TORONTO – After the Toronto Raptors were defeated in San Antonio over the weekend, falling to 0-2 on the young season, Kyle Lowry couldn’t recall the last time his team started the campaign with a losing record.
It had been a while. Toronto hadn’t lost its first two games since 2012-13 – Lowry’s first year with the club.
“This is a brand new situation for everybody,” the 15-year veteran said that night. “I haven’t been at this record in a long [expletive] time, so we’ve gotta figure it out sooner or later for our team.”
With a trip to his hometown of Philadelphia and a meeting with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the rival 76ers on deck, you knew Lowry would do everything in his power to will the Raptors to their first win, and he sure tried. It’s hard to imagine him doing more.
In 37 minutes, he scored 24 points, grabbed eight rebounds and recorded nine assists. He was responsible for nine of his team’s 14 free throw attempts, hitting each of them, and he was a team-best plus-12 – to put that into perspective, no other Raptors player was better than a plus-five.
He took a charge, because of course he did, and he went vertical to stop a Sixers player at the rim – the type of play that’s usually reserved for guys nearly a full foot taller.
We’ve seen that look in Lowry’s eyes before, that scowl, as if to say ‘we’re not losing this game’. That appeared to be where things were headed again, but not even Lowry’s heroics were enough on Tuesday.
For the first time since 2005 – when Lowry was in his final year at Villanova – Toronto has lost three consecutive games to open the season. To make matters worse, the Raptors – a club that had been known for its many comeback wins over the years – are the only NBA team in the last two decades to start 0-3 and blow double-digit leads in each contest.
“I think we’re mentally tough, I just think we’re not all on the same page right now,” Lowry said following a 100-93 loss to Philly. “We’re not on the same page but we’re working to get towards that. We’re adding a couple of new guys, new positions and new roles, and this and that, and I think that with the shortened pre-season, the shortened time off, guys are still getting their legs under them a little bit.”
With Aron Baynes, Alex Len, Chris Boucher, and others, replacing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka in the rotation, this is a different looking Raptors team and one that’s still trying to find itself.
The defence has had its moments, especially on Tuesday – holding Philly to 38 per cent, a marked improvement from Saturday’s performance in San Antonio. So has the offence, but neither has held up long enough or consistently enough, or been effective at the same time. Lengthy droughts continue to plague them – they were held scoreless over the final five minutes of the third quarter, and then registered just 17 points in the fourth.
One thing that remains the same is Lowry’s importance, even at the age of 34. The Raptors have been outscored by 26 points through three games, but they’ve actually bested teams by 14 points with Lowry on the court. In other words, they’ve been outscored by 40 points in 33 minutes with their all-star point guard on the bench.
Nobody else has matched Lowry’s impact, though, at least not consistently. Fred VanVleet, who broke out for 27 points against the Spurs, was held to just eight on 3-of-12 shooting Tuesday. Norman Powell, who is coming off a career season, has been a non-factor. OG Anunoby impressed against the Sixers, scoring 20 points, but was quiet offensively in each of the first two contests.
However, if there’s a common denominator between the three losses, it’s been the uneven early-season play of Pascal Siakam.
Once again, Siakam got off to a strong start on Tuesday. After grabbing a rebound early in the opening quarter, he pushed the ball up the floor, dribbled into the lane and drilled a pretty step-back off one leg. A few minutes later, Lowry found him cutting towards the rim for a slam-dunk. Then, he splashed a three from 25-feet out.
For the third straight game, he started out looking like the pre-pandemic version of himself – the all-star and All-NBA calibre talent. For the third straight game, he went into halftime break with 12 points. Then, for the third straight game, he faded as the night went on.
By the fourth quarter, when the Raptors were barely clinging onto a lead that was once as large as 14 points, Siakam had reverted back to player that couldn’t get out of his own way in the bubble a few months ago. He wasn’t just missing shots – they can live with that, provided he’s getting and taking good looks.
With less than four minutes remaining, a routine pass from VanVleet went through his hands and sailed out of bounds. On a crucial possession, with roughly 90 seconds left, he drove into three Sixers defenders in the paint and lost the ball. He committed five of his six fouls in the final seven minutes of the game, most of which were entirely deserved and avoidable. Frustrated after fouling out, Siakam walked straight down the tunnel and towards the locker room, despite there being 26 seconds left on the clock.
That the Raptors have built up big leads when Siakam’s been at his best early in games is no coincidence. That they’ve collapsed as he’s disappeared down the stretch isn’t either.
“He’s our closer,” Nick Nurse said. “He’s going to get the opportunities there and I think the increased reps will get him there. He’s got to find his balance, he has to find his strength a little bit and he’s going to have to produce on a few more of those shots.”
“It’s growing pains with our team right now,” said Lowry. “We’re pretty young right now. Like, we’re old, but we’re young. We have guys that have played in the Finals and all that stuff, but we’re still like a brand-new team with guys trying to figure it out.”
Lowry had nine of Toronto’s 17 fourth-quarter points on 3-of-7 shooting. The other four starters scored just two on 1-of-8.
For many years, the Raptors have prided themselves on their resiliency and that innate ability to find ways to win. It’s strange, now, to see them finding new and creative ways to lose. It’s still early, though, and there’s plenty of basketball left to be played. Even in a shortened campaign, three games do not make a season. In each of the last three years, a team that started 0-3 went on to make the playoffs.
If anybody understands that and is able to keep things in perspective, it’s Lowry, but even the team’s most senior member can feel the sense of urgency growing as a New Years Eve date with the Knicks awaits.
“We don’t have time to waste no more,” Lowry said. “We’re 0-3 and we need a win really, really bad. I feel like we’re getting to that point where it’s a must win. We gotta do everything we possibly can to win the next game.”
McIlroy hoping for ‘close to normal’ Ryder Cup
(Reuters) – Rory McIlroy said he is hopeful that a near-capacity crowd will be able to attend the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September.
McIlroy said organizers had made the right call by deciding not to stage the event without fans last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m excited for the Ryder Cup,” McIlroy told the European Tour’s website.
“Hopefully, with how the vaccine is being rolled out, we are starting to see some light at the end the tunnel with this pandemic.
“It may not be the full, full capacity that a Ryder Cup usually is, but hopefully it will be very close to what a normal Ryder Cup is and I am excited for that.”
McIlroy, who is playing at the Abu Dhabi Championship this week, said he was in a good frame of mind.
“I’m raring to go after the Christmas break, I’ve done some good practice and you come into the new season with renewed optimism and a lot of goals,” McIlroy said. “I guess that has translated into some good golf here.
“I keep getting myself into contention and someone goes out and has a really good Sunday but I need to take the initiative and have one of those really good Sundays myself to get over the line.”
The Ryder Cup will be held from Sept. 24-26.
(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
Canadiens’ penalty killers simply perfect in Edmonton
“We had some good sticks tonight,” said Weber. “(The Oilers) were trying to hit seams and we were able to get sticks in lanes. (Goaltender Jake Allen) was able to make the first save and we were able to clear the puck after that.”
Julien rotated seven forwards on the PK to ensure there were fresh legs on the ice.
“Having more bodies allows us to be more aggressive,” said Weber. “Obviously, our forwards are trying to use their speed against the other team and that allows us to be more aggressive.”
Artturi Lehkonen completed the Montreal scoring with a short-handed goal. Not only did the Oilers go 0-for-10 on the power play in the two games in Edmonton, but they also gave up short-handed goals to Lehkonen and Jake Evans.
As good as the PK was, the fact that it had to work so hard indicates that the Canadiens have to do a better job of staying out of the box. It should also be noted that Weber and Romanov received cross-checking penalties. It might be a coincidence, but the penalties came in the wake of complaints that the Canadiens manhandled Auston Matthews last week in Toronto.
The Canadiens are bigger this year and they are playing bigger. They also outhit the Oilers 31-17 Monday.
“We were playing hard, we have many hits,” said Romanov. “We’re playing like a team, we’re playing like a family.”
It should be noted Allen deserved a shutout. He didn’t get one because Jonathan Drouin misplayed the puck at his own blue line and that led to a breakaway goal by Shore.
The nasty look Weber directed at Drouin told you everything you need to know about the play.
Source: – Montreal Gazette
Ehlers scores OT winner as Jets rally for win over Senators – TSN
OTTAWA — Nikolaj Ehlers and the Winnipeg Jets have yet to lead a contest in regulation and yet they’ve won two of their three games to start the NHL season.
Ehlers scored in overtime as Winnipeg twice rallied from a two-goal deficit en route to a 4-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.
The Jets (2-1-0) opened their season Thursday night with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Calgary Flames and were coming off a 3-1 loss Monday night to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Ehlers scored his first goal of the season at 2:20 of overtime, moments after Winnipeg goalie Laurent Brossoit made a nice stop on Ottawa’s Drake Batherson. Blake Wheeler forced overtime for the Jets, scoring with 1:17 remaining in regulation with Brossoit on the bench for the extra attacker — a goal originally credited to Josh Morrissey before an official scoring change switched it to the Winnipeg captain.
“It (winning despite not leading in regulation) shows we don’t give up,” said Ehlers. “We battled our (butts) off to stay in the game . . . it feels good to have the two points.”
Ehlers heaped lavish praise upon Brossoit, who got the start after Connor Hellebuyck played Monday night.
“He kept us in the game,” Ehlers said. “They had a lot of good open chances, especially the last one there before our goal.
“We know we’ve got two goalies back there that keep us in games and do a great job. We’re trying to do our best to limit the shots they get, but if they play the way they’re playing right now, we’re happy.”
Added Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice: “He (Ehlers) can be so dangerous, such a dynamic player late in a game, just the speed to get into that hole and then make the play that finishes it,. We need him to feel confident and healthy and strong and when he is he’s just so very dynamic.”
Adam Lowry and Kyle Connor also scored for Winnipeg, which was outshot 41-28 in the contest.
“I guess you should wrap all of us up in our goaltending,” Maurice said. “That’s the key in our game, our goaltending has been outstanding.”
Josh Norris, Chris Tierney and Alex Galchenyuk scored for Ottawa (1-1-1).
The game was the first of three in five days between the two clubs. They’ll square off again in the nation’s capital Thursday night before returning to Winnipeg on Saturday.
Winnipeg was minus forward Patrik Laine (upper-body injury) for a second straight game. He’s listed as day to day.
Rookie forward Tim Stutzel, who’s dealing with a nagging minor injury, didn’t play for Ottawa. The third overall selection in the 2020 NHL draft, who has a goal through two games with the Senators, is also considered day to day.
Maurice said Tuesday’s game was an indication of just how important it is for a team to continue playing hard and believing in the process, regardless of the score. Ottawa controlled much of the play and held leads of 2-0 and 3-1 but couldn’t break Winnipeg’s will.
“That’s the most important piece for any team, that the score on the clock doesn’t dictate your effort level and your compete level,” Maurice said. “The late comeback wins have a really nice impact on your team.
“You carry those for a number of games. You always feel that you have a chance.”
Ottawa dominated the first, outshooting Winnipeg 18-9, and was rewarded with the opening two goals of the contest.
Norris opened the scoring on the power play at 4:41. He registered his first NHL goal when he slid the puck in off Brossoit’s skate.
Conner came close to putting Winnipeg on the scoresheet when he fired a shot off the goalpost on the power play. But Tierney put Ottawa ahead 2-0 with a deflection at 10:31 for his second of the season.
Lowry pulled Winnipeg to within 2-1 at 18:09. He deflected Neal Pionk‘s shot from the point past Matt Murray — making his third straight start in goal for Ottawa — for his first of the year.
It was more of the same in the second as Ottawa outshot Winnipeg 14-8 in the period and went back ahead by two goals at 11:47 of the second on Galchenyuk’s power-play blast. It was his first of the season but Winnipeg countered with Connor’s goal with the man advantage at 16:12.
It was Connor’s third of the season. He’s scored in all three Jets games in 2021.
“He’s scratching the surface here,” Maurice said of Connor. “He hasn’t been lucky in his start and he’s putting up great numbers.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan 19. 2021.
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