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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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LeBron Saves Team USA in Thrilling Exhibition Against South Sudan at O2 Arena

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LONDON — In what could have been one of the most monumental upsets in international basketball history, Team USA narrowly escaped with a 101-100 victory over a spirited South Sudan team at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday night. This exhibition match, serving as a tune-up for the 2024 Olympics, showcased the rapid rise of South Sudanese basketball and the indomitable spirit of the American team led by LeBron James.

The atmosphere at the O2 Arena was electric, with fans witnessing a game that turned out to be far more competitive than expected. South Sudan, a team composed largely of refugees and players from the diaspora, pushed the heavily favored Americans to their limits.

First Half Highlights:

  • South Sudan came out firing on all cylinders, building a surprising 16-point lead in the second quarter.
  • Team USA struggled with their three-point shooting, missing 12 of their first 13 attempts from beyond the arc.

Despite the odds, South Sudan’s players, many of whom have overcome significant personal and professional challenges, played with remarkable cohesion and determination. Their performance was a testament to the rapid progress the team has made under the guidance of former NBA star Luol Deng.

With the game hanging in the balance, LeBron James demonstrated why he remains one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Benched at the start of the third quarter, James returned to the floor with a determination that was palpable.

Key Moments:

  • Third Quarter: Anthony Davis’ defensive prowess helped shrink the deficit. LeBron’s return brought stability and focus back to Team USA.
  • Final Minute: With just 20 seconds left, JT Thor of South Sudan scored over LeBron, giving his team a one-point lead.
  • Game-Winning Shot: LeBron drove to the basket, scoring the decisive layup with eight seconds remaining.

South Sudan’s journey to this point has been nothing short of inspirational. The country gained independence from Sudan in 2011, and the basketball program, still in its infancy, has quickly become a source of national pride.

Notable Contributions:

  • Carlik Jones: Delivered a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists.
  • Wenyen Gabriel: LeBron’s former teammate with the Lakers, contributed 11 points.
  • Marial Shayok: Led South Sudan with 24 points.

The team’s formation and rise have been spearheaded by Luol Deng, who played a pivotal role in recruiting and funding the program. His efforts have culminated in South Sudan qualifying for the Olympics, marking a historic achievement for the young nation.

Stephen Curry: “Wild game. They played really intense. It was nice to see how we responded. LeBron with a great finish down the stretch.”

Steve Kerr: “The whole team was embarrassed at halftime. We were challenged today, and it was good for us to feel that now. This was a reminder that we need to bring our best every game.”

Luol Deng: Expressed immense pride in his team’s performance, emphasizing the significance of their journey and the obstacles they have overcome.

This exhibition game was more than just a pre-Olympic warm-up. It highlighted the potential for underdog stories in sports and underscored the global reach and impact of basketball. Team USA, despite the narrow escape, was reminded of the importance of every game and the challenges that lie ahead.

South Sudan, on the other hand, has cemented its place on the international stage, showcasing that with determination and the right support, even the newest teams can compete with the best in the world.

As both teams prepare for the Olympics, this game at the O2 Arena will be remembered not only for its thrilling finish but also for the remarkable stories of resilience and ambition that played out on the court.

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UFC Vegas 94: Amanda Lemos vs. Virna Jandiroba – Main Event Recap

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In a thrilling main event at UFC Vegas 94, strawweights Amanda Lemos and Virna Jandiroba faced off on Saturday night. After an evenly matched first round, Jandiroba secured a dramatic submission victory in the second round, just moments before the bell.

Fight Summary:

  • First Round: The opening round was highly competitive, with both fighters showcasing their skills and maintaining a close contest.
  • Second Round: In the final seconds of the second round, Jandiroba managed to secure a submission, forcing Lemos to tap out. The win marks an impressive fourth consecutive victory for Jandiroba.

Post-Fight Remarks:

  • In her post-fight interview inside the Octagon, Jandiroba confidently called out UFC President Dana White, declaring, “Dana, I’m the next one. Dana, I’m your next champion.”

Future Implications:

  • With this victory, Jandiroba has positioned herself as a strong contender for the strawweight title. Tatiana Suarez, who was the rightful next contender for Weili Zhang, has been sidelined due to an injury. Jandiroba’s current four-fight win streak and her dominant performance at UFC Vegas 94 make a compelling case for her title shot.

Stay tuned for more updates as the UFC strawweight division continues to evolve, and see if Virna Jandiroba will indeed become the next challenger for the championship belt.

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Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry: Fight Night Updates

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Jake Paul is back in the ring, and he’s promising fireworks as he takes on former UFC star Mike Perry at the Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida. The fight will be broadcast live on DAZN. Originally, Paul was set to fight Mike Tyson, but Perry stepped in after Tyson suffered an injury.

Fight Details:

Jake Paul (9-1, 6 KOs)

  • Paul is coming off a first-round TKO of Ryan Bourland in March.
  • He has promised that Perry won’t survive the second round.
  • Paul is more experienced in boxing but still relatively new to the sport.

Mike Perry (0-1)

  • Perry, known as “Platinum,” brings over a decade of fighting experience, mainly in MMA and bare-knuckle fighting.
  • He believes Paul is still green in the fight business and intends to use his experience to pull off an upset.

Main Event:
Jake Paul vs. Mike Perry

Live Updates: Follow DAZN for all the live updates, results, and highlights from the Paul vs. Perry pay-per-view main card.

Main Card Results:

Amanda Serrano def. Stevie Morgan via TKO

  • Round 2, 0:38
    • Watch the finish

Lucas Bahdi def. H20 Sylve via knockout

  • Round 6, 2:27
    • Watch the finish

Corey Marksman def. Tony Aguilar via majority decision

  • Scores: 76-76, 77-75, 78-74

Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. def. Uriah Hall via unanimous decision

  • Scores: 59-55, 59-55, 58-56
    • Recap

Stay tuned for the main event updates and see if Jake Paul can deliver on his promise of another highlight reel knockout or if Mike Perry will teach him a lesson and pull off a major upset.

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