The Toronto Raptors used to be capable of magic.
They could make all seven feet and 300 pounds of Joel Embiid vanish.
It was only a season ago — though it seems like another age — that the Raptors held the Philadelphia 76ers big man scoreless in 32 minutes. Embiid was 0-11 from the floor and 0-of-3 from the line and turned it over four times, too.
That came on the heels of the Raptors reducing Embiid to tears after Toronto booted Philadelphia from the playoffs on route to the 2019 NBA title.
But as the Raptors were trying to avoid starting a season with a three-game losing streak for the first time 15 years the question was could they turn back Philadelphia and Embiid and do it without Marc Gasol, the designated Embiid stopper who signed with the Los Angeles Lakers in the off-season?
Not really, it turns out. How much that matters, in the long run, won’t be known until the post-season, potentially. But Embiid was too much for the Raptors on Tuesday night in Philadelphia.
Embiid showed his full skillset as the Sixers pulled away down the stretch as Toronto lost 100-93 to fall to 0-3 to start a season for the first time since 2005-06.
Embiid got to the line — where he lived all night; his presence on defence forced a Pascal Siakam turnover on a drive to the rim and his ball-handling allowed him to attack the paint, collapse the defence and find Seth Curry for a wide-open three that put the Sixers up 96-91 with a minute left as Philadelphia reversed a five-point deficit with seven minutes to play.
It was an ugly game — the Raptors shot 36 per cent from the floor with 19 turnovers while Philadelphia shot 38 per cent with 18 giveaways — but the Sixers proved better equipped to win it as they got to the line 33 times to 14 for Toronto.
Embiid was the difference maker. With Gasol and Serge Ibaka safely in Los Angeles with the Lakers and the Clippers respectively, he could rumble around without fear. His game wasn’t pretty, but it was effective as he finished with 29 points, 16 rebounds and was 14-of-18 from the line, earning more points at the stripe on his own than the 12 points the Raptors did as a team.
Toronto came into the game having started 0-2 for the first time since the 2012-13 season, back when newcomer Lowry was battling it out with Jose Calderon to be the starting point guard and — perhaps not coincidentally — the club was on its way to missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
They were facing a 76ers team that has revamped their lineup — well, most of their organization — after another disappointing season that ended with them being swept by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. Long-time head coach Brett Brown was replaced by Doc Rivers; former Rockets president Daryl Morey was brought in to run the basketball operation and his first move was to add a pair of veteran shooters to the starting lineup up in former Raptor Danny Green and Curry, who shot 45.2 per cent from three for Dallas a year ago, along with Dwight Howard to add depth at centre.
But it still starts and ends with Embiid. The luxury of having one of the NBA’s most talented centres is something Rivers is still getting used to.
“I’m happy. What’s nice to have, and one thing bigs always have been, even in this day of quote-unquote, no bigs, if you know what I mean, they’re run stoppers,” said Rivers, who caught on with Philadelphia weeks after he was let go by the Clippers. “It’s just amazing that you can come out of a timeout and can say, ‘Just throw it down there.’
“What we’re really trying to get Joel to see, and I think he’s getting it, is just because we throw it to him does not mean he’s gonna be the scorer. But the team is gonna benefit because he’s so darn good, if you don’t trap him he’s scoring or getting fouled. If you do trap him, he’s creating action for our team. And what we’re showing our whole team is that’s good either way because the objective is to score.”
How the Raptors would manage what seemed like a clear mismatch — the presence of Howard in a back-up role, fresh off a championship with the Lakers — was the question.
“It’s an interesting one for us,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse before the game. “I think it’s usually, like, most teams have a centre of some decent size that you can match up your centre with, and then most teams, similar to us, come in with a backup centre that plays smaller and faster and just a different, it’s either a pick and pop guy or a real athletic pick and roll guy that’s different than the traditional guys. That’s kinda what you see on a nightly basis. But now you’ve got two true fives coming at ya, and for us, we’ve gotta decide, hopefully Chris (Boucher) can take advantage of one of those guys with his speed up and down the floor, but it also is a concern at the other end, you know, just offensive rebound or deep post seals and things like that. It’s hard with the matchups sometimes.”
Embiid came into the game averaging just 13 points on 33 per cent shooting against the Raptors with Gasol in the lineup. Without the big Spaniard Embiid has averaged 23 points on 48 per cent shooting.
Nurse responded by juggling his lineup in ways that could not have been predicted. He gave minutes to big man Alex Len for the first time this season but also to Stanley Johnson — the forgotten man who played just 150 minutes sprinkled across 25 games all of last season, and not at all this year — and for long stretches at the same time.
It was all so very Nurse, who has never found a lineup he’s scared to try and stick with if it works at all. Len gave him a body to impede Embiid and Johnson was another big wing to use against the Sixers’ over-sized wings — Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris.
But it was one of the smaller players on the floor that drove play for the Raptors as is so often the case. The Raptors led by 28-17 after the first quarter but were only able to take a 56-48 lead into the half after Lowry stepped into an open three, created an open three and then hit Fred VanVleet for a full-court layup at the buzzer for an 8-0 run in the space of 39 seconds.
But Embiid made his presence felt, mainly because he kept getting to the free throw line. He was 11-for-11 from the stripe with 18 points in 24 minutes before he had to leave the game midway through the third quarter after tweaking his hamstring.
The Raptors seemed to be poised to gain control of the game at that point in part due to the contributions of some roster player who otherwise were invisible to this point of the season.
More than Len or Johnson it was Anunoby who lifted his level after being mostly a rumour in the first two games of the season and in the wake of the four-year, $72 million contract extension he signed on the eve of the season.
Anunoby looked like the kind of two-way player who can take over games on Tuesday night, matching up well with the Sixers’ six-foot-10 point guard Simmons at the point of attack, wreaking havoc in the passing lanes and looking ever so comfortable from deep.
But Embiid came back before the third quarter was over — no sure thing given his injury history — and helped spark the Sixers to a 13-0 run to end the third quarter and send the game into the fourth tied 76-76.
For the third straight game the Raptors stagnated on offence down the stretch — scoring six points in the final seven minutes won’t get it done. In addition to his defence, Toronto may be missing Gasol’s additional playmaking or Ibaka’s ability to score out of the pick-and-roll.
The problem for the Raptors is Gasol and Ibaka are gone and Embiid and the 76ers are still here, very much in the way and there are no tricks to make him vanish.
Diamond Resorts A Great Start To 2021 – LPGA
That’s what I’m talking about. The star power at the season-opening Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions presented by Insurance Office of America was simply off the charts – and so was the golf. Twenty-five LPGA Tour winners were joined by 53 celebrities and even the name “Sorenstam” popped up on a leaderboard for the first time in a dozen years.
But ultimately, it was the quality of play that stole the show at the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club Orlando. For the second consecutive year, it took extra holes to decide a winner – although this time the action didn’t spill over until Monday as it did in 2020 when Gaby Lopez needed seven playoff holes to better first Inbee Park and then Nasa Hataoka.
This time, Jessica Korda rolled in a 20-foot birdie putt on the first hole of bonus golf to edge Danielle Kang for her sixth LPGA Tour victory after a Sunday shootout that was simply sensational. It was the fourth time Korda won her season debut and it sets hopes high for the season ahead – both for Korda and the LPGA Tour.
“Amazing,” Korda said, glancing down at the trophy. “It was obviously a huge grind. Danielle was playing so solid, and then Nelly started to make a bunch of birdies. I was like, Oh, my gosh. What’s happening? I knew that I was going to have to go low today.”
The final round began with the spotlight on the glam group of Kang, Korda and her sister Nelly and it stayed there all day. Kang began Sunday with a two-stroke lead over Jessica with Nelly a seemingly insurmountable six strokes behind. But then things got interesting.
Kang, who tied the LPGA Tour 54-hole record of 192, closed with a 68 while Jessica Korda finished with a 66 as they ended regulation tied at 24-under-par 260. Nelly Korda made a brilliant charge with a bogey-free 64 to finish two strokes back.
After going 84 holes without a bogey dating back to last season, Kang finally slipped up with a three-putt on No. 15. Meanwhile, both Kordas were making a run, Nelly reeling off six birdies in seven holes beginning on No. 7 and Jessica making four in seven holes beginning on No. 6.
As they stepped to the drivable par-4 16th hole, Kang was 23 under par, Jessica 22 under and Nelly 21 under. When Kang drove into the right trees, it appeared to be anyone’s ball game – at least anyone named Kang or Korda.
A birdie by Jessica and pars by Kang and Nelly sent the trio to the par-5 17th hole with Danielle and Jessica tied for the lead and Nelly two strokes behind. All three birdied No. 17 and parred No. 18, pushing the outcome to a playoff, which Jessica made sure would not need an extra day.
“It was just a crazy, crazy day,” Korda said. “Crazy two days. Shooting 60 yesterday, getting myself back into contention after bogeying three holes in a row to finish my second round. Crazy week.”
The weekend fireworks at Diamond Resorts were a fitting finish to a powerful week that kicked off 2021, a year in which the Tour visits Olympic Club, Atlanta Athletic Club, Carnoustie Golf Links and Inverness Club in a 34-event, $75 million bounce-back from the pandemic pause of 2020. If Diamond Resorts was the rousing overture, let the show begin.
Saturday alone was a day for the history books. Kang shot 63 to maintain the two-stroke lead she had going into the weekend but lost three strokes to Jessica Korda’s 60, a score beaten only once in the 71-year history of the LPGA, that by Annika Sorenstam, who played in the celebrity field.
“Days like today don’t come often, so you really cherish them when they do,” said Korda, whose previous best round was a 62 in the 2018 Honda LPGA Thailand, which she also won.
The 60 was just the fifth in LPGA Tour history and first since Paula Creamer in 2008. The only 59 in Tour history was by Sorenstam in 2001. Larry Fitzgerald, the sure-handed receiver for the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL, played with Korda during her magical round and had a ringside seat to witness greatness.
“The shot she hit on 18 was unbelievable,” Fitzgerald said about the birdie that capped Korda’s 60. “She played the contour of the greens, she hit it exactly where she wanted, and left herself below the hole. It was mastery at its finest. She had complete command of her ball today.”
In all, 10 major champions were in the field at Diamond Resorts and they were joined by Hall of Famers from other sports, Grammy-winning musicians, stage performers and media personalities. The celebrity division, played under the Stableford format, was won by U.S. Davis Cup tennis captain Mardy Fish, with 158 points.
Chad Pfiefer, who lost his left leg above the knee in an IED explosion in Iraq and is a past winner of the National Amputee Championship, was second with 147 points. Sorenstam, playing the event for the first time, was ninth with 134 points.
The show put on Sunday by a couple of Kordas and Kang at Diamond Resorts set the bar extremely high for the new season. There’s only one thing to do now: Start gathering names to play in next year’s Tournament of Champions.
Saskatchewan-raised WHL player Kyrell Sopotyk paralyzed in snowboarding accident – CBC.ca
A Saskatchewan-raised hockey player has been paralyzed by a snowboarding accident.
Kamloops Blazers forward Kyrell Sopotyk, 19, was injured in a snowboarding accident over the weekend, according to the Western Hockey League (WHL).
Sopotyk is from Aberdeen, Saskatchewan. He was drafted to B.C.’s Blazers in 2016.
“Everyone associated with the Western Hockey League is deeply saddened by the devastating news,” the WHL said in a statement.
“The WHL and our member clubs extend our thoughts and prayers to Kyrell, the entire Sopotyk family, Kyrell’s teammates with the Kamloops Blazers, and all his friends during this challenging time.”
A GoFundMe campaign set up on Sunday to raise money for Sopotyk’s needs, including possible renovations to his home and health-care costs, has surpassed its goal of $50,000. As of Monday morning, it had raised more than $76,000.
“I think any parent that has to go to the hospital after an accident knows what they would be experiencing right now. It’s a shock. And I think as a parent, you go through those emotions of … ‘Why my child’?” said Kathleen Zary, organizer of the GoFundMe campaign.
“Kyrell is an amazing soul. The family’s amazing … I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now.”
Zary said the success of the GoFundMe campaign is not surprising.
“They’re very well-loved family in [Saskatchewan] and in Kamloops as well. And I know if the roles were reversed, the Sopotyk family would do the same for anybody. They’re one of those families that you meet and you just are instantly drawn to them because there’s just so lovely and caring to everybody.”
The cause and type of injury has not been made public at this time.
Milanovich resigns as Edmonton's head coach – CFL.ca
EDMONTON — The Edmonton Football Team is now without a head coach.
Scott Milanovich has resigned to pursue NFL opportunities, the team announced on Monday.
Milanovich was hired as the club’s 22nd head coach on Dec 12, 2019. Prior to his appointment, he was the quarterbacks coach for the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars from 2017-2019 with a brief stint as the team’s offensive coordinator in 2018.
“Scott informed me this morning that he was resigning as the head coach of the Edmonton Football Team to accept a position in the NFL,” GM/VP of football operations Brock Sunderland said. “It’s disappointing that he was never able to coach a game for our organization due to the pandemic. We wish Scott and his family all the best in his future endeavors.”
The team also stated in the announcement that the search for the club’s next head coach will begin immediately.
Milanovich began his CFL coaching career in 2003, when he joined the Calgary Stampeders as a QB coach. After spending some time in Europe, he returned to Canada in 2007, this time as a QB coach in Montreal.
He moved quickly up the coaching ranks while with the Alouettes. Ahead of the 2008 campaign, he was promoted to the team’s offensive coordinator on top of fulfilling his other duties. In 2009, he also picked up an assistant head coach title.
He’d stay with the Als until the conclusion of the 2011 season, when he was named the head coach of the Toronto Argonauts. In his first season as a head coach, Milanovich led the Argos to a 9-9 record, finishing second in the East Division. They’d make it to they 100th Grey Cup and beat the Calgary Stampeders to take home the title.
Alongside his first championship in the CFL, Milanovich also earned 2012 Coach of the Year honours.
He’d spend another four seasons at the helm in Toronto. Over that span, the team made the playoffs twice and missed out on another two occasions.
Following the 2016 season, Milanovich would step down as the head coach of the Argos and joined the Jacksonville Jaguars as their QB coach, a position he held until he joined Edmonton in 2019.
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