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Raptors’ loss to Bucks a contrast of familiar trends, concerning novelties – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO — Things have changed but much remains the same since the last time the two best teams in the Eastern Conference faced off in Toronto.

There was Drake trolling the Milwaukee Bucks and the entire state of Wisconsin, strolling to his courtside seat with not one but two championship belts over his shoulder, a reminder – as if the Bucks needed one – that Drake’s Toronto Raptors won not only the Eastern Conference championship over Milwaukee last May, but that they went on to win the whole thing.

The intensity was there too.

There were bodies hitting the floor, charges being drawn, and the Raptors throwing their whole roster, seemingly, in the path of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

There were a number of Raptors — though not enough in the end — making key contributions from the perimeter as the Bucks remained committed to camping their huge bodies in the paint, daring anyone to finish over them at the rim.

There were differences, though, and they might be concerning if the second-seeded Raptors do end up having to go through the No.1-seeded Bucks to defend their NBA title.

Missing was Kawhi Leonard from the Raptors lineup, and also Marc Gasol – the two Toronto players most responsible for holding down Antetokounmpo and enabling the Raptors to come back from 0-2 and winning four straight on their way to the NBA Finals.

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Would the Raptors be able to contain Antetokounmpo, who seems poised to run away with his second-straight MVP award? Does that remain the formula to upend a Bucks team that has run roughshod over the NBA for nearly two seasons, save for a four-game losing streak to the Raptors at precisely the wrong time – Games 3 through 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals?

The returns were mixed but, from the Raptors’ point of view, concerning. The Bucks won 108-97, dominating most of the second half after the Raptors were the better team early. The Bucks improved to 50-9 while playing on the second night of a back-to-back and their third game in four nights. The Raptors dropped to 42-16 and lost for just the third time in their past 20 games.

Antetokounmpo was unruffled by Drake, first of all.

“That’s good. He cares about me,” he said when asked about the on-going troll job by the Raptors’ Global Ambassador. “I really don’t [care about him]. I’m just here to win games and help my team win. That’s all.”

And for the most part, he showed signs of becoming increasingly comfortable with the all-hands-on-deck defensive the approach that the Raptors used against him in the playoffs and saw him struggle mightily over the Bucks final four-game swoon.

He finished with a relatively modest – for him – 19 points on 5-of-14 shooting. But he did have eight assists (along with 19 rebounds), a total that could have been much higher had his Bucks teammates shot better than 12-of-38 from the three.

Still just 25 years old, Antetokounmpo is gaining confidence dealing with multi-layered defensive approaches like the Raptors executed so well in the playoffs and were showing him again on Tuesday night.

“So I started the game getting the ball on the block, seeing immediately a guy coming off the catch double teaming me. ‘OK, cool. Tonight is not going to be the night,’ said Antetokounmpo. “So I’ve got to find guys … and guys can knock down shots. If guys don’t shoot the ball, it can find me back and I can attack. That’s my mindset.”

It’s been a process. Antetokounmpo is both driven and hugely talented. Going around a problem rather than straight through it doesn’t come naturally.

“Coach Bud says I’m stubborn,” Antetokounmpo says. “One of my best qualities is that I’m stubborn. One of my worst qualities is that I’m stubborn. So when you start the game I want to come out aggressive. … They were sending second guys, they were defending really well. But there’s sometimes you’ve got to mature, and say OK, tonight is not the night. You’ve got to find your open guy and coach Bud has helped me with that a lot. So I’ve tried to be mature and not force stuff as much as possible.”

And this is where the Raptors – and the rest of the NBA – could have a problem come May or June.

Antetokounmpo, who worked himself into a lather two hours before the game while working on his shooting and ball-handling, is improving in all aspects of his game.

And defensively, the Bucks remain a formidable machine, relying on Antetokounmpo and Brook and Robin Lopez to deter any all attacks at the rim. The three of them combined for 10 blocked shots, five by Brook Lopez and three by Antetokounmpo.

With the paint shut down, the Raptors needed to punish the Bucks from beyond the arc, and they didn’t. Toronto shot 35.2 per cent from the floor and 18-of-52 from three. Raptors star Pascal Siakam was 5-of-9 from deep, but just 1-of-5 from anywhere else.

“They’re good. They’re a good defensive team. They clog the paint,” said Raptors guard Fred VanVleet who was 5-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-9 from three, while Kyle Lowry was 1-of-7. Serge Ibaka was 1-of-10. “They give us those shots. Those are our shots. Sometimes you make them and sometimes you don’t.

“… All in all, we know that they’re a great defensive team. At the same time, I don’t think like anybody is thinking we didn’t get the shots we needed to get to beat them. Didn’t make enough plays, didn’t do enough. And that’s a great team, so you’ve got to play up to their level in order to get a win like that.”

Trailing by 13 to start the fourth quarter, Toronto cut the Bucks’ lead to five midway through the period, but couldn’t answer when the Bucks surged back. A corner three by Antetokounmpo put Milwaukee up by 10 with less than two minutes to play and Toronto was stymied from there.

The Raptors’ first goal was not to get blown out. The Bucks came into Scotiabank Arena with a point differential of 12.2 per game – on pace for an NBA record.

The Bucks specialize in blowing teams out early, which is why they can afford to play Antetokounmpo 30.7 minutes night, which makes his 29.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists averages all the more remarkable.

Forcing Antetokounmpo to play 38 minutes on the second night of a back-to-back was a small victory in itself.

And Toronto controlled big chunks of the game, holding Milwaukee without a field goal for the first two minutes and Antetokounmpo off the board for the first four minutes. Of course the only team in the NBA with better defensive metrics than the Raptors are the Bucks. Midway through the first quarter, the score was tied 10-10.

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Toronto led 27-25 at the end of the first quarter, holding the Bucks to 40-per-cent shooting and Antetokounmpo to five points on 1-of-3 shooting as they built a wall on the free-throw line to block his path to the rim and then swarmed him with a variety of double teams once his momentum was stalled.

Same old, same old.

And the Raptors had some new elements begin to come into play as their emerging bench looked determined to prove their worth in the Eastern Conference showdown. Their plans were signalled loudly when spindly Chris Boucher flew through the lane for a spectacular put-back dunk over Antetokounmpo in the first quarter and then drew a charge on the Bucks star a few plays later. Boucher was feeling it, and added a pair of triples to put up a quick 10 points in just over nine minutes of action.

He was just setting the tone.

Little-used sharpshooter Matt Thomas got some run in the second quarter, with Nurse finding suitable matchups with the Bucks’ crew of smaller wings. Just one game removed from scoring an NBA career-high 17 points in mop-up duty against the Indiana Pacers, Thomas knocked down three triples on three chances in his seven minutes of floor time in the first half and added a couple of clever assists as the Bucks’ defence began to overreact to him outside the line.

The Raptors went up nine early in the second quarter and were up 12 with just under three minutes to play in the half after Ibaka found a cutting OG Anunoby for a dunk that Giannis couldn’t get to the rim in time to defend.

The Bucks pushed back, finishing the second quarter on an 11-2 run, but the Raptors still had a 52-50 lead to start the third quarter. Things threatened to get out of hand at that point as the Bucks’ top-rated defence began to tighten and Toronto had a hard time scoring in the third. They shot 7-of-20 from the floor and made five turnovers as Milwaukee won the period 34-19 and entered the final frame leading 84-71.

The Raptors couldn’t close the gap. For now, it doesn’t matter. They have until May to see if their rivalry with Milwaukee will have a different ending.

But if Antetokounmpo is beginning to feel like he might be on the verge of figuring out how to manage his own stubborn nature and the kind of defences with which Toronto has had so much success, the Raptors – and the rest of the NBA – could be in a lot of trouble.

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Rafael Nadal announces he will not be playing at the Canadian Open

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Montreal, Canada- 22 Grand Slam champion, Rafael Nadal, has announced that he will not be playing at the Canadian Open which kicks off this weekend.

Nadal cited that the reason to abandon the Canadian Open was a result of an abundance of caution regarding injury concerns.

“From the vacation days and my subsequent return to training, everything has gone well these weeks. Four days ago, I also started training my serve and yesterday, after training, I had a little discomfort that was still there today.

We have decided not to travel to Montreal and continue with the training sessions without forcing ourselves. I sincerely thank the tournament director, Eugene, and his entire team for the understanding and support they have always shown me, and today was no exception.

I hope to play again in Montreal, a tournament that I love and that I have won five times in front of an audience that has always welcomed me with great affection. I have no choice but to be prudent at this point and think about health,” said the Spaniard.

Last month, Nadal was forced to withdraw from his Wimbledon semifinal against Nick Kyrgios due to an abdominal injury.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic has also withdrawn from the Canadian Open as his status as unvaccinated against COVID-19 means he cannot enter the country.

Djokovic is also unlikely to play at the US Open after organizers said they would respect the American government rules over travel for unvaccinated players as the United States (US) requires non-citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter.

“Per the Grand Slam Rule Book, all eligible players are automatically entered into the men’s and women’s singles main draw fields based on ranking 42 days prior to the first Monday of the event.

The US Open does not have a vaccination mandate in place for players, but it will respect the US government’s position regarding travel into the country for unvaccinated non-US citizens,” read a statement from the US Open which is set to take place in New York from the 29th of August to the 11th of September, 2022.

Nevertheless, Novak Djokovic will be joining Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup.

The event, which pits six European players against six from Team World over three days, will take place in London between 23 and 25 September 2022.

“It’s the only (event) where you play in a team with guys you are normally competing against. To be joining Rafa, Roger and Andy, three of my biggest all-time rivals, it’s going to be a truly unique moment in the history of our sport,” said Djokovic.

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Canada beats Sweden to claim gold in Hlinka Gretzky Cup – Sportsnet.ca

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RED DEER, Alta. — Canada scored early and often and also stayed out of the penalty box en route to a 4-1 victory over Sweden in the gold-medal final of the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

Tanner Howe, Ethan Gauthier, Calum Ritchie and Brayden Yager scored for the Canadians, who held period leads of 2-1 and 3-1 at the Peavey Mart Centrium on Saturday. Riley Heidt also chipped in with two assists for the champions.

Hugo Pettersson scored for Sweden, who were outshot 36-26. Each team received eight minutes in penalties.

Canada had beaten Sweden 3-0 on Aug. 3.

“Three weeks ago, we put this roster together and I felt right away this was a tight group,” said head coach Stephane Julien. “It’s not easy when you have this much talent, but everyone accepted their role and I’m so happy for them.”

The win is Canada’s first gold medal since 2018, the last time this tournament was held in Canada.

“I’m so happy for this group,” added Julien. “They haven’t had it easy in their careers the last two years with the pandemic, but now they have this, a gold medal and something they are going to remember for the rest of their career.”

Canada advanced to the final with a 4-1 win over Finland, while Sweden defeated Czechia 6-2. Finland beat Czechia 3-1 in Saturday’s bronze-medal final.

The Hlinka Gretzky Cup will shift to Europe in 2023, returning to Breclav and Piestany, Czechia for the first time since 2021. 

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Hockey Canada’s board chair Michael Brind’Amour steps down

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CALGARY — The chair of Hockey Canada’s board of directors has resigned.

Michael Brind’Amour has stepped down effective immediately, Hockey Canada said Saturday in a statement.

The organization is under intense scrutiny for its handling of sexual assault allegations against members of previous men’s junior teams.

“I have listened carefully and intently to the comments of Canadians about the culture of our sport and our organization, and about our actions and leadership,” Brind’Amour said in the statement. “I understand that the actions we have taken in recent weeks are part of the solution.

“My final term ends in November 2022, and I know that there is no need to wait for a new era. Immediate action is essential to address the important challenges facing our organization and our sport, which our Action Plan works to accomplish.

“I would not be able to see this renewal through.”

Brind’Amour was elected board chair in 2018.

The federal government froze Hockey Canada’s funding after it was revealed the organization had quietly settled a lawsuit with a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by members of the 2018 men’s junior team at Hockey Canada gala in London, Ont., that year.

Since then, Hockey Canada has said members of the 2003 junior team are under investigation for alleged sexual assault in Nova Scotia.

Canada’s sports minister Pascale St-Onge is withholding funds until she’s satisfied Hockey Canada meets her conditions, which were a financial audit of the organization, producing the recommendations of a third-party law firm review and an action plan for change, as well as signing onto the office of the new sports integrity commissioner.

Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player and victim rights advocate, was among those calling for Hockey Canada leadership to step down.

Brind’Amour is the first to do so.

“We’re starting to see cracks in the fortress, and that’s how the light gets in,” St-Onge said Saturday in Niagara Falls, Ont., where she met with provincial and territorial sports leaders on the eve of the Canada Games.

“Canadians have sent a clear message to Hockey Canada that real leadership change is needed and this is at all levels within the organization.

“I agree also with Michael Brind’Amour’s statement today . . . that there is no need to wait for a new era and immediate action is essential.

“I still believe, as many do, that more diversity is needed to address the culture of silence and toxic masculinity within the organization and the sport.”

Brind’Amour’s resignation also follows Hockey Canada’s appointment Thursday of former Canadian Supreme Court judge Thomas Cromwell to review the governance of the country’s governing body of hockey.

The review is expected to provide interim recommendations before Hockey Canada’s annual general meeting in November.

Brind’Amour said he leaves confident that Cromwell taking on that work “will help us make the changes that are needed. I am confident the recommendations will guide the organization into a future of desired change.”

Also, Canada’s 13 provincial hockey federations requested earlier this week an “extraordinary meeting” with the embattled national body.

Led by Hockey Quebec, the 10 provincial and three territorial associations want more information on the handling of the sexual assault allegations.

Hockey Canada had maintained a fund drawing on minor hockey membership fees to pay for uninsured liabilities, including sexual abuse claims.

The organization has stated it will no longer use its “national equity fund” to settle sexual assault claims.

The provincial and territorial hockey associations have threatened to withhold payment without answers.

“It’s not my job to speak on behalf of the Ontario Hockey Federation,” Ontario minister of tourism, culture and sport Neil Lumsden said at Saturday’s news conference.

“But it is as (St-Onge) said, it is our jobs to eliminate unacceptable behaviour of any kind in sport. Our job, and as we’ve spent a lot of time talking about, is to find ways to do that and to do it in the right way.”

Hockey Canada’s board of directors will meet in the coming days to determine next steps following Brind’Amour’s resignation, and appoint an interim chair, the organization said in its statement.

The next board election is scheduled for November’s annual general meeting.

“The board needs to reassess whether the people that are on the directors board are the right people to implement that change,” St-Onge said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 6, 2022.

 

The Canadian Press

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