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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.

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Jason Kidd

Bucks Lack Of Experience Is Catching Up To Them

The Raptors adjusted to the Bucks style of play after a Game Three beatdown in Milwaukee and came back to win ugly in Game Four 87-76 and with devastating offense in front of the home crowd in Toronto 118-93 in Game Five.

As Bucks head coach Jason Kidd pointed out, the Raptors have been here before and his young Bucks haven’t.

“I think one, we’re lacking the experience of what’s coming,” Kidd responded postgame. “We can talk about it, but we have to go through the process. We have to walk through that door.

“For a lot of these guys they’ve never seen this. You’re talking about a team that’s been to the Eastern Conference Finals. They’ve been there and their coach has seen this before.”

The Raptors didn’t let the Bucks build up an early lead like they’ve been prone to do during the season and earlier in this series. From an 11-11 tie, Toronto went on an 20-9 run to close out the quarter and it’s a lead they would protect from Milwaukee’s best shots the rest of the way.

“We knew that they were going to come after us,” Kidd said. “We had to expect that and we just couldn’t respond. Then we started to get a little rhythm on the offensive end and our defense picked up and we just couldn’t get it under 10. It kept going to nine and it went back up. They would hit a three, We just couldn’t get it back under control.”

“I think they just did a great job setting the tone, hitting first,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “I think it’s a learning process for us.”

The Raptors spread the scoring out, led by second year guard Norman Powell with a postseason career best 25 points. Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 30 points, but it must have felt like he was the only one sinking baskets for his squad.

Game Six is back in Milwaukee on Thursday night and it’s a win or go on vacation for the Bucks.

“Win or you’re done,” Malcom Brogdon said. ” It’s as simple as that.

“If we want to continue to play, if we want to push it to a Game Seven, we have to win at home. I think we have the upper hand bein at home, but they have the upper hand with the momentum and the confidence.”

After winning Game Four in Milwaukee, the Raptors should believe they can wrap this series up on Thursday.

 

 

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 Milwaukee Bucks Thon Maker

Bucks Develop Rookie Thon Maker The Old Fashioned Way

By Frank McLean

One of the most interesting stories of this Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series is watching the Bucks develop rookie Thon Maker the old fashioned way. They play him.

First it’s how he made it to the NBA where he was drafted 10th overall this past June by the Bucks one pick after the Raptors selected Jakob Poeltl. He has done it you can say the most unconventional way.

He was born in the South Sudan. At the age of six moved to Australia. He then moved to the United States to play high school basketball in Louisiana and West Virginia and the last two years was in Orangeville, Ontario, Canada playing for Athlete Institute prep school.

People knew that he was a special talent even before he was drafted.

A year ago he was fan attending Raptors playoff games with his coach. At one of those games Maker was sitting there and one of the refs working the game, who had seen him on ESPN, asked him “hey man, when are you going to get here? and Maker said, “He has even worked some of my games this year.” That ref was veteran Monte McCutchen.

When you talk to the 20-year old he is very unfazed over the fact that he is starting the NBA playoffs.

“Everything comes back around. A year ago I was playing high school ball here, and now I’m playing in the NBA”, Maker said. “Just going out there and playing hard. At the end of the day it’s just basketball, just got to continue to play the way I have been playing.”

Including the first four games of this Bucks-Raptors tilt, Maker has started the last 35-straight games for the Bucks and they have been 22-13 in that time.

Rookies don’t usually get to develop as starters in the NBA playoffs, but in the case of Maker it’s being done as a necessity. The Bucks are currently one of seven NBA teams that do not own and operate a D-league (“NBDL”) team like the Toronto Raptors do with the Raptors 905 in Mississauga.

As Bucks head coach Jason Kidd was explaining before game four.

“The idea is we don’t have a NBDL team so we didn’t want it to be a wasted year and we didn’t want to ship him somewhere,” Kidd said. “The options became slim, we needed to play him. Talking with the coaching staff , they thought let’s look at starting him and being able to benefit using his energy, but also giving him an opportunity to play so it’s not a wasted season.

“You look at his abilities, what he brings to the table, his speed at 7’0, his ability to shoot and then also his ability to play hard.

“Being a starter can help him grow hopefully faster, understanding he’s going against all-stars, or he’s going against quite a few talented players out on the floor when you go against the other starting group. Hopefully this speeds up the process.”

Veteran Jason Terry who is not easily impressed with rookies, but when you ask him about Maker, he is a believer.

“Thon Maker has a high basketball IQ,” Terry said. “His work ethic is great and the thing about him is his attitude. He’s not over-confident, he’s not cocky, but he has enough confidence to him have success against more veteran players in this league. Great kid, great teammate and he doesn’t play like a rookie.”

Not every rookie has the ability or skill set to develop at the NBA level. That’s why the D-League was invented. Someday the Bucks will have an NBDL team just not right now. Maker is that stereotypical Cinderella story from Africa, the United States, to Canada and now the NBA.

One thing for sure Thon Maker is a keeper and with Giannis Antetokounmpo this duo will be anchoring the up and coming Bucks for the next few years.

 

 

   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.

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park Toronto Raptors

Raptors Fans Need To Step It Up In Game Five

Maybe it isn’t safe to even passively call out your own fans, but head coach Dwane Casey has asked the Raptors fans to step it up in Game Five.

“Yesterday’s environment (Saturday in Milwaukee), it was a hostile environment,” Casey said. “I hope our fans are the same way against them, the way they were against us. They were on us. I mean it was loud (at) the game.

“Our hard play helped us in the second game there, but the first game, it was very loud, it was one of the loudest. I think Portland a few years ago, when I was in Dallas a few years ago was loud, San Antonio was loud, even in Seattle and Utah, but Milwaukee was really really loud in game one at their place.

“We have a great crowd too, but that crowd was hot. Hopefully our crowd will come out (Monday) night and be the same way, which I know they will.”

If Casey wanted to make a bolder message, he would have compared this year’s Raptors playoff crowd to those of the past three years when the Air Canada Centre was full and deafening long before tip off and throughout each game.

Jurassic Park too used to be full and heavily featured inside the ACC because of the overflow crowds, but not this year.

“Have you been here before?” DeMar DeRozan said last year when asked about the ACC crowd. “We got our home crowd energy to feed off.”

The Toronto Raptors previously enjoyed a significant home court advantage inside the Air Canada Centre and outside Gate Five in Jurassic Park. It was loud inside and loud outside, so loud in fact that even the Raptors used to struggle with the noise level in every playoff at home in the Dwane Casey era. Visiting teams couldn’t help but notice the crowd impact.

By comparison crowds inside the building for the first two games this year showed up late and sat on their hands until the in-game announcers told them to cheer and Jurassic Park crowds looked suspiciously light, especially if you compared them to the crowds for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

For the first time in living memory, Leafs fans have been louder than Raptors fans and that shouldn’t sit well with the faithful. The Raptors fans used to be the biggest part of their home court advantage in the postseason.

Casey’s right, it is time for Toronto Raptors fans to get back in the game. Getting out-cheered by Milwaukee should be embarrassing.

 

 

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

Raptors Coach Casey Has All The The Right Buttons Pressed

In his Game Five preview, Basketball Insiders David Yapkowitz has the Toronto Raptors taking a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night as head coach Dwane Casey has all the right buttons pressed against this less experienced foe.

The playoffs are all about adjustments, and Dwane Casey definitely made some big ones that got the Raptors right back in this series.

Benching Jonas Valanciunas was a move that paid off.

Serge Ibaka excelled at center.

Powell hit all three of his (three-point) attempts and kept the Bucks defense on their heels by staying aggressive.

A smaller but effective move that also paid off was Casey’s decision to play Delon Wright more than Cory Joseph.

The Bucks, on the other hand, have their work cut out for them if they want to steal another game on the Raptors’ home court.

Be sure to check out the full preview.

****************

Overlooked has been Ibaka playing on a sore ankle, something that has definitely been affecting his jump shot and perimeter defense, but should be getting significantly better with each passing day.

Playing big with both Valanciunas and a hobbled Ibaka on the floor at the same time didn’t work against the longer more athletic Bucks, but Casey’s Game Four rotation neutralized much of what Milwaukee had been using to take advantage of their more experienced and higher seeded opponent.

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Have The Raptors Figured Out The Bucks?

By Frank McLean

As the Toronto Raptors head into Game Five Monday night at the Air Canada Centre their fans can take a deep breath that this series with the Milwaukee Bucks is tied two games apiece instead of it being a three games to one lead for the boys from Wisconsin and heaven forbid this Game Five being an elimination game. But have the Raptors figured out the Bucks?

After Thursday night’s 104-77 loss in Game Three where everybody who draws a paycheck from the Raptors organization stunk the joint out, the fact they were able to pull out a win in an old fashioned physical ugly basketball game was quite reassuring.

Now if you look at past form from the regular season only five times the Raptors lost a game by 15-or more points and in the next game they were 4-1. So really it should be no surprise that they came back and tied this series.

“I’ve always said we play better with our backs against the wall,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said after the game. “It’s a tough way to live, but I love our team’s resiliency, personality, but I wish we didn’t have to play a stinker before we play that way (like they did Saturday).”

Two factors led to this win.

First it was the change in the starting line-up.

Casey promised there would be changes after Game Three and he delivered on the promise by taking Jonas Valanciunas out of the starting line-up for the first time this season, moving Serge Ibaka to center and DeMarre Carroll to power forward and bringing in Norman Powell to start at small forward. It gave the Raptors a smaller line-up, but they were able to control the Bucks forwards Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton who killed the Raptors in the first quarter in Game Three when they combined for 21-points. On Saturday they combined for just seven points in the first 12-minutes as the Bucks forward pair was stifled all game.

“Just to have a presence there, to put the defense in rotation,” Powell said about the new starting five. “We needed more drives, more kick-outs to have their defense scrambling because they’re so long. Their length is really disruptive, they’re blitzing Kyle and DeMar in pick-and-rolls so you need someone to attack, loosen up the defense and re-attack on the kick-outs or hit the shooters for open shots.”

Speaking of DeMar DeRozan, he is the second reason for the win.

After scoring only eight points in Game Three and not making one field goal, he single-handedly carried the Raptors offensively with 33-points, nine rebounds and five assists.

Your star players have to be your star players in the playoffs and DeRozan didn’t disappoint.

“Anybody who knows me knows I’m never too high and I’m never too low, no matter how bad things are or no matter how great things get,” DeRozan said. “I keep a level head and I understand bad things are going to come, and I accept it, just like I accept the great times. I knew lightning don’t strike twice in the same place.”

The thing about this Raptors-Bucks series is you don’t know what Raptors team you are going to see. They go from hitting three-point shots to not hitting three-point shots. They play defense in one game and then they look like they can’t stop a kids YMCA team like in Game Three. They have multiple personalities.

Going into Game Five the Raptors can breathe easy that they have regained home court advantage, but they cannot think that they have figured out the Bucks. Jason Kidd will have made adjustments that he hopes can free up the “Greek Freak” and Middleton.

It’s not just the Raptors that have multiple personalities, so does each playoff game no matter who is playing.

The last word should go to coach Casey as to what to expect in Game Five.

“There’s nobody you can take for granted in this league,” Casey said. “Every game is a different story, different opportunity for different people and we’ve got to come back because there’s a lot of things we can clean up from this game and I’m sure they’ll be making adjustments.

“We’ve got to change things also. I think it’s going to be a chess match for the next three games and there’s no edge. We’ve got to come back and play with the same personality as we did (on Saturday).

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks

Raptors Looked Lost And Confused In Milwaukee

This was supposed to be a first round series featuring the playoff tested and experienced Toronto Raptors taking on a young Bucks team with two rookies in their starting lineup, but it was the Raptors veterans who looked lost and confused in Milwaukee.

“We just look like we don’t know what the hell we are are doing,” Jonas Valanciunas explained postgame. “We just gave up from the start of the game.”

Toronto shot 4-18 in the first quarter of Game Three to get behind 32-12 and things didn’t improve from there as the Raptors dropped a 104-77 contest they were never in.

“It starts with us, myself self as a coach as far as having them ready to play in a hostile environment” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said trying to deflect blame away from his players. “They ambushed us. There is no aspect of our game that we executed whatsoever.”

However, there is no excuse for not being ready to play in a hostile environment for the Raptors veterans. Except for P.J. Tucker, they’ve all been here before multiple times. They knew or should have known what to expect.

This hasn’t been a good series for the Raptors starting center. Valanciunas (10 points/ 8.7 rebounds) has been unexpectedly taken advantage of by the Bucks rookie “stretch” center Thon Maker (50% 3FG) and the usually favorable matchup with Greg Monroe (16 points/ 8.7 rebounds) hasn’t gone so well either.

An efficient and effective beast in the postseason in his past three trips, this year Valanciunas has been getting rushed into bad shots on offense, shooting 37.5 percent from the field in the series, and schooled at the other end, boasting a plus/minus of -8.3 points in 22 minutes per game. Unfortunately for the Raptors, he hasn’t been alone.

Among the Raptors veterans, only Serge Ibaka (45.9% shooting) and DeMarre Carroll (54.5% shooting) are hitting shots at better than 37.5 percent. Ibaka is making an impact, but Carroll doesn’t play enough or shoot enough mostly because the guy he is guarding, Kris Middleton (16.7 points), is second in Bucks playoff scoring.

It’s looked like a Raptors brickfest out there except from the young guys Delon Wright (50%), Norman Powell (50%), and rookie center Jakob Poeltl (42.9%).  The guys who weren’t supposed to play much are the only players with a plus in the plus/minus stat and it could be argued Wright has noticeably outplayed Cory Joseph, Poeltl has been more effective than Valanciunas, and Powell has been more aggressive offensively than Carroll.

“We’ll make changes,” Casey said. “We made changes going into the second half, but whoever goes in has to go in and make a difference.”

It isn’t easy making changes to a starting lineup when these are the guys who got you here, but the Raptors can’t afford to get run out of the building by the Bucks aggression in Game Four on Saturday. If this lineup, this rotation can’t adjust, Casey has to try something new.

“They just came out really aggressively and took (away) our easy points, took our normal rhythm shots, they took our rhythm away from us,” Valanciunas said. “They were into the ball, into people, not letting (us) screen easy.”

News flash, the playoffs aren’t supposed to be easy. The cliche ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ is true and the Raptors know it.

“Whoever plays the hardest is going to win the series,” P.J. Tucker said. “Nobody (should) got to hype you to go out and play hard. This is what we do. If you don’t have the moral (fortitude) to go out and fight in the NBA playoffs, then this ain’t the job for you.”

Ignore DeRozan going 0-8 in Game Three and ignore coach Casey’s promise of, “as a staff we have to do a better job of finding ways of opening and space for us to score.” The Raptors didn’t lose Games One and Three because the Bucks out-schemed them. The Bucks are winning because they are playing harder, pure and simple.

“We got to forget the plays, forget everything and come out with energy,” Valanciunas said. “Come out willing to play basketball, not Xs and Os, hard school basketball.”

“I still believe we can win the series,” Kyle Lowry said. “It ain’t over. It just sucks right now. It’s terrible right now. It’s a terrible feeling the way we just got our asses beat. So we better pick it up or it’s going to be a terrible feeling again.”

If the Raptors players Casey puts on the court don’t play harder and tougher from the start, no amount of game planning is going to prevent another terrible feeling after Game Four.

 

 

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 Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan

Raptors Kyle Lowry Bounces Back In Game Two Win

By Frank McLean

In his pre-game comments to the media before game two Tuesday night Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was still lamenting about the lack of enthusiasm he felt his team had in that 97-83 loss.

“We have got to play with enthusiasm,” Casey said. “I don’t think we were tired (Saturday night) if guys are tired then we will get them a (break).”

There was no questioning the Raptors effort in game two as they walked out with a 106-100 win though it did go down to the wire.

Even though the experts had the Raptors winning this best of seven series four straight, maybe five games at the most, the Bucks are not going to walk away and die and they showed that as they had a couple of shots to tie or win the game with 30-seconds or so left.

Two corrections the Raptors made from game one resulted in this win.

First they were able to free up Kyle Lowry and let him do what he does best and that’s shoot the basketball.

The Bucks played great defense in game one. They let DeMar DeRozan get his 27 points and Serge Ibaka get his 19, but the focus was on Lowry who usually can chip in with 22 or 23. Lowry only scored four points as they took him out of his game.

In game two the trio of Lowry, DeRozan and Ibaka had 22, 23 and 16 for 61 of the Raptors 106 points in the game. That’s the key to beating Toronto, you can’t stop all three, but if you take one of the trio out of the game you got a shot.

“I just went out there and played,” Lowry said after the game. “I went out there tried to make my shots and be aggressive. I got to the foul line nine times. I got aggressive early and went out there and played.”

Casey was never worried if Lowry was going to bounce back because he has coached him now for five years he knows what he has.

“He’s human,” Casey said about Lowry. “Everyone has a night like that (Game 1) and we can’t panic every time a guy has a tough night. This is a tough league, Milwaukee is a very tough grind it out type team and they are going to make it hard on you.

“It’s his competitive edge. He’s a guy that competes. Through the years where I have been in the trenches before and he always bounced back. It’s just who he is, he is a fighter, a competitor and I just knew he wasn’t going to be satisfied the way he played in the first game.”

The second correction the Raptors had was with their defense. They concentrated on keeping the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo in check.

His final numbers were outstanding, 24-points, 15-rebounds and seven assists, but he had to earn every last one of them. Every time he drove through the paint at least two defenders were draped all over him not letting him take over the game like he did in game one.

He played 42-minutes but he just wasn’t a factor.

Khris Middleton, who Casey called the Bucks X-factor before the series, scored-20 but it just wasn’t enough.

The Bucks did fight even with all the adjustments the Raptors made and they were only down two-points (100-102) with just 57-seconds left when P.J. Tucker missed a pair of free throws.

Down four points with nine seconds left after Kyle Lowry hit a 20-foot jumper, the Bucks still had life with it being two possession game, but Malcolm Brogdon missed on a long three-point attempt.

The point is this Bucks team that was supposed to be a push over are far from it.

Yes the Raptors should win this series but to do so they are going to have to make more adjustments and as long as they make the right one’s they will be all right.

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks Matthew Dellavedova

Scrappy Dellavedova Screens Getting On Raptors Nerves

By Frank McLean

The gamesmanship has started in the Toronto Raptors-Milwaukee Bucks series and it only took one game. Scrappy Matthew Dellavedova has been getting on the Raptors nerves.

The fact that the Bucks, who experts kept telling us should be swept four straight games, beat Toronto 97-83 would be enough. But now it’s Dellavedova and the illegal screens was he was allegedly running to set up Giannis Antetokounmpo.

This is why Dellavadova has a job in the NBA, his ability to set screens to let scorers do their things. This is what he did in Cleveland the first three years of his career, setting screens to make it easier for LeBron James.

It’s not for his offensive skills, he only averaged 7.6 points a game for the Bucks during the regular season, what he brought to a young developing team is his tough physical grinding game.

The Cavaliers sure miss him. James was complaining that the Cavaliers needed a playmaker. The problem was the guy he needed was traded to Milwaukee in the off season in a sign and trade for the draft right to Albert Miralles.

In Toronto on Monday at practice the Raptors let it be known that he was running some illegal screens in game one.

“He did set 18-screens and we did look at them,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey was saying during his daily session with the media. “A lot of them weren’t legal.

“Now we’ve got to make sure we counter that and make the officials make a decision. The officials were saying that we’re not hitting (the screens) or running into them. We’ve got to make sure we have a confrontation, because he’s one of the great screen-setters in the league, just like John Stockton was. There’s no disrespect by saying that.

“It’s a respect factor for Dellavedova that he does set hellacious screens. You look at them in slow time, and believe me, they’re moving, they’re grabbing, they’re holding. He has set a precedent with it and they’re not calling it. We’ve got to make sure we set screens the same way, and now we show the officials those videos.

“It’s a credit to him that he sets screens that way and gets away with it.”

Meanwhile back in Milwaukee the Bucks were working out before they boarded their plane to head to Toronto for Tuesday’s game. Dellavedova spoke about an hour before Casey made his comments in Toronto. He talked about how it’s all about playing physical in the playoffs.

“I think in the playoffs, my game is suited to that,” Dellavedova said. “Where there’s a lot on the line, it’s going to be even more physical. If you want to win, you’ve got to put your body on the line.”

Dellavedova, who is from Australia, said the type of game he plays is typical of what you see all the time in international basketball.

“Internationally the game is a lot more physical,” Dellavedova added. “The way they set screens, if you go under a screen internationally, the big man is going to roll you down in to the paint, so you really can’t go under any screens. Often times when I go back and play with Australians in the summertime, it’s a lot more physical.

“All people set illegal screens in the NBA. If you follow it to the letter of the law, the rule is that your feet have to be inside your shoulders. I mean big men are always kind of setting it wide. That’s just how it is.

“You have to be smart and adjust to what the refs are calling.”

Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, who was as a tough a guard to ever play in the NBA, admires his small 6’4 guard.

“It’s tough when you have a small, a point guard, that sets screens, as many as he sets in a game,” Kidd said. “He knows he’s going to get hit, being able to absorb that hit and he does it a lot. It can wear on you, but I think he’s someone who can take a hit. He understands sacrifice and his teammates appreciate that.”

We don’t know yet who the NBA will assign to referee game two. It will be interesting to see who they are and will they be paying attention to possible illegal screens.

The mind games have started, we got ourselves a series.

 

 

   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 Milwaukee Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo

Raptors Must Stop The Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo.

By Frank McLean

Thanks to the Toronto Maple Leafs, their neighbours down the hall at the Air Canada Centre, the Toronto Raptors got an extra day to figure out how to stop “the Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo.

That’s because the Maple Leafs took to the ice Monday night instead of the Raptors as they hosted game three of their first round battle with the Washington Capitals.

Antetokounmpo scored 28-points, a playoff career high in game one, leading his team to the upset win and P.J. Tucker, an NBA veteran who played his first playoff game in his long career on Saturday, says the Raptors have to guard the paint against the 6-foot-11 forward.

“We got to shut the paint down, the paint is gold in this series,” Tucker said. “It’s protecting the paint even more I’m going to sound repetitive, but it’s the same thing because he’s going to try to get to the paint. We’re trying to give him the shot, but he’s not going to take it, he’s going to try to get to the paint. For us, it’s defending the paint.”

Both the Bucks and the Raptors were working the paint hard in the first half. The Raptors outscored the Bucks 32-22 in the first 24-minutes but in the final 24-minutes of the game the Raptors forgot to drive to the hoop, but the Bucks didn’t and outscored the Raptors 18-4.

Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said that they played a game like it was in the middle of the regular season and not a postseason game.

“It wasn’t like they jumped out to a big lead or anything like that, but in the minutes where it was important we didn’t do a good job of getting back in transition,’’ Casey said. “DeMar (DeRozan) drives to the basket or Kyle (Lowry) drives to the basket and now it’s five on four or one on two or three.

“We need all five men or four men back to guard him (Antetokounmpo) and out of that make sure we are in scramble mode and have our scramble rotation in and we didn’t do a good job of that.”

There was a point in the game in the third quarter where there was a small window where maybe you thought the Raptors could pull ahead.

Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul and Bucks coach Jason Kidd decided to sit him to keep him from getting that fifth foul. Instead of the Raptors getting on a run of their own, the Bucks went on an 11-5 run without their best player on the floor.

As usual you don’t get any excuses from Casey when his team loses. He credited the Bucks for just flat out beating them in game one.

“They did a good job,” Casey said. “They beat us. They outworked us. They out-physical-ed us, they out-screened us in every area that you could possibly talk about and that’s what we showed the guys on film.

“To win in this league we have to play at another level. You can’t play on a regular-season level. You have to screen in playoff form, you have to cut in playoff form, you have to run in playoff form, and we didn’t do that long enough. We did it in some parts of the game, but not long enough.”

Traditionally the Raptors do much better in game two’s of a playoff series and the first order of business Tuesday night will be to find a way to stop the “Greek Freak”.

 

 

   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 Larry Millson