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Raptors' Birch out Friday vs. Pacers, Anunoby questionable –



Toronto Raptors centre Khem Birch remains out for Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers while forward OG Anunoby is listed as questionable, according to Sportsnet’s Blake Murphy.

Murphy reported Wednesday that Birch is dealing with a lingering wear-and-tear knee issue with swelling having gone up and down over a course of weeks. The Montreal native missed a week with the same injury earlier this month. The 29-year-old is averaging 6.9 points and 5.7 rebounds over 22.9 minutes per game this season.

Anunoby, 24, hasn’t played since Nov. 15 because of an injured left hip pointer. He’s averaging a career-high 20.1 points through 15 games so far this season.

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Raptors' home woes continue with loss against Grizzlies –



The Toronto Raptors‘ goals this season have been largely undefined, or at least unspoken. Are they all-in for a playoff spot? Trying to figure out if their core is good enough to build around? Waiting to see where the trade winds blow?

It’s all a little muddy at the moment.

But we can expect some clarity by the end of December — let’s just agree on that. By then the Raptors will have completed their most friendly stretch of the schedule, with 12 of 15 games played at home.

So far? It’s not trending well.

Toronto hosted the Memphis Grizzlies on the second night of a season-long seven-game homestand on Tuesday, having already dropped the opener to Boston on Sunday.

If Toronto is going to make some kind of move in what is shaping up a very deep and very competitive Eastern Conference — before the ball went up Tuesday the Raptors were in 12th place and two spots out of the play-in tournament but all 11 teams ahead of them were at least one game over .500 — the time is now.

Unfortunately, that’s going to have to wait as Toronto fell 98-91 to the Grizzlies (11-10) in a game that was the kind of ugly the Raptors like but in which they couldn’t take advantage of their own defensive effort as they struggled mightily to score against the NBA’s worst defensive team.

Instead of the Raptors marking their turf, it was Grizzlies forward and Mississauga, Ont., native Dillon Brooks who took the opportunity to play at home to heart.

The fifth-year forward spent most of the game trying to get inside the jersey — and not-so-subtly under-the-skin — of Raptors catalyst Fred VanVleet. He didn’t make the Raptors guard disappear but he made Toronto’s leading scorer work for nearly everything he got as he held him to 15 points (compared to his season average of 20.1) and otherwise fought and scrapped to take up as much of VanVleet’s brain space as possible. It’s what Brooks does best.

VanVleet played 42 minutes but got up only 13 shots. He hit six, but was 1-of-5 from deep.

“[They] limited his touches for sure,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I thought they did a good job of that, Dillon decided to take that on, he’s physical and he works hard, obviously takes pride in that. [He] made things tough on Freddy for sure.”

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It was Brooks’ pull-up three that gave Memphis an 11-point lead with 7:58 to play. Brooks then started screaming to the Raptors crowd “this is my house.”

Hey, with the way the Raptors have been playing at home, Brooks could make that argument. Brooks went on to make a pair of excellent defensive plays — picking Scottie Barnes’ pocket on an otherwise uncontested fast break and prior to that a blocked shot on VanVleet. He even flopped his way to fouling out Raptors centre Precious Achiuwa.

Brooks took it down a notch after the game.

“Fred’s an amazing player. He [has] a go-getter attitude. He sticks with it even if he’s not touching the ball, he can still find a way to score,” said Brooks later. “… He knows the game so well, so he was a tough cover. I was trying to figure out a way to limit his touches, trying to get out of his rhythm, and give us a chance to win.

And to do it in Toronto?

“This game was circled, for sure,” said Brooks, who hasn’t played here since the 2017-18 season due to injuries and the pandemic. “It’s been a dream. It’s been circled for a while.”

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The Raptors refused to surrender easily.

Pascal Siakam came alive for nine fourth-quarter points and a triple by Malachi Flynn — who played a heavier than usual dose of minutes to give the Raptors another ball-handler alongside the Brooks-occupied VanVleet — with 1:42 to play cut the Grizzlies’ lead to five.

But Desmond Bane answered immediately with his fifth three to push the lead back to eight. Memphis needed all of it as Barnes hit a pair of late threes to keep things interesting, but Brooks hit a pair of free throws with 16.5 seconds left to ice it.

Nurse was looking for his club to play harder and with a little more focus at key moments in order to get the homestand rolling, and there’s little question the Raptors’ effort was there. They held Memphis to 39 per cent shooting and just 10-of-34 from deep, but the Raptors had their own problems scoring while missing starters Gary Trent Jr. (calf), Khem Birch (knee) and OG Anunoby (hip).

The Raptors shot just 40 per cent from the floor and were 10-of-38 from deep. They were beaten off the offensive glass 18-11 and committed 18 turnovers.

The Raptors were led by Siakam’s 20 points while Barnes chipped in with 19 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two steals.

None of it was enough as Toronto (9-13) lost its third straight and dropped to 2-8 at Scotiabank Arena.

The season is only a quarter over but already there is some urgency for the Raptors, or there should be. Normally, a seven-game homestand and a stretch of 10-of-11 at home would be cause to rejoice. Good teams use those kinds of schedule gifts as springboards to bigger and better things. Given the Raptors arrived home on a 3-9 slide — including the first game of their homestand on Sunday, Toronto rightly should be looking at it as a lifeboat; a season preserver.

The only problem? The Raptors’ poor record at home. If it’s a trend, it’s a problem.

If it’s a weird, early-season anomaly? Time to fix it.

“Yeah, we gotta fix that,” said Siakam, who added six rebounds and five assists. “It’s not acceptable. We can’t play like that at home. We have this fan base and all that, but like we have to show up at home. I think we have to make it part of what we do. No excuses and that can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. We have to be better at home for sure.”

The first half wasn’t what anyone was looking for as the Grizzlies led 50-39 heading into the break, on merit. The Raptors have played over their heads at times this season by scratching out advantages on the offensive glass and forcing opponents into high-volume turnovers. It’s papered over their own shooting woes and lack of bench production.

But the Grizzlies turned the tables on Toronto and jumped out to a 27-18 first quarter lead after the Raptors turned it over five times in the period, leading to 10 Memphis points. Memphis only coughed it up to Toronto twice for two points.

In the second quarter, it was the bigger Grizzlies’ dominance on the offensive glass that was the issue as Memphis turned five offensive rebounds into five second-chance points (the Raptors had none) as they threatened to blow Toronto out early. At one point they led by 17 points before a quick 7-0 run sparked by Siakam and finished with a Svi Mykhailiuk triple reeled Memphis in at least a little bit.

The good news is the Raptors have a lot more chances at home to get this right. The bad news? Their next chance comes against the defending NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday.

Three-point Grange

1. Nurse texted former Raptor (and former Grizzly) Jonas Valanciunas after the big man went off for a career-high 39 points and knocked down seven-of-eight threes for the New Orleans Pelicans Monday night. “I told him all those threes we shot eight, nine years ago in Lithuania, finally you’re taking them, you know. Jiminy Christmas … I’ve always said that from Day 1 when we got him, he has really good shooting touch .. he was really feeling it last night. It was really cool.” Valanciunas is now 30-of-58 from deep this season and has shot 40.3 per cent from three over the past three seasons.

2. The Grizzlies haven’t been in Toronto for a long time. Their last game here was on Jan. 19, 2019 — long enough that Marc Gasol was still playing for Memphis. The Raptors didn’t trade for him until February 2019. For Brooks, it’s been even longer as he wasn’t in the lineup in 2019. His last game in his hometown was Feb. 4, 2018.

3. Raptors assistant coaches Nate Bjorkgren and Nathaniel Mitchell were both back on Toronto’s bench after spending the previous week coaching the men’s national team in the first window of qualifying for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup. After two wins against Bahamas in the Dominican Republic, Mitchell and Bjorkgren had a 3 a.m. wake-up call and a 6 a.m. flight from Santo Domingo to Newark, N.J., and from there were on their way to Toronto. They made it to Scotiabank Arena in time for pre-game warm-ups about two hours before tip-off.

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Quick Reaction: Grizzlies 98, Raptors 91 – Raptors Republic



Tough one.

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P. Siakam30 MIN, 20 PTS, 6 REB, 5 AST, 1 STL, 9-19 FG, 1-6 3FG, 1- FT, 3 BLK, 2 TO, -1 +/-

Unquestionably the most difficult matchup on both sides of the floor. Had to navigate the newly dominant defender, ‘JJJ’, and hold up the back end of the Raptors motion heavy defense. He was great navigating inside the arc offensively, and really needs to hit his C&S threes. Overall an impressive game, but the foul trouble brings a knock, where he has to strike the balance of how to stay on the floor. Lots of things to like, but you need more minutes from him in close games.

P. Achiuwa29 MIN, 5 PTS, 5 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 1-8 FG, 0-1 3FG, 4- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

The offensive warts have been aplenty this year, and this game was no different. His moment as an offensive hub was a fever dream of terrible possessions and he still didn’t move well to assist teammates. The defense is still really solid, though. No one contests the rim like he does on this squad. The rebounding really hurt in this one.

S. Barnes38 MIN, 19 PTS, 7 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 8-16 FG, 3-6 3FG, 0- FT, 4 BLK, 4 TO, -11 +/-

What a rollercoaster from the rookie. The ‘look back’ is generating its first negative reviews, and ‘JJJ’ swatted the hell out of him while hot dogging. A few defensive gaffes, but some fantastical scrambles for steals and blocks. The NBA’s best 3rd quarter player, still, and those threes in the fourth quarter were inspired. This game had everything, and I’m inclined to take away more positives.

F. VanVleet42 MIN, 15 PTS, 9 REB, 3 AST, 1 STL, 6-13 FG, 1-5 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 4 TO, -2 +/-

I don’t envy his workload. Another 42 mins for the league’s minutes leader, and it was an absolute grind. Started out the game carrying with some shotmaking, but that subsided as the game wore on. Very little punch from him in the set actions, and didn’t hurt the Grizzlies as a spacer. Still though, his defensive presence was incredibly important to the Raptors getting back in this thing. Not his best, but he’s everything for this team right now.

S. Mykhailiuk18 MIN, 7 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 3-8 FG, 1-4 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

Still looking for the shot to come around. One of his better defensive games this year as he paired well with others in impromptu doubles and traps. Failed a little bit as a ball mover offensively though, and still isn’t meeting the level of play the team needs from him, and that he should be able to provide.

C. Boucher7 MIN, 6 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 2-5 FG, 0-1 3FG, 3- FT, 2 BLK, 0 TO, -8 +/-

Wild 7 minutes. Got a step on ‘JJJ’ for an And-1, had a thunderous dunk to close a quarter, but was also out at sea for numerous defensive possessions where the Raptors surrendered points. Particularly in the pick n’ roll.

Y. Watanabe29 MIN, 11 PTS, 6 REB, 0 AST, 0 STL, 4-9 FG, 3-8 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, -2 +/-

This scoring output, if replicated, is something that would make everyone extremely happy. Opportunistic as a cutter, definitely as a shooter, and an unbelievably dependable defender. Great game off the bench for Yuta.

M. Flynn22 MIN, 5 PTS, 2 REB, 1 AST, 1 STL, 2-8 FG, 1-7 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, -13 +/-

It was great to see him reach back and hit that 3 late, but it was couched in a performance that was below average. When the ball is in his hands the Raptors just don’t create, and the drop off from Fred to him (although they shared the floor tonight) is colossal.

D. Banton15 MIN, 2 PTS, 6 REB, 2 AST, 0 STL, 1-3 FG, 0-1 3FG, 0- FT, 0 BLK, 2 TO, +3 +/-

Grab and Go. Always. He pushes the Raptors into spots that few other players do, and they rest of the roster doesn’t fail him when they all start running. His length and activity was a positive defensively and on the glass. All you could hope for from him in games like these.

I. Bonga11 MIN, 1 PTS, 1 REB, 0 AST, 2 STL, 0-2 FG, 0-0 3FG, 2- FT, 0 BLK, 1 TO, +3 +/-

The offensive limitations are very on display, but a terrific stretch of defense, and two separate occasions where he put pressure on the rim gave the Raptors enough in his minutes.

Nick Nurse

It’s tough to critique a coach in a game like this. The non-Fred+Pascal’s started the game 6-27, and on a lot of good looks. That’s not coaching. And the team played good defense basically all game, despite getting bludgeoned on the glass to start. If you have qualms about Fred and Pascal sitting at the same time in the first half, that’s fair, but Siakam nearly fouled out anyway. Tough to say.

Things We Saw

  1. Per Michael Grange, JJJ weighs in at roughly 270, putting Siakam at almost 40 pounds lighter – yikes. Got blocked going to his left 3 separate occasions, and many other players just don’t make that play. He’s arrived defensively for the Grizzlies, and he helped so much tonight. And his movement at that size is incredible – he beat the Raptors stunts off the dribble on a few different occasions.
  2. Too many minutes for Fred every game. His body needs a rest.
  3. Love it or hate it, Scottie’s look backs are going to grace Shaqtin A Fool and other lowlight segments. Personally, I think it’s super funny and speaks to his effervescent personality. But, he might catch a fade some day because of it.

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Briere ranks high on list of candidates to fill Canadiens' GM vacancy –



“It’s important for the GM to have final say on the decisions, for sure. But to have two people to talk, debate and offer different perspectives to make the decisions makes us much better able to make the right decisions.” — Geoff Molson.

Good concept outlined above, but allow us to present how we actually see the power dynamic playing out between new executive VP of hockey operations Jeff Gorton and whomever the owner of the Montreal Canadiens and Gorton decide will be the next general manager.

Surely Gorton didn’t leave the money still owed to him on his terminated contract with the New York Rangers to take a job with this title only to then relinquish control of the hockey decisions to the person he’s helping to hire. With nearly 30 years of front-office experience in various capacities in the NHL, and with other looming opportunities to head up operations for other teams likely available to him, he didn’t choose to come to Montreal only to give way to a first-time general manager.

This structure was obviously put in place because Molson is staying true to his commitment to appoint a GM who can communicate to the people of Quebec — and to Canadiens fans around the world — in both English and French, and Gorton only speaks English.

That leaves the man calling the shots in the shadows, which was probably as attractive as any other reason Gorton might have considered before accepting the role. The GM will alleviate him from having to be the team’s spokesperson, help with the operations, forge new relationships and then likely take on more and more responsibility as time goes on, while Gorton uses his own experience to do the heavy lifting of building out the staff and the plan.

“It’s important to find someone who complements the skillset that Jeff’s bringing us,” said Molson. “Someone who maybe has a bit of a different vision, someone who has an expertise that’s different, someone who learned from another organization and in a different way.”

We think that person should be someone who’s malleable. An upstart-type who’s willing to enter into this power structure and grow within it. Someone who’s well-respected throughout the hockey world, and someone who can help fill another important quotient former GM Marc Bergevin did throughout his near 10-year-long reign in Montreal.

“Berge played 1,000 games in the league and he knows the day-to-day grind of the season,” explained Canadiens defenceman Ben Chairot on Tuesday. “He knows exactly what we’re feeling and what we’re going through. That’s kind of what made him special and unique as a GM is he’s right in there with us and knows what we’re feeling after we come in after a loss or we come in after long road trip, and he was essentially a part of the team and another one of the guys. I think that’s why he had so much respect from the guys in the room.”

We can’t think of a candidate more suited to fill that mandate — and every other requirement — than Daniel Briere. And from what we’ve been told, the former Canadien is high up on the list of candidates being considered.

We’ll dig into the rest of them below, but Briere, who played close to 1,000 games in the NHL and produced at a near-point-per-game pace in 124 playoff games over an illustrious career, has been preparing for a job like this since he hung up his skates six years ago.

The 44-year-old went straight from the ice to the front office when he was brought on by the Philadelphia Flyers in October 2015. He started off in the organization he played for by shadowing team president and former GM Paul Holmgren, he later took on a role in player development that he’s still in to this day, and in 2017 he assumed vice-president and general manager duties of the team’s ECHL affiliate in Maine.

The Mariners were in their infancy and Briere was charged with building their team from the ground up. He was involved in everything from recruitment to logo design, according to this expansive piece from Radio Canada’s Martin Leclerc.

In 2018, Briere also began pursuing a degree in business administration at the most prestigious financial school in the United States, Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. He did it because, even if he had already proven himself as a leader as a former captain of the Buffalo Sabres, he wanted to round out his profile.

It was during that year that the Mariners became the affiliate of the New York Rangers. While Briere did have some contact with Gorton, who was GM of the NHL club, most of his dealings were with former Sabres teammate Chris Drury, who was working underneath Gorton before succeeding him.

Still, Gorton would’ve been exposed to Briere’s kind manner, and have gotten a glimpse of what many around the hockey world have observed.

“He’s a great guy,” said a source we touched base with who’s close with Briere. “Molson said they want to hire a GM soon, and he’d be ready to go right away.

“And he wants this, there’s no question.”

The Gatineau, Que., native isn’t alone on that front.

Here are some other top candidates.

Patrick Roy

The Hall-of-Fame goaltender, who helped the Canadiens win their last two Stanley Cups before an ugly divorce from the team, spoke on Tuesday and made it abundantly clear he wants the job.

“Of course I’m saying to myself, ‘What do they have to lose giving me a try,’” Roy said when speaking to Le Journal De Quebec. “The club has been turning in circles since 1993, so what do they have to lose by seeing what I can do with it?

“At the same time, I understand the situation. The club belongs to Geoff Molson and it’s him who pulls the strings. It’s his team and maybe I’m not the guy for him, and I can accept that.”

Still, Molson and Gorton should give Roy a call.

We’re talking about a pure winner who recently had major influence on building what most consider to be the most talented team in the NHL over in Colorado.

However, if it’s generally perceived the current GM and coach of the QMJHL’s Quebec Remparts wouldn’t be willing to be a partner, let alone subservient to the new exec VP of hockey ops, it would have to do with his resignation as head coach of the Avalanche in 2016, when he felt his voice wasn’t being considered enough in personnel decisions GM Joe Sakic was making.

Roy sought to undo some of that perception on Tuesday, saying, “I’ve always been a guy who likes working as a team and I’m ready to learn, to listen and to develop on any team process. I’ve been working for 14 years with (Remparts owner) Jacques Tanguay and we’ve never had a problem.”

That said, we don’t think he should apologize for being who he is — a passionate, strong-minded person who will fight for what he thinks is right.

Nonetheless, while Roy’s strong personality lends well to the conviction you need to operate with as GM, he’ll have to convince Molson and Gorton it won’t get in the way of the dynamic they’re looking to establish.

Meanwhile, the marketing appeal of a big reunion with the Canadiens — mending a massive wound and, in some fans’ eyes, reversing a curse the team has been under since he was traded in 1995 — should, at the very least, be compelling.

Mathieu Darche

Darche is a viable candidate for many of the same reasons Briere is. He’s a former player, he’s well-educated and he picked up valuable experience as a former VP of sales and marketing with Montreal cargo management company Delmar International before joining the Tampa Bay Lightning as director of hockey operations in 2019.

Now that he’s got two Stanley Cup rings, his profile has certainly risen. Riding shotgun with Julien BriseBois probably hasn’t hurt it.

But whether or not that profile is high enough for Molson and Gorton to offer him the job is debatable.

Martin Madden Jr.

The assistant general manager of the Anaheim Ducks is known as arguably the best evaluator of amateur talent in the NHL.

Close to two dozen prospects chosen under his watch since 2009 have played over 100 games in the world’s best league — no other team in the NHL has done as well in this department — and many fans are clamouring for him to bring those skills to a Canadiens team that will likely be drafting very high this summer and could be on the precipice of a rebuild.

While we see Madden Jr. as the optimal replacement for Trevor Timmins, who was in charge of Montreal’s last 17 drafts before he was fired on Sunday, we’re not sure he’d leave Anaheim for a sideways move. The Seattle Kraken tried to pry him away in 2021, but he opted to stay in Anaheim under executive VP of hockey ops and GM Bob Murray.

What’s interesting is that when Murray resigned and enrolled in an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program following an investigation into his “improper professional conduct,” it wasn’t Madden Jr. who replaced him.

“That’s probably because he’s spent almost all of his hockey career touring junior rinks and plucking out talent and never really entering rooms and dealing with pro hockey players,” a source said to us. “He’s a very nice man, but he’s more of an introverted man and I’m not sure how that plays with being GM in Montreal and in the role it appears they’re looking to fill.

“His track record is definitely impeccable, but he also hasn’t been too involved, if he ever has, in negotiating and signing contracts for players and dealing with rival GMs and so on.”

Still, Gorton has.

And even if there’s been some overlap between both men’s skillsets, Madden Jr. has to be considered a candidate.

Whether or not he can fulfil other business duties of the role and sufficiently relate to the public — and to his players — is in question.

Roberto Luongo

One of the game’s most popular personalities has been honing his experience as an executive with the Florida Panthers since 2019.

There’s no question Luongo, who could headline the 2022 Hall of Fame class after an illustrious and decorated playing career, fits much of the criteria outlined for the role in Montreal.

Whether or not the gold medal-winning goaltender would be compelled to leave the life he’s established in Florida to do the job with his hometown team is the big question.

If the answer is yes, an executive we touched based with sees him as an excellent fit.

“The people I talk to in Florida love working with him and consider him a really sharp hockey mind,” he said. “There’s a reason he’s an assistant GM for Canada’s Olympic team.”

Molson promised an exhaustive search, so there are sure to be some candidates overlooked in this space.

But here are some other names that might be considered:

Jocelyn Thibault

The former Canadiens goaltender, who was part of the Roy trade in 1995, is the GM of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix and was just named executive director of Hockey Quebec.

We asked him if he’d be interested in the job.

“I just arrived with Hockey Quebec, and I have a big mandate in front of me,” he said. “But if the Canadiens came calling, of course I would take the call.”

Stephane Quintal

After years of working for the NHL, sources have indicated the former Canadiens defenceman would have been more interested in a job as team president.

Vincent Damphousse

The former Canadiens captain, who works for RDS, said on that station on Monday that he’s not interested in the position.

Scott White

The Ormstown, Que., native has had plenty of success running the AHL’s Texas Stars since 2009 and was promoted to director of hockey ops with Dallas in 2013.

The former player for the Lac-Saint-Louis Lions moved up to assistant GM with the Stars in 2016 and, according to our sources, has major ambitions to one day become a GM.

John Sedgwick

The current director of legal affairs and VP of hockey ops for the Canadiens has done a masterful job managing the cap since joining the organization in 2013. Hailing from Toronto, his French is still sufficient enough for the position and he’s under contract for two more seasons after this one.

Martin Lapointe

Lapointe was originally brought on as director of player development in 2012. He was named director of amateur scouting and given a new three-year contract last January.

As for his candidacy for the GM job, it would be surprising to see him named considering how scouting and development have been major weaknesses for the Canadiens in the Bergevin era.

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