The Toronto Raptors finally hosted an NBA game, and for two minutes, it looked like it was going to be a celebratory affair. Unfortunately the Boston Celtics awoke from their post-Christmas slumber and outplayed the Raptors for the final 46!
Yes, it was a disappointing game, but, not a surprising one. The Raptors, after all, are shorthanded, and the Celtics, even though they were down a starter in Marcus Smart, are a damn good team.
That means there isn’t a whole lot to take away from this one, but let’s do the thoughts anyway!
We’ll Always Have 10-0
What a start, right? For those glorious two minutes, it seemed like the Raptors’ magical 2019 had a little bit left to give us. A 10-0 run to start? Were we really gonna run the Celtics out of the building on our first-ever Christmas Day game? Would the Raptors finally dispatch a contending team with ease? Were the Celtics overrated, hung over, or both!?
The crowd sure thought so. It was as loud as a playoff game in there when Kyle Lowry banged home that second three-pointer.
Alas. It wasn’t meant to be. The Raptors were outscored 28-9 the rest of the quarter, and Lowry only hit two more shots all day.
Still, it was a nice moment — like waking up on Christmas Day and seeing all the presents under the tree.
And then finding out all you’re getting is underwear.
Might be Time to Adjust the D
I wrote about this in yesterday’s preview and recap — how the Raptors allow space on the perimeter to dig down in the paint, trusting their defenders to be able to rotate back out to shooters.
With no timetable for any of those players to return, it might make sense for Nick Nurse to tweak a few things, and have the guards stay out on shooters a little more and concede more space inside.
Too Much McCaw
As usual I preface this with the note that I am not an NBA coach and that Nick Nurse knows his personnel better than I do. And of course, the Raptors are shorthanded so players are not being put in optimal situations.
But I just don’t see the value in playing Patrick McCaw for 32.5 minutes, in a game, in his first 25 minutes, he went 0-for-4, didn’t record an assist or steal, and grabbed only one rebound.
I understand that McCaw has value on defense (although that claim seemed dubious last night), and that you don’t need to score to make an impact (like Malcolm Miller in the Dallas comeback). But when the Raptors are missing two of their best scorers, and when a good defensive team like Boston is locking down Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, the Raptors need to get something from the starting SF spot.
Ah Yes, Noon Starts
It’s been a while since the Raptors have tipped off at noon, but it didn’t take these two teams long to remind us why these early tip-offs can sometimes be… less than entertaining. The two teams combined for 36 turnovers, many of the sloppy, unforced variety.
Ultimately, it’s probably a good thing the Raptors had the noon slot. It probably had the fewest viewers, so as few people as possible saw them play, and as such, we were likely spared a multitude of hot takes about them being frauds or unworthy of the day or whatever (while ignoring that they were missing three of their top seven guys).
Small favours, right?
Game Ops Does it Right (Again)
As with opening night and Kawhi Leonard’s return, the Raptors and Scotiabank Arena brought exactly the right mood to the day. Everything was Christmas-themed, and you really felt like it was a special event — which it was, despite the final score. The giveaway shirts were awesome, the intro video with the players in Santa hats was fun, and having everything gold-tinged fit the theme nicely.
But, as noted by many on Twitter including our own Sean Woodley, the NBA definitely missed an opportunity by forcing the teams into their City Edition jerseys — after all, wouldn’t a red versus green matchup been ideal for the day?
Props to the Celtics for their Christmas plaid warmups though!
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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