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Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant 2019 NBA Finals game 5

By Going All-In The Warriors Sabotaged Their Dynasty

It’s admirable that Golden State fought to the very end of the NBA Finals, never giving up hope, but by going all-in the Warriors have sabotaged their dynasty and opened the door for the rest of the West to stake their own claim next season.

And it didn’t have to happen. Whether Kevin Durant stayed or left in free agency this team had a chance to get back to the Finals again next season if only they could have accepted their inevitable defeat at the hands of the Raptors.

Now, instead of trying to re-sign a healthy Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson to new long-term deals in July, the Warriors are now faced with some very difficult decisions.

There should be no argument that the dozen minutes Durant gave to the Warriors in game five before he was injured wasn’t critical if not the major reason their season was extended to a game six. However, it doesn’t even take hindsight to question if Durant should have played at all. The words coming from head coach Steve Kerr the day before made it obvious this was a bad idea.

“He’s going to practice with us today,” Kerr said when asked if Durant was any closer to being able to play. “He’ll get some extra work in with some of our younger players. We’ll gauge it from there.

“what he’s going to do today he hasn’t done”

So Durant, who hadn’t played since the second round of the playoffs and had just been cleared to practice with some of the young guys for the first time since then, was under serious consideration to play in the NBA Finals. If that isn’t rolling the dice, what is?

Even Kerr had words of caution, words he choose to ignore, immediately prior to the start of  game five.

“We’ll start him and play him in short bursts and see how he responds physically,” Kerr explained.  “I don’t want to put too much of a burden on him. It’s been a while, we don’t know how it’s going to go.”

Well, now we know.

Durant started and played six minutes before Kerr subbed him out for a brief 2 minute 17 second rest before putting him back in for his final six minutes before tearing his Achilles.

It’s easy to understand the pressure Kerr was under, the Warriors were a lot better with Durant on the court, but those weren’t short bursts, Durant was carrying a heavy burden and everyone knew it.

The Warriors had gone all-in for a chance to turn a Finals on the verge of slipping away around and while no one could have predicted the specific terrible injury that Durant suffered, it’s hardly a stretch to say everyone knew there was a real risk of something bad happening.

There never should have been a game six back in Oracle. This series should have ended in Toronto in game five and no reasonable person would have blamed Durant for not playing or Kerr, the medical staff or President Bob Myers for holding him out.

“You can blame me,” Myers said after the game.

No problem, as the person responsible for Warriors basketball operations, Myers is ultimately to blame.

The unforeseen impact of Durant’s sacrifice in game five was the Warriors would lose Klay Thompson to a torn ACL in game six. While there’s no one to blame or even second guess when it comes to Thompson’s injury, it occurred in a game that, but for going all-in, never would have been played.

Both Durant and Thompson are expected to miss most of, if not the entire, 2019-20 NBA season and while Durant could opt in to his $31 million player option and potentially allow the Warriors to cover part of his salary with insurance, both players are anticipated to enter free agency expecting max deals to be on the table for them.

Without at least one of Durant or Thompson playing next season the Warriors will be knocked down a peg and the the cost to keep both players on new max contracts represents a financial burden even a billionaire will find tough to swallow. Ownership will face some very tough decisions this July.

However, you can’t be mad at Golden State for going all-in, that’s what every fan hopes their franchise is willing to do when it comes to winning Championships, but it came at a cost. This five year dynasty has been sabotaged and it will take a huge financial commitment and no small measure of luck to get it back to the level it was at prior to game five in Toronto.

 

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.

 

 

 

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr 2019 NBA Finals

Kevin Durant Will Start For The Warriors, But

An hour before game time Warriors head coach finally confirmed all the speculation, Kevin Durant will play in game five, but it wasn’t until the third query that Kerr admitted Durant would start.

“Are we really going to go into it that deeply?” Kerr responded to the opening question. “He can play now. He’s been cleared, so he’s going to play.

“We’ll start him and play him in short bursts and see how he responds physically, see if his wind is okay and as the game goes, we’ll try to figure it out from there,” Kerr responded when asked how Durant will help Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.  (oops?)

Kerr admitted he really doesn’t know what he can get from Durant, but he knows what he hopes he can get.

“I don’t want to put too much of a burden on him,” Kerr stated. “It’s been a while, we don’t know how it’s going to go, how it’s going to look, but just his mere presence makes a huge difference for us.

“I’m more hoping that Kevin’s return can sort of normalize the bench players’ roles.

“Kevin’s insertion changes quite a bit for us and so we have an idea of how we’re going to play and what our rotation will look like, and of course I’m not going to tell you.”

However, what Kerr is really banking on is his team just playing better than they have so far in this series.

“We got to cut down our turnovers,” Kerr said. “We had 19 the other game, and got to improve our defense.

“We do those two things, I like our chances.”

Kerr isn’t wrong. If the Warriors defense remains suspect and they keep turning the ball over so much, even Durant at 100 percent won’t matter.

 

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 We The North and the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy at the pre-series media party

Toronto Raptors First Of Three Chances For A Championship

Everyone in Toronto wants to see the Raptors close out the Golden State Warriors in game five and no player wants to give their opponent a second chance, but this is just the first of three opportunities to win an NBA Championship for We The North.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “We got to keep some focus and improve on some things and make some adjustments and do the work. I think there’s a lot of basketball to be played yet. Again, we try to ignore what the score in the series is and be more concerned with making it a one-game series, if we can.”

There are no guarantees in pro sports and the Raptors have had first hand experience with losing games they could’ve should’ve won in every series they’ve played in during this year’s playoffs. It’s good to have second and third chances.

“(Our players) know there’s work to be done,” Nurse said. “I just think they just know there’s not a whole lot of energy to spend on celebrating before time. Let’s hope we understand that. We’re going to see tomorrow night. We have handled it so far, and let’s see if we can handle it again.”

The best player in the NBA Finals knows what his Raptors have to do in game five to end this series.

“Just stay in the same routine and just focus what’s in front of me,” Leonard said. “Obviously, as you said, human beings, we do think in the future. Been thinking in the future since the beginning of the season, just trying to get to this point. You just got to stay current and stay in your routine, be patient and not rush anything.

“It is pressure with any game. I don’t think it’s any added pressure to it. We still have to go out there and play a basketball game. Whatever game or significance of the game or time, you always want to play great defense and make a shot. It’s pretty much just a title over it right now.  Just go out and play. Play it, enjoy it and whatever happens we’ll see the results.”

And in a few short months the Raptors have gone from being All-Star Kyle Lowry’s team to following in the very big shoes worn by Leonard. They get their collective sense of calm from The Klaw, he’s just the same every practice, every game.

“Probably Kawhi, Nick Nurse, Danny, Marc. I think we just have a bunch of guys that are in the moment, understanding that we’re just going to keep playing and keep working,” Lowry said.

” We didn’t do nothing yet. We haven’t done anything. We still got to get one more win. It’s the first to four. You got champions coming in here and they’re going to play their butts off and play extremely hard. “

The thing to remember in Toronto is anything can happen in one game and that’s what the Warriors are hanging onto.

“Being down 3-1 in The Finals. We haven’t been in this position before in The Finals,” Stephen Curry said. “But for us it’s just a matter of, can you win one basketball game right now?

“Can you go out tomorrow, play an amazing 48 minutes, quiet this crowd that’s going to be probably unbelievable tomorrow, and slow down a team that’s been playing amazing, especially these last two games, and just win one basketball game and take it from there?”

Toronto is heavily favored to to win their first NBA Championship in game five, but in case everyone has forgotten, the Raptors are 3-0 in Golden State this season and will get another kick at the can if the Warriors put together an “unbelievable” effort in game five. And if that doesn’t go the Raptors way, there’s always game seven back in Toronto on Sunday.

That’s three chances to win a championship for a team with the patience and sense of calm to end this series in game five.

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Kevin Durant

Warriors Kevin Durant Doesn’t Look Ready To Play Yet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Draymond Green 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Are Questioning If They Can Outscore The Raptors

Is the old adage of Defense Wins Championships still true in today’s NBA? Well after scoring 109 points three games in a row and only squeezing out one win, the one-time defensive juggernaut Golden State Warriors are beginning to remember how they really won three of the past four NBA titles.

“For the most part I liked the way that we played offensively,” Stephen Curry said about game three. “I don’t think that’s going to be the issue for us to win. It’s all about our defense.

With a nod to Captain Obvious, if the Warriors give up 118 points like they did in game one in Toronto or 123 points like they did in game three at home, the likelihood of winning isn’t very high. The Warriors defensive rating in the Finals has been an unfathomable 116.2 and if that doesn’t come down dramatically, it isn’t going to matter who comes back from injury to save them.

“Any time you make it to the NBA Finals, you’re playing against another great team,” Draymond Green said. “So it’s always going to be challenging.

“We can sit and talk about the injuries until we’re blue in the face, it’s not going to change how Kevin’s calf feels or how Looney (feels).”

No one questions the Warriors ability to score, with or without the services of Kevin Durant, and even before Durant arrived on the the scene, the Warriors had built a roster that was the best on defense even as they piled up points from long range. But that was then and things have changed. This year it would be more than fair to question the Dubs defensive focus during the regular season (108.5 defensive rating) and, more importantly, in their playoff run thru the Western Conference (110.8).

Defense wins in the playoffs, especially in The Finals,” head coach Steve Kerr acknowledged. “So we got to play better defense.”

As off right now, a Raptors defensive rating of 110.5 thru the first three games has been good enough, even if it’s up dramatically from the 102.9 they put up as they ran thru the East.

The Warriors can score points. Klay Thompson and his deadly three-point shooting will be back for game four after missing game three, but it’s his defense his team needs.

“Just being able to guard their guards out there,” Thompson explained after sitting out game three with a sore hammy. “They looked comfortable yesterday. They were playing in great rhythm. So it makes you mad. You want to get out there and stop them. I’ll try and do that tomorrow (game four).”

As a reminder, the Raptors looked pretty comfortable in game one with a healthy Thompson on the court and hoping their guards will miss open shots like Toronto did in game two really isn’t a reliable strategy. All of the Warriors need to step up their defensive effort.

“If we’re going to keep scoring 109, we got to keep them to 108 and that’s the biggest thing,” Kerr said.

 

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

 

 

 

 

NBA Golden State Warriors Klay Thompson 2019 NBA Finals

Warriors Wake-up In The Second Half

By Frank McLean

Back in the days when I covered hockey the late Pat Burns used to always tell us in the media that you “have to be beware of the wounded bear”, whenever the Maple Leafs were going to play a top level opponent who were not playing up to their potential.

The Golden State Warriors looked like that wounded bear in game one of the this year’s NBA Finals and you can add the first half of game two as well. The Warriors did not look like the team that have won three of the last four championships.

Down 59-54 at halftime the Warriors came out and looked like the team we have seen for the last five years. Playing basketball like they were on the uppers, playing their usual fast pace game pushing the ball up-court never  letting the shot clock get down below 15-seconds and before you knew it they opened the third quarter on an 18-zero run leading 73-59. The Raptors didn’t know what hit them.

They Warriors hang on to win 109-104 to tie series at one game apiece.

“It felt like we should have been down by more than five”, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “For the first quarter and a half we really had a tough time scoring. So the last whatever it was, four, five, six minutes, the game loosened up and we finally broke free and started getting some buckets. We ended up with 34-assists, which is more like our team”.

Here’s how the Warriors finished off the game. They had those 34-assists on 38-made field goals in 82-attempts. In the first half they were 16-of-40 from the field on 12-assists but most of the good shots came in the last three minutes of the half.

The Warriors were being schooled in the paint in the first half being outscored 28-12, but in the second half the Warriors dominated the paint by a 24-16 margin.

“I thought just staying in the game at the end of the second quarter was also very important”, Kerr said about the 18-zip run. ”I think we were down 12- and the place was going nuts, we couldn’t score, and Steph (Curry) and Klay (Thompson) both got loose and the game loosened up a little bit and we scored. We weren’t exactly making stops, but we cut the lead to five and could kind of breathe at halftime”.

“I think our guys felt a renewed life at the point and came out and just had a great run to take control of the game, and we were able to finish it out from there”, Kerr added.

Pretty much that’s how the Warriors have won games over the last five years, taking control of a game for a quarter and pretty much making it hard for the opposition to catch up.

Now as we head to game three at the always tough Oracle Arena in Oakland there is a good news and bad news facing the Warriors.

The good news was DeMarcus Cousins coming back from being on the shelf for six weeks with a quad injury.

Kerr was hoping to 20-minutes out of him but Cousins went out and played almost-28 with 11-points and 10-rebounds. But the physicality that he brought to the floor on the defensive side of things harassing Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry was an aspect of the game that was missing in game one.

But, and there always is a but, the injury bug hit the Warriors just a little bit.

First Klay Thompson pulled his hamstring which Kerr confirmed in his post game comments as well as Kevon Looney injuring a shoulder. Andre Iguodala went down hard on the floor with some sort of nagging leg injury which could or could not be factor from here on out.

There was also speculation from those in the media that cover the Warriors on a daily basis that Kevin Durant could be back for game three, BUT we will  have to wait for Wednesday to see if that comes to be.

The Warriors got the split that you need on the road when you don’t have home court advantage in a post season series.

They woke up in the second half of game two and the question now is will they stay awake and be the Warriors of old or, like the wounded bear, go back into the cave and hibernate.

 

 

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 Toronto Raptors Norman Powell and Kawhi Leonard by Larry Millson 2019 playoffs

Can The Warriors Defense Stop Anybody Anymore?

The Golden State Warriors earned a reputation for defense over their five year dominance of the NBA, but this year is different. KD or no KD, it’s valid to question if this version of the champs can stop anyone anymore?

No one questions the ability of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to put up big numbers and Kevin Durant only makes the Warriors’ offense even more dangerous, but this year teams scored on Golden State during the regular season at a lofty 108.5 points per 100 possessions and during the playoffs that’s ballooned to 110.8.

Head coach Steve Kerr can moan about transition points given up and Draymond Green can say he has to play better defensively against Pascal Siakam, but this team has been easy to score on all season and throughout the playoffs.

NBA Golden State Warriors Defensive Ratings 2015-2019

Last year Golden State put a sub-par defensive regular season behind them to become the best defensive team in the postseason, holding opponents under 100 points 10 times in 21 games including a stretch of five in a row. This year, they’ve only managed to accomplish the task trice, and two of the under 100 point defensive efforts were against the depleted and over-matched Trail Blazers.

The last couple of trips to the NBA Finals were against a Cavaliers team that was playing a weak brand of defense equal to what the Warriors have been up to this year.

In contrast the Raptors have won with defense this postseason, holding teams under 100 points 11 times in 19 games including a stretch of six in a row. They can argue it’s really 12 times as the Bucks only scored 96 points before that game headed to overtime.

Is it any wonder Kerr keeps saying the Raptors are built a lot like his team? We all have a tendency to live in the past.

“They’re very long and athletic, they’re tough, they get after you and they play well together,” Kerr said. “They got a lot of versatility. I think they’re actually a lot like our team, they can switch and guard different positions and that sort of thing.

“We got to play better if we’re going to beat them.”

What the Dubs have to do is find their defensive moxie of last year and show everyone they can still stop teams from scoring.

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Norman Powell

It’s Raptors Defense Vs Warriors Offense In The NBA Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors Kyle Lowry

The Raptors Are The Finals Hotter Three-Point Shooting Team

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

Regular Season Stats

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

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

First Round opponent: Magic 32.1 3FGA, 35.6%

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raptors (4-1) vs Magic

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

Raptors (4-3) vs 76ers

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

Raptors (4-2) vs Bucks

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

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

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

NBA Finals

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

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

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

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

This NBA Finals has potential to be full of surprises.

 

 

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

 photo credit Larry Millson

 

 

 

NBA Toronto Raptors 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