TORONTO – Not all wins are created equal.
“It’s a good win, on the back end of a back to back,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “Again, it’s just wanting to see some progress with this group and figure some things out. I think the thing we figured out tonight was we didn’t have our best juices flowing, just no other way to say it than that, but it’s a long game and you hang in there and you figure out a way to get ‘em flowing.
“Then you start playing really good defensively. Again, it’s a learning thing and continue to make progress with this team.”
Led by another brilliant performance from Pascal Siakam, who has looked more like his old All-NBA self in his last four games, the Raptors managed to pull off a come-from-behind victory Wednesday after a sluggish first half on the second night of a back-to-back against a good Bucks team.
For the third straight game, Nurse opted to go with a starting five of Fred VanVleet, Gary Trent Jr., Siakam, Scottie Barnes and OG Anunoby.
Granted, three games isn’t much of a sample size, but considering how this season has gone for the Raptors, three contests in a row with the same starting five may as well be a trend.
In the past, Nurse has alluded to a more fluid, shuffled starting lineup according to the opponent, but considering that this smaller five-man unit – that came into Wednesday’s action a plus-10 in 66 minutes played together – was one that probably features the team’s five best players outright, it makes sense that Nurse would like to keep rolling with this group.
And as it turns out, it was the right decision.
This starting group was excellent yet again, combining for 102 points on 48.6 per cent shooting with Siakam leading the way with 33 points, five rebounds and six assists on 13-for-23 shooting.
However, no matter how brilliant the starters may play offensively, it means nothing if the team is unable to get stops and at least some production from its second unit.
Those two aspects of the game nearly sunk the Raptors on Wednesday, but thanks to some second-half adjustments, Toronto was able to walk away with a big win, extending their winning streak to four and improving their record to 18-17 on the season, the first time they’ve been above .500 since Nov. 11.
As well, the win moved the Raptors to within two games back of fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
The Bucks were without their best player, and former two-time MVP, in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was forced to miss the game with a non-COVID illness, but that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment the Raptors managed to achieve.
On the second night of a back-to-back and facing a very good Bucks team that are fighting for the top spot in the East – even without Antetokounmpo – this game had “expected loss” written all over it for the Raptors, and they simply didn’t allow that to happen, even if things didn’t start the way they wanted.
The Raptors allowed the Bucks to shoot 61.4 per cent from the field and go 13-for-21 from deep in the first half as they hung 77 points on the Raptors in the opening 24 minutes. To make matters worse, Toronto’s bench got severely outscored, 29-7, as only Chris Boucher (three points) and Justin Champagnie (four) scored among the Raptors reserves in the opening half.
Thankfully for the Raptors, they were nearly as hot as the Bucks were in the first half as they put up 68 points of their own, shooting 54.3 per cent from the field. And that strong first-half play was necessary for Toronto as it – as seen previously before this seen – turned things around completely in the second half.
Despite taking that comfortable 77-68 lead at the half, the Bucks squandered their big cushion as the Raptors went on a 7-0 run about five minutes into the third quarter to tie the game up at 85-85 that saw Siakam score five points alone during this spurt. A few minutes later, Siakam made a nice spin move along the base line and laid the ball up and in to give Toronto a lead, 87-86.
Toronto would grow this advantage afterwards to take a 92-88 lead into the fourth quarter as Siakam went off for 10 points in the frame.
More importantly, unlike the first half, the Raptors played a strong defensive quarter, holding the Bucks to just 11 points and 3-of-22 shooting from the floor.
And with this continued defensive momentum that kept up in the fourth quarter, along with continued strong play from Siakam, the Raptors were able to put the game to bed, even as things got a little dicey near the end.
“It was about as two different results defensively in a game that you can have, said Nurse. “I think the first half, when you start not doing some things well and most of it just usually stems from a readiness standpoint.
“We just weren’t running back hard enough to get set, weren’t quite getting out to shooters, we were kinda there, but not quite the way the game plan was set up. [We] just weren’t moving and active enough. There was plays right in front of us and we were kinda right there and could react very well and then it all changed. We got into them, we started getting some deflections, started swarming and flying, we started standing in more on their drives, rebounding well. We just started doing everything better and I think it just came down to some readiness and some energy that we found.”
More encouragingly, in the second half, the Raptors’ bench managed to outscore Milwaukee’s 8-5 and, most importantly, played some strong minutes on the defensive end, bringing lots of energy, with Precious Achiuwa’s six-point, five-rebound fourth quarter – that even saw him drill a three – standing out in particular.
“I thought his effort was great and I think that’s really all we’re asking,” said Nurse. “I think he’s going to make effective plays, he’s so big and athletic, if he’s amped up and playing hard, he’s going to impact the game.
“He was doing a little bit of everything and he throws in a big three. That was kind of a big momentum three there that kind of got us going, too.”
Ideally, you’d like the see the Raptors play a complete game, but showing guts on the road in a tough building to play against a very tough team – again, even without Antetokounmpo – on the second night of a back-to-back that saw the team’s All-NBA player look every bit the part, while the team’s starting unit, in general, looked like one of the best in the entire league the club put the clamps down in the second half to set up the win?
It’s hard to be anything but impressed.
Wednesday night’s Raptors victory isn’t like any of the 17 others the Raptors had earned before. This is a team that’s starting to learn what it takes to be successful.
“You learn that it’s a long game and you’re not always going to be at your best,” Nurse said. “You really want to, you gotta learn that this is a defence-first process and did a good job of not over-reacting to that first half.
“I thought we got into the locker room and I actually said, ‘We’re pretty fortunate, it’s a nine-point game, there’s a lot of ball to be played here, I think our offence is fine, we’re going to score.’ It’s just a matter of can we flip it around and start to do some of the things we need to do defensively and we did.”
So, could Wednesday be considered a signature win?
It just might.
More importantly, it was a win, and that seems to be something the Raptors are getting good at doing again.
Senators score 5 times in 3rd period to down free-falling Oilers – CBC Sports
Scoring five third-period goals may not be the usual game plan, but it was the perfect path to a win for the Ottawa Senators on Saturday.
Josh Norris scored a pair of goals and the Senators erased a 3-1 third-period deficit in a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Adam Gaudette, Alex Formenton, Artem Zub and Zach Sanford also scored for the Senators (11-18-2), who have won two straight and won their first game this season when trailing after the second period.
Gaudette, who also had an assist, said the comeback was a blast.
“It was a lot of fun. Personally it’s been a while since I’ve had that much fun playing hockey,” he said. “It’s been a tough year and a half or so, so it really feels good to contribute and to help this team win.”
Chris Tierney had two assists, while Senators starter Matt Murray stopped 33-of-37 shots.
Zack Kassian, Kailer Yamamoto, Brendan Perlini and Darnell Nurse replied for the Oilers (18-15-2), who are still in a free-fall. They have dropped six straight and are 2-10-2 in their last 14 games.
“That is one we let slip away,” Kassian said. “Everybody is pretty upset. We were pretty frustrated with that one. That’s a tough way to lose. You are up 3-1 going into the third and you lay a stinker. We are a pretty frustrated group. I think the writing is on the wall.”
Edmonton goalie Stuart Skinner made 20 saves in defeat.
Edmonton knotted the game with a power-play goal of its own with just 48 seconds remaining in the opening period as Leon Draisaitl won a board battle and fed it in front to Kassian, who wired a shot past Murray.
The Oilers made it 2-1 with eight minutes left in the middle frame as Yamamoto fought off Erik Brannstrom and slid a backhand shot under Murray while off balance.
The Oilers added to the their lead with two and a half minutes to play in the second as Perlini added some extra weight to a Duncan Keith shot for his third of the season.
Ottawa got one back early in the third on a two-on-one as Gaudette beat Skinner with a high backhander.
The Senators tied it up five minutes into the third period as Skinner coughed up a puck behind the net, eventually leading to a rebound goal by Formenton.
Ottawa’s unlikely comeback saw them regain the lead midway through the third when Zub picked the top corner with a long shot.
However, the Oilers were able to draw even two minutes later as Nurse jumped up to score on a wrist shot.
The Senators came roaring back with another power-play goal as Norris scored his team-leading 16th goal of the season.
Sanford put the game away with Ottawa’s fifth third-period goal, scoring on a long seeing-eye empty netter.
The Senators return home to face the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday, while the Oilers are off until Thursday when they host the Florida Panthers.
Novak Djokovic arrives in Dubai after deportation from Australia – Sportsnet.ca
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Novak Djokovic arrived early Monday in Dubai after his deportation from Australia over its required COVID-19 vaccination ended the No. 1-ranked men’s tennis player’s hopes of defending his Australian Open title.
The Emirates plane carrying Djokovic touched down after a 13 1/2-hour flight from Melbourne, where he had argued in court he should be allowed to stay in the country and compete in the tournament under a medical exemption due to a coronavirus infection last month.
Dubai International Airport was quiet early Monday morning as flights from the Australia and Asia began to arrive. Passengers wearing mandatory face masks collected their bags and walked out of the cavernous terminal. The first Muslim call to prayers before the sunrise echoed over the terminal.
It wasn’t immediately clear where Djokovic planned to travel next. The Dubai Duty Free tennis tournament, which Djokovic won in 2020, doesn’t start until Feb. 14.
Dubai, the commercial capital of the United Arab Emirates, doesn’t require travelers to be vaccinated, though they must show a negative PCR test to board a flight.
Djokovic had won nine Australian Open titles, including three in a row, and a total of 20 Grand Slam singles trophies, tied with rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the most in the history of men’s tennis. Federer is not playing while recovering from injury, and Nadal is the only former Australian Open men’s champion in the tournament that began Monday.
Djokovic’s visa was initially canceled on Jan. 6 by a border official who decided he didn’t qualify for a medical exemption from Australia’s rules for unvaccinated visitors. He was exempted from the tournament’s vaccine rules because he had been infected with the virus within the previous six months.
He won an appeal to stay for the tournament, but Australia’s immigration minister later revoked his visa. Three Federal Court judges decided unanimously Sunday to affirm the immigration minister’s right to cancel Djokovic’s visa.
Vaccination amid the pandemic was a requirement for anyone at the Australian Open, whether players, their coaches or anyone at the tournament site. More than 95% of all Top 100 men and women in their tours’ respective rankings are vaccinated. At least two men — American Tennys Sandgren and Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert — skipped the first major tournament of the year due to the vaccine requirement.
Djokovic’s attempt to get the medical exemption for not being vaccinated sparked anger in Australia, where strict lockdowns in cities and curbs on international travel have been employed to try to control the spread of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
Australia leaves door open for Djokovic to play at next year’s Open
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has left the door open for Novak Djokovic to compete at next year’s Australian Open despite the tennis superstar facing an automatic three-year ban from entering the country.
The world number one player left Australia late on Sunday after the Federal Court upheld a government decision to cancel his visa, capping days of drama over the country’s COVID-19 entry rules and his unvaccinated status.
Under immigration law, Djokovic cannot be granted another visa for three years unless Australia’s immigration minister accepts there are compelling or compassionate reasons.
“I’m not going to precondition any of that or say anything that would not enable the minister to make the various calls he has to make,” Morrison told 2GB radio on Monday as Djokovic was en route to Dubai.
“It does go over a three-year period, but there is the opportunity for (a person) to return in the right circumstances, and that will be considered at the time.”
The unanimous ruling by a three-judge Federal Court bench dealt a final blow to Djokovic’s hopes of chasing a record 21st Grand Slam win at the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, dismaying his family and supporters.
In a rollercoaster ride, the world’s top men’s player was first detained by immigration authorities on Jan. 6, ordered released by a court on Jan. 10 and then detained again on Saturday pending Sunday’s court hearing.
Djokovic, 34, said he was extremely disappointed by the ruling but he respected the court’s decision.
“I am uncomfortable that the focus of the past weeks has been on me and I hope that we can all now focus on the game and the tournament I love,” Djokovic said in a statement before flying out of Melbourne.
The player was filmed by Reuters wearing a mask and taking selfies with fans at the arrival gate in Dubai as he waited for his entourage to get off the plane. The group then headed through a security channel for transfer passengers.
The saga caused a row between Canberra and Belgrade, with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic calling the court decision “scandalous”.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Monday that she and Morrison had been in touch with Brnabic during the legal process last week.
“I am absolutely confident that the very positive relationship, bilateral relationship between Australia and Serbia will continue on the strong footing that it currently enjoys,” Payne told reporters.
Immigration Minister Alex Hawke had said Djokovic could be a threat to public order because his presence would encourage anti-vaccination sentiment amidst Australia’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
The Federal Court judges noted their ruling was based on the lawfulness and legality of the minister’s decision, but did not address “the merits or wisdom” of the decision. They have yet to release the full reasoning behind their decision.
The Serbian tennis player’s visa troubles fuelled global debate over the rights of people who decline to get vaccinated as governments take measures to protect people from the two-year pandemic.
Djokovic had been granted a visa to enter Australia, with a COVID-19 infection on Dec. 16 providing the basis for a medical exemption from Australia’s requirements that all visitors be vaccinated. The exemption was organised via Tennis Australia and the Victoria state government.
That exemption prompted widespread anger in Australia, which has undergone some of the world’s toughest COVID-19 lockdowns and where more than 90% of adults are vaccinated.
The controversy became a political touchstone for Morrison as he prepares for an election due by May, amid wrangling over responsibility between his centre-right federal coalition government and the centre-left Victoria state government.
Morrison on Monday defended his handling of the situation and differentiated Djokovic’s case from vaccine sceptics within his own government.
“If you’re someone coming from overseas, and there are conditions for you to enter this country, then you have to comply with them,” he said. “This is about someone who sought to come to Australia and not comply with the entry rules at our border.”
The men’s tennis governing body ATP said the decision “marks the end of a deeply regrettable series of events”, adding it respected the decision, a comment echoed by Tennis Australia.
On the tennis circuit, fellow players have become impatient for the media circus to end.
“The situation has not been good all round for anyone. It feels everything here happened extremely last minute and that’s why it became such a mess,” said former world number one Andy Murray.
(Reporting By Jane Wardell; editing by Diane Craft and Michael Perry)
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