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NBA Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse 2019 Game 6 NBA ECF

Raptors coach Nurse Says Xs and Os Won’t Decide Game 6

Raptors head coach Nick Nurse is under no delusions about how close-out games are really decided. Xs and Os will only take a team so far.

“I think my message is that this is a really good team we’re playing, and to beat them we’ve had to play extremely hard and physical and do some really good things,” Nurse said before game six. “That doesn’t change. These games are hard-fought. They last 48 minutes. I think my focus is it’s a 48-minute game. Doing about four or five things, really key things really well over those 48 minutes.”

Game six in Toronto will be won with heart and want-to and desire. Not giving up when you’re down double-digits and putting your foot on the neck if you can scratch out a decent lead.

“85 percent of it,” Nurse said. “I mean, that’s kind of the line I use. We end up showing all these clips and all these coverages and all these matchups and all these things and blah, blah, blah. Almost at the end of it every time, I say, This is about 15 percent of the game. The rest of it is are we going to sprint back and are we going to communicate great and are we going to get physical, are we going to get into bodies, are we going to block out with some toughness. I can keep going on and on, but that’s where the 85 percent comes from.”

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Raptors Kyle Lowry Has Half A Million More Reasons To Win

No one is going to suggest that the Toronto Raptors All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry needs any more incentive than a trip to the NBA Finals to go for the win tonight in Game Six against the Bucks, but to be sure, he hasn’t forgotten there’s a half a million more reasons on the table.

 

 

Is there anyone out there still not expecting a huge game from Lowry now?

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Nick Nurse Eastern Conference Finals 2019 game 3

Raptors Willing To Do Whatever It Takes To Win

There will be no holding back by the Toronto Raptors as they look to close out the Milwaukee Bucks in Game Six. This is what team president Masai Ujiri envisioned when traded away his franchise star DeMar DeRozan for the Spurs disgruntled superstar Kawhi Leonard and head coach Nick Nurse knows this is no time to worry about what might happen in a possible Game Seven.

“It’s a “whatever it takes” game,” Nurse said yesterday. “It’s an unlimited-minutes night. This is just like any other critical must-win games. Again, I stress this is a great team we’re playing, the same team we played in Games 1 and 2 and double overtime in Game 3. We’ve had to play really super hard and super well to get any victories. So we’re focusing our thoughts on the first part of that, playing super hard.”

Leonard is all about winning. He only reluctantly comes off the court and can slog thru heavy minutes while still upping his level of play like he did in 52 minutes of action scoring 8 points in the second overtime period of Game Three to lead his team to their first win in this series.

Nurse won’t hold his best player back in a close out game.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer didn’t sound nearly so committed to winning in his comments yesterday.

How do we prepare, how do we get mentally and strategically and all those things prepared? Budenholzer said. “It’s all very similar. You do the same stuff. If you win, you continue. If you don’t, your season is done.

Giannis, it’s so impressive what he does and how important he is. What did he play, 39 minutes last night? So are you talking 40, 42? I don’t think it will go there. If we have to, we can. But I maintain that him getting appropriate rest, appropriate kind of just a chance to catch his breath, refuel.

Doing the “same stuff” has resulted in the Bucks first three-game losing streak of the season and the Raptors will be more than happy to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo refueling on the bench during a game that can send Toronto to the NBA Finals.

“These are games that now have significance as far as one team is going one direction and one is going the other,” Nurse said.

“Yeah. It’s an elimination game,” admitted Budenholzer. “It’s just a fact.”

This is no time to be worrying about minutes or rest. Nurse understands, this is a “whatever it takes” game.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks after Game 5

Raptors On The Verge Of Franchise History

The Bucks haven’t faced adversity all season, but they are knee deep in it now and it’s the Raptors on the verge of franchise history after a huge come-from-behind win in Milwaukee to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Toronto.

“You know, I think when Kawhi Leonard shoots a three from the three-point line and goes in and gets his own miss, that is a critical play that can’t happen,” Bucks head coach Mike Budeholzer said after game five.

“He’s a very — one of the most versatile players we have in the league. He’s a great player,” Malcolm Brogdon said. “You’ve just got to make him uncomfortable. Tonight he was able to get to his spots and affect the game on both sides. We’ve got to be able to limit him if we’re going to win the next game.”

It’s been the Kawhi Leonard show in each of the Raptors three playoff series so far. No one has had an answer for the best two-way player in the game and the Bucks have been throwing double and triple teams at him to little effect.

Thru five games Leonard is averaging 30.4 points, 8 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 2.2 steals, 10 free throw attempts, 44.9 percent shooting and hitting 41.7 percent of his 4.8 three-point attempts. He’s been a one-man wrecking crew and with the Raptors bench coming thru, the Bucks have dropped three games in a row.

“I can only state that (Leonard’s) been really good, and it seems like he’s — I don’t know, it doesn’t look like — he gets stronger as the fourth wears on,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said after game five. “He wants the ball, and he wants to make the plays, and he seems to be making the right play for the most part, and you’re almost shocked when he pulls up at 15 feet and it doesn’t go in. I mean, he vaults up there and he has a good release on it, you think, well, there’s two more, and it doesn’t go in, and you’re like, man, what happened. But he’s playing, and again, he’s playing at both ends. He’s rebounding. And again, it really gives the rest of the guys a lot of confidence when you’ve got a guy playing like that.”

Raptors President Masai Ujiri traded for Leonard despite the fact there was only one year left on his contract and so far the move has paid off big time. Having the best player on the court was the reason Toronto advanced past the 76ers in seven games and he’s the reason the Raptors will be on the verge of franchise history Saturday night just one win away from the team’s first ever appearance in the NBA Finals.

And Drake will be there……

 

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

 

 

 

Bucks NBA Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer vs Drake

Is Bucks Budenholzer The Old Man Shaking His Fist At A Cloud?

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story, but Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer deserves, at the very least, to have the full quotes being used to make him look like the old out-of-touch man shaking his fist at a cloud as the world passes him by put in print.

Question: There was a report online that Giannis’ agency Tweeted out something about the crowd control in Toronto, Drake, etc. Are you aware, or have you initiated any discussion with your management about speaking to the league about addressing that problem up there?

MIKE BUDENHOLZER: No. I’m not aware. I haven’t checked in with our organization. I do think there’s a lot of things that coaches have got to do, and there’s others things, Jon Horst and the front office and those guys, they are on top of all that kind of stuff. They do a really good job for us, and I think if it needs to be addressed from an organizational standpoint, it will be and they will share it with me. But as of now, there’s nothing for me, there’s nothing I know of from our organization.

And certainly the fans and owners and employees, and there’s so many lines; I guess Drake crosses all of them and ticks a lot of boxes. The NBA is usually on top of that stuff.

Question: You don’t think there’s anything out-of-bounds developing up there; the idea being the celebrity fan is being given special treatment, special privilege, in terms of encroaching on the court?

MIKE BUDENHOLZER: No, I mean, I will say, again, I see it in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach — I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.

Coach Bud is treading that line of complaining, but not directly saying Drake is necessarily doing anything wrong because he doesn’t want to be seen as the “old man shaking his fist at a cloud” and a whole lot of the media following this story should have been taking notes. As much as Drake’s actions would have been shocking 20 years ago, today, he’s just a big time celebrity who’s engaged and having fun. No one is even suggesting Drake has said or done anything derogatory or dangerous and that has become the standard all fans are expected to live by these days.

It’s pretty easy to create controversy and somewhat exciting panel discussions by grabbing clips of Drake cheering on his Raptors and clowning the opposition together with parsed quotes from coach Bud.

Budenholzer did say,

“there’s so many lines; I guess Drake crosses all of them and ticks a lot of boxes.”

“I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach — I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court.”

“There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason,”

Budenholzer has been in the NBA a very long time. He’s well aware of the trend towards super fans, celebrity involvement and all that goes with it and he isn’t blind.

Raptors fans couldn’t help but notice the 76ers “superfan” who was “sitting” courtside and jumping up and towel waving on the court at every opportunity to cheer his team and try to get the attention the Raptors players. No was throwing him out of the building… as much as the fans sitting around this guy undoubtedly wished someone would.

Coach Bud did try to leave himself some standard “outs” in his response to these questions … no Budenholzer didn’t just say these things out of the blue.

“The NBA is usually on top of that stuff.”

“I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize.”

“like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

Reality is the NBA wants superfans and celebrities to be as active and noticeable as possible… without of course crossing the line into becoming derogatory or dangerous or even just unwelcome encroachments into areas reserved for players and coaches. But if you are going to let fans sit literally right beside and behind the team’s bench, you can’t expect them to not high-five, hug or even back-rub those right in front or beside them if no one is objecting, especially if they are a big time celebrity who the players like.

Shake your fist at that cloud all you want.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard playoffs 2019

Raptors Win With Grit And Grind Defense Again

Somewhere former Raptors head coach Dwane Casey is wondering why he isn’t still running this current roster loaded with grit and grind defensive players who truly don’t need a great scoring effort to win games.

New head coach Nick Nurse was brought in as part of the talent and culture change the Raptors thought they needed to advance past the second round of the playoffs and in keeping with the new offensive-oriented NBA, Toronto has been a high-flying, high-scoring, three-point shooting squad that often buried their opponent with offense during the regular season on route to 58 wins, but that isn’t how they’ve been winning games in the playoffs.

The Raptors held Orlando to just 89 points and 38.5 percent shooting from the field in four straight wins to eliminate the Magic in five games. Their wins over Philadelphia were equally impressive defensively holding their opponent to 92.5 points and 40.9 percent shooting. Losses to Philly gave up 107 points on average and 45.7 percent shooting.

After that tough seven game series against the 76ers in which Toronto fell behind 2-1 to lose home court advantage and now facing a tougher opponent in the Bucks who took the first two games in Milwaukee, bouncing-back has been key to the Raptors getting this far.

“Physicality, defense and great communication,” Nurse replied to how his team keeps bouncing-back the day after losing game two to the Bucks. “Our coverages get executed. There’s just no slippage. We’re just on point. We’re into bodies. We’re moving our feet. It’s a great team defense.”

It’s been the Raptors formula for success in the postseason and it was on full display during a game three grind-it-out double-overtime win over the Bucks in Toronto.

“I think just in general, we played with a much tougher mindset,” Nurse said after game three. “I thought we were kind of gritty and we didn’t really have much choice.

“We are pretty gritty on D… That gives you a chance no matter how well you shoot it (on offense).

After giving up an average 116.5 points on 43.2 percent shooting in Milwaukee, the Raptors held the Bucks to just 37.3 percent shooting and 96 points prior to overtime in game three. Toronto only shot 39.2 percent themselves, but this is a formula they can win with, especially with Kawhi Leonard leading on offense and defense.

“I think first of all, his (Kawhi Leonard) defense was probably the biggest key of the game,” Nurse said. “Not only did he just play good, but he made some huge plays with some steals and rip-aways and breakaways.

“Offense was hard to come by there for both teams.”

Just put all those coach’s comments about missing shots and creating more open looks in the trash where they belong. Keeping offense “hard to come by” was how Nurse turned the 76ers series around and it remains his team’s best chance at beating the Bucks.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It’s Do Or Die For The Raptors In Game 3

Since quite literally no team in the NBA comes back from being down 3-0 in a playoff series, it’s do or die tonight in Toronto for the Raptors in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Describe things any way you want, the Raptors who were unable to solve the Bucks in Milwaukee must win at home if they hope to make this interesting. It can be argued that a playoff series hasn’t started until a team wins on the road, but in this case, the series will be all but over if the Bucks can win a game in Toronto and it’s up to Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to figure out a new game plan.

To state the obvious, things haven’t been working and changes are going to be match-up driven according to Nurse ahead of game three.

“(The Bucks) start a super big line-up,” Nurse explained.

“I think there will be some line-up changes.

“Some other guys have emerged in this series.”

Nurse wasn’t about to drop any hints as to what these changes may be, but when questioned by Pro Bball Report about the effectiveness of one Norman Powell off the bench, Nurse relented.

“(Powell) will get more minutes tonight,” Nurse admitted. “He’s been good at both ends.

“He’s fast, athletic, he’s played aggressive. You’ll see a little bit more of him.”

However, the possibility of change hasn’t got the Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer’s attention.

“(The Raptors) can make a couple of changes,” Budenholzer conceded, but. “Unless they are taking Kawhi Leonard out of the line-up, our guys will be prepared.”

Bud is probably right, but the biggest change Nurse wants to see is everyone on the court hitting shots and playing harder.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kawhi Leonard preparing

The Bucks And Raptors Win With Defense

The top two teams in the East will face off in the Conference Final and in contrast to their western counterparts, the Bucks and Raptors win with defense. The playoff advanced stats rating offense and defense heading into these series lay things out oh so clearly:

Teams         Offensive Rating       Defensive Rating           Net Rating

8-1 Bucks                  113.4 (2)                     98.2 (1)                       15.2 (1)

8-4 Raptors                108.5 (9)                  100.3 (2)                        8.1 (2)

8-4 Warriors              117.4 (1)                  111.8 (12)                      5.6 (3)

8-4 Blazers                  110.8 (5)                 109.7 (8)                        1.1

(The numbers in brackets represent the ranking versus all 16 playoff teams)

Draw your own conclusions about the Western Conference Finals, but it doesn’t look like the Blazers have enough fire power to get by the Warriors even sans KD.

While the Raptors like to play in transition, they played at a middle of the pack pace during the regular season and the second slowest pace (95.6) of any team during the postseason. The Bucks on the other hand have played fast all year and have played at the second fastest pace (103.3) of the playoff teams and much faster than even the Warriors (99.6).

In no small part pace is why the Raptors have held playoff opponents to a postseason best 96 points per game on average and have only given up more than 100 points four times. The Bucks have only held opponents under 100 points three times, but are still a third best 101.6 points allowed.

“It takes a lot of energy and effort to be great defensively,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re similar offensively — we want to play fast, we want to get out and run and move.”

“It’s a totally different style than we’ve just been through in our last two series,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense.”

However, getting past the pace of the game, the opponent’s statistics against these two teams are remarkably similar.

by Opponents           Bucks               Raptors

Opp FG%                  39.9% (1)              41.3% (2)

Opp 3FG%                31.7% (4)             31.5% (3)

Pts off TO                 14.4 (4)                  14.2 (3)

2nd Chance              9.3 (1)                   10.3 (2)

Fast Break               12.9 (8)                 11.6 (3)

PIP                            37.6 (3)                 37.3 (2)

Both of these teams have shown they can defend at an elite level, but their success on offense has come differently.

The Raptors rely on the playoffs second leading scorer Kawhi Leonard and he has been a nearly unstoppable force averaging 31.8 points, 53.9 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from three. The second option may be the fastest guy down the court Pascal Siakam averaging 20.8 points, 48.3 percent shooting and 30.9 percent from three.

Milwaukee leans on MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo who averages 27.4 points on 52.6 percent shooting and a developing three-point shot at 32.4 percent. The Bucks second option is the red hot three-point threat Kris Middleton averaging 19.1 points 42.2 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three, so the Raptors might want to draw on their recent experience defending J.J. Redick to hold him somewhat in check.

Both teams thrive in transition with Antetokounmpo leading the playoffs at 7.4 fast break points per game and Middleton contributing another 4.2 to the Bucks leading 20.6 fast break points. Leonard has been almost as deadly on the break at a third best 4.9 fast break points and Siakam contributing 4.3 to a Raptors third best 16.6 fast break points.

Somewhat surprisingly the Raptors hold the advantage 19.4 (2) to 14.9 (11) in points off turnovers with Leonard leading the playoffs at 5.9.

Not surprisingly, the Bucks get more of their points from the three-point line and the Raptors have thrived in the mid-range.

% of Points Scored         Bucks            Raptors

3-FG                                     34.5 (2)           30.9 (8)

Mid-range                           6.1 (14)          11.3 (7)

P.I.P.                                      42                    41.4

Fast Break                           17.6 (1)            16 (3)

off turnovers                       12.7 (12)        18.7 (2)

Toronto has been looking forward to playing at a quicker pace after dealing with the Magic and 76ers in a lot of half court sets, but their strength all season has been controlling the pace of the game and that’s going to be a tall task heading into game one in Milwaukee. Turnovers and three-point shooting are likely to decide this series.

 

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

 

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown talks to the media after the game 5 loss to the Raptors in Toronto

Has Brett Brown Coached The 76ers Out Of The Series?

Prior to the start of the second round playoff series between Philadelphia and Toronto, 76ers head coach Brett Brown was emphatic he wasn’t going to coach scared. This would be a strength vs strength event with his team’s superior rebounding holding off one of the NBA’s best on the fast break. Even after getting run out of the gym in game one, Brown doubled-down on his strategy of crashing the glass and pushed his guys to make the Raptors work even harder on defense.

“We have to be better offensively,” J.J. Redick said after game one. “We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

The strategy worked and the 76ers took the next two games dominating on the glass, impacting the Raptors scoring and head coach Nick Nurse was forced to change his rotations. Since acquiring Marc Gasol at the trade deadline, the big Spaniard had been sharing time Serge Ibaka at center, but in order to wrest control of the boards back from Philly, Nurse had no choice but to put them on the floor together.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together,” Nurse said after game four.

“It seemed to help their rebounding,” Brown said prior to game five. “I think a lot of people don’t really understand, I believe, the history that Marc and Serge have together with the Spanish National Team.”

With the boards even and the Raptors taking away the 76ers advantage in second chance points, Toronto had eked out a road win in Philly setting up Brown for the game five coaching disaster that was about to befall him in Toronto.

“If I was the coach, I wouldn’t even show the film,” Jimmy Butler said after game five. “Just move on. We got our ass kicked.”

In game five the Raptors finally won the battle of the boards 42-37, were +10 in second chance points and a worrisome +25 in fast break break points. Everything went wrong for the 76ers foreshadowed by Brown going way off script in his pregame comments.

“I would like it to be faster,” Brown said. “I think that when you look at what we do, when you look at the regular season and the success we had running and Ben Simmons strengths and the group that we have that you would would like the pace to be greater.

“Ben is gifted in that area. We have shown we are capable of playing that style.”

The Raptors couldn’t be happier to see a 76ers team trying to run with them. Brown has no one to cover Pascal Siakam in a fast paced game and the result of trying is almost guaranteed to produce a result like game one when the Raptors forward easily scored 29 points on them.

Then in an about face of the stated strategy that got Brown wins in games two and three, the 76ers coach started promoting a take the first shot available mantra.

“One of the things I tell my team, if you have a good look probably that will be the best look we are going to get this possession,” Brown said. ” There is an element that all coaches come into that pass-is-king, good-to-great, you have a good shot, he has a great shot. (BUT) in the the playoffs, I have learned is, or believe in, at times the best look and it could be the first look is the one you should probably take.”

In sports it can help to have a short memory, but you might want to remember what worked last week?

The 76ers trying to run with the Raptors is a bad strategy no matter how Brown tries to slice it and the concept of making Toronto work on defense instead of “taking the first shot” was what turned things around in game two.

Maybe there is nothing left Brown can do if the pairing of Gasol and Ibaka has taken away his team’s advantage on the glass, but feeding the Raptors transition game by jacking up the first available shot and trying to run with them is a formula for getting embarrassed.

Hang the crushing game five defeat in Toronto right where it belongs. On a coach trying something he knew wasn’t going to work. But the series isn’t over. The Raptors advantage has not been overwhelming when Brown has stayed with his team’s strengths.

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Did The Raptors Solve The 76ers In Game 4?

The second round playoff series between the Raptors and 76ers is a battle of contrasting strengths. Where Philadelphia has been a top rebounding team all season and is the undisputed leader on the glass in the playoffs, Toronto is known for their transition offense that runs on turnovers, misses and makes and neither team was going to back away from what has worked for them.

Thru the first three games Philly had owned the glass, collecting over 55 percent of the total rebounds, averaging four more offensive boards and dominating second chance points by a total of 25. Toronto had 20 more fastbreak points over those first three games, but they were down 2-1 in the series and head coach Nick Nurse wasn’t enjoying getting beaten up on the glass.

“The biggest thing was the rebounding,” Nurse admitted. “It just felt like we were getting pushed around a little bit in the last two games (games two and three) around the glass.

“We were looking were looking at some options of how to combat the problems we were having and that obviously entertained that Serge (Ibaka) and Marc (Gasol) would be playing together.”

Just how desperate was Nurse to fix this rebounding problem? Well, in the four games thus far the pairing of Gasol and Pascal Siakam playing 96 minutes together was only netting the Raptors 47.2 percent of the boards and perhaps even more concerning, the pairing of Ibaka and Siakam was leading the Raptors to only 44.3 percent of the available boards. Say what you want about the issues of rebounding with “small line-ups” on the floor. Toronto was getting pushed around with two bigs on the court.

“Serge is not really a center,” Kawhi Leonard observed. “He’s a power forward.

“We did a good job at working on it at practice the last two days (after game three) and those guys (Gasol and Ibaka) spaced out the floor well, got to their spots.”

Nurse played Ibaka and Gasol together for 23 minutes in game four and the combination helped the Raptors garner 54.5 percent of the rebounds during their time together. It helped Toronto stay even with the 76ers on the glass for the game, wiped out the 76ers advantage in second chance points and the Raptors still were a +7 in fast break points.

“Tonight we just had more athleticism and size and it just looked that way and looked like the rebounds were affected by that,” Nurse said after game four.

“I think it was a size advantage for us believe it or not.”

This has been a series of coaches going with their team’s strengths, making adjustments and counter adjustments.  Now it’s up to 76ers head coach Brett Brown to find the next move.

Nurse found a way to counter his adversary’s biggest advantage in game four. If the 76ers can’t out-rebound the Raptors and continue to give up points on the fast break, it’s hard to see Philly stealing another game in this series. But Brown isn’t one to coach scared.

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons

76ers To Focus On Offense To Improve Defense In Game Two

Things didn’t go as planned for 76ers head coach Brett Brown in game one of his team’s second round playoff series with the Raptors, but he was dead serious when he said he wasn’t coaching scared. He likes his team’s offense and based on the comments from practice on Sunday, the focus will be on doing offense better to improve his squad’s defense.

“Adjustments rule the day,” Brown said at practice. Not that he was about to give away any secrets, but not to worry, his players were very talkative.

“We didn’t move (the ball),” Ben Simmons explained. “It’s not on them. It’s on us. Passing the ball and moving, cutting, slashing. We just got to be more consistent in moving the ball and passing.”

In a way it makes sense. The Raptors thrive in transition off of turnovers, missed shots and even made shots, but if Brown can find a way to make his opponents work harder on defense, those fast breaks and just plain fast offensive sets could be just a little tougher to execute.

“In game one there were too many missed baskets by us that was leading to their transition and getting out in the open court,” Tobias Harris said. “The biggest thing for us on the offensive end is to make them work for everything they have out there.”

Now that’s an honest assessment by the 76ers. The Raptors turn defense into offense as well as anyone in the Association. Philadelphia can’t afford to let Toronto run them out of the gym by setting the Raptors up for fast breaks.

Not surprisingly, the 76ers purest shooter didn’t like what he saw offensively in game one either.

“We have to be better offensively,” JJ Redick said. “Their defense was fantastic last night. We were significantly better when we passed twice or more. So we have to realize this may not be a first option offense for us. We may need to be able to get to the second side, second third options to break down their defense.”

Therein lies the rub for this recently thrown together starting unit where every player can put up 20 or more points on any given night. Sacrifices will have to be made. Good shots passed up to give someone else a better shot and all those other postseason clichés that are sometimes true. Coach Brown will have his work cut out for him.

The biggest thing standing in Brown’s way may be….

“I played okay,” Simmons said and most of his teammates could’ve said the same thing…. except they lost.

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Danny Green

Does Defense Still Win In The Playoffs?

After a regular season in which every team in the NBA averaged over 100 points per game, every team in the postseason was over 110 and no team was even close to holding their opponents under 100 points on average, it would have been fair to question if defense could still win in the playoffs?

Pay attention and it looks like it’s still possible to play winning defense in the postseason of this new high scoring NBA.

Thru the Sunday night games of the second round, defense stands out. The best at opponent’s field goal percent, points allowed and defensive rating are making noise.

 …………………….opp FG%        Def. Rating     Points Allowed    (Record)

  1. Celtics              39.0                      94.6                   91.4                       (5-0)
  2. Raptors           38.9                      96.2                    92.5                       (5-1)
  3. Bucks               41.6                      99.8                 100.8                       (4-1)
  4. Rockets            41.6                    100.5                   98.8                       (4-2)

Boston has held their opponent’s under 100 points in four of their first five games and stunned the Bucks in game one of their second round series by keeping The Greek Freak and company to just 90 points. The Celtics have sent a message, this once mighty defensive team has their defensive intensity is back and the Bucks had better adjust quickly.

In Toronto fans have been lulled into thinking that with the defensive-minded coach Casey in Detroit and his offensive assistant coach Nick Nurse now in charge that defense wasn’t a focus of this year’s team. Apparently not.

“(The Raptors) have two defensive players of the year,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said in Toronto prior to game one. “Think about that in Kawhi (Leonard) and Marc (Gasol). And you have a first team all-league defender that I coached for I don’t know how many years in Danny Green. And we haven’t even talked about Kyle (Lowry) and (Pascal) Siakam that is taking off. So defensively this is elite.”

Brown isn’t wrong. Lowry leads the playoffs with 8 charges drawn, 12 loose balls recovered and is second with 21 defections.  Siakam has contested an NBA best 44 three-point attempts in the postseason. Coming off the bench in limited minutes, the almost-forgotten-at-times Serge Ibaka has the fourth most box outs.

After the 76ers 108-95 game one loss to Toronto that was only that close because of over four minutes of garbage time, Brown reflected further on the Raptors defense.

“You got to give credit to Marc Gasol,” Brown said. “He was the defensive player of the year for a reason. I thought Serge came in and did a good job athletically making it difficult for Joel (Embiid).

“The way Toronto guards, they really scramble well. They aren’t afraid of attacking penetration.”

The Raptors have held their opponent to under 100 points in five straight games.

In the Warriors-Rockets series, Houston had been playing better defense than their more highly-touted opponent and as a result had an easier route to the second round. But maybe Golden State got the wake-up call as they beat the Rockets 104-100 in game one with defense, holding Houston to 41.9 percent shooting from the field. Not that Houston wasn’t doing a good job defensively on everyone not called KD.

Defense is back in a big way and the easy scoring of the regular season is in the rear view mirror.

 

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

 

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Can A Nicked-Up 76ers Run With The Raptors?

The second round Eastern Conference playoff series between the 76ers and the Raptors kicks off Saturday night in Toronto with some rather obvious questions about a nicked-up squad from Philadelphia that will need to find a way to run with one of the NBA’s best fast break teams.

“(Fastbreaks are) one of the areas that we have great respect for the Toronto team in how they run after misses,” 76ers head coach Brett Brown said ahead of game one. “Just the commitment running after misses and they are unique in that they run after makes.”

Back up forward Mike Scott played the fifth most minutes (118) of anyone on the 76ers in their first round playoff series win over the Nets and while no one is mistaking the 30-year-old journeyman for an All-Star, he is the kind of player that can make a big difference off the bench and as a fill-in starter if necessary.

But Scott has plantar fasciitis in his right foot and that’s a pretty solid explanation for why this deadly three-point threat only hit on 26.1 percent from three in the first round of the playoffs. A bruised heel has him missing at least the first game of the second round, but it wouldn’t be fair to expect him to be running with Pascal Siakam or even to expect he’ll be 100 percent again until after the summer.  The 76ers will definitely miss a healthy Scott.

It’s no secret that budding superstar Joel Embiid is playing on a sore knee and has already sat out one game of the playoffs, but the 76ers need his imposing presence and he knows it.

“It’s still not there. It’s still trying to get better,” Embiid said at shootaround Saturday in advance of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the favored Raptors. “But that’s an issue that’s going to be there at least all playoffs until I actually get some real time to get some rest and work on myself. …

“But, we did a good job managing it. Obviously I only averaged about 24 minutes last series, so this one I’m definitely going to need way more than that.” from ESPN

“It’s hard because I’m known for playing through anything and pushing, pushing it,” Embiid said. “And in some situations like Game 3, I couldn’t go because it was too much. But like I said, I just got to keep managing it and see how I feel and then go from there.”

Toronto isn’t going to slow the game down because the Sixers are down a key reserve or Embiid might want to protect a sore knee. Head coach Nick Nurse has emphasized the fast break all season and isn’t about to change now.

“(The fastbreak) is part of who we are and it’s usually a lot harder to do in the playoffs,” Nurse responded to Pro Bball Report prior to game one. “The sprint back effort by everybody playing in the playoffs is better than it is in the regular season.

“We want to get it out and attack and even if you can’t complete those long passes to Pascal, you still want to get it out there and run. It stretches the defense and somebody has to go back with him.

“Maybe it takes somebody off the boards.

“Maybe it opens up driving lanes in transition.

“Maybe we don’t get the long pass, but we get to stretch them and open up the paint somehow.”

Now as coach Brown reminded everyone, the 76ers were the top offensive rebounding team during the first round of the playoffs and he isn’t going to play scared. So look for a contrast in styles that should make for an exciting series and a battle of coaching prowess.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Nikola Vucevic

Predicting the NBA East Playoff Seeds

The races that matter in the NBA East are all but decided if one is inclined to look past the first round of the playoffs. Predicting the top five playoff seeds has been pretty easy for quite a while now, but the bottom three seeds have gotten even tighter as the season winds down.

The Bucks are all but locked into first sitting four games ahead of the Raptors with six games remaining. The Raptors are all but locked into second place 4.5 games ahead of the 76ers and the 76ers are all but locked into third at 3.5 games ahead of the Celtics and Pacers.

The Celtics and Pacers are tied with one head-to-head remaining in their schedule that should decide who gets home court in a first round matchup.

  • 6th Detroit    38-37, (last 10: 4-6)
  • 7th Brooklyn 38-38, (last 10: 5-5)
  • 8th Miami      37-38, (last 10: 6-4)
  • 9th Orlando  37-39, (last 10: 7-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 35-40, (last 10: 5-5)

The fight for fourth will have a huge impact on which teams grab one of the bottom three seeds and because of their own playoff races, neither Boston nor Indiana can afford to take a night off. This should make for some good end of regular season viewing.

  • The Pacers play Orlando, Detroit twice, and Brooklyn.
  • The Celtics play Brooklyn, Miami twice, and Orlando.

Detroit has a tough schedule. Portland, Pacers twice, OKC, Charlotte, Memphis and the Knicks. If they don’t dramatically improve on their play over the past 10 games (4-6), they will find themselves on the outside looking in on April 13th.

Brooklyn‘s schedule could be even more daunting than Detroit’s. Boston, Milwaukee twice, Toronto, Indiana and Miami. The Nets best hope is that the Raptors and Bucks may be running out their third string for big portions these games as they rest up for the playoffs, and if the Nets don’t beat Miami on the last day of the regular season, they could be the odd team out.

Miami‘s schedule starts out soft and gets rough real fast. The Knicks, Boston twice, Minnesota, Toronto, Philadelphia, Brooklyn. Take one of two from the inconsistent Celtics and the Heat will feel pretty safe.

Orlando has to believe they’ve got a real chance to move up in the standings. Sixth place is not out of reach. A schedule of Indiana, Toronto, New York, Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte has more penciled-in wins than any of the three teams ahead of them.

Charlotte looked like they were still in this race until they dropped a game to the Lakers. Now they have to face Golden State, Utah, and New Orleans on the road. At two games back, their season could be over before coming home to play Toronto and then getting their shot at Detroit and Orlando with what should be an easy win over the Cavs in between.

There is a very real possibility Detroit, Brooklyn, Miami, and Orlando all finish the season with a record of 40-42 and some unimaginable tie-breakers deciding their respective seeding.

  •  Detroit    40-42, (last 7: 2-5)
  •  Brooklyn 40-42, (last 6: 2-4)
  •  Miami      40-42, (last 7: 3-4)
  •  Orlando  40-42, (last 6: 3-3)
  • 10th Charlotte 37-45, (last 7: 2-5)

 

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

  photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

How Fast Can The Raptors Pascal Siakam Up His Game?

With only 10 games remaining in the regular schedule, the Toronto Raptors sit neatly wedged two games behind the Bucks and two games ahead of the Warriors for second place overall and head coach Nick Nurse is “not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results” of his remaining games. What he is emphasizing is the continued development of his emerging star Pascal Siakam.

The soon-to-be 25-year-old Siakam is high on everyone’s list as the Association’s most improved player this season and the surprise second leading scorer on the Raptors at 16.6 points per game is being pushed to do even more despite leading his team in minutes played by over 300 and virtually everyone else on the roster getting time off this season. But, there’s no rest coming for Spicy P as Nurse wants to keep expanding his game.

“Pascal, he’s as fresh as a daisy,” Nurse told Pro Bball Report in Toronto this week. “He’s a young guy and started (his) playing (career) late and has low miles on that motor he’s rolling with.

“We want to keep him in rhythm. I want to keep expanding his game. Get him in more situations to handle the ball, post-ups, start the offense, turn him loose a little bit and some play calling, ISO plays.

“That kid is continuing to grow and we need to see how much he can grow in another month.”

Siakam was getting noticed for his high motor two years ago as a rookie and that’s still a huge reason for his success, but he’s been showing off the P Skills version of his nickname all season and it’s been earning him a steadily increasing role.

Last year as a 20 minute per game backup, Siakam shot the three, but not very effectively at 22 percent and passed the ball, but without a huge impact at 2 assists per game. The potential was obvious, but it was mostly against backups. This year he took the starting power forward spot and he’s never giving it back.

With the blips expected of a developing three-point shooter, Siakam has been effective from beyond the arc at 35 percent, deadly from the corner shooting 40 percent and that alone would have been enough to garner him a lot of attention. Add in his progression in distributing the ball and decision making and it’s easy to understand why Nurse is pushing him to do more.

Thru 10 games in March Siakam is averaging 4.4 assists and Nurse is “turning him loose” to initiate offense and as seen in OKC, putting the ball in his hands with the game on the line. And Siakam has a long rope as he gets his chance to show what he can do. There was no push-back when Siakam ran into a charge with a second left in OKC on Wednesday night instead of dishing to an open Fred VanVleet in the corner. That was precisely the in-game experience Nurse wants Pascal to get in these remaining 10 regular season games because in the postseason teams are likely going to be trying to get the ball out of Kyle Lowry and Kawhi Leonard’s hands in crunch time and Siakam could be the deciding play-maker.

The Raptors G-League Finals MVP of two years ago is upping his game faster than anyone anticipated. The only question may be, can he develop fast enough to become a star in this year’s playoffs?

 

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

  

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

Raptors Plan On Coasting Into Second Place

Outside of the red hot 9-1 Spurs and Rockets, who are very motivated currently, there seems to be a lot of coasting towards the postseason going on in the NBA these days and the Toronto Raptors aren’t any different as they coast towards a second place finish.

“For the last 12-14 games, (I’m) not really putting a ton of emphasis on the results,” said Raptors head coach Nick Nurse recently. “We want to play well. We want to pick off wins when we can get them, but I don’t think anybody can get caught up in the results.”

Three loses behind the first place Bucks and 4 losses ahead of the third place 76ers and only 11 games remaining, the Raptors are pretty much locked into their playoff seeding. Throw in the fact their first round opponent probably won’t be set until the last week of the regular season and Nurse doesn’t have a lot to use as motivation.

“It is a challenge,” Nurse admitted. “You can look around the league and it’s kind of going around a little bit. I think you are seeing mixed results all over the place.

“”It is a little bit difficult to focus.

“”I’m happy as always to get a look at some other guys and figure out where they are going or where they are not going.

“For now, (the rotation) is 10 or possibly 11. I’m okay with it now.

“I just want to keep finding guys minutes, continue to polish and expand our defensive coverages.”

So don’t look for Nurse to start tightening up the rotation or reacting to losses to teams the Raptors have no business dropping games to. Like last season, Toronto will be coasting towards the playoffs with 55-60 wins a sure thing and next to nothing to motivate them beyond just don’t get hurt.

 

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 Jeremy Lin

Raptors President Ujiri Gets His Veteran Buyout Addition

It’s been a busy trade deadline and buyout market for Raptors president Masai Ujiri. At risk of breaking league rules for having fewer than 11 players on his roster after trading away five players and only getting one in return, Ujiri added a couple of warm bodies from the G-League Raptors 905 and then found a 10-day prospect in Kings castoff Ben McLemore.  But, those hoping Ujiri would find an addition who would be more of a sure thing had to wait a little longer.

Toronto will be the 30-year-old Jeremy Lin’s seventh team in nine seasons, but when healthy the guard has been able to put up points everywhere he’s played averaging 11.8 points in 25.8 minutes over his career and he’s particularly been a thorn in the Raptors side averaging 16.9 points in 16 games versus Toronto.

Lin provides Ujiri what his team needs, a solid veteran backup at both guard spots who shouldn’t be unhappy with a reserve role as the 10th or 11th man and might, possibly, make a big enough impact to command a more significant role. At the very least, Lin is great insurance.

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Chris Boucher

Raptors Have Nothing To Offer Buyout Candidates

In what appears to be an historically deep buyout market the Toronto Raptors have nothing to offer players looking to showcase their skills in the hopes of getting that new deal in July. Toronto is solid thru their top seven, Norman Powell, signed to a long term $42 million deal, has gotten his game back on track, they are not going to bench sophomore OG Anunoby as his development is important to the future of the franchise, and even Patrick McCaw seems to have earned a little of head coach Nick Nurse’s confidence on defense. It’s no wonder buyout players aren’t rushing to sign up in Toronto.

Then there’s president Masai Ujiri’s deep commitment to the luxury tax that filling the four mandatory roster spots with cheap help would improve and it’s hard not to believe that isn’t a major consideration. A fact proven by Ujiri adding two Raptors 905 G-League players to his roster.

Now the Raptors like Miller and keep giving him looks and Boucher has been a pleasant surprise, but neither of these players move the needle in Toronto even slightly, they will help Ujiri with his tax bill though. Besides, Boucher is fun to watch as he has the potential to do everything from blocks and steals to rebounds and threes if he can figure out the NBA game. Miller was hurt most of this year so even his G-League stats aren’t very enlightening.

These signings will allow Ujiri to sign players to 10-day contracts and save even more off the tax, so the previously reported Ben McLemore deal can go forward and Ujiri shouldn’t have any problem getting a second 10-day guy on the books before his two week grace period to get back to 14 warm bodies expires.

McLemore, however, is worth a hard look as he brings the one skill everyone knows the Raptors need to upgrade. Over the last five seasons, he’s been shooting the three-ball at 36 percent and in very limited minutes this year he was hitting on 41.5 percent. McCaw is 0-5 from three with Toronto, so maybe McLemore has a chance to steal his minutes?

There are lots of players with NBA experience available in the buyout market who could be important depth pieces on the Raptors if they don’t mind filling the third string role on an already deep team. It’d be nice to see at least one of them in Toronto for the stretch drive and what should be a long playoff run.

 

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 Ben McLemore

Raptors Jump Thru Hoops To Sign 10-Day Contracts

The Toronto Raptors are working overtime to get their roster back above the league minimum 11 players and eventually to the 14 guys they must have under contract within two weeks.

However, the first reported moves president Masai Ujiri has in the works post trade deadline are 10-day contracts for their own 905 wing Malcolm Miller and former Kings guard Ben McLemore, but those guys can’t be signed until Ujiri gets his roster back in compliance with league rules.

Since the Marc Gasol trade appears to have been finalized, the only way Ujiri can be in compliance with the league minimum 11 contracts is if the Greg Monroe trade is still in process. Fortunately the Nets really aren’t going to care if this trade takes another couple of days for all the requirements to be finalized.

However, Ujiri still needs 12 guys on his roster to be able to sign 10-day contracts, so there are some more hoops he’s going to be jumping thru to get these deals done. Basically, he has to sign two players for the rest of the season first.

Expect player news from north of the border to remain very busy over the next few days.

 

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 Greg Monroe

Raptors Dump Greg Monroe On Nets

The Toronto Raptors make a last second trade deadline move and dump Greg Monroe on the Nets.

 

 

Monroe had an expanded role with the Raptors after Jonas Valanciunas was injured, but the veteran center was inconsistent and, apparently, the Raptors think they can do better in the 10-day contract and buyout market.