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Stanley Johnson surprise a positive step in Raptors’ process –



TORONTO — All the Toronto Raptors have to do is trust the process.

At least, that’s what they’d make you want to believe after they fell to the Philadelphia 76ers, 100-93, Tuesday night, dropping them to 0-3 to start the season.

And contrary to how the team’s insatiable fanbase is feeling at the moment, there’s no panic to be had yet with these Raptors. Urgency? Sure. But panic? Not yet at least.

“I think there’s a little bit of unsettledness with the team,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said after the game. “I think it’s evident with a lot of the guys’ offensive play being so erratic. I think some of that is carrying over to the other end. We’ve got to stretch out our good moments. We’ve played some great moments in all the games.”

Added Kyle Lowry: “We’re definitely in a bad spot. We haven’t won a game but we could be 3-0. We were in a position to win all three games and unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us.”

Yes, for the third game straight the Raptors saw themselves up double-digits, looking to be in control, only to see an uncharacteristic dry spell rear its ugly head at an inopportune time, resulting in a blown game.

Another concern, of course, has been the poor play of Pascal Siakam. While looking great in the first half of games, Siakam has faltered in second halves and really looked out of sorts on Tuesday, picking up five of the six fouls that booted him from the game within about the last six-and-a-half minutes of the fourth quarter while scoring just two points on 1-for-4 shooting in that frame.

It’s clear the Raptors need more from him.

“I’d say he’s our closer. I think, again, he’s going to get the opportunities there and I think the increased reps will get him there,” said Nurse of Siakam. “He’s got to find his balance, he has to find his strength a little bit, he’s going to have to produce on a few more of those shots.”

But, as mentioned before, this is a process the Raptors are going through, and while the negatives are glaring and certainly can’t be ignored, there are positives to be found as they stumble as well.

Like, for example, the big performance of OG Anunoby Tuesday, who after looking timid offensively broke out against the 76ers to the tune of 20 points, six rebounds and five steals while going 7-for-11 from the field and 4-of-7 from three-point range.

Or how about the fact the much-maligned Raptors defence looked much-improved Tuesday? Toronto held Philadelphia to just 38.1 per cent shooting, forcing them to turn the ball over 18 times. Sure, they ultimately couldn’t capitalize on it because their offence goes through droughts at poor times in contests, but when you’re in a tailspin like the Raptors are, finding small victories will be important if they aren’t going to just crash and burn.

“We kinda flew around a little bit more. We kinda were a little bit more active in the sense of us getting to spots and kinda making them take some tough shots,” said Lowry. “But at the same time we’ve gotta be a little bit better. We’ve gotta be a little bit better with how we finish our possessions and finishing them with rebounds. But it was a better effort tonight.”

The sight of the Raptors playing more Raptors-like defence was an encouraging sign as it seemed to indicate a return of the team’s missing identity to start the season. Something that was reinforced thanks to a little signature Nurse ingenuity.

Facing a Sixers squad that boasts a lot of size, Nurse decided to mix up his rotation Tuesday and played Stanley Johnson, the sparsely-used forward who only played a total of 150 minutes over 25 games last season.

A player who was almost exclusively used in garbage time a season ago — and for the majority of his NBA career — Johnson checked in at the 4:44 mark of the first quarter and ended up playing 22 impactful minutes, coming in as the main defensive matchup against Philadelphia star Ben Simmons when Anunoby was sitting for a rest.

Johnson finished Tuedsay’s game with seven points and eight rebounds with no two points cooler than when he slammed home a putback dunk off a free-throw miss midway in the fourth quarter.

Johnson managed to catch the Sixers napping and effortlessly swooped in from the three-point line to jam the free-throw miss home, thanks in part to some communication between himself and Lowry.

“Kyle had a heads-up play,” said Johnson. “I wanted to do it, and [the 76ers] kind of were keeping it out, and Kyle saw them keeping it out, so he told me to be quiet, and he went to the free-throw line, they thought I wasn’t going and then I went. A lot of guys don’t pay attention to stuff like that, but it’s always available.”

Added Lowry of the play, who claimed he doesn’t deserve any credit on it: “It was all Stanley, to be honest with you. He felt something and when my teammates feel something I say, ‘OK, cool.’ I was about to put him on the line and he was like, ‘That’s OK.’ Simple as that.

“When my teammates feel something I’m going to go with it. I try not to question my teammates and he made an incredible play and Stan played his butt off tonight and that’s the opportunity he’s been waiting for.”

Despite being so unevenly used, Johnson has stayed ready and he impressed enough Tuesday that there’s a chance he could see even more floor time in the future.

“He does a good job daily in his workouts. He really practices like a pro, etc.,” Nurse said of Johnson. “There was an opportunity for him tonight. The depth of the roster looks like there’s a need for a backup three, four, and he might take that over. I hope he can give us just what he gave us tonight. If he can, he’s got a shot in the rotation. That’s what it comes down to, some consistency.

“I think he’s gonna earn a lot of favour with the veteran guys if he’s gonna play that hard and defend like that.”

Seeing a relatively surprising move like using Johnson was a familiar sight from just a season ago. As you may remember, the Raptors were among the most injured teams in the league last season and managed to weather the storm in part because of the emergence of then-mostly-unknown players like Chris Boucher and Terence Davis II.

Toronto’s in a different situation this season, obviously, but finding more options — like Johnson — certainly can’t hurt Nurse and Co. as they try to navigate the waters they’re in now and right the good ship Raptors.

At 0-3 and with a multitude of problems plaguing them, the Raptors are going to need to take their time tackling each issue one-by-one. It’s hard to say for certain yet, but the pleasant surprise of Johnson Tuesday is a positive step forward and not one that should be dismissed.

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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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