Paul Pierce, DeMar DeRozan

Raptors use fast start, strong finish to even the series with Game 4 win over Nets


Through the first three games of the first round series between the Nets and the Raptors, Toronto had no answer for Joe Johnson, who was simply killing them offensively.

Johnson had scored 24, 18 and 29 points respectively in each of the first three games, while shooting better than 60 percent from the field whether the looks were from inside, outside, or somewhere in between.

But the Raptors adjusted in Game 4, sending hard double teams at Johnson whenever he received the ball in the post, and forced his teammates to beat them with ball movement, crisp passing, and high percentage shooting from anyone but the player Kevin Garnett nicknamed Joe Jesus earlier in the season.

The plan worked to perfection. Johnson was held to just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting in 42 minutes of action, and the Nets managed just 12 fourth quarter points as Toronto came away with an 87-79 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.

Johnson isn’t the only weapon the Nets possess, but his being taken completely out of the offensive attack wrecked the rhythm for the rest of his teammates. Brooklyn started off on its heels, allowing 35 first quarter points to its opponent before settling down a bit and really containing Toronto just fine the rest of the way, allowing only 52 points in total over the game’s final three periods.

But offense was a problem for a Nets team that, theoretically, should have plenty of options. Paul Pierce led the way with 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting, and Mirza Teletovic probably should have seen more than 16 minutes off the bench, considering he was 5-of-9 from the field with 12 points in that very short span. But Deron Williams wasn’t nearly the aggressor he was in Game 3, and finished just 4-of-12 from the field for 10 points in over 36 minutes of action, to go along with six assists against five turnovers.

DeMar DeRozan had 20 points by halftime, but was 0-for-7 from the field the rest of the way. Kyle Lowry and Greivis Vasquez did the damage in the second half, but there wasn’t all that much needed considering the dismal output of the anemic Brooklyn offense.

All along this has felt like Brooklyn’s series to lose, and Game 4 was no exception, as the home team clawed back from an early 17-point deficit somewhat easily. But the Nets will have to find a way to get Johnson back on track offensively, or create some sets which take advantage of the double teams he’s seeing in order to get his teammates some easy, uncontested looks.

On the Raptors side, they’re feeling just fine after reclaiming homecourt advantage, with two of the remaining three games in the series being played in Toronto, if all seven are necessary in order to decide it. Sunday’s Game 4 more than any of the others showed the blueprint defensively for the Raptors — shut down two of the Nets’ three main threats, and the series can be theirs.

Carmelo Anthony says he can play at high level 4-5 more years

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp

Carmelo Anthony can flat-out score the rock — that has never been the question. Even hurting last season for many of the 40 games he played, he averaged 24.2 points a game, had a true shooting percentage of 53.1 percent (right near the league average) while having the entire weight of the Knicks offense on his shoulders (32.2 usage rate, fifth highest in the NBA). When people (or players) talk about him being overrated, the discussion turns to defense or if he makes his teammates better. But there should be no doubt Anthony is an elite scorer.

He thinks he will be for a while longer — like another five years. Via Ian Begley of ESPN:

In fact, the 31-year-old Knicks star is confident that he can play at a high level for the next “four or five years.”

“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ final training camp practice on Saturday.

The Knicks better hope that’s true, they already made that bet with that massive five-year contract they gave him last summer.

Anthony’s age combined with him coming off knee surgery have a lot of people — myself included — expecting him to take a step back. Not a big one, but he is coming up at the point in his career where some open shots he used to get are now contested because he’s half-a-step slower, and some of those looks don’t fall as often. His jumper isn’t suddenly going to look like Rajon Rondo‘s, ‘Melo is going to get his points, but he may not be as efficient.

Fortunately, the Knicks have an improved supporting cast around him this season. That should take some offensive load off his shoulders, and maybe the Knicks offense will see better ball movement and start to resemble the triangle. If it’s just more isolation Anthony, it’s not going to be pretty.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.