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Joel Embiid's free throws: Do Nick Nurse, Raptors have case to be frustrated with calls for 76ers center? – Sporting News



It didn’t take long for fouls to become a subject of debate in the first-round series between the Raptors and 76ers.

Following a quiet Game 1 by his standards, Joel Embiid led the 76ers to a dominant Game 2 victory with 31 points and 11 rebounds. He shot an efficient 9-for-16 from the field but also went 12-for-14 from the charity stripe, making and taking more free throws than the Raptors did as an entire team.

In the closing seconds of the game, cameras caught an exchange between Embiid and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, which was later revealed to have been about — what else? — free throws.

“(Embiid) was saying to me that (he’s) going to keep making all the free throws if (we) keep fouling (him),” Nurse said. “I said you might have to.”

As for Embiid’s side of the story: “He’s a great coach obviously. What he’s been able to accomplish, I’ve always been a big fan, but I told him, respectfully, to stop b—ing about calls because I saw what he said last game,” referring to Nurse’s comments about the officiating after Game 1.

Unfortunately for the Raptors, Embiid is probably going to continue living at the line because this is what he does.

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We’re talking about free throws

Want to guess who made and attempted the most free throws in the league this season? Mr. Joel Embiid.

Embiid took 11.8 free throws per game and knocked them down at an 81.4 percent clip, an incredible mark for a center. The only other players since 2000 who got to the free throw line as much as or more than Embiid did this season are James Harden in 2019-20 (11.8) and Shaquille O’Neal in 2000-01 (13.1).

Like Harden, Embiid has mastered the art of drawing fouls. And like O’Neal, he’s a massive human being who can bulldoze his way through just about anyone, standing at 7-feet and 280-pounds.

Complicating matters for the Raptors is they don’t have a Marc Gasol anymore, a big man who has the size to at least match up with Embiid.

Toronto has had quite a lot of success against Embiid over the years and even limited him to 19 points on 5-for-15 shooting in Game 1, but the way the Raptors have given him the most trouble is by showing him multiple bodies whenever he touches the ball with timely double and sometimes triple teams. Whether it’s Khem Birch, Precious Achiuwa or Pascal Siakam, they don’t stand much of a chance defending him one-on-one.

Embiid is well aware of that.

Check out what happens on this possession from early in Game 2:

The Raptors switch a pick-and-roll between Harden and Embiid, resulting in Achiuwa switching onto Harden and Gary Trent Jr. switching onto Embiid. The Raptors then wisely switch Siakam onto Embiid before he can even think about taking advantage of Trent, but Embiid simply goes into bully mode against Siakam, who is giving up four inches and 50 pounds.

If Siakam has no shot against Embiid, there’s not much Fred VanVleet can do once he gets the ball. And when Embiid gets downhill, the defense is usually toast.

Achiuwa is a giant by normal standards, but asking him to keep Embiid off the glass by himself is a tall order.

That’s three fouls leading to five of the 14 free throws Embiid attempted in Game 2 right there.

Does that mean that every call Embiid gets is as clear as day? Of course not. Watch the fouls he drew in Game 2 and you’ll see a lot of this from the Raptors:

It doesn’t help that Embiid knows how to sell calls.


…and this…

…are probably the types of calls that drive Nurse and everyone else on the Raptors crazy, but Embiid would argue that he was fouled, and he was smart to punish the Raptors for being physical with him while in the bonus, knowing any foul would lead to free throws. (That’s nine of the 14 free throw attempts, by the way.)

“If you’re going to triple-team somebody all game, they’re bound to get to the free-throw line,” Embiid said after the game. “If you’re going to push them off and try to hold them off and all of that stuff, they’re bound to get to the free-throw line. So I feel like every foul was legit, and probably should have been more, honestly.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid drew 8.5 fouls per game during the regular season, per InStat. Through two games in this series, he’s drawing 10.0 fouls per game. So he is getting more of a whistle in this series than he was in the regular season, but not by much.

The problem is that Embiid isn’t the only player the Raptors have to be worried about, because Harden is almost as prolific of a foul-drawer. He hasn’t gotten to the foul line quite as much as Embiid, but he’s still averaging 7.5 free throw attempts per contest through two games.

Keeping one of Embiid and Harden off the free throw line is hard enough. As the Raptors are learning, keeping them both off is nearly impossible.

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This Battle of Alberta won’t be like the past, but the emotion will be unmatched –



EDMONTON  — It’s been 31 years, so long that a generation really only knows the Battle of Alberta in snap shots from Hockey Night in Canada videos. 

Gretzky down the wing on Vernon. Smith, in off of Fuhr. Fleury break dancing across the Northlands Coliseum logo. Dave Brown, startin’ the lawn mower on Jim Kyte. 

Glen Sather, alternately cheering an OT goal in Calgary and issuing a hand gesture to Flames fans that would have garnered him a healthy fine today. 

We’re here to tell you: societal norms dictate that the old Battle of Alberta will never be re-lived. This can not be that. 

But although we might know what we’re NOT going to see when the Calgary Flames hook up with the Edmonton Oilers starting on Wednesday night, you never know what you might see in a matchup set to consume this prairie province for the first time since 1991. A grudge match that — in its best days — was as good a rivalry as the National Hockey League has seen in all its many years. 

“You always knew going into it that there was going to be bloodshed, and it was going to be some of your own,” former Oilers (and Flames) defenceman Steve Smith said in my book, The Battle of Alberta. “It was real then. There were going to be fights and you were expected to be part of fights and physical hockey.” 

“They were big, strong, physical,” added Edmonton defenceman Jeff Beukeboom. “They were dirty. Just like us,”  

The sheer violence does not exist anymore, and for that the NHL is a better place. But the emotion that has gone missing with that violence? 

That, we’d like to surgically implant back into the game, like a ligament from a cadaver that could put the hop back in the step of a league where too many players are buddy-buddy, asking how the wife and kids are rather than putting a glove in their opponent’s face. 

It was that emotion that fuelled the high-octane dragster that was The Battle. 

Emotion that would drive Doug Risebrough to slink into the penalty box with an Oilers jersey purloined from the latest Pier 6 brawl, and slice it into ribbons with his skates. Emotion injected into a practice from Flames head coach Bob Johnson, who dressed a Junior A goalie in an Oilers jersey so his players could feel the thrill of blowing pucks past a Grant Fuhr lookalike. 

“That’s the thing we’re missing in the game today. Emotion,” said former Flames goalie Mike Vernon. “Those games had so much emotion, and there was a price that had to be paid. Like the time Dave Brown fought Stu Grimson. Grimmer sat in the penalty box for 10 minutes with a broken face. 

“You want to see real? That’s real.” 

Emotion from players who knew, this wasn’t going to be a normal game. And if I play like it is, I won’t survive it. 

“I had no problem [expletive] cuttin’ your eye out. Wouldn’t have bothered me a bit,” said Theoren Fleury, a small man who cut a big swath through the Battle. “Hey – you’re trying to [expletive] kill me? This was survival. It was that unpredictability that allowed me to have the room that I had.”

On a macro level, Edmonton and Calgary have always been contesting each other.

They fought over who would get the first Canadian Pacific Railway terminal (Calgary), way back in the 1800s. They argued over who would be designated the provincial capital, or lay claim to the University of Alberta in the early 1900s (Edmonton, and Edmonton). 

Today the contest has been mostly won by the city that is simply 300 kilometres closer to the rest of the world than its rival. Calgary is the Dallas to Edmonton’s Houston, where the oil patch is concerned, an industry orchestrated by the white collars in the South, but serviced and operated by blue collars up North. 

But where all this has impacted the sports scene is this: Anecdotally, more people born in Edmonton continue to live in Edmonton, while Calgary has become a city more rich in people from elsewhere; Edmonton is a city you leave, whereas Calgary has become somewhere people come to, with allegiances to other teams in tow.

That assessment is subjective, sure, but it’s backed up by the fact the Oilers tend to post better media numbers than the Flames do, whether it’s radio, TV or print. There is simply more local interest in Edmonton’s team than Calgary’s, a phenomenon that will be invisible to the naked eye these next two weeks. 

When the original Battle began however, there was no question who was the big brother, and who was the little one. 

Edmonton had joined the NHL from the old World Hockey Association in 1979, and the Flames arrived from Atlanta a year later. Soon, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey et al. were clearly a group the Flames could not match, or catch up to via the draft. So the Flames, with former University of Wisconsin coach Bob Johnson behind their bench, built a team using older college grads like Joe Nieuwendyk, Joe Mullen, Joel Otto, Jamie Macoun and Gary Suter.

In the end, the Flames only won one of five playoff meetings between the two, but they played the Boston Red Sox to Edmonton’s New York Yankees, or Don Cherry’s Boston Bruins to the 70’s Habs that were Edmonton. 

“Ali needed Frazier,” Messier once said. “That top opponent that pushes, and challenges, and makes you better.” 

As the two teams ready for a meeting beginning Wednesday night in Calgary, that old Saddledome is perhaps the only visual that will provide a similar look, outside the familiar jerseys of each team. The landscape is unfamiliar, with teams full of players who have never faced each other in a post-season series. 

Two teams who once combined for 780 goals in a season settled for 576 this season. And penalty minutes? 

Forget about it… 

In 2022 however, there are some similarities. Connor McDavid will play the part of Wayne Gretzky, while the Elias Lindholm line will lend depth and execution the way Johnson’s old Flames would attack Edmonton using his oft-referenced — but never actually seen — “Seven Point Plan” to beat the Oilers. 

Today Matthew Tkachuk is the spoon that stirs the emotional bouillabaisse, whereas before it was Esa Tikkanen or Neil Sheehy, the Flames defenceman and Gretzky-pesterer whose refusal to fight anyone on Edmonton wound the Oilers up like a top. 

When it’s done, all we can hope for is some lasting memories, some players who might not tee it up together the way they may have a summer ago, and two organizations that see each other as they once did — as the in-division hurdle that had to be jumped on the way to a Stanley Cup. 

“All the most important, most memorable team meetings we ever had were held in that dressing room in Calgary,” Craig MacTavish once said. “We were the best two teams in the NHL of that day, and we would meet very early in the playoffs. 

“They were absolute wars,” he added. “A pleasure to be a part of, in hindsight.” 

We leave you with this anecdote, from Beukeboom. 

“I think it was a pre-season game,” he began. “I was going up ice and got two-handed on the back of the legs by Fleury. Whack! I remember a pile-up in the corner one day, after Simmer (Craig Simpson) had taken out their goalie, and Fleury was running his mouth. ‘You guys suck. You can’t skate, you big [expletive].’ So now we’re in the pile in the corner, and he’s on top of me. But, we come out of it together, and now he’s saying, ‘It’s OK. I’ve got you. No problem.’ Like, now he’s being a nice guy.” 

So, what did Beukeboom do? Exactly what Fleury would have done, had the shoe been on the other foot 

“I suckered him. Cut him open for stitches,” he said. “It was one of the few times [head coach] John Muckler paid me a compliment.” 

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Barkov, Bergeron, Lindholm named as Selke Trophy finalists –



The Calgary FlamesElias Lindholm joined fellow centres Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins as one of three finalists named for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, the NHL announced Tuesday.

The award, which is given “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of
the game,” is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, with the top three vote-getters listed as finalists.

Lindholm, 27, has never won the award, but posted a plus-61 rating that was second only in the league to teammate Johnny Gaudreau’s plus-64. The Swedish centre was the fifth-best in the league at faceoffs, with a 52.9 per cent success rate in 1,592 attempts.

Barkov, who won the Selke last year, led the Panthers to the Presidents’ Trophy this season with the league’s best record. The 26-year-old from Finland posted a career-best 57 per cent success rate in faceoffs and led his team’s forwards in average ice time (20:18) for the fifth straight year. His plus-36 was fourth best in the league amongst forwards.

Bergeron, who may retire this off-season, has won the Selke four times in his 19-year career, which is tied with former Montreal Canadiens great Bob Gainey for the most in NHL history. The 36-year-old from L’Ancienne-Lorette, Que., has been a finalist for the Selke 11 times and led the league this season for the seventh time in his career in faceoff wins, with a success rate of 61.9 per cent.

The NHL plans on revealing its 2022 award winners during the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final.

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England to host 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup



World Rugby (WR) has named England as the host nation for the 2025 Women’s Rugby World Cup.

In addition, WR also unanimously approved Australia as hosts for the men’s World Cup in 2027 and the women’s in 2029 with the United States (US) hosting the men’s tournament for the first time in 2031 and the women’s in 2033.

WR is hoping to generate US$1 billion from the World Cup in 2031 as it seeks to tap into the US’ vast sporting culture and commercial potential.

“The USA is the golden nugget everyone wants to get a hold of. It’s the world’s biggest sporting market,” said WR chairperson, Sir Bill Beaumont.

2031 and 2033 World Cups have 25 or so venue bids on the table from all over the country. WR delegates have already been shown around the Denver Bronco’s impressive Empower Field home. One possibility could see the tournament start in the west of the country and gradually move east. There is also the possibility of using localized pools, where each group plays in a different part of the country before congregating for its grand finish.

The whole process is expected to cost in the region of US$500 million and has already received bipartisan support, alongside the seal of approval from President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to Sir Beaumont promising regulatory support and infrastructural guarantees.

In the US, there have been many attempts to crack the market, but none have yet succeeded. However, the continued presence of rugby in the Olympics, the growing footprint of Major League Rugby (MLR) and an acceptance of where things went wrong in the past, means there is optimism around the next decade.

The US men’s team faces one of the biggest games in their history in June when they have their two-legged playoff against Chile for a spot in the 2023 Rugby World Cup scheduled to take place in France from the 8th of September to the 28th of October 2023.

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