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Raptors win again, but lack of depth remains visible on eve of trade deadline –



The season is going really well.

It’s hard to argue otherwise, not with the terrible times in Tampa as a backdrop, when the air went out of the balloon around the all-star break and the Toronto Raptors coasted in slow, sad circles to the draft lottery.

Who knows where the Raptors will go, but considering where they were? No one can complain.

But it could be better. The Raptors are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference since the New Year, with multiple wins over some of the East’s best teams.

But there have been some they would love to have back. The Detroit Pistons have 12 wins this season, but two have come against Toronto. The Portland Trail Blazers are lottery-bound but they have one of the six losses the Raptors have given up in 2022 and two this season.

And the Oklahoma City Thunder?

They’ve been engaged on one of the most determined tanking efforts the NBA has ever seen, but that didn’t prevent them from splitting the season series with the Raptors a year ago or breaking the Raptors’ hearts with a three-pointer in the final seconds from Mike Muscala back on Dec. 8.

With a six-game winning streak on the line and having run the gauntlet of teams the Raptors are trying to catch in the playoff race or hold off, it was fair to wonder if Toronto would lift their foot off the gas, even a little.

They didn’t. The Raptors took care of business against an OKC team that is more interested in lottery balls than wins for the moment. The 117-98 win extended Toronto’s winning streak to a season-best seven games — the longest in the Eastern Conference — and lifted their record to 30-23, their seven games above the .500 mark a season-best also.

The Raptors pulled within two games of the Philadelphia 76ers for fifth place in the East while the Thunder dropped to 17-37.

Once again, the Raptors starters carried the weight as all five scored 15 or point points, led by Pascal Siakam who scored 21 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, while adding 16 rebounds and five assists. Fred VanVleet chipped in with 21 points and six assists while Gary Trent Jr. had 16 points and five steals.

Toronto shot 51.1 per cent from the floor and 13-of-35 from deep while holding the Thunder to 41.4 per cent and 14-of-47.

Montreal’s Lou Dort had 15 points and four assist for the Thunder, but also had six turnovers.

There were plenty of excuses if the Raptors wanted to allow themselves to be distracted, with Thursday’s 3 p.m. NBA trade deadline pending.

There have been some significant moves across the league, but sources say the Raptors moves — most likely a deal centred on Goran Dragic’s expiring contract and possibly a draft pick — will likely come down to the last minute, if they happen.

A quick glance at the box score indicated where the Raptors need the most help: Toronto came into the game leading the NBA in the proportion of their scoring that comes from their starters and there was no deviation from that Wednesday. With the Raptors leading by 14 with five minutes to play, 87 of Toronto’s 102 points had come from their starters.

The Thunder bench was outscoring the Raptors bench by 47-15.

We’ll see if Raptors general manager Bobby Webster can extend head coach Nick Nurse’s lineup soon enough.

But regardless of who or how, the Raptors made a point of addressing their history with some of the league’s lesser-thans, OKC included.

“These guys have beaten us already, we’ve had great games with them,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse. “I just reminded our guys of that. Listen, this is a great challenge for us tonight… to keep this thing rolling, to get ourselves ready to play.

“I gave the team a lot of credit going into Charlotte [on Monday], who was reeling a little bit, and we were rolling, and we came out really ready at the start.”

The Raptors did it again. Their cause was aided because Canadian star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander missed his sixth straight game with a sprained ankle, but even more so because Siakam doesn’t seem to care who he plays against these days, he’s out to crush them all.

The power-forward-turned point guard was too much for the young Thunder who were mostly pylons for him once the ball went up.

He was able to get to the rim at ease against OKC, scoring 15 first-quarter points on five lay-ups, a floater and a triple. The Thunder chose not to double Siakam the minute he put it on the floor — a departure from how he’s been covered most of this season — and he punished them.

The Raptors led 34-22 after 12 minutes and were shooting 68.4 per cent from the floor in no small part because Siakam was 7-of-8.

Toronto slipped a little bit in the second quarter, especially in the final minutes when the Raptors got sloppy with the ball as they fumbled away seven turnovers that the Thunder were able to turn into 11 points.

The Raptors led by as much as 16 midway through the period but consecutive turnovers by VanVleet and Anunoby helped spark 9-0 run just before halftime that was quelled by a Trent Jr. triple on the Raptors last possession.

It wasn’t a perfect first half, but the Raptors were good enough for long enough stretches that they led 59-51 to start the second half.

Not surprisingly it was VanVleet who made sure Toronto set the proper tone from there. After Dort hit a quick jumper to start the second half and cut the Raptor lead to seven, VanVleet hit two quick triples, stepped into a jumper and then hit a third triple to push Toronto’s lead to 17 midway through the third.

The Raptors urgency waned at times. The Thunder have the league’s most anemic offence on the season and struggle even more without Gilgeous-Alexander in the lineup, so it was understandably tempting.

But Toronto held the Thunder to 39 per cent shooting through three quarters, enjoyed an 87-72 lead to start the fourth and were able to coast home from there.

“I’ve been saying this to you guys all year,” said Nurse. “It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing. We’ve got to go play well. And we’ve got a chance to beat anybody… [So] we’re just trying to zero in on continuing to polish up some of the things that we’ve been doing and be who we are.”

They’ll get another chance to have their resolve tested against the Houston Rockets Thursday night, the last-place team in the West.

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Late fumble costs Tiger-Cats in Elks win on Canada Day – TSN



HAMILTON — Tre Ford was in his happy place Friday in Hamilton.

The Edmonton Elks quarterback got a win in his first career CFL start 30 minutes down the Queen Elizabeth Highway from his hometown of Niagara Falls, Ont.

The Elks came from behind to beat the Tiger-Cats 29-25 in front of 20,233 at Tim Hortons Field.

“To come back to Hamilton and have all my family watching me get that first start and that first win has been fantastic,” Ford said.

Among Ford’s supporters were his wife, parents, sister, sister-in-law and mother-in-law, his high school football coach from A.N. Myer Secondary, his University of Waterloo head coach Chris Bertoia, eight of his former university teammates and more friends.

Ford was shaky at times as the Elks trailed by 13 points early in the second half.

But the 2021 winner of the Hec Crighton Trophy winner that goes to the most outstanding Canadian university football player threw a game-tying touchdown pass to Kenny Lawler early in the fourth quarter.

The winning play for the Elks (1-3) arrived with 1:38 remaining when defensive back Scott Hutter tackled Hamilton quarterback Dane Evans and knocked the ball loose.

Jalen Collins recovered for a 14-yard touchdown.

“I saw him tackle him and thought, ‘please punch the ball out,” Collins said. “All we needed was an opportunity to close the game out. We were fighting all night. It was ugly.”

The winless Tiger-Cats opened a season with four straight losses for the first time since 2017 when they started 0-8.

“I want to apologize to all the guys. I put both home losses on me,” Evans said. “I just have to take care of it, and we win the game.”

Evans was 20-for-31 in passing for 197 yards and a touchdown throw. He was intercepted twice.

Ford’s numbers didn’t sparkle, although he did rush for 61 yards on six carries. The 24-year-old competed 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards and a touchdown. He was intercepted once.

Edmonton’s defence helped out with interceptions by Sheldon Brady and Matthew Thomas, as well as the pivotal late-game recovered fumble by Collins.

“A big shout out to the defence,” Ford said. “They won us that game. They made what, three or four turnovers? They did super well.

“I have room for improvement. I’m not going to complain because we did win. But I’m going to hit the film room to see what I can critique and where I can get better.”

Hamilton went after the rookie with various blitzes in the first half.
“My legs are going to open things up for my arm,” Ford said.

Ford credited teammate and quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who started in Edmonton’s three losses this season, for advising him during the game on defensive reads.

“He’s been like that since day one, even though we’re competitors for the position,” Ford said.

He admitted to early jitters as Hamilton led 16-6 after the first quarter and 19-9 at halftime.

“I always get nervous for the first play of every game,” Ford said. “I think it’s a good thing because it means I care and that I want to win.”

Evans hit Steven Dunbar for a 21-yard strike, and Lawrence Woods returned a kickoff of 72 yards for Hamilton’s first-half touchdowns.

Edmonton’s Kai Locksley scored on a one-yard plunge.

Elks kicker Sergio Castillo made two of his three field-goal attempts, while Hamilton counterpart Michael Domagala nailed his three and gave the Ticats at lead with a 33-yarder with 3:10 remaining in the game

“We’re not good enough right now,” Hamilton head coach Orlondo Steinauer said. “We’re not executing at the level which needs to happen. We’re just not making those plays we need to make.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.

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Raptors sign forward Otto Porter Jr. to 2-year deal: reports –



The Toronto Raptors have signed forward Otto Porter Jr., who was a key member of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship team.

The two-year deal was first reported by Yahoo Sports, and confirmed to The Canadian Press by a source close to negotiations.

The 29-year-old Porter averaged 8.2 points per game this past season. He’s a tenacious defender and solid long-range shooter, with a career average of 39.8 per cent from behind the arc.

Porter was selected third overall by Washington in the 2013 draft, and played the first six seasons of his career there before being traded to Chicago in 2019. Orlando then acquired him at the 2021 trade deadline, and he signed with the Warriors in the 2021 off-season.

The Raptors have been busy since free agency opened at 6 p.m. ET on Thursday, signing Canadian forward Chris Boucher to a three-year deal, and signing veteran forward Thaddeus Young to a multi-year contract extension.

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Blue Jays’ bats assist bullpen, carry the day in comfortable win over Rays –



TORONTO – The Blue Jays may have discovered the solution to their bullpen issues: score nine runs a game.

Sustainable? Maybe not, but the Blue Jays are hitting at their best right now, with an MLB-leading 170 runs scored in June to go along with 50 home runs last month. Wearing their red jerseys in front of a sellout Canada Day crowd of 44,445 Friday, some of that offensive output carried into July with a festive 9-2 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was so special,” said starter Jose Berrios. “I’ve heard a lot about this day, but being here and pitching today was very emotional. I know a lot of Canadians enjoy it and want to be at the ballpark on a day like today.”

“It was amazing, to say the least,” added Cavan Biggio, who reached base four times Friday. “In 2020 and 2021 we definitely missed this place. Now we’re finally back and we’re experiencing that energy that we’ve all been looking forward to on a nightly basis.”

A Lourdes Gurriel Jr. home run put the finishing touch on this one, but the Blue Jays also hit six doubles, five of which came off Rays starter Corey Kluber in a five-run third inning. A three-run sixth created necessary breathing room for the Blue Jays, who were able to rest most of their high-leverage relievers on a day Berrios was not at his sharpest.

With three hits, including his fifth home run of the season, Gurriel Jr. helped drive the Blue Jays’ offence. But don’t overlook Biggio, who walked twice while also hitting two doubles on a day his season on-base percentage climbed to .385.

“Today was great,” Biggio said. “Just hit after hit. A good pitcher, a good experienced guy on the mound, but we had a plan and we were able to execute it.”

Even before a pitch was thrown, Blue Jays fans had plenty to cheer about Friday. The recently retired Russell Martin was honoured with a memorable video narrated by former teammate Jose Bautista and personal messages from the likes of former Jays manager John Gibbons and fellow Canadian Joey Votto.

As the video tributes played in centre field, most Blue Jays players watched from the dugout. The fans also responded warmly to Martin, who later threw out the ceremonial first pitch to another athletic catcher who wears No. 55: Gabriel Moreno.

“Unbelievable career,” Biggio said of Martin. “What stands out to me the most is he played 14 years in the majors and made the playoffs 10 times. That’s what this game’s all about: it’s about winning.”

As for Berrios, he was effective enough, allowing two runs on eight hits over the course of five innings. He worked in and out of trouble, though, stranding nine runners, including both of the batters he walked.

While his fastball averaged 93.6 m.p.h., the Rays weren’t often fooled by the right-hander, who generated eight swinging strikes on 98 total pitches. Still, the Blue Jays will take that from Berrios, especially considering he had allowed 14 earned runs over the course of his previous two starts.

“He’s better than what he did today,” Montoyo said. “He was missing by a little bit and that made him throw even more pitches and work harder …  at the end of the day, he did the job.”

But realistically, the Blue Jays would have been in a tough spot without so much help from their offence. Adam Cimber was presumed unavailable after pitching three days in a row, and David Phelps was likely off limits given that he’d just pitched in four of five. This was not an ideal day for the Blue Jays to try preserving a one- or two-run lead.

Thanks to their lineup, they didn’t have to. With the exception of one inning from Trent Thornton, the Blue Jays were able to avoid their high-leverage relievers, putting them in a relatively strong position entering Saturday’s double-header. 

“If our pitching gives us a chance, our offence is going to go and that’s exactly what happened,” Montoyo said. “We should be better tomorrow because of that.”

Sergio Romo made his Blue Jays debut with a clean inning seventh inning that featured two strikeouts and Max Castillo pitched the final two innings without incident as Toronto improved to 44-33 on the season while increasing their lead over the Rays to 3.5 games.

All told, this was pretty close to how the Blue Jays would have drawn it up. And end of the day, they’re in Toronto again, playing at home on Canada Day for the first time since 2019. In case any doubt remained as to the day’s significance, an impromptu rendition of O Canada broke out in the stands as the Blue Jays closed out the win. Soon after the fans finished singing, the players completed their 9-2 win.

“The energy and pride that this country embodies was definitely on full display,” Biggio said.

Or, as Montoyo put it: “You could tell the happiness about it.”

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