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Raptors pull away late to beat Heat and split challenging road series in Miami

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MIAMI — A long weekend in Miami, sun shining, beautiful scenery everywhere.

It looked good on paper. Fun even.

But when the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat play basketball, fun is a relative thing, no matter the venue. It’s fun like anything really hard is fun — vaguely satisfying when it’s over, depending on if it goes well or say, you end up needing medical attention afterwards.

Two games in October isn’t exactly a playoff series, but that’s how these rivals play.

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“It’s always mayhem,” was how Raptors guard Fred VanVleet put it.

The Raptors dropped the opener in a contest that included a nasty little skirmish that livened things up and resulted in ejections, suspensions and fines.

But all you need on the road is a split and the Raptors pulled that off with a grimy effort against Miami that was in doubt until the final moments before Pascal Siakam finally got on track offensively, and Gary Trent Jr. saw the open looks from deep he’d been getting all game finally drop.

It was a Trent Jr. triple from the corner with 22.6 seconds left that sealed the 98-90 win for Toronto. Trent Jr. had been 2-of-9 on threes to that point – almost all of them wide open – but didn’t hesitate on a shot that he had a fingernail’s worth of room to get off from the left corner.

“Gary is always open,” joked VanVleet. “It doesn’t matter. If he catches it and he can see the rim, he’s open. We don’t really worry about him in that regard.

“But what a shot, man. We’ve been begging and begging him to get to the corner, so I got to make sure I keep rewarding him when he gets down there.”

The win evened Toronto’s record at 2-2 as they head home for another tough two-game set against the Philadelphia 76ers, who eliminated Toronto in the first round of the playoffs last April.

The Raptors were down eight with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and were having a hard time generating momentum offensively, although their defensive effort never lagged.

They finally got a spark when Trent Jr. hit his first three of the quarter. A corner three off a set-up by Siakam and Toronto was able to eke out a mini 7-0 run from there. Nothing was easy as is standard between the two clubs known for their commitment to playing hard as a habit. Both Christian Koloko — getting his first career start in place of Scottie Barnes who sat out with an ankle sprain — and Chris Boucher, making his return to the lineup from a hamstring injury, had five fouls early in the fourth. O.G. Anunoby had four.

But the Raptors kept grinding. Precious Achiuwa gobbled up a career-high 22 rebounds against his old team. Neither VanVleet nor Siakam could buy a field goal (they were 13-of-38 from the field combined, with 24 points and 23 points, respectively) but they kept attacking and made up for it by shooting 17 free throws. That was about as pretty as the offence got until the final moments.

A trio of triples by VanVleet, Anunoby – who drew praise from Raptors head coach Nick Nurse for his defensive effort, switching among multiple Heat players in a game in which he shot just four times – and Siakam put Toronto up by four with 3:19 to play. Then Siakam found Anunoby for a dunk to push the lead to six — 91-85 — at the 2:44 mark. The Heat wouldn’t fold, but a tough Siakam fadeaway with 50.4 seconds  before Trent Jr.’s big shot made the difference.

Toronto shot 39.5 per cent from the floor in the win, while holding Miami to 34.9 per cent shooting for the game and just 14 points in the pivotal quarter. Former Raptors star Kyle Lowry was 1-of-8 from the floor and heard it from the Heat crowd, with one leather lung shouting “retire.”

In all not a pretty night of basketball, but the Raptors relished the fight, and the win that came with it.

“It was great, you know, obviously coming out here early in the season will help us in the long run,” said Trent Jr. who finished with 18 points and was 4-of-12 from three.  “You know we’re on the road, tough battles, having to win in the fourth quarter, having to get stops … that can all be building blocks for the season.”

While Barnes was out, Nurse at least had one more option to choose from on his largely under-used bench with the return of Boucher who proved himself an important enough reserved in the second half of last season that Toronto rewarded him with a three-year contract for $35 million.

He came in alongside Achiuwa in a pairing Nurse favoured last season for its defensive energy and potential for havoc, with enough scoring to keep things interesting.

They wasted little time as Toronto instantly went on a 13-2 run that started with a dunk by Achiuwa on a set-up from VanVleet and concluded with the second of Boucher’s corner threes in front of the Raptors bench that delighted everyone on it.

“[Boucher was] Awesome,” said Nurse. I thought he brought some speed up the floor, I thought he really ran fast and that kind of spreads to other guys … Obviously he hit a couple of shots … burst of energy that we needed.”

It was welcome as the Raptors were playing their fourth game in six nights in a tough stretch to start the season.

In his 10 first-half minutes Boucher scored 10 points, was charged with four fouls, and more than once was seen standing incredulous with his palms raised to the ceiling in bafflement. The full Chris Boucher Experience, in other words.

But the little spurt he helped spark in the first quarter was important.

Nurse said that playing the same team for the second straight night would not involve a lot of extra preparation in terms of new wrinkles added on his part. He just wanted his club to execute with the energy and attention to detail they showed in the second half of Saturday night’s loss when they held Miami to 41 points, rather than the way they snoozed through the first half and allowed the Heat to put up 71.

They delivered that, but the Heat were equally motivated to tidy what they thought was a sloppy effort in letting the Raptors storm back from down 22 points in the third quarter when Koloko got in his skirmish with Caleb Martin.

The result was a fairly standard issue Heat-Raptors rock fight. Toronto held Miami to 34.9 per cent shooting while the Raptors could only muster 40 per cent in return. The little spirit they managed at the end of the first quarter in Boucher’s first shift was the difference as Toronto took a 48-43 lead into the half.

The heat flipped the script in the third quarter and took a 76-71 lead into the pivotal final frame.

The problem with Nurse going to his bench is what he gets isn’t always as reliable as Boucher’s energy. Early in the second half Nurse turned to Malachi Flynn after Dalano Banton didn’t exactly shine in his first-half stint. The Heat promptly began running their offence so that they could try and get Jimmy Butler in a mismatch against the diminutive Raptors guard.

That prompted VanVleet to try to engineer the Raptors’ defence to avoid said match-up, which worked like a charm for Miami initially. VanVleet’s heads-up play was a good response, but it’s not sustainable possession after possession — too many things can go wrong — and it requires VanVleet to be on the floor, when the point of going to the bench is to get him some rest.

Inevitably, it seems the Raptors starters again logged heavy minutes with Siakam clocking in at 42 and VanVleet at 39.

But all that matters is that after a long weekend in Miami Toronto is coming home even, and mostly in one piece.

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Palestinian flag waved on pitch as Morocco celebrates historic World Cup win

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Several players of Morocco’s national team unfurled a Palestinian flag on the pitch while celebrating their historic World Cup win over Spain in Qatar on Tuesday.

World Cup quarterfinals: Qualifying teams, fixtures and schedule

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Following a dramatic penalty shootout, Morocco became the first Arab side to make it to the World Cup quarterfinals.

This is the second time Moroccan players have raised the Palestinian flag after winning a match. Morocco’s player Jawad El Yamiq raised the Palestinian flag while celebrating his country’s 2-1 victory over Canada last week.

Moroccan football fans were also seen waving a “Free Palestine” banner during the North African country’s 2-0 victory over Belgium in Group E earlier in the tournament.

Morocco's team makes a group photo on the pitch, holding the Palestinian flag after beating Spain.

Regulations from FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, prohibit the use of banners, flags and fliers that are deemed to be political, offensive and/or discriminatory in nature.

“The promotion or announcement of political or religious messages or any other political or religious actions, inside or in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, by any means, is strictly prohibited before, during and after matches,” FIFA regulations state.

Israeli journalists experience chilly reception at Qatar World Cup

 

Football authorities have occasionally issued fines for displays of the Palestinian flag inside grounds.

The flag bearing move was hailed by Arabs on social media, as users from Libya, Morroco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia celebrated the Moroccan win.

Videos on social media also show Palestinians celebrating Morocco’s win in the streets of several cities in the West Bank and in Gaza.

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With CBT 'not an obstacle,' Blue Jays can avoid Judge drama with Guerrero and Bichette – Sportsnet.ca

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Matt Murray Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs Dallas Stars

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DALLAS (AP) — Matt Murray made a season-high 44 saves and Mitch Marner extended his Toronto-record point streak to 20 games with an early assist as the Maple Leafs beat the Dallas Stars 4-0 on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Rasmus Sandin and Alexander Kerfoot scored for the surging Maple Leafs, who are 9-0-3 in their last 12 games. They pulled within three points of first-place Boston in the Atlantic Division.

Dallas went 0 for 7 on the power play despite 17 shots on goal, including a four-minute double minor and a 5-on-3 for 1:38.

Toronto blocked 27 shots in its first shutout this season, and the Stars missed the net on 22 attempts.

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“Big thanks to the guys in front who did a heck of a job defensively tonight against a really dangerous team,” said Murray, who was acquired from Ottawa last summer and shares time in net with fellow newcomer Ilya Samsonov.

Murray is 6-0-2 since missing 15 games with an adductor injury following his initial start of the season.

“He was perfect,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Came up with huge saves in big moments. Obviously, the number of penalties we took today could have been a big problem.”

The Stars were shut out for the first time this season and are tied with Winnipeg atop the Central Division with 33 points. The Jets have two games in hand.

Jake Oettinger stopped 25 shots.

It was the NHL’s first game featuring two players with point streaks of at least 18 games.

The Stars’ Jason Robertson saw his run end at 18, a Dallas record. Robertson leads the NHL with 23 goals.

Marner got an assist when his wrist shot was stopped but Tavares tapped in the rebound 4:51 in for the first of two first-period Toronto goals.

“Like I’ve been saying, it’s not a one-man effort,” Marner said. “Just trying to go out there and buzz.”

Matthews took possession after his wrist shot was stopped and circled back into the slot to score at 17:36.

Sandin collected a loose puck just outside the crease and scored at 12:19 of the second period for a 3-0 lead.

Kerfoot added an empty-net goal with 3:53 remaining, rolling the puck in from center ice. It was his first goal since a 3-2 overtime win at home over the Stars on Oct. 20.

Toronto played most of the game with only five defensemen. Victor Mete left with a lower-body injury after playing just 3:04 of the first period. Mete is expected to miss at least a few games.

During part of Dallas’ 5-on-3 late in the second, the Maple Leafs were further handcuffed when Marner had to give up a broken stick. He still managed to block a shot.

Maple Leafs forward Semyon Der-Arguchintsev made his NHL debut, playing 7:16.

FAMILY AFFAIR

It was the second and final scheduled meeting this season matching Robertson against his younger brother, Maple Leafs forward Nick Robertson.

Their mother, Mercedes, traveled from Michigan to attend the game. She followed her custom in these brotherly matchups by wearing the home team’s sweater and the visitors’ cap.

Nick Robertson scored his only two goals of the season to date in the teams’ previous meeting — including the overtime winner.

“He wasn’t too happy about that,” Nick said of his brother when they visited after that game.

POWER OUTAGE

Dallas is 0 for 11 on the power play in its past two games after ranking second in the NHL at 30% going into Sunday’s game, a 6-5 shootout loss to Minnesota.

“We had some great looks,” captain Jamie Benn said of Tuesday’s effort. “We’ve got to find a way.”

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.

Stars: Host the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

___

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

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