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Raptors beat Mavericks in largest comeback in franchise history – Raptors Republic

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The record the Raptors broke against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday afternoon — the largest comeback in franchise history — was last set when DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani were teammates in the North. That team finished finished 22-60. This Raptors team is already 21-8.

Down 30 points midway through the third quarter against the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Raptors put Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy during a maniacal 47-21 fourth quarter that hearkened back to some of Toronto’s most classic playoff wins. When the screaming died out and the clock switched off, the Raptors had won 110-107. The engine of the comeback was Lowry, who scored 20 points alone in the fourth.

For us it was just follow the leader,” said Chris Boucher of Lowry’s importance. 

I don’t know about everyone else, but when Kyle made a three on the right wing, I had like a vibe or a feeling…” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “I kind of had that vision for Kyle taking off and that’s what happened.”

“I knew we were coming back.”

That the Raptors had such a deep hole out of which to climb was perhaps a problem. It took a long time for Toronto to find balance on the offensive end. There’s a reason why scales in cartoons take cartoonishly long times to settle in the middle; balance is a difficult thing to find. For the Toronto Raptors, it took three quarters of dreary failure for them to finally hit that sweet spot. But when they did, the lunacy of their comeback was worth it.

Nick Nurse was explicit before the game that he wants his bench guys to be paint-by-numbers guys, more followers than leaders, when it comes to the offensive end. He wanted his bench to contribute around the edges of Toronto’s primary guys, namely Fred VanVleet and Lowry.

“We just gotta make sure we get that right blend,” said Nurse before the game. “[The bench guys] are all capable. But I don’t want seven possessions in a row where they’re shooting seven straight shots. They’ve gotta be a little bit more opportunity guys than maybe they have been in some games.

The right blend of offense between starters and bench, primary and fringe scorers, is something of a promise. It’s a promise that bench players will listen to the coach and stay in their own lanes. Nurse has punished players in the past for stepping outside of the minimal box that is a bench role on the Raptors. But the correct blend also necessitates a promise from the main guys that they’ll carry the lion’s share. If they’re going to play the big minutes, create the most plays, and take the most shots, that has to translate to points. For three quarters, the offensive leaders didn’t fulfill their promises.

Lowry and Fred VanVleet seemed to miss every jumper they took, and the team took its cues from those misses. Serge Ibaka and OG Anunoby, who should have provided Toronto’s secondary sources of offense, were also ineffective. Ibaka had trouble creating good looks in the post, and he missed the majority of his spot-up jumpers as well. He finished with six points on three-of-11 shooting, which was a far cry from his level of dominance over the last two games. Anunoby missed his open triples, and his drives were frequently off-balanced and resulted in turnovers. He finished with six points and three turnovers.

The balance that Nurse sought between the starters and the bench was lacking in the first three quarters.

There were some fun elements in the first three quarters against the Mavericks. Pat McCaw was Toronto’s choice as the primary defender of Kristaps Porzingis, and he was brilliant. Porzingis is not a big on the offensive end, and his height means almost nothing. He whiffed on his screens, couldn’t create space in the post, and generally moped around when McCaw was guarding him. It was a great display of defensive diversity from McCaw, who also shot well, drove well, and was one of Toronto’s most pleasant surprises. Terence Davis threw some nice passes, which is a solid development as Toronto transitions him into a ball-dominant guard. Boucher had some impressive blocks, as always. Though the fun things were fun, they weren’t nearly enough to outweigh the Raptors’ lack of offensive punch.

Then everything changed in the fourth quarter. A lineup of Lowry, Terence Davis, Malcolm Miller, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and Chris Boucher went on a 41-15 run over the brunt of the quarter, pulling the game within reach. That group includes three minimum salary players, all of whom were undrafted, one second draft scrap heap player, and Lowry. As always while playing with low-expectation, high-energy groups, Lowry was unbelievable. The offense was simple: give the ball to Kyle Lowry and let him do cool stuff.

He hit step-back jumpers, turned hesitation dribbles into and-one floaters, and of course hit pull-up triples in transition. He represented, on this night, the absolute peak of ref-arguing, charge-taking, post-stripping, basket-scoring, teammate-boosting, breath-taking, jumper-making, foul-baiting basketball. It was peak KLOE, both new and nostalgic, and for the first time this year but the millionth as a Raptor, he wrote and re-wrote our experience of his brilliance. Lowry finished with 32 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds.

He was unbelievable, right? And he really didn’t have that good a game going until that point, too. Then he started firing and making and driving and and-one-ing, he was doing it all,” said Nick Nurse.

“I’m not sure I’ve seen anything like it.”

If Lowry was the frontman, Boucher was the showstopper. His incredible length and tenacity forced plenty of turnovers as Toronto used a full-court press to start the fourth quarter. When the Mavericks didn’t turn the ball over and got the ball into the half-court, the Raptors reached and scrambled and played like lunatics. They collapsed into the paint and figured out the rest from there.

“We just kept saying anything but the rim,” said Nurse. “If the ball started heading to the rim we just wanted to swarm it and make ‘em kick out and then try to do our best to get back out there.”

If they kicked it out, the task usually fell to Boucher to clean up the mess. He attacked Dallas’ shooters without hesitation. His pterodactyl arms blocked a corner jumper into the upper stratosphere, and he did a good job frightening shooters after that with his maniacal closeouts.

Yeah, it is [unique],” Nurse said of Boucher’s closeouts. “I think they were such good plays because he was protecting the rim first. He was in there waiting, looking looking looking, and then he saw an opening, and he made a long run, and he jumps early on those. That’s how he gets a piece of [those shots]. He played a hell of a game. Hell of a game.”

Boucher finished with a career-high 21 points, seven rebounds, two steals, and four blocks.

If anything, the incredible performance of Toronto’s bench mob wasn’t so much an execution thing as an identity one. Missing so many key players, the Raptors do not have enough talent to coast through games. They’ve always been at their best this year when forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. Toronto’s bench doesn’t have the talent of the stars, but they can never be accused of trying too little. They get up on the ball, make wild decisions, and junk it up. The resulting chaos was the backdrop to Toronto’s miraculous comeback.

Despite the heart-warming victory, Toronto will remain in the trenches for the next few weeks without three of its five most important offensive players. To win, they have to lock in on defense, play ugly and slop it up, and have their ball-dominant guards catch fire from deep. Those were negotiable elements when Toronto was healthy, as a Pascal Siakam explosion or Norm Powell spree could offset any problems in a blink of an eye. But Toronto doesn’t have that room for error any longer. It took a miraculous comeback, sparked by the best game of Boucher’s NBA career, and a vintage KLOE game, for Toronto to win. They can’t always rely on such unpredictable elements.

No, I think that was a one-off game, but you could see how hard we played, and that’s something you take from and you continue to build on, the how hard we played,” said Lowry. 

The Raptors are 2-0 since Pascal Siakam, Norm Powell, and Marc Gasol were injured in the same game. Toronto just keeps winning. The factors that have informed those wins may not be repeatable in the future, but that the Raptors have won is almost unbelievable. With the second leg of the back-to-back tonight against the Indiana Pacers, the Raptors will need to make the unsustainable into a regularity to continue its most unlikely hot streak of the season.




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Hazel Mae, Ken Rosenthal, Jon Heyman, and more reported Michael Brantley to Toronto – Awful Announcing

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Baseball transactions have often seen some unexpected people breaking news, whether that’s wetbutt23 and KatyPerrysBootyHole or Brendon Kuhn and Joey Vendetta. But Wednesday provided a remarkable reversal there, with TV host Hazel Mae and multiple U.S. baseball insiders (including Ken Rosenthal of Fox and The Athletic and Jon Heyman of MLB Network) reporting that outfielder Michael Brantley was headed to the Toronto Blue Jays before the eventual confirmation that he was instead returning to the Houston Astros (where he played last year, as shown above). Here are those initial reports:

And here are some of the later corrections and rebuttals from those who didn’t initially report that:

As noted Tuesday, baseball is a sport where local sources can sometimes break national news before the national insiders get it. But in this case, the initial reports appear to have been premature. And that led to some awkward tweets Wednesday for those who reported that the Brantley deal was done in Toronto before the actual news of that deal being done in Houston emerged.

[Photo from Robert Hanashiro/USA Today Sports]

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Canucks earn cathartic win over Canadiens after roller-coaster affair – Sportsnet.ca

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VANCOUVER – It was a game screaming out for fans. And a game that would have had coaches screaming.

But Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green’s mood at least would have been helped by his team’s 6-5 shootout win Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens.

The Canucks’ home-opener at Rogers Arena, played in front of 18,000 seats kept empty by COVID, was a mistake-filled thrill ride whose surprise ending – a Vancouver win – was desperately needed by the team that had limped home after a 1-3 road trip to start its season.

Captain Bo Horvat scored twice on the power play, as the Canucks man-advantage unit finally put some pucks in the net after a 0-for-15 start, and then beat Montreal goalie Carey Price between the pads in the fourth round of the shootout.

Vancouver, wobbling on defence with veteran Alex Edler injured and other blue-liners struggling, appeared to be headed towards its fourth straight loss when former Canuck Tyler Toffoli – who else would it be? – completed his hat trick with a deflection to give the Canadiens their first lead with only 3:49 remaining in regulation time.

But after losing a one-goal advantage four times, the Canucks displayed some resilience by making it 5-5 just 32 seconds later when Brock Boeser wired a shot from the high slot after a setup by J.T. Miller.

“It was really important,” Horvat said of a victory that was like shelter during a January gale. “We needed that win. Obviously, for standings-wise, but also for confidence. It definitely feels good to get the two points, but at the same time I think we can be better.

“We can’t be satisfied with that. We’ve just got to keep building with that, keep our confidence and come ready to play tomorrow night.”

The Canadiens, now 2-0-2 and two points clear of the Canucks in the North Division, play in Vancouver on Thursday and again Saturday.

There were some glaring faults to the Canucks performance, especially in their half of the ice.

But it was vitally important for their struggling top players to break out. Boeser matched Horvat’s two goals, Miller had three assists and defenceman Quinn Hughes had two. And although Elias Pettersson failed to register a point for a fourth straight game – double his longest “slump” from last season – he was a key part of a power play that finished 3-for-6.

And, as Horvat said, there was a huge psychological lift for a team that for the first time under Green, appeared to be slipping backwards with its surprisingly poor start.

“It definitely feels good to get finally rewarded for it,” Horvat said of a power play that was fourth in the NHL last season and expects to be at least that good again. “It was just a matter of time before one went in. Thankfully, we got it off to a good start and we just kept building from there.

“Obviously, we can’t think that’s going to be good enough. We’ve got to hold ourselves to a high standard and do it again tomorrow night.”

The power play gave the Canucks their first of four leads, scoring at 11:07 of the first with quick passing that teed up Horvat in the slot, a play that would be repeated on Horvat’s other goal early in the third.

The power play and offensive outburst, plus some timely saves by Braden Holtby in overtime, were enough to overcome the Canucks’ defensive problems.

New first-pairing defenceman Nate Schmidt conceded last weekend in Calgary that the transition from playing in Vegas has been challenging, and Travis Hamonic hasn’t looked any more comfortable than Schmidt so far in Vancouver after spending the last three seasons with the Flames.

It didn’t help Wednesday that Edler nearly stopped playing in the second period before disappearing from the bench in the third, and that rookie Jalen Chatfield was making his NHL debut for the Canucks.

Even Hughes looked suspect medically, labouring at times while being constantly targeted by the Canadiens.

The lack of cohesiveness on defence was especially evident in the second period, when the Canucks blew the lead three times on goals that were far too easy for the Canadiens.

Hamonic wandered out of position to throw a hit after Hughes had been knocked over by Joel Armia, leaving the right half of the Vancouver zone open for Toffoli to walk in on a breakaway and pick his spot over Holtby’s catching hand to tie it 1-1 at 1:37 of the middle period.

A few shifts later, Schmidt gambled and lost on an intercept in the neutral zone, giving Jeff Petry a free pass to the net. But when the Canadiens defenceman zipped the puck wide, it caromed around the boards to Tyler Motte and gave the Canucks a two-on-one.

Motte looked to pass before fooling Price with a low shot through him to restore the Vancouver lead at 4:25.

But just 62 seconds later, with Schmidt and Hamonic now paired together, the Canadiens took advantage of more poor defending and Nick Suzuki set up Toffoli for a tap-in that capped a power-play three-on-one.

The Canucks power play made it 3-2 at 11:13 when Boeser collected a rebound from his skates and scored on a quick backhand.

And still Vancouver couldn’t get out of the period with the lead. With Chatfield looking to change and caught out of position and Schmidt’s check against behind him, Tomas Tatar lasered a goalmouth pass for Brendan Gallagher to tie it again, 3-3, at 18:25.

The Canucks were ahead, then tied and eventually behind before winning. Against the Montreal Canadiens. The crowd would have loved it, faults and all.

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League fines Caps $100,000 for safety violations, as COVID-19 rattles schedule

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fines Caps

(Reuters) – The National Hockey League (NHL) fined the Washington Capitals $100,000 for violating COVID-19 protocols on Wednesday, the first financial penalty related to the novel coronavirus it has handed down.

The NHL said the fine was in response to “player violations” of protocols including “social interactions among team members who were in close contact and who were not wearing face coverings”.

Captain Alex Ovechkin, one of four Capitals players placed on the NHL’s “COVID Protocol Related Absence List” following the incident, apologized and said he would learn from the experience.

“I regret my choice to spend time together with my team mates in our hotel room and away from the locker room areas,” he said in a statement.

The other players added to the list were Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov. It is unclear when they will be allowed to return to the ice.

The Capitals said in a statement they had worked hard to establish a “safe environment” to allow the team to compete this season and were disappointed the players had interacted outside of approved areas.

“We accept the NHL’s decision and once again will reiterate the COVID-19 protocols in place to make sure the players are in full compliance moving forward,” they added.

While not the maximum allowable fine under NHL protocol, the hefty figure could nonetheless serve as a warning to teams playing beyond the confines of last year’s quarantined “bubble,” with the league already rescheduling a number of games due to safety concerns since the season kicked off a week ago.

After postponing Tuesday’s game between Carolina and Nashville, the league said on Wednesday the Hurricanes’ schedule was paused through at least Jan. 23, with five players on the absence list.

“As an appropriate precaution, the team’s training facilities have been closed, effective immediately, and will remain closed for players until further notice,” the NHL said in a statement.

“The Hurricanes organization has, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of its players, staff and community at large.”

 

(Reporting by Amy Tennery and Rory Carroll; Editing by Lincoln Feast/Peter Rutherford)

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