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Short-handed Raptors can’t catch a break as they fall to Celtics – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – Late in the first quarter of a game that was already showing signs of being beyond the Toronto Raptors’ grasp, the Boston Celtics veered from NBA tradition.

They cleared out and sent their big man Enes Kanter to the low block to post up Raptors reserve centre Chris Boucher.

Back when dinosaurs walked the earth and the NBA decided that having a slate of marquee matchups on Christmas Day was a good idea, posting up big men on the block was an every-other-play occurrence. Think Moses Malone of the Philadelphia 76ers doing damage against the Boston Celtics’ Robert Parrish, or the New York Knicks’ Patrick Ewing dueling with the Houston Rockets’ Hakeem Olajuwon.

Now big men play above the three-point line and have to rely on screen-and-rolls to eat.

But every once in a while, an opportunity presents itself and the wide-bodied Kanter being guarded by the slim Boucher was one of those.

It was all over in a matter of seconds. Kanter ran to the left block, caught the pass, spun back into the lane and Boucher was powerless to stop him.

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The analogy here is the Raptors were similarly powerless against the visiting Celtics as a whole. A win would have made for a great stocking stuffer for the crowd who turned for the Raptors’ second-ever Christmas Day start and first at Scotiabank Arena.

Alas, all they got was a day out and a lump of coal as the short-handed Raptors’ pluckiness and never-quit factor was ultimately no match for a deep and talented Celtics team that looks like it is poised to be a force in the East a year after a frustrating season where they got caught up in a season-long Kyrie Irving melodrama.

With Irving now the Brooklyn Nets’ problem and newly acquired Kemba Walker meshing perfectly with the Celtics’ existing talent base, only the Raptors’ best are a match for Boston and they didn’t have it on Christmas Day as they fell 118-102 to the visitors.

The Raptors’ scrappiness in the face of injuries is a wonderful thing and a compelling storyline, but it is noteworthy for a reason: playing long stretches of an NBA season without your top talent is exceedingly difficult and the strain is showing.

“We’re pretty short on our roster,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse afterwards. “We’ve played a lot minutes, these guys, a lot of games in a lot of days, the schedule hasn’t been very good to us. This is our third game in four days, one was an overtime game, one was a come-from-30-points-behind game, where we used a lot of energy too, so I don’t know. Maybe we just need a little rest.”

Toronto did lead 10-0 in the early going, but was otherwise a non-factor for most of the game. A Gordon Hayward triple put Boston up by 21 with just under six minutes left after the Celtics led after the first quarter (by nine), at half (by eight) and heading into the fourth (by 19).

There was no roaring comeback in the Raptors’ arsenal this time around.

The Raptors got solid showings by Fred VanVleet (27 points and six assists) in his best game since missing five with a bruised knee and Boucher, who had 24 points on 10 shots – his second career-high in three games. But overall, the Raptors struggled to contain the Celtics, who had six players in double figures, led by Jaylen Brown with 30 on just 13 shots.

Boston was 14-of-33 at the three-point line to the Raptors’ 8-of-23.

The Raptors gave up 13 offensive rebounds, too – three to Kanter, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds in 18 minutes.

If there is a podcasting odd couple, this might be it. Donnovan Bennett and JD Bunkis don’t agree on much, but you’ll agree this is the best Toronto Raptors podcast going.

Clearly the federal government has no sense of NBA gamesmanship or what it takes to make a precious holiday memory.

Kanter wrote a column in The Globe and Mail on Monday thanking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, among others, for facilitating his entry into Canada with the Celtics for the Raptors’ first-ever home date on Christmas. Kanter, an outspoken critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, has said his passport was revoked by the Turkish government in 2017. He’s needed special consideration to travel outside the US since.

It was a big day for Kanter.

“I was just definitely so happy,” he said before the game. “And at the end of the day, I’m not a journalist or a politician, my job is as a player to come here and play basketball with my teams and try to help this organization win games. So that’s why I wanted to come here and play basketball and enjoy this time with my teammates. So it’s definitely a very special moment.”

With the Raptors already missing five rotation players – including mainstays Marc Gasol (hamstring), Pascal Siakam (groin) and Norm Powell (shoulder) – it wouldn’t have hurt Toronto’s cause had Kanter’s ability to travel north been delayed until, say, Boxing Day.

“I think even though you’re out-weighted or out-sized, you’ve got to fight for your position a little earlier,” said Nurse of the Kanter match-up. “I didn’t think we got a body on him soon enough so he was getting the deep catches … at the beginning we should have been more prepared for that.”

The point being that the short-handed Raptors needed every conceivable advantage to break their way in order to keep the red-hot Celtics – now winners of four straight and who came in on two days’ rest and having played only 27 games so far this season (three fewer than Toronto and two less than any other NBA team) – in check.

Kanter being available was just one example of a break that could have gone the Raptors’ way but didn’t. It meant the Celtics could dress the NBA’s most efficient offensive rebounder against the Raptors, who rank as the league’s third-worst defensive rebound team and are only worse without Gasol on the floor.

Not that Kanter was the difference alone. The Celtics are too deep to have the balance tipped by a single role-playing big off the bench, but Kanter made himself felt. His spin move on Boucher helped put the Celtics up 28-19 after the first quarter, with Kanter contributing six points in just under five minutes. By the time Kanter finished the second quarter with a layup on Boston’s last possession, the Turkish big man’s 12 first-half points had helped Boston to a 55-47 lead.

The past couple of games, a second-half deficit hasn’t meant much to the undermanned Raptors. They came back from down 30 in their historic comeback against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday at home and wiped out a 10-point halftime hole in the third quarter against the Indiana Pacers – a game they ended up losing in overtime.

But like a dog chasing cars, chasing the lead in an NBA game will eventually end badly.

The Celtics’ primary weapons are the trio of Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and by the time Boston had pushed its lead to 19 heading into the fourth quarter, they had each made their presence felt. Walker had 20 points and five threes, Tatum was struggling from the floor, but had five helpers, while Brown was doing whatever he wanted, as he was 9-of-10 from the field for 27 points in 29 minutes. Toss in Hayward – another max player capable of making plays for himself and others – and the Raptors had their hands full.

“We’ve done that [make comebacks] the last couple of games,” said Kyle Lowry, who has sparked the comebacks the past two games but was flagging in his first Christmas Day start of his career as he was 4-of-13 from the floor with five turnovers. “And that’s a well-coached team, hard-playing team, Jaylen Brown and Kemba (Walker), those guys played extremely well, they made a lot of shots, so trying to get back was a little tougher tonight than before.”

The loss was the second straight for the Raptors as they – having played 13 games in 25 days this month – get a couple off before heading to Boston to complete the home-and-home Saturday night.

The gift they could use more than any other is a return to full health, but on that front, Santa skipped them this year.

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Kevin Durant Didn't Previously Express Wish For Nets To Fire Steve Nash, Sean Marks – RealGM.com

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Kevin Durant met with Joe Tsai recently in London and it was revealed he expressed a lack of faith in the direction of the Brooklyn Nets. Durant reportedly issued an ultimatum that he is not interested in continuing with the Nets if Steve Nash remains as head coach and Sean Marks continues running the front office.

“The timing of it is also unusual,” said Brian Windhorst on Tuesday. “While star players have gotten coaches fired for decades and will get them fired for decades, he didn’t express this, as far as I’m aware to the Nets at the end of the season. And he didn’t express this to the Nets when he made his trade demand. So doing it now is a maneuver. A maneuver that I don’t think worked. 

“Because as I talk to teams out there, they don’t think his increased his trade value, they think this hurt his trade value.”

Windhorst also noted that Tsai statement of support for Nash and Marks also includes a sentence the league paid strong attention to stating “We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

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Thousands of tickets still available for world junior hockey tournament in Edmonton – CBC Sports

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Odd summer timing and an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Hockey Canada could be the reason thousands of tickets to the world junior championship are still available on the eve of the tournament, says an Edmonton professor.

Prof. Dan Mason, who teaches in the faculty of kinesiology, sport, and recreation at the University of Alberta, said when Canada hosts, there are usually so many fans who want to see the home team take the ice that they are willing to buy Hockey Canada’s packaged games that include teams that are not Canadian.

“So Latvia vs. Slovakia, for example, those games will be sold out as well because in order to get the tickets to watch Canada play, you have to buy a package that includes some of the other games,” he said on Friday.

“The fact that there are still Team Canada tickets available, that tells you the demand is much lower than it usually is for this kind of event.”

WATCH l World junior tournament to go ahead amidst Hockey Canada controversy:

World junior hockey tournament to go ahead amidst Hockey Canada controversy

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Duration 2:07

Ticket sales for the World Junior Hockey Championships in Edmonton are below expectations as the tournament kicks of this week in the shadow of an ongoing sexual assault scandal at Hockey Canada.

The tournament runs from Aug. 9-20 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

The initial 2022 championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., was called off Dec. 29 after just four days because of rising COVID-19 cases among players and officials, which forced game forfeitures.

The 10-country tournament will be minus Russia, barred from participating by the International Ice Hockey Federation because of that country’s invasion of Ukraine.

Holiday tradition

Around 1,500 tickets are still available for purchase on Ticketmaster to the first game between Czech Republic and Slovakia on Tuesday. About 1,300 tickets are available for the next day when Canada takes on Latvia. About 1,500 seats for the final game are also available with hundreds of other tickets to watch the 11-day tournament.

This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake … or do something summer-related.— Edmonton professor Dan Mason on poor ticket sales for an August world juniors

Mason said the timing of the games could be why interest is so low. The tournament typically runs over the Christmas holidays.

“Over the past 30 years or so, TSN has built the world juniors into this holiday event that people partake in,” he said.

“I watch it with my family over the [Christmas] break though so it’s kind of become part of our holiday tradition.

“This time of year, you probably already had plans to go to the lake, go to the mountains or do something summer-related. I don’t think we’re willing to give up those plans to watch hockey.”

Many people could also be waiting for a former judge on the Supreme Court of Canada to begin independently reviewing Hockey Canada’s governance amid calls for a change of leadership.

The review comes after members of the 2018 world junior team were accused of a group sexual assault after a gala event, and after Hockey Canada reached a settlement.

“I think there’s people who weren’t sure if they would go or not, and maybe deciding not to go because of that,” Mason said.

The CEO of Explore Edmonton, which promotes tourism in the Alberta capital, said in an email the marketing organization paused its promotion of the games in response to the allegations.

“As the host city for the upcoming tournament, we continue to have discussions with Hockey Canada officials about their plans to address the need for change,” said Traci Bednard.

Mason said inflation and less disposable income could be other factors working against the tournament.

“Canada may be more focused on that player development piece than trying to sort of make money off of a tournament being held in the summer,” he said.

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Nets owner Tsai backs coach, GM amid reported Durant standoff – theScore

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Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai has pledged his support of the coaching staff and front office after Kevin Durant reportedly demanded that the team trade him or fire head coach Steve Nash and general manager Sean Marks

Tsai took to Twitter on Monday, saying, “Our front office and coaching staff have my support. We will make decisions in the best interest of the Brooklyn Nets.”

Durant’s ultimatum is apparently a result of his lack of faith in the team’s direction, The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported earlier Monday. The 33-year-old is firm in his stance, Charania adds.

The former MVP requested a trade at the end of June following a disappointing season that ended in a first-round exit. Little was known at the time about his reasons for the decision.

The Nets have reportedly had discussions with nearly every team in the league in hopes of getting a historic package of players and draft picks in return for Durant. Brooklyn reportedly proposed a trade with the Toronto Raptors involving Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes and talked about a deal with the Boston Celtics that would include star Jaylen Brown.

The Raptors, Celtics, and Miami Heat are seen as the most likely trade destinations for Durant, sources told Charania.

The Nets aim to take “every last asset” from their trade partner in any deal for Durant, according to Charania.

Nash, a Hall of Fame point guard, has been at the helm of the Nets for two seasons. It is his first job in professional coaching. Meanwhile, Marks has held the position of general manager since 2016 after being an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs.

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