TORONTO – Down 26 points with 43 seconds left in the third quarter to the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon in a game that saw them trailing by as many as 30, Malcolm Miller checked in for the Toronto Raptors.
Miller replaced OG Anunoby – who struggled Sunday, going 3-for-8 from the field for six points and a team-worst minus-27 on the day – took his spot in the bottom left hash marks and watched as Canadian Dwight Powell converted his second free throw attempt to pump the Mavericks’ lead to 27.
On the floor for the Raptors for what appeared to be a ceremonial free-throw of death for Toronto at the time was Miller, Kyle Lowry, Terence Davis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris Boucher.
An extreme case of the vaunted Lowry-and-the-bench lineups of the yore, this appeared to be something that Nurse would throw out at the end of the quarter and then likely wave the white flag in the fourth as the Raptors were scheduled to play in Indiana Monday on the second night of a back-to-back.
Well, that would’ve been the case had it been just about any other team than the Raptors.
“I would say we have always been a team that fights,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “In my time here, we hardly ever mail it in. It’s a good characteristic to have.”
In a sleepy Sunday afternoon game that saw the team shoot 23-of-69 from the field and put up only 63 points through three quarters, those old good Raptors habits kicked into overdrive in the fourth quarter.
The Raptors made the biggest comeback in franchise history, outscoring the Mavericks 47-21 in the fourth and walked away with a miraculous 110-107 victory.
Here’s a closer look at that record-breaking fourth quarter at how, exactly, the Raptors pulled off a pre-Christmas miracle.
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Scrambling, trapping, pressing defence
Thanks to four free throws that Hollis-Jefferson made at the end of the fourth, the Raptors entered the fourth trailing by 23 – obviously not great, but better than before.
But more important than the made free throws from Hollis-Jefferson was what was seen from the Raptors’ defence after each attempt: A now-familiar sight of the Raptors scrambling, trapping and picking up full court to try to speed the Mavericks up, and create turnovers.
This proved to be the blueprint that set in motion the enormous comeback to come in the next quarter, and it was largely thanks to the somewhat patchwork Lowry-and-bench lineup Nurse came upon when Miller replaced Anunoby at the end of the third.
Nurse ended up riding this lineup until 1:37 left in the fourth where, by that time, the Raptors had taken a three-point lead and had all momentum on their side to finish off the job.
“We stayed with it a long time, we probably called it off a little bit early to be honest with you,” said Nurse of the pressing defence and the lineup he was utilizing with it. “There really wasn’t any reason [to stop].”
When you force a team to turn the ball over seven times and hold them to 5-of-19 shooting in a single frame, why would you change what was so clearly working?
Nurse found a solution, and Dallas had no answer for it, ultimately.
”We’re gonna make one charge here at this thing”
Obviously, the results went the Raptors way, but to even get in the mood to attempt the desperation trapping defensive scheme Nurse employed in the fourth still takes a lot of buy-in.
This is a team that clearly doesn’t quit, though, and even as things seemed grim at the end of the third quarter, the spark remained.
“The mood was really bad to start the fourth quarter,” said Nurse. “We were getting our butts kicked. But we just had a little recent success with pressing in Philly down late, so I said, we’re gonna make one charge here at this thing. Let’s air it out for a few minutes and see. We immediately worked and chipped into it.”
Added Lowry: “We were just like, ‘Look we’re going to try.’ Nick threw us the press and everyone just said, ‘Alright let’s do it.’”
This never-say-die attitude from the Raptors was infectious and the Scotiabank Arena crowd definitely appeared to respond to it as you could literally hear the fans get back into the game as early as 1:10 into the fourth quarter.
At that point, the Mavericks called timeout after a Hollis-Jefferson tip-in, and the crowd rose to their feet sensing a comeback in the air despite Toronto cutting the lead to a still sizeable 18 points.
“We were challenging everything they were doing hard, and again, that’s energy, that’s the crowd,” said Nurse.
Added Miller: “It’s excitement. We’re getting stops. We’re getting buckets. We’re moving the ball. Kyle’s going absolutely crazy. Everything felt good. Everything was falling into place. There was a lot of energy from the crowd, energy from the bench and energy on the floor.”
And Boucher, who’s exclamation-point dunk with 25.8 seconds left to give the Raptors the lead once again, essentially iced the game: “I’m definitely going to go watch the game again and see how exciting this game was and how the fans helped us so much, just by cheering with us. We could feel down on the court, how much they wanted us to win this game. It was probably one of the best games I’ve been to, for real.”
Sometimes, all it takes to is a little belief, and momentum will follow.
The other huge reason why the Raptors made this ridiculous comeback was Lowry.
Like Miller said, he went “absolutely crazy” finishing with 32 points on 12-of-23 shooting, including 20 in the final frame, going 7-for-10 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point range.
It was Lowry’s heroic shot-making that made Nurse’s defensive scheme work the way it did and, as a bonus, it was a lot of fun for the other Raptors to see him turn the clock back a bit to his older, more dominant days.
“I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it,” said Nurse.
“All he said was ‘keep pushing,’” said Boucher. “He led us the right way, put us in great spots. Kyle does that every time. Even when people don’t see it. Kyle’s a great leader.”
“I mean, he’s a vet, he’s a 14-year pro and that’s what he does,” added Davis.
“Kyle is an elite player and a champion,” said Miller. “He knows what it takes to win, and he knows his game well. He’s willing to step up and hit those big shots.”
For Lowry, however, the comeback wasn’t about his own individual brilliance, it was always about the guys around him.
“I didn’t do it,” Lowry said. “We had a great team effort. Malcolm, Terence Davis, Rondae and Chris Boucher. I give them all the credit today.”
A class act to the end, the man whose nickname puts him “over everything,” put everyone else over himself.
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)