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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.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Serge Ibaka

Did The Raptors Solve The 76ers In Game 4?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

NBA Philadelphia 76ers Jimmy Butler

76ers Adjust First Vs The Raptors To Win Game Two

By Frank McLean

No doubt about it, the pressure was on the Philadelphia 76ers as they headed into game two of their second round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors Tuesday night.

The last thing they wanted to do was head back home down two games to none and having to still win a game in Toronto where Scotiabank Arena has been their personal hell.

Including their loss in game one the Sixers had lost 14-straight games in the 416-area code.

That came to an end with the Sixers on top 89-94, in a game that was a throwback to old time playoff basketball, rough and physical. A game, especially in the first half, looked like the main event on Monday Night Raw being played under South Philadelphia Street Rules.

The win is was what Sixers coach Brett Brown called “one we gutted out.”

The puzzle Sixers coach Brett Brown had all day Sunday to try and figure out was what to do with Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard in game one had one that was for the ages, even for him with 45-points and 11-assists. Pascal Siakam added 29-himself so combined with Leonard they duo combined for 74-of the Raptors 108-points scored in game one.

Game two Leonard scored-35 and Siakam added-21 for only a combined-56 points which gave the Sixers a better chance of keeping the score close before they were able to build up a 19-point lead at one point in the game.

Brown thought that the Sixers defence was as good as it could be but what he couldn’t believe was that with the amount turnovers his team committed that they led at halftime.

“The clear problem was our turnovers, if you looked at the first half and said we had 13-turnovers at the end of the second period, in Toronto, in the Eastern Conference semi-final game two, what do you think the score should be? If you limit our turnovers where they got 18-points off I think our spirit was just fine which led to good first half.”

What Brown did to change the look of the Sixers defense was to put Joel Embiid on Siakam and Ben Simmons on Leonard.

Brown after the game couldn’t say enough about Leonard who kept the Raptors in the game who had to deal with Ben Simmons on him the whole night.

When it came to Embiid, no one was sure until about ten minutes before the game if he could play. It wasn’t his knee bothering him this time but a bad stomach that had him spending most of his Monday in the bathroom.

Yep he actually gutted this game out so to speak.

But what really made the difference for the Sixers in game two compared to game one was the offensive brilliance of Jimmy Butler. He was a workhorse playing 43-minutes scoring-30 and grabbing 11-boards.

General Manager Elton Brand picked him up in November from the Timberwolves just for that purpose to be that game changing player come playoff time.

“He was JAMES Butler”, Brown gushed in his post- game comments.

“He was the adult in the gym. I get excited by the volume of three’s he puts up (4-for-10), he was a rock that willed us in certain situations.”

After the game the Raptors Kyle Lowry said that they now have to make adjustments as this series now shifts to Philadelphia for the next two games and that this is what happens in the playoffs.

So now the spotlight is on Nick Nurse and his staff to make adjustments.

Leonard scored-35 points and in game one-45 and is averaging-40 for the first two games of the series. The key is to find a way to free up Siakam so he can take a little of the load of the load off Leonard.

The Raptors could have and maybe should have won game two.

They missed a lot of shots like down three with a minute left in the fourth quarter when Danny Green missed a 25-footer which would have tied the game and who knows what way the game would have gone.

But in the end full marks to Brett Brown and his coaching staff. The pressure was on not go down two nothing in the series and they figured a way to win one and go home with a split.

It’s now the Raptors turn to make adjustments.

 

 

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 Philadelphia 76ers Ben Simmons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe it takes somebody off the boards.

“Maybe it opens up driving lanes in transition.

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

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NBA Orlando Magic Terrence Ross

Magic Look To The Future As Raptors Ready For Round Two

By Frank McLean

The Orlando Magic are going to be a force to be reckoned with in the future assuming they can keep what they got and continue to improve a roster with potential. Right now they look like the Raptors did four and five years ago as they were just starting to become a consistent playoff team.

The Magic finished the regular season on a 22-9 run to get the seventh seed in the NBA East, but superior teams like the Raptors are able to beat them in a seven game playoff series because they can shut down their offence pretty easily.

The Magic need to upgrade their offense in the off season. What the Raptors did was take out their number one threat, Nikola Vucevic, who averaged team highs of 21 points and 12 rebounds in the regular season, but in the playoffs was held to just 11 points and six boards. And Vucevic will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

They also have ex-Raptor Terrance Ross coming off the bench as an effective scorer, but Magic head coach Steve Clifford did talk about the problem he has with his limited power on offence because if he starts Ross he has no one to come off the bench and give the team some energy if his starters struggle.

The 28-year-old Ross will also be an unrestricted free agent in July and he’s coming of the best season of his NBA career, so if the Magic want to keep the two players who accounted for almost a third of Orlando’s points scored this past season, they won’t have any salary cap room to go after free agents this summer.

Somehow, however, the offence and the defense is something that will be addressed by the Magic this summer.

They did hit the jackpot last summer landing veteran coach Clifford who got the most out his roster. He will make this team a playoff contender for years to come if management can get him the talent.

Odds are, we haven’t seen the last of the Magic.

Just some odds and ends as the Toronto Raptors wrap up the first round of the playoffs and turn their attention to the Philadelphia 76ers and round two.

First let’s look how this Raptors team is different than in the past.

They have made the second round of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but now this team has figured out that when you have your foot down on your opponents throat you put them out of their misery.

In game five they came out flying and before the first quarter was over the game was essentially over.

Kyle Lowry scored the first nine points of the game and helped kick start a 22-3 run and that had the Magic playing catch up the rest of the night.

And speaking of Kyle Lowry, this was the guy that everybody was freaking out on after game one when he scored no points and the Raptors only lost by three points. If he had made just two field goals they would have been winners.

However, over the first round series Lowry was a monster. His four game total of 48-points,18-rebounds and 34-assists was what star players are supposed to do in the playoffs.

And let’s not forget he was a PLUS-60 for the series.

Clifford was gushing about Lowry’s play.

“Well, I just think, what I see in him he has a lot of good basketball left, but what I see in him is I think he’s looked around and saying this is the best team he has played on, and this is the best chance that they have had. I think he understands that this is his best chance (at a title) and he is playing at a real high level.”

We have to mention Pascal Siakam who had some kind of coming out party in the first round, a party for those who have never seen him in the regular season.

In five games he averaged 22.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and double-double in games three and four.

Earlier in the season I had a chance to talk to Mike D’Antoni head coach of the Houston Rockets who told me how a bunch of his players played with Siakam over the summer and said, “you won’t believe how this guy has improved.”

“Well, we thought he was going to be much improved coming out of the season and the summer,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “But I’m not sure that anybody saw this coming, right? If anybody said the guy was going to do what he’s doing in the playoffs a year ago from now they were being optimistic.”

 

 

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 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

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

Predictable Raptors Game One Loss Proves Nothing

By Frank McLean

They say in life the only two things that are certain are death and taxes. If you are a fan of the Toronto Raptors you can add that the basketball team you cheer for will lose the first game of a playoff series.

On Saturday the Orlando Magic came to Toronto and knocked off the Raptors in game one of their Eastern Conference first round series 104-101. The Raptors now sport an all time record of 2-14 in the opening game of a playoff series in franchise history.

Now if you are a Raptors fan you can ask a couple questions.

First, what the heck happened to Kyle Lowry?

Lowry had another playoff game where he couldn’t hit Lake Ontario if he was taking jump shots from Lakeshore Boulevard.

He had zero points in 34-minutes of playing time. Zero for seven from the field, six of those attempts came from behind the three point line. He was also zero for two from the foul line.

He did add seven rebounds and eight assists, but if he made just two field goals, two stinking field goals, they probably win the game.

Lowry won’t put up a shooting stinker like that again in this series.

Second, some average player on the opposing team looks like a superstar.

Guard, and former Raptor D.J. Augustin, who averaged 11.7 points in the regular season, had a monster game one with 25 points.

Augustin will come back down to earth.

If you were paying attention over the last two months, you would have seen that the Magic where going to be a pest to whomever they would play if they got into the playoffs, and if you’ve been watching the Raptors in the postseason since their inception, you’d know they’d find a way to screw up game one.

But losing game one in the opening round of the postseason has meant nothing since the Raptors first 50-win season three years ago.

 

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. 

 

 

NBA Raptors DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and Cavaliers LeBron James

Raptors Look Confused After Game Two Loss To The Cavs

Take last night’s box score from the Cavs at Raptors game and only look at the Toronto half. The Raptors must have won? It’s all good, good enough for a victory and the Raptors looked plenty confused after a Game Two loss that wasn’t even close.

Toronto scored 110 points, shot an impressive 54.3 percent from the field, put up 30 three-balls and hit 40 percent of them. They out-rebounded the Cavs by one, got one more assist and only turned the ball over a very respectable 11 times. Their two All-Starts combined for 45 points on 18-33 shooting and sixth-man Fred VanVleet found his offensive touch with 14 points while hitting on 4-7 three-point attempts. Even rookie OG Anunoby was playing some solid defense on LeBron James, not that you’d know it from the King’s stat line.

“We were searching, just trying to find somebody, something to get faster, get more points on the board,” head coach Dwane Casey said. “We were searching for offense, searching for spacing, searching for a lot of things.”

“It’s not over, we just got to take it one game at a time, (and) go from there” DeMar DeRozan forced out after the game.

“We need more effort, way more effort,” Kyle Lowry said searching for answers. “We got to play harder, somehow, someway.”

Toronto went into the break up two points 63-61, but it all fell apart in the second half when they couldn’t stop James who scored 27 of his 43 points over the final two quarters. The Cavs put up 67 second half points on 67.5 percent shooting from the field to go up 18 points on Raptors by the end.

Second year forward Pascal Siakam and Anunoby were in James’ face on nearly every shot he attempted, but he still made 13-19 after the half, mostly of the improbable variety.

“Tonight all the shots over his right shoulder, the step-backs, the fade-a-ways, the one where he hit the moon-ball over his right shoulder and came back with the next possession and hit one over his left shoulder from the free throw line, that was special,” Kevin Love said about James’ performance. “That was something that you get accustomed to, you kind of get used to, but tonight was in that fashion. I don’t know if, it’s my fourth year here, I’d seen that out of him, so it’s special.

“When he went over his right shoulder and then went over his left shoulder, he said when he got the mismatch he would do that. He actually called his shots this morning. That’s just one of the examples I could use about how locked in he was during the entire shoot-a-round knowing what was at stake for us.”

Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue was almost prophetic during the pre-game media availability when hoped for a big scoring night from his team.

“Each team tries to take away what each team does best, so the team who scores 130 this series, they got hot and played really well,” Lue responded to Pro Bball Report’s query. “I don’t see the 130 point games, but if so, I hope it’s us.”

The Cavs were hot in Game Two with the 128-110 victory and the confused Raptors were at a complete loss as to how to stop the barrage.

 

 

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 Jonas Valanciunas

Raptors Waste A 21/21 Night By Jonas Valanciunas

By Frank McLean

Game One of the third annual Toronto Raptors versus the Cleveland Cavaliers playoff series was a big disappointment as the home team wasted a 21 point 21 rebound night by Jonas Valanciunas. It was like waking up Christmas morning and finding a lump of coal in your stocking.

The Raptors lost this game, which by rights they should have won, 113-112 in overtime only because they couldn’t make one stinking field goal in the last 4:19 of regulation time.

They were leading 102-99 thanks to a Kyle Lowry layup, but then they proceeded to miss their last 11-field goal attempts. With the score tied at 105 with five seconds left they missed three easy tip-ins, two of them by Jonas Valanciunas and the other one by DeMar DeRozan.

Even in overtime Fred VanVleet had a shot to win it at the buzzer with a 28 foot jump shot that missed. The Raptors should have walked out of the Air Canada Centre with a one to nothing lead in the series on this night.

What hurts is that they ruined what I consider the second best single game playoff performance by a Raptors player.

Now the best is still Vince Carter scoring 50 points against Philadelphia in a second round series back in 2001. But what Jonas Valanciunas did Tuesday night scoring 21 points and adding 21 boards was an outstanding playoff performance.

Now I know some will argue that Bismack Byombo’s  26 rebounds against the same Cleveland Cavaliers in Game Three of the conference final two years should be up there and I would put it number three. Why?

20 point-20 rebound games are as rare as no hitters by pitchers in baseball.

Valanciunas is the first Raptor to do this in a playoff game and when you include the regular season, he is only the third Raptor to do it period. Popeye Jones did it first in franchise history and Chris Bosh did it twice.

Four times in 23 years shows how rare this happens.

In his postgame scrum with the media Valanciunas was in the mood to talk about his 20-20 night. He agonized over the four minutes of regulation time where they couldn’t make a shot especially since he two cracks at it in the last five seconds.

“We missed some shots, easy shots ,“ Valanciunas said. “They were aggressive, playing real aggressive defense, but it’s on us. What you take away is you got to make shots, know what you are doing, we could have won this game.”

Valanciunas shot just 7-19 from the field in Game One. Meanwhile head coach Dwane Casey was complementary.

“I thought he played well. He had a wide open tip in at the end that I thought he could have finished but I thought Jonas played really well.”

Valanciunas success was based on the Cavaliers using a small line up which he was able to exploit.

“We made them pay for their small lineup, he has to continue to do that,” Casey added. “He’s got the advantage as far as post-ups, his tip-ins, his driving to the baskets and getting to the free throw line and rebounding. He did a heck of a job at the position.”

And that’s where the Raptors had success against the Cavaliers with Valanciunas controlling the paint all night and it’s something they can keep exploiting as long as the series goes.

The Raptors could have, I mean should have, won this game and have a one to nothing lead in this best of seven series. All they had to do is make one shot and as a result they wasted a franchise playoff record braking performance by Jonas Valanciunas.

 

 

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


 Featured image courtesy of Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors C.J. Miles

Cavs Are Giving Raptors C.J. Miles His Time To Shine

The Toronto Raptors signed the veteran C.J. Miles this past summer to be part of the culture change envisioned by president Masai Ujiri and heading into a second round playoff series against a Cavs team that refuses to defend the three-point line, this is his time to shine.

To make the culture change work, the Raptors needed a player who wasn’t afraid to hoist as many three-point attempts as time allowed and good enough that opposing defenses couldn’t afford to leave him. It must have been music to Miles ears as the veteran reserve fired a career-high 454 threes in the fewest minutes he’s played per game since he was 20, a decade ago.

To put things bluntly, the Cavs don’t defend three-point shooters. They gave up the 29th most three-point attempts in the NBA (31.7) this past season and the 28th most three-point makes (11.7). It’s a free-for-all out there beyond the arc and it almost cost them a first round exit against a fifth-place Pacers team that was 25th in three-pointers made this season. The Pacers took 27.1 (up 2.6 from the regular season), but the fact they could only make 0.7 more threes undoubtedly cost them this very close series.

The Raptors, on the other hand, are the polar opposites to the Pacers when it comes to three-point shooting. Toronto shot the third most threes in the NBA (33) and made the fourth most (11.8), but in three games against the Cavs, those numbers exploded to 14.7 made on 36.7 attempts. Miles hitting on 50 percent of his three-point attempts versus Cleveland. It’s a lot easier to shoot from range when no one is coming out to stop you.

This is redemption time for Miles. A career 36.1 percent three-point shooter on 3,249 regular season attempts, Miles hasn’t performed in the postseason. In prior year’s playoffs, he shot 26.5 percent on 98 three-point attempts and in the past two years with Indiana, he went just 7-36 or 19.4 percent from three. Miles has something to prove and he’s proving it.

Complaining that the Wizards were face-guarding him the entire first round and that it was hard to get open, Miles averaged 5.2 three-point attempts per game and hit on 38.7 percent of them (both represent playoff career bests). He actually shot better than his regular season average of 36.1 percent.

This is Miles time to shine, to run off screens and find no one there to challenge his three-point barrage and the Raptors will need him. Toronto outscored the Wizards by an average 9 points per game from the three-point line in their first round series and to beat the Cavaliers, they’ll need to do it again or better. Buckle up and fire away.

 

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Cleveland Cavaliers LeBron James vs Toronto Raptors Jonas Valanciunas and DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry

Is The Third Time The Charm For The Raptors Facing The Cavs?

By Frank McLean

It’s the Raptors and the Cleveland Cavaliers meeting up in the second round of the playoffs for the second straight year and for the third time in a row overall. And everyone knew that if this Raptors team was going to make it to the NBA Finals they would have to hook up with LeBron James for another post season battle.

The Raptors had lost the Conference Final two years ago four games to two and were swept in the second round last year.

Their playoff record is not that great if you only look at the fact the Raptors are two and eight overall against Cleveland and their only two wins were at home. Toronto winless in the post season at Quicken Loans Arena.

But there are some differences this time around.

First the Raptors will have home court advantage for the first time thanks to finishing first overall in the Eastern Conference. Including their three home playoff games with the Washington Wizards the Raptors are 37-7 at home and the Air Canada Centre is as tough a place for any visiting team to play in as any building in the NBA.

The Cavaliers only made one appearance in Toronto this year but they were thumped 133-99, thanks to the new Raptors style of play of distributing ball until someone has a good look and takes it. As opposed to the isolation style of ball where the focus was on DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry and all the Cavaliers had to do was shutdown the guard duo and that pretty well did the Raptors in.

They are also a tougher road team, including the Wizards, they are 26-18 overall and let’s not forget how big the game six win was in Washington. Not only did  it clinch the series early for a change, eliminating an anything-can-happen seventh game, but it proved that this team can win pressure-packed road playoff games.

LeBron James talked about the different Raptors team he and the Cavaliers will be facing this time around on Sunday after they eliminated the Indiana Pacers in a first round series.

“Kudos to Dwane Casey. First of all they’ve got like 10-to-12 guys who come in and produce every single night. We know the head of the snake is DeRozan and Lowry, but those guys off the bench they come in with the same attitude and the same confidence as the starters. We don’t have much time to prepare so we’re going to go into Game one and just kind of wing and just go from there.”

The big question about the Cavaliers is how tired is James?

In their series with the Pacers it looked like James was playing all by himself against whoever the five players the Pacers had on the floor. James, single-handed, won this series.

In Sunday’s game seven he scored 45-points nine rebounds and eight assists, but with the Pacers trailing by two, 76-74 after three quarters, James was on the bench with a minor injury. And when James got back into the game they were able to get the lead to nine and they never looked back.

But James admitted after the game that he is tired and that he wanted to go home. He did say that with only one day to get ready for the Raptors they are going to wing it.

They didn’t have an easy first round series, don’t have home court in the second round, and that’s what happens when you finish fourth.

So, is this the year the Raptors take care of the Cavaliers?

Things are different for this third playoff series in three years between these Eastern Conference rivals, but one thing everyone was sure of. These two teams were going to have to meet one more time in the playoffs and maybe the third time is the charm for Toronto.

 

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.