MINNEAPOLIS — So that’s what the real Toronto Raptors look like.
They didn’t have a ceremony when Fred VanVleet strolled out to centre court at the Target Center as part of the starting lineup, but they could have.
For the first time this season, the Raptors didn’t have a single player injured. In what has been a season-long game of whack-a-mole, where one player’s return to health would seem to trigger another going down, VanVleet was able to take the floor after missing five games with a pulled hamstring and not have his presence mean the Raptors owed the universe a groin pull, or a fractured finger.
Moreover, VanVleet was able to do it in style, scoring a game-high 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting in his 29 minutes of playing time as Toronto cruised to a 122-112 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“It looked like it was just like riding a bike for him,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “He was really good. He finished, made some fabulous finishes, he really shot the ball great.”
His return seemed to spark Kyle Lowry as well, as the Raptors’ engine added 28 points. Combined, Lowry and VanVleet were 12-of-16 from three. And all of that came without cutting into Norman Powell’s hot streak as he scored 20 points in 25 minutes off the bench.
The Raptors’ third-straight win improved their record to 28-14 with their next game coming Monday afternoon against the bottom-feeding Atlanta Hawks.
Toronto took an 89-85 lead into the fourth quarter and built on it with a 10-5 run in the early moments, giving the Raptors their first 10-point lead of the game, and then they kept coming. They put the clamps on Minnesota defensively, forcing the Timberwolves into six turnovers in the first five minutes of the fourth and limiting them to two made field goals.
A VanVleet triple — his sixth on seven attempts at that point — pushed the run to 21-6, and Minnesota into a hole that was 20 points deep. It was over.
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If there is a note of caution, it’s that the Raptors’ offensive surge over the past three games — they are averaging 130.6 points a game in their streak — hasn’t exactly come against a murderer’s row of defensive lineups. The team-record tying 140 points Toronto put up Friday night came against the Washington Wizards, the NBA’s worst defensive team. The Timberwolves are middle-of-the-pack, but have been sliding.
Still, 51.6 per cent shooting with 25 assists is some healthy offence.
VanVleet was watching from the sidelines as his teammates were eased back into the lineup over the last few games, and couldn’t wait to join them.
“I know what I bring to this team and obviously that was missing,” said VanVleet, who tied a career-high with seven made triples on eight attempts in the win, while also snagging four steals. “But the guys did a hell of a job when I was out, they played their butts off and the last two or three games I was seeing the offence find its way back, especially with [Marc Gasol] out there, and I couldn’t wait to join the party.”
The Timberwolves – looking up at a playoff spot in the West, as usual, after wasting a fool’s gold quick start to their season – came out with a bit of jump on a cold night in a not-quite full arena, and on the second night of a back-to-back to boot.
Leading the way was Andrew Wiggins, the enigmatic wing from Vaughan who has a knack for finding a way to engage and elevate his play against his hometown team. Heading into Saturday’s contest, Wiggins’ 23.1 points per game career-scoring average when facing the Raptors was his second-highest against any team, trailing only his performances against the Cleveland Cavaliers — who traded him the summer he was drafted.
Fittingly he recorded his first career triple-double against Toronto, posting a line of 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. It also gave Wiggins the honour of being the first Canadian to put up a triple-double against a Canadian NBA team.
Was he auditioning for Nurse, who also coaches the Canadian men’s national team?
Possibly. The invitation to join the team for this summer’s Olympic Qualifying Tournament — and hopefully beyond — is open.
“We could [use him], yeah, we’re trying to get all the best Canadian guys and it looks pretty good,” said Nurse before the game. “Most of them are already on board and excited about playing. It’s a heck of an opportunity, right, it’s a chance to go to the Olympics and you get to play the qualifier in your home country and when we get to that we’re going to be really excited about addressing it down the line a little bit.”
Wiggins put up a quick 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in his nine first-quarter minutes as the Timberwolves sprinted out to a 39-32 lead. Minnesota was able to shoot 59.1 per cent from the field as the Raptors’ defensive intensity was lacking.
Fortunately, Toronto wasn’t exactly struggling to find their offence as they shot 60 per cent from the floor overall. But they were a mere 1-of-6 from three compared to Minnesota going 5-of-11 from long-range.
Who was going to play defence first, was the relevant question. The Raptors answered that pretty definitively as Minnesota ended up shooting just 40.4 per cent from the floor despite their hot start and were limited to 10-of-25 in the fourth quarter.
The added benefit is that the Raptors were able to do all their work without challenging any of the minutes restrictions their recently returned players are on: VanVleet played 28:30, Powell played 24:32, Gasol played 20:17 and Pascal Siakam clocked in at 24:23.
That in and of itself was a mini-triumph for VanVleet, who chafed at the training staff’s advice when he missed five games with a knee injury earlier this year.
“I think with the first minutes restriction I had with my knee there I probably had the wrong approach with it,” VanVleet said. “I was fighting it too much, pushing it too much. Me and [Raptors director of sports science] Alex McKechnie went back-and-forth a bit. It was a different injury, obviously, but I wanted to come back full-force and it affected me. I was thinking about it when I was out there — I was thinking about [the minutes] when I was coming out rather than just playing.”
VanVleet certainly didn’t look like his layoff hindered him at all. He hit his first two shots in the first quarter and then heated up when he checked back in for the second, which seemingly sparked the Raptors. He tied the game 46-46 with his third triple and ended up scoring 11 of his 16 first-half points in the period.
It’s been the same story with nearly all of the Raptors’ injured players — they return looking as ready as ever.
“You go hard every day when [you are out] and [when you are back] you go out there and you let your instincts take over,” said VanVleet. “The best thing that most of us have done is trust the training staff and do the work and — no matter how good you feel — take the time. Take the extra time, the extra games and come back feeling pretty good about yourself and you can go out there and let loose.”
The Raptors didn’t make it easy on themselves late in the first half, at least. Siakam and Gasol picked up technical fouls after what looked like a fairly bogus charging call on Siakam.
Because of that, Minnesota got five free throws in the final minute of the half, making all of them. Combined with a missed Powell lay-up on one end that came back as a fast break alley-oop by Wiggins to Karl-Anthony Towns, and Minnesota took a 61-58 lead into the half-time intermission.
The Raptors more or less dominated from there, looking like a team in full for the first time, and one that’s optimistic about where that can take them.
“It’s hard not to use last year as a reference point,” said VanVleet. “For most of us, that’s what we’re doing: Keep pushing, keep plugging. Stay healthy, obviously, but keep pushing, keep plugging and put ourselves in a good position at the end of the year to be in position to be successful. Hopefully we keep building and practising and growing and the sky’s the limit for us. Internally, we don’t care about outside expectations.”
U.S. ambassador to Canada expects countries to be ‘aligned’ over Beijing Olympics boycott – Global News
The United States’ newly-confirmed ambassador to Canada says he expects both countries to be “aligned” in its policy towards China, including a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics spearheaded by Washington.
David Cohen made the comments after presenting his letters of credence Tuesday to Gov. Gen. Mary Simon in a ceremony at Rideau Hall, officially beginning his role as liaison between the two allies.
The White House on Monday announced it will not send any political representatives to next year’s Winter Games due to China’s human rights “atrocities,” though U.S. athletes will still be allowed to travel to Beijing to compete.
Cohen told reporters the U.S. announcement was “virtually identical” to comments Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made in November regarding Canada’s participation in the Games, and said he anticipates Ottawa will follow Washington’s lead.
“I have a high level of confidence that Canada and the United States will be aligned on our China policy, including our policy with respect to the Olympics,” he said.
Trudeau told reporters on Nov. 18 that while Canada has had “frustrations” with China’s recent actions — including the detention of two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, for nearly two years — he recognizes that athletes have been training for the Games and wants to ensure they aren’t caught in the middle of the diplomatic dispute.
“We’re looking for a way to both be able to see (athletes) show their capacities and fulfill all the hard work that they’ve done for many years, while continuing to demonstrate our real concerns with the way the Chinese government has behaved,” he said.
Government engaged in conversations surrounding 2022 Beijing Olympics
On Monday, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole urged the federal government to join in the diplomatic boycott, a position supported by the NDP.
A spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly said on Monday that the question of whether to implement a diplomatic boycott is something Canada is still discussing with the U.S.
“Canada remains deeply disturbed by the troubling reports of human rights violations in China,” said press secretary Syrine Khoury in an email.
“We will continue to discuss this matter with our closest partner.”
Pascale St-Onge, the minister of sport, told journalists ahead of question period on Monday that no decision has yet been made on whether to join the U.S. in a diplomatic boycott.
China’s ambassador to Canada says Olympics ‘should not be politicized’ after U.S. announces diplomatic boycott
China is facing growing global pressure over its persecution of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, its crushing of internal dissent — including in Hong Kong — and the arbitrary detentions of Kovrig and Spavor, who have since been released, in what was widely viewed as a hostage-taking related to Canada’s detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou.
Cohen, a lawyer, lobbyist and former U.S. tech executive, is the first full-time U.S. ambassador in Ottawa since Donald Trump’s choice, Kelly Craft, decamped in August 2019 to serve the U.S. envoy to the United Nations.
During his confirmation hearings in Washington, Cohen suggested the Biden administration was growing impatient waiting for the release of Ottawa’s long-term China policy.
He also said he would be involved in discussions to “make sure that Canada’s policies reflect its words in terms of the treatment of China.”
— with files from Global’s Amanda Connolly and David Akin, and the Canadian Press
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Athletics-Olympic decathlon champion Warner named Canada’s top athlete
Damian Warner, who won decathlon gold at this year’s Tokyo Olympics, was voted Canada‘s athlete of the year on Wednesday.
Warner reached the pinnacle of his sport in Tokyo where he led the men’s decathlon from start to finish with an Olympic record score of 9,018 points and went on to carry Canada‘s flag at the closing ceremony.
The pool of finalists for the award, which is voted on by a panel of journalists from across Canada, was considered to be one of the strongest in the award’s 85-year history.
Warner was among 24 athletes nominated by the committee and advanced to the final round along with soccer players Alphonso Davies and Stephanie Labbe, sprinter Andre De Grasse, swimmer Maggie Mac Neil, MLB’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the NHL‘s Connor McDavid.
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)
Canada to join allies in diplomatic boycott of Winter Games -Trudeau
Canada will join its allies in a diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing to send China a message over its human rights record, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday.
Australia and Britain will join the diplomatic boycott, their prime ministers said on Wednesday, as other allies weighed similar moves to protest at China’s human rights record..
President Joe Biden’s administration cited what the United States calls genocide against minority Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. China denies all rights abuses.
“Many partners around the world are extremely concerned by the repeated human rights violations by the Chinese government. That’s why we are announcing today that we will not be sending any diplomatic representation to the Beijing Olympics,” Trudeau told reporters.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren, Editing by Mark Heinrich by Alistair Bell and David Gregorio)
U.S. ambassador to Canada expects countries to be ‘aligned’ over Beijing Olympics boycott – Global News
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