TORONTO – Before the ball went up there was a sense the Toronto Raptors were stepping into the great unknown.
For instance, with three regulars out — joining two others already on the injured list — the sequence of pre-game shooting was thrown way off.
Players take the floor in groups of three or four in 15- or 20-minutes intervals — kind of like batting practice in baseball. The lower you rank on the seniority list, the earlier you go out.
Roughly, it’s rookies first and vets last.
But with Pascal Siakam (groin), Marc Gasol (hamstring) and Norman Powell (shoulder) all sidelined indefinitely, and the likes of Matt Thomas (finger) and Stanley Johnson (groin) already out, the floor was open.
Malcolm Miller, in his third season with the team, typically goes out to shoot shortly after 5 p.m. for a 7:30 p.m. tip. He wasn’t due until 6:25 on Friday and by 6:15 found himself in the locker room still counting down the spare minutes.
“I’ve eaten, lifted, stretched and I’m still twiddling my fingers,” he said.
Figuring out how to thrive in unfamiliar situations was the theme of the night as the Raptors played their first game since Gasol, Siakam and Powell were all injured in Wednesday’s win against Detroit.
Let’s just say the road ahead may have some bumps.
NBA on Christmas Day
The Raptors and Celtics tip off a full Christmas Day schedule on Sportsnet, Sportsnet ONE and SN NOW with coverage starting at 11:30 a.m. ET/8:30 a.m. PT, followed by 76ers vs. Bucks, Lakers vs. Clippers and Nuggets vs. Pelicans.
The Raptors needed 26 points and nine assists and – most significantly – 40 minutes from Kyle Lowry to finish off the otherwise non-threatening Washington Wizards. Some shaky bench minutes from the Raptors suddenly razor-thin reserves allowed the Wizards to come back from down 12 in the fourth quarter to tie the game with 3:43 to play.
A five-point Lowry flourish in the final two minutes and four key free throws by Fred VanVleet (18 points, nine rebounds and eight assists) in the final 9.9 seconds were enough to hold the Wizards off despite 37 points from Washington’s Bradley Beal.
They will have to get used figuring things out on the fly as none of the missing regulars are expected back sooner than two weeks at least, with Siakam thought to be the closest to returning. Gasol and Powell could be out significantly longer. Meanwhile the Raptors have a heavy holiday schedule to plow through.
It was not for nothing that Toronto head coach Nick Nurse grabbed a random roll of duct tape left on the lectern before the game and joked: “just what I needed.”
Taping together a starting lineup wasn’t all that difficult. Serge Ibaka was in for Gasol – reprising the role he’d before the big Spaniard was acquired by trade last season. Fred VanVleet was thinking he might get another game to heal a bruised knee that had kept him out of the past four, but no such luck. He returned to the starting spot that Powell had looked so comfortable filling in for Lowry and lately VanVleet.
The wildcard would be who would soak up Siakam’s 37 minutes. Nurse opted to go small and start Patrick McCaw, who was playing just his fifth game since missing 19 after knee surgery.
It wasn’t what might have been envisioned out of training camp, but it was familiar.
After that? Nurse was open to pretty much anything from the 11 healthy bodies he had on hand.
“I look at it as it’s a chance, it’s certainly a big opportunity for some some guys. And it’s not just the new guys that are playing, there’s more usage and shots et cetera going for OG and Serge and hopefully McCaw,” said Nurse before the game. “Then now you’re getting Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] and Chris [Boucher] are back into a serious rotation, where they know they’re gonna be in the rotation … and you usually get better play out of ’em there when they can relax a little bit.
[So] maybe we’ll learn something and find something new out about some of these guys. One thing is we’ve gotta go play the games. Nobody’s gonna hold up and wait on us, so we’ve gotta go play ’em, and I expect us to play ’em with great energy and confidence, and play really really hard, because we’re gonna have to.”
There were some rough patches, to be sure.
“Well, we won the game. That helps, but it’s going to be a work in progress,” said Lowry afterwards. “I think guys are just going to continue to get more comfortable every game and we’re going to continue to have to have everyone step up.”
It stands to reason that when you lose three key pieces and elevate two bench players to the starting lineup there might be some gaps elsewhere.
Late in the third quarter of a game the Raptors had largely controlled, Nurse rolled out what was left of his bench along with Lowry. Safe to say that Boucher, Miller, Terence Davis and Hollis-Jefferson struggled to create offence unless Lowry was doing it for them. Miller and Boucher in particular looked uncertain at times, but their job was really to hold the fort.
Over a six-minute stint spanning the end of the third and the start of the fourth quarter against the bench of the NBA’s worst defensive team, the Raptors were outscored 21-16. The ball movement was not – let’s say – fluid.
Nurse went back to more starter-heavy unit at that point but the Wizards had momentum as a Beal triple cut the Raptors lead to seven with 6:58 to play and another three by Admiral Schofield cut the lead to two a moment later and an Ish Smith three tied the game with just over five minutes left, setting up an unnecessarily tight finish.
If the Raptors are going to break even during their short-handed stretch, they’re going to have to find production from their second unit, if only to take pressure off their thinned out starters.
To that end, not only will Lowry be playing heavy minutes, he’ll be wearing many hats:
“Mentor, scorer, playmaker, just a confidence giver,” he said of his duties with the second unit. “Continue to give these guys confidence in what they are doing. Kick the ball ahead and make sure they shoot their shots and if they miss their shots, never put their head down. Just continue to communicate with them.”
But there were bright spots too as the Raptors won their fourth straight and improved to 20-8.
The first quarter couldn’t have worked out better for the undermanned Raptors. It helped that Lowry looked determined to set the tone as he played 10 minutes and shot 4-of-5 from the floor with a pair of triples. He stuck around after the starters filtered off to organize a bench unit made up of Boucher, Hollis-Jefferson, Malcolm Miller and rookie Terence Davis.
On that stint there was no let up as a pair of quick Davis threes sparked an 11-4 run that helped the Raptors open up a 40-23 lead.
It helped that the Raptors were playing the Wizards, decimated by injuries themselves and who limped in with an 8-18 mark and sporting a league-worst defensive rating of 116.1 per game which their fourth-ranked offence can’t quite offset. That Wizards sharpshooters Beal and Davis Bertans combined to shoot just 5-of-22 from three probably helped matters, too.
Still, it was encouraging to see Ibaka finding room to operate in the pick-and-roll with Lowry and VanVleet – a marked difference from Gasol who tends to drift along the three-point line. Ibaka scored eight of his 23 points in the period and was a force at the rim with three blocks in the first half alone. His last one of the half sparked a fast break that Anunoby finished with a dunk off a pretty feed from VanVleet that gave the Raptors a 68-52 lead at the half.
Things will get more difficult from here as six of the Raptors next opponents are in playoff positions, beginning with the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday and then Indiana Monday before hosting Boston on Christmas Day, but Toronto can only do what they can with what they have and Friday they did enough.
“We’ve got capable guys, and we certainly can’t have any other mindset than that [we can survive.]” said VanVleet. “Those guys [out with injury] there’s no magic pill for them to be better by tomorrow. And we want them to take their time and get as healthy as they’re gonna get. In the meantime the rest of us have to band together and do our best given the circumstances.”
Valdez, Astros grab ALCS lead after dominant Game 5 win over Red Sox – Sportsnet.ca
BOSTON — Framber Valdez lost his perfect game and then bounced the following pitch off the next batter’s leg.
Astros manager Dusty Baker decided it was time for a chat.
“That’s the time when you’ve really got to settle him down,” Baker said. “I said `Hey, you’re the best. Just be natural and do your thing.’ I didn’t say a whole bunch to him.”
It was enough to get Valdez through the inning — and more.
Perfect through four, the Houston left-hander took a two-hit shutout into the seventh and became the first pitcher this postseason to complete eight innings, leading the Astros over Boston 9-1 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.
Yordan Alvarez had three hits and three RBIs for Houston, which needs could clinch a second straight trip to the World Series with a victory at home on Friday night.
The Red Sox need a win to force a deciding seventh game on Saturday.
“We came back to Boston exactly where we wanted to be: We were 1-1,” Red Sox starter Chris Sale said. “Not in a good spot going back to Houston. There’s no denying that, but this team has won two games in the playoffs back-to-back before, and we think we can do it again.”
One day after the Astros scored seven runs to break a ninth-inning tie, they hung another crooked number on the Fenway Park scoreboard, chasing Sale while scoring five runs in the sixth. Alvarez, who homered in the second and singled in the fourth, had a two-run double to break things open.
That was plenty for Valdez, who extended the staff’s shutout streak to 14 straight innings before Rafael Devers homered with one out in the seventh — one of just three hits for Boston. The left-hander departed after retiring the Red Sox in order in the eighth.
“If a guy’s dealing, you just let him keep dealing,” Baker said. “Today, it was in the hands of Framber. Everybody talks about momentum, but momentum is controlled by the pitcher. If the pitcher’s dealing, all that momentum’s gone.”
In all, Valdez gave up one run on three hits, one walk and a hit batter, striking out five. He was also the first opposing pitcher to last eight innings in a postseason start at Fenway since Cleveland’s Charles Nagy went eight in the 1998 Division Series.
Ryne Stanek pitched a perfect ninth while the rest of Houston’s relievers rested. Astros starters had not lasted three innings all series, pitching to a 18.90 ERA in the first four games and giving up 10 homers — including a record three grand slams.
Valdez was not much better, allowing two earned runs in 2 2/3 innings in Game 1.
“I didn’t get frustrated at all. I wasn’t down on myself,” Valdez said. “What I did was I decided I’m going to work really hard so that when I come out here for the next outing, I’m going to be as 100% ready as I can be, to demonstrate to my team what I’m capable of, to demonstrate to my team that I can come out here and compete with any team in the league.
“So I just worked the entire time and I had my mindset set that I was just going to come out and have a way better outing,” he said. “And that’s what I was able to do tonight.”
Valdez retired the first 12 batters on Wednesday — eight on grounders, four on strikeouts. Devers singled to lead off the fifth, then Valdez bounced the next pitch off J.D. Martinez’s leg. The Astros escaped when Hunter Renfroe grounded into a double play and Alex Verdugo bounced out to first.
Sale started almost as well, allowing just two hits — both to Alvarez — in his first five innings. But he walked Jose Altuve to start the sixth, then Michael Brantley nubbed one toward third. Devers fielded it and made the throw in time but Schwarber dropped it at first; after sliding into second, Altuve popped up and took off for third, which was uncovered.
Brantley moved up to second on a groundout to the pitcher, then Alvarez doubled to left, scoring two to make it 3-0 and chasing Sale. Ryan Brasier struck out Carlos Correa before giving up an RBI double to Yuli Gurriel and a two-run single to Jose Siri that made it 6-0.
Brantley added an RBI single in the seventh, and Gurriel singled in two more in the ninth.
Sale was charged with four runs — two earned — on three hits and two walks, striking out seven in 5 1/3 innings.
“I was good for five, and then I sucked for one,” he said. “I told myself coming into this game I had a job to do; obviously didn’t get it done. But I left (it all) out there on that mound tonight, that’s for damn sure.”
The Red Sox had won seven straight postseason games at home — dating to the 2018 ALCS — before blowing an eighth-inning lead on Tuesday night. They had never lost back-to-back postseason games under manager Alex Cora.
Nathan Eovaldi, who won Game 2 but came on in relief and lost in Game 4, will start Friday for Boston. Baker said he had not decided on a starter.
Nine thoughts from the Toronto Raptors season opening loss to the Washington Wizards – NBA CA
With plenty of new faces on the roster, the young Raptors trailed for most of the game and despite a late rally in the fourth quarter where they got it to within 10 points, their poor shooting caught up with them.
For more on this game, we have you covered with some thoughts below.
1. Scottie Barnes is as advertised
The No.4 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft was inserted into the starting lineup and made his presence felt from the jump.
The 20-year-old was aggressive looking for his shot as he attacked the rim, not settling for jumpers and while he only finished with one assist, his passing really stood out as he facilitated the offence for stretches at the elbow.
…Not to mention this skyhook!
Scottie got that ol’ school in the bag pic.twitter.com/jjq5n9p2N9
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 21, 2021
He finished with 12 points, nine rebounds, one assist and one steal, and was tied with Fred VanVleet for the most field goals on the night, hitting 5-of-13.
It wsn’t all smooth sailing for the rookie, who had three turnovers and three fouls in the first half alone, but as the game wore on, he showed flashes of his elite potential
Until Pascal Siakam returns from injury, it will be interesting to see if Nick Nurse sticks with Barnes in the starting lineup.
2. Dalano Banton’s dazzling debut
The first-ever Canadian drafted by the Raptors entered the game with 25 seconds left in the third quarter to a big applause from the home crowd and he nearly blew the lid off the arena just seconds later.
With his first shot of the game, he connected on a half-court shot at the buzzer, that cut the deficit to 81-59 heading into the fourth.
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 21, 2021
In his 12 minutes on court, he recorded seven points, four rebounds, one assist and one steal on 3-of-4 from the field.
His one assist found a cutting Chris Boucher for an emphatic dunk.
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 21, 2021
“He was a big factor for the improved pace and the improved offence,” Nurse said of Banton post-game.
3. A cold shooting night
Through the first three quarters, the Raptors couldn’t buy a bucket as the Wizards led by as many as 29 points.
They eventually found a spark early in the fourth quarter with a big lineup of Banton, Barnes, Gary Trent Jr. Chris Boucher, and Khem Birch, but by then it was too late. On the night they connected on just 30-of-97 (30.9 percent) from the field and 7-of-34 (20.6 percent) from the 3-point line.
While their ball movement at times looked crisp, they simply couldn’t finish off plays.
4. Siakam’s absence felt
With Anunoby and VanVleet their two primary offensive weapons combining to shoot 8-of-37 (21.6 percent) tonight, the absence of All-Star forward Pascal Siakam was evident as the Raptors struggled to get easy looks, especially in the half-court.
Siakam is on his way back after undergoing shoulder surgery in the off-season and is expected to return to the court in mid-November.
5. The defence has some work to do
As is the case with any young team, the defensive side of the floor is always going to be a concern and the Raptors have some work to do.
Too often in the first half, the Wizards guards were able to stroll into the paint and get good looks at the rim, with Bradley Beal, Spencer Dinwiddie and Raul Neto taking advantage.
The Wizards feasted at the rim tonight, outscoring the Raptors 56-40 in the paint.
6. Achiuwa shows flashes
After an impressive pre-season, precious Achiuwa got the start at center on opening night, showing flashes of his potential as a small-ball five.
His energy and activity was evident from the outset as he deflected passes, hustled for rebounds and tried to finish at the rim, but his enthusiasm caught up with him as he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter.
– Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) October 20, 2021
7. Harrell back to his Sixth Man form
It’s just one game, but Washington Wizards big man Montrezl Harrell looked back to his Sixth Man of the Year winning form with an impressive performance off the bench tonight.
He poured in 22 points and nine rebounds on an efficient 9-of-11 from the field.
– Washington Wizards (@WashWizards) October 21, 2021
8. Drake in the house
Raptors Global Ambassador and No. 1 fan Drake was in the building, doing his best to help out the home team and get under Montrezl Harrell’s skin.
In the third quarter, he got into it with Harrell, who was called for a technical afterwards.
Drake got Montrezl Harrell T’d up after they exchanged words 💀 pic.twitter.com/T7Xq40Ryxp
– Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) October 21, 2021
9. What’s next for the Raptors?
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Braves blast four HRs, beat Dodgers for 3-1 lead in NLCS – TSN
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Behind the red-hot bat of Eddie Rosario, the Atlanta Braves are one win away from their first World Series appearance since 1999.
All they need to do is put away the defending champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Easier said than done.
After all, the Braves were in exactly the same position last year and failed to finish the job.
Rosario homered twice in his second four-hit game of the NL Championship Series and six Atlanta pitchers combined on a four-hitter, giving the Braves a 9-2 victory Wednesday for a commanding 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven playoff.
Game 5 is Thursday in Los Angeles. Last year, the Dodgers also trailed 0-2 and 1-3 against Atlanta in the NLCS before roaring back to win three straight games at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas.
“As we saw last year, winning a game is hard, especially a veteran team like this that we’re playing,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “But I feel good about our club just from what we experienced last year and where these guys are.”
Adam Duvall and Freddie Freeman also homered for the Braves, who bounced right back from blowing a late lead in an agonizing loss Tuesday to end their 10-game skid at Dodger Stadium.
“I feel like everyone has really hunkered down and dug their heels in and everyone is really focused,” Rosario said through a translator. “That’s something that I’m really proud to be a part of.”
Rosario became the first player to have two four-hit games in a League Championship Series. He drove in four runs and scored three while continuing his torrid postseason hitting, finishing a double short of the cycle. He homered in the second inning, tripled in the third, singled in the fifth and clocked a three-run homer in the ninth.
“As soon as I hit that first home run I just thought to myself, ‘Wow, I feel amazing right now,’” Rosario said, “so I kind of just carried that confidence into my other at-bats going forward.”
Rosario hit for the cycle last month against San Francisco, achieving the feat on just five total pitches.
“I’ve been using that bat that I hit for the cycle with and it has not disappointed. I had that double remaining and I’m like, ‘Man, this bat has not let me down yet,'” he said. “As soon as I hit that second one out, I go, `Oh well, there goes the double.'”
The Dodgers will need to jump-start their offense to have a shot at another NLCS comeback. Their first five hitters — Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, NL batting champion Trea Turner, Will Smith and Gavin Lux — were a combined 0 for 17 in Game 4.
Los Angeles, which had won 18 of 19 at home going back to the regular season, has won six consecutive postseason elimination games dating to last year.
“I feel good about it,” manager Dave Roberts said. “We have a very resilient team, a very tough team, and it’s not going to get much tougher than facing Max Fried in an elimination game, but we’ve done it before.”
Rosario was acquired from Cleveland on July 30 as the Braves remade their depleted outfield before the trade deadline.
What a find he’s been.
The left fielder has hit safely in every game of this postseason, piling up 14 hits so far — including a walk-off single in Game 2 against the Dodgers. He has struck out only once.
Rosario is 10 for 17 (.588) with two homers and six RBIs in the NLCS.
“He’s been looking so good at the plate, hitting balls hard,” Freeman said.
Atlanta’s four homers tied a postseason franchise record.
Each of the series’ first three games was decided by one run in the last two innings. But when it got late this time, the wild-card Dodgers couldn’t generate any comeback magic.
Atlanta opener Jesse Chavez combined with Drew Smyly, Chris Martin, A.J. Minter, Tyler Matzek and Will Smith to hold down the Dodgers’ offense. Los Angeles didn’t get a hit until the fifth and was limited to one the rest of the way. Smyly went 3 1/3 innings for the win.
The Braves wasted no time jumping all over 20-game winner Julio Urías, who gave up three homers in 2 2/3 innings. It was the second time he allowed that many in his career; the first time was in his second major league game in 2016.
Rosario drove an 0-2 pitch into the left-field pavilion leading off the second and Duvall followed with a shot to center, the first time the Braves homered back-to-back in the postseason since Oct. 3, 2002, against San Francisco in Game 2 of a Division Series.
Freeman went deep leading off the third. Two outs later, Rosario tripled to deep right on a two-strike pitch, sliding headfirst into the bag.
“He kind of smiled at me after he hit it in there just because it was one of those things where it just, a hot hitter and he kind of knows where he’s going,” Urías said through a translator.
Duvall was intentionally walked and Joc Pederson singled, scoring Rosario for a 4-0 lead against Urías.
The Dodgers, who won 106 games during the regular season, closed to 5-2 in the fifth on pinch-hitter AJ Pollock’s two-out, two-run single. Justin Turner singled for their first hit of the game and Cody Bellinger followed with a single and stolen base.
Freeman’s RBI double in the ninth made it 6-2 before Rosario went deep.
Urías didn’t record a strikeout until the fourth, when Dansby Swanson and Freeman went down swinging back-to-back to end the left-hander’s first clean inning. Urías gave up five runs and eight hits in five innings. He struck out three and walked three.
The only other player with a pair of four-hit games in a postseason series was Milwaukee Brewers Hall of Famer Robin Yount in the 1982 World Series against St. Louis.
Braves: RHP Huascar Ynoa was scratched from his scheduled start with shoulder inflammation. He was replaced on the roster by left-hander Dylan Lee. Ynoa is not eligible to return for the World Series, if the Braves advance.
Dodgers: Justin Turner is done for the season after injuring his hamstring in the seventh, Roberts said. Turner screamed as he was retired on a double-play ball. He limped off the field and was replaced in the eighth.
Fried starts Game 5 for the Braves in his Los Angeles hometown. The Dodgers planned a bullpen game, a strategy they’ve used twice this postseason, going 1-1 in those games.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
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