What you should know about another must-have Raptors game

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The Raptors’ season is at stake again tonight

Canada’s only NBA team stayed alive Saturday afternoon by preventing a home win in Game 4 of its first round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. But Toronto is still in an extremely difficult position. No team in NBA history has ever gone a playoff series from a 3-0 deficit, and Game 5 betting odds in Philly suggest the 76ers have a nearly 75 percent chance of the gentlemen’s sweep tonight to end.

Here’s what else you should know ahead of another literal must-win game for the Raptors and the other two encounters taking place in an interesting night of the NBA playoffs:

Toronto vs. Philadelphia, Game 5 (8:00 p.m. ET)

There was a lot to like in the Raptors’ 110-102 win on Saturday. Pascal Siakam bounced back from an ugly Game 3 by notching a playoff career-high 34 points (including 15 in the last quarter), while Gary Trent Jr. added 24 points in his second straight game since recovering from illness. And maybe best of all, Scottie Barnes came back.

Just hours after being named NBA Rookie of the Year, Barnes returned after missing two games with a sprained ankle sustained in the series opener, playing 26 minutes off the bench. While clearly not 100 percent, he snagged 11 rebounds (all on defense) and scored six points. Barnes appeared to injure his ankle again in the second quarter and limped off the field after a time-out, but he stayed in the game and helped the Raptors survive.

Meanwhile, the ’76ers have at least some worries about Joel Embiid. After shredding Toronto averaging 32 points and 12 rebounds in the last two games, the NBA scoring champion averaged just 21 and 8 and was visibly plagued by a torn ligament in his shooting thumb. The injury will eventually require surgery, but the big man has reportedly decided to play through the pain for as long as Philly can stay in the playoffs.

On the other hand, hopes for a miraculous comeback for the Raptors took a major hit Saturday when Fred VanVleet left with a hip injury and ripped his jersey in the second quarter Hulkamania style as he left the seat in frustration. The all-star guard, who hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game of this series and has shot terribly since Game 2, has been ruled out for tonight.

Another factor in Philadelphia’s favor tonight is the return of defensive ace Matisse Thybulle, who cannot play in Toronto because he refuses to be vaccinated against COVID-19. With Thybulle in the lineup for Games 1 and 2 in Philly, the Sixers blew out the Raptors by an average of 17.5 points.

Boston at Brooklyn, Game 4 (7 p.m. ET)

In terms of star power and drama on and off the court, this is easily the most intriguing first round matchup. It also promised to be the most competitive, with Boston only a slight betting favorite despite being seeded No. 2 against Brooklyn’s No. 7 in the Eastern Conference.

Instead, the Celtics have a three-game lead to no advantage as they smother Brooklyn’s dynamic duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving with their best NBA defense. Durant’s struggles were embodied in a 114-107 loss in Game 2, in which he scored 27 points but made less than a quarter of his shots from the floor. Irving, who sat out the first few months of the season and then was unable to play home games until late March because he refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19, has been characteristically unreliable in this series, going from 39 points in games 1 to 10 in game 2

However, Kyrie is practically Cal Ripken compared to the other member of Brooklyn’s supposedly big three. Ben Simmons was reportedly looking to make his long-awaited debut of the season in Game 4, but he backed out yesterday after waking up with back pain. That injury was the official reason for his absence since training camp, when he refused to play more for Philadelphia. Brooklyn took a chance by trading their own disgruntled star, James Harden, for Simmons in February, but it didn’t work out.

The Celtics, on the other hand, have been on the right track over the past three months. They are 31-7 since January 23 and ended the regular season with the best defensive rating in the league. Marcus Smart became the first guard in 26 years to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, and right now Jayson Tatum is helping pin Durant while averaging 29.7 points per game in the playoffs.

Utah in Dallas, Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET)

There is not much to say about this series, but it has developed into a good one – after the Jazz won 100-99 on Saturday, it was a 2-2 draw. Dallas lost that despite the return of All-World scorer Luka Doncic, who had 30 points and 10 rebounds, after missing the first three games with a calf injury. Utah guard Donovan Mitchell is averaging 30.3 points, good for third overall in the playoffs.

Siakam plays the win over the 76ers in Raptors’ Game 4

Pascal Siakam posted a playoff career-high with 34 points as Toronto avoided defeat with a 110-102 win. 2:32

Fast…

Canada suffered its first loss at the World Curling Championships in mixed doubles. In Switzerland, Jocelyn Peterman and Brett Gallant are aiming to become the first Canadian duo to win this event in its 14-year history. They started the weekend with victories over Germany, Spain and Turkey but lost their first big test today 8-4 to the Scottish team of Bobby Lammie and women’s Olympic gold medalist Eve Muirhead. Canada (3-1) are now behind Scotland and the United States (both 4-0) in Group B. The top three teams in each of the two groups advance to the playoffs. Read more about today’s game here and watch the highlights.

Canada’s national rugby 7s teams have secured a place at their World Cups. Both the men’s and women’s teams won their finals yesterday at a regional qualifier in the Bahamas. The men defeated Jamaica 29-12 while the women defeated Mexico 33-0. Only one place in the final was needed for each team to qualify for the Rugby World Cup Sevens, to be held in South Africa in September. Before that, Canada’s women’s and men’s teams will compete at the Commonwealth Games, which begin in England at the end of July. This weekend, the women’s team plays the annual World Rugby Sevens Series stop in Langford, BC. Read more about Canada’s successful World Cup qualifiers here.

The unbelievable perfect streak of a Japanese pitcher is over. Roki Sasaki threw Japanese baseball’s first perfect game in 28 years on April 10, then a week later he threw eight perfect innings before being pulled after 102 pitches (yes, that’s not just an American thing anymore). The Chiba star Lotte Marines saw a quick end to his magic run in Osaka yesterday when he lost a shot on his first throw to the Orix Buffaloes. Sasaki, a 20-year-old right-hander who mixes a 100-mile fastball with a nasty splinter, hit 33 of the 51 batters he faced in his last two games. After Sasaki worked fairly easily for five innings yesterday to credit himself with another win, Sasaki is 3-0 this season with a 1.50 ERA in five starts. He has hit 60 batters while conceding just 13 hits and five walks over 36 innings. The Marines currently have no plans to put him up for bids from Major League Baseball teams, as has traditionally been the case with Japanese stars ending up in the majors. Read more about Sasaki’s perfect run here.

And finally…

Guy Lafleur got a wonderful send-off from the Montreal Canadiens. No franchise in esports says goodbye to its legends better than the Habs. The team and their fans brought another of their absolutely perfect greetings to Lafleur, who died last week aged 70, last night. The neatest thing was removing all the displays from the plaques and instead displaying Lafleur’s name, number, signature and years of life (1951 to 2022). There was also a tearful video montage to Sinatra’s “My Way,” and the sell-out crowd gave Lafleur a 10-minute standing ovation. Read more about the emotional night in Montreal and watch the ceremony here.

You are in the loop. talk to you tomorrow

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