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In Photos: A Raptors retrospective

From celebration to disarray

In Photos: A Raptors retrospective

As the final buzzer sounded in the Oracle Arena, signalling the first NBA championship of a Canadian team, waves of people flooded the streets of Toronto. Despite the scattered shattered glass and even the police horse excrement, the crowds continued to celebrate the historic night throughout the city. People danced, cheered, and climbed anything that they could just to show their enthusiasm for the Toronto team.

ON THE WAY TO UNION (KING STREET)

UNION STATION (FRONT STREET)


DUNDAS SQUARE (YONGE STREET)

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

The Parade

The Raptors’ parade seemed to mirror the night of their victory: the streets, scaffolds, signs, bus stops, and monuments were once again covered with people. Under the glaring sun, the crowd grew restless as the parade continued to delay. Families had been waiting since early morning and others camped out the night before. However, the spirit was still strong and Toronto was ready to welcome their team back home.

NATHAN PHILLIPS SQUARE (BAY AND QUEEN)


The celebrations were cut short after multiple shots were fired during the victory speeches. The crowds in the south half of Nathan Phillips Square dissipated and people were in disarray as they struggled to put distance between themselves and the shooters. Lost belongings, mismatched shoes, sprained ankles, and people in shock — the parade was over for those who were stampeded in the back. Almost three hours behind schedule, the crowds at the front continued the celebration as those in the rear tried to recollect their belongings and call their friends and families who they lost in the scramble.

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

DINA DONG/THE VARSITY

Here are the odds of the Raptors winning the NBA Finals

Some predictive models are giving the Raptors more than a fighting chance to dethrone the defending champs

Here are the odds of the Raptors winning the NBA Finals

The Toronto Raptors have never seen a team quite like the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs. It’s not that they haven’t had strong competition in the past: the Philadelphia 76ers are loaded with talent, and the Milwaukee Bucks had the best regular season record in the NBA this year, as well as the probable league MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Warriors, however, are a different beast altogether. They’ve won three of the past four NBA championships, have a full starting lineup’s worth of All-Star-calibre players, and two of the best players in the NBA. Yet the Raptors — a team which has never made an NBA Finals — are being given a chance to win them, and were even favoured at the beginning of the series.

How can this Canadian expansion project, with a history of underwhelming playoff performances, be favoured to defeat the greatest dynasty that the league has ever seen? Is it time to question the validity of these predictive models? Or is it possible that the Raptors are actually a good team?

Roster Construction

Raptors President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster were diligent in addressing their shortcomings this offseason. Last July, Ujiri made the tough decision to trade fan favourite DeMar Derozan, along with Jakob Poeltl, to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

Both Green and Leonard have played in two NBA Finals, and won an NBA championship together, with Leonard winning Finals MVP. Ujiri and Webster not only upgraded the team’s talent, but its experience and championship pedigree as well. The Raptors front office also reportedly refused to include forward Pascal Siakam in the trade for Leonard and Green.

This seemed like an odd decision, given that Siakam had only averaged 20.7 minutes and 7.3 points per game in the previous season, but he has since blossomed into a starter and the Raptors’ secondary scoring option after Leonard. At the trade deadline, the Raptors acquired veteran centre Marc Gasol, who brought more playoff experience, as well as elite defence and passing.

By the numbers

The American data outlet FiveThirtyEight gave the Raptors a 54 per cent chance to win the NBA Finals at the start of the series. That number dropped down to 49 per cent after game two but has since increased to 87 per cent. FiveThirtyEight uses a projection model called CARMELO, which takes into account numerous factors.

CARMELO is a more advanced version of Elo ratings, which factor in which team won each game, the margin of victory, and where each game was played. Elo is a somewhat useful statistic, but has numerous flaws in evaluating future performance. For example, if a player is injured, or is resting — as was the case with Leonard throughout the regular season — Elo would not be able to account for that.

Adding Leonard, Gasol, and Green to the roster has quite clearly made the Raptors a better team, but this did not show up in their Elo score: the Raptors highest ever Elo rating came in March 2018, before acquiring any of these players. CARMELO incorporates individual player projections to account for offseason transactions, injuries, and rest. FiveThirtyEight also later added a playoff experience adjustment to account for the advantage that more experienced teams have.

A U of T model

U of T statistics professor Jeffrey Rosenthal has been working on his own model for the NBA playoffs, although he admits that it is much less advanced than other models like FiveThirtyEight’s. He created this model in response to media inquiries asking him to calculate the probabilities of Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beating shot in game seven against Philadelphia.

“That was an interesting one because I couldn’t find actual statistics about how often the shot… bounces four times. It’s extremely unlikely,” Rosenthal recalls.

Rosenthal’s predictive model is heavily based on past performance. “I just looked at the regular season records and outcomes of the competing teams, and compared their performances at home and away, and extrapolated from that into the playoffs to give an estimate for each game of the probability that one team would win or the other, taking account of home court advantage and that kind of thing. And then do that to get an estimate of the probability for each game,” he explained.

He found that there was a huge difference in how certain teams performed at home versus on the road, noting that Toronto and Milwaukee played much better at home, whereas Golden State was about even in both settings. The Raptors had a better regular season record, giving them home court advantage in four of the seven games this series. Rosenthal gave the Raptors a 51 per cent chance at the start of the series, dropping down to 48 per cent after game two, and now at a high of 89 per cent going into game five.

Many are also predicting that the tides will turn even more in Golden State’s favour when star forward Kevin Durant returns from an injury, but Rosenthal isn’t so sure. “You can say, ‘He’s a great player, and coming back, it’s going to make all the difference.’ Or you could say, ‘They’ll have a new guy back in the lineup, he’s missed a few games, he’s out of rhythm and he’s still hurting,’ or whatever. So, it’s hard to say.”

With only one more win needed, Raptors fans are counting on the team to overcome the odds and bring home its first championship title. “It’s the cliché, but there’s a reason you have to play the game, right? You can [only] get so much by trying to predict,” Rosenthal notes.

Why the Lakers failed

With LeBron and the Lakers faltering, will this be the first postseason without the King in over a decade?

Why the Lakers failed

Over the past 15 years, LeBron James has amassed one of the most impressive postseason résumés in NBA history: nine finals appearances, three championships, three finals MVP awards, and 13 consecutive playoff seasons. Now, in his 16th season in the NBA and his first for the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron is at a crossroads.

Still arguably the best player in the league, the lofty expectations that followed him to LA have not been met, and for the first time since 2005, a LeBron-led team will not appear in the playoffs.

On March 22, the Lakers’ 2018–2019 season came to a bruising end. With a 111–106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets — who were led by D’Angelo Russell, a former Laker lottery pick who was traded away and has since become an All-Star — the Lakers were officially denied a chance at the playoffs.

During the post-game conference, LeBron said, “It’s been a tough season for all of us,” voicing his dismay over how the season had transpired. “It’s not what we signed up for.”

More specifically, this is not what LeBron had signed up for. After leaving a conference where his teams went to eight consecutive finals, the man — who, when is all said and done, could be considered the greatest player to ever live — was unable to lead his team to a top-eight finish in the West. A season that began with high hopes has now reached an unthinkable conclusion, and the question remains: what went wrong?

Injuries

First and foremost, the Lakers would not be in this position if LeBron had stayed healthy. Having never suffered a major injury in his professional career, LeBron’s Christmas Day groin injury during a game against the Golden State Warriors was completely unexpected and amounted to the single longest absence of his career. Up to that point, the Lakers had been in a comfortable position for playoffs at 21–14, but his departure resulted in a 6–11 tailspin that almost pulled them from the running.

This was exacerbated by the continued absence of Lonzo Ball, an ultra-long point guard who both relieved some of LeBron’s playmaking burden, and provided valuable defensive strengths for a mediocre defensive team. Scariest of all, Brandon Ingram, who had been in the midst of a late-season surge, had his season cut short in early March by deep venous thrombosis (DVT), a condition caused by the formation of blood clots in his right arm.

Though the following procedure was successful, DVT has life-altering repercussions. In serious cases, this condition can lead to a pulmonary embolism, which can fatally clot arteries in the lungs and can lead to early retirement. The most famous case of this was with former Miami Heat power forward Chris Bosh. Add in the multiple injuries to veteran backup Rajon Rondo, and the Lakers were forced to spend much of their season without depth at the playmaking positions.

A lacklustre supporting cast

Even without his career-threatening injury, Ingram’s stagnation has been one of the biggest disappointments this year. After flashes during his first two seasons in the NBA, the former second-overall pick was expected to finally live up to the hype.

Unfortunately, the fit with LeBron has been awkward. Both players thrive with the ball in their hands, and Ingram has not proven to be a good enough shooter — 33 per cent from the three on a minuscule 1.8 attempts per game — to be an off-ball threat. LeBron’s absence provided Ingram with an opportunity to prove his worth, but his inability to break out, alongside the team’s lacklustre record during that time, did not inspire confidence.

After LeBron returned, but before DVT ended his season, Ingram started to improve. But while hope that he will become a top-end talent remains, there’s no guarantee that he’ll reach stardom or that his ascent will come before LeBron’s decline. The rest of the Lakers’ young core, including Ball, Josh Hart, and Kyle Kuzma, have shown varying signs of improvement, but none have progressed to the point where they can be considered stars; an aging LeBron cannot afford to be patient.

Among the older NBA players, the veterans that LA signed for one-year deals during the offseason have ranged from Rondo, who is decently valuable, to Michael Beasley, who was an unmitigated disaster and was recently bought out by the Chinese Basketball Association.

Young coach Luke Walton has had to manage this ill-fitting roster all year, and make the messy transition from overseeing a young team on the rise to working with a highly unlikely contender.

The inability of the young players to rise to their potential, coupled with the general mediocrity of the offseason signings, has left Walton with a disgruntled star and a team that does not fit around him.

Front office failures

The questionable free agent signings were not the only black marks for General Manager Rob Pelinka and President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson, as they also dealt with the fallout of the failed trade for Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans.

The superstar big man had requested a trade shortly before the February 7 trade deadline. Soon after this announcement, news leaked that the Lakers were prepared to offer the Pelicans a substantial deal involving young assets, many one-year veterans, and a litany of draft picks. However, the deal was not accepted, and the deadline passed with Davis remaining a Pelican.

This was a total fiasco, as the Lakers missed their chance to trade for a top-five NBA talent. According to ESPN, the trade rumours had also been “weighing heavily” on the young players, which has not boded well for team chemistry.

This dysfunction has been par for the course in the Johnson-Pelinka era. Other than their acquisition of LeBron, the rest of their moves, including successful attempts to trade away young talent — the 2017 Russell trade and this year’s trade of promising centre Ivica Zubac to the Clippers at the trade deadline, to name a few — have had abysmal results.

With a front office that has shown no indication that they know what they’re doing, LeBron may find that the team signing him on was the only smart decision that the Lakers have made.  

The King’s twilight

Lastly, there’s LeBron himself, a player so richly deserving of praise that criticizing him can feel downright blasphemous. In the games he has played, LeBron has posted his usual impressive stat lines and had enough highlights to suggest that he is still the sport’s premiere star, but his age may finally be starting to catch up with him.

The eye test has shown that he is ambivalent on defense, has looked sluggish at times, and has perhaps had trouble adjusting to the tough workloads that Western Conference teams must face on a night-to-night basis.

On top of this, his groin injury evidences that durability fades with age, and that even LeBron is not a superhuman. This is to be expected for a 34-year-old who has played an ungodly number of minutes in his career, but also speaks to the fact that Father Time is undefeated. On top of these admittedly small signs that his play has slipped, LeBron’s off-court activities have also raised eyebrows. An important wrinkle in the aborted Pelicans trade is the fact that Davis is signed to the Klutch Sports Group, an agency run by Rich Paul, who is one of LeBron’s oldest friends. Although LeBron has no financial stake in the company, he is Klutch’s premiere client, and from the outside, this trade request looked like a calculated move by LeBron’s camp to force out his young teammates in exchange for proven talent.

Moreover, LeBron has been involved in a myriad of entertainment ventures this season, from being announced as the star for the long-awaited Space Jam sequel, to providing A&R guidance during the recording of rapper 2Chainz’ new album.

Taking advantage of the opportunities that LA has to offer is understandable, but it runs counter to the criticisms that he has levelled against his teammates on occasion. This makes comments, such as the one following a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies that “if you’re still allowing distractions to affect the way you play, then this is the wrong franchise to be a part of,” at best ring hollow and at worst seem drenched in hypocrisy. LeBron is unquestionably the engine that drives the Lakers, but at this point in his career, it is reasonable to wonder how his age and priorities affect his team’s chances as an automatic contender.

The future

With this season more or less over, sights have to be set on the upcoming free agency and 2019–2020 season, as building a team worthy enough to be a playoff contender may be challenging once again. This year’s free agent crop is bountiful, with proven stars like Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. However, these players have shown no indication that they wish to be LeBron’s sidekick.

Durant has been linked to the New York Knicks for much of the season, and his comments about how hard it must be to play with LeBron make it unlikely that he would want to find out for himself. Leonard — a California native — has been linked to LA’s other basketball team ahead of his free agency; the Clippers have been courting him from the moment he was traded to the Toronto Raptors.

Beyond these proven superstars — along with playoff-tested veterans, like Warrior Klay Thompson who looks like he’ll re-sign, and former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving, who has also been linked to the Knicks — the talent starts to thin.

Players like Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, and Tobias Harris may push the Lakers into the playoffs, but they aren’t good enough to forge a true contender, especially if they command a maximum salary on the open market. The prospect of a Davis trade still looms, but with teams like the Boston Celtics now able to make enticing offers and the Lakers’ young talent in jeopardy, this trade seems less likely than it did in February.

Of course, not all hope is lost.

Natural progression could bolster the Lakers’ young core, LeBron could bounce back from his injury with a renewed sense of purpose, and the Lakers could land a marquee free agent to alter their competitive ceiling. What is troublesome is that all three things may need to happen for the Lakers to shake off the losing mentality they now have, or else next year could turn into another lost season for LeBron in Los Angeles.

On March 6, LeBron passed Michael Jordan to become the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history. The next day, a report emerged that LeBron would be under a minutes restriction for the remainder of the season, a move that showed that the Lakers had given up on making the playoffs after dropping to 30–35, which had them 6.5 games behind the eighth seed at the time.

These two events demonstrate the tension that has plagued the Lakers this entire season. Even as Lebron continues to break records and showcase his waning yet undeniable brilliance — especially as he passes his childhood idol and challenger for the ‘greatest of all time’ title in scoring — the Lakers have continued to lose, unable to coexist with a player whose mere presence irrevocably alters every aspect of whatever franchise he joins.

No one person is to blame for the Lakers flaming out, but no one is innocent either. Even if the main reason that the Lakers will miss the playoffs is because of LeBron’s injury, the signs that they were not a true contender this year have persisted throughout the season. The front office failed to build a complementary team around LeBron, despite having over a decade’s worth of evidence in Miami and Cleveland about what works around him. The young players have not distinguished themselves enough to justify LeBron moving to a tougher conference, and the failed Davis trade shows that neither the Pelicans nor the Lakers think highly of them.

Then there’s LeBron, the bellwether for NBA excellence from almost the moment he entered the league. Despite his missteps, this season will not alter his legacy, and he could retire tomorrow knowing that he has accomplished more in his career than almost anyone in NBA history.

Still, this is not a moment for re-evaluation. It is a moment for reflection. The 2010s have been defined by LeBron’s playoff performances, whether in his valiant efforts before losses or his miraculous moments of victory. This postseason will have none of that, and even if the Lakers regroup next year and prove to be a formidable team, this season ends the notion that having the King is a playoff guarantee.

LeBron James: leader or manager?

Does the NBA have an epidemic of poor leadership?

LeBron James: leader or manager?

Every basketball team has a clear hierarchy of talent with a leader who is required to give direction on defense and offense and to act as the clutch option at the end of games. Anyone in the NBA can score 25 points on a given night, but some players handle pressure without hesitation, and can score and defend with more ease and consistency than others. The most talented or poised player is often the team leader, and if you’ve reached the talent level of LeBron James, you can even become a team manager.

Where franchises now depend on assembling a “big three” group, three players with enough talent and star power are expected to lead a team to relevance. This trend began in 2010, when Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and LeBron James teamed up on the Miami Heat. For James’ teams, this recruiting process has continued ever since. After a huge mid-season switch up in Cleveland and a mediocre start to the season this year, LeBron has made it his mission to recruit Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Mid-season recruiting tactics generate incredible media attention. However, as these last few weeks have proved, the Lakers are more concerned with chasing superstars to satisfy LeBron than with developing their young talents, and I am beginning to question his leadership tactics.

At first, Lebron’s decision to play for this young Lakers team appeared to be a humble career move. They had just missed the playoffs, and their championship potential was at least three seasons away. There was no clear leader until James came through the door. I assumed that the trade demonstrated a desire to remain patient and play a few seasons to develop young talent before winning another title.

Now in mid-season, the Lakers have offered five young, talented players — Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Ivica Zubac, and Kontavious Caldwell-Pope — in addition to two first round picks, to the New Orleans Pelicans in return for Anthony Davis, a top-three NBA player. This one is really easy to spell out. LeBron and Davis share the same agent, and after their game on December 22, they had dinner together. A couple of weeks later, Davis openly said that he wanted a trade and that his preferred destination was the Lakers.

Lebron recently returned to the Lakers following a groin injury that ended up being the longest injury setback of his career. The injury occurred on December 25, and he did not return to the court until January 31. American sports analyst Chris Broussard explained that James’ absence exposed the team’s lack of potential without their superstar. He added that the five week absence showed that, for the Lakers, “This is what [they] have, and if [they] want to win a championship, then [they] better go get more.” Of the first 10 games without LeBron, the team won three.

Sports columnist Skip Bayless responded to Broussard by saying that LeBron may have intentionally perpetuated a narrative that his team is not strong enough in order to increase the organization’s dependence on him.

I believe LeBron’s lengthy absence may have been a way to let his young teammates play on their own to boost their trade value. LeBron clearly knew the team would need a big change. So does he really appreciate Ingram, Ball, and Kuzma? Perhaps not enough to form a tight-knit, committed team culture.

We now know that the Lakers did not land Anthony Davis by the February 7 trade deadline. If they make the playoffs, LeBron will once again be talked about as the player who somehow lifted a bunch of solid, but not great, young players to success — a narrative he is happy with bearing.

But let’s consider the feelings of the younger Lakers. Their leader has sat out for an extended time, and now there has been a call to send about one third of the team and future draft picks to the Pelicans.

For the past 10 days, Lakers players have had to come into work not knowing whether they would be in the same workplace the next week. This is an uncomfortable reality for NBA players that is often dismissed as a ‘part of the business.’

But what if you knew that your team leader had a say in all of these decisions? Nearly every Laker knows they are trade options, and that, together, they have less value than a single player — Anthony Davis.

All along, the ball has been in the Pelicans’ court. They have Davis and will not move him unless they are completely satisfied with a struck deal. So what happens when they can’t make a deal? The Lakers end up being forced to play the next half of their NBA season knowing that their leader would have rather sent them packing.

Hours before the trade deadline, knowing that Davis would not be a Laker this season, LeBron was already working hard to once again change the narrative.

Harrison Barnes was traded mid game on Wednesday night from the Dallas Mavericks to the Sacramento Kings, and James was quick to make an Instagram post condemning this move as disrespectful to Barnes. In the meantime, he has helped shop nearly half of his team.

On Saturday morning, he said, “The suspense and the excitement around the trade deadline is always… pretty crazy.” He added, “There’s nothing I need to get in this league that I don’t already have. Everything else for me is just like icing on the cake… There’s nothing I’m chasing for.”

While LeBron claims that he’s not pushing for anything, the drama is completely regular for LeBron’s teams. Of course he is pushing for something; he wants more rings. He’s LeBron James, after all.

Now that his plan has failed, James won’t let the public believe that he was in charge of the Davis pursuit. He’s a master at handling the media and controlling the narrative. After his routine mid-season trade push got the team nowhere, only time will tell if he’s still respected in the locker room.

Blues women’s basketball lose rivalry contest against Ryerson

Rams defeated the Blues 53–42

Blues women’s basketball lose rivalry contest against Ryerson

The Varsity Blues women’s basketball team fell short of a win at 53–42 against the Ryerson Rams on Friday night. Despite the Rams gaining a big lead in the third quarter, the Blues tirelessly fought back and made it a close game.

The Blues wore all pink on Friday in support of the U SPORTS Shoot for the Cure campaign, and the Junior Blues Gymnastics team did a fantastic job of raising over $1,100 toward breast cancer research.

In the first quarter, Toronto opened the scoring, with Samantha Robertson finding Nada Radonjic on a baseline cut for a quick layup. Not long after, Charlotte Collyer would feed Radonjic down low again for two. Radonjic would finish with a team high of 10 points.

The second quarter saw the intensity of both sides reach a new level. Players were forcing steals and diving on loose balls as neither team wanted to give the other an advantage. The Blues took the lead early on and would go back and forth with the Rams until halftime, with Ryerson up 21–16.

Robertson’s tenacious playing style represented Toronto’s resilience throughout the second half. In the third quarter, after a foul call didn’t go her way, she responded by hitting a contested three on the ensuing possession. Ryerson’s full-court press earned them multiple steals and their vigorous zone defense helped them to a 19-point lead midway through the quarter.

The Blues collected themselves and began piercing Ryerson’s defense in the fourth. With two and a half minutes to go, the Blues were back within nine but couldn’t quite catch the Rams, and were defeated 53–42.

Teamwork requires players to fulfil different roles and not every role gets rewarded on the stat line. A big shoutout goes to Jessica Muha for relentlessly taking on Ryerson’s six-foot-four offensive powerhouse, Sofia Paska. A good four inches above the next tallest woman on the court, Paska led her team in scoring, rebounds, and blocks, finishing with a double double.

Blues guard Fiorella Granda, who has been out with an injury, spoke after the game about the team’s mutual support. “It’s a nice community,” she said, “You have people going through what you’re going through.”

Toronto has seen many players cycle through the injury list. When asked about players overcoming setbacks, Granda brought up Ariana Sider, who had suffered a concussion earlier this season.

“She came back stronger and better. Now she starts. Now she’s a leader.” Sider embodies the team’s adaptive nature by making the best of difficult circumstances.

The Blues have now lost four in a row, but as they’ve shown in the past, this is a team who can get up after being knocked down.

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

The NBA annually snubs Toronto on Christmas Day

Why the Raptors deserve to play on Christmas

For your common NBA basketball fan, enjoying a lineup of spectacular basketball is a beloved Christmas Day tradition.

Christmas basketball games regularly showcase the best teams in the league, highlighting the association’s biggest superstars and some key rivalries. Although the Toronto Raptors have made the playoffs for five straight seasons, made the Eastern Conference Finals in 2016, and further raised their profile by acquiring a bona fide superstar in Kawhi Leonard, they will still be getting coal for Christmas this year.

The NBA’s decision to overlook the Raptors yet again is particularly frustrating given the stellar performance of Toronto’s team — currently on top of the Eastern Conference — and the actual lineup of contenders for December 25. The New York Knicks, currently sitting near the bottom of the East, will be playing for the umpteenth time on Christmas, almost exclusively due to tradition.

Another convention is to schedule a rematch of the finals from the same year. As with the last three years, that would mean a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. But of course, LeBron James doesn’t play in Cleveland anymore, which is why this year’s Christmas Day lineup will feature a game between Golden State and the Los Angeles Lakers.

The only franchises remaining without a Chritmas Day game are the Charlotte Hornets and the Memphis Grizzlies. The Raptors were gifted with one game, way back in 2001.

Not to be forgotten, Christmas is a very personal and special day for a lot of players, coaches, and their families. Players acknowledge that December 25 games are a sacrifice, but also an honour and a privilege. Consider LeBron; after this year, he will have played in 13 Christmas Day games in his 16-year career. Kyle Lowry, on the other hand, never has.

On the topic, Lowry told the media, “I’ve always in my life wanted to play a Christmas game… It’s never happened, but I’ve always had the opportunity to always be with my family on Christmas. It’s a blessing to be able to not play, but at the same you always want that one time you play on Christmas… You get the special shoes. The Christmas jerseys. That’s one I want to frame one day. Hopefully, I get the opportunity to do it.”

There are five games on Christmas; that means that 10 teams play. If the NBA reasons that out of 30 teams in the league, the Raptors don’t qualify as being in the top 10, then they’re the ones on the naughty list this year.

Hopefully, a new generation of Raptors fans will get to see their team play on Christmas one day.

Varsity Blues men’s basketball defeated by Windsor

Blues lose 95–84 at home

Varsity Blues men’s basketball defeated by Windsor

The Varsity Blues men’s basketball team dropped a tough 95–84 decision to the visiting Windsor Lancers on the night of Saturday, November 24 at the Athletic Centre, representing the second loss for the Blues this weekend, following their six-point defeat to the Western Mustangs the night before.

The Blues opened the game on a 13–2 run as Iñaki Alvarez took a charge on the opening possession and Nikola Paradina drilled three straight three-pointers, representing nine of his team-high 20 points on the night.

While a couple of Blues turnovers would allow the Lancers to cut the lead to just four points midway through, the Blues surged ahead and returned their lead to 12 with three minutes remaining, off of a steal and fast break layup from Alvarez and another two and three from Daniel Johansson and Eli Mouyal for good measure. Toronto ended the first quarter up 21–15.

The second quarter, however, would see momentum shift into the Lancers’ hands. The Lancers’ Telloy Simon converted a fast break layup off a Blues turnover to tie it at 23 with seven minutes left, while Anthony Zrvnar gave the visitors their first lead of the game on a fast break dunk a minute later.

Windsor pushed their lead to 13 on an 11–2 run capped by quick transition baskets and high-percentage points in the paint. The home squad, however, would stay composed throughout, and buckets by Blues veterans Christopher Barrett, Dillon Rejman, and Paradina would shrink the lead to a manageable seven points heading into halftime, 43–36.

Windsor again would push out of the halftime break, upping their lead to 15 on an 8–0 run just two minutes into the quarter. At this point, Toronto’s Evan Shadkami took matters into his own hands, single-handedly shifting the momentum into his Blues’ favour.

He hit a much-needed three-pointer and then took an open-floor charge defending Windsor’s guard Damian Persaud in the back court the next possession. On the ensuing Blues offensive possession, Shadkami drew a foul on a shot attempt beyond the arc and drained all three foul shots, part of a 16-point effort overall.

The Blues rode the wave and continued to convert, as Johansson — who posted team highs of 12 boards and five assists — drained a sweet baby hook in the paint and Paradina dropped a bunny on the left block off a nice find from Johansson, to cut the lead to just five points with six minutes left in the period.

The teams went back and forth and fans were treated to some spectacular offensive displays from both sides. Several Windsor players hit highly-contested threes, while Alvarez willed his way to the basket on four straight occasions, including a buzzer beater. He scored nine straight points for the Blues as the third quarter winded down and the lead was cut down to seven heading into the last quarter.

The Blues opened the final period on a 7–0 run to tie it at 70 a piece just over a minute and a half in. The teams traded buckets yet again and Toronto tied it for a second time at 77–77, off a Shadkami-and-one bucket.

Shadkami’s free throw opportunity gave the Blues the chance to go ahead, but he missed, and it would not be. Windsor hit a second gear as the Blues appeared to run out of gas, and the Lancers pulled away on a game-closing 18–7 run to make the final score 95–84 in the visitors’ favour. Windsor scored 38 points in the paint on the night.

Blues’ assistant coach Mike De Giorgio was pleased with the way the team “responded to adversity” and “showed some good fight” but was disappointed in his squad’s defensive efforts, saying it would be a focus in this week’s practices leading up to the team’s road game at Lakehead University this coming Saturday.

The Blues have now lost four straight after a solid opening start to the regular season where they were 3–2 in their first five contests. This Saturday’s game in Thunder Bay against the Lakehead Thunderwolves is Toronto’s final one before the semester break.

Varsity Blues suffer tough loss against Brock Badgers

Blues men’s basketball lose 103–54

Varsity Blues suffer tough loss against Brock Badgers

The Blues men’s basketball team had a tough go in St. Catharines on Friday night, falling 103–54 to the Brock Badgers at their Bob Davis Gymnasium.

The Badgers imposed their will right out of the gate, opening the game on a 12–0 run on the merits of their high energy and upbeat pace on both ends of the floor.

Fourth-year Blues point guard Christopher Barrett would stop the bleeding midway through the quarter, sinking a three-pointer from the top of the arc and another quick lay-in off a sideline out-of-bounds play to cut the deficit to seven, with five minutes remaining in the first.

Barrett’s two buckets, Toronto’s first five points of the game, would unfortunately be the last for the Blues in the opening period, as Brock upped their lead to 23–5 heading into the second.

The Badgers had seven assists in the first quarter alone, and complemented their smooth, unselfish ball movement on offense with an imposing, physical full-court press that produced 17 Toronto turnovers for the game.

A much improved second quarter for the Blues saw the Badgers outscore Toronto by just five points, 25–20. However, the damage was done, and Toronto found themselves down 48–25 at halftime.

The second half was much the same, as Brock’s efficient shooting gave them a 20-point third quarter advantage. Toronto’s struggles continued throughout the half and the game came to a close with a lopsided 103–54.

The Blues struggled to find their team game throughout, producing six assists to the Badgers’ 27. Brock were lights out, going 55 per cent from the field and 50 per cent from beyond the arc to sink 15 triples on the night. Toronto had a comparatively harder time drawing iron, shooting 27 per cent overall and just 16 per cent from three.

The Blues, however, did manage to win part of the rebounding battle, procuring 14 offensive boards to the Badgers’ seven. Toronto’s bench also maintained a slight advantage, outscoring Brock’s reserves 29–25. Fourth-year forward Daniel Johansson led all Toronto scorers with 16 points and six boards, while rookie guard Iñaki Alvarez chipped in with 14.

The Badgers improved to 5–1 with the win, perched at the top of the Ontario University Athletics West Division rankings. Toronto holds strong despite the loss, with a 3–4 record in league, good for sixth in the East Division.