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.
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.
Soccer-Premier League says minimum four COVID-19 cases needed for fixture postponement
Premier League sides can apply for a fixture postponement only if they have a minimum of four positive COVID-19 cases in their squads, the league said on Wednesday following a meeting of representatives of all 20 clubs.
A total of 22 games have been called off this season due to COVID-19 outbreaks and the subsequent unavailability of players, with the league being criticised by some clubs for their handling of the crisis.
Earlier, a match could be postponed if one of the teams did not have 13 available outfield players — and one goalkeeper — “either from its squad list or its appropriately experienced Under-21 players”.
“Following a club meeting today, the Premier League’s COVID-19 match postponement guidance has been updated to include a COVID-19 impact threshold,” the league said in a statement.
“From now on, if a club applies to postpone a match on the grounds of insufficient players due to COVID-19, they must have a minimum of four positive cases within their squad.”
The new guidelines will kick in ahead of the game between Burnley and Watford on Feb. 5.
The previous rule came under heavy scrutiny, with some clubs being accused of “manipulating the system” in order to get games postponed during the busy festive period.
Tottenham Hotspsur were most vocal in their criticism following the postponement of the north London derby earlier this month, saying they were “extremely surprised” that the request from Arsenal, who had one COVID-19 case, was accepted.
Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel and his Arsenal counterpart Mikel Arteta had also called for more clarity around postponements related to COVID-19.
The league added: “Club applications will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Premier League Board examines a number of factors, including the ability of a club to field a team; the status, severity and potential impact of COVID-19.”
On Monday, the league said it had reported 16 new infections of COVID-19 in the previous week, continuing a downward trend in the number of positive cases for a fourth week.
(Reporting by Dhruv Munjal in Bengaluru; Editing by Christian Radnedge)
Better late than never: Oilers elevate game in third to beat Canucks – Sportsnet.ca
There it was, on a silver platter.
A chance for a losing team to build on its first win in eight games, Saturday’s heartening 5-3 victory over Calgary still coursing through the veins. An opportunity to build some momentum against a Vancouver team in the throes of a COVID-19 shortage, ripe for a home loss against what was supposed to be a confident Oilers club.
This should be easy, right?
What? The Canucks are starting Spencer Martin in goal?
Piece of cake, right?
Down 2-0 with less than 15 minutes to play on Tuesday, Ryan McLeod slipped a shot between Martin and the near post. It was Martin’s only mistake on a 50-shot night, but by the time they were done the Oilers had fought back for a 3-2 overtime victory.
In recent losing streaks of six and seven games, it was usually Edmonton’s netminder who would surrender that queasy goal at an important moment. But now, after winning two straight games, if ever you wanted evidence that perhaps Edmonton’s luck has turned, look no further than the smelly goal that opened the floodgates in Vancouver.
“It’s 16 games. It’s tough to blame it all on bounces,” Connor McDavid admitted of their woes of late. “We weren’t playing our best hockey, but bounces do go a long way, and ‘Clouder found a way to sneak one through.”
“(Martin) was playing unbelievable, shutting the door all game,” said McLeod, who has five goals in 27 games this season. “It’s just the little squeaker ones that go in first and open the door for the rest of the guys. Early in the shift, I had a chance to shoot and I made a pass. They’ve been telling me to shoot a little more. I decided to shoot.”
From there the Oilers dominated a Canucks team that has been gutted by COVID cases, showing up to play Tuesday with no Bo Horvat, no Tanner Pearson, no Conor Garland and neither of the goaltending tandem of Thatcher Demko nor Jaro Halak.
Cue Martin, the third-stringer who faced an even 50 shots and held Edmonton to two regulation goals. He had preceded McLeod with the Mississauga Steelheads of the OHL, and played against Connor McDavid back in their minor hockey days around the GTA. So the Oilers knew of him, if not how to beat him through the opening 45 minutes.
But once McLeod broke the seal, you could see Edmonton gain life. The Oilers outshot Vancouver 15-9 in the third period and 9-1 in overtime. Leon Draisaitl’s 29th tied the game halfway through the third off a lovely pass by the returning Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and McDavid scored his first since Dec. 31 to capture the second point in overtime.
The Oilers captain has been slumping for a few weeks. The jump has been there, just not the usual production.
“I’ve been a bit snake bit,” he said. “I feel like I’m getting my chances, but haven’t been able to put one away. It was nice to be able to contribute and find a way to score a goal.”
Nice to win two straight, something the Oilers last did in the two games between six- and seven-game losing streaks. They are still right in thick of the Pacific Division race with half a season to go, but only if they can win a goodly share of their games in hand.
“It’s important — we want to get on a little roll here. That’s the main focus,” said McDavid, whose team faces Nashville on Thursday before hitting the road for Montreal, Ottawa and Washington. “It was a big win on Saturday, it’s a big win tonight. We’ve got to keep marching forward.”
It was the second straight game that Edmonton fell behind 2-0 and then battled back to win. “Not exactly a recipe for success,” said McDavid.
They still never score first — this was the 10th straight game and 25th of 28 games they’ve gone down 1-0 — but give the Oilers credit. They dominated this hockey game, outshooting Vancouver 50-27 while garnering 62.5 percent of scoring chances and 81.25 percent of the high danger scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Meanwhile, Mikko Koskinen was his usual self in goal. And by that we mean you wondered about one goal, an Elias Pettersson snapper from the outside edge of the circle, but he stopped Tyler Motte on a crucial short-handed breakaway that immediately preceded Draisaitl’s game-tying goal.
In the end Koskinen allowed two, and in a 3-2 league his team won by that exact score. Consider it a game well goaltended.
Canada's Auger-Aliassime suffers agonizing 5-set loss to Medvedev at Australian Open – CBC Sports
Felix Auger-Aliassime was one point away from a win over world No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and a spot in the Australian Open semifinals.
But the young Canadian couldn’t finish the match off, and the Russian veteran made the most of his reprieve.
One hour and 14 minutes later, Medvedev had come back from a two-sets-to-none deficit at a Grand Slam tournament for only the second time in his career and stunned Auger-Aliassime 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-4.
“You step on the court, you want to have no regrets,” Auger-Aliassime said after the four hour, 42-minute quarter-final marathon that ended early Thursday morning in Melbourne. “I can go back and think I wish I’d made different choices or wish Daniil didn’t play as well in certain moments. But, yeah, it was a good effort.
“At the end of the day, I can’t regret the effort that I put in, and the chances I gave myself.”
WATCH | Auger-Aliassime drops heartbreaker to Medvedev:
With the lion’s share of support from a good crowd held down somewhat by government-imposed limits due to COVID-19, the 21-year-old from Montreal was in control for much of the early going.
“Of course I would have loved to win. I love to win every time. It sucks to lose in the end, but that’s life. I just need to accept it,” he said.
Rain delay flips momentum
A surprisingly erratic Medvedev looked subpar physically. An effortful grunt accompanied his every move, and he was sweating heavily. The 25-year-old had issues with everything from the crowd, to the editorial choices on the giant screens, to the moving roof atop Rod Laver Arena.
He was searching for solutions, and not finding any holes in Auger-Aliassime’s game.
“I was not playing my best, and Felix was playing unbelievable,” Medvedev said during his on-court interview after the win. “He was serving unbelievable. He was all over me. I didn’t really know what to do.”
And then, a little rain changed everything — at least for Medvedev.
With the Russian serving at 2-1 in the third-set tiebreak, there was a seven-minute delay as a brief shower led the retractable roof to be closed and the court dried off with towels by the ball kids.
Medvedev went off court briefly as Auger-Aliassime sat in his chair, muttering to himself.
The Russian returned and won five of the next points, and the third set.
“In the first set and in the tiebreak I was sweating like hell and made a few double faults, because my hand was really slippery,” said Medvedev, who tried swapping out his wristbands for dry ones but still couldn’t get a good grip.
“When they closed the roof, I felt the momentum changed, and I felt like I could go through the ball better.”
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Once the air conditioning kicked in, the temperature inside Rod Laver Arena dropped a good 10 degrees. And that helped.
There was no rain for the rest of the match. But the roof remained closed.
Small missed opportunities
Auger-Aliassime conceded that there were small moments of opportunity even before that tiebreak — little openings that, if exploited, might have given him a straight-sets win.
The experienced champions recognize those moments, and put pedal to metal to finish things off. At 21, Auger-Aliassime is still learning.
Still, in the fourth set, serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Medvedev double-faulted and gifted the Canadian a match point.
And then he wrenched it away with a massive 213 km/hour serve — his fastest of the night.
Medvedev was trying everything. Even then, Auger-Aliassime had opportunities to break early in the fifth set. But every time the door was slightly ajar Medvedev found a solution, or Auger-Aliassime couldn’t quite make the play.
“I told myself: what would Novak [Djokovic] do?” said Medvedev, to a chorus of boos of the Melbourne crowd at the mere mention of the absent nine-time champion’s name.
“That’s what came to my mind, because he’s one of the greatest champions — and Rafa [Nadal] and Roger [Federer], to be honest,” he added. “I’m going to make him work.
“If he wants to win it, he needs to fight for the last point.”
Medvedev changed his return position from well beyond the Melbourne banner behind the baseline, moving up several metres into the court.
He wasted as little time as humanly possible between points on his serve — a couple of times, he was ready to serve before chair umpire Damien Dumusois had even started the 25-second serve clock.
He gave no time for his opponent to get set for the return, and Auger-Aliassime’s return effectiveness dropped.
Medvedev came into the net a lot more in the tiebreaks, and when he was behind.
Suddenly, none of the external distractions bothered him. He no longer looked as though he was struggling physically.
For Auger-Aliassime, who had a medical timeout at 2-3 in the fifth set to have some tape added to an already tightly wrapped right ankle, the plan in 2022 is to find the silver lining — no matter what.
“It’s no surprise [Medvedev] is where he is now. He fights, tries to find solutions. He plays well when he needs to,” Auger-Aliassime said. “I think he was just a little bit more clutch than me — a little bit more solid at times.
“It comes with experience as well, I think. But I’m looking forward to the next time I can put myself in that situation. I believe I can cross the line.”
Auger-Aliassime was looking to reach his second straight Grand Slam semifinal. He made it to the final four of last year’s U.S. Open, where he also lost to eventual champion Medvedev.
Still, the Montrealer has made it to at least the quarter-finals in his last three Grand Slams.
Medvedev is looking to become the first man in the Open era to win his first two Grand Slam titles in consecutive tournaments. He faces French Open runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas on Friday.
Nadal, seeking a men’s record 21st major title to break a tie with Djokovic and Federer, will play Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini in the other semifinal match.
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