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Short-handed Raptors can’t keep up with talented Jazz

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SALT LAKE CITY — Hey, sometimes you’re going to get outclassed.

The Toronto Raptors certainly were undermanned when they rolled into Vivint Arena for the second-game of their six-game road trip and a date with the Utah Jazz.

Missing were OG Anunoby (hip) and Precious Achiuwa (shoulder). It’s the kind of situation where you’d love to see if Yuta Watanabe could lend a spark, but his strained calf has kept him out all season.

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Despite a commendable effort from a number of corners, the Raptors (7-9) fell 119-103 to the Jazz (10-5) on Thursday, stretching their losing streak to three games as they lost for the sixth time in seven starts.

That Utah shot 55 per cent from the floor likely won’t do much to improve the Raptors’ defensive metrics, which have been the worst in the NBA over that seven-game stretch.

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Toronto led early in the second half after an impressive first half — offensively at least — but Utah put on the jets after that. The Jazz turned a 12-point lead to start the fourth quarter into a 19-point edge midway through the period and the Raptors couldn’t push back.

The Raptors’ lack of lineup continuity is and was a factor.

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“It seems like we’ve had a minimum of three or four guys out for every game this year,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse, over-stating it not by much. “…It’s a little frustrating. What do you do? I’m just more anxious to see us be able to build on some stuff. It seems like we had to take some steps back and reconfigure and then we take some forward.”

But the opponent has to be recognized, too. The Jazz shot a comfortable 19-of-46 from three, with seven different players making at least one, led by former Raptor Rudy Gay, who came off the bench and knocked down 5-of-6. They had 34 assists on 46 made field goals, with six different players with at least two helpers, led by Joe Ingles, who came off the bench and sliced Toronto up for eight in 24 minutes. And when it was time for a kill shot, the Jazz simply looked to the rim where Rudy Gobert and Hassan Whiteside were a combined 11-of-12 from the floor, almost all on dunks.

The Raptors got some inspired performances. Gary Trent Jr. was never contained as he put up a season-high 31 points on 12-of-18 shooting and Fred VanVleet grinded his way to 24 points. Khem Birch had a season-high 14 points — all in the first half — while Malachi Flynn was decent in his season-high 22 minutes.

Absent was Pascal Siakam, who never seemed right as he struggled to find his way in the paint with Gobert looming and couldn’t get on track on the perimeter either. He finished 2-of-14 from the floor, didn’t grab a rebound until his 29th minute and had his five assists off-set by four turnovers.

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As a team, the Raptors shot just 10-of-28 from three. The did manage a 14-9 edge in offensive rebounding and 12 fewer turnovers than Utah, but couldn’t do enough with all the extra possessions they generated.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest the Raptors were in a tough situation before the ball even went up. The Jazz are on the short-list of NBA title contenders and even though their 8-5 record doesn’t jump off the page, they came into the game with the NBA’s top-ranked offence, 10th-ranked defence and second-best net rating.

In Gobert, they have one of the league’s best rim threats — both ends — and they surround him with multiple three-point threats and wings that can attack the rim. They might not have the league’s best talent, but they could well be the most balanced roster in in the league.

The Jazz also were playing a Raptors team without Anunoby as the team announced earlier he’d be missing time with a hip pointer.

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“Listen, they do just about everything you can do. They score in transition, they throw it ahead really well, they’ll hurt you both off the bounce and from the three in transition,” said Nurse.

“Once they get into half court they move and pass, share the ball. They put pressure on rim with Gobert’s lobs and Whiteside’s lobs and they’ve got a ton of playmakers and shooters.

“And if I haven’t mentioned it, they’ve been together for a long time on top of all that.”

All of that said, the Raptors played a spirited first quarter. They got off to a quick start, leading 9-2 after a steal by Trent Jr. led to a Scottie Barnes dunk in transition and a VanVleet three-point play after he was fouled on a jumper. A pair of Birch floaters and a triple by Trent Jr. gave Toronto a 23-17 lead, but Utah’s class began to show. They finished the quarter on a 15-4 run that featured baskets from six different players, five them assisted as they took a 32-27 lead into the second quarter.

The run continued with former Gay heating up from three, helping push the Jazz up by 11 with 9:18 to play in the half.

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But the Raptors weren’t having it. Birch is not a likely candidate for to lead a comeback, but the Raptors kept finding him on the short roll, isolated against either of Utah’s giants, Gobert or Whiteside. Normally, Birch will look to pass out to the corners in that situation, but with Utah staying home on shooters, Birch lofted up his gentle floater from the paint and helped the Raptors get unstuck. He ended up with 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting.

Yes, that earned him first half MVTree honours.

VanVleet took over from there, banging in three triples in less than a minute to give the Raptors a 53-51 lead.

At that point Trent Jr. jumped in, putting together his own 8-0 run — mostly on mid-range twos — Pascal Siakam made a nice play on Toronto’s last possession to drive and find Barnes for a lay-up, giving the Raptors a 63-61 lead to start the third quarter.

That was a high point and they were few and far between after that, which has been the pattern of late.

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Tommy Pham hits walk-off single to give Red Sox a 3-2 victory over Yankees

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Tommy Pham ripped a walk-off single to give the Boston Red Sox a 3-2 victory over the New York Yankees in ten innings.



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Fernando Tatis Jr. suspension: An optimistic look at the Padres’ season without their star shortstop

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The Padres have lost shortstop Fernando Tatis, Jr. for the rest of the season and into May of next year. He’s been suspended 80 games for a violation of the league’s joint drug agreement

Of course, the Padres haven’t had Tatis all season, so did they actually lose him? 

If it sounds like I’m about to go on a path of optimism in looking at the prospects for the Padres moving forward during Tatis’ suspension, that’s because it’s exactly what I’m going to do. Look, I grew up a Cubs fan. I’ve had to be an eternal optimist for the entirety of my sports fandom in order to maintain sanity. It comes in handy at times like these, so I’ll channel that energy here for the sake of Padres fans — really, for any baseball fans who wanted to see new blood late in the playoffs in the form of these Padres. 

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But mostly those Padres fans who are reeling right now. Let’s get to it. 

Padres haven’t had Tatis anyway

As noted, the Padres have gotten zero games from Tatis this season, so it’s not like they lost a lineup fixture who has been doing heavy lifting for the team all season. That’s what Manny Machado has been doing, and he’s fully capable of continuing to have a huge season. He’s a 29-year-old seasoned veteran. He won’t run out of gas. 

The Padres as a whole have been in playoff position basically all season. They started 14-7 and have been under .500 just one day this season — when they started 0-1. 

A big part of the Padres’ success this season has been the rotation. It’s been one of the better rotations in baseball this season, and with Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea, it figures to remain strong into the playoffs. The Tatis injury doesn’t affect that. 

What needed a boost was the offense. 

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Trade deadline additions

Let’s just take Tatis out of the equation entirely for 2022. Let’s say he was out for the season from the get-go and we never even thought about his return. We’d be talking about a team that was 60-46 through Aug. 2. The starting pitching was in great shape. The bullpen was good as well and added elite potential in Josh Hader in front of the deadline. 

The offense needed a boost. Machado is the star while Jake Cronenworth and Jurickson Profar were having quality offensive seasons, but they needed more. 

Josh Bell was hitting .301/.384/.493 (152 OPS+) with 24 doubles, three triples, 14 homers, 57 RBI and 52 runs in 103 games, and the Padres added him. Brandon Drury was hitting .274/.335/.520 (126 OPS+) with 22 doubles, two triples, 22 homers, 59 RBI and 62 runs in 92 games, and the Padres also added him. 

And, of course, they added one of the best and most polished hitters in baseball: Juan Soto

So, we’re talking about a team that was 14 games over .500 adding a top-shelf closer, two very good offensive players and a generational talent. 

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It sure seems like there’s a chance they’ll be OK, right? 

Division title was unattainable

One area they won’t be OK is in the race for the NL West. That’s over. After being swept by the Dodgers this past weekend, the Padres were facing a 16-game deficit in the division heading into Friday. They were never, ever going to make that many games up in this short period of time. Even if Tatis came back 100 percent healthy and played exponentially better than he ever has, they’d still fall short in the division. 

Follow the Braves’ path? 

In terms of sheer talent level, age and potential moving forward, Ronald Acuña, Jr. is a fair comparison for Tatis. He finished second in MVP voting at age 21 while Tatis finished third at age 22. Acuña might have been en route to an MVP last season, too, but he tore his ACL on July 10. 

The Braves were able to rally without him for a World Series championship. This was a team that only won 88 regular-season games, making them the playoff team with the worst record. They beat a 95-win Brewers team in the NLDS, a 106-win Dodgers team in the NLCS and then a 95-win Astros team in the World Series. 

No two teams ever have the same circumstances. We all know this. The 2021 Braves doesn’t mean the 2022 Padres are going to win the World Series. No one truly believes that. It doesn’t hurt for the team to look at a situation and believe they can pull off something similar, though. Plus, as we established here at the top, the Padres didn’t technically lose Tatis this season, as he never played a game. They also had a better record through July than those Braves did. The Braves didn’t add a player the caliber of Soto at the trade deadline. 

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Hell, if anything, these Padres are better suited for a deep run than those Braves were. 

This has been your optimistic spin on the Padres’ current situation, vis a vis the Tatis suspension. 

Did it work, San Diego? 



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Kyle Tucker crushes go-ahead grand slam to give Astros the lead

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Kyle Trucker crushed a go-ahead grand slam to give the Houston Astros the lead over the Oakland Athletics.



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