Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry (7) battles under the hoop with Brooklyn Nets centre Kevin Garnett (2) but they couldn't get it done as the Nets won 94-87

Nets defense smothers Raptors, gets Brooklyn Game 1 win on road

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The game slows down in the playoffs, to win you have to execute in the half court.

Brooklyn’s halfcourt defense doubled and smothered Toronto’s Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, it took away passing lanes, and with that the Raptors halfcourt offense became a stagnant swamp. Toronto shot 39.4 percent as a team and had an offensive rating of just 93.5 points per 100 possessions in their first playoff game in years.

The Nets, on the other hand, played like veterans who comfortably moved the ball, found the open man, attacked mismatches, and hit the key shots late — particularly Paul Pierce, who struggled for three quarters and had 9 points when it mattered in the fourth.

With that the Nets picked up a 94-87 win in Game 1.

That puts the Nets up 1-0 with a well-earned road win — they are now in command of this series. When road teams wins the first playoff game in a series they go on to win the series 56 percent of the time. More than that, the Nets shot 4-of-24 from three, (16.7 percent) when on the season they shot 36.9 percent from deep.

Which is to say, this game was a lot closer than it probably should have been. The Nets were clearly the better team Saturday.

Toronto came out fired up — their GM was feeding that crowd before the game — and fed Jonas Valanciunas early, trying to make the Nets pay for their small ball lineup (he finished with 17 points on 13 shots, plus 18 rebounds). It worked, and the Raptors were up 11-7.

Then the Nets went on a 12-0 run doing what they did all game. On offense they went after the mismatches — Joe Johnson was covered John Salmons early and the Nets went at it. Johnson had 8 of his 24 in the first quarter, for the game he hit 8-of-13 shooting.

Deron Williams also had 24 points, on 8-of-20 shooting. The Nets offense wasn’t brilliant in this game, but it was good enough because of their defense.

The Toronto starting five, in the 13 minutes on the court together, shot just 23.5 percent. More than that, the Raptors turned the ball over on 20.4 percent of their possessions in the game (17 total).

Brooklyn has a long defensive team that is smart about passing lanes and recovery, and Toronto kept playing into their hands with attacks that were in isolation in the half court, or just a drive off the pick, and each time Lowry and DeRozan found themselves doubled and without good options. Lowry was 7-of-18, DeRozan 3-of-13 on the night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also struggled early, but with the game on the one late both had key buckets — PP had nine points in the fourth going at a mismatch.

Toronto got points when they ran off a miss or turnover and attack, expect them to try and do more of that in Game 2. But they are going to have to find some better ball movement and way to create buckets in the half court.

Or this return to the playoffs that has energized Toronto will not last long.

NBA: Mavericks got away with key late foul in win over Bulls

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Wesley Matthews hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the Mavericks’ 99-98 win over the Bulls on Wednesday.

But perhaps the game would’ve had a different outcome with correct officiating down the stretch.

Dallas guard Seth Curry got away with a loose-ball foul on Robin Lopez with 1:26 left, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Curry (DAL) clamps the arm of Lopez (CHI) and affects his ability to retrieve the rebound.

A correct call would’ve put Dallas in the penalty and sent Lopez – who has made 66% of his free throws this season and and 76% for his career – to the line for two attempts.

Instead, not only was Lopez denied his free throws, he committed a frustration foul on Dirk Nowitzki – who grabbed the rebound with help of Curry – moments later. Nowitzki converted one of two free throws.

We’ll never know how the rest of the game would’ve played out after a correct call, but a swing of 1-to-3 points is pretty big in a one-point game.

Celtics’ Jaylen Brown, reportedly Spurs’ Jonathon Simmons invited to dunk contest

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15:  Jaylen Brown #7 of the Boston Celtics in action against the New York Knicks during the second half of their preseason game at Madison Square Garden on October 15, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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Jaylen Brown entered the NBA as a highly touted prospect, the No. 3 pick by the Celtics last year.

Jonathon Simmons paid a $150 fee to try out for the Spurs’ D-League team before eventually climbing to the NBA.

Their very-different paths could cross during All-Star weekend in the dunk contest.

Brown said he has been invited, though he hasn’t made up his mind:

Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News:

Both would be worthy candidates. Between the two, I’d favor Brown, but it’ll be interesting to see the rest of the field.

Just what can Brown and Simmons do?

Report: 76ers interested in Jrue Holiday in free agency

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 23:  Jrue Holiday #11 of the Philadelphia 76ers plays against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center on December 23, 2012 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The 76ers need a point guard.

Joel Embiid is already a legitimate All-Star candidate, and Philadelphia has won seven of nine. But the 76ers’ ascent is limited by weak perimeter play.

The point guard of the future might already be on the roster, whenever No. 1 pick Ben Simmons returns. But at 6-foot-10, he’ll have trouble defending opposing point guards.

Philadelphia will likely draft a point guard between its own first-rounder (which includes swap rights with the Kings) and a top-three-protected pick from the Lakers. The 2017 draft is especially loaded with point guards near the top: Washington’s Markelle Fultz, UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith, Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox and Kentucky’s Malik Monk.

But with general Bryan Colangelo accelerating their rebuild, the 76ers might not be patient with Simmons learning an awkward position or a rookie taking the helm. Philadelphia could target a veteran – like the Pelicans’ Jrue Holiday, who’ll become an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Sixers will take a hard look at Holiday, sources say

That would be so juicy. Sam Hinkie essentially started The Process by trading Holiday from Philadelphia to New Orleans for what amounted to three first-round picks (Nerlens Noel, Dario Saric and a restored first-rounder the 76ers previously traded). Getting Holiday back once they’re finally ready to win would be such a hilarious touch.

Holiday would fit pretty well with Simmons, a unique talent as a point forward. Holiday is an excellent defender, and sharing playmaking with Simmons would prevent either from being overburdened. Ideally, Holiday would be a better 3-point shooter for this role, but he’s good enough spotting up to be more than fine.

Philadelphia will have more cap room than it knows what to do with this summer, and a max offer could tempt Holiday. The question becomes whether veterans actually join the 76ers, who’ve developed a reputation for losing but now plan to spend, or just use them for leverage like the Kings.

This is a good opportunity for Holiday, whether or not he returns to Philadelphia.

Report: Bulls looking to sign Chris Bosh after Heat waive him

CHICAGO, IL - FEBRUARY 24: Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat puts up a shot under pressure from Taj Gibson #22 of the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on February 24, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The Heat will likely waive Chris Bosh sometime after March 1. It might not be until next season, but Bosh has given every indication he plans to try playing again.

But will anybody sign him?

After all, Miami can exclude his salary from its cap picture only if a doctor jointly selected by the NBA and players union determines Bosh’s blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.”

At least one team is apparently interested.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

If Bosh, who turns 33 in March, makes it back onto the floor next season, word is that the Chicago Bulls are already plotting a run and will be at the front of the line to try to sign him.

I’m still skeptical Bosh plays again. The medical consensus is that it’s unsafe to play on blood-thinners, which have become necessary after his multiple blood-clot episodes. The jointly selected doctor confirming that evaluation – the only clear path to the Heat releasing Bosh unless he’d sacrifice some of his $75,868,170 remaining salary in a buyout – would provide even more certainty that Bosh is done.

Yet, the rules wouldn’t prevent the Bulls from making their own evaluation. Bosh would reunite with Dwyane Wade and provide floor-spacing and defense in the frontcourt. Chicago, which starts bruisers Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez, could use a player like a healthy Bosh.

But Bosh is likely to be either healthy or a free agent, not both. I don’t see a way around that.