Greivis Vasquez, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Ross

Kyle Lowry punishes Nets as Raptors take first series lead in 13 years


Here came Kyle Lowry with a full head of steam.

The Toronto Raptors point guard caught an inbound pass on the run with two seconds remaining in the first half. He beat one Brooklyn Net, squirted between two others, launched a 3-pointer and then crashed into a fourth Net.

As the ball banked off the backboard and through the net, Lowry lay on his back and raised both in celebration.

After falling to the bottom,Toronto emerged victorious anyway Wednesday with a 115-113 Game 5 victory. The Raptors blew a 26-point lead, but they rallied late for their first series lead since 2001. Up 3-2 on the Nets, Toronto can end the series Friday.

For a while, Toronto’s win seemed assured.

Lowry’s second-quarter buzzer beater capped a 26-4 run, and the Raptors pushed their lead to 26 in the third quarter. They led by 22 in the fourth quarter.

Remarkably, the Nets needed an awesome 18-point third quarter from Joe Johnson just to stay that close. Johnson kept milking his matchup advantage in the fourth quarter, scoring eight more points .

In the final period, though, Johnson finally got help. A balanced lineup that also included Deron Williams (10 fourth-quarter points), Alan Anderson (10), Mirza Teletovic (9) and Andray Blatche (7) carried the Nets on a 29-7 run to tie the game, 101-101.

Then Lowry answered.

With just more than a minute left, Lowry hit another 3-pointer – his sixth of the game on nine attempts. On Toronto’s next possession, Lowry crossed over Williams and finished in the paint amid contact.

After that, the Nets were intentionally fouling, though they had a chance to win at the end.

Following the game, Lowry praised Johnson, who finished with 30 points, 26 of them in the second half.

“There’s a reason he was an All-Star,” said Lowry, who scored 36 points himself.

The Raptors and Nets have a budding rivalry, one fueled by the belief Brooklyn tanked to match up with Toronto in the first round. If there’s any Raptor with grounds to loathe the Nets – or, more accurately, a Net – it’s Lowry.

Lowry should have been an All-Star this season, and this was a true snub. Unlike the Western Conference, where there were more deserving players than roster spots, Lowry was clearly more worthy of selection than multiple All-Stars.

Especially Johnson.

If Lowry sought revenge on Johnson, his pleasant postgame comments certainly didn’t indicate it. This is a calmer Lowry, one who also had six assists and only one turnover in 38 minutes. To whatever extent his level-headedness flows over to the floor, it hasn’t interrupted his competitive fire, though.

Asked at halftime about his buzzer beater, Lowry answered a question not posed.

“Yeah, we’ve got to keep it up,” Lowry said, breathing heavily.

To better understand Lowry and the Raptors he leads, dial back a couple possessions from that moment.

Lowry drove and finished through contact, getting knocked to the ground in the paint. He burst up as the Nets went the other way and closely guarded Williams, guiding the point guard into a charge drawn by Chuck Hayes. That’s the only reason Toronto even got that final first-half possession.

Wednesday, Lowry made all the big plays and a lot of small ones, and now his Raptors lead a playoff series. It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating.

But the Raptors also must now know these teams are too evenly matched to rest on their laurels. Press on like Lowry, though, and they’ll be headed to the second round for just the second time ever.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant

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You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee

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This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.

Three things we learned Tuesday: Kawhi’s Spurs are not to be trifled with

OAKLAND, CA - OCTOBER 25:  Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs dribbles the ball up court against the Golden State Warriors during the third quarter in an NBA basketball game at ORACLE Arena on October 25, 2016 Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The NBA season has returned, and we are back with our morning recap of what you need to know from the night before around the NBA — three things we learned. So if you were busy watching the Cubs bats go cold, here is what you missed.

1) The Spurs are Kawhi Leonard’s team — and they are magnificent. Every year we give lip service to the “don’t sleep on the Spurs” idea, and then we get wrapped up talking about some other bright, shiny new object. Like say a move from Oklahoma City to the Bay Area. We do exactly what we said we weren’t going to do.

Then San Antonio reminds us they are fierce competitors and contenders. Tuesday night the Spurs went into Oracle Arena and slapped Kevin Durant and the Warriors around. This was an old-school beatdown. In a game where the Warriors had the winners of the last three MVP awards, Kawhi Leonard was the best player on the court — a career-high 35 points on 21 shots, he got to the line 15 times, and he had five steals. Tim Duncan is gone and this is now Leonard’s team, without question. He was simply unfair, just torturing the Warriors on both ends and leading a physical Spurs team that dominated the glass — the Spurs had 24 second chance points to the Warriors 4.

Leonard didn’t do it alone, LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 14 boards, Jonathan Simmons came off the bench for 20 and had a highlight chasedown block on Stephen Curry. But make no mistake, this was Leonard’s team and night.

Games in October are incredibly poor predictors of the outcome of a May playoff series. Both of these teams will evolve over the course of the season, and the Warriors will get things figured out. But we learned on opening night there is no doubt the Spurs are Kawhi’s team — and they are not to be trifled with.

2) Golden State’s defense needs some work. It was easy to see the rough spots in the Warriors offense the team still needs to be smoothed out — the passes to teammates who had already vacated the spot, the threes not being in rhythm (7-of-33 from deep, a number of those looks uncontested), and all those stars playing next to each other rather than with each other. It was to be expected.

However, offense wasn’t the Warriors’ big problem — their defense was atrocious. The Spurs scored at a ridiculous 125.9 points per 100 possessions pace, because literally half of their shot attempts were uncontested (according to the player tracking stats). San Antonio had an eFG% of 54.1, and the Spurs grabbed the offensive rebound on 41.2 percent of their shots when they did miss. Leonard had a career-high 35 points, Aldridge 26, and the Spurs time after time got the shot they wanted — and they had 24 fast break points, the Warriors did not get back in transition defense. The Warriors missed Andrew Bogut inside, both as a rim protector and on the glass (this was not Zaza Pachulia’s best night).

The past two years, the Warriors had a top five NBA defense, and that as much as their vaunted shooting was the reason they went to back-to-back Finals. No doubt they made the right move adding Durant to the roster — they are going to figure this all out. This was the first game of 82, and we knew there would be some bumps at the start. But more than the offense, Steve Kerr and his staff need to get the Warriors back to being a defensive force.

3) Damian Lillard’s brilliant offense overcame his defense. Again. Damian Lillard came into this season saying he wanted to be MVP, and on opening night he put up those kinds of numbers — 39 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and he led his team to an opening night win against Utah. Portland did a great job of setting their high picks especially high, then letting Lillard go downhill fast off them right at Rudy Gobert — and Lillard finished around and over the big man all night.

Portland had an eight-point lead at the half and led by double digits for chunks of the second quarter, but in the third Utah took the lead because they exposed Lillard on the other end. Utah started running a George Hill/Joe Johnson pick-and-roll (1/3 action) and when Lillard switched it they got the ball to Johnson and he just overpowered Lillard on his way to 29 points. Johnson shot 6-of-7 in the paint and scored at will all night.

Lillard came back and had 16 of his points in the fourth quarter to help Portland get the win, he was nothing short of brilliant on offense. The Blazers got enough stops to rack up the victory at home. But their small backcourt of Lillard and C.J. McCollum is going to be a defensive challenge all season long.

Opening night bonus note: LeBron James was having fun at the expense of the Knicks’ defense. The Cavaliers cruised to a win over New York, and LeBron James had a triple-double and did whatever he wished. And what he wished was to dunk. A lot.

Watch Jonathan Simmons’ chasedown block on Stephen Curry


Jonathan Simmons did his best LeBron James impression on opening night.

While the Spurs were running the Warriors out of Oracle Arena — a 129-100 Spurs win — Simmons had a fantastic chasedown block on Stephen Curry. It was one of the plays of the game (most of the rest came from Kawhi Leonard).

Simmons had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting off the bench for the Spurs in the win, which included a poster dunk on JaVale McGee late. Just to put some icing on the win.