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Raptors deliver Toronto-tailored tribute to Kobe Bryant

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TORONTO – The day of mourning and remembrance started early Tuesday in Toronto.

At about 9:30 in the morning, an eagle-eyed Ryerson University student spotted outside of Scotiabank Arena a small collection of flowers along with a basketball and a couple of black No. 8 jerseys with the name “Bryant” emblazoned atop the number.

By the afternoon, this small collection had grown to include balloons, hats and more.

A full-on memorial for the late Kobe Bryant in Toronto. An impromptu gesture that speaks to the impact Bryant had on fans around the world.

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But this memorial outside of Scotiabank Arena only served as the prelude of what was to come in the venue on Tuesday evening.

Across the league, there have been many tributes and many heartfelt words spoken in the wake of Sunday’s tragedy, but on Tuesday it was the Toronto Raptors’ turn.

Unlike on Sunday, when the team was caught blindsided by the news in San Antonio, opting to run out the 24-second shot clock to start the game in honour of Bryant’s No. 24, Tuesday was a much more scripted affair.

It began in warmups, when Bryant-related songs played, including Juicy J’s “Who Da Neighbors” and Lil Wayne’s aptly named “Kobe Bryant.”

Then, before player introductions, the Raptors held a video tribute in honour of Bryant followed by a 24-second moment of silence.

The coolest thing, however, came near the end of the third quarter when the Atlanta Hawks, Toronto’s opponent on Tuesday, reach 81 points and their score lit up purple on the main scoreboard in honour of the 81 Bryant dropped on the Raptors in 2006.

These were all initiatives that were well done by the Raptors and left fans on their feet during Toronto’s 130-114 victorious affair that, amid the Bryant tribute, also featured plenty of love for former Raptor Vince Carter – making his second last visit to Toronto before he retires – and for Kyle Lowry, who became the Raptors’ all-time assist leader.

There were smiles all around the arena.

But as happy an evening as Tuesday was for fans in attendance, for players, the memory of Bryant’s loss was still very prevalent.

“It’s hard to find the words to describe what happened, what we went through, what everybody’s going through as a community, as a family,” said Fred VanVleet after the game. “But I think the important thing is that we try to keep pushing as best we can, and pain comes from the love, and I think that’s the tribute to how great somebody is. I think we’re seeing it. We’re all dealing with it together.”

Yes, while there was reason to celebrate in the Raptors’ locker room, what with a win and a milestone for a franchise icon, the tone of the room was still more reserved.

Norman Powell — dressed in a hoodie honouring Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, who also lost her life in that tragic helicopter crash Sunday — still seemed very shaken up as he exited the room.

And he wasn’t the only one. Nearly every player did.

“It’s been tough man, it’s been tough,” said Lowry. “Whenever you turn the news on, that’s how you know the man was a world icon. That everything you turn on it’s about this and that, and it’s hard to look at it and it’s hard to know what his family is possibly going through. It’s tough. Every time you think about it you get sad.”

Added VanVleet: “I’ve been crying enough, so I’m gonna try not to cry now. It’s super super sad, as a human being, human beings, that were involved, the families that were involved, and then you add on what a fantastic basketball player, and how much he meant to a culture, it’s hard to find words to describe those things. I think we’re all pretty sad and heartbroken, and we should be, and you take your time to grieve and find your ways to deal with it individually.”

As VanVleet said, everyone grieves and deals with loss in their own way, but Pascal Siakam, who lost his father in a car accident in 2014, has unique perspective on the hurt Bryant’s family and those of the other seven victims in Sunday’s crash are going through.

“For someone that knows what it’s like to lose somebody that you really love, all I can do is pray for families involved and hope that God can give them strength to go through this tough time,” said Siakam. “There’s not much you can really say but keep them in your prayers and hope that they’re strong enough to overcome.”

Specifically about Bryant, Siakam is bereaved by a missed chance to meet the Mamba.

“I didn’t really get the chance to have a relationship with him,” said Siakam. “And I remember in the playoffs and he did a Detail on me, like one of those episodes, and I was pretty excited just knowing that he knows about me and knows about my game and him giving me a little advice.

“I remember watching that and trying to soak up any new knowledge that I can to improve my game. And things that he saw that I could do better, from being able to develop a mid-range to working on different footwork. So watching that was something that was really big for me.

“And I was invited to the Mamba Camp that he had in the summer and I wasn’t able to go, so that really hurt me, too. Just knowing that was my chance to meet him and maybe have a relationship with him or see things that he sees in my game and learn from him. So I was definitely mad at myself about that. I feel I kind of missed an opportunity.”

This feeling of ‘would’ve, could’ve’ Siakam expressed is felt by just about everyone.

On Tuesday, the Raptors did a fine job of honouring Bryant, but it would’ve been a whole lot nicer if it wasn’t necessary at all.

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Canada coach John Herdman disputes Croatian counterpart's account of skipped post-match handshake – The Globe and Mail

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Canada head coach John Herdman during a World Cup match against Croatia, at the Khalifa International Stadium, in Doha, Qatar, on Nov. 27.The Associated Press

Canada coach John Herdman is disputing his Croatian counterpart’s account of why there was no handshake after their World Cup game.

Herdman had antagonized the Croatian camp with a heated postgame message to his players after Canada’s opening 1-0 loss to Belgium at the soccer showcase. Asked in a pitch-side interview what he had said in a postgame huddle to his players, Herdman replied: “I told them they belong here and we’re going to go and eff – Croatia. That’s as simple as it gets.”

That prompted a stern lecture from Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic on the need for respect. And after Croatia beat the Canadians 4-1 Sunday, Dalic was asked if he had a chance to shake hands with Herdman following the final whistle.

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“I did not see the other head coach after the match,” he said through an interpreter. “When I lose I always congratulate the winner. He was not there and that’s his way of doing things. He’s obviously mad. He is a good coach. He is a high-quality professional. But it will take some time for him to learn some things.”

Herdman, whose postgame news conference preceded Dalic’s on Sunday, disputed that account Wednesday when asked about it.

“Look, we shook hands before the game. So that happened,” he said. “At the end of the game, the usual process – no different than [with Belgium coach] Roberto Martinez. You shake hands with the coach, then you go shake hands with the referee.

“When I turned round, [Dalic] was already off down the touchline, which is his right to do. He’s celebrating. He’s just beaten Canada. It was a big celebration for him. He was off and I couldn’t get to shake his hand. I went into the field, shook the ref’s hand, shook players’ hands. And didn’t get to see him.

“That moment’s gone. We’re into process now – team huddle, see your fans, flash interviews, calm yourself down so you don’t say anything and move on.”

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Argentina coast past Poland 2-0 to top World Cup Group C – Al Jazeera English

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Second-half goals from Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez cap a return to form for the South American giants.

Argentina coasted past Poland in a 2-0 victory on Wednesday night to top Group C and confirm their place in the last 16 of the World Cup, signalling a return to form for the South American giants after a poor start to this year’s tournament.

Alexis Mac Allister and Julian Alvarez’s second-half goals capped a dominant display by coach Lionel Scaloni’s charges at Stadium 974 – which was packed to the rafters with tens of thousands of raucous Argentinian supporters – to set up a clash with Australia on Saturday.

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After a goalless first 45 minutes, Mac Allister got on the end of Nahuel Molina’s cross just one minute into the second period and, despite making weak contact, he saw his shot creep over the line with Polish keeper Wojciech Szczesny beaten.

The second goal was the result of patient buildup play which saw Argentina shift the ball around before Enzo Fernandez made a defence-splitting pass for Julian Alvarez, who found space in the box and smashed it into the top corner to effectively kill the game in the 67th minute.

Poland were lifeless throughout but managed to also squeeze through to the knockout phase on goal difference at the expense of Mexico, who beat Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Group C’s other match.

They will meet defending champions France in the last 16 on Sunday.

Argentina's Alexis Mac Allister scores their first goal
Mac Allister opened the scoring for Argentina immediately after half-time [Issei Kato/Reuters]

Messi misses from the penalty spot

The first half’s defining moment came in the 39th minute when Argentina captain and talisman Lionel Messi failed to convert from the penalty spot on his record-breaking 22nd World Cup match, one more than the late Diego Maradona managed for La Albiceleste.

Poland were up in arms when Argentina were awarded the penalty after a VAR check for a foul on Messi when Szczesny’s glove brushed his face as the Paris St Germain forward rose up for a header at the far post.

But Szczesny was up to the task and despite the Argentina fans raising the decibel levels inside the arena, he kept his composure and guessed correctly, diving to his left and using one hand to swat aside Messi’s effort.

Not to be deterred, Messi never stopped surging forward and he was a menace to Poland all throughout the game with his dribbling ability and vision.

His glittering performance stood in stark contrast to that of Poland’s star striker Robert Lewandowski, who was deprived of service and virtually anonymous for the duration of the match.

Messi, 35, has admitted this will likely be his last World Cup outing while Lewandoski, 34, has said he is unsure if he will make it to the 2026 edition in North America but would like to do so.

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Maple Leafs extend win streak to five games as Marner enters record book – Sportsnet.ca

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