Tag Archives: NBA Playoffs

You are here: Home / Archive
NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

The Raptors Magic Number Is 30, 30 Three-Balls That Is

The secret to the Raptors 59 win season isn’t exactly a mystery. They fire up a lot of threes and the threat of the three-ball is what opens up the floor to get to the rim. When they aren’t shooting threes, the Raptors get a lot easier to guard.

“A lot of our three-point shooters had opportunities to shoot the ball and for whatever reason we were hesitating,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after practice. “When you look at the film, they had plenty of time. We got to let it go, got to let it fly.”

As we wrote at the start of this series. These Raptors live or die by the three-ball.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory.

And it wasn’t lost on Wizards head coach Scott Brooks after Game One.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us,” Brooks said.

In those first two games in Toronto, the Raptors hoisted 65 threes and won both games. In the next two in Washington, they turned down shots and only fired up 46 three-balls and that’s a losing formula for Toronto.

As Casey indicated, it wasn’t the Wizards defense that ran the Raptors off the three-point line on the road. It was guys like Delon Wright turning down open shots to make a pass or waiting for defenders to arrive so they could drive. These Raptors have to be willing to let it fly like have been all season.

Now back in the friendly confines of the Air Canada Centre it should be easier for the Raptors to get back to the game plan that was so successful for them this season. If Toronto can get up 10 threes in the first quarter of Game Five, make or miss, they should be expected to hold onto their home court advantage. If not, this could be a long night for the home team.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl

Reward For Missing Raptors Bench: Best To Worst

Maybe it’s time for Toronto to offer a reward to anyone that can find their missing bench? Touted as the best bench in the NBA during the regular season, they’ve become the worst bench in the playoffs. The eye test backs up the numbers, it’s the Raptors starting unit that has been carrying the load against Washington.

This season the Raptors reserves led the league’s benches (per NBA.com) with  a net rating of +8.3 points and in the more straightforward plus/minus at +3.6. They weren’t just good, this bench turned more than a few games around for Toronto with their hustle and efficient play, but in the postseason, it’s been a different story.

With backup point guard Fred VanVleet on the shelf to start the playoffs, the Raptors second unit has had an embarrassingly bad -20.4 points net rating and a plus/minus of -7.3 points, both good for dead last among the playoff teams.

However, it hasn’t been VanVleet’s missing offense that’s the problem. The bench is scoring just 3.1 fewer points in 2.9 fewer minutes and they’ve been shooting the lights out from three-point range at 43.6 percent. The offensive production is fine, it’s the defense, rebounding, and a surprising drop off in sharing the ball that’s causing the problems.

In the playoffs the bench is garnering 6.8 fewer rebounds, 4.3 fewer assists and 1.2 fewer steals. Their defensive rating has shot up from a respectable 101.6 in the regular season to a terrible 120.1 in their three postseason games. The bench is only garnering 42.8 percent of the available rebounds which translates into lots of extra possessions for the Wizards.

With the numbers in full view, it’s easy to understand why the bench has looked so bad during the recent games.

It’s probably not fair to lay the blame at the feet of two second year players with a total of 36 minutes of playoffs experience between them prior to this season, but they kind of stand out and, even if they didn’t score, the hope would be Pascal Siakam and Jakob Poeltl would hang onto their regular season chemistry and provide energy, defense and rebounding.

“We are letting them come to us and we are trying to react afterwards,” Poeltl said after the Game Three loss. “Me as a center, when I am guarding a guy like Scott or Morris, I have to find a good balance between being out for the shooters at the three and still being there to help at the rim for a guy like John Wall that’s coming down the lane. That’s really the difficult part for us to figure out.”

The Raptors big men off the bench simply aren’t finding that balance between guarding the three-point line and getting back to defend the rim and in today’s NBA where everybody shoots threes, that’s a big problem.

Between Poeltl and Siakam, their rebounds are down 2.3 per game, assists off 1.4 and steals have dropped to zero from 1.3. They are getting taken advantage off by a far more veteran group of Wizards big men that they haven’t been able to out-hustle or run into the ground. Those looks of “what did I do” as Poeltl picks up another foul or Siakam’s surprising lack of decisiveness (or confidence?) are not what Toronto has been used to seeing from these two all season.

Both Poeltl and Siakam exceeded expectations this year and they are going to get better, but the playoffs demand more than the regular season and these two are having to learn that on the job. Without the Raptors reserve big men playing up to expectations, Toronto’s bench will remaining “missing,” so they had better adapt fast.

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Dance Pak

The NBA Playoffs Are Going Exactly As They Should

After the first two games of the NBA playoffs, the results are lining up (almost) exactly as they should. Apparently, your team has earned their record over an 82 game regular season and the 2-0 leads and 1-1 splits are right where they should be – except for you Portland.

Eastern Conference

Raptors (59-23) 2-0 vs Wizards (43-39)

The 59 win Toronto Raptors were a dominant at home this season and were 23-3 against the rest of the East in their own building. The inconsistent Wizards backed into the final playoff spot and were under .500 on the road. The only people that were surprised by Toronto winning the first two games at home were the ones insisting Washington was better than their record. They’re not.

Celtics (55-27) 2-0 vs Bucks (44-38)

Just toss out all those “problems” the Celtics were supposedly facing this season. Boston was who the were regardless of the players coach Brad Stevens put on the court and are full value for their 55 wins. The Bucks have a star and have under-performed expectations all season. Why would anyone think things were going to change in the playoffs?

76ers (52-30) 1-1 vs Heat (44-38)

The 76ers raced up the standings at the end of the season with a 16-0 streak that has masked some of the growing pains that should be expected from a young team in their first playoff appearance in half a decade. Add in the loss of All-Star Joel Embiid to a fractured orbital bone and the more talented 76ers will have to overcome some adversity. The Heat won the Southeast Division and have veteran players and a playoff tested head coach that makes them better than the sum of their parts.

Cavaliers (50-32) 1-1 vs Pacers (48-34)

The four-five match-up is supposed to be this tight. It is not an upset for the five seed to advance. On February 6th the Cavs lead the Pacers by two games in the standings and LeBron James had to average a near triple-double of 29.5 points, 9.8 rebounds and 10 assists over his team’s final 30 games just to maintain that lead and hold onto fourth place in the East. There isn’t the width of a piece of paper difference between these two teams unless James puts up monster numbers and even then it’s tight.

Western Conference

Rockets (65-17) 2-0 vs Timberwolves (47-35)

The Rockets were the class of the NBA this season and were tied with Toronto for the best home record in the NBA. The T-wolves snuck into the postseason for the first time since 2004 (not a typo) and are a poor road team. It’s good experience for the young stars in Minnesota and that’s about it.

Warriors (58-24) 2-0 vs Spurs (47-35)

The defending NBA Champions seemed disinterested in the regular season as they coped with untimely injuries while racking up the third most wins in the Association. Even down a recent MVP in Stephen Curry, they still got one in Kevin Durant. The Spurs didn’t win 50 games for the first time this century and look ready for a rebuild. No disrespect, but without Kawhi Leonard (right quadriceps) for most of this season, they just don’t have enough scoring to be competitive with the Warriors.

Trail Blazers (49-33) 0-2 vs Pelicans (48-34)

The regular season records of these two teams says it all. This is a three seed vs a six seed, but they were only one game apart. This should be a toss up, but the stars having been saying differently. As Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said, “You can’t win if good players play bad.”

In Portland, Anthony Davis (28.5 ppg) and Jrue Holiday (27 ppg) are playing great while Damian Lillard (17.5 ppg) and C.J. McCollum (20.5 ppg) are shooting terribly, so the Pelicans left town up two games. This situation shouldn’t last, but it’s probably too late for the Blazers to pull this series out of the fire.

Thunder (48-34) 1-1 vs Jazz (48-34)

It doesn’t matter if your team has Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony, they still only won 48 games and only got the four seed on a tie-breaker. The Jazz aren’t scared of those “big names” and they shouldn’t be. They have their own up-and-coming bright star in rookie Donovan Mitchell and so far OKC can’t stop him.

Predictions:

East: Raptors, Celtics, 76ers, Pacers

West: Rockets, Warriors, Pelicans, Jazz

But I wouldn’t be counting on any series currently tied at 1-1.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Are Wizards Still Using Last Year’s Raptors Scouting Report?

After a couple of games being shelled from deep in Toronto you’d think the Washington Wizards would have noticed that this isn’t last year’s Raptors team? But you could be mistaken, they still seem to be clinging to last year’s scouting report. From the postgame comments, the Wizards aren’t ready to accept that giving up a 122 points per game in their first round playoff series has been on them.

“There were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes,”Wizards guard Bradley Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. 

“There’s a lot of guys, we went over the scouting report, there’s guys making threes that’s not really their M.O. coming into the series,” Beal said after Game Two. 

“I really feel like it’s nothing crazy that’s beating us in terms of their sets and the offensive stuff that they’re running. I think we are just shooting ourselves in the foot coming out to slow starts, allowing guys to get open threes, allowing guys to get those shots, allowing guys to get layups. It has to be one or the other.”

The Raptors were the highest scoring team in the East this season doing exactly what Beal has described on a nightly basis.

So, are the Wizards actually looking at this year’s scouting report on the Raptors? Toronto was third in the NBA in three-point attempts and fourth in three-point makes this season. Almost everyone on the roster shoots threes. This team has nine players that attempted over 130 three-pointers during the regular season and outside of backup center Jakob Poeltl, everyone on the roster has the green light to shoot a three when open.

Even the Raptors traditional center Jonas Valanciunas will shoot the three if he isn’t guarded. He was 30-74 from three during the regular season and is already 1-2 in this series.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.”

The only players on the Raptors averaging more than two midrange shots a game are are DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka and they both average over 3.5 three-point attempts per game. Toronto has shifted away from being a top 12 team in scoring from the midrange last season to a bottom six team this year. These guys score over 75 percent of their points in the paint or from three.

NBA Toronto Raptors

“They play really well together,” Beal admitted. “You got to respect what coach Casey is doing and how he meshed and gelled that team together.

“We just got to go back to the drawing board.”

The drawing should probably include guarding the three-point line or this fan in Washington might not survive his next rant.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors

Raptors Show Hustle Over Hype In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

For the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night’s second game of their first round playoff battle with the Washington Wizards was uncharted territory. It was the first time the Raptors ever played a Game Two in a first round series up one game to nothing thanks to Saturday’s 114-106 win, so the worry was to keep the momentum up and not let down.

The theme of the night was written on the t-shirts that every fan had waiting for them at their seats “Hustle Over Hype”, that’s what head coach Dwane Casey wanted to avoid heading into Game Two, the hype after coming off a big win.

“When you get into the playoff situation, just because you win one game doesn’t mean anything,” Casey was saying before the game. “Behind one game, up one game, it’s a seven game series and you have to go on with that. It’s great to protect home court and have that mindset, but we are going into like we haven’t done anything.”

Well the Raptors past the test with a 130-119 win giving them their first ever two-games to nothing lead in a playoff series. They never let the hype of finally winning a game one get in their heads, but it was way they came out to start the game was something I have never seen in my 23-years covering the team.

They went on a 28-13 run to start the game ending the first quarter with a 44-27 lead that Washington would eventually cut to five with 7:52 left in the fourth quarter, but the Raptors would get the lead back up to 20 points and eventually win by 11.

Toronto hit seven three pointers in the first quarter, 11 in the first half overall and were 13-of-35 for the game. They broke three franchise playoff records in the game,

The 44 points in the first quarter was a new record for points in a quarter in a playoff game.

They lead 76-58 at the half and the 76 points was new record for points scored in a half in a playoff game.

The 130 points scored overall is also a new record for points in a playoff game.

And don’t forget DeMar DeRozan who tied his playoff career high with 37 points.

But you have to give the Wizards credit, they did get the deficit down to five in the fourth quarter.

It was all John Wall, the Wizards best player, who did his best scoring 22 second half points and that is someone Casey said the Raptors will have to do a better job defending the rest of the series.

“He was going where he wanted to go with the ball,” Casey said. “We got to do a better job of getting down in the stance, containing the ball, and the bigs have go to do a better job of protecting the rim. And we have (in the past), and we’ve done it, so it’s something that can be done, we just did not do a good job in the second half tonight.”

You had to feel sorry for Wizards coach Scott Brooks who in his post-game media conference looked like he had been put through the ringer. He credited a C.J. Miles three-pointer that killed their comeback at down five points in the fourth after starting the final frame down 15.

“C.J. Miles hit a big shot and John (Wall) had a good contest. Give him credit, he stepped up and made that,” Brooks said. “The momentum shifted when he made that shot. Tough to overcome 44 points in the first quarter, tough to overcome seven threes in the first quarter, but somehow we managed to do it. We probably ran out of gas a little bit.”

But this is a different Toronto Raptors team and as I said I have not seen anything like this in 23-years the franchise has been around.

They started the game with a killer instinct and when the Wizards John Wall slowly chipped away at the lead, they never folded up like a cheap suitcase as they’d done in the past.

The Raptors passed the test, so now it’s on to Washington where there are more uncharted waters to navigate.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

These Raptors Live Or Die By The Three-Ball

The Toronto Raptors have been firing away from deep since before the season began. It was all part of the “culture change” promised by president Masai Ujiri and delivered by head coach Dwane Casey. These Raptors were going to live or die by the three-ball this season and they rode that change all the way to first place in the East.

“They are a good team,” Wizards head coach Scott Brooks said after losing Game One of their first round series with Toronto. “They are the number one seed for a reason.

“We had the same amount of field goals, same amount of free throws, turnovers were pretty close, points off turnovers close, they just had eight more three’s than us. They’ve been doing it all year, not 16 in a game, they averaged nearly 12 (three-pointers a game).”

From 8.8 made threes per game in 2016-17 to an NBA fourth best 11.8 made threes this year, the Raptors have embraced the three-ball and everyone shoots them. Even the guys teams aren’t prepared to guard outside like the high-energy forward Pascal Siakam, the historically paint-bound Jonas Valanciunas and the mid-range king DeMar DeRozan. It a volume approach as Toronto is just an average three-point percentage shooting team.

“DeMar even made some threes in the fourth,” Beal responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “They were 16-for-30 from three, so that hurts you when you’re competing, and on the road too. And there were a lot of guys who we didn’t expect them to make those threes. They made them.”

That Toronto fired up 30 three-balls in Game One really should not have come as a surprise to the Wizards. Over their four meetings this past season, the Raptors averaged 31.3 three-point attempts and as a team, they see no reason to change what got them to this point.

“We’ve been playing that style since training camp,” DeMar DeRozan responded to Pro Bball Report after Game One. “We’ve been pounding and pounding every single day, every single practice, every single shoot-a-round, every time we get on the court, we pound this style of play. Guys know where their shots are going to come from. (We) understand where to get shots from, where to get our guys shots from, it’s just second nature now. You have to go thru that training camp, preseason and early-on-season of doing it and now it’s just repetition and it’s second nature to us.”

The Raptors use the three-ball to stretch the floor and open up driving lanes for DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Siakam and versatile guard Delon Wright, who had a big impact in Game One.

“They just don’t want us taking the two-point shot,” Wright told Pro Bball Report earlier this season. “I don’t even attempt to shoot them. My mindset is three-pointer or a lay-up.

“I’m a driver, so teams try to pack the paint on me, so I have to be willing to take that open (three-point) shot. It will free up the guys that are driving. I have to be willing to take that three-pointer.”

The same mindset applies to everyone on the Raptors and it makes the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team very difficult to guard. About the only way to stop them is to hope they miss shots.

“It’s definitely a pick your poison,” coach Scott said. “We just have to do it better.

“VanVleet did not play, but Wright came in and had a terrific game. That’s why they are hard to guard.”

“I think their bench was great, especially C.J. Miles, ” John Wall said. “I think they played well, made some big shots and that’s what they are going to do every game.”

Three-point specialist C.J. Miles was acquired during the summer to help make the transition to a three-point shooting roster happen and he’s been living up to his end of the bargain. Miles hit an NBA second most threes off the bench at 155 on the season and he hoisted the League’s second most attempts while on the court at over one three-point field goal attempt every three minutes. He’s been prolific and, taken in context, very effective.

“That’s been the main focus of what they have asked me to do since I’ve been signed, to be that threat, to carry that threat, but it’s a testament to guys looking for me, guys screening for me and the coaches believing in what I do,” Miles told Pro Bball Report. “I work at it extremely hard to be that threat. Obviously it can get a little crazy sometimes, but it is what it is. That’s what I am put out there to do.

“I understand you are not going to make them all and you you think about the fact that shooting 40 percent from three is elite, so that’s four out of 10, so if I miss three, the numbers are bound to balance out. That’s the way I look at it. As long as they are good looks, that’s the biggest thing.

“If it comes to me putting (the ball) down on the floor, it’s got to be because they made me, not because I passed up a shot to do it.”

Miles has been critical in getting the Raptors young players to buy into the “new culture” and not turn down shots just because they missed a couple and the proof is in the results. This style of play has worked for Toronto.

The Raptors and the Wizards split the regular season series 2-2 and it was the three-ball that stood out in the results. In games where Toronto fired up over 30 threes, the Raptors won. When they didn’t, the Wizards came thru with the victory. Both teams won a game in the other team’s building.

The concern about the Raptors since those early preseason games when it seemed every prospect knew their only chance of making this roster was to shoot threes at every opportunity was if the team’s All-Stars Lowry and DeRozan would stay on board at the first signs of adversity or an impact to their own personal stats. Now we know they’re on board.

Ujiri’s culture change is in full effect and these Raptors will live or die by the three-ball. As of now, it looks like they could ride this change all the way to the NBA Finals.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Don’t Have To Change A Thing For The Playoffs

By Frank McLean

The Toronto Raptors won Game One of their first round playoff series with the Washington Wizards Saturday 114-106 by not changing a thing about the way they played in the regular season.

That was the theme in the two days leading up to the first game of this series.

On Thursday DeMar DeRozan made that quite clear when he sat down with the media because some people still think 59 wins overall and 34 wins at home was somehow a fluke.

“We did it 82 games,” DeRozan said. “We won 59 games. If that’s not the ultimate understanding of what got us here wasn’t a fluke, it really worked, we’re not going to sway away from that. I think that speaks for itself. We know what works for us, what got us here, and what’s going take us even further.”

And they did that. Raptors head coach Dwane Casey rolled out 11 players out of the 13 he dressed for Game One which is nothing different from what he did during the regular season. The subs known as the BENCH MOB contributed 42 of the 114 points scored.

That has been this teams MO all season, use everybody and make it work.

There seems to be a theory that come playoff time you have to shorten your rotation to eight players heck maybe seven. Casey has had success running out 10-11 men a night and let it be known that he does not subscribe to that theory.

“Our record, we had the number one bench plus-minus in the league, one of the best producing benches in the league and that’s who we are and that’s one of the main reasons I say that and we’ll stick to that,” Casey said.

Six players had 10 or more points. You could see the difference from other years in which everything was centered around DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. They were sharing the ball looking for the best shot and taking numerous three point attempts.

Down 59-55 at halftime they went on a 11-2 run hitting four straight three-point shots and grabbing a 66-61 lead. They were 16-of-30 behind the arch for the game, plus the real C.J. Miles came back hitting four-of-seven.

The Raptors looked confident throughout the game. They didn’t get rattled when they gave up the lead, something that in past playoff games would cause them to lose focus and get so far behind they couldn’t catch up.

“We been great at home all year,” DeRozan said. “It’s definitely something we took more pride in than ever and I think it showed. With that, we got that confidence this time around more than ever. Like I said, it’s one of them moments to where we feel like when we on our home floor, anything’s possible, and our swag is at an all-time high.”

It’s only one game, but the Raptors showed a confidence they have never shown in a playoff Game One during the Dwane Casey era. If they keep playing this way, it’s going to be a long postseason run and they don’t have to change a thing.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Draymond Green

NBA Officiating – At Least Don’t Make It So Obvious!

No one should be put in a position of thinking the Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t deserve to win Game Four of the NBA Finals. The Cavs shooting was outstanding and by comparison the Warriors were firing bricks, but damn it, why does it happen so often with NBA officiating that it seems obvious one team is being handed a big advantage.

Like just about every NBA player, coach and fan, Toronto Raptors free agent Patrick Patterson has seen this movie before. The referees put Cleveland on the free throw line 22 times in the first quarter providing overt help they didn’t need as the Cavs scored an NBA Finals record 49 points and built a lead they would never surrender.

Hopefully Patterson was careful enough in his tweet to avoid the wrath of NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, but he wasn’t alone in his thoughts. The twitterverse was far more direct.

The worst part about that first quarter was the Cavs didn’t need the help as they were red hot from three, hitting on 7-12 attempts, but all those “extra” trips to the charity stripe set a tone and created a lead that turned what should have been a much closer game into a 20-point blowout.

Later the referees didn’t do themselves any favors when they handed Draymond Green his second technical foul for waving at Marc Davis after a soft foul was called on him in the third quarter. Everyone thought Green was done since he had already picked up a tech from John Goble in the first quarter. Then true comedy ensued.

From ESPN,

“I thought they called [the first technical] on Draymond,” Kerr said. “I thought I deserved it. But I thought I heard the PA announcer say that it was on Draymond. So then I thought the second one, Draymond was going to get kicked out, but they explained that the first one was on me.”

Asked about the officiating overall, Kerr said, “Nice try.”

“It was just an incredibly physical game,” he added. “That was obvious from the beginning. Ton of fouls called early, a lot of holding and grabbing and pushing and shoving. It got out of hand a little bit, and the third quarter it seemed like the game was stopping every time.”

Green did confirm he thought the first tech was on coach Kerr and the referees begged off by saying they weren’t paying attention? I guess we’re just supposed to laugh it off?

LeBron James had a 31/10/11 triple-double. Kyrie Irving scored 40 points and hit 7 three-pointers. The Cavs shot 24-45 from three while the Warriors were 11-39 and after gifting the Cavs a big advantage at the free throw line in the first quarter, the refs found their unbiased whistles – the Draymond comedy minute notwithstanding.

There’s a case to be made that the refs got the Dubs off their game in the first quarter, but the refs didn’t make Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry each shoot 2-9 from three and if you don’t hit shots, there is no comeback in your future.

Blame the refs for those first quarter free throws, believe if you want that the NBA and their TV partners didn’t want this series to end so soon, but don’t blame the refs for the the Dubs three-point shooting. Almost everyone wanted a Game Five anyway.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

So What LeBron James Turns The Ball Over

Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James is feeling some heat for turning the ball over eight times in Game One of the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors, but so what? It’s not like this is anything all that unusual for the oft described “best player in the NBA.”

If it seems like the ball goes thru James’ hands on almost every Cavs play that’s because it does. He’s one of the most used players to handle the ball for their team every year and, not surprisingly, that also puts him up near the top in turnovers as well.

This year he averaged 4.1 turnovers per game. 32 times he turned it over five or more times, 16 times it was six or more, but his team was still a respectable 20-12 in those games. Thrice he turned it over eight times with a 1-2 record, proving even the Cavs can get in trouble eventually.

But to put it in perspective, James still had a better than respectable 2.1:1 assist to turnover ratio during the regular season. So again, so what about all those turnovers.

Up until the Finals, James’ turnovers weren’t costing his team too much of anything in the postseason. He turned the ball over eight times in a first round Game Two win over the Pacers. The Cavs won Games Three and Four in Toronto with James handing the ball back five and six times respectively. Then he was turned over six and five times in Games Three and Four against Boston. All those turnovers cost the Cavs was one game they could’ve/should’ve won against the Celtics.

During the regular season against Golden State the Cavs split the series 1-1 and James turned the ball over five times in a one-point win and six times in a blowout loss. No one should be suggesting turning the ball over to the high powered Warriors offense is a good thing, but if James turns it over even four or five times, it shouldn’t be a determining factor.

James could be more cautious with his passes, take fewer risks on the fast break and limit his drives to wide open opportunities and his turnovers will drop to insignificant, but that’s not how the Cavaliers play and it’s definitely not how James plays.

The Cavs need to score to beat the Warriors in Oracle Arena and they aren’t going score by becoming a passive grind it out team. Where eight turnovers was too many for James, two or three probably means he isn’t playing like the force he needs to be if he’s going to give his team a chance to win Game Two.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Why Cavs LeBron James Has Been Unstoppable This Postseason

The Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James has been unstoppable in thru the first two rounds of the postseason and what he has been doing different has make it impossible for opposing defenses to adjust.

Why the Cavs perennial MVP candidate has stepped up yet again in the playoffs isn’t a mystery to head coach Tyronn Lue, we just weren’t paying attention during the second half of the season.

“Since the second half of the season (James) really went to another level,” Lue said. “Starting the second half of the regular season and carried over to the playoffs and we’re just riding him right now. The way he has been playing is phenomenal. He is carrying this team.”

Coach Lue wasn’t blowing smoke about his best player’s improving performance.

In the first half of the season the Cavs went 30-11, but King James was a pedestrian (for him) 25.5 points on 51.5 percent shooting, 7.8 rebounds and 8.3 assists. However as his team struggled in the second half, James stepped up his game significantly.

The Cavs slumped to 21-20 over the final 41 contests, but James upped his game to 27.3 points on 58.2 percent shooting, 9.6 rebounds and 9.2 assists. If you weren’t facing him night-to-night, his impact may have gone unnoticed, but once the postseason kicked in, he took things up another notch. Saying James is carrying his team isn’t an overstatement.

The way to guard James has always been to turn him into a shooter, preferably from beyond the three-point line where he shot a more manageable 35.4 percent over the Cavs final 41 regular season games.

Unfortunately, that strategy hasn’t worked in the postseason.

“When LeBron is shooting the three-ball the way he is, at the rate he is shooting it, the average he’s shooting it, (the Cavs) are difficult,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said. “They are very difficult to beat when he’s shooting the ball like (that).”

James ripped into the seventh-place Pacers averaging 32.8 points on 54.3 percent shooting, 9.8 rebounds and 9 assists in the four game sweep. He upped his three-point attempts from 4.6 in the regular season to 5.0 and he shot like a three-point specialist by hitting 45 percent of them.  He also abused the Pacers with 3 steals and 2 blocks per game, more than double his regular season averages of 1.2 and 0.6 respectively.

Against the Raptors defensive pressure, James launched an unexpected 6.8 three-point attempts per game and he filled the net at a 48.1 percent clip. There is no defense for that. While his stats for rebounds (8.3) and assists (5.3) where below his regular season averages and his steals (1.3) and blocks (1.0) came back down to earth, he upped his scoring to 36 points per game in another four game sweep.

Even Kyle Korver has been impressed, “LeBron, Kyrie and Kevin have been playing so good, especially LeBron knocking down shots.”

“No matter who I’ve faced over the last few years, myself, my teammates and the coaching staff have always just tried to raise our ability, raise our (intensity), raise our game plan, raise our attention span to go out and compete every single night no matter who the competition was,” James said.

If James can fire three-balls at the rate and efficiency that he has so far in this postseason, he just has to many options for any defense to contain. Right now, he is unstoppable.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver Is Living The Dream In Cleveland

By Frank McLean

There is an old saying that if you wait and be patient good things will come and after a long NBA career, Kyle Korver is living the dream in Cleveland.

For Korver good things came back in February when he was traded by the Atlanta Hawks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and he finally got his best and quite possibly his last chance at an NBA Championship.

Korver was brought to Cleveland for one specific skill and that’s his ability to come off the bench and hit three point baskets. A noted Raptors killer in his days with the Atlanta Hawks, the Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue used his ability to hit three’s to kill just about every Raptors attempt at a comeback in each of the four games.

In Sunday’s series clincher Korver did all the work he needed in the second quarter. With the scored tied 28-all at the end of the first quarter he played the entire 12-minute period going six-for-eight from the field, four-for-six behind the three point arc for 16-points. He finished the game with 18-points by hitting a pair of free throws in the fourth quarter, but like someone doing a mob hit he did his work in the second.

Korver is pinching himself each day when he realizes that he is with a future a hall of famer like LeBron James and other players in the Cavaliers locker room who will be considered.

“It has been a whirlwind couple of months for me and my family,” Korver said. “Everyday is great to be playing with these guys.”

Korver will be going to his third conference final in his 16-year career, but this time he doesn’t have to worry about LeBron James knocking him out, this time they are on the same team.

“This is the way it goes, when I was in Utah we lost to the Lakers every year. In the Eastern Conference in Chicago and in Atlanta we lost to Lebron every year, whether it was Miami or here,” Korver lamented. “It’s just so nice to be on the other side now, but nothing is guaranteed I know that, but this is an amazing opportunity for me in this part of my career.”

Korver’s role as a three point specialist is a lot like the designated hitter in baseball, where you come to bat three maybe four times a game and then you wait. Now in baseball all the stadiums have batting cages near the locker room where you can keep loose and hit live pitching out of a machine. Not so in basketball and Korver agrees that the comparison is close but he has to prepare different from the Edwin Encarnacion’s of the world.

“There is no place where I can practice shooting that’s for sure but I have to stretch and keep loose on the bench as there is no excuse for me to tighten up. When I’m put in the game my job is to make shots.”

Korver knows it’s LeBron James’ team, but what he and others in the locker room want is to take the pressure off him of doing everything.

“That’s what me and the rest of guys try and do when we are in the game, make shots and try and take the pressure of LeBron when he’s in there.”

The Cavaliers, in the four games against Toronto, shot 61-for-131 behind the three point arc for an incredible 183-points. Korver is a big part of an attack that has the three pointer as a featured weapon and because of his talents there, that’s why he is getting a shot at a championship.

If you wait long enough good things happen and for Kyle Korver good things are happening for him in Cleveland.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey

Raptors Playing For Pride On Sunday

By Frank McLean

Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said all the right things after Game Three, Sunday’s game against the Cavs is for pride. You don’t want to end your season at home.

So if I’m Casey I put on my Dr. Phil hat and my speech is… okay guys we have won four games in a row before right so it’s not so hard right.

Sam Mitchell used to drive me nuts during his time coaching with the Raptors. During his media scrums because was always using the saying, “it is what it is guys”, to describe whatever predicament the team was going through at a particular time.

Heading into Sunday’s fourth game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in this Eastern Conference Semifinal, which the Cavaliers have made the Raptors look like the victims of a drive by shooting, “it is what it is for the Raptors.”

The Raptors have to win four straight games to go to the Eastern Conference Final for a second straight year which after watching how the Cavaliers carved up the Raptors in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter in Game Three with a quick 8-2 run that tuned into 20-3, well it just showed that the Raptors are not in their class.

So if you are Dwane Casey what is your motivational speech to his teams?

During the regular season the Raptors had four-four game win streaks along with two three game streaks and a pair of six game win streaks, but in those win streaks they didn’t have to play four consecutive games against the Cavaliers.

Casey also needs to let his team know exactly what he said about them to the media in his post-game thoughts after Game Three.

“I’m still proud of our guys, I think we have a lot of fighters in that locker room. We came up short, but I do like how they responded. I loved the way DeMar DeRozan responded after they killed him saying that he couldn’t score.”

Casey has got to make sure that he has not given up on them because you know human nature after you have been beat like the Raptors have been beat you might give up on yourself.

Meanwhile over in the Cavaliers locker room they don’t seem to be taking for granted that they have this Game Four locked up and a sweep in their pockets.

LeBron James said after game three that the most important thing is to come out on Sunday and play their game.

“Our coaching staff once again will give us a game plan and it is up to us to go out and execute. It is a quick turnaround game on Sunday, we do not to be thinking about sleep or getting rest. We need to be thinking about what we need to do to execute defensively and offensively coming into Sunday.”

Now you can hope, and if you are one to grasp at straws, you can hope that the 3:30 start and maybe Toronto’s outstanding nightlife might make the Cavaliers a little hung over and a soft spot to beat-em. But I doubt it.

It is playoff time and party time comes when Adam Silver hands the Cavaliers the championship trophy in June.

But upsets do happen in sports. Saturday’s Kentucky Derby was not run on paper. 20-horses went to the gate and ran a race.

Maybe the Raptors can win one maybe two, but they have to win four straight. It is what it is. Game Four is all about playing for pride.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Even A Career Game By DeMar DeRozan Wasn’t Enough

By Frank McLean

After having the worst playoff game of his career Wednesday night, five points in 31-minutes of play, DeMar DeRozan redeemed himself Friday night, but it wasn’t enough as the Cleveland Cavaliers took a commanding three games to nothing lead in this Eastern Conference Semifinal with 115-94 win.

DeRozan played the playoff game of his life. He logged 41-minutes of court time and scored a career playoff high 37-points. It wasn’t enough as if I may paraphrase the Beatles, “he didn’t get by with a little help from his friends.”

For the first three quarter the Raptors were in this game, they actually had a punchers chance to pull this off despite the fact they were putting up numbers that in the modern day NBA does not lead to wins.

They were leading at halftime 52-49. It was the first time in this series the Raptors led at halftime. Heck it was the first time the Raptors have led at the end of any quarter in this series. But they still couldn’t make a shot behind the three point arch as they were OH-FOR-NINE.

They didn’t make a three pointer until their 13th attempt with 6:15 left in the third when Norman Powell broke the ice.

DeRozan had 21-points in the first half and had not even tried a three point attempt.

The Raptors were winning playing a pre-1980’s style basketball that was used in the NBA before they implementation of the three point line and they were still in this game down just a duce, 79-77, after three quarters.

But it all fell apart in the first 1:52 of the fourth quarter.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey gave DeRozan and Corey Joseph a brief rest to catch their breath. DeRozan had put in 33-minutes and scored 36-points while Joseph had put in 29-minutes filling in for the injured Kyle Lowry. They needed to catch their breath and get a little Gatorade in their body.

But in that 1:52 the Cavaliers went on a 8-2 run before DeRozan and Joseph could get back in the game. Unfortunately their return meant nothing as the Cavaliers added to the run making it a 20-3 blitz that pretty much ended the game right there.

DeRozan tried to carry this team on his back and win this game. Would a semi healthy Kyle Lowry have helped? Absolutely, but he wasn’t there and that was their lot in life and they didn’t win.

Before the game Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that in the first two games they weren’t taking their opportunities to make three point attempts.

The Raptors inability to make three point shots will be on their obituary when this series ends. They were a combined 15-of-43 in the first two games and on Friday, after missing their first 12-attempts, they were two-for-18 which makes them 17-for-61.

The Cavaliers are for the series are 45-for-90 behind the three point line, that’s a total of 135-points of the 356-points they have scored in this series. They have made exactly 50-percent of their shots which is how you win in the modern day NBA.

As we said earlier it was amazing that Raptors were leading at the half and actually were in a position to win this game.

In his postgame comments Casey said, “Sunday’s game is all about pride. You don’t want to get swept in your home building. Our guys will come out and we certainly need to do a better job than being two-for-18” (shooting 3’s).

Coming back down three games to nothing in a playoff series in North American sports is rare. You have a better chance winning the Powerball or Lotto 6/49.

The most it has been done is in the NHL where in 1942 the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup Final. The New York Islanders in 1975, the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010 and the LA Kings in 2014 won playoff series down three-nothing. It has only been done in baseball once when the Boston Red Sox came back to beat the New York Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship.

It has never been done in the NBA.

But that’s the lot in the life the Toronto Raptors have been handed. It’s asking a lot for this team to pull off something that has never been done in the NBA win four straight after dropping three in a row to start a playoff series.

They don’t have anyone but DeRozan who can make shots right now. And even if the others in the lineup can hit some shots with any consistency, it’s probably too little too late and the Raptors season will probably be over before people sit down to their Sunday dinners.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Can The Raptors Win A Game Without Kyle Lowry?

By Frank McLean

As we head to Game Three of this Eastern Conference semifinal between the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a banged up Kyle Lowry questionable to play, why does it seem that the next two games of this series are going to be the last two games this season for the Raptors? Maybe the answer is obvious.

First LeBron James has stepped up his game. He has been an obsessed individual.

74-points and 16-rebounds is what James has combined for in the first two games. He has made this series look like a handicap match where the Raptors have five players on the floor and the Cavaliers have just one guy… James.

He is the best player in basketball hands down. He can take a team in money games, and the playoffs are money games, put them on his back and just win.

In last year`s fifth and six games of the conference finals, after the Cavaliers let a two game lead slip away by losing Games Three and Four in Toronto, he took control of things and made sure that there would be no Game Seven.

He carried that over to the first two games of this year`s series.

And let`s not forget he led that comeback in the NBA Finals where they were down 3-1 to Golden State and they won the next three to give the city of Cleveland their first sports championship since the 1964 NFL Browns.

Just ask DeMar DeRozan about James in the first two games if this series.

“He is a lot more aggressive, you just see a different fire, hunger in him this time around, as it should be,” DeRozan said comparing this year`s version of James over last year`s.

The other reason why it looks like this is going to be a short series is the possible absence of Kyle Lowry who injured his ankle pretty bad Wednesday night.

Lowry is listed as questionable which pretty well means if this was January he would not be playing at all.

“Kyle is our driving force, our point guard, our leader,” DeRozan was saying at Thursday`s practice. “So for us not to have him anything close to 100%, it would be difficult on us. But next guy, everybody else gotta do something a little bit more to fill whatever void it is he can’t fully do out there on the court.”

Next man up has always been the Raptors mantra during Dwane Casey`s time as the Raptors head coach and he emphasized that on Thursday.

If Lowry can`t answer the bell for Game Three, Pickering, Ontario`s favorite son Cory Joseph would get the start and at least he is playoff tested from his days as a San Antonio Spur where he did get a championship ring.

Casey is hoping for that.

“I thought Cory Joseph was a bright spot Wednesday night, the confidence he played with, the force he played with, the way he shot the three ball,” Casey said. “It’s huge. Because we need every one of ’em. But with (Lowry) questionable, that’s why you have 15 on the roster. All year long, we’ve always had the next man up mentality. So I have all the trust and confidence in the world. Cory, of all the people on our team, has won a championship. So he’s been there, he knows how hard it is.”

Regardless if Lowry plays or not, the 64-thousand dollar question is can the Raptors pull off a pair of wins at home like they did last year against the Cavaliers where they were in the exact same two-games to nothing hole.

First DeMar DeRozan can`t have another five point game like he did in Game Three. Last year in Game Three and Four in Toronto he had a pair of 32-point games to lead the Raptors to wins.

But other Raptors on Wednesday missed good looks as well and Casey talked about that matter.

“The blitzing on DeMar, there are opportunities there where we have to score, and we got to make sure we take advantage of them, be shot-ready and be prepared when it hits your hands to be ready to shoot it and take it. It’s pretty simple. It’s nothing different than we have done all year.”

On playing better defense Casey said, “We got to take away something. Right now they are doing what they want to do to our defense and that is unacceptable and we can do better. There is a level of defensive focus and intensity and physicality that we got to get to and can get to and will get to.”

All the right things were being said on Thursday and you expect that of a professional basketball team. Can the Raptors rally together and win a game against the Cavaliers is something we won`t find out until sometime after 7pm on Friday.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James

Who’s Having Second Thoughts About The Cavs Being Vulnerable?

By Frank McLean

Boy I was wrong. I thought that maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers were vulnerable and maybe, just maybe there was a slight chance they could be beat.

Boy I was wrong.

That was not the Cleveland Cavaliers team that went 21-20 in the second half of the season. The team that slipped defensively over last year. This team sure looked a lot like that Cavaliers team of the last two seasons in Game One versus the Raptors.

The score was 116-105 Cleveland, just in case you turned the television over to the Blue Jays game Monday night were they actually were winning their third game in a row over the Yankees.

Game One for the Raptors was typical of their playoff history since they entered the NBA, they lost. They are now 1-12 in the opening game of a playoff series.

Now let’s find the positive, they actually competed, but they just were not good enough to steal a victory. They would fight back go on a few runs to cut into the Cavalier’s lead and at one point in the second quarter went on a 18-3 run to only trail by a single point. But they couldn’t get over the hump.

It’s a fact in the NBA that your star players have to be your star players, and LeBron James was just that, dropping 35-points and grabbing 10-boards. That’s what your star player does. He makes a statement in Game One of a series, making sure your team does not lose home court advantage.

James has made comments about respecting the Raptors and it’s not a line that he shoots to the media, he does. He has also made comments about how rabid the Raptors home fans are. He knows the Raptors, if they play perfect basketball, might be the only team in the East that can upset the Cavaliers and the additions of Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker give them the best line-up in the history of the franchise. Based on the fact the Raptors won Games Three and Four in their playoff series at home last year, he knows that it’s not the Indiana Pacers they are playing who they beat four straight in round one.

Now if you’re the Raptors what do you do?

Tuesday at practice head coach Dwane Casey sounded more like a sports psychologist than coach.

“Hey, they put their pants on one leg at a time, too,” Casey said. “I haven’t seen them jump in and pull them both up at the same time.”

So what’s the plan? Maybe it’s time to go back and play a little tough physical basketball like I don’t know, like they did in the 1980’s.

The other second round series between the Celtics and Wizards has turned into not only a modern day scoring bonanza but some old time physical basketball too.

Heck Isaiah Thomas lost a tooth in Game One.

“All that’s in play,” Casey was coy Tuesday at practice. “We gotta get a little closer (to them). I don’t know if they felt us last night (Monday) whatsoever. We were half a step off, respecting their speed a little too much, we gotta make them feel us a little bit better.”

The Raptors do not have much room to make mistakes in any game against Cleveland. The margin of error is so small you can’t see it with the naked eye.

Conn Smythe, when he owned the Toronto Maple Leafs, had a saying about being successful in hockey. “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the ice.”

Maybe the Raptors have learnt, “If you can’t beat em in the alley you can’t beat em on the court.”

We’ll see if that’s the plan in Game Two. It might be their only chance.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

Featured image courtesy of Paul Saini
Instagram:  @fylmm.lifestyle and  @paul_saini

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and DeMarre Carroll and Patrick Patterson

Basketball Insiders Predict A Raptors Game Two Win

There aren’t a lot of basketball analysts willing to predict the Raptors can steal a game in Cleveland from a Cavaliers team that has had their number at The Q, but Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz thinks it’s about to happen.

Going out on a limb here and saying the Raptors steal Game 2. The role players hit their shots, Lowry and DeRozan have big nights, and this series is 1-1 heading to Toronto.

Yapkowitz nails the key to victory for the Raptors on the road. While role players are expected to perform better at home and should be expected to be the difference makers back in Toronto, players like Patrick Patterson, DeMarre Carroll, Norman Powell and/or last year’s impact postseason player Jonas Valanciunas will need to be big  Game Two contributors in Cleveland if the Raptors are going to even this series up at one apiece.

It’s not a crazy idea to believe the Raptors secondary scorers can have an impact. Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka have attracted most of the defensive effort in the postseason, so those secondary scorers are getting a lot of open looks.

If they can start hitting those shots, the Cavs defense will start to look like it has all season – porous. If they are firing bricks, poor shooting makes suspect defense look pretty good.

As Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said recently, “We’ve got to score points. … We’ve got the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

Those role players have to start scoring tit-for-tat for the Raptors to steal a game in Cleveland.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Must Ignore Matchups And Start Norman Powell

The Raptors went with a big starting lineup in Game One of their second round series against the Cavaliers, but in the ever changing landscape of today’s NBA, head coach Dwane Casey must ignore the traditional matchups and start second year guard Norman Powell over center Jonas Valanciunas if he wants to win.

This isn’t an easy call for Casey. Valanciunas (“JV”) has been his starting center for five successful seasons and the big man has been nothing less than awesome in the postseason, at least he used to be awesome until this year. Telling a 24-year-old that he’s lost his starting job at this point in the season isn’t easy and could have future implications, but if the Raptors want to have a chance at getting by the heavily favored Cavs, that’s a bitter pill Casey is going to have to hand to JV.

JV had already been pushed into taking a back seat to Powell in round one out of necessity. For whatever reason, the high energy dominant center of the past three postseason runs hasn’t shown up yet and in his four starts (including Game One versus the Cavs), JV is a +/- of -11.5 points per game and in this case that +/- stat accurately reflects his impact on the games he’s started.

Powell, on the other hand, was a +14.3 points in his three starts so far this postseason (all against the Bucks) and there is no way to sugarcoat it, the Raptors would have lost that first round series if Casey hadn’t made the change.

The object of using a big starting lineup was to matchup DeMarre Carroll with LeBron James, Serge Ibaka with Kevin Love, and JV with Tristan Thompson. However, JV didn’t dominate Thompson and the lack of three-point shooting and poor perimeter defense quickly put the Raptors into an early hole they didn’t get out of. JV was a -9 points in the first quarter of Game One in Cleveland.

Like the red hot three-point barrage the Bucks buried the Raptors with early in that series, the starting lineup of Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan Carroll, Ibaka and JV (-5.8 points per game this postseason), didn’t score and couldn’t stop the Cavs (30 points and 4-7 from three in the first quarter) from scoring either.

The Raptors starting unit was +5.3 points in the three games Powell got the nod over JV.

As bad as a small forward matchup between the 6’4 Powell and the 6’8 reigning King of the NBA James looks and undoubtedly is, this postseason Powell has given the Raptors starting unit the elements they are going to need to survive the offensive onslaught in the opening minutes against the defending champion Cavaliers.

“The league is changing,” admitted Casey after practice on Tuesday. “The league is changing and believe me, you’ve got to change or you get stuck in the mud. It’s more of a scoring league now.

“We’ve got to score points. We’ve got to manufacture points and not get down cause the other team scores.

“We’ve got the players to do it, to put points on the board tit-for-tat.”

As it quickly became obvious against the Bucks, Powell gave the Raptors starters a third ball handler that frustrated Milwaukee’s efforts to  disrupt Toronto’s offense by putting pressure on Lowry and DeRozan. Powell also provided a badly needed three-point shooting relief valve as he went 9-9 on threes as a starter in addition to creating a faster paced offense and another player that could drive and finish in the paint.

What the Raptors give up in size defensively with Powell they should gain in better perimeter defense and a harder to defend offense. They may or may not be able to stop the Cavs from scoring, but at least their own offense should be more effective.

There have also been calls for P.J. Tucker to get the start over Carroll, but the numbers don’t back up that move. The best two man unit for Toronto this postseason has been Carroll and Powell at +9.3 points. Powell and Tucker have been +3.4 points. Conversely, the worst two man unit has been Ibaka and Valanciunas at -6.0 points, so it isn’t that hard to see which two-man unit is the one that needs to be broken up.

Breaking up Ibaka and JV seems to be the Raptors answer to improve defense and offense. Five-man lineups with Lowry, DeRozan, Powell, Valanciunas and either of Carroll or Tucker have been +4 points in the postseason. For the most part, JV has looked good coming off the bench and gives the Raptors a superior backup center.

Three years ago it was all about player development for the Toronto Raptors  when they finally got back to the postseason after a five year absence, but this year is different. Coming off consecutive 50+ win seasons and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, winning in the postseason matters. It might ruffle some feathers, but coach Casey has to do what is necessary and the numbers say start Powell and bring in JV off the bench.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker

Raptors Go From Greek Freak To King James

By Frank McLean

After taking care of the Greek Freak in Milwaukee, the Toronto Raptors go to round two of the NBA Playoffs and this time their opponent is King James and the the Cleveland Cavaliers, a round earlier than last year.

At the beginning of the year it was expected that these two teams would face each other in the Eastern Conference Final for a second time in a row, but the season just didn’t go as planned.

It’s not just the Raptors, but fact of life for all the other teams in the East if they have any aspirations of making it to the NBA Finals the road there goes through Interstate-90 into downtown Cleveland and Quicken Loans Arena where the defending champions live.

After winning their first 10-playoff games last year the Cavaliers up two games to nothing came to Toronto looking for the sweep, but then all of a sudden they found a Raptors team that didn’t get the memo that they were supposed to lay down and die. The Raptors won the next two games to tie the series, but would end up losing in game six to the appreciative cheers of their fans.

Which begs to question, are the Raptors the only team in the East that could put a monkey wrench in the bid for the Cavaliers to make it back to the finals for a third straight year?

Back in February you could see some cracks in the Cavaliers that made you think maybe their window as champions was closing. Injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving plus the loss of Matthew Dellavedova to the Milwaukee Bucks showed that when Lebron James doesn’t have his supporting cast around him the Cavaliers are beatable.

As a result the Cavaliers were 21-20 in the second half of the season and because of that they lost their grip on the top seed in the east to Boston and finishing second set up this second round match-up with the Raptors.

Cleveland’s defense was just not as a good as last year finishing 22nd after being 10th last season.

When you look at the defensive stats of the 16-teams that made the playoffs this year they were 13th in defensive ratings.

There was one point in the season where James was complaining in the press that they needed a playmaker to get him the ball. They had that in Dellavedova, but the Cavaliers let him walk to Milwaukee in the summer.

So when you look at that evidence you think like Lloyd Christmas in the comedy classic Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there is a chance.”

The Raptors do have a chance and you can thank two moves made by president Masai Ujiri at the trade deadline getting Serge Ibaka from Orlando and bringing P.J. Tucker back to the 416 from Phoenix.

He saw the window opening a crack and these two deals were made to make the Raptors better by making them a tougher team to handle in the paint with the sole object being able to stop LeBron James.

Ibaka gets to play the role Bismack Biyombo did last year and that’s to block the paint and scoop up rebounds while P.J. Tucker will get the assignment to shadow James and guard him close enough that he will know what brand of deodorant he puts on in the morning.

So the spotlight is on Tucker and he knows he has the dirty job of guarding the “King” and trying to limit his success?

“I don’t think his game changes,” Tucker was saying Sunday before the team left for Cleveland. “I think for the most part, when he’s aggressive and he’s trying to score the ball and he’s going, I don’t think it matters. I think when he gets a few to the rim, easy, he gets a few dunks, he hits a pullup, he hits a turnaround, and his three starts falling, he’s a feel-good player. If he’s hitting some regular shots, the tough stuff starts to fall. He’s probably the best player in the world. It’s still a feel game (for him).”

The addition of Tucker and Ibaka makes this team better on paper than last year.

The Raptors need to win one game in Cleveland to win this series since they do not have home court advantage in this round. And if there is game they can steal it would be game one since the Cavaliers will have gone eight days without playing since they finished their first round sweep of Indiana.

We will find out starting Monday night if the Raptors can finally slay the dragon of Ohio.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Is Giving Raptors A Playoff Big Three

With all the focus on the amazing boost second year guard Norman Powell has given the Raptors in their first round playoff series against the Bucks, it is easy to look past what Serge Ibaka has not so quietly been doing as part of the veteran Big Three in Toronto.

Playing on an ankle injured in Game One of the series that was still sore in Game Five, Ibaka hasn’t missed a shift and is third in minutes played (29.4) and points scored (14) behind the Raptors All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. He also leads the Raptors in blocked shots (2.4) by a wide margin and has been strong on the defensive glass grabbing a quarter of the available boards.

It was a surprise he came back in Game One after getting hurt and playing in Game Two was never a sure thing.

“I woke up this morning and I didn’t know,” Ibaka said after Game Two. “It was a bit tight and it wasn’t 100 percent if I was going to (play). After a couple of hours, I just said I am going to try to go and if I can’t move, I’ll just ask coach to take me out.

“I knew how important this game was to our team, so I just kept working to give everything.”

After seeing limited action and shooting 1-7 in the first half, Ibaka’s ankle loosened up in the second half as he played over 22 minutes and carried the Raptors to the victory scoring 13 points on 5-8 shooting, grabbing 4 boards, dishing 6 dimes and blocking 2 shots.

Unfortunately a strong second half in Game Two didn’t mean Ibaka was back to 100 percent and he struggled in Games Three and Four, but back in Toronto for Game Five, things were about to change.

“(My ankle) is still a little sore,” Ibaka told Pro Bball Report in an exclusive after Game Five. “But it is getting better, getting stronger. I feel it is getting a lot better than the last couple of games. A lot better tonight.”

Ibaka played a strong Game Five, second in scoring with 19 points on 8-10 shooting, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, a steal and 3 blocked shots in just 24.7 minutes as he split time at center with Jonas Valanciunas.

There was joy in Ibaka’s game again as his ankle didn’t betray him as he lifted off for a block or a jump shot.

“The (bad) ankle is on my left and the left ankle is where I jump off of the most,” Ibaka explained. “So now it is feeling better, more loose and I feel more comfortable and confidence.’

That is bad news for the Bucks who have enjoyed some measure of success at stopping DeRozan and Lowry, but as it showed in Game Five, run out of defensive options if Powell and Ibaka are going to contribute significantly on offense as well.

However, Ibaka sees himself as a defensive leader and he takes more pride in stopping his opponent than scoring on him. When Ibaka is on his defensive game and playing on a good wheel, the Raptors defense has been very good.

“We got some quiet guys, so we need some people that speak up and defense is my job,” Ibaka said. “At the five, I see everything, so I have to make sure we are on the same page. Sometimes it is tough. Sometimes in the heat of the moment you can lose the strategy on defense and it is my job to remind my teammates how we are to play every time.

“When the team is winning, everybody looks good,” Ibaka explained. “My job is help my teammates, to do whatever it takes for us to get a “w” and then everybody looks good.”

Even playing on a bad ankle, Ibaka has been able to be the third star player teams search for when trying to make a deep postseason run. If that ankle has improved further from Game Five, the Raptors ability to put the Bucks behind them should be assured.

 

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_insideStephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Norman Powell Shines As Raptors Win Game Five

By Frank McLean

Game Five of this Milwaukee Bucks-Toronto Raptors series went according to form when you looked at the past performances of each franchise in Game Five of a seven game series.

The Bucks record was 1-5 in Game Five of a best-of-seven series on the road when the series is tied at two games apiece and the Raptors were a perfect 4-0 in Game Five of a best of seven series that was being played at home.

The Raptors won 118-93, so as Chuck Swirsky used to say when he worked in Toronto “you can book it”.

But of course there was more to this Raptor win then just having everything in the universe fall into line like it was supposed to. It was Norman Powell’s time to shine.

For the second straight game Powell started at small forward, which allowed Serge Ibaka to slide into the center spot, and Jonas Valanciunas to come off the bench and battle Greg Monroe when he came off the Bucks bench.

Powell was the Raptors leading scorer on the night with 25 points, adding four rebounds and four assists to go with three steals and a block.

All five of the Raptors starters were in double figures scoring along with the 10-points Cory Joseph chipped in off the bench.

It was a full team effort with everybody chipping in offensively and defensively. The team set playoff records with 118 points on a franchise postseason best 57.7 percent shooting. They dished 28 assists, 10 of them from Kyle Lowry who played 36 minutes with a bum back.

The Raptors dominance continued on the glass where they held the Bucks to an opponent’s postseason low 22 rebounds and just two offensive boards.

The ironic thing about this is that the Bucks on draft night in 2015 picked Powell in the second round and then traded his rights to Toronto along with a protected future first round pick for Greivis Vasquez.

At the time though Vasquez was someone the Bucks needed. They desperately needed a shooter, but little did they know he would get hurt and pretty much be done as a serviceable NBA player. But that’s the way pro sports go. You make a trade and you take your chances.

Powell was someone the Raptors really wanted on that draft night back in 2015.

“It was great job by our scouts and Masai (Ujiri) and Jeff (Weltman),” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said about how the team was able to get Powell. “I remember he had a great workout when he was here. He is a very physical player and a tough kid which is needed in a playoff game.”

Casey is very fond of the fact that Powell is rarity in that he spent four years in college at UCLA where he was more prepared to be ready to play at an NBA level compared to the one-and-done in college and off to the NBA which is the type of player that the NBA draft is full of.

Powell’s shooting has gotten a lot better since he was drafted and the work he has put in to get better is one of the reasons Casey was not afraid to insert him in the starting line-up in Game Four.

“Just constant reps,” Powell responded to Pro Bball Report’s query about his improved shooting. “Getting extra work in the morning, coming back late at night, watching film of Kyle Korver, Larry Bird, good three-point shooters and trying to make adjustments.

“It’ just the constant reps day-in and day-out trying to get better, tweaking it here and there and finding what’s comfortable with me and shooting with confidence. I put up so many shots before the game and days off that it’s just shooting with confidence and trusting in the work.”

Powell has sunk his last seven three-point attempts going 3-3 in Game Four and 4-4 in Game Five.

“They move the ball better with (Powell) in the game,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “They can spread the floor better, everybody can attack, everybody can make plays.”

As we head into Game Six on Thursday back in the state of milk and cheese in Wisconsin, the Raptors hope to change the form they have shown in past Game Sixes.

Lately, it’s been win Game Five at home, check. Then go on the road play Game Six and lay a giant egg before coming home to play Game Seven and win.

If they can get another full team performance like they did Monday, then, hopefully, they can change the way things went in the playoffs last year.

Winning the series in six games and getting a few days off before facing the resting Cleveland Cavaliers in the playoffs second round would help a lot.

 

 

   DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.