Taking care of business.
After disposing of the Washington Wizards in incredibly efficient fashion — no player touched the 30 minute threshold — the Toronto Raptors had an opportunity to be fresh and claim both ends of a back-to-back in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. While the defensive effort that we’ve grown accustomed to was lacking for the most part, the Raptors turned on the switch when they needed to and eased to victory in the second half, eventually coming out as 122-112 winners.
Impressively, no player touched the 30-minute mark once again. The “minutes-restricted” Fred VanVleet who made his return after sitting out since a Jan. 4 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, led the team with 29 minutes, scoring a point for each of them that included seven triples and finished with a team-high plus-20 as well. In fact, the key cogs of the backcourt were all spectacular in their own way, Kyle Lowry especially mesmeric in the third quarter on his way to 28 points and seven rebounds while Norman Powell extended his longest stretch of consistency with 20 points, four assists, three rebounds and two steals in 25 minutes off the bench.
The return of VanVleet brought about a change to the starting lineup, as Nick Nurse went away from the ultra-big lineup of the previous two games and swapped former Wichita State guard for Serge Ibaka. While the offence was certainly humming throughout the night, there was plenty to pick at on the defensive end in the first half. The Raptors played down to their opponent — despite the recent return of Karl-Anthony Towns — and found themselves having to shoot their way back into the game after Minnesota exploded for 39 first-quarter points. Jarrett Culver started the game on fire with 14 points in the opening frame, but despite knocking down four 3-pointers for the game, it has to be said that jumper is going to need work in the off-season. There was one occasion where he stepped into a three in transition, but because of the funkiness of his shot, the step actually seemed to take him out of rhythm.
Marc Gasol, who looked tremendous offensively against both the Oklahoma City Thunder and Wizards, looked to be picking up from where he left off with a couple of nice moves in the mid-range and around the basket, but faded quickly as the impact of a third game in four nights appeared to take its toll. Understandable, he missed virtually an entire month of action and the legs for his 3-point attempts (0-for-4 in this one) should be there on most nights.
The game turned in the third quarter when, after trailing 65-61, Toronto went on a quick 8-0 run with a layup from Pascal Siakam and two 3-pointers from Lowry and VanVleet. Lowry finished the quarter with 17 points, scorching the net from beyond the arc and pushing the pace and getting to the rack at will as well.
That’s leadership. Lowry reportedly spoke before the game about how these are exactly the type of nights that get you in the NBA and for him to come out and set the tone and play with his intensity all game set the tone for the way the Raptors would finish. It’s certainly something Siakam could look to learn from, as his effort and intensity when he’s been healthy has ebbed and flowed over the course of the season so far. The defensive effort he showed in this game was an improvement from the Wizards game — especially with his closeouts on the perimeter — but he did have his offensive struggles matched up against Robert Covington. The former key cog for the Sixers has the length and quickness to disrupt Siakam’s rhythm, and outside of a few possessions where Siakam was able to have easy baskets created for him or push in transition, it was a fairly quiet night for the Cameroonian.
Constantly in a flow right now, though, is Powell. Saturday night marked his fourth straight 20 point game, and seventh in his last eight going back before the injury. Since Nov. 16 (20 games), the 26-year-old is averaging 18.9 points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 45.2% from beyond the arc and 62.7% inside it. Per Cleaning the Glass, Powell is shooting a career-high 71% at the rim which would rank him in the 95th percentile among wing players. And that, perhaps, is the biggest takeaway from all his production. Powell is no longer darting toward the rim with blinkers on, he’s making good reads on when to attack and when back out, understanding when to find his teammates and rarely looking out of control.
VanVleet’s return was always going to be an interesting test of how Powell would acclimate, but the first impression couldn’t have been better. Credit VanVleet, too, who didn’t skip a beat in his return, running the offence with consummate ease and finding the range right from the get-go.
“I think with my first minutes restriction with the knee, coming back, I probably had the wrong approach with it, so, just trying to be a little bit smarter this time around,” VanVleet said after the game. “I think playing at ease like that allowed me to not press and just let the game come to me.”
With a healthy roster and a schedule that is easing up, now is Toronto’s chance to ascend the Eastern Conference standings. Tied in the loss column with Boston after the Celtics lost at home to Phoenix, the Raptors are 1.5 games behind the Miami Heat. Seven of the next eight games are against sub-.500 teams who the Raptors are now 22-2 against, the one plus-.500 team being Philadelphia on Jan. 22.
The importance of that 2-seed cannot be understated, as that would mean avoiding one of what has been the Big 6 in the East this season and facing off against one of Orlando or Brooklyn at the moment. It also earns you home court for the second round, and we saw how crucial that ended up being last season.
- Minnesota’s neon green uniforms gotta go.
- Andrew Wiggins remains non-committal on his status for Team Canada, according to Raptors reporters in Minnesota. He finished with his first career triple-double on this night, with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson low key had himself a very solid night with nine points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks in 24 minutes. He was his ever-energetic self, cleaning up the glass a couple times including a nifty offensive rebound before an up-and-under finish around Karl-Anthony Towns.
- Gasol and Siakam both picked up technical fouls in the first half, both for jawing a bit too much at Ed Malloy.
- Up next: Early tip on Monday, Jan. 20 for MLK Day against the Hawks, 2:30 p.m. ET.
Gushue tops Jacobs to win Canada's curling trials and return to Olympics – Sportsnet.ca
SASKATOON — Late misses helped decide a wild, entertaining and rather shocking women’s final at Canada’s Olympic curling trials on Sunday.
Jennifer Jones stunningly blew a golden opportunity to win the game in the 10th end. The timing of Tracy Fleury’s error in the extra end proved even more costly.
When the dust settled, Jones escaped with an enthralling 6-5 victory to book her team’s ticket to the Beijing Games.
“We’re there to pick each other up when you miss,” Jones said. “Not everybody can say that and that’s really a big strength of our team.”
Brad Gushue earned the men’s title later in the day with a 4-3 victory over Brad Jacobs.
A gasp went up throughout SaskTel Centre when Jones missed an open takeout for the victory — usually a slam dunk for the veteran skip — with her stone rolling out to leave her with just a game-tying single.
Jones realized halfway down the sheet that the rock was in trouble. She furiously bellowed at her teammates to try to hold it but it curled a little too much.
A stunned Fleury put her hand over her mouth in astonishment.
“We thought we had lost in the 10th for sure,” Fleury said. “I think Jen makes that 99 per cent of the time, that shot. So we felt lucky to be able to go to an extra and we really wanted to pull it off there.
“But I didn’t make my last two shots.”
Jones refocused and put the pressure on Fleury, hoping to make her throw a challenging final shot. Jones drew to the side of the button behind a guard and Fleury missed a runback attempt.
Jones followed with a guard that Fleury rubbed on her final throw to give up the decisive point on a steal.
“I felt close but then it just kind of caught the curl,” Fleury said.
The men’s final was a tight defensive battle that looked like it was also heading to an extra end.
Jacobs had a chance to hit for a pair but he overthrew his final rock a little bit and rolled out to give Gushue the win.
“We needed to be near-perfect today in order to win this game and we weren’t,” Jacobs said.
The teams blanked four of the first seven ends. In the eighth, Jacobs lost hammer when he jammed on a double-takeout attempt and settled for a hit for one.
Gushue scored the game’s only deuce in the ninth end and Jacobs couldn’t build enough offence in the 10th before his miss.
Jones and her team of Kaitlyn Lawes, Jocelyn Peterman, Dawn McEwen and Lisa Weagle entered the showdown of Manitoba-based teams with a big edge in experience.
Jones won Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games and has won six national women’s titles. Fleury and her team of Selena Njegovan, Liz Fyfe and Kristin MacCuish, were making their first appearance in a trials final.
Early jitters seemed to be a factor.
Rollouts were common in the first end and Jones put early pressure on to generate a quick steal. Jones buried a draw to force Fleury to tap but she brushed her own stone and rolled off.
Jones made some mistakes too as she sent a draw through the rings in the third end, eventually settling for a hit for two. Fleury responded with a pair of her own and Lawes came through in the fifth end with a brilliant triple-takeout that set up a blank.
The top-ranked Fleury team wasn’t nearly as dominant as they were throughout most of round-robin play.
Her perfect 8-0 mark gave her the first seed and an off-day ahead of the final. Jones was 5-3 in round-robin play and defeated Krista McCarville in the semifinal on Saturday.
Jones gave away another point in the sixth end when her draw grazed the shot stone and settled on the edge of the four-foot ring. A measure confirmed a single instead of a pair.
Jones decided to retain hammer for the 10th end by giving up a single in the ninth that left Fleury with a 5-4 lead.
Announced attendance was 4,741 for the women’s final, bringing the weekly total for the women’s event to 57,266. The men’s final drew 4,813 spectators for an overall men’s total of 49,878.
Gushue and Jacobs were tied at 7-1 in round-robin play but Gushue took the top seed since he won their head-to-head matchup. Jacobs beat Kevin Koe in the semifinal.
Koe and Rachel Homan skipped the Canadian team entries at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games but both missed the podium. Weagle was Homan’s lead that year and joined Jones’s rink in March 2020 to form a five-player team.
It will be the third straight Olympic appearance for Lawes, who was Jones’s vice in Sochi and teamed with John Morris to win mixed doubles gold four years later in South Korea.
“Pinch me,” Lawes said. “I’m in shock and so happy.”
McEwen was also on the Sochi roster.
Jacobs vice Marc Kennedy won gold with Kevin Martin in 2010 and returned to the Games in 2018 with skip Kevin Koe. Jacobs, E.J. Harnden and Ryan Harnden were victorious in Sochi.
Gushue and vice Mark Nichols won gold together at the 2006 Turin Olympics. Their front end of Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker will make their Olympic debut at the Feb. 4-20 Beijing Games.
The Canadian mixed doubles trials are set for Dec. 28-Jan. 2 in Portage la Prairie, Man.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 28, 2021.
Roughriders outlast Stampeders in OT to win West semifinal – CBC.ca
The latest highlight in Brett Lauther’s career was a surreal moment for the Saskatchewan Roughriders kicker.
Lauther’s 34-yard field goal in the second overtime mini game lifted the Riders to a 33-30 victory over the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL’s West semifinal Sunday in Regina.
Both teams kicked field goals in their initial overtime possessions to make the score 30-30.
After two runs by William Powell, Lauther kicked the game-winning field goal which sent the Riders (9-5 in the regular season) to the West final in Winnipeg on Dec. 5 against the first-place Blue Bombers (11-3 in the regular season).
After Lauther’s kick went through the uprights, focus shifted to a penalty flag in the Winnipeg backfield. Had the penalty gone against the Riders, Lauther would’ve been forced into a second attempt after sprinting down the field following his initial attempt.
WATCH l Riders sink Stamps in OT to advance to West final:
The field goal stood as Calgary was penalized for rough play.
“I did a double take to make sure it actually did go in and then after that I saw the flag, I was just like, there’s no way it’s on us,” said Lauther, who connected on four-of-five field goal attempts. “I was just hoping that we didn’t really have to redo it but I was also just trying to stop my heart rate for a second in case I had to go back up there.”
Riders quarterback Cody Fajardo knew that Lauther wasn’t about to miss the potential game-winning kick.
“I’ve got all the trust in the world that ‘Money’ Lauther is going make a play for us,” said Fajardo. “He’s one of those guys that felt like he got snubbed as an all-star as well and went out there and performed a clutch kick for us.
“I told the guys in the huddle, we’re going run the ball twice, Brett’s going to come in and kick the game-winning field goal and we’re all going to be excited about it. That’s exactly what happened.”
Lauther, in his third season with the Riders, admitted this was a milestone game in his career but his main concern was helping the Riders get to the next level after recent playoff setbacks.
‘This province deserves so much’
“I feel like it definitely is up there. I mean, it’s playoffs,” said Lauther. “We’ve been winning in the regular season but we haven’t got the job done in playoffs and especially at home. I don’t think anyone’s had more home playoff games in the last couple years and had more regular season wins. I wanted to right some wrongs and get a win.
“I don’t even care about that I take the game-winner or whatever. I just wanted to win this game so bad for the fans and the coaches and the whole organization from top to bottom, like this province deserves so much.”
Stampeders head coach Dave Dickenson wasn’t about the let the loss fall at Paredes’ feet alone.
“He made a couple of clutch ones late, some deep bombs… I’ll go to bat with him every game,” said Dickenson. “You know, they weren’t gimmes.”
While the game had an exciting ending, it was a sloppy effort at times with the teams combining for eight turnovers, six of which came in the first half.
Fajardo was intercepted four times while Bo Levi Mitchell was picked off twice. The Stampeders also turned the ball over once on downs and lost one fumble.
Fajardo was incredulous about the Riders being able to win despite his four interceptions.
Jonathan Moxey had three interceptions for the Stampeders with Jameer Thurman collecting one pick. Ed Gainey had two interceptions for the Riders.
Fajardo went 22 of 33 for 189 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions. His biggest contribution was with his legs, as he gained 89 yards on 10 carries.
Mitchell was 26 of 36 for 285 yards and two interceptions. Tailback Ka’Deem Carey had a strong game, gaining 117 yards on 22 carries while scoring two touchdowns for Calgary.
Jamal Morrow had an impressive game returning kicks for the Riders. In the first half Morrow returned a missed field goal for a touchdown that was nullified by a penalty. Paredes was wide left with the attempt, which Morrow fielded deep in the end zone. After juking past a defender at the goal line, Morrow found a seam up the sideline and scored untouched on a 124-yard run.
Morrow did get on the scoresheet in the second quarter on an electrifying punt return. Fielding the ball on the Saskatchewan 41-yard line, Morrow cut to the wide side of the field and went untouched down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown.
Riders outlast Stamps in OT thriller to move on to Western Final – CFL.ca
REGINA — The Saskatchewan Roughriders survived a slugfest of a night to defeat the Calgary Stampeders 33-30 to advance to the Western Final.
Cody Fajardo survived a four-interception night and Brett Lauther hit a 34-yard field goal to put the game away, as the Riders advance to their second consecutive Western Final. They’ll face the Winnipeg Blue Bombers at IG Field on Dec. 5, to battle for a berth in the 108th Grey Cup.
Bo Levi Mitchell made 24-32 passes for 285 yards, had zero touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Riders got the game going with a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Jamal Morrow thought he had a missed field goal return touchdown, but found out that his 124-yard trip to the end zone was wiped out by an illegal block. That moved Saskatchewan back to its own five-yard line. Two plays later, Fajardo was intercepted by Jonathan Moxey. One Mitchell handoff to Ka’Deem Carey later, the Stamps’ running back had trucked five yards into the end zone to give Calgary the lead. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 7-0 game at 7:02.
The half quickly settled into a defensive battle, with Moxey pulling in a team-record-tying three interceptions before halftime. Ed Gainey got the best of Mitchell twice, with a pair of interceptions. While the potential was there for big plays on each turnover, including a Calgary turnover on downs, neither offence was able to capitalize the way they wanted to.
After a Brett Lauther chip shot 16-yard field goal, the Riders got a breakthrough on special teams. Returner Jamal Morrow took a Cody Grace punt back 69 yards for the touchdown, putting the Riders in front for the first time in the game. Rene Paredes‘ convert made it a 10-7 Riders lead at 7:26 of the second quarter.
Paredes had an out-of-character first half, missing field goals to open and close out the half. The teams got into a skirmish on the way to their locker rooms and it ended up carrying grave consequences for Calgary, as veteran d-lineman Shawn Lemon was disqualified from the game for what officials deemed as rough play.
Off the penalty on the Lemon ejection, the Riders executed a perfect onside kick from Calgary’s 50-yard line, with A.C. Leonard pulling the ball in. Fajardo quickly found Kian Schaffer-Baker three plays later for a six-yard touchdown pass. Lauther was back out on the field at 1:49 to kick the convert through to give the Riders a 17-8 lead.
A Paredes field goal from 27-yards out at 5:36 of the third made it a six-point Calgary deficit, but even that little bit of momentum came with a price, as the team lost receiver Colton Hunchak to a leg injury. The Stamps survived another turnover when Reggie Begelton had a punt bounce off his chest and scuttle away from him, into the Riders hands. Calgary’s defence didn’t allow points on the ensuing drive and Paredes added another field goal, this one from 25-yards, to make it a three-point game at the end of three quarters.
Lauther doubled his team’s lead with a 24-yard field goal at 1:46 of the fourth quarter, but the Stamps engineered a quick, six-play drive up the field. On second-and-one, Mitchell handed off to Carey for the fourth time on the drive, as he launched himself overtop of the trenches, where he might have seen the Riders’ d-line go offside under him. His second touchdown of the game tied it at 20 and Paredes’ convert gave the Stamps a 21-20 lead at 5:39.
Calgary seized ahold of the momentum at the midpoint of the quarter when Jameer Thurman lunged in front of a Fajardo pass and pulled in the defence’s fourth interception of the night, setting up Mitchell and the offence at the Riders’ 47-yard line. The Stamps settled for a field goal on the play and Paredes delivered from 47-yards to put his team up 24-20 with just over five minutes left to play.
Undeterred, Fajardo led the Riders down to Calgary’s one-yard line. After a couple of handoffs to William Powell were stuffed, Fajardo kept the ball and powered his way into the end zone. Lauther’s convert gave the Riders a three-point edge with 2:23 left on the clock.
With his team taking a punch, Mitchell wound up for a responsoe of his own, but could only get the Stamps to the Riders’ 39-yard line after Mitchell was sacked for a loss on second-down. Paredes coolly lined up a 47-yard field goal that sailed through the uprights with 37 seconds left to tie it up 27-all.
In overtime, Schaffer-Baker wasn’t able to hold onto a ball that required a tightrope act on the baseline of the end zone. Lauther’s 20-yard field goal put the Riders up three.
With the pressure of the Mosaic crowd rooting against him, Mitchell led a varied drive against the Riders, looking end zone on his first pass, then working Carey into the mix on the ground. Carey was stopped on the 17-yard line, which brought Paredes out for a 24-yard attempt that knotted the game at 30-30.
In the second OT, the Stamps survived a near-fumble from rookie receiver Luther Hakunavanhu and had to call upon Paredes once again. His 44-yarder went wide left, his third miss of the night. Morrow ran the ball out of the end zone and opened the door for a Riders’ victory.
After a pair of handoffs, Lauther made his way onto the field for a 34-yard attempt. Mosaic fell dead silent as Lauther lined it up and exploded in celebration as he hit the field goal.
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