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OG Anunoby returns to dominant ways as nearly healthy Raptors blow out Wizards – Raptors Republic

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Certain elements of the game of basketball, at first glance, are unsolvable mysteries. Kyle Lowry’s endless success. Andrea Bargnani’s very existence. Included in that list can be the contextual aggression of OG Anunoby.

Anunoby was a revelation to begin the season for the Raptors. In the first eight games, when Toronto was practically fully healthy, Anunoby averaged 13.8 points per game on a ridiculous 68.8 effective field goal percentage. He took 9.6 shots per game, which is small, but a substantial enough share of the offense. His usage rate of 13.7 was the lowest among the starters, but he seemed to grow into his 3-D wing potential, offering lockdown defense while hitting practically everything he threw at the rim on the other end.

Then Serge Ibaka and Kyle Lowry were forced out of the lineup with injuries, and Anunoby’s shot attempts, minutes, and points dwindled. He was certainly still effective, but he no longer was the howitzer that shattered opponents to start the year. He took only 7.2 shots per game, scoring 9.2, over the remainder of November before Lowry and Ibaka returned to the lineup. That trend of his offensive output dipping when Toronto faces injury has repeated itself as the year has progressed.

When high-usage offensive players exit the lineup, the dream would be that Anunoby would offer more on the offensive end. He’d shift into more of an initiating role. He would be force-fed reps, and though perhaps his efficiency wouldn’t remain sky-high, his scoring would at least have to rise. That didn’t happen.

In fact, over the approximate month when some of Toronto’s most involved offensive players were injured, including Pascal Siakam, Norman Powell, Marc Gasol, and at times Fred VanVleet, Anunoby took fewer than nine shots per game. His scoring dipped to 10.5 points per contest.

When Toronto needed Anunoby’s offense the most, and seemingly would give him the most offensive responsibility of his career, Anunoby’s offensive game failed to rise to the occasion. The stats over the course of the entire season support that hypothesis; per pbpstats, Anunoby’s average points per 100 possessions is higher with each of the players on the floor rather than off: Lowry, VanVleet, Powell, Siakam, and Gasol. During the extended absences of Toronto’s starters, Anunoby wasn’t horrible by any means, but he simply didn’t add anything with his newfound opportunity.

It took the Raptors all the way to mid-January to finally return to health, but now the Raptors are almost back to the excellent health with which they began the season. And funny enough, Anunoby returned to his dominant offensive ways as Toronto returned to health. On January 15 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, he scored 21, three points off of his season high. In Toronto’s lopsided 140-111 win over the Washington Wizards, he finished with 18 points on 13 shots.

Against Washington, Anunoby found open jumpers lurking around the perimeter. He had a variety of steals on the perimeter, creating uncontested dunks and layups going the other way. He skulked along the baseline, cutting behind teammates’ drives and post-ups for open dunks. He even recorded a ponderous little drive from the corner, taking a few dribbles, spinning slowly, before lofting the ball towards the other side of the glass with his outstretched left hand. Anunoby’s driving game is a work-in-progress, but he is much better when Toronto’s best offensive players are on the floor alongside Anunoby, spreading the floor for him, putting the defense into rotation, and creating advantages that Anunoby can exploit.

Anunoby is more aggressive offensively when his team, by virtue of having more scorers available, requires less aggression from Anunoby. It’s a strange one.

I think there’s always a couple of ways to look at it and I think different players react differently,” said Nick Nurse after the game. “Sometimes you look over there and you know that you’re gonna not come out, I had those discussions with Norm a few times, Norm would be like 2-for-8 and I’d be like, ‘Norm, I can’t take you out so could you make a couple here in the fourth quarter,’ and he would. And some guys, maybe when they know they’ve got to play well or there’s gonna someone else over there that’s healthy to come in and play, some guys react to that a little better. I can’t explain it.”

Perhaps Nurse is right that Anunoby feels the pressure of competition, the heat of teammates gunning for his rotation spot, and that drives him to attack the rim, to play with more urgency, and to get up more shots.

Other players experience the same paradoxical boost in usage and efficiency when they play alongside better players. Norman Powell, for example, has always been a better and more consistent player as a starter. This is perhaps burying a different lede for a different piece here, but Powell exploded for 28 points against the Wizards. His offensive game has become one of Toronto’s most threatening weapons. He has been unbelievably consistent over the last few months. He, too, benefits from the presence of Toronto’s stars.

When asked why Anunoby paradoxically finds more shots when Toronto’s higher-usage offensive players are in the lineup, Nick Nurse found a more organic solution.

I think some nights the ball finds you, and some nights it doesn’t,” said Nurse. “I think tonight, to our players’ credit, I think they were just playing and taking what was there. There wasn’t a whole lot of trying to direct it. We were just coming down and running sets and let it free flow from there. It just so happened Pascal would drive, three guys would converge on him, OG would cut and there’s a dunk. Or Serge would cut, they’d converge on him, and OG was on the other side knocking in the 3.”

“I think it just found him tonight because we were cognizant of just making the right play.”

In other words, there’s nothing really to it; Anunoby and the rest of the Raptors played good, smart offensive basketball, and Anunoby happened to be the recipient of more shots than usual. The better the players are, the more natural will be the offense. And so a good cutter and spot-up shooter like Anunoby will naturally find himself finishing more plays when the team plays smart offense. It’s not a mystery when you dive deep into the source of Anunoby’s contextual offensive involvement.

But Anunoby and the Raptors won’t always face the Washington Wizards, and they won’t always have a full complement of talent available. On those nights, Anunoby will need to shoulder more responsibility and add to his offensive repertoire. For now, though, his offensive game fits perfectly with greater talent on the floor. Good thing the Raptors are finally returning to full health.




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China opposes 'politicization of sports' after WTA suspends tournaments over Peng Shuai – The Globe and Mail

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Peng Shuai of China serves at the China Open tennis tournament in Beijing in 2017. The head of the women’s professional tennis tour announced Wednesday that all WTA tournaments would be suspended in China because of concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.Andy Wong/The Associated Press

China declared opposition to “politicization of sports” on Thursday, after the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) suspended tournaments in the country following star player Peng Shuai’s accusations of sexual assault against a former vice premier.

Unconvinced by Peng’s public appearances since the scandal first broke a month ago, the WTA said it wants assurances of Peng’s well-being and has called for an investigation into the accusations levelled by the former world number one doubles player against former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli.

It also cited concerns over the safety of other players.

The stance taken by the WTA comes at a sensitive time for China, as Beijing is preparing to host the Winter Olympics next February, and global rights groups and others have called for a boycott in protest against China’s human rights record.

When asked about the matter at a regular briefing, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin did not directly comment on the WTA’s move but said China “opposes the politicisation of sports.”

The International Olympic Committee said in a statement on Thursday that it had held a second video call with Peng, having held the first late last month.

“We share the same concern as many other people and organisations about the wellbeing and safety of Peng Shuai. This is why, just yesterday, an IOC team held another video call with her,” the IOC said.

Beijing has remained largely silent over the scandal and authorities have blocked discussions of the topic on China’s heavily-censored internet.

Instead, the Global Times newspaper, a nationalistic English-language tabloid, published by the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily, took aim at the WTA in an editorial on Thursday, accusing it of “bringing politics into women’s tennis” and of being a “lever of Western public opinion”.

The editorial, posted on the newspaper’s account on Twitter account – which is not available in China – called the WTA “betrayers of the Olympic spirit” and said that “some forces in the West are instigating a boycott against the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.”

The U.S.-headquartered tour’s decision to walk away from one of its biggest markets was applauded by many leading figures in the tennis world but could cost the WTA hundreds of millions of dollars in broadcasting and sponsorship revenue.

Peng’s whereabouts became a matter of international concern following a nearly three-week public absence after she publically accused Zhang in a social media message posted in early November.

Neither Zhang, who retired in 2018, nor the Chinese government have commented on Peng’s allegation.

Peng did appear in mid-November at a dinner with friends and a children’s tennis tournament in Beijing, photographs and videos published by Chinese state media and by the tournament’s organisers showed.

On Nov. 21, IOC President Thomas Bach had a 30-minute video call with Peng, who competed at three Olympics, during which she told him she was safe.

But WTA chief executive Steve Simon, who said the decision to suspend tournaments in China had the full support of the WTA Board of Directors, said they were not convinced all was well with Peng.

The Global Times’ editor-in-chief Hu Xijin used his personal Twitter account on Thursday to accuse the WTA of “coercing” Peng to “support the West’s attack” on China.

Serving as de facto messengers to the outside world, Hu and other Global Times reporters were among the first to publish images and videos of Peng’s appearances earlier this month.

The Global Times also cited a statement from the Chinese Tennis Association saying that it would defend its rights, and warning that the WTA should bear the legal consequences. The CTA did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

Calls to the organisers of the China Open tournament went unanswered.

Searches on the topic of the WTA’s suspension yielded no results on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Thursday, and at least one post seen by Reuters that criticised the WTA’s move was later deleted.

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Maple Leafs stay hot, thump Avalanche 8-3 for 15th victory in 17 games – TSN

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TORONTO — The Maple Leafs knew there were plenty of built-in excuses.

Just back from a California road trip, the jet lag had yet to lift, bodies were tired, and it had been more than a week and a half since the luxury of a day off — all with one of the NHL’s hottest teams waiting on deck.

None of it mattered.

Auston Matthews scored three times to register the fourth hat trick of his career as the scorching Leafs thumped the Colorado Avalanche 8-3 on Wednesday night.

John Tavares added a goal and two assists for Toronto (17-6-1), while William Nylander scored and set up another. Jack Campbell made 28 saves.

“Really good effort from everybody,” Matthews said. “Playing a really good team with a lot of really dangerous players, you know that they’re gonna get their push and they’re gonna get their opportunities.

“All 20 guys out there did a really good job.”

Jason Spezza, Travis Dermott and Pierre Engvall had the other goals for the Leafs, who have won five straight and are 15-2-0 over their last 17 to take over top spot in the NHL’s overall standings. Michael Bunting added three assists, while Mitch Marner and Alexander Kerfoot chipped in with two each.

“Good preparation coming in, good mindset,” Tavares said. “Good energy, especially coming off the West Coast trip.”

Nazem Kari, with two, and Samuel Girard replied for Colorado (11-7-1). Jonas Johansson stopped 33 shots as the Avalanche lost for the second time in their last three contests after winning six in a row.

“The energy in the room was that it’d be easy to make an excuse right now,” Dermott said. “But tonight was a game that I think we could really show our character.”

Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon, who had two assists, returned after missing eight games with a lower-body injury, while Kadri suited up at Scotiabank Arena as a visitor for the second time since being traded to the Mile High City in July 2019.

The Avalanche announced shortly before the game No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper-body injury) — named as Wednesday’s starter by head coach Jared Bednar following the morning skate — was unavailable.

“That was not the issue,” Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog said. “The issue was we just didn’t play good enough.”

That did mean, however, University of Toronto netminder Jett Alexander dressed as Johansson’s emergency backup for warmups. But the 22-year-old from Bloomfield, Ont., remained in the locker-room area until third-stringer Justus Annunen arrived to witness the carnage up close in the second period.

“I don’t think it was an 8-3 game if we’re being honest,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team built a 3-0 lead in the first. “We played against a really good team that had some adversity.

“That makes the game feel a lot different than it really was.”

Coming off a trip that saw them sweep the New York Islanders and all three California teams, the Leafs went up 1-0 at 4:31 of the opening period when Tavares delicately fed a pass ahead to Nylander, who ripped his 10th goal of the season.

Toronto went up 2-0 at 7:57 when Spezza tapped home his fifth after the Colorado netminder could only get a piece of Nick Ritchie‘s shot.

The Leafs went up by three at 14:24 when Matthews — minus his trademark moustache following a shave for charity — took a feed from Marner and went between the legs and back against the grain to roof his team-leading 11th goal, and fourth in as many games.

“He’s such a special player,” Dermott said. “When he’s hot like this, you just want to put the puck … not even on his tape.

“You put it on his backhand — he’ll make magic out of that.”

Colorado got on the board with 1.2 seconds left in the period when Girard blasted a one-timer past Campbell for his second.

The NHL’s second star in November after going 9-2-0 with a league-leading .959 save percentage, the Leafs goaltender made a number of big stops early in the second period.

But the Avalanche finally broke through to make it 3-2 at 11:57 when Kadri — the league’s third star last month thanks to 21 points in 10 games — swept his eighth past Campbell.

The Leafs got that one back just 47 seconds later when Dermott’s fluttering one-timer beat Johansson upstairs for his first.

Campbell then made terrific saves on Logan O’Connor and Alex Newhook in quick succession before Tavares slipped his own rebound through Johansson for his 11th to match Matthews and push Toronto’s lead back to three at 5-2.

But Matthews retook top spot on the Leafs’ stats page when he collected a pass from Marner in tight and outwaited Johansson for his 12th just 46 seconds into third.

The reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner then fired his third of the night at 8:41 on a shot that beat the Colorado netminder shortside to continue the onslaught before Engvall and Kadri rounded out the scoring.

“Those first two goals, really good sequences by that line,” Keefe said of the Bunting-Matthews-Marner trio. “Just unbelievable passes by Mitch Marner in both cases.

“On the third one, (Matthews) gets it alone. That’s a pretty good shot … kisses the post.”

Added Campbell: “Auston being Auston. Just spectacular.”

Fans around Scotiabank Arena chanted Matthews’ name after hats rained down on the ice following his hat-trick snipe.

“It definitely gives you chills down your spine,” he said. “It’s just a really special place to play.

“It’s fun when the crowd gets going like that and you play as well we did tonight.”

Notes: The 21 goals the Leafs have scored over their last four games equals the team’s October total. … Kadri’s second goal was the 200th of his career. … Bunting stretched his point streak to five games (two goals, seven assists) to tie Detroit’s Moritz Seider for a longest by a rookie this season. … The Avalanche visit Montreal on Thursday before heading to Ottawa on Saturday. … The Leafs play in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

___

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MLB locks out players as collective bargaining agreement expires – Sportsnet.ca

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IRVING, Texas — Major League Baseball plunged into its first work stoppage in a quarter-century when the sport’s collective bargaining agreement expired Wednesday night and owners immediately locked out players in a move that threatens spring training and opening day.

The strategy, management’s equivalent of a strike under federal labour law, ended the sport’s labour peace after 9,740 days over 26 1/2 years.

Teams decided to force the long-anticipated confrontation during an offseason rather than risk players walking out during the summer, as they did in 1994. Players and owners had successfully reached four consecutive agreements without a work stoppage, but they have been accelerating toward a clash for more than two years.

Talks ended when management negotiators left the union’s hotel about nine hours before the deal lapsed at 11:59 p.m. EST. Players said MLB did not make any new central economic proposals this week.

Commissioner Rob Manfred confirmed that the league had locked out the players in a letter to fans published shortly after the CBA had expired.

“As we began to emerge from one of the darkest periods in our history, our ballparks were filled with fans; the games were filled with excitement; and millions of families felt the joy of watching baseball together. That is why I am so disappointed about the situation in which our game finds itself today,” the commissioner wrote. “Despite the league’s best efforts to make a deal with the Players Association, we were unable to extend our 26 year-long history of labour peace and come to an agreement with the MLBPA before the current CBA expired. Therefore, we have been forced to commence a lockout of Major League players, effective at 12:01am ET on December 2.”

The MLB Players Association responded to Manfred’s letter with a statement of their own, calling the lockout “dramatic” and unnecessary.

“(The lockout) was the owners’ choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just players but the game and industry as a whole,” the union’s statement reads in part. “These tactics are not new. We have been here before, and players have risen to the occasion time and again — guided by a solidarity that has been forged over generations. We will do so again.”

The union demanded change following anger over a declining average salary, middle-class players forced out by teams concentrating payroll on the wealthy and veterans jettisoned in favor of lower-paid youth, especially among clubs tearing down their rosters to rebuild.

“As players we see major problems with it,” New York Mets pitcher Max Scherzer said of the 2016 agreement. “First and foremost, we see a competition problem and how teams are behaving because of certain rules that are within that, and adjustments have to be made because of that in order to bring out the competition.”

Eleven weeks remain until pitchers and catchers are to report for spring training on Feb. 16, leaving about 70 days to reach a deal allowing for an on-time start. Opening day is set for March 31, and a minimum of three weeks of organized workouts have been required in the past.

Management, intent on preserving salary restraints gained in recent decades, rejected the union’s requests for what teams regarded as significant alterations to the sport’s economic structure, including lowering service time needed for free agency and salary arbitration.

Many clubs scrambled to add players ahead of a lockout and an expected signing freeze, committing to more than $1.9 billion in new contracts — including a one-day record of more than $1.4 billion Wednesday.

“It did feel like at least certain groups of free agents were moving more quickly the last few days,” Pittsburgh general manager Ben Cherington said.

Two of the eight members of the union’s executive subcommittee signed big deals: Texas infielder Marcus Semien ($175 million) and Scherzer ($130 million).

“This is actually kind of fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and to watch everybody sign right now, to actually see teams competing in this kind of timely fashion, it’s been refreshing because we’ve seen freezes for the past several offseasons.”

Much has changed since the 232-day strike that cut short the 1994 season, led to the first cancellation of the World Series in 90 years and caused the 1995 season to start late. That stoppage ended only when a federal judge — future Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — issued an injunction forcing owners to restore the work rules of the expired labor contract.

The average salary dropped from $1.17 million before the strike to $1.11 million but then resumed its seemingly inexorable rise. It peaked at just under $4.1 million in 2017, the first season of the latest CBA, but likely will fall to about $3.7 million when this year’s final figures are calculated.

That money is concentrated heavily at the top of the salary structure. Among approximately 1,955 players who signed major league contracts at any point going into the regular season’s final month, 112 had earned $10 million or more this year as of Aug. 31, of which 40 made at least $20 million, including prorated shares of signing bonuses.

There were 1,397 earning under $1 million, of which 1,271 were at $600,000 or less and 332 under $100,000, a group of younger players who shuttle back and forth to the minors.

“Simply put, we believe that an offseason lockout is the best mechanism to protect the 2022 season. We hope that the lockout will jumpstart the negotiations and get us to an agreement that will allow the season to start on time,” Manfred wrote. “This defensive lockout was necessary because the Players Association’s vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive. It’s simply not a viable option. From the beginning, the MLBPA has been unwilling to move from their starting position, compromise, or collaborate on solutions.”

Union head Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman who became executive director following Michael Weiner’s death in 2013, said players are united and understand the need to stick together to achieve common goals. The sides are still litigating over the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, sniping over how to long the season could have been and taking their positions before a neutral arbitrator.

The union has withheld licensing money, as it usually does going into bargaining; cash, U.S. Treasury securities and investments totaled $178.5 million last Dec. 31, according to a financial disclosure form filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

“We have a pretty big war chest behind us of money that we can allocate to players,” Scherzer said.

Some player agents have speculated that management’s credit lines already may be pressured following income deprivation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but the clubs’ finances are more opaque publicly than that of the union, making it difficult to ascertain comparative financial strength to withstand a lengthy work stoppage.

Rob Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner in 2015 following a quarter-century as an MLB labor negotiator, made clear last month that management preferred an offseason lockout to a midseason strike.

“We’ve been down this path. We locked out in ’89-’90,” he said. “I don’t think ’94 worked out too great for anybody. I think when you look at other sports, the pattern has become to control the timing of the labor dispute and try to minimize the prospect of actual disruption of the season. That’s what it’s about. It’s avoiding doing damage to the season.”

Scott Boras, who negotiated Scherzer’s deal and shortstop Corey Seager’s $325 million contract with Texas, has pushed for the union to insist on change to decrease the incentive for lowering payrolls during rebuilding.

“Sometimes the rules of the game require them to do things that are not in the best interest of the game,” Boras said, “for them to be a better competitor for next year, they have to do things that the rules direct them to do.”

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