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NBA Toronto Raptors Masai Ujiri

Raptors Get No Respect Again

You’d think after averaging 53.5 wins over the past six seasons and an NBA championship last year the talking heads at ESPN and elsewhere would be giving Raptors president Masai Ujiri a little more respect when it comes to building a winning program? But no, instead there’s a debate if Toronto will even make the postseason. Talk about no respect.

It takes a lot of effort to ignore the returning talent head coach Nick Nurse has to work with this season.

  • FIBA world champion center Marc Gasol is back and it would be foolish to assume he won’t be just as dominate this season as he was in the playoffs  and has been for years.
  • Five time All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry was rewarded with an extra year at $31 million tacked onto his current deal and he earned it. This is Lowry’s team and as the opposing coaches who keep voting him onto the All-Star team know, he plays winning basketball.
  • The NBA’s most improved player, Pascal Siakam, was even more impressive in the playoffs where he averaged 19 points and 7.1 rebounds. The doubters say he won’t have Kawhi Leonard to attract defenders, but anyone who watched the Raptors in the playoffs saw teams game plan for Siakam as a key threat and, as often as not, he burned them anyway.
  • Serge Ibaka put up numbers not seen since his days at OKC and just maybe that’s the influence Nurse’s style had on the big man. He got his mojo back.
  • “Steady Freddie” VanVleet and “playoff Norm” Powell have come into their own as young vets even if ESPN hasn’t noticed.

And, it would be hard to say any NBA team has done a better job at finding and developing overlooked talent. We don’t know who is going to surprise off the back half of this roster, but it would be foolish to bet against Ujiri at this point.

But ignoring the potential upside and development fans in Toronto have come to expect from a Ujiri built team, as the analysts at FiveThirtyEight calculate based on player talent alone, this Raptors squad is a top four Eastern Conference team as is.

Their 2019-20 NBA Predictions as of October 12, 2019 (updated daily):

  1. Bucks 53-29
  2. 76ers 52-30
  3. Celtics 46-36
  4. Raptors 46-36
  5. Pacers 43-39
  6. Heat 42-40
  7. Magic 42-40
  8. Nets 38-44
  9. Bulls 37-45
  10. Pistons 36-46
  11. Wizards 30-52
  12. Hawks 29-53
  13. Hornets 26-56
  14. Knicks 24-58
  15. Cavs 20-62

If history and confidence in management and coaching is worth anything, pencil in the Raptors for another 50 win season. While its fair to give the Bucks and 76ers the best chance of coming out of the East at the start of the season based on the talent they’ve assembled, it’s a long way to May and June.

 

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 rookie Terence Davis

Raptors Bet On Undrafted Rookie With Huge Hands

If you’ve been looking for a big name or proven veteran to bolster the Raptors rotation for the upcoming season, President Masai Ujiri hasn’t been listening. After signing a pair of young forwards that weren’t given a new contract by their old clubs, Ujiri has dipped back into the undrafted pool of talent to scoop up a combo guard from Ole Miss, Terence Davis.

If Ujiri hadn’t proven himself to be a pretty good judge of overlooked talent (see Fred VanVleet), one could be convinced the Raptors were giving up on defending their NBA title. (still T.B.D.)

Never really an NBA draft prospect, Davis had a strong senior year and turned down two-way NBA contracts to sign with Denver for summer league and betting on himself appears to have paid off. After all, he was gaining attention for all the right reasons as described in his Ole Miss profile.

Davis had his best season to finish his Ole Miss career.

Davis’ final shooting numbers included 44.4 percent (179 of 403) from the field, 37.1 percent (65 of 175) from beyond the arc and 77.2 percent (78 of 101) from the free throw line. He also produced four of the team’s five double-doubles throughout the season, including a night of 25 points and 12 rebounds versus No. 6 Kentucky (March 5) during his last game in The Pavilion.

Behind Davis’ senior leadership on and off the floor, Ole Miss returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years. The Rebels were predicted to finish last in the SEC, but Davis and company exceeded expectations en route to a 20-13 record

From not even on the NBA radar as a college rookie, Davis’ game improved at both ends of the court and while he still has a long ways to go, the promise of becoming a “microwave” scorer and solid defender is there as described in a detailed SB Nation Grizzly Bear Blues article.

Defensively, I love his versatility at that end. At 6’4” with his 6’8” wingspan, he has the size to guard positions 1-3. In addition, he possesses the lateral quickness to not get torched at the next level.

Unlike most stereotypical 3-and-D players, Davis has a solid first step and can create his own shot. With this skill, he can get hot from the field super quick and get on a nice scoring run.

he has the athleticism and explosiveness to thrive in transition. He’s also a strong rebounder for a smaller player, and he could capitalize on that skill to ignite the fast-break.

That is a description for how Raptors head coach Nick Nurse wants to play and if Davis can handle the transition to the NBA smoothly, he’ll find minutes off the bench.

Another reason Ujiri was probably attracted to Davis (aside from the fact he’ll be a cheap addition to a team that doesn’t have a lot of flexibility), is an apparent level of toughness that Ujiri has coveted since the day he started rebuilding the Raptors into an organization other teams have been forced to respect. Davis probably should have played football instead of basketball coming out of high school according to Matthew del Rio of SB Nation Liberty Ballers.

An NBA future wasn’t always in the cards for Terence Davis. Five years ago, he was a highly touted high school wide receiver and received scholarship offers from twenty power conference schools. “I was a 6-4 wide receiver with long arms and huge hands who could catch everything that came my way.” Davis (said.)

despite improving by leaps and bounds during his time at Ole Miss, an NBA career was unlikely. Following his junior season, Davis entered his name in the NBA Draft but chose to return to school after it became clear he was a long shot

But his improved play last year and his physical measurements suggested someone should be giving him a harder look.

Davis received an invitation to the 2019 NBA Draft Combine. Although Davis impressed in both combine scrimmages — he shot 12-for-21 from the field — his measurements were what stood out. The 6-foot-4.5 shooting guard’s wingspan measurement is listed as 6-foot-8.75. Of the four combine participants whose hand width measurements are listed as 10.75 inches, Davis is the only one shorter than 6-foot-8.75.

Raptors fans won’t have forgotten the advantage of having monster hands on defense can have after last season. For comparison, Kawhi Leonard’s hands are 11.25 inches in width. Rajon Rondo, whose hands are huge for a guard, are actually smaller at 10 inches.

Ujiri has decided to give another late bloomer in college who has shown leadership potential and a two-way game a chance to develop in a system that has proven to be very effective at producing NBA players. This kid has the tools, the Raptors hope he has the talent to go with them.

In fairness, look for Davis to start out playing significant time with the Raptors 905 in the G-League, but like previous players Ujiri has sent down, if he impresses, he’ll get his shot with the big club quickly enough.

 

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 Rondae Hollis-Jefferson free agent 2019

Raptors Give Rondae Hollis-Jefferson A Second Chance

The Toronto Raptors have signed another young forward who can’t shoot giving Nets cast-off Rondae Hollis-Jefferson a second chance to prove himself in the NBA.


Hollis-Jefferson was rounding into form as a decent mid-range shooter in his third season with Brooklyn, but last year he couldn’t find the basket from any range and in today’s NBA a player that can’t hit the three-ball is at risk of being left behind.  It’s a short step from starter to gone in the NBA as detailed by of Nets Daily.

Rondae had a solid showing in his second year under Atkinson. He was the primary starter at the 4 and had a breakout year, averaging 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. However, entering this past season, Hollis-Jefferson was hobbled after straining his hip in Jeremy Lin’s charity basketball game in China.

He fell in and out of the rotation. The Nets had expanded their depth and inserted guys that played the style of ball they wanted to play.

Between the Nets’ analytical-heavy approach and their desire to clear space for free agents, the writing was on the wall.

The Nets were a team on the way up last season and the hip strain couldn’t have come at a worse time for Hollis-Jefferson. Glowing remarks about his intrinsic value to the team weren’t going to be enough get him playing time or land him a new contract in Brooklyn, but for a Raptors team trying to fill out a roster with very limited flexibility, it’s easy to see the attraction.

Rondae is a tough kid from Chester and the 7th Street Ball Courts. He wears his heart on his sleeve and puts others before himself. That’s what made him a fan favorite and that’s what made him the “heart and soul” of the Brooklyn Nets, even when he wasn’t playing much – if at all.

His gritty style of play provided a peep of optimism during a time when there was very little.

It’s only a one-year deal and if can find his third season shooting form and live up to his gritty team-first reputation, the Raptors will be able to find minutes for him.

 

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 Stanley Johnson

Raptors Sign Reclamation Project Stanley Johnson

The Toronto Raptors have signed the former Detroit Piston 2015 NBA 8th overall draft pick Stanley Johnson to a two-year $7.5 million contract that has a player option for year two as reported in Hoops Rumors  (among other places).

To put it mildly, Johnson hasn’t lived up to his draft position and the Pistons dumped him on the Pelicans last year who in turn didn’t bother issuing the 23-year-old small forward a qualifying offer.

Johnson has struggled with his offense from the beginning, shooting 37.4 percent from the field for his career, but he has been given credit as a versatile defender, so maybe Nurse can find a role for him off the bench.

His strength is his defensive prowess with the ability to guard four positions. Outside shooting (29.3% on 3-point tries) has been a major issue for Johnson at the offensive end.

Listed at 6’7 and 245 lbs, Draft Express described him as “a physical specimen with his chiseled frame” in the 2016 Summer League They also suggested, “ Johnson’s jump shot is sound mechanically and he will continue to develop the rest of his offensive game, making him one of the bright prospects in the League.”

The offensive development never happened, but there is hope, in his lone season at the University of Arizona, Johnson shot 37.1 percent from three, hitting on 43 of 116 attempts, so maybe the Raptors coaching staff can help him find his college stroke again.

A prospect, a suspect and maybe a reclamation project, the Raptors must see something in Johnson’s game to make them believe he has a chance at becoming the player scouts envisioned when he left college.

 

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 Los Angeles Clippers Kawhi Leonard 2019 champion

Can Raptors Masai Ujiri Poach Another Superstar?

Last summer Raptors President Masai Ujiri pulled off a blockbuster trade to poach Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green from the Spurs on expiring contracts and they came thru with an NBA Championship. However, Ujiri knew the risks and both players have taken their talents to L.A. in free agency leaving Toronto without a superstar for next season.

The only real questions for Masai now are, after getting to the top of the mountain:

  1. Can he be happy with rebuilding,
  2. Is merely being good heading into next season acceptable, and,
  3. Is he willing to take some big risks again in an NBA without a clear-cut favorite for the title?

“The Raptors will focus on the future and continue our pursuit of a second championship,” Ujiri said in a formal release on July 6th.

A roster with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol should be good enough to easily secure a playoff spot, but will have few expectations beyond that and this isn’t a situation Ujiri has seemed satisfied with in the past.

However, Ujiri is $20 million below the luxury tax line, has the full Mid Level Exception to play with and has $90 million in expiring contracts to dangle.

There are some good options for Ujiri in free agency if he’s happy merely improving his chances for a second round exit next spring.

  1. Recently waived veteran guard Avery Bradley would be a solid addition.
  2. Marcus Morris still needs a contract and the Raptors need depth at forward.
  3. DeMarcus Cousins would be a good add if Ujiri trades Marc Gasol.

There is still talent available, but nothing that looks like it’d give the Raptors a chance of getting by the 76ers or Bucks next spring on its own.

If Ujiri wants to gamble yet again, there are some home run balls out there to go after.

John Wall, Washington Wizards

Things haven’t gone as hoped for Wall and the Wizards and their superstar point guard isn’t expected to be back in action until after the All-Star Break as he sits out rehabbing a torn Achilles just as his four-year $170 million extension kicks in.

Arguably the 28-year-old has been one of the best point guards in the NBA averaging 19 points and 9.2 assists over 9 seasons, but his success hasn’t always translated into team success and it’s becoming obvious the Wizards would rather build around Bradley Beal than Wall.

The Wizards should be more than interested in taking on Kyle Lowry’s expiring deal to get Wall moved and Toronto should be demanding first round draft pick Rui Hachimura as compensation for taking on the risk. A high risk, high reward gamble Ujiri shouldn’t be afraid to explore.

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

With the Paul George trade and more first round draft picks than any team could possibly want, the Thunder have moved solidly into demolish and rebuild territory with their future aspirations many years out. Plus, OKC remains in the luxury tax even after the George trade and the Raptors have the expiring contracts to help them move on.

Like Wall, Westbrook has four-years and $170 million left on his deal, so a trade for Lowry straight up would get the Thunder out from under this deal and with Westbrook about to turn 31-years-old in November, how much more Sam Presti can get is to be determined.

What would makes things really interesting would be adding a Marc Gasol for Steven Adams swap. A bigger trade just might entice Ujiri to add in a couple of draft picks and a young player like Anunoby.

These trades sound like a Thunder salary dump, but with Russell’s agent Thad Foucher apparently requesting a trade per ESPN, that’s where things are.

Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota Timberwolves

The long coveted Canadian’s value hasn’t exactly been on the rise over the past two seasons and his max extension could be considered to have made Wiggins untradeable, but the combination of bad team chemistry, suspect player development and confusing/missing leadership from the top makes this former number one overall draft pick a prospect worthy of taking a gamble on. Plus the T-wolves can’t possibly have any reasonable expectations beyond merely off-loading Wiggins’ salary at the lowest possible cost.

Offer Serge Ibaka’s expiring deal straight up for Wiggins and see if the T-wolves are frustrated enough to take it. In the Raptors player development system, Wiggins has a chance to grow into his contract and become the player he was envisioned to be five years ago. In Minnesota, no one can see that happening.

Last summer Ujiri took a gamble on an unhappy “former” superstar and turned things into a championship. If he wants to defend that title or even just enjoy a deep playoff run, he’ll need find a way to repeat the process again.

 

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 during warm-ups

Why Canadian Tax No Longer Scares NBA Free Agents

It’s mostly been misinformation that scares American athletes when it comes to paying Canadian income tax, often perpetrated by American media working in Canada who simply put, just aren’t in the right tax bracket, but any NBA free agent with an adviser worth anything will know this is one thing he doesn’t have to worry about.

As Adam Scherer, Tax Partner at Crowe Soberman LLP suggests, Ka’whi Canadian Tax may not be so bad for Leonard:

 it is not unreasonable to say that with thoughtful tax planning, Kawhi could structure his affairs in Canada so that he’s no worse off tax-wise playing for the Raptors than for a California team.

In the case that matters most to Canadians just ahead of NBA free agency, Kawhi Leonard won’t be influenced in his decision between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Toronto Raptors because of income taxes.

On the surface, the math looks relatively simple. Income taxes in Toronto, Canada are 53.5 percent total. US Federal tax is 37 percent, add in California state tax at 13.3 percent and don’t forget Medicare tax of 2.35 percent totaling 52.65 percent, making the straight up difference between L.A. and Toronto less than one percent. BUT the situation for American athletes playing in Canada is so much better than this as Scherer explains:

the Raptors calculated that their players spent 66 percent of their working days in Canada. Thus, only two thirds of his salary would be taxable in Canada. Credits are available in the U.S. for taxes paid in Canada, meaning effectively that a player pays the higher of either the Canadian tax rate or the U.S. tax rate on his working days in Canada.

So even this slight difference is reduced by a third just by filing correctly, but it gets better.

NBA rules also allow a player to earn up to 15 percent of his salary in the form of a signing bonus. As we’ve noted before, signing bonuses get unique treatment under the Canada-U.S. income tax treaty.

Signing bonuses are only taxed at 15 percent in Canada so,

it’s possible Kawhi could have $27M per year taxed in Canada at an effective rate of 45.3 percent, for a total tax obligation of $12.2M. Much lower than in California!

Now no one is going to claim an NBA free agent isn’t going to keep more of their money by playing in the state tax free franchises located in Texas or Florida, but high tax states like New York and California face the same challenges as Canada and they don’t seem to have a lot of blow back from players about this issue and with the Clippers as the Raptors main challengers for Leonard’s services, income taxes shouldn’t even be a consideration.

 

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 Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant

Warriors Kevin Durant Doesn’t Look Ready To Play Yet

The Warriors are in trouble. Down 3-1 with game five in Toronto on Monday night, the mantra remains, just wait until Kevin Durant gets back. But after today, don’t hold your breath. The early indications are he doesn’t even look anywhere near ready for a red shirt scrimmage let alone an NBA game.

“What he’s going to do today he hasn’t done,” head coach Steve Kerr said about Durant on Sunday.

“He’s going to practice with us today, and he’ll get some extra work in with some of our younger players. We’ll gauge it from there.”

The comments from Nick Friedell of ESPN put what happened crystal clear,

If Durant did get substantial work in Sunday, it wasn’t much.

Durant was not on the floor while the rest of his teammates got up some shots in the open part of Sunday’s practice, but made his way to the court as soon as media and cameras were cleared away.

he was one of the first players back into the Warriors’ locker room after the team’s brief workout. The 30-year-old reappeared a few moments later with two big ice packs wrapped around the lower part of his right calf and his right Achilles tendon.

Well, gauging it from what Friedell saw, Durant isn’t ready for a light practice, but that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Kerr told us he was going to try something he hadn’t done yet. Apparently taking a few practice shots in front of the media is still too much to ask as the ice bags after “giving it a try” seem to indicate and a light practice is a long ways from a regular season NBA game.

Got to love the gamesmanship from Kerr during the NBA Finals though. He really does know how to play the media. Maybe we should just stop asking until we actually see Durant running around on the court?

 

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 Raptors Defense Vs Warriors Offense In The NBA Finals

A throwback NBA Finals of offense versus defense is about to commence in Toronto as the high scoring Warriors try to impose their style and pace on the very stingy Raptors who have only made it this far because they’ve been able to shut down the “best starting five in the NBA” put together by Philly and the highest scoring team during the regular season at 118.1 points per game from Milwaukee.

Golden State has rolled over opponents in the postseason thus far scoring a playoff best 117.1 points per game while leading in field goal percentage (48.7%) and three-point shooting (37%), the repeat champs have earned the respect of analysts and bookies alike.

But the West isn’t like the East. Points have been a lot harder to come by as the playoffs progressed in the Eastern Conference as defenses tightened and the four lowest opponent field goal percentages all belonged to teams in the East that made it to the second round.

While the Warriors have cruised thru their opposition allowing 44.2 percent shooting from the field, 36.5 percent from three and 110.5 points per game, the Raptors won by holding teams in the 90s (99.6 average), stifling three-point shooters to just 31.3 percent and holding teams to 41.7 percent from the field.

“I think for us we have to really focus on getting our defense set, limiting them to one shot and being able to take care of the ball,” Norman Powell said.

“We’re able to switch. We’re able to do a bunch of different coverages. We know that they like to move it. They have plays they like to move without the ball. So just being really tight and locked in in our foundational defense, and being locked into the guys off the ball is the most important thing. It’s just going to be a full five-man job whoever is out there guarding all five of them.”

As Nurse has said, it’s 15 percent knowing what to do and 85 percent effort. The Raptors have won with defense because they have played with the intensity to get the job done.

“If you need a motivation to come out and play hard and play with passion and energy in the NBA Finals, you’re in the wrong field,” Powell stated.

The Raptors ability to defend at an elite level is about to be put to the test.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

The Raptors Are The Finals Hotter Three-Point Shooting Team

What scares the rest of the NBA about playing the Golden State Warriors is their ability turn games on their head in what seems like mere seconds with the three-ball. We’ve never seen a pairing like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. This year these two guys put up 19.4 threes a game during the regular season between them and hit on over 40 percent, they’re scary great shooters. However, it’s possible the Magic, 76ers and Bucks have helped to prepare the Raptors for the coming onslaught defensively and just maybe it’s Toronto who’s the hotter three-point shooting team heading into the NBA Finals.

Regular Season Stats

Warriors 34.4 3FGA, 38.5% (3rd best)

  1. Stephen Curry 11.7 3FGA, 43.7%
  2. Klay Thompson 7.7 3FGA, 40.2%
  3. Kevin Durant 5.0 3FGA, 35.3% (questionable for the series)

First Round opponent: Magic 32.1 3FGA, 35.6%

  1. DJ Augustin 3.8 3FGA, 42.1%
  2. Terrence Ross 7.0 3FGA, 38.3%
  3. Nikola Vucevic 2.9 3FGA, 36.4%

Second Round opponent: 76ers 30.2 3FGA, 35.9%

  1. JJ Redick 8.0 3FGA, 39.7%
  2. Mike Scott 4.4 3FGA, 41.2%
  3. Tobias Harris 4.8 3FGA, 39.7% (76ers & Clippers)

Conference Final opponent: Bucks 38.2 3FGA (2nd most), 35.3%

  1. Malcolm Brogdon 3.8 3FGA, 42.6%
  2. Kris Middleton 6.2 3FGA, 37.8%
  3. Brook Lopez 6.3 3FGA, 36.5%

So what happened to the Raptors as they played their way thru to the NBA Finals?

Raptors (4-1) vs Magic

In game one against Orlando, the Magic hit 48.3 percent of their threes and Augustin hit 4-5 to score 25 points. As Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said, “It took one punch in the gut from the Orlando Magic to understand we’d better start playing a lot harder,” and the Raptors held the Magic to 26.2 percent from three over the next four games. The hot shooting Augustin went 2-8 from three over the next three games

Raptors (4-3) vs 76ers

In their toughest test of the postseason to-date, the Raptors held Philly to 32.9 percent from three over the seven games and only once did the 76ers shoot better than their regular season average from deep. Harris, who shot 50 percent from three in the first round, only hit on 27.9 percent of his 6.1 three-point attempts against Toronto and Scott was a non-factor, although Redick did what he always does.

Raptors (4-2) vs Bucks

The Bucks fired up the second most threes in the regular season making the second most and only Houston shot and made more threes per game in the postseason thru the Conference Finals. Thru the first two rounds of the postseason the Bucks were shooting and making threes right at their regular season averages, then they ran into Toronto. Versus the Raptors, they were still putting up more than 38 three-point attempts per game, but they were only hitting on 31 percent of them. Lopez only managed to get off more than four three-point attempts twice in the series after averaging over six all season. All-Star Kris Middleton saw his numbers plummet from 6.7 three-point attempts at 46.7 percent thru the first two rounds to 37.5 percent on 5.3 attempts.

The Raptors turned the tables on the Bucks, outscoring them by an average of 7.5 points from three.

Thru the first three rounds, Toronto has held their opponents to a stingy 31.3 percent shooting from three. The Warriors, on the other hand, have surrendered a lofty 36.5 percent to three-point shooting.

NBA Finals

What may be getting overlooked in all the deserved hype about the Warriors vaunted three-point shooting is just how close this stat has been for both Golden State and Toronto during this postseason. While the Warriors made the third most threes during the regular season (13.3) and have made the third most threes in the playoffs (12), since the regular season ended, the Raptors have made the fourth most threes at a statistically insignificant difference (11.9).

In the Conference Finals, Toronto shot 14.3-38.3 or 37.4 percent from three against Milwaukee. While the Warriors, sans Durant, only went 11.5-31.8 or 36.2 percent from three as they cruised past Portland with Curry literally taking 48 percent and making 56.5 percent (6.5-15.3) of his teams three-point attempts.

Maybe the change in the Raptors fortunes from three shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The 76ers head coach Brett Brown certainly was expecting it as he kept saying Toronto has been the NBA’s best three-point shooting team since they traded for Marc Gasol. He’s not wrong. The Raptors finished off the final 23 games of the regular season hitting a league third best 14.5 threes a game at a league best 41.5 percent. Post All-Star break the Warriors hit 14.2 threes at 38.7 percent.

It’s hard to believe Toronto is going let Curry fire off better than 15 threes a game in the NBA Finals and it’s going to be incumbent on the Warriors to not let Toronto fire off more threes per game than they do or their better shooters are going to be offset by sheer volume. Plus Durant’s health could play a bigger part in the outcome of this series than most analysts are considering.

This NBA Finals has potential to be full of surprises.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse after winning game 6 ECF

These Raptors Needed A Punch In The Gut To Win

Maybe the regular season really is just 82 games of practice as the Raptors Kawhi Leonard describes it and the entire Golden State organization seems to treat things before the real season starts in April. Then, as head coach Nick Nurse admitted, it took a punch in the gut from the seventh place Orlando Magic to wake his team up to the fact the postseason was here.

“It took one punch in the gut from the Orlando Magic to understand we’d better start playing a lot harder,” Nurse responded to Pro Bball Report after winning the Eastern Conference Final. “I think we came out in Game 2 and you saw a totally different basketball team that started using their abilities to the best of their ability. That’s really the difference.”

After losing game one to the Magic, the Raptors crushed their first round opponent in four straight games, holding Orlando to an average of just 89 points and winning by an 18.8 point margin.

However, Nurse might have continued with this line of thought. His team got down 2-1 in the Philly series before upping their game to take three of the next four. In the Raptors four wins they held the 76ers to just 92.5 points, but gave up 107.3 in the three loses.

Then in Milwaukee the Raptors got punched in the gut yet again, twice, as the Bucks averaged 116.5 points to grab a 2-0 lead. Toronto waking up at home to play the level of defense they are capable of and take the next four in a row by holding the Bucks to just 97.8 points during regulation time (101.8 counting OT).

Nurse’s Raptors haven’t been starting series playing as hard as they can, but they have shown an ability to “flip the switch” defensively.

“Now, listen, we’ve learned and grown as well,” Nurse continued. “Our communication, scheme, switching, blitzing. Our rotations, contesting shots, all those things have been growing here since the start of the playoffs. The other thing is there are some moments, like stretches, we call them consecutive stops, and there are some stretches where it’s darned hard to complete a pass against us. That wears into a team after a while when you’re up into them and you’re denying and everybody is just that connected and playing that hard.”

That ability to stop a team from scoring for extended periods of time was on full display in games five and six against the Bucks as Milwaukee built double-digit leads in the third quarter of both games only to go ice-cold as Toronto took it away from them.

At this level it’s effort that separates the winners from the losers. Every team has elite talent, a superstar to lean on and can bury you offensively if you start taking possessions off.

“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,” Nurse said. “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.”

Nurse has to be hoping that when the Warriors come to town to start the NBA Finals his Raptors don’t need another “punch in the gut” to get going. Golden State has an ability to hit a lot harder than anyone else.

 

 

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 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 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.

 

 

 

Raptors time out during Eastern Conference Playoffs vs Bucks game 4 by Larry Millson

The Biggest Game In Raptors History… Again

By Frank McLean

After Sunday night’s double overtime marathon win for the Toronto Raptors over the Milwaukee Bucks in game three of their Eastern Conference Final that cut the Bucks lead in the series to two to one, the big question was which team was going to be the most tired?

Game three was another night where you thought you seen everything you can from Kawhi Leonard he went out and did a little bit more.

He went out and played a career high 52-minutes out of the 58-minutes of game time, and scored 36-points on what it looks like an injury somewhere in his legs or thigh. He played the last 22-minutes of the game without taking a break.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse before game four said that Leonard told him on Monday’s off day that it a long way to game time and that he got some rest and that he was ready to go.

Nurse added in his comments that he likes to go with him for 10-minutes at a time before getting a breather but playing the double overtime “difficult circumstances”.

When game four started Leonard looked slow and sluggish. The Bucks were defending him with double and sometimes triple teaming him.

Khris Middleton was the main defender getting help from Brook Lopez, Ersan Iiyasova, and George Hill.

They pounded the living daylights out of Leonard in a style of defense that looked like the 1990’s Detroit Pistons. Somewhere if he was watching the game Bill Laimbeer would have approved.

Leonard was un-Leonard like thanks to the Bucks taking him out of the game in the first half with only five points and five rebounds but the Raptors led 65-55 at halftime because others stepped up.

Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred Van Vleet carried the load so for once it didn’t have to be Leonard being the hero.

Lowry had 18-points in the first half and finished the game with 25. He looked like the Kyle Lowry that Bryan Colangelo traded for a dominate guard who can carry a game by himself.

Gasol had 17. Powell with 18, Ibaka with 17 and 13 boards, and Van Vleet with 13 played their best game of the series when it was needed most.

After only scoring five points in the first half Leonard he scored 14-in the second to finish with-19.

They won the game 120-102 to tie the series two game apiece making this now a best of three and now making it to the NBA final and a shot at the Golden State Warriors seems more of a distinct possibility than it did four days ago.

“One of the biggest pluses was that we were functional in the minutes when Kawhi was not out there and tonight when Kyle and Kawhi was out there,” Nurse said post game.

“They are out there guarding tough players and making tough shots it’s good that we could play well and rest them.”

The Bucks problem was they couldn’t stop a Raptor that did not have a number two on his jersey.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said afterwards, ”you have to give Toronto credit they stepped up especially the bench. We are going to have to look at the film and see where we are defensively. We are going home now. These are two great teams and it’s going to be a hell of a series.

“We have to finish better at the free throw line and hit more threes.”

As we head back to Milwaukee for game five Thursday night we know one thing, the Raptors are going to have to win one game there if they are going to get to their first ever NBA Finals.

They are going to need everybody to chip in and help the cause like they did in game four and take the load off Leonard.

What they have done is added a new wrinkle for the Bucks to have to defend, they just can’t concentrate on Leonard now.

The Raptors showed Tuesday night that they have a chance to win this thing by winning the biggest game in franchise history

Game five Thursday will be next biggest game in franchise history, can’t wait to see how it will turn out.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Kawhi Leonard at the free throw line 2019 playoffs

Raptors Kawhi Leonard Makes History In Game 7 Win

By Frank McLean

It took 18-years for it to happen again, the Toronto Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers to hook up one more time in a game seven of an Eastern Conference Semi-Final.

Every Raptors fan remembers the last one, May 20th, 2001 at then named First Union Centre where Vince Carter had the last shot of the game which if he made it would have put the Raptors in their first conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks.

As we all know Carter’s shot hit the rim and rolled out. The Sixers won. They went on to face the Bucks in the eastern final and then lost to the Lakers in the finals, but for Raptors fans they have felt that the bad karma this team has faced in the postseason would have been different if Carter had just made that shot.

Of course that’s just revisionist history but for the diehards of the red and white that’s what Sunday night at the Scotiabank Arena is all about.

Turns out the fans were right. Hollywood could not have written a better script.

Game tied 90-all with four-pint-two seconds left in regulation time Kawhi Leonard with no time left hits a jumper from the top left hand corner inside the three point line. The basket bounced four times on the rim before it went in the hoop and the Scotiabank Arena became bedlam.

Leonard became the basketball version of Joe Carter who broke Philadelphia sports fans hearts with his three run homer in the bottom of the ninth in game six of the 1993-World Series that gave the Blue Jays the World Championship over their beloved Phillies.

And let’s not forget Doug Gilmour who scored a game winning goal in the playoffs in 1993 in the third overtime against the St. Louis Blues.

Leonard’s winner ranks right up there in the sporting lore of the City Of Toronto.

Leonard took the Raptors and carried them on his back for the entire series. The winning shot game him 41-points for the game in which he scored 15-of his points in the fourth quarter. It was his second 40-plus point game in the series (45 in game one) and his average for the series was 34.8-points.

“I knew it was game seven,” Leonard said. “I didn’t want to leave no shots in my mind, I just wanted to go out and leave it on the floor. This could have been my last game of the season and I would have had to wait four or five months to make another shot. I was going to leave it on the floor tonight just trying to will us there to win.”

Leonard had never made a game winning shot at the buzzer before he said after the game, which is something rather hard to believe. “I have never made a game winning shot like that it’s a blessing and something I will look back on.”

After the game a rather horse Raptors coach Nick Nurse thought the Leonard shot was going in.

“It looked like it was going in, it looked like it was going in the whole time for me,” Nurse said. “I thought it was a nice lucky bounce. I thought we were very unlucky for most of that game.”

Nurse was right they were a little lucky. The Raptors gave up leads in the third and fourth quarter and had to fight a scrap all night just to get the game to a 90-all tie.

Speaking of fighting and scraping that was Kyle Lowry’s MO the whole night.

He sat out most of the first quarter after getting two quick fouls to start the game. Then in the second quarter his left thumb popped out after fighting for a rebound with the Sixers James Ennins III.

“It just popped out,” Lowry said after the game. “It was loose making it hard to pass the ball. But we won the game and I can rest it.”

And Lowry’s thumb issue makes the last play of the game for Leonard’s winning shot even more amazing.

Nick Nurse described the play this way.

“We ran Kyle off the first option and then Kawhi looped under there (the basket) and he get’s it (the ball) and the top and it’s his call what to do.”

So now is the bad karma broken? Well time will tell that one.

Just like 2001, if the Raptors had won that game seven, it’s the Milwaukee Bucks and a chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals.

But for one night let’s enjoy what will be one of the three greatest endings of a post season game in Toronto sporting history.

Leonard’s game winning shot, Carter’s World Series winning homer and Gilmore’s winning goal.

I was lucky I was in the press box and got to cover all three of these gems.

 

 

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard

The Magic Are Who We Thought They Were

By Frank McLean

After watching the way the Toronto Raptors handled the Orlando Magic Tuesday night in game two of their first round Eastern Conference playoff you would never have thought that the Magic were one of the best teams the last two months of the NBA regular season.

The Magic, 20-31 on January-31st, went on a 22-9 tear to finish the regular season and grab the seventh spot overall in the conference standings.

They also won their last four games and 11 last 13 overall and made the Amway Arena a tough place for visitors, winning their last nine home games.

But after stealing game one on Saturday in Toronto with a three point win, the Raptors led wire to wire to walk away with a 111-82 win in game two. It was a beat down where the Raptors made the Magic look like the New York Knicks. Leading by as much as 34-points, it was a pure blowout.

Magic head coach Steve Clifford was at a bit of a loss about the way their offense struggled. He credited it to bad decision making and that his team wasn`t moving the ball, and that it was sticking due to the Raptors good defense, but what upset him the most was his ball club looked like it did back in October and November.

The Raptors defense has taken Magic center Nikola Vucevic right out of this series with their constant double teaming of him, but Clifford called him a smart guy and that he knows he will figure it out.

A big difference for the Raptors was All-Star Kyle Lowry finally scored a point. In fact Lowry had 22 points with four rebounds and seven assists compared to the zero points he put up in game one.

“I made some shots,” Lowry said after game two. “I was being more aggressive when I was going downhill. I watched film and it showed, I needed to be more aggressive.”

“That’s him at his finest,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said about Lowry.

“Tonight he was charging up the floor and pushing the ball past, shooting, driving, kicking, making steals, hands on everything, rebounding, he was doing it all. That’s a big performance for him, I’m really happy for him.”

Another big difference was Nurse taking the limits off superstar Kawhi Leonard.

People were questioning why he was given so few minutes in game one after taking 22 games off in the regular season mostly for “load management”.

Nurse said after the game that there are no more limits as to how many minutes Leonard gets in a game.

“I took him out after a 12-minute stretch at the end of the third, and I told him he had a two minute rest and he is going back in, and he said he was ready now. So I think he is ready to play as many minutes as he can handle, and he can handle as many minutes as the game calls for.”

Nurse had to make one of those decisions on Leonard early in game two which is why coaches are paid the big bucks in the NBA. Just 2:30 into the first quarter Leonard picked up his second of two of the quickest personal fouls I have seen him get all season.

If this was a typical regular season game he would be sitting till at least midway through the second quarter, but Nurse kept him in there.

“I guess I had a decision to make there,” Nurse said. “I think at that point we were off to a good start and we were imposing our will in he game, and I figured I would roll the dice so our will could continue to be imposed.”

Nurse was rewarded with a dominating 37 point effort from Leonard.

So after two games of this best-of-seven series we have seen the good and bad of the Magic and the good and bad of the Raptors. 

Game three Friday night in Orlando should be quite the show.

   

DeMar DeRozan & Frank McLeanVeteran journalist Frank McLean has been covering the Raptors in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. 

photo credit Larry Millson