a few more saves from Markstrom.

When all is said and done, the Battle of Alberta was decided because the Oilers’ best players had their ‘A’ games, and that dictated everything that came next from the Flames. Calgary was reduced to counterpunching, when it had been used to coming out swinging.

In the NHL, the sport’s all-time greats almost always find their way to a championship, as at some level they become all their opponents can think about and the team around them is free to rise up. That’s what’s been happening for the Oilers, and no matter who their next opponent is, that game plan has every chance of being effective in yet another round.

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