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'Hungry' Auston Matthews passionate about improving his shot – TSN

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William Nylander


TSN Toronto Reporter Mark Masters reports on the Maple Leafs, who practised at the Ford Performance Centre on Friday ahead of Saturday’s game against the Vancouver Canucks.

Jason Spezza and Auston Matthews led the Leafs to a convincing 7-3 win on Thursday night and came within a whisker of ending a 56-year drought. Spezza scored three goals while Matthews potted a pair against the Vancouver Canucks. The last time two Leafs recorded a hat trick in the same game? Dave Keon and Bob Pulford did it against the New York Rangers in 1965. 
Matthews and Spezza were both back on the ice before practice on Friday working on their craft. Matthews was fine-tuning his shot. 
 
“He’s passionate about it,” observed coach Sheldon Keefe. “Whether it’s off-season or in-season, he wants to get the reps … We know the dangerous weapon that he has, but I don’t think he gets enough credit for the fact that he scores in so many different ways: different types of shots, far away from the net, close to the net, rebounds, tips, he scores in all different ways and that’s probably the most impressive part.” 
 
On Thursday night, Matthews scored in the first period by skating past J.T. Miller, who was covering for pinching defenceman Quinn Hughes, and beating Thatcher Demko five-hole off the rush.
 
“He’s really developed his 200-foot game and is able to create chances from his own end as you saw last game,” noted linemate Zach Hyman. “He skated it 200 feet and put it in.”

Matthews started the play behind the goal line in the Leafs zone helping his team gain possession. 

“He’s such a big body,” said defenceman Zach Bogosian, “and helps out the D down low winning battles and getting that puck going north so it’s been fun to see.”
 
Later in the game, Matthews was in the perfect position at the side of the net to receive a no-look pass from Mitch Marner and bank a puck in off Demko. 
 
“I just know him and Hyms are going to the net and that short-side post,” said Marner, “and a nice little chip shot by him.”

Matthews finished the night with seven shots and came close to ​securing his third career hat trick, but Demko stopped a one-timer from the Arizona native on the power play. 
 
“He’s really hungry,” said goalie Frederik Andersen. “He demands the puck and he shoots with purpose every time. He has so many different kinds of shots that it’s really tough to prepare or scout him. He picks his spots and has really good vision out there.”
 
Matthews has now scored in his last six games, matching his longest streak during one season. He’ll look to set a new personal best on Saturday when the Leafs host the Canucks again. 
“One of the things that separates him from a lot of guys is how consistent he is and how he can create chances for himself every game,” said Hyman, “so if he doesn’t score in one game he definitely has a couple looks at it.”

Matthews has been held without a shot only four times in his 292 NHL games. 
 
“You can’t put limitations on players of his calibre,” said Keefe. “He’s got elite talent, but he’s got the elite drive to be great.”

Why Matthews doesn’t get enough credit for goal-scoring ability

Sheldon Keefe agrees that Auston Matthews has a great shot but doesn’t think he gets enough credit for the different ways in which he does score. His teammates discuss the work he puts in and why his shot is so hard to defend against.

 Matthews and Marner often highlight Spezza’s work ethic, but the 18-year pro is quick to return the compliment  
 
“The excitement and passion they have for the game rejuvenates the whole room,” Spezza said, “and when you see your top guys work like that it makes everybody want to be better.”
 
Spezza is always looking to get better. The 37-year-old took part in Monday’s optional practice and, per usual, was on the ice at Thursday’s optional morning skate. 
 
“I just like to keep the engine running,” he said. “I’m a guy who goes by a lot of feel.”
 
Matthews and Spezza hit it off immediately because they both love talking about sticks. 
 
“He can feel if the manufacturer made a little mistake or something,” Andersen noted of Spezza. “If there are any inconsistencies he can pick it out really quick and feel it right away. The way he prepares is meticulous. The amount of time he spends in the stick room, he lives in there.”
 
Only hours after producing h​is first hat trick since April 9, 2016, Spezza was back on the ice ahead of practice working with Toronto’s development staff. 
 
“I was joking around with him that the skill development guys are going to be going crazy after his night last night,” said Hyman, who worked out alongside Spezza during the off-season. “He’s just such a great guy to be around. He’s such a great person. Just an overall great human being.”

“It was so much fun for me to play with him last night,” said linemate Travis Boyd, “and seeing him smiling after he got the third goal and even afterwards in the locker room, too. Somebody who does it a long time, you know, it’s easy to lose the fun in it and it turns into a job versus something you’ve grown up playing and loving to do, but every day I come in and he seems happy.” 

Spezza puts on vintage performance, Leafs claim top spot in North Division

Jason Spezza scored a legit hat trick against Vancouver. No easy, cheap goals, and he showed off some of the skills that made him such a dynamic offensive throughout most of his career. With the dominant win, the Leafs now sit atop the league standings. The Canucks, on the other hand, find themselves struggling mightily to compete in the defensive end. The TSN Hockey panel weighs in on Toronto’s convincing victory.

Boyd and Nic Petan helped set up Spezza’s second goal of the night on a perfectly executed three-on-two rush. 
 
“Offensively, all three of us just have good chemistry,” Boyd said. “We kind of see the game the same way and we all like to make plays. Being on the fourth line sometimes it’s hard to go out there and make plays because you’re sitting a little bit here and there and you obviously don’t want to turn anything over, but that doesn’t mean when the opportunity to make a play is there that you shouldn’t take it. We had a clean three-on-two and why not make a play. Why not go out and do what we did.”

Petan was making his season debut on Thursday while Boyd was playing just his third game with the Leafs. Keefe, who has tinkered with the look of the fourth line in six straight games, is going to give that trio a chance to build on the momentum created against the Canucks. 
 
​”The one thing that they did really well, aside from producing offence and scoring, they carried play, they won shifts, they changed in the offensive zone and set up the next line very well,” Keefe said. “Yesterday is a game where most things went our way, but the games are going to be more difficult and there are other areas of the game that they’ll be challenged on and that’s where we want to see their detail, the competitiveness and the physicality and all those things brought out.”
 
Boyd has generated four points in his three games. 
 
“I thought I should’ve been or could be an every-day NHL player for a few years now and that opportunity didn’t work, didn’t pan out in Washington,” said Boyd, who played 24 games with Washington last season. 
 
What was his mindset upon arriving in Toronto? 
 
“I’ve played a decent amount of NHL games so just to believe in myself a little bit more and go out there and know I can be an every-day player and be someone who can help this team out,” Boyd said. “Being confident and trusting myself and letting myself just play hockey again instead of getting too worried about if you make a turnover … just continue to, every night, show why you should be in the lineup.” 
 
Boyd, 27, has now played in 88 NHL games over four seasons. 
 

Travis Dermott missed practice and the defenceman will sit out Saturday’s game after sustaining a minor injury during his first shift against the Canucks. Keefe described it as a “charley horse” in his post-game Zoom call. 

 KHL import Mikko Lehtonen, who has struggled to get up to speed with the North American game, will draw back into the lineup playing his fifth career NHL game on Saturday.
 
“Today was the best practice Mikko’s had with us in terms of the jump he had, some of the plays he made,” said Keefe. “We played a little small-area game to start practice and he made some very subtle, little plays within that that are things we’ve been really talking to him about and working at so I’m sure he’s confident coming in. He’s put in a lot of good work here over the last number of days on the development side. [Director of player development] Stephane Robidas has worked closely with him as has [assistant coach] Dave Hakstol.”
 
Rasmus Sandin, who hasn’t played a game since March, will continue to wait for his chance. Keefe made a point to chat with the 20-year-old on the ice after practice wrapped. 
 
“Just letting him know Mikko is going to go tomorrow and just checking in with him, because obviously when he sees a guy go down that’s when a player might think it’s going to be his chance, but it’s not quite yet,” Keefe revealed. “I just reminded him that right now it’s Mikko’s time and we’re giving him an opportunity here to try and get some traction … Also, just reminded him that we haven’t forgotten who Rasmus is and we know what he can bring and his time will come. He just has to remain patient as we go through this.” 

Leafs Ice Chips: Lehtonen in, Dermott out and Sandin’s time will come

Sheldon Keefe revealed that Travis Dermott will not be ready to go in time for Saturday’s contest against the Canucks. Which means Mikko Lehtonen will be back in the lineup, Mark Masters has more on why Rasmus Sandin will have to continue to be patient.

Spezza isn’t the only veteran making a big impact. Wayne Simmonds fought for the second time this season on Thursday while logging second-line minutes alongside John Tavares and William Nylander. Bogosian is bringing a physical presence to the back end while eating up some penalty-kill minutes. 
 
Those two additions, along with injured forward Joe Thornton, have helped turn the Leafs room and bench into a louder place. 
 
“We’ve had a lot more chatter on our bench from everybody,” said Keefe. “Simmonds and Bogosian have added a lot in that regard and Jumbo when he was in the lineup. But I’ve seen progression from everybody all the way through. Having multiple people that have that level of personality brings it out in others, too, whether it’s John, Auston, Mitch, even Will, guys are stepping up in that regard. Whether it’s encouraging one another or pushing each other it’s been very good and an area we needed to improve upon.”


 
Lines at Friday’s practice: 
 
Hyman – Matthews – Marner 
Nylander – Tavares – Simmonds
Vesey – Kerfoot – Mikheyev
Petan – Boyd – Spezza
Engvall, Barabanov 
 
Rielly – Brodie 
Muzzin – Holl
Lehtonen – Bogosian
Sandin – Brooks
 
Andersen
Hutchinson 
 
Injured: Dermott (charley horse), Thornton (fractured rib), Robertson (knee), Campbell (leg)

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'WE FEEL PRETTY GOOD': Maple Leafs make it a sweep against McDavid and Oilers – Toronto Sun

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The series was billed as a first-place showdown with the Maple Leafs, but ended with the Oilers shut down.

In the course of three well-deserved wins, using a trio of different goalies, four flying forward lines and a dominating defence, Toronto left a row of long faces on the Edmonton bench, Connor McDavid’s the most painful.

Wednesday’s 6-1 rout at Rogers Place capped a 13-1 total bill and improved the Leafs’ NHL-best slate to 18-4-2. After a hot February, the Oilers gave up second place in the North Division to Winnipeg while they were being swept.

“A lot of really good things come out of this series for us,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe. “We feel pretty good, how we handled leads, how we built leads. We knew coming in we were playing a team hotter than any other in the NHL and to get results like this was a healthy sign. But as much as we’d like to sit and enjoy it, we’re on the plane now and off to Vancouver.”

While the Leafs have a pair against the Canucks on Thursday and Saturday, league-leading point-getter McDavid was pondering just the third time in his career he’s gone three games without a goal or assist. Fellow front-runner Leon Draisaitl avoided that fate with an assist on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins’ second period goal that ended Toronto’s shutout streak at 148 minutes.

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By then, the Leafs had broken it wide open with three goals in a span of just more than four minutes. Jimmy Vesey had two as the fourth line stepped up, William Nylander, John Tavares, Zach Hyman and Ilya Mikheyev piling on goals. The multi-point players included Jason Spezza with three helpers and they didn’t need Auston Matthews, who was held pointless, in his return from a wrist injury, though he had no apparent troubles shooting or taking faceoffs.

“I think we’re building a really strong bond here as a group,” said Spezza, whose points spurt is moving him on the verge of the top 100 in NHL history. “We’re pushing each other and when you see the standard raised, you want to make sure you’re reaching it.”

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Spezza conceded a little bit of luck is needed to hold two such prominent scorers to one point in three games, but that it reflects a commitment to team defence everyone realized was needed after last year’s playoffs.

Goalie Mike Smith had been a big part of the Oilers’ run, but he had to track too many buzzing Leafs. He was most irked by Hyman getting close to his crease, while the ‘Zip Line’ of Hyman, Mikheyev and Pierre Engvall helped keep the Oilers smothered. Hyman and John Tavares had power-play goals.

“Skating a lot, being physical,” Engvall said before the game on what’s worked for their unit against McDavid and Draisaitl. “When we lose the puck, we work really hard to not give them something.”

Maple Leafs’ William Nylander scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith during the second period at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK
Maple Leafs’ William Nylander scores a goal on Edmonton Oilers’ goaltender Mike Smith during the second period at Rogers Place in Edmonton on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. IAN KUCERAK/POSTMEDIA NETWORK

The Leafs had been prone to early pressure by the Oilers and only a combination of luck and Frederik Andersen’s goaltending stopped the Oilers from striking first on five early shots in the opening shifts.

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But it was fourth-liner Vesey who wound up with the first period’s only goal. With Alex Kerfoot keeping the puck deep to allow the line change, Travis Boyd and Spezza worked the puck to set up Vesey’s first goal since Jan. 22.

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While the notion of silencing both McDavid and Draisaitl seemed far-fetched at the start of the series, the Leafs were going for the hat trick.

“The goaltending we’ve had has been really solid, that’s first and foremost,” said defenceman Jake Muzzin, who with partner Justin Holl saw a lot of Edmonton’s top forwards the past three games. “And we’ve done a pretty good job taking away time and space and to clog up the middle and force them to the outside.”

Keefe added that in no way are the Leafs resting on their laurels, stressing areas of the game that still need cleaning up during a Wednesday morning meeting.

  1. Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas may be looking to add to his team ahead of the NHL trade deadline in April. CRAIG ROBERTSON/TORONTO SUN

    TRAIK-EOTOMY: Who should the Maple Leafs target at April’s trade deadline?

  2. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe and one of his great predecessors behind the bench, the late Pat Burns.

    SIMMONS: Maple Leafs’ Sheldon Keefe quickly establishing himself as elite NHL coach

  3. Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Michael Hutchinson (30) makes a save against Edmonton Oilers forward Kailer Yamamoto (56) during the first period at Rogers Place.

    Hutchinson’s performance, defensive effort lead Maple Leafs to another shutout vs. Oilers

Andersen’s record is now 15-1-2 in his career against the Oilers. Michael Hutchinson backed him while Jack Campbell could the start on Thursday in Vancouver.

With such a huge lead on Wednesday, Keefe didn’t have to over-tax the Matthews line with Mitch Marner and Joe Thornton and played Vesey and the bottom six down the stretch. A couple of healthy scratches might also play Thursday.

lhornby@postmedia.com

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Maple Leafs raise the standard with defensive dismantling of Oilers – Sportsnet.ca

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When an injury forced Auston Matthews to miss the first two games of this statement-sending series in Edmonton, Sheldon Keefe reminded his players that they were essentially losing a goal per night from the lineup.

Rather than focusing on where else they might look for it, he wanted the Toronto Maple Leafs to play like they had one less to allow a high-octane opponent and they responded by pitching back-to-back shutouts against the Oilers.

It was natural to wonder, then, if some of the gains might be lost when Matthews returned Wednesday. That subconsciously or not, his presence might see the team loosen the noose they’d strung around their closest pursuant in the North Division standings by cheating for offence or having players down the lineup start deferring to the league’s most lethal scorer.

That’s why the 6-1 dismantling was even more impressive than the victories that came before it at Rogers Place

The Leafs didn’t even need their customary goal from Matthews, who was stymied despite producing a game-high seven shots and 10 attempts. They regained a superstar and just kept on working to keep the puck from getting anywhere near their own net.

“I think the three games here is a good example that we [can] score a lot and still [not want] to give up anything. We’re not just satisfied with leads and winning a couple games,” said goaltender Frederik Andersen, who made 26 saves in his own return from injury.

“We want to keep suffocating them and not really give them anything really. Yeah, show how good we can be for 60 minutes every night.”

You might need a VHS player to find the last time a Leafs team played three better games in a row. Granted, the bar hasn’t been set too high for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 or played for a Stanley Cup since the last time it won one in 1967.

They are now off to the best start in franchise history with 18 wins and 38 points through 24 games, but something changed during five days in Edmonton. This group raised the standard. Not only did they outscore the Oilers 13-1 while playing two games without Matthews, they did it by giving Jack Campbell, Michael Hutchinson and Andersen each a start in net.

“Three different goalies,” said Matthews. “Three phenomenal games.”

“To win three games like that so decisively, I think it’s a real step of growth for our team,” said fourth-liner Jimmy Vesey, who broke a personal 17-game drought by scoring twice on Wednesday night.

The Leafs boarded a flight to Vancouver for Thursday’s quick turnaround game sitting atop the NHL in points percentage (.792), wins (18), regulation wins (16) and goals per game (3.63). More impressively, they were fourth overall in goals against per game (2.33) and sixth in shots allowed per game (28.6).

All of that talk on Day 1 of training camp about defending the net-front area more fiercely and cutting back on the rush chances against has turned out to be much more than just talk.

“There’s still room for improvement, but I think we’ve definitely made some pretty huge strides from last year into this year,” said Matthews. “That’s obviously positive and I think we’re realizing what it really takes to win and that’s going to be playing well on the defensive side of the puck for us to really break through and play a long time in playoff time.”

The Oilers entered the series with wins in 11 of 13 games and left it looking crushed. They simply had no answers.

Connor McDavid, the sport’s most gifted offensive weapon, failed to register a point in any of the three games. That’s only the third time in his entire NHL career he’s been held without one for three consecutive games.

He saw a steady diet of the Jake Muzzin-Justin Holl defensive pairing and was completely nullified in Wednesday’s finale with just one shot on goal. It didn’t help that Edmonton failed to get a power-play opportunity in the game and had only four in the entire series.

“We knew coming in we were playing against a very good team that was as hot or hotter than any team in the NHL and coming in with lots of confidence, so for us to get results like this is a really good and healthy sign,” said Keefe.

Toronto breaks an opponent’s spirit in a way not captured by shot metrics like Corsi. They have the puck all the time but are content to reload on zone entries and offensive zone shifts rather than just firing low-percentage attempts all night long.

The stat that might best encapsulate what happened during this series in Edmonton is an old-school one which probably would have been held against the Leafs once upon a time: They were outhit 105-58 because the Oilers were in pursuit for most of 180 minutes.

This was an entire team effort.

As I highlighted earlier this week, Kyle Dubas has done an excellent job of balancing his top-heavy salary cap chart with depth players vastly outperforming their pay cheques.

Vesey has been the only off-season signing yet to really bear fruit and even he’s up to four even-strength goals after the two he potted Wednesday. Jason Spezza picked up three assists and now has 15 points on the season — a total that would currently lead a handful of NHL teams.

But this 18-4-2 squad isn’t now earning buzz as a bonafide Stanley Cup contender because of the dazzling offence it produces. That’s not new. What they did in Edmonton is make it look like only one team on the ice was a constant threat to score.

“I think we’re starting to understand what it feels like when we play good defence and we’re able to replicate it a few games in a row here,” said Spezza. “That’s a good sign for our team. We’ll just keep building and moving forward.”

If they can build on this, the sky’s the limit.

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10 things: COVID-wrecked Raptors completely fall apart against Pistons – Yahoo Canada Sports

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors’ 129-105 loss to the Detroit Pistons.

One — Yikes: The Raptors were not prepared to play this game, which is understandable with at least a dozen members of the organization in COVID-19 protocol. But to be outplayed to this extent by the Detroit Pistons, who were also without several starters, is unacceptable. The Pistons don’t even have the likes of Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and OG Anunoby to miss in the first place, so there really isn’t an excuse to not at least compete. This is the worst defensive effort by the Raptors stretching back a decade, and that’s not even hyperbole.

Two — Flat: The Pistons scored 43 points in the first quarter, making 16 field goals and every single basket was assisted. The Raptors actually took a 10-3 lead to start which prompted a quick timeout from Dwane Casey, and the Pistons were nowhere to be seen from that point onward. It was the 73-win Golden State Warriors the rest of the way, with Wayne Ellington playing the role of Stephen Curry, and Svi Mykhailiuk as Klay Thompson, and Mason Plumlee as a more bruising version of Draymond Green. The Raptors, meanwhile, looked like the Pistons.

Three — Mistakes: The Raptors should submit tape of this game to the Basketball Hall of Fame because every coach at every level should show this game as an example of what not to do on defense. Name any mistake, and the Raptors made it. Leaving shooters wide open? Yes. Two players rotating to the same man without communicating? Yes. Giving up open driving lanes for no reason whatsoever? Yes. Doubling the post against a pass-first, score-never center? Yes. Failing to box out and giving up four offensive rebounds on the same play?

Yes. Not giving any effort to defend in transition? Yes. Reaching in at half court when your team is in the bonus? Yes, again. Even high school players would be scolded for the mistakes that the Raptors made, and at no point did they even come close to stringing together three competent possessions.

Four — Worst: The worst offender on the night was Terence Davis, who turned a rare opportunity to start into a showcase as to why he’s normally benched. Davis was a trainwreck on both ends. Offensively, he forced contested shots that were either bricked jumpers, or wild drives that left him on the floor and unable to get back. Defensively, he kept losing Ellington in rotation and was just straight-up guessing on his rotations, which left his teammates completely out to dry. Davis was even committing lane violations, which just speaks to a lack of concentration. He’s making it up as he goes and almost never has a game plan for what he’s about to do.

Five — Empty: The Raptors also turned to Yuta Watanabe for his first career start, and although he wasn’t actively destructive like Davis, it was still glaringly obvious that Watanabe just wasn’t doing anything. Watanabe is an energy player who is the fifth option regardless of who else is on the floor, and energy players can’t be invisible, because all that’s left to notice is him missing open jumpers or botching a transition layup. Watanabe can be an effective glue player, but there was nothing to be held together tonight.

Six — Silent: The reserves weren’t any better, and were utterly demolished by the Pistons’ reserves. Even the most hardcore NBA fans couldn’t identify Pistons reserve Saben Lee, but now the Raptors will know him as a Chris Paul impersonator, because that’s how badly he torched them. The entire second unit for the Raptors was a drag, as Chris Boucher couldn’t defend a lick at the basket, while the rest of them couldn’t score if their careers depended on it. Matt Thomas broke free at the end for a few jumpers, but he missed every look that actually mattered, and was so porous on defense that career journeyman Rodney McGruder zoomed past him like a Ferrari on Highway 407.

Seven — Wasted: Norman Powell did his best to keep the Raptors alive. He scored at will to start and finished with 36 points on 14-of-20 shooting with five threes. Powell reached deep into his bag to keep pace with the Pistons, including hitting a rare turnaround jumper out of the post, but he couldn’t do it on his own. The Pistons were more physical with Powell in the second half, and oriented most of their help defenders toward cutting off his drives, and yet he was still able to break free. He just ran out of gas in the end, and really, there was no more point in chasing the game. The game cannot be won by one man.

Eight — Valiant: Kyle Lowry tried to support Powell every step of the way. He nailed a handful of pull-up jumpers, baited his way into free throws, set up Aron Baynes for rolling dunks, took a charge in transition, and he even passed up open shots in an effort to get his teammates going. But there is only so much Lowry can do, especially when he was tiring by the third quarter, and at some point his teammates need to match his effort. Lowry can do a lot with very little, but even very little was beyond most of the Raptors tonight.

Nine — Tricks: Acting coach Sergio Scariolo left no page unturned in Nick Nurse’s playbook. He shifted into zone defenses, deploying a triangle-and-two on the Pistons (really, it was that bad) and calling upon every player on the roster who wasn’t a G-League call-up, but nobody answered outside of Lowry and Powell. It’s hard to fault Scariolo for this, as everyone is just trying to do their best. The Raptors were off for several days, then had to call a rare evening practice on Tuesday with Jalen Harris and Donta Hall crashing in last minute, and this was the result.

Ten — Schadenfreude: It’s been three years since the Raptors dismissed Dwane Casey and replaced him with his assistant, and while time heals all wounds, there might always be some bitterness. Casey issued a coach’s challenge on Boucher’s drive with four minutes left and his team comfortably leading by 22, which dragged out a game that was decidedly finished regardless of the review. The Pistons have really relished playing against the Raptors over the past few years, and honestly, it’s good that the players respond so strongly to their coach. Casey is a good man and an energetic coach, and it’s really too bad that he’s stuck in a rebuild.

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