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Raptors execute game plan in win over rival 76ers

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TORONTO – After dropping the first three games of their opening-round playoff series with Philadelphia last spring, the Raptors were starting to make things interesting.

With a pair of convincing victories under their belt, they seemed poised to do something that very few teams in their position have ever done: force a winner-take-all Game 7.

Then Game 6 happened. The Raptors were embarrassed on their home court, getting blown out by 35 points as Joel Embiid celebrated and sent them into the off-season with a sour taste in their mouths.

Despite coming to camp with virtually the same roster, head coach Nick Nurse hasn’t revisited that game or even spent much time talking about the series as a whole. It’s been at the back of his mind, though; informing some of the things he’s emphasized going into the new season.

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“I didn’t think we executed very well in that last game of the series,” Nurse said ahead of Wednesday’s contest, the first of two consecutive against the rival 76ers. “As a coach, when you lose one like that you have to think about it all summer. Our whole thing is we need to play hard on D and we’ve got to execute our schemes. If we don’t do one or the other, we’re probably not gonna be good on D. If we do both, we’re gonna be very, very good.”

After that six-game crash course in defending one of the league’s most dynamic offensive duos, Embiid and James Harden, they were better prepared to execute their game plan on Wednesday night.

The numbers don’t necessarily reflect it. Philadelphia shot 51 per cent, including 16-for-36 from three-point range. Embiid scored 31 points on 12-of-17, even if – at times – it seemed like a disinterested 31 points. He, Harden and third-year star Tyrese Maxey combined for 80 points. But the Raptors set out to make them uncomfortable and, for most of the night, they succeeded.

“I was super happy with the defence,” Nurse said following his club’s impressive 119-109 win, improving their record to 3-2.

Without a big man who could match the sheer size or strength of Embiid, Toronto sent multiple defenders his way whenever and wherever he caught the ball. If nothing else, it put pressure on him to make quicker reads, and unlike most of last year’s playoff series, the Raptors did a good job of flying around and recovering out to shooters.

Coming out of a timeout early in the fourth quarter, Christian Koloko – who was giving up at least 50 pounds in the matchup – fronted Embiid in the post and deflected an entry pass, leading to a fast-break dunk for the Raptors’ rookie. A few minutes later, O.G. Anunoby picked off a Sixers pass, also intended for Embiid, and turned the transition opportunity into a couple free throws. With Embiid off the court, they showed Harden that same defensive pressure, doubling him at the top of the arc and ceding difficult looks in the corner.

The Raptors only forced 13 turnovers, low by their standards, but they turned them into 21 points. Part of that can be credited to Philadelphia’s shaky transition defence, but it’s how Nurse wants to play.

“We’ve got some work to do, for sure, but the effort’s there,” said Fred VanVleet, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. “We’re probably never going to play a perfect game, but I thought we executed the game plan, for the most part.”

Of course, it helps when shots are falling the way they have been to open the campaign. On Wednesday, Toronto hit 16 of its 37 three-point attempts. With P.J. Tucker going under screens and playing the red-hot Pascal Siakam to drive, the Raptors forward made him pay, knocking down his first four threes. As the defence adjusted in the second half, Siakam became a playmaker, assisting on a couple of Gary Trent Jr.’s four third-quarter triples.

A year ago, the Raptors shot 35 per cent from beyond the arc, good for 20th in the league. In the preseason, they shot 24 per cent. Through five games this season, they’re at 41 per cent, third-best in the NBA. While the sample size is small and they’re due for some regression, if guys like Siakam and Scottie Barnes continue to show improvement in their jumpers, that opens things up for the offence.

Say what you will about the Sixers, who have lost four of their first five games and don’t look quite right to start the year, but this was the Raptors’ most complete outing of the young season. They never blew things open, but they were also in control throughout.

“We feel like we’re one of the best teams and [have the] best players anywhere we go,” said Trent, who had a team-high 27 points and was one of six Raptors to score in double figures. “We put our five against anybody’s five, we should be good.”

“We will take the win but at the same time we are not satisfied,” Siakam said after his 20-point, 13-assist night. “We know that a team like that will come back the next game and make adjustments. We have to be ready for that.”

MAKING HISTORY

Midway through the opening quarter, Koloko checked in for the Raptors, joining countrymen Siakam and Embiid on the floor. It was a special moment, marking the first time in league history that three Cameroon-born players have appeared in the same NBA game.

“It’s a pretty huge deal, I would like to think,” Siakam said earlier on Wednesday. “It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come. And to think, we’re still a long ways [away], but I think we’re making good steps forward. It’s great.”

Siakam and Koloko both grew up in Douala, Cameroon’s most populous city, situated on the Atlantic Ocean coast. Embiid hails from Yaoundé, about 230 kilometres east. All three are Basketball Without Borders alums, and Embiid was a coach at the 2017 camp in South Africa, which Koloko attended as a camper.

It’s not the size of their hometowns that makes their unlikely journey to the pros so remarkable – Douala has a population of roughly three million people, about the same as Toronto. Instead, it’s the infrastructure. Douala produced two NBA players despite being home to just one concrete-floored indoor basketball court, located inside the school that Koloko attended.

The talent is there and, with the success that these guys are having at the highest level of the sport, the interest level is rising throughout the country. Still, the playing conditions haven’t improved much. Through the help of his foundation, Siakam is aiming to change that and grow the game back home.

“We’re working on a lot of things and we’re hoping that we can continue to bring awareness to the game,” said the All-NBA forward. “This generation, we’re hoping that more people get there, but I think the younger generation is probably going to benefit from it more.”

The hope is that their success stories, and seeing all three of them on the court together, can help inspire that next generation.

“Hopefully it means something [to them],” Siakam said. “Just having that representation that, for us, we don’t really get to have most of the time. I didn’t watch that much basketball [growing up] but when I did I didn’t really see a lot of people that was from where I was from. So just seeing that in one game, three people in one place, that’s huge. And hopefully that makes younger kids wants to dream to be in the NBA because it feels like something you can touch and something you can feel, because we’re doing it.”

Wednesday night’s game between Toronto and Philadelphia tipped off at 12:30 a.m. on Thursday morning in Cameroon. Koloko remembers pulling all-nighters to watch games live as a teenager. The West Coast games wouldn’t end until after 5 a.m. local time, just before he had to leave for school.

“You watch the game and you’d get like 30 minutes of sleep,” Koloko said. “Sometimes you don’t even sleep because you know if you sleep you’re not going to wake up, so you just go to school and your eyes are red. It’s just for the love of the game, man. I feel like a lot of people are definitely going to do that tonight.”

FINED

Moments before tip-off, the NBA announced that Raptors president and vice chairman Masai Ujiri had been fined $35,000 for approaching the scorer’s table and directing inappropriate remarks towards an official during Toronto’s loss to the Heat in Miami on Saturday.

Of course, that was already an eventful night. Koloko was ejected and subsequently fined $15,000 for his role in an on-court altercation with Heat forward Caleb Martin. Upon review, it was clear that the rookie’s “role” in the exchange consisted of standing up after Martin stood over and taunted him, and then putting his arm on Martin’s back to brace himself as he was tackled into the stands.

The incident sparked a Raptors comeback, cutting a 24-point deficit to three inside the final minute, before coming up short.

So, yeah, you can see why Ujiri may have had a few things to get off his chest.

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Marner extends point streak to 17 games as Maple Leafs sweep road trip – Sportsnet.ca

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Croatia charged for World Cup fans' taunts of Canada goalie – CP24

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The Associated Press


Published Tuesday, November 29, 2022 6:43AM EST


Last Updated Tuesday, November 29, 2022 6:43AM EST

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DOHA, Qatar (AP) — FIFA opened a disciplinary case against Croatia on Tuesday because of its fans’ taunts aimed at the Canada goalkeeper who has Serbian family ties during the teams’ World Cup game.

FIFA said the charge against the Croatian soccer federation was “due to the behavior of its fans” and cited rules relating to discrimination and security at games.

Canada goalkeeper Milan Borjan was born in an ethnic Serb region of Croatia that was part of the conflict that split the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Borjan’s family left their hometown in 1995 when it was taken by Croatian forces amid stories that ethnic Serbs fled on tractors.

During Canada’s 4-1 loss on Sunday, one banner displayed by Croatia fans used a flag of tractor manufacturer John Deere and changed the marketing slogan to target Borjan.

Borjan moved as a child with his family to Canada and chose to represent that country at soccer, though he plays for storied Serbian club Red Star Belgrade.

FIFA gave no timetable for a verdict in the case which would typically be judged with a fine for the federation.

In the first disciplinary verdict of the World Cup on Tuesday, FIFA imposed a 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,500) fine on the German soccer federation for not bringing players to the news conference that is mandatory one day before a game.

Coach Hansi Flick appeared alone Saturday in breach of tournament rules to meet international media in Doha ahead of the team playing Spain.

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Mitch Marner 17-game point streak Toronto Maple Leafs top Detroit Red Wings – TSN

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DETROIT (AP) — Auston Matthews and William Nylander scored 51 seconds apart in the first period, Mitch Marner extended his point streak to 17 games and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-2 Monday night.

“It’s a cool thing, but nothing is ever achievable in this game by yourself,” said Marner, who scored in the opening minute of the second.

Marner’s 17-game point streak is one shy of the single-season Maple Leafs record set by Darryl Sittler during the 1977-78 season and matched 12 years later by Ed Olczyk.

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Rasmus Sandin also scored and Matt Murray made 42 saves for the Maple Leafs, who have won a season-high four straight — all on the road — and earned a point in nine consecutive games.

“It was our best game of the trip,” coach Kyle Dubas said. “Our goaltender was outstanding as it has been all trip. The way he’s playing, if he sees it, he’s stopping it.”

Moritz Seider had an early goal for Detroit, finishing a four-shot flurry, but the lead didn’t last long. Matthews’ wrist shot beat Ville Husso glove side a few minutes later and Nylander scored on a power play to put the Maple Leafs ahead 2-1 midway through the first period.

Sandin put Toronto up 4-1 midway through the period, chasing Husso.

Detroit’s breakout goalie was pulled from a game for the first time this season after giving up four goals on 13 shots. He entered with an NHL-high three shutouts, matching his previous career total.

“I’m sure Huss would probably want three of the four back,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “But it is tough to not see much action at all in your end, and then you’ve got Matthews and Marner in the inner slot. We didn’t give up many chances, but the ones we did give up were too good.”

Alex Nedeljkovic entered in relief and stopped all 12 shots he faced for the Red Wings, who had won a season-best four consecutive games.

Midway through the third, Seider’s shot was redirected by teammate Adam Erne in front to pull the Red Wings within two.

“We had a lot of chances and we just didn’t get the puck in the net,” Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin said. “Give them credit, especially Murray, but we had looks in the slot and looks all around it. We just didn’t capitalize and they did.”

Detroit pulled Nedeljkovic late for an extra skater, but couldn’t score against a team missing banged-up players on the blue line such as Morgan Rielly and T.J. Brodie.

“We talked about tightening up our defense, and we’ve done a good job of it,” Marner said.

DUELING FANS

A lot of fans crossed the border to attend the game at Little Caesars Arena. When Detroit fans chanted, “Let’s Go Red Wings,” Toronto fans responded, “Go Leafs, Go!”

ONE-TIMERS

Toronto extended its point streak against Detroit to 14 games. … The Maple Leafs closed the month 6-0 on the road. … The Red Wings had a season-high 44 shots, and lost for the first time in regulation this season after outshooting an opponent. … Seider had a goal and an assist, giving him six points in five games.

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night.

Red Wings: Play the Buffalo Sabres at home Wednesday night.

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AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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