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10 things: On the whole, Raptors are ahead of schedule despite loss to Nets

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Here are 10 takeaways from the Toronto Raptors‘ 116-103 loss to the Brooklyn Nets.

One — The simple story is that the Raptors didn’t hit enough outside shots to compete with a juggernaut like the Nets. Of course it didn’t help that the Raptors shot 7-for-30 from three, including 2-of-15 from their wings, but that would be too simplistic. The truth is that the Raptors were too lax on defence and weren’t as insistent as they have been in the paint.

The Raptors had multiple lapses in the second half that allowed the Nets to quickly flip a seven-point halftime deficit into a commanding double-digit lead. And even though the Raptors cycled through the usual catalogue of Nick Nurse defences, they lacked the execution to string together enough stops to mount any sort of a comeback.

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Two — Nurse didn’t help things with his rotations. The part about slotting in a starter while replacing the backup center on short notice is bound to create disruptions, but that’s not where Nurse’s decisions were confusing. It was how the Raptors lost their way in the second half by trying to prioritize offence over defence.

Yes, it was hard to watch the Raptors struggle to generate clean looks when the Nets shrunk the paint, but keeping Scottie Barnes and Dalano Banton on the bench for the majority of the second half killed the Raptors’ ability to defend. Barnes picked up his fourth foul early in the third, and Nurse left Svi Mykhailiuk in way too long.

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Three — It would have been really interesting to see the Raptors lead more into their positionless identity. The Nets play primarily through James Harden, who loves to hunt individual matchups, to make the defence overcompensate for that one weakness, and using that specific advantage to determine how he’s going to break down the defence. But the Raptors are the rare team that can put five long rangy defenders all out at once, to switch everything, and that’s generally the best way to neutralize the way Harden operates. It felt like a missed opportunity to try out that look in this specific matchup.

Four — Pascal Siakam played as expected in his return from off-season shoulder surgery. He was held to a minutes restriction, but Nurse was generally pleased with Siakam’s conditioning given the long layoff. Siakam was the first player down the floor on several transition opportunities, and he blocked a corner three which are all positive signs.

Where he was behind was the force with which he played. Siakam is at his best going downhill but he couldn’t generate much against the Nets’ interior defenders, and it looked like he lacked the strength needed to get to his preferred spots. That might speak to his confidence in his newly repaired shoulder than anything else.

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Five — Barnes was great in short flashes, but too quiet overall. His highlights are legitimately impressive, especially the stretch to end the first half where he stripped Harden, then ripped Kevin Durant on the next possession before taking it end-to-end for a dunk. He collected five steals, and was entrusted as the primary defender on Harden and he mostly held his ground, and all of that is encouraging.

But under no circumstances should Barnes finish any game with only seven shot attempts, and this goes beyond any blame on the structure of the team or any specific plans from the coaching staff. Barnes still saw plenty of the ball even with Siakam returning, but he fell into the pattern of trying to play side-to-side rather than forcing the issue going downhill. It comes from a good place, as Barnes is mostly trying to play within Nurse’s free-flowing offence, but what makes some players great is knowing when to break the pattern.

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Six — Siakam’s return knocked Precious Achiuwa to the second unit, and as usual, the results were mixed. The positives for Achiuwa was his aggressiveness in scoring the ball and he did showcase much of his potential by knocking down a mid-range jumper as well as a corner three, and he capitalized on most of his drives to the basket, although there always seems to be a few easy chances that he squanders for no discernable reason.

Where he was poor was on defence, where a few missed rotations against a team full of shooters proved to be extremely costly. Achiuwa likely remains in the second unit when everyone is healthy, and it can be a spot that benefits him. He will largely match up against smaller frontcourt players who are more similar to Achiuwa’s build, and his scoring can be very useful for the Raptors’ reserves who are in dire need of offence.

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Seven — But that leaves almost no minutes for Chris Boucher. Even in a game with Siakam was held to a minutes restriction while Khem Birch and Yuta Watanabe were injured, Nurse still only used Boucher for nine minutes as the ninth man. Even those nine minutes were inflated partially by Nurse’s strategy of pressing full court at the end of the game, and so he needed a rangy big like Boucher who could cover as much space as possible, but that’s hardly an everyday look. Boucher was actually rather productive in his short stint, getting out in transition for two scores while collecting a steal and a block, but it’s clear that Nurse doesn’t trust him in any important moments.

Eight — The issue with taking Boucher out of the mix is that it leaves the Raptors without a floor-spacing big. Almost every team that plays the Raptors keeps their center in the lane waiting to neutralize drives, and the Raptors don’t have the threat of a pick-and-pop option to pull them out. Instead, the onus falls on players like Fred VanVleet and Gary Trent Jr. to consistently make pull-up jumpers, and they’re just not at the level where it influences the defence to change their tactics. The only in-season solution would be to trade for a floor-spacing big — a Marc Gasol type would do wonders for this team.

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Nine — OG Anunoby had a fun stretch where he nailed three consecutive fadeaway jumpers in a row against Harden and Durant. On all three moves, Anunoby was able to back down his defender until he was within 10 feet of the hoop, before using his length to shoot over top of the contest.

Anunoby has learned this season that he’s strong enough to get to just about any spot he wants on the floor, and for him it’s mostly about finding his space and sorting out his balance. There’s no reason for Anunoby to be any less aggressive with Siakam back in the mix. He needs to continue exploring his scoring capabilities because he is looking like the best tough shot-maker on the entire team, and the Raptors will need that specific skill if and when they get to the playoffs.

Ten — On the whole, the Raptors are very much ahead of schedule. If they don’t look like a finished product at times, it’s because they’re very much a rebuilding team that has started the season punching above their weight. The main positives are that Barnes is much more advanced than advertised, Anunoby is taking the next step as a scorer and everyone has bought into what Nurse is trying to implement.

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The biggest struggle with rebuilding teams is that they don’t know how to win, so they’re constantly shuffling the deck and hoping that the next card will save them. The Raptors have a clear style of play, the front office collected specific players to play this exact style and it’s working. How many wins they will finish with is going to come down to how meticulous they are in nailing the details, but the broader strategy works.



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2022 WWE Clash at the Castle card, matches, rumors, predictions, match card, date, start time, location

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After 30 years, WWE is finally bringing a major stadium event back to the United Kingdom. Clash at the Castle goes down on Sept. 3 from Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, Wales.

In the main event, undisputed WWE champion Roman Reigns will put his titles on the line in front of the U.K.’s own Drew McIntyre. It’s an epic clash that puts Reigns’ more than 700-day title reign at high risk of coming to an end. The SmackDown women’s title is also set to be defended as Liv Morgan will take on a fresh challenger in Shayna Baszler.

The build to the show has started but the full card is far from finalized. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what we know — and what we expect — at WWE Clash at the Castle.  

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WWE Clash at the Castle matches

Undisputed WWE Universal Championship — Roman Reigns (c) vs. Drew McIntyre: Ahead of SummerSlam, McIntyre defeated Sheamus to become No. 1 contender to the undisputed title. Reigns then defeated Brock Lesnar in a wild Last Man Standing match at SummerSlam to retain his titles, setting up the match with McIntyre. McIntyre will clearly have the hometown crowd behind him but ending the title run of Reigns has proven near impossible.

SmackDown Women’s Championship — Liv Morgan (c) vs. Shayna Baszler: Morgan successfully — and controversially — defended her title by pinning Ronda Rousey at SummerSlam. Of course, Morgan was tapping out to an armbar, which the referee didn’t see as he counted Rousey’s shoulders down. Now, Morgan will try to make a more emphatic statement against another former MMA star in Baszler, who earned her title shot by winning a gauntlet match against six other women on SmackDown.

Bianca Belair, Asuka & Alexa Bliss vs. Bayley, Iyo Sky & Dakota Kai: After Belair defeated Becky Lynch at SummerSlam to retain the Raw women’s title, things got wild. First, Bayley returned from a lengthy injury layoff. Then, Sky and Kai made their way to the ring to join her. The new group immediately changed the landscape of the division and they set their sights on Belair and Lynch. Unfortunately, Lynch suffered a legitimate shoulder injury that put her on the sidelines, leaving it to Asuka and Bliss to join up with the champ to take on Bayley’s crew.

Seth Rollins vs. Riddle: This match was supposed to take place at SummerSlam but was pulled at the last minute with Rollins taking out Riddle with a series of stomps. Riddle again suffered the brunt of Rollins’ stomps at SummerSlam when he showed up and challenged Rollins to fight him. On Raw, Riddle announced he was now medically cleared and the two brawled again. After that, the challenge was laid down to finally face off at the upcoming pay-per-view.

Intercontinental Championship — Gunther (c) vs. Sheamus: A new challenger was required after Gunther quelled the advances of Shinsuke Nakamura. Sheamus won a hotly contested “Fatal Five-Way” match on the Aug. 19 edition of SmackDown to crown a new challenger. Sheamus defeated Happy Corbin, Madcap Moss, Ricochet and Sami Zayn to be named No. 1 contender for the intercontinental title.

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WWE Clash at the Castle predictions

The Miz vs. AJ Styles: Miz and Styles seem to keep falling into each other’s orbit. After several confrontations, the two men met in a no disqualification match on Raw, which Styles won. It seems unlikely the entire situation would end with a simple television match. Instead, look for the two to battle in Wales.

Finn Balor vs. Edge: Balor, Damian Priest and Rhea Ripley violently turned on Edge, kicking him out of The Judgement Day in brutal fashion. Edge has since made his return, attacking Judgement Day multiple times. It only makes sense for Balor and Edge to finally meet in an actual match.



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White Sox’s Tony La Russa issues another intentional walk on two-strike count in loss vs. Guardians

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Chicago White Sox manager Tony La Russa made one of the weirdest strategic decisions of the season in June, when he issued an intentional walk to a batter who his pitcher had already staked out a 1-2 count against. The call backfired, as the next batter unloaded a home run that put the White Sox in a hole from which they could not recover. La Russa defended his decision afterward, and on Friday night he doubled-down, in a sense, by doing the same thing against the Cleveland Guardians as part of a 5-2 loss (box score).

Here’s how it went down:

The White Sox led the Guardians 2-1 entering the seventh inning. Cleveland would subsequently score a pair of runs with two outs in the frame to take a 3-2 lead before La Russa inserted left-handed reliever Jake Diekman. Diekman would then walk two consecutive batters before giving up a single to Andrés Giménez to plate two more runs, making it 5-2 with runners on first and second. At that point, the Guardians rookie outfielder Oscar Gonzalez had a chance to blow the game open.

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Diekman would get ahead of Gonzalez 1-2 before the Guardians’ baserunners succeeded on a double-steal attempt. With first base open and two outs, La Russa called for the intentional walk. It should be noted that Gonzalez, though right-handed, has performed worse against lefty pitchers this season, and that he’s struck out in nearly 40 percent of the plate appearances that have reached two strikes.

Nevertheless, La Russa evidently wanted to force Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s hand with the next spot in the order. Lefty-swinging rookie Nolan Jones was due up, but Francona subbed him out for righty Owen Miller. La Russa then strolled to the mound to replace Diekman with right-hander Jimmy Lambert, who subsequently induced an inning-ending flyout on the second pitch of the at-bat.

The results will spare La Russa from the intensity of criticism that he received in June, but that doesn’t make it a sound process. We know from various studies conducted by smart analysts that microsplits, including those of the platoon and count variety, require regression toward the mean to have any actual predictive value. Maybe La Russa had those numbers on hand from the White Sox’s analytical department, but we’re going to guess that he made his call based on Gonzalez’s two-strike average (.265) and Miller’s average against righties (.262 this year or .242 career). 

After all, if intentionally walking batters who are stuck in two-strike counts was a sound tactical decision based on the numbers, the odds are that the Los Angeles Dodgers or … well, the Guardians would be the ones doing it; not La Russa. 

It may have not factored into the final score on Friday, but the White Sox can’t be thrilled that their manager seems committed to making the same mistake twice.

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Sonya Deville & Natalya face Toxic Attraction in WWE's Tag Team Title Tournament | WWE on FOX

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Natalya and Sonya Deville took on former NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions Gigi Dolin and Jacy Jayne from Toxic Attraction on Friday Night SmackDown.



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