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Toronto Raptors 119, Indiana Pacers 118

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I have no idea how the Raptors won that game.

The Raptors were a mess. The Pacers were hitting every shot. Pascal Siakam was shooting like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson at the rim.

Indiana was up 19 and shooting 54% in the third. They were up 11 with 2:40 to go!

I have absolutely no idea how the Raptors won that game.

So, Serge Ibaka, huh? Game-winning three-pointer? 30 points? Seven boards and three assists, and he played the final eight minutes with five fouls!

And to hit that game-winning three-pointer despite having shot 1-for-6 from downtown!? And that was not an easy shot, either, with Domantas Sabonis flying at him!

What a night. Ibaka is now averaging 18.9 points and 8.9 boards on 57% shooting (.632 TS%) as a starter.

I don’t know what to say. Ibaka was infuriatingly inconsistent in his first 1.5 seasons as a Raptor. Then he was suddenly solidly consistent last year. Now he’s having his best season!? At age 30? He’s going full Benjamin Button on us, and I love it.

Caught a Break

So, Serge’s night wasn’t all perfect. It wasn’t his best night on D; he was dropping way back in screen-and-roll coverage with Malcolm Brogdon handling the ball, which led to a lot of good looks for Brogdon (4-of-7 from downtown).

To be fair, Domantas Sabonis sets some amazing screens, wiping out Raptor guards and leaving Ibaka on a bit of an island. And, Sabonis is a hell of a creator so I understand Ibaka not wanting to give him too much space either.

Which takes us to the Pacers’ final possession. It was a screen and roll with Brogdon and Sabonis sure enough, but this time Serge did not drop back, and stuck to Brogdon, along with Fred VanVleet who fought well through Sabonis’s creen. They trusted the defense behind them to rotate to Sabonis. Which they did, with Kyle Lowry picking up Sabonis as soon as he received Brogdon’s pass.

And Sabonis still nearly burned them! After a ball fake Sabonis found Victor Oladipo on the wing, who had a clean look at a three but missed it. Given how well the Pacers had been shooting to that point (19-of-38 from downtown) I was certain that was going in. It was either the law of averages, or just straight up luck, that it didn’t.

MIP of the Night

Boy, did Pascal Siakam have a rough start to this one. This is his shot chart through three quarters:

 

 

 

 

NBA.com

 

2-for-9 in the paint! Yikes. Obviously you have to give credit to Indiana’s defense and their size, but at least three of those misses were just straight up clankers that Siakam either mistimed or misread his angle. It was truly bizarre to see. But check out Q4:

 

Five thoughts recap: Toronto Raptors 119, Indiana Pacers 118, Pascal Siakam Shot Chart Q4

 

 

 

NBA.com

 

4-for-4 in the paint! And three of them came as part of that closing 14-2 run, in which Siakam had eight points. Talk about coming through when it counts!

In another encouraging sign, Siakam didn’t let that offensive struggle impact his defense, which was pretty solid all night. Yes, he sagged too far off the corner a couple of times and didn’t recover in time, giving up some good looks, but his effort at the rim, picking up Sabonis and Myles Turner, particularly when helping on double-teams, and getting into passing lanes was impressive. And of course, playing the head of the full-court press that generated two turnovers and forced a shot-clock violation during the closing run.

I’m not sure what caused all those missed bunnies but it looks like his energy and activity level is finally back.

Oh, Those Funky Lineups

The Raptors owed much of their offensive malaise last night to transitional lineups that really struggled at the top of the second and fourth quarters. A clearly-rusty Rondae couldn’t find any mojo, and although Patrick McCaw wasn’t terrible, without Norman Powell as a scorer, those lineups — even when Serge Ibaka came in for Chris Boucher — don’t have much punch.

Thing is, they’re necessary at this point. Without Powell and Marc Gasol, Nick Nurse has to find rest for his starters, and McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson have to play.

I suppose the tweak you can make is to stagger Lowry, VanVleet and Siakam more so that at least one of them is on the floor at all times. That also might help separate McCaw and Hollis-Jefferson.

OG Anunoby breaking out of his scoring slump would sure help too.

For all that though, one lineup tweak that did work wonders was the Siakam-at-the-five group that played when Ibaka got in foul trouble in the third quarter. Normally I am all in on this idea; I love the Siakam-at-C, OG-at-PF look. But against Indiana, a big team, and given with how absolutely terrible Pascal had been to that point, I didn’t think it was the night for it.

Naturally that group went on an immediate 10-0 run.

Sabonis Deserves that All-Star Nod

Sabonis was perhaps the player who received the most questions about his All-Star selection (you know, other than perennially under-appreciated Kyle Lowry).

Just looking at his numbers should be enough to see the selection isn’t a mistake; Sabonis is averaging 18-13-5 on 59% shooting. But that aside, watching him, it doesn’t take long to see that he’s an All-Star. I’m completely impressed with his control of the game; he never hurries, he makes incredibly crisp passes (got the from his old man, no doubt), he knows the angles to get in excellent rebound position and he covers an impressive amount of ground on D.

He really anchors that team on both ends of the floor. He may not be a flashy name and maybe that’s why he doesn’t get the All-Star respect, but he deserves it.

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All that, and I didn’t even mention Kyle Lowry’s masterful night — 32 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds, two steals, and making plays on both ends whenever the Raptors needed them.

12 straight wins! How can you not love this team!?

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Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement

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It’s been a long time since Canada made it to the FIFA World Cup Finals. Indeed, for younger Canadians, this will be the first time they get to see their national team on soccer’s biggest stage — the last time they played in the finals was way back in 1986. They’ll be hoping that things go a little better this time since, in their previous outing, they lost all three games without scoring a goal, making them the worst-performing team in the competition.

Still, there are two things to remember. First, just making it to the World Cup is an achievement. And second, the World Cup is a lot of fun even if your team doesn’t win! So it’s going to be an exciting month of football. In this blog, we’ll take a look at some essential information that’ll help you to build excitement for the tournament.

Canada at The 2022 FIFA World Cup: Time To Build Excitement

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/ball-blur-championship-close-up-209841/

 

Who Canada Will Play And When

Canada are guaranteed to play at least three games. Their first match will take place on November 23 (2 pm ET, 11 am PT), when they take on Belgium at the Al Rayyan Stadium in Qatar.

Next up is Croatia, who they’ll play four days later on November 27 (11 am ET, 8 am PT). Their final group game will be against Morocco, who they’ll play on December 1 (10 am ET, 7 am PT). If they finish in the top two, they’ll play again on December 5 or 6. But it’s best not to mark that potential date in your calendar just yet.

 

What Are Canada’s Chances of Winning?

Canada do not, unfortunately, have all that much chance of winning the World Cup — there are simply too many sides stronger than them. They’re unlikely to make it out of the group stage, in large part because they were given an especially difficult draw. Belgium have some of the world’s best players, while Croatia made it to the final of the World Cup last time out in 2018. Stranger things have happened, but don’t be too disappointed if they’re returning home early — they’re still heroes!

 

Extra World Cup Fun

Photo by RF._.studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo/photo-of-person-wearing-neon-green-socks-3621104/

Extra World Cup Fun

There’s more to enjoy about the World Cup than just Canada’s participation. This, after all, is a tournament that’s easy to love even if your country did not qualify. During the competition, there’ll be plenty of ways to get into the World Cup spirit, including listening to themed podcasts, participating in BetVictor’s Crack The Code competition, challenging yourself in a fantasy football tournament, and organising viewing parties for you and your friends.

Throw yourself into all that the World Cup provides, and you’ll find that you enjoy the month of sporting action even if Canada don’t go as far as you would like.

 

What Else To Know About The World Cup

This World Cup is unique because it’s the first to take place in the winter and also the first in the Middle East. This means it’ll be slightly different from previous tournaments, but if you think it’ll be any less enjoyable, think again. The World Cup is a global spectacle that’s fun no matter when it’s held!

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Between court ruling and new world rankings, LIV golfers facing long road back to PGA Tour – Sportsnet.ca

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WILMINGTON, Del. — Long before the PGA Tour’s post-season opener ended with a winning bogey in a three-hole playoff, the biggest drama was in the clubhouse at the TPC Southwind.

A dozen or so players gathered around a screen to watch the outcome in the first of what figures to be many court fights between the PGA Tour and Saudi-funded LIV Golf.

“I walked by player dining and I saw about 10 really nervous people pacing all around the room and I thought, ‘Well, there’s something going on,’” Jon Rahm said.

He was curious enough to stay for the finish.

This one went to the tour. A federal judge denied the request of three LIV golfers to compete in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Talor Gooch, Hudson Swafford and Matt Jones were in Memphis, Tenn., in case they got the green light but soon were headed home.

When will they return?

That was one of the realities that came out of the ruling, even if it was an emergency hearing. More detailed arguments for a temporary injunction could come later. U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman said her first open spot for an evidentiary hearing was Sept. 27-29.

That’s the week of the Presidents Cup. Such is the year.

The assumption is the three players — possibly more if they chose not to resign from the PGA Tour — want freedom to play both circuits. For now they are suspended — or banned, which is the word used in a text exchange from February between Sergio Garcia and Greg Norman.

“Hi Sharky! It’s official, the Tour has told our manager this week that whoever signs with the League, is ban from the Tour for life! I don’t know how are we gonna get enough good players to join the League under this conditions. What do you think?” Garcia said in his text, now part of the court documents.

Norman replied: “They cannot ban you for one day let alone life. It is a shallow threat. Ask them to put it in writing to you or any player. I bet they don’t. Happy for anyone to speak with our legal team to better understand they have no chance of enforcing.”

Judge Freeman ruled otherwise.

For some players, it might be awkward to be in the same tournament as the 10 players who are suing the PGA Tour. This is starting to get personal. Until now, any hard feelings was over someone wearing spikes too long or getting called “Brooksie.”

The notion of a lifetime ban is premature. Even so, the reality is LIV golfers might not be seen on the PGA Tour anytime soon whether they want to or not.

“It doesn’t look like it,” Rahm said. “I’m confident that the LIV side of things are still going to push strong to keep trying to change some things. But I also know that the lawyers on the PGA Tour side are going to keep fighting for the way things are going right now. It’s not the last thing we are going to hear from them.”

Outside of court are two issues still to be determined.

The majors have not announced their criteria for eligibility next year. The U.S. Open typically waits until the fall to go over any tweaks it wants to make. The USGA hasn’t make any significant changes to its exemptions since going to the top 50 (from top 20) in the world ranking in 2001 and doing away with money lists on the PGA Tour and European tour in 2012.

The Masters began using the top 50 in the world ranking in 1999. Masters champions currently have lifetime exemptions, and six of them since 2010 are now part of LIV Golf. There isn’t a seating chart for the Masters Club dinner on Tuesday night for past champions. This might be a good time to start a new tradition.

The Open Championship leans heavily on the world ranking for exemptions and an alternate list. The PGA Championship uses the PGA Tour money list and a catch-all “special invitations” category that seems to always catch the top 100 in the world. It just doesn’t say that in writing.

At this rate, maybe the majors don’t have to make many adjustments if they want to limit the number of LIV golfers.

LIV Golf no longer has anyone in the top 20 because Dustin Johnson dropped to No. 21 this week. Its players don’t get world ranking points, and its July 6 application to be included in the world ranking system probably won’t be decided until next year at the earliest. The process historically takes one year or longer.

It’s a safe bet that with few exceptions, the only players who will be exempt for all the majors already are exempt because they won one in the last five years — Phil Mickelson, Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed (who has one year left).

That leads to another reality also unveiled last week. The world ranking began the switch to a modernized system that is reputed to be more accurate and in doing so eliminates minimum points for smaller tours and weak fields.

Reed played the Asian Tour last week. He tied for 31st and received 0.31 points. The winner got just under 7.4 points — about half what the Korn Ferry Tour winner received.

A year or so from now, good luck finding anyone from the top 75 who isn’t a PGA Tour member.

Players are free to choose whatever path they want. If that means guaranteed money — more than they could reasonably have earned on the PGA Tour — it’s hard to fault them.

But it could be a long road back, if that’s where they even want to go.

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In an ‘urgent’ situation, Blue Jays come up short yet again – Sportsnet.ca

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TORONTO – John Schneider’s word choice to describe where the Toronto Blue Jays are at in their season right now – urgent. It’s a pretty apt pick as his players face their sternest challenge yet in this less-than-the-sum-of-their-parts summer, amid questions big and small and unsteady play all around the roster eating away at their place in the wild-card race.

To that end, the interim manager met with Bo Bichette a couple of times to discuss his decision to slide the shortstop down to seventh in the batting order, the lowest he’d ever started in a big-league game, with Matt Chapman bumping up to fifth on Tuesday. He gathered the players for what he said was a brief pre-game chat on what they needed to do against the Baltimore Orioles, although it wouldn’t be surprising if more than that came up. And he very much left the door open to Yusei Kikuchi not making his next start Saturday, the rotation TBD beyond Jose Berrios on Thursday and Kevin Gausman on Friday in New York against the Yankees.

The gist? There’s a lot of managing going on right now.

That the winning hasn’t yet followed is a growing concern, Tuesday night’s 4-2 setback to the Orioles making it nine losses in the club’s past 12 outings, all against the teams around them in the playoff race.

Ross Stripling returns from the injured list to start Wednesday’s finale and if the Blue Jays don’t avoid the sweep, Baltimore will leapfrog them into the third wild-card spot, one of many mettle-testing moments that loom in the weeks ahead.

“With what we’ve been through the last couple of years in terms of where we’ve been playing and the type of games we’ve been playing in, those experiences mean a lot going forward,” said Schneider. “A lot of guys have been in a lot of those spots. That’s where the urgency comes in and you’ve got to get it rolling pretty quick.”

This one started with promise as Alek Manoah was his dominant self early and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., followed George Springer’s leadoff infield single with an impressive two-run homer, hammering a middle down fastball 398 feet despite an apex of only 43 feet.

The trajectory was remarkable.


“I was looking for that pitch and I got it and I made good contact,” Guerrero said through interpreter Hector Lebron.

Still, the auspicious start wasn’t enough to prevent an inauspicious end, the game beginning to turn once the Blue Jays came up empty after loading the bases with one out in the third. Chapman quickly fell behind 0-2 to Dean Kremer before rolling over an outside cutter for an inning-ending double play and the game unravelled from there before a crowd of 37,940.

Manoah, cruising through four, surrendered back-to-back solo shots to Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman in the fifth to tie the game and then allowed a two-out RBI single to Ramon Urias in the sixth that plated the go-ahead run. A rare Jackie Bradley Jr., error in centre allowed Urias to take second and after Manoah walked Jorge Mateo, Anthony Bass surrendered another RBI single to Ryan McKenna that made it 4-2.

Illustrative of how things are going for the Blue Jays, Teoscar Hernandez made a strong throw to the plate but it skipped high on Alejandro Kirk, preventing him from putting down a tag.

The Blue Jays burned their challenge questioning a safe call on a back-pick attempt at first base that inning, and that loomed large in the seventh, when Raimel Tapia appeared to beat out an infield hit but his team had lost its review.

That came a few pitches after Tapia swung through a Kremer offering on a hit-and-run attempt and Santiago Espinal, who had injected some life into the Blue Jays dugout with a bunt single, was thrown out trying to steal second.

Everything fell into the when it rains, it pours category.

“We have probably our best contact guy in that spot in a 1-0 count and it didn’t work out,” said Schneider. “Watching the pace and the cadence of the game, what was happening, trying to force the issue a little bit to get back to the top with George, knowing Dillon Tate was coming in. The best case is first and third with one out, worst care first and second, one out and we’ll take our chances there. Didn’t work out.”

That’s been the case more often than not during the past two often-out-of-sync weeks for the Blue Jays. Guerrero pointed to the club’s hitting with runners in scoring position of late as an issue, believing that needs to change as Toronto has totalled just 24 runs over the past nine games.

At the same time, they Blue Jays allowed 49 runs over the same span and this is a time where faith must be maintained.

“You’ve just got to trust yourself,” said Guerrero. “And I told my teammates, just keep trusting yourself, keep working hard, somehow, at some point, things are going to turn around.”

Given that they’re now 2-6 against the Orioles, with four games against the New York Yankees, against whom they are 4-8, to follow, Schneider’s word of the day – urgent – applies all the more.

“We’re still in a playoff spot. We’re a playoff team. We know we’re a playoff team. Going through a tough stretch and we’ll continue to get better,” said Manoah, adding that Orioles right now “are doing a good job. We’re going to see a whole lot more of them coming down the stretch. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”

To that end, the Blue Jays are kicking around whether to start Mitch White in Kikuchi’s place this weekend against the Yankees and will keep looking to make things happen in their lineup.

Dropping Bichette felt jarring but his .727 OPS is currently ranked seventh on the Blue Jays roster, with his .427 slugging percentage sixth and his .300 on-base percentage eighth. While he’s clearly a more talented hitter than that, at the moment that’s where he’s at and with the Blue Jays needing to find ways to cluster hits, a lineup switch is understandable.

“Just shaking things up and giving guys different looks and seeing how it shakes out, really,” said Schneider. “Nothing in particular to it. Like Chappy’s at-bats recently, offence hasn’t really been killing it. So just trying to shake it up.”

Shake harder, shake different as the Blue Jays continue searching for a combination to break them out of a funk deepening by the day.

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