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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo called for 10-second violation on free throw (video)

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This Giannis Antetokounmpo 10-second violation was a year in the making.

Unfortunately for the Trail Blazers, it was too little, too late. Antetokounmpo still finished with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists, four blocks and two steals in the Bucks’ 115-107 win.

Iman Shumpert injures hand while missing open dunk (video)

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Plenty went right for the Cavaliers in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but there were a few snags.

LeBron James and his teammates repeatedly failed the water-bottle challenge in the closing moments (though Kyrie Irving eventually nailed it).

Kevin Love‘s nose malfunctioned.

And Iman Shumpert injured his hand while missing an open dunk.

If Shumpert was faking as an excuse for missing, he sold it hard. Defending 4-on-5 on the other end, Cleveland ceded a 3-pointer. Then, Shumpert remained hunched over while the Cavs brought the ball up-court. It seems Shumpert might have been popping back in a dislocated finger, which jibes with him staying in the game – and shows his toughness.

But it also doesn’t erase the shame of hurting yourself while missing an open dunk.

Gregg Popovich calls coaching Tim Duncan-less Spurs a ‘refreshing’ and ‘fun’ challenge

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP)–  For so many years, the San Antonio Spurs have been defined by their consistency, an unprecedented level of stability that has brought five championships and established the organization as a model franchise in professional sports.

The colors don’t change. The coach doesn’t change. The core never changed.

After 20 years and those five titles, change has finally come to San Antonio.

Tim Duncan, the tone setter from the moment he was drafted in 1997, retired last summer. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have taken reduced roles this season, and the Spurs brought in seven new faces as part of a rare roster shuffle as they try to retool around Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

“It’s been at the same time a challenge and a refreshing sort of situation,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “The team is changing personnel-wise and where the ball goes and a few different players so we have to do things a little bit differently. There’s a give and take, strategy wise, to fit the group. It’s been a lot of fun. Watching some of the young guys get minutes and develop has been fun.”

Fun because while the faces have changed, the results have not. The Spurs (18-4) have navigated the bumps in the road that come with unfamiliarity and have the second-best record in the league, tied the star-studded Golden State Warriors (18-3) in the win column. They have started the season 13-0 on the road and can match last year’s Warriors for the best road start in league history with a win in Chicago on Thursday night.

It hasn’t always been pretty for these Spurs. They’re not the same ruthless, precise machine that steamrolled the league during championship runs. They have had to muddle through things, overcome mistakes and struggle while they get acclimated to one another.

Newcomers like six-time All-Star Pau Gasol, steady veteran David Lee, Argentinian point guard Nico Laprovittola and shot-blocking center Dewayne Dedmon have had to work hard to integrate into a culture that is as enduring as any.

“You could see it in our games. Sometimes our offense is stagnant, our defense isn’t moving well or in our help positions,” Leonard said. “We have a big playbook on the offensive end. It’s just hard to learn it. It was hard for me to learn it. I didn’t get it down until probably my second or third year. We’ve just got to keep giving a consistent effort and being into the game and into our playbook and just keep moving from there.”

The result has been a team that tends to start slow, fall behind and then gradually digs its heels in. They are 5-4 at home, where they only lost once all of last season. They’ve lost to the Magic at home, were thumped by the Clippers and have not recaptured the breathtaking form they showed in a 29-point win at Golden State on opening night. But the wins keep coming.

“I think the first eight to 10 games was the coaching staff trying to figure out what lineups we’re going to play and there were a lot of changes, a lot of trying what works best,” said Gasol, who signed as a free agent this summer. “But now I think there’s more consistency, there’s more defined lineups. Guys know when to come in, when they’re going to play and what’s expected of them.”

The Spurs have won 13 of their last 14 games, and Popovich has leaned on his core more than he has in years to get them off to a good start. Leonard and Aldridge both average more than 33 minutes per game, the first time San Antonio has had two players averaging that much playing time since 2008-09.

“It’s been interesting to see how the team develops and comes together and who the leaders will be without Timmy being that overriding factor for so long,” Popovich said.

Leonard, for years the ultra-quiet storm trooper of the Spurs army, has been much more vocal this season. Gasol’s personality and approach have been a perfect fit as most expected and Ginobili and Parker are still there to help filled the void left by Duncan’s retirement.

And little by little, the new guys are getting up to speed.

“They’ve done a great job of making it easy for us and for Pop to throw them into the fire and trust them to know the system,” Green said. “We’ll continue to help them and they will continue to be sponges and absorb it.”

Kyrie Irving sticks water-bottle challenge before Cavaliers-Knicks buzzer (video)

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The Cavaliers were trying the water-bottle challenge on the bench late in their 126-94 win over the Knicks last night, but the national telecast showed Cleveland players only failing to flip a water bottle and have it land upright on the floor – including an erratic attempt from LeBron James that bounced onto the court.

Thankfully, the local post-game show had an angle of Kyrie Irving nailing the bottle flip just before the game ended, his toss just leaving his hands before the final buzzer. Count it!