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Fred VanVleet’s determined effort inspires Raptors in win over 76ers –



Who was going to help? Who was going to quit watching Fred VanVleet revving the engine to the red line, fuel tank on empty, and get themselves up to speed?

The Toronto Raptors were staring down a four-game losing streak Thursday night, but VanVleet wasn’t having it.

From the minute the ball went up he was determined to lift his team and avoid following up a dud outing against Boston with another in Philadelphia.

But he needed someone else to step up. Someone off the bench. Anyone.

The Raptors responded. The fight was there. Chris Boucher found his game for the first time this season, the relief palpable. Scottie Barnes came to life in the third quarter and Svi Mykhailiuk did his part down the stretch and off the bench.

And then OG Anunoby took over as the primary ball-handler to make two textbook plays late in the shot clock and late in the game to set up threes for Gary Trent Jr. and then for VanVleet — who else — whose sixth triple of the night with 24.8 seconds left iced it as Toronto closed a gutty effort on an 8-0 run.

The Raptors’ 115-109 win improved Toronto to 7-6 on the season with one more home date (Saturday) before a daunting six-game road trip after that.

It’s a team game and all of that, but sometimes one player can drag a team along, and that’s what VanVleet did, at least until a few more hands began to pull in the same direction.

“When we come out and Freddy’s getting some buckets and making plays like that, I think that automatically gives us a boost of spirit and confidence,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “[He was] just all over the place.

“We know that he’s got it going and he’s getting past people and he’s making some shots… I think that was a big spark the way he came out tonight for sure.”

VanVleet finished with a season-high 32 points on 11-22 shooting while adding seven assists in an exhausting 40 minutes. But he got some assistance, too. Boucher came off the bench for a season-best 17 points; Barnes had 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists; Anunoby had 20 points and four assists and Trent Jr. had 20 with four assists also.

The Sixers were without some key pieces but were lifted by Tyrese Maxey who had 15 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, though it was not enough to halt the Sixers’ losing streak which is now at three as Philadelphia fell to 8-5.

Toronto played to their maximum to take an 81-78 lead into the fourth quarter. They switched to zone defence and finally got some support for VanVleet, who had carried them through the first half. Barnes looked for his shot a bit more in the half-court and had a nice sequence when he dribbled himself open into some mid-range twos while also finding his way to a couple of scores on the offensive glass. He chipped in with three assists also.

There were some welcome signs of life from Boucher, who has struggled badly after missing all of training camp with a dislocated finger and has found himself in a battle for playing time ever since. Boucher looked like his old self with a pair of dunks and his recognizable manic energy.

He came into the game shooting just 33 per cent on the season and his offensive struggles were affecting the rest of his game. After a breakout season a year ago he seemed lost in the shuffle on a deeper Raptors rotation. But with Khem Birch (knee) out, Yuta Watanabe (calf) out, Pascal Siakam being rested and starting centre Precious Achiuwa struggling (he finished 1-of-10 from the floor), Nurse needed someone to fill the available minutes and Boucher delivered.

He scored 10 of 17 points on dunks and putbacks in the third and fourth quarters and chipped in with two blocks also.

“It felt good, I feel like I’ve been searching to get that feeling again, feeling like you’re doing the right thing and in the right spot,” said Boucher, who missed most of training camp and the entire exhibition season after having surgery on a dislocated finger on his left hand. “I’ve been missing that feeling. It felt good to get it back today. I’m not satisfied. These 10 games I played like I couldn’t play or wasn’t the player I’m supposed to [be]. Step by step, but I’m definitely happy about today and I’m gonna keep getting better at it.”

Boucher wasn’t the only bench player to chip in. Mykhailiuk — perhaps the Raptors’ most consistent reserve this season — had a great stretch in the fourth quarter when he turned three offensive rebounds into buckets for others while adding a key three-pointer himself.

One of the beneficiaries of Mykhailiuk’s hustle was Anunoby, who hit a big three to put the Raptors up eight with 4:31 to play. A Mykhailiuk steal and assist set up an Anunoby fastbreak dunk and Toronto was up seven with 3:41 left. At that point Maxey got loose for seven straight points in a 9-0 Sixers run that gave them the lead again. For a beat it seemed like all the Raptors good work would be wasted.

But in the final moments Anunoby calmed things as took the ball at the top of the circle on consecutive possessions, calmly got the match-up he wanted and attacked to paint to set up the game-defining threes by Trent Jr. and VanVleet, who celebrated his with a ‘big balls’ dance in front of Sixers assistant coach Sam Cassel, who popularized it when he was a rookie with the Houston Rockets.

Anunoby’s late-game playmaking marks the next step in his steady growth as a player.

“He’s always been a great, phenomenal talent,” said Trent Jr. “But this year I’ve seen him lead in certain situations, find certain guys, give certain plays up that he can shoot… so just being an ultimate team player.”

“He’s always been a great, phenomenal talent but this year I’ve seen him lead in certain situations, find certain guys, give certain plays up that he can shoot. So just being an ultimate team player.”

The Raptors caught a break in that the Sixers have been dealing with COVID-19 issues: MVP candidate Joel Embiid and all-defence prospect Matisse Thybulle both missed their third and fourth games, respectively, due to health and safety protocols, while Tobias Harris returned after a six-game absence. Sharpshooter Seth Curry — shooting 48.3 per cent from three this season — returned after missing one game.

But the Raptors have their own issues, primarily how to generate offence anywhere else than in transition. The Raptors came into the game ranked 26th in points per play in the half court, according to, and that’s even while ranking second in percentage of their own misses they have been able to collect.

No wonder then, that VanVleet was on a mission to get the offence rolling early — or at least moving.

After Toronto was held to 88 points by the Celtics, Toronto’s point guard decided that he would unravel the Raptors’ offensive woes by looking for his own number early and often.

He assisted on the Raptors’ first basket, grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the ball the length of the floor for a lay-up on his next touch, hit a three, knocked down a pair of free throws and then knocked down another three before the game was five minutes old. He scored 15 points in the first quarter as the Raptors hung tough, trailing 30-27.

VanVleet then went on to play all but 38 seconds in the second quarter. Late in the half he took another hit and was sent to the floor for the umpteenth time, but this time he spread his arms wide and lay there for a while, grateful for a chance to recover.

His best efforts weren’t enough. The Sixers used a 16-4 run to open up a 10-point lead late in the second quarter before Toronto cut that in half with scores on the last two possessions before the break.

At that stage VanVleet simply didn’t have enough help. There wasn’t another Raptors player in double figures scoring by halftime as Toronto’s season-long shooting woes continued. Raptors other than VanVleet (5-of-11) were shooting 36 per cent and 25 per cent from three.

It didn’t help too that the Raptors botched away several opportunities in transition with Achiuwa and Boucher combining for a couple each — a season-long pattern

But VanVleet was determined to will his teammates to a bigger effort. He wouldn’t let go of the rope and eventually, they joined him.

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Gushue tops Jacobs to win Canada's curling trials and return to Olympics –



SASKATOON — Late misses helped decide a wild, entertaining and rather shocking women’s final at Canada’s Olympic curling trials on Sunday.

Jennifer Jones stunningly blew a golden opportunity to win the game in the 10th end. The timing of Tracy Fleury’s error in the extra end proved even more costly.

When the dust settled, Jones escaped with an enthralling 6-5 victory to book her team’s ticket to the Beijing Games.

“We’re there to pick each other up when you miss,” Jones said. “Not everybody can say that and that’s really a big strength of our team.”

Brad Gushue earned the men’s title later in the day with a 4-3 victory over Brad Jacobs.

A gasp went up throughout SaskTel Centre when Jones missed an open takeout for the victory — usually a slam dunk for the veteran skip — with her stone rolling out to leave her with just a game-tying single.

Jones realized halfway down the sheet that the rock was in trouble. She furiously bellowed at her teammates to try to hold it but it curled a little too much.

A stunned Fleury put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.

“We thought we had lost in the 10th for sure,” Fleury said. “I think Jen makes that 99 per cent of the time, that shot. So we felt lucky to be able to go to an extra and we really wanted to pull it off there.

“But I didn’t make my last two shots.”

Jones refocused and put the pressure on Fleury, hoping to make her throw a challenging final shot. Jones drew to the side of the button behind a guard and Fleury missed a runback attempt.

Jones followed with a guard that Fleury rubbed on her final throw to give up the decisive point on a steal.

“I felt close but then it just kind of caught the curl,” Fleury said.

The men’s final was a tight defensive battle that looked like it was also heading to an extra end.

Jacobs had a chance to hit for a pair but he overthrew his final rock a little bit and rolled out to give Gushue the win.

“We needed to be near-perfect today in order to win this game and we weren’t,” Jacobs said.

The teams blanked four of the first seven ends. In the eighth, Jacobs lost hammer when he jammed on a double-takeout attempt and settled for a hit for one.

Gushue scored the game’s only deuce in the ninth end and Jacobs couldn’t build enough offence in the 10th before his miss.

Jones and her team of Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen and Lisa Weagle entered the showdown of Manitoba-based teams with a big edge in experience.

Jones won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games and has won six national women’s titles. Fleury and her team of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish, were making their first appearance in a trials final.

Early jitters seemed to be a factor.

Rollouts were common in the first end and Jones put early pressure on to generate a quick steal. Jones buried a draw to force Fleury to tap but she brushed her own stone and rolled off.

Jones made some mistakes too as she sent a draw through the rings in the third end, eventually settling for a hit for two. Fleury responded with a pair of her own and Lawes came through in the fifth end with a brilliant triple-takeout that set up a blank.

The top-ranked Fleury team wasn’t nearly as dominant as they were throughout most of round-robin play.

Her perfect 8-0 mark gave her the first seed and an off-day ahead of the final. Jones was 5-3 in round-robin play and defeated Krista McCarville in the semifinal on Saturday.

Jones gave away another point in the sixth end when her draw grazed the shot stone and settled on the edge of the four-foot ring. A measure confirmed a single instead of a pair.

Jones decided to retain hammer for the 10th end by giving up a single in the ninth that left Fleury with a 5-4 lead.

Announced attendance was 4,741 for the women’s final, bringing the weekly total for the women’s event to 57,266. The men’s final drew 4,813 spectators for an overall men’s total of 49,878.

Gushue and Jacobs were tied at 7-1 in round-robin play but Gushue took the top seed since he won their head-to-head matchup. Jacobs beat Kevin Koe in the semifinal.

Koe and Rachel Homan skipped the Canadian team entries at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games but both missed the podium. Weagle was Homan’s lead that year and joined Jones’s rink in March 2020 to form a five-player team.

It will be the third straight Olympic appearance for Lawes, who was Jones’s vice in Sochi and teamed with John Morris to win mixed doubles gold four years later in South Korea.

“Pinch me,” Lawes said. “I’m in shock and so happy.”

McEwen was also on the Sochi roster.

Jacobs vice Marc Kennedy won gold with Kevin Martin in 2010 and returned to the Games in 2018 with skip Kevin Koe. Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden were victorious in Sochi.

Gushue and vice Mark Nichols won gold together at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Their front end of Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker will make their Olympic debut at the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Games.

The Canadian mixed doubles trials are set for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2021.

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Roughriders outlast Stampeders in OT to win West semifinal –



The latest highlight in Brett Lauther’s career was a surreal moment for the Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker.

Lauther’s 34-yard field goal in the second overtime mini game lifted the Riders to a 33-30 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL’s West semifinal Sunday in Regina.

Both teams kicked field goals in their initial overtime possessions to make the score 30-30.

Calgary had the ball first in the second overtime and kicker Rene Paredes missed a 44-yard field goal, giving the Riders the opportunity to win the game on their possession.

After two runs by William Powell, Lauther kicked the game-winning field goal which sent the Riders (9-5 in the regular season) to the West final in Winnipeg on Dec. 5 against the first-place Blue Bombers (11-3 in the regular season).

After Lauther’s kick went through the uprights, focus shifted to a penalty flag in the Winnipeg backfield. Had the penalty gone against the Riders, Lauther would’ve been forced into a second attempt after sprinting down the field following his initial attempt.

WATCH l Riders sink Stamps in OT to advance to West final:

Roughriders edge Stampeders in overtime, advance to Western Final

6 hours ago

Brett Lauther of Truro, N.S. converted on a 34-yard field goal attempt in overtime to ice the game. The 33-30 win punched Saskatchewan’s ticket to the CFL Western Final against Winnipeg next weekend. 1:00

The field goal stood as Calgary was penalized for rough play.

“I did a double take to make sure it actually did go in and then after that I saw the flag, I was just like, there’s no way it’s on us,” said Lauther, who connected on four-of-five field goal attempts. “I was just hoping that we didn’t really have to redo it but I was also just trying to stop my heart rate for a second in case I had to go back up there.”

Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo knew that Lauther wasn’t about to miss the potential game-winning kick.

“I’ve got all the trust in the world that ‘Money’ Lauther is going make a play for us,” said Fajardo. “He’s one of those guys that felt like he got snubbed as an all-star as well and went out there and performed a clutch kick for us.

“I told the guys in the huddle, we’re going run the ball twice, Brett’s going to come in and kick the game-winning field goal and we’re all going to be excited about it. That’s exactly what happened.”

Lauther, in his third season with the Riders, admitted this was a milestone game in his career but his main concern was helping the Riders get to the next level after recent playoff setbacks.

‘This province deserves so much’

“I feel like it definitely is up there. I mean, it’s playoffs,” said Lauther. “We’ve been winning in the regular season but we haven’t got the job done in playoffs and especially at home. I don’t think anyone’s had more home playoff games in the last couple years and had more regular season wins. I wanted to right some wrongs and get a win.

“I don’t even care about that I take the game-winner or whatever. I just wanted to win this game so bad for the fans and the coaches and the whole organization from top to bottom, like this province deserves so much.”

Paredes forced overtime when he connected on a 47-yard field goal with 59 seconds left in regulation time. He hit 44-of-48 field-goal attempts in the regular season but struggled Sunday, converting five of his eight field-goal attempts.

Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson wasn’t about the let the loss fall at Paredes’ feet alone.

“He made a couple of clutch ones late, some deep bombs… I’ll go to bat with him every game,” said Dickenson. “You know, they weren’t gimmes.”

While the game had an exciting ending, it was a sloppy effort at times with the teams combining for eight turnovers, six of which came in the first half.

Fajardo was intercepted four times while Bo Levi Mitchell was picked off twice. The Stampeders also turned the ball over once on downs and lost one fumble.

Fajardo was incredulous about the Riders being able to win despite his four interceptions.

“If you had told me going in this game that I’d four picks and we would have won, I would have told you you’re psychotic,” said Fajardo.

Jonathan Moxey had three interceptions for the Stampeders with Jameer Thurman collecting one pick. Ed Gainey had two interceptions for the Riders.

Fajardo went 22 of 33 for 189 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His biggest contribution was with his legs, as he gained 89 yards on 10 carries.

Mitchell was 26 of 36 for 285 yards and two interceptions. Tailback Ka’Deem Carey had a strong game, gaining 117 yards on 22 carries while scoring two touchdowns for Calgary.

Jamal Morrow had an impressive game returning kicks for the Riders. In the first half Morrow returned a missed field goal for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty. Paredes was wide left with the attempt, which Morrow fielded deep in the end zone. After juking past a defender at the goal line, Morrow found a seam up the sideline and scored untouched on a 124-yard run.

Morrow did get on the scoresheet in the second quarter on an electrifying punt return. Fielding the ball on the Saskatchewan 41-yard line, Morrow cut to the wide side of the field and went untouched down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.

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Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final –



REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders survived a slugfest of a night to defeat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 to advance to the Western Final.

Cody Fajardo survived a four-interception night and Brett Lauther hit a 34-yard field goal to put the game away, as the Riders advance to their second consecutive Western Final. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at IG Field on Dec. 5, to battle for a berth in the 108th Grey Cup.

Bo Levi Mitchell made 24-32 passes for 285 yards, had zero touchdowns and two interceptions.

» Boxscore: Stamps, Riders by the numbers
» Though the Lens: Western Semi-Final photos
» Watch: Riders’ onside kick leads to a TD to begin second half

The Riders got the game going with a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

Jamal Morrow thought he had a missed field goal return touchdown, but found out that his 124-yard trip to the end zone was wiped out by an illegal block. That moved Saskatchewan back to its own five-yard line. Two plays later, Fajardo was intercepted by Jonathan Moxey. One Mitchell handoff to Ka’Deem Carey later, the Stamps’ running back had trucked five yards into the end zone to give Calgary the lead. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 7-0 game at 7:02.

The half quickly settled into a defensive battle, with Moxey pulling in a team-record-tying three interceptions before halftime. Ed Gainey got the best of Mitchell twice, with a pair of interceptions. While the potential was there for big plays on each turnover, including a Calgary turnover on downs, neither offence was able to capitalize the way they wanted to.

After a Brett Lauther chip shot 16-yard field goal, the Riders got a breakthrough on special teams. Returner Jamal Morrow took a Cody Grace punt back 69 yards for the touchdown, putting the Riders in front for the first time in the game. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 10-7 Riders lead at 7:26 of the second quarter.

Paredes had an out-of-character first half, missing field goals to open and close out the half. The teams got into a skirmish on the way to their locker rooms and it ended up carrying grave consequences for Calgary, as veteran d-lineman Shawn Lemon was disqualified from the game for what officials deemed as rough play.

Off the penalty on the Lemon ejection, the Riders executed a perfect onside kick from Calgary’s 50-yard line, with A.C. Leonard pulling the ball in. Fajardo quickly found Kian Schaffer-Baker three plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass. Lauther was back out on the field at 1:49 to kick the convert through to give the Riders a 17-8 lead.

A Paredes field goal from 27-yards out at 5:36 of the third made it a six-point Calgary deficit, but even that little bit of momentum came with a price, as the team lost receiver Colton Hunchak to a leg injury. The Stamps survived another turnover when Reggie Begelton had a punt bounce off his chest and scuttle away from him, into the Riders hands. Calgary’s defence didn’t allow points on the ensuing drive and Paredes added another field goal, this one from 25-yards, to make it a three-point game at the end of three quarters.

Lauther doubled his team’s lead with a 24-yard field goal at 1:46 of the fourth quarter, but the Stamps engineered a quick, six-play drive up the field. On second-and-one, Mitchell handed off to Carey for the fourth time on the drive, as he launched himself overtop of the trenches, where he might have seen the Riders’ d-line go offside under him. His second touchdown of the game tied it at 20 and Paredes’ convert gave the Stamps a 21-20 lead at 5:39.

Calgary seized ahold of the momentum at the midpoint of the quarter when Jameer Thurman lunged in front of a Fajardo pass and pulled in the defence’s fourth interception of the night, setting up Mitchell and the offence at the Riders’ 47-yard line. The Stamps settled for a field goal on the play and Paredes delivered from 47-yards to put his team up 24-20 with just over five minutes left to play.

Undeterred, Fajardo led the Riders down to Calgary’s one-yard line. After a couple of handoffs to William Powell were stuffed, Fajardo kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a three-point edge with 2:23 left on the clock.

With his team taking a punch, Mitchell wound up for a responsoe of his own, but could only get the Stamps to the Riders’ 39-yard line after Mitchell was sacked for a loss on second-down. Paredes coolly lined up a 47-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights with 37 seconds left to tie it up 27-all.

In overtime, Schaffer-Baker wasn’t able to hold onto a ball that required a tightrope act on the baseline of the end zone. Lauther’s 20-yard field goal put the Riders up three.

With the pressure of the Mosaic crowd rooting against him, Mitchell led a varied drive against the Riders, looking end zone on his first pass, then working Carey into the mix on the ground. Carey was stopped on the 17-yard line, which brought Paredes out for a 24-yard attempt that knotted the game at 30-30.

In the second OT, the Stamps survived a near-fumble from rookie receiver Luther Hakunavanhu and had to call upon Paredes once again. His 44-yarder went wide left, his third miss of the night. Morrow ran the ball out of the end zone and opened the door for a Riders’ victory.

After a pair of handoffs, Lauther made his way onto the field for a 34-yard attempt. Mosaic fell dead silent as Lauther lined it up and exploded in celebration as he hit the field goal.

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