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Raptors squander another big lead in third straight loss to open season – TSN

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William Nylander


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.”

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s

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Andy Murray‘s grasscourt return was cut short in brutal fashion at Queen’s Club as Italian top seed Matteo Berrettini dished out a 6-3 6-3 defeat to the former world number one on Thursday.

The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.

Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.

Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.

Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.

He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.

Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.

Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.

“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.

“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”

Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.

(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)

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