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

76ers Bet Big Men Will Win The NBA East

It’s only “opening week” in the NBA, but the Philadelphia 76ers sent a message in their home opener against the Celtics, small ball is out and big MEN will determine who will win the East.

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps grasped what was going on in Philly right away.

The Philadelphia 76ers spent the offseason building a team focused on a very specific identity: being big and physical and imposing their will on their opponents at both ends of the court.

“Overall the mentality was to go in and [play] ‘smashmouth basketball,’ as coach says, and I think we did a pretty good job,” Sixers forward Matisse Thybulle said.

The object of the game was to wear the undersized Celtics down and as the game wore on, it became obvious the strategy was working. Even without the kind of shooting most teams in the NBA have tried to build around, Philly has the size and athleticism to make life miserable for guard oriented clubs.

Now whether or not “smash-mouth basketball” will get the 76ers past a Bucks team with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, and Robin Lopez is yet to be determined, but Milwaukee won’t be easily intimated and the NBA defending champion Toronto Raptors should be absolutely elated for an opportunity to play this style of play against a team that no longer has the shooting and play-making of Jimmy Butler.

The Raptors don’t have the dominance of a Kawhi Leonard at small forward anymore, but size is something they match up really well against. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka are two guys no one is going to push around and Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby give them size, speed and skill at the forward spots. Head coach Nick Nurse must have seen the 76ers strategy coming as he’s already been experimenting with a lineup featuring all four of these bigs on the floor at the same time.

There should be a lot of enthusiasm for the gantlet 76ers head coach Bret Brown has thrown down. Small ball and threes are great for fantasy basketball, but smash-mouth interior ball combined with strategy and skill is a lot more fun to watch.

 

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.

 

 

 

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 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.

 

 

 

NBA Bucks coach Jason Kidd

Bucks Fire Head Coach Jason Kidd

Half way thru his fourth season as the Bucks head coach, Jason Kidd has been fired. After 291 games in Milwaukee Kidd was six games under 500 and with the currently 8th place team grossly under performing some rather lofty and unrealistic expectations, it was the coach getting the blame.

As much as any other reason, Kidd is getting the axe because the Bucks have the hottest young player in the NBA scoring over 28 points per game, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and still don’t look like anything more than a .500 club just hoping to sneak into one of the final playoff spots in the East.

Put those “frayed relationships” to the side. If the Bucks were in fourth place, Kidd would still have a job.

But are the Bucks woes really on the coach?

Milwaukee is nearly dead last in the NBA at taking and making three-point shots and their best three-point shooter this season, Mirza Teletovic has missed all but 10 games. The team’s most prolific three-point shooters, Kris Middleton (5.6 3FGA) and Eric Bledsoe (5.0 3FGA) are shooting under 34 percent from three.

In today’s NBA, if your team can’t make its share of three-pointers, it’s going to be rough.

When your team isn’t taking and making three-pointers, they had better be good at defending them and getting on glass. Unfortunately, the Bucks are dead last in rebounding and opposing teams shoot an NBA third softest 38.2 percent from three.

It’s bad, but at least some of the issues are management related. Kidd could’ve used some better role players. This team needs to rethink its roster. Changing the coach isn’t going to fix their inability to rebound or shoot the three-ball.

More than likely with hindsight, the Bucks will be wishing they’d waited until May to make a coaching decision.

 

 
 

NBA Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors And Bucks Should Make This Trade

The Toronto has what the Bucks need and although there is some debate about whether or not the Raptors should just stand pat heading into the NBA trade deadline, if they could pry the right player out of Milwaukee, most people would up their chances of making it to their first NBA Finals.

The premise is simple. The Bucks are dead last in rebounding and going no where this postseason, if they can even hang onto a playoff spot sitting just a game and a half out of ninth in mid-January, and the Raptors have been shopping one of the league’s perennial top 10 rebounders (on a percentage of available boards) since last summer.

The Bucks have been linked to high priced potentially available centers like DeAndre Jordan, but it’s hard to imagine how they can come up with enough assets to match a $22 million salary without decimating their roster. At $15.5 million, the Raptors Jonas Valanciunas is at least a possibility.

In Toronto the Raptors have depth at center and power forward and with the emergence of second year center Jakob Poeltl, the continuing move to play more small ball and the stated desire by Serge Ibaka to play more minutes at the five spot, Valanciunas has become a luxury that head coach Dwane Casey struggles to find minutes for.

As the starting center Valanciunas is playing just over 20 minutes per game despite averaging a team second best 19.3 points per 36 minutes and cleaning the glass at a team best rate of 13.7 boards. He is the player the Bucks lineup is missing.

Also, Valanciunas has played like a man among boys versus Milwaukee in two games this season, averaging 13 points and 9 boards in just 16.9 minutes.

In a case of its going to cost you to get what you want, the Bucks player that can help the Raptors is small forward Kris Middleton.

The contracts of the two players are close enough in salary and duration for a straight one-for-one swap and although Middleton is putting up a career best 19.9 points per game, he’s doing it taking a a career-high 15.8 shots as his three-point shooting has fallen off a cliff to 34 percent.

The Raptors would want the Middleton of the past four seasons that averaged 14.5 points and shot 40.8 percent from three and playing on a team with more offensive talent, they can probably be convinced that is the player they’d be getting.

The trade should begin and end here, but if the Bucks want to add a two-way player with the potential to replace what Middleton provided, Toronto can probably be convinced to send another piece that Casey is having trouble finding minutes for in the Raptors deep roster.

In the playoffs last April Milwaukee had Toronto on the ropes until Casey brought Norman Powell from a DNP-CD in Game Two into an increased role over the next four games. Powell averaged 14.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 28.5 minutes while shooting 90 percent from three in those games and helped turn the series around. That isn’t something a coach or GM can easily forget.

This year Powell has lost his spot in the rotation to rookie OG Anunoby (a swing and a miss by the Bucks who drafted the 6’10 D.J. Wilson six spots ahead of him) and is pretty much just finding minutes as an injury-reserve, but the potential as an over-achieving tough defender and offensive threat is still there.

The Raptors signed the second round pick Powell to a four-year $42 million extension this past summer and under the current circumstances, could undoubtedly be convinced to move him for another prospect, say Wilson, who the Raptors could develop in their G League franchise.

Moving Powell doesn’t help the Raptors and would be a risk if Casey needs a reliable player to cover injuries or even just foul trouble, but to make a deal for Middleton, president Masai Ujiri would have to consider it. The Bucks would probably want Anunoby, but that demand would instantly kill discussions.

As the calendar quickly moves towards the NBA trade deadline on February 8th, the Bucks will increasingly feel the pressure to do something meaningful about their inability to rebound the ball and signing two-way centers like Marshall Plumlee only smacks of desperation. They can either take a chance or accept the fact that, even with Giannis Antetokounmpo, they are still a one-and-done team in April at best.

The Raptors on a franchise record setting pace of 29-12 at the halfway point in the season are probably feeling pretty good about where they are, but the shadow of the King in Cleveland still looms and even with the Cavs current slide, Ujiri won’t be fooling himself into thinking the Raptors would be favored in a playoff series against LeBron James by standing pat.

It isn’t easy trading meaningful players with a potential playoff rival, but this is a deal the Raptors and Bucks should make happen.

 

 

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

 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Jason Terry and Greg Monroe

Should The Raptors Take A Look At The Bucks Greg Monroe?

It seems like Greg Monroe has been on the trading block ever since Milwaukee signed him to that three-year $50 million deal in the summer of 2015. So, with just one year remaining on his contract, now could be the time he can be moved and just maybe the Raptors should be taking a look.

“Monroe had the opportunity to opt out of his contract at the start of the month but opted to remain with the Bucks and collect $17.8 million for the remaining year on his contract.”  wrote Gery Woelfel  in Woelfel’s Press Box. “Monroe looks slim and trim and is in perhaps the best shape of his pro career.”

A big body in the post with very good midrange shooting and a solid rebounder, Monroe has been like an overpaid square peg in a round hole with the Bucks. After being a starter for his first six NBA seasons, Monroe came off the bench in all 81 regular season games and the 6 playoff games he played in last year.

However, that doesn’t mean Monroe hasn’t produced. He was the Bucks best offensive rebounder at 10.8 percent of the available boards and best rebounder overall (17 percent) on a team that finished 29th out of 30 NBA teams on the glass. And he was fourth in team scoring (11.7 points) in just 22.5 minutes per game.

His “successful” move to the bench didn’t stop the trade rumors and Monroe knows if the Bucks could move him, they would.

he knows he is still the subject of considerable trade conjecture.

Some NBA officials said Milwaukee is still clearly receptive to moving Monroe.

“I’d like to stay but that’s up to them,’’ said Monroe, referring to the Bucks’ front office.

The Raptors and the Bucks faced off in the first round of the playoffs with Toronto winning the final three games to take the series 4-2. While the move of Norman Powell into the starting lineup got all the headlines, of arguably equal importance was the Raptors sending starting center Jonas Valanciunas to the bench to match up with and neutralize Monroe.

In the first three games of that first round series Monroe averaged a very effective 16 points on 54.8 percent shooting off the bench while the starter Valanciunas struggled scoring 10 points on 37.5 percent shooting. The Raptors went 1-2.

In the final three games Monroe dipped to 10.3 points on 50 percent shooting while Valanciunas was a more effective 8.7 points at 62.5 percent. Monroe was held to just 6 points in the 3-point Game Six loss at home.

The new matchups favored the Raptors and there was little the Bucks could do about it.

Since the draft there have been rumors about the Bucks wanting to shakeup their big man rotation. Sure, they are very excited about the return of Jabari Parker in the new year and seeing what Thon Maker can do in his second season, but neither of these two young promising players showed anything encouraging on the glass.

The Bucks still need to upgrade their rebounding. Staying 29th in the NBA at anything isn’t where a team with high expectations wants to be.

However, the Raptors have also been trying to move Valanciunas since the draft as president Masai Ujiri was trying to manipulate his payroll to get under the tax and, at the same time, change his team’s style of play.

Ujiri solved his tax problem by dumping DeMarre Carroll’s $30 million in Brooklyn and he’s been looking for a decent return on Valanciunas in a market that hasn’t been very friendly to traditional centers.

If the Bucks want rebounding and a big man who can defend the post against other traditional centers, Valanciunas is a good option.

He’s been top ten in rebounding percentage in each of the past three seasons and the Bucks could use his 12 points and 9.5 rebounds in 26 minutes in the worst way. The knock on Valanciunas has been his trouble handling quicker stretch fours and fives, but the Bucks have that issue well covered with their other young big men. They need someone who can board with and slow down a guy like Valanciunas.

There are also signs Valanciunas has stretched his comfortable shooting range out to the free throw line and possibly even to the three-point line given time.

The Raptors are looking for change and Monroe would seem to be the kind of change Ujiri is looking for. Once considered a strictly “me” type player who didn’t seem all that happy in Detroit, Monroe is 27-years-old now and is saying the right things.

“I’m happy,’’ said Monroe, who attended the Bucks-Jazz game Friday night at Cox Pavilion on the UNLV campus. “I had no reason to leave. I want to build on what we started last year.’’

Monroe does the one thing the Raptors have been unsuccessful at getting Valanciunas to do. He moves the ball effectively. Where Valanciunas has only assisted on 4.2 percent of teammate field goals while he’s on the floor over his career with no signs of improvement, Monroe has averaged 13.2 percent and bumped that to 17.3 percent coming off the bench last year. Monroe could be the ball moving big man Ujiri wants to add in his new style of offense.

While Monroe has always been something of a tease in the NBA, a big man with star potential who could never quite put it all together, there’s a good argument to be made that he has never been in the right situation. The 2017-18 Raptors could be that situation.

A straight up trade of Monroe for Valanciunas works and does solve another problem for the Bucks. The $2.4 million difference in salary gets Milwaukee below the luxury tax line and if it’s important to Ujiri, he can stay below the tax as well.

It isn’t always easy trading with potential conference rivals, but sometimes the two teams have what each other needs. Both the Raptors and the Bucks would be better off after making this deal.

 

 

Stephen_Brotherston_inside

Stephen 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 DeMar DeRozan

ESPN Wasting No Time To Forget Toronto Exists

It took no time at all for ESPN to forget Toronto even exists as they forecast the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors will meet in the NBA Finals again next year.

Sure the Cavs and the Dubs are heavy favorites no matter what any other team does this summer, but what the ESPN Forecast panel is predicting can only be called bizarre and insulting.

The third place 51-win Raptors don’t even get a sniff ahead of the Bucks team (4.4%) they eliminated from the playoffs, a 49-win Wizards team (2.2%) who they took two of three games from during the regular season or the dysfunctional Pistons (2.2%) who didn’t even make the playoffs.

This panel are either making a ton of assumptions about the inability of Raptors president Masai Ujiri to keep the key pieces of his roster together or, more likely, they just forgot Toronto has an NBA franchise.

The assumptions required to believe the Celtics will win the East next season are not any easier to make happen than those required for the Raptors to be back in the top three of the Eastern Conference.

The Wizards largely face the same challenges this summer that they faced last summer to take another step.

The Bucks are an up and coming team, but do they break thru next year?

The Pistons? Stan Van Gundy wouldn’t predict his team wins the East next year.

It might not be easy for the US based ESPN to remember “We The North” exists, but they could at least look at last year’s standings for some background info before forecasting next year.

There is no one in Toronto that shouldn’t take the Pistons being given a better chance than the Raptors to win the East as anything but a huge insult. Even the Hawks, Bulls, Pacers and Heat should be questioning how the Pistons are getting more respect from ESPN than they are.

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Serge Ibaka Is Giving Raptors A Playoff Big Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Norman Powell Shines As Raptors Win Game Five

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Jason Kidd

Bucks Lack Of Experience Is Catching Up To Them

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Milwaukee Bucks Thon Maker

Bucks Develop Rookie Thon Maker The Old Fashioned Way

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

Jurassic Park Toronto Raptors

Raptors Fans Need To Step It Up In Game Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

Raptors Coach Casey Has All The The Right Buttons Pressed

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

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

Benching Jonas Valanciunas was a move that paid off.

Serge Ibaka excelled at center.

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

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

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

Be sure to check out the full preview.

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

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

 

  Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

NBA Toronto Raptors DeMar DeRozan

Have The Raptors Figured Out The Bucks?

By Frank McLean

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

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

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

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

Two factors led to this win.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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