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Raptors’ uncharacteristic slip on defence is cause for concern –



TORONTO — Since Nick Nurse took the reigns as head coach, there are many aspects of the game that you can point to as being “Toronto Raptors Basketball.” But the most identifiable thing has, probably, been the team’s defence.

Through two games of Nurse’s third season at the helm, however, it looks like Toronto’s going through a bit of an identity crisis.

“We’re nowhere near where we want to be defensively, but it takes hard work, it takes dedication of watching film, understanding who we’re playing against and making adjustments on the fly,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said after his team fell to the San Antonio Spurs, 119-114 on Saturday night. “I think we’ll watch some film tomorrow and the next day and see what we did bad and what we did good and try to build off the good end of things rather than dwell on the bad things.”

The second loss in as many games they played, we are still early into the Raptors’ season, of course, but the uncharacteristic slippage we’ve seen from them on defence is still concerning, nonetheless.

Over two games, Toronto sports a porous defensive rating of 111.5 and have appeared a step or two slow on rotations, leading to more room for opponents to operate and make decisions with the ball.

As an example, familiar foe DeMar DeRozan torched Toronto on Saturday for 27 points and eight assists, shooting 10-of-17 from the field and, surprisingly, going 3-for-4 from three-point range. DeRozan, obviously, is a great offensive player, but the Raptors didn’t offer much in the way of resistance. They allowed DeRozan to take his time over the course of the game and dictate when, where and how he was going to attack.

This could’ve been aided by one of the basic tenets of good defence: More communication.

As Toronto guard Fred VanVleet described it, the Raptors simply aren’t talking enough to each other right now.

“I am not going to give anybody credit for communicating, myself included,” VanVleet said. “We got to do a much better job of that. So to answer your question, everybody on the team needs to be better on that end of the floor communicating, starting with myself and I think that will help our defence out. I mean there’s nobody in the building so there’s no excuse to not be talking. It’s quiet as hell out there.”

In general, the Raptors have been disappointing on defence to kick the season off, and they know it.

“It’s tough. It’s tough. I think we’ve got to guard our guys a little better,” VanVleet said. “Individually, we’ve got to make multiple efforts. Make more slides. Figure it out. It’s not rocket science. I don’t want to say it’s an effort thing. I feel like guys are trying out there. We’ve got to make more plays at a higher level.

“It’s easy to say it on offence when you say guys have got to make plays, you’ve got to complete the play. But it’s the same thing on defence: You’ve got to make the extra rotation, you’ve got to make the close out, you’ve got to come up with the rebound. We’re trying. I think we’ve got to perform defensively at a higher level each possession. I think we’re just not doing it for a full game. We do it in spurts, but I think teams are just a little too comfortable right now, or these last two teams that we play.”

What is encouraging about Toronto’s defence, however, is those spurts VanVleet speaks of, have been excellent.

The makings of a strong defensive club is still there for the Raptors thanks to the fact they still have personnel like OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam and, as evidence Saturday, Chris Boucher.

Boucher recorded a career-high seven blocks on Saturday, and while his shot contests can come at the expense of cleaning up the defensive glass, the energy he brings on defence, attempting to swat everything within his vicinity, is exactly what the Raptors need right now. That willingness to lay it all out there on every defensive possession was part of the reason why the Raptors became as stout a defence as they did the past two seasons in the first place.

“If we can perform at the right place, I think we can be a really good defensive team,” Boucher said. “We’ve just got to go out there and prove it every time.“

And it really should be just that simple.

Yes, this Raptors team has new faces to incorporate and didn’t have much time to prepare these new guys thanks to the short training camp and pre-season. But the fact remains that Toronto picked up a couple losses to teams it probably shouldn’t have lost to because the club’s signature defence isn’t up to snuff yet.

“I think it’s a lot of things that goes into that, everybody making adjustments trying to figure it out,” Lowry said. “Your defence should be a little bit more ahead of your offence right now, and we’re just kind of even right now with everything, and it’s a brand new situation for everybody, but we’re 0-2 and I haven’t been this record in a long [expletive] time.”

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



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?



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



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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