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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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Mixed Martial Arts-Door is open for YouTube’s Paul brothers in MMA

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Logan and Jake Paul would make great Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighters, Bellator president Scott Coker has said as he targets exhibition matches featuring the YouTube personalities such as the former’s boxing bout against Floyd Mayweather.

Logan Paul went the distance, surviving eight rounds against unbeaten (50-0) five-division world boxing champion Mayweather in an exhibition on Sunday at Miami’s Hard Rock stadium.

USA Today reported the fight brought in one million pay per view buys with $50 million generated from sales in the United States.

It was only the second fight of Paul’s career, while his brother Jake has fought in three professional boxing matches, beating former MMA fighter Ben Askren in April.

Critics have labelled the bouts a sideshow due to the lack of sporting credibility of the duo, who made their names as social media personalities and have millions of subscribers on YouTube.

However, Coker told Reuters the brothers have impressive physiques and the door is open for them to move into MMA.

“I met with Logan Paul about two years ago and I’ve spoken to Jake Paul’s manager and Jake on a zoom call recently… The one thing I said was hey, if you want to do MMA we would love to promote you guys,” the 58-year-old said in a Zoom interview.

“These guys are young, athletic, strong and you saw the fight on Sunday night these guys they came and did their work.

“Mayweather couldn’t finish him and I know he tried, I heard he wanted to knock this kid out so bad,” he added.

“When I heard both had high school wrestling backgrounds in Ohio, which is a prominent wrestling state in the U.S., it really made me interested in pursuing them in some super fights in Mixed Martial Arts – and that door is continually open.”

HEADLINE FIGHT

Bellator, owned by Viacom, is gearing up for a busy month of events, starting with Bellator 260 on Friday with the headline fight between reigning welterweight world champion Douglas Lima and the undefeated Yaroslav Amosov.

However, super fights and exhibitions are where Coker is targeting a younger audience.

“My 14-year-old niece, I told her I was going to the Logan Paul fight and she thought that was the greatest thing,” he said.

“She asked me who he was fighting and I said Floyd Mayweather and she said ‘who’s that?’ – I thought wow, she doesn’t know boxing, she doesn’t know MMA, she’s just a 14-year-old girl on the internet doing what they do.”

As the sporting world gears up for the delayed Tokyo Olympics starting in July, Coker believes MMA will feature in future Games.

“When you think about mixed martial arts, what you’re talking about is boxing, wrestling, judo, taekwondo, karate – those are all Olympic sports,” he said.

“Why wouldn’t mixed martial arts eventually get into the Olympics because six out of the seven disciplines MMA is known to use really is already there.

“There’d be a lot of details to work out but to me I think it will happen, it’s just a matter of time.”

 

(Reporting by Christian Radnedge,; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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Montreal will host the 2024 world figure skating championships

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Montreal will host the 2024 world figure skating championships, the International Skating Union (ISU) said on Wednesday, after the 2020 event Canada was to host was cancelled due to COVID-19.

The championships will return to Montreal from March 18-24, marking the 11th time Canada has staged the event.

“Skate Canada has a proven track record of holding successful ISU events and we are looking forward to bringing the world’s best skaters to the fantastic Canadian city of Montreal,” said Debra Armstrong, CEO of Skate Canada, in a statement.

 

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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Andreescu splits with coach Bruneau after French Open exit

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World number seven Bianca Andreescu on Tuesday announced she has split with longtime coach Sylvain Bruneau, a week after falling in the first round of the French Open.

The pair had worked together for four years as Andreescu made her breakthrough with three titles in 2019, including the U.S. Open.

“It is with a heavy heart that I would like to inform my fans that my long time coach, mentor and friend, Sylvain and I, have mutually decided to end our incredible coaching relationship,” Canadian Andreescu wrote on Twitter

“Our friendship will live forever … I am very grateful for everything we accomplished together and all of our great memories.

“Sylvain was more than a coach… he is family.”

Andreescu, 20, returned to action at this year’s Australian Open, having missed 15 months due to a knee injury.

A positive COVID-19 test subsequently ruled Andreescu out of both Madrid and Rome before an abdominal injury forced her to pull out of Strasbourg at the quarter-final stage.

Her most recent appearance at Roland Garros ended with a 6-7(1) 7-6(2) 9-7 defeat by Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek.

 

(Reporting by Hardik Vyas in Bengaluru; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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