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Toronto Star

Bruce Arthur: Leonard’s will to win puts Raptors back in the game against Bucks

May 19, 2019 10:42:51 PM

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Pascal Siakam was asked what his teammates said to him after he missed two free throws at the end of regulation that would have sealed it, and he said, it was hard to remember. It was so intense; it was one of those games that pressed down on your brain and heart and legs, and kept pressing until it was over. It must have been hard to remember, in the moment.

“But at the end of the game, Kawhi said that he played an hour of basketball,” said Siakam. “I told him: My bad.”

By the end of Toronto’s 118-112 double-overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, with the whole season and maybe more hanging over the whole thing, you wondered what anyone had left, and you found out. Kyle Lowry had fouled out. One-game hero Norman Powell, too. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo had fouled out in double OT, after a game in which Kawhi Leonard had muffled the impossible alien.

And still, it wasn’t over. You wondered if it would ever end. With the Raptors’ season on the line they needed everything, and then they needed Kawhi. He was limping most of the game, after grabbing his left knee on an early dunk, and his right quad — the one that cost him almost all of last season — in double overtime. He was given the toughest defensive assignment, most of the time, and Giannis finished with 12 points on 5-of-16 shooting before fouling out. Kawhi’s will to win was magnificent.

“His resilience, man,” said centre Marc Gasol, who had his own bounce-back game. “His resilience, his resilience. He didn’t allow his fatigue, his pain, whatever he had going on, whatever was bothering him. He didn’t allow that not to (let him) push through it. Whatever was bothering him, he did it. And helped us win the game tremendously.

“Huge plays.”

It was basketball attrition. Toronto had a chance to put it away in regulation; the Raptors were up 96-94 with 38.7 seconds left, and the ball, when Fred VanVleet, in for Lowry, missed his eighth shot of the game. Siakam then missed those two free throws, and Milwaukee tied the game with 2.2 seconds left when Khris Middleton put in his own rebound on a drive. Siakam’s three at the buzzer and long and doomed. Overtime.

They had a chance to seal it in the first OT, too. But Kawhi missed a long three, and then a pull-up jumper at the buzzer. Neither was a great shot, even for him; there was almost no offensive movement. Toronto trailed 2-0 in the series. Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final was the season. You wondered whether they missed the chance.

They needed everything. They needed VanVleet to hit his only shot of the game on a night where he went 1-for-11, a three with 3:18 left in regulation. They needed Danny Green to hit his only shot of the night in overtime, a three, on a night where he went 1-for-9. They were both in because Lowry and Powell were out. The Raptors needed them.

They needed Gasol, who after a nightmare Game 2 hit his first two threes, and hit some cutters for layups, and his mere existence as a threat opened up the lane for Siakam. Gasol was great, and Siakam was therefore back to being what he has blossomed into this season: a spinning, driving, leaping electric eel, rather than a stationary three-point shooter, marooned in the corner. He finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds and a skyscraping blocked shot on Bucks centre Brook Lopez at the end of double OT with Toronto up two. Gasol had hit a three in double OT to pull back a one-point Toronto lead, and avoided his sixth foul on an Eric Bledsoe drive, allowing Green to steal the ball.

And at the end, Toronto needed Kawhi. They were up 106-105 when Green got him the ball, and Kawhi took off a foot inside the free-throw line for a left-handed dunk. (And may have double-dribbled on the way, but hey, officiating, right?) With 1:54 left, up 110-109, Kawhi stole a pass from Middleton and knocked it away from Malcolm Brogdon and dunked again.

And up two in the final 75 seconds he secured an offensive rebound, and then after Siakam’s block, Kawhi simply bullied Brogdon, with Lopez’s shot-blocking anchored to the suddenly dangerous Gasol, and laid the ball in for a four-point lead.

“I thought he just made big plays. That’s what winners do, and that’s what champions do, and that’s why he is who he is,“ said VanVleet. “It wasn’t perfect, I’m sure that he would have liked to play better, but he was battling. Fifty-two minutes, he battled his ass off.”

Leonard played a career-high 52 minutes and finished with 36 points on 11-for-25 shooting, plus nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot, plus five turnovers. He was a plus-10, and Siakam a plus-12 in his 51 minutes. Kawhi was 8-of-22 going into double OT, and made all three double-OT shots, plus his two free throws. Command night.

“I mean, I have been there before,” said Leonard. “It’s playoff basketball. You want to win. My teammates did a great job tonight, you know, just keep pushing. They played well. We all played well together. That’s all. Just kept fighting.” Asked about his injuries, he said, “I’m good. I’m just going to keep fighting and keep playing.”

Maybe the Raptors are fried now. In addition to Leonard’s 52 and Siakam’s 51 minutes, Gasol played 45. By the end the Raptors felt as thin as the one-sheet paper boxscore, which tried to cram all the craziness into a recognizable, readable, mathematical form. The games are played every second day in this series. Not a lot of time to rest.

But the last stand is now moved to Tuesday, and the Raptors are about a two-minute stretch in Game 1 from being up in this series. The Bucks have more players they can rely on, but the Raptors have taken away some of their better ones. The problem with the Bucks is they have so many, and you can’t keep them all under control. The leaks never stop, and neither does Milwaukee.

But Kawhi on Giannis — with help, but maybe less than you’d usually need — is a potentially significant weapon against Milwaukee’s best player, and perhaps the league MVP. Kawhi was deemed to have guarded Giannis on 41 possessions, per NBA data, and Giannis scored four points on those possessions. He was deemed to score none against Siakam. Maybe there’s some hope in there somewhere.

“When you are out there I’m not thinking I’m down 2-0 at the time,” said Kawhi. “Just playoff basketball, you have to be in the moment, live in the moment, and just leave it all out on the floor. Once you do that you can live with the results. It’s like I tell the guys, I don’t care if you make or miss shots, it’s about playing smart and aggressive and not really making mistakes on the defensive end. That’s all you can really do. If you are worrying about making shots, everyone wants to shoot 100 per cent from the field. It’s just really about going out there, trying to execute and just playing confident.”

So now, Game 4. The last time they were down to their season on the line, in Game 7 against Philadelphia, the Raptors relied on three things: great defence, five great minutes from Lowry and Kawhi with the ball, over and over, right until the last four bounces and the end. This time it was the defence, Siakam, Gasol, and Kawhi again. Still, the Bucks make Kawhi taking 39 shots a near-impossible kamikaze mission. Toronto needed every bit of everyone to get to him.

They got enough of them, just. Game 4 is Tuesday, and the season will more or less be on the line again.

Bruce Arthur is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @bruce_arthur

Toronto preschool for kids with disabilities can’t accommodate staff who use wheelchairs

May 19, 2019 10:00:00 AM

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As a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, Ashleigh Judge has faced barriers all her life. But the Toronto early childhood educator didn’t expect to be turned down for a job in a preschool that serves children with disabilities because the building is inaccessible.

“It’s not the first time I have faced this problem,” said Judge, 33. “But it’s the first time it was so blatant. It was really disappointing, especially coming from an agency that should be doing better.”

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital has been operating Play and Learn Nursery School in a city of Toronto building on Eglinton Ave. W. for 33 years. Although the Forest Hill-area program is on the main floor, it does not have an accessible washroom, and the classrooms are located off a hallway that is too narrow for an adult wheelchair.

Judge says she is happy to use the accessible washroom in the library next door, but wonders why the city’s leading agency serving children with disabilities has done so little to make the learning space more accessible.

Stewart Wong, a spokesperson for Holland Bloorview, says the hospital’s main campus near Bayview and Lawrence Aves. is fully accessible, as is a community-based preschool in Scarborough. But he acknowledges the Play and Learn site is not.

“We have spoken to the city about accessibility issues,” he said. “We have worked really hard to be as inclusive as possible in everything that we do. But working in buildings that are decades old presents a challenge.”

The hospital has not considered moving Play and Learn, Wong said, but would “welcome a conversation to explore more accessible options.”

Judge called the office of area Councillor Mike Colle in early April with her concerns but never heard back.

When the Star contacted Colle’s office last week, the councillor said he sympathizes with Judge.

“People with disabilities have enough problems without having difficulty getting jobs because buildings are inaccessible,” said Colle, who represents Ward 8 (Eglinton-Lawrence).

As part of a city audit of the building last year, the Play and Learn site has been targeted for an accessibility upgrade in early 2020, he said.

“I don’t know if Holland Bloorview knew that, but the city is on track to make those upgrades in January or February next year,” he said. “I will certainly be keeping an eye on it and make sure our facilities manager also knows there is an interest here.”

Judge is pleased the city is planning to renovate the building, but is frustrated it has taken so long, noting she first raised the issue with Holland Bloorview in 2017 during its “Dear Everybody” accessibility awarenenss campaign, and that the province introduced accessibility legislation in 2005.

“This is the first I am hearing about it,” she said about the planned retrofit. “And you’d think Holland Bloorview would have told me, if they knew about it. It makes me wonder if the city is doing this just because (the Star) called.”

Judge has an honours BA in psychology from York University along with Seneca College certificates in rehabilitation services and life skills coaching. In 2011, she obtained her early childhood education diploma from George Brown College and has just completed certification as an early childhood resource consultant to work with kids who have special needs.

Over the years, Judge has worked at March break and summer camps at Holland Bloorview and logged more than 500 volunteer hours at the hospital.

“I grew up in the system. I know what it’s like and I think I have a lot to offer,” she said. “I also think I would be a good role model for the children — and their parents.”

Judge says she is well qualified and physically able to work in a preschool setting. She has worked part-time jobs with the city’s EarlyOn child and family centres since 2015. She has no trouble picking up small children and can change diapers using a lower change table.

“When I saw a chance to work at Holland Bloorview, I jumped at it,” she said of the two permanent part-time jobs that were posted at Play and Learn last December.

According to a memo, shared with the Star, from the preschool staff, Judge “gave an excellent interview” for the position, “has a lot to offer children and families at Holland Bloorview,” and would be “well suited for a wide variety of roles working with both children and families.”

Judge says she told the preschool she could rearrange her school schedule to start when needed. But staff told her the building’s inaccessible hallways were an insurmountable barrier to Judge’s employment there.

Undeterred, Judge asked if the program could accommodate her in its accessible Scarborough location. And if there were no positions there, she asked if the hospital would commit to offering her the next position that became vacant that matched her skill set.

“I also told them I would be willing to help them advocate to renovate the Eglinton Ave. location,” Judge said.

Judge says her advocacy offer was ignored and that her request for placement in the next available position was met with a long email from human resources, telling her the hospital follows strict hiring protocols and procedures and that she would have to apply like everyone else.

“It was pretty frustrating. What happens when the kids they’re serving now get older and they want to come back and get a job with Holland Bloorview?” she said. “Advocacy and accessibility and the need for inclusiveness doesn’t stop when you turn 18.”

The hospital doesn’t comment publicly on personnel matters, Wong said. But he said it has specialized staff teams that work with job applicants and current employees to make the workplace accessible. The hospital is also committed to helping youth find meaningful employment as adults and offers a wide range of services, including volunteer opportunities, employment training programs and supported job placements, he said.

“We have lots of programming that opens up a world of inclusion for persons with disability.”

Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky praised Judge for trying to hold Holland Bloorview and the city to account, but said the problem ultimately lies with Queen’s Park and its lack of action on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

As noted in a government review of the legislation by former lieutenant-governor David Onley, people with disabilities face “soul-crushing” barriers in their daily lives, particularly when trying to access public and private buildings. And without a renewed commitment and immediate action, Ontario would not meet the law’s goal of making the province fully accessible for its 1.9 million residents with disabilities by 2025, he said.

Onley’s report, released in March, calls for stronger enforcement and repeated earlier calls for the province to develop new accessibility standards for both new construction and building retrofits, Lepofsky noted.

“The government has announced no plans to implement the report’s spectrum of recommendations, even though (Accessibility Minister) Raymond Cho said in the legislature that David Onley did a ‘marvellous job’ and that Ontario has only progressed 30 per cent towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities,” Lepofsky said.

Although Ontario’s April budget earmarked $1.3 million over two years for the Rick Hansen Foundation to help finance a private accessibility certification process, Lepofsky said public money should be spent to fund Onley’s recommendations.

“The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take,” he said. “It did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter: @lmonseb

Water levels rise on Toronto’s eastern beaches

May 19, 2019 9:09:41 PM

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Anthony Spence arrived at Woodbine Beach, Frisbee in hand, on a lovely long weekend Sunday, the weather finally hinting that this really could be the unofficial kickoff to summer.

The first thing he did was utter an expletive.

So much of the sand was submerged — a surprise to Spence — that there seemed to be no unoccupied space large enough for him and his friends to play a planned pickup game of beach ultimate Frisbee.

Though not as large as it was in 2017, a massive pond has again formed and is lingering on a swath of the east-end beach, swamping some of the volleyball courts and covering an area that would typically be flooded with frolicking families.

“It’s part of nature and things happen, but it’s also just like, what are we going to do now?” said Spence, who had travelled more than an hour from Thornhill on transit for a game that likely wasn’t going to happen.

In 2017, record high water levels in Lake Ontario flooded Woodbine Beach and had water lapping up against the boardwalk and drowning some walkways in Ashbridge’s Bay Park.

Hit harder were the Toronto Islands. Dozens of homes were damaged and the popular tourist spot was closed for three months.

Water levels are edging up again. At the end of last week, Lake Ontario was at 75.74 metres, up from 75.42 on May 1. The long-term average, measured from 1918 to 2018, is 75.02 metres.

“The lake levels are almost at what they were in 2017. They’re edging towards that,” said city spokesperson Brad Ross.

The highest daily level recording during the 2017 flooding was 75.93 metres.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) issued a shoreline hazard warning last Thursday and cautioned that properties that were hit by flooding and erosion in 2017 “could continue to experience impacts as the water level in Lake Ontario continues to rise.”

The TRCA said shortened beaches, erosion, trail and boardwalk closures, localized ponding and flooding have already been spotted at various points along the Toronto waterfront. Beyond the eastern beaches and the Islands, sites affected by those issues include Sunnyside Beach, Marilyn Bell Park and the Scarborough Bluffs.

Ross said since 2017 Toronto has taken measures to mitigate the damage that hit the Islands, particularly the homes on Ward’s Island, even if water levels again hit record levels.

“We’ve got something like 20 industrial-sized pumps that have been working 24-7 to pump that water, any water that breaches, back into the lake,” he said.

Ross noted there are thousands of sandbags along the shoreline as well as a 60-metre tube filled with water that also acts as a barrier. The ferry docks were also rebuilt so that the boats can continue to operate despite rising water levels.

“The Island will remain open,” he said.

The residents of Ward’s Island held a “sandbagging party” on Saturday, coming together as a community to further protect their homes and shoreline.

As for the pond on Woodbine Beach, Ross said it should be “more or less” gone some time in June.

“The TRCA think that in about two weeks, the lake water levels will start to go down, back to their normal levels,” said Ross. “The water that’s there now on the beach will recede and any ponding that’s left, we’ll pump that out. But we kind of have to let nature run its course.”

In the meantime, the city’s Victoria Day fireworks, originating from Ashbridge’s Bay Park, will take place Monday night at dusk. Some of what would be a prime viewing location is covered by water.

Ross, though, encouraged people to attend.

“(Most of) the volleyball courts are dry. The boardwalk is dry. The parkland around the boardwalk is dry. While there won’t be as much room for people as there normally would be, there’s still going to be lots of room,” he said.

Apart from rainfall, one of the factors contributing to Toronto’s shoreline concerns, Ross explains, is the record high water level in Lake Erie. That water flows over Niagara Falls into Lake Ontario and then to the St. Lawrence River. But because of severe flooding downriver, regulators have been forced to slow the outflow through the Moses Saunders Dam in the St. Lawrence near Cornwall.

“They have to be very careful about how much water they let out of the lake,” he said.

So that, in turn, resulted in a scene like Sunday at Woodbine Beach and Ashbridge’s Bay Park, where hundreds of visitors still enjoyed the beach, just less of it.

About 30 to 40 of the 100-plus volleyball courts appeared to be unplayable — seagulls waded through water on the southernmost courts – but there was still a tournament taking place.

It was the first of the season for the Ontario Volleyball Association, and beach tour director Oklend Llakaj said they were fine because they needed only 29 courts. Some upcoming events are bigger, however, and he said in 2017 some age groups had their tournaments cancelled or moved to other venues. He said that season they were down more than 60 courts at times.

“I don’t want to go through that again. Losing that many courts has a big impact on the tour and the experience of the kids and their parents,” he said.

“You try to be as positive as you can and just hope and pray that we don’t get any more rain.”

Paul Hunter is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @hunterhockey

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