Kurt Helin

Raptors start fast, Kyle Lowry hits dagger, Toronto earns win and 3-2 series lead over Miami

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That looked like the Toronto Raptors we thought could be the second best team in the East.

From the opening tip, in front of a fired up crowd, Toronto guards DeMar DeRozan (10 first quarter points) and Kyle Lowry (nine) were making plays, and with that the Raptors offense looked more fluid. Just as importantly, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint blocking shots and scoring at the rim, leading the best Raptors defense we have seen this series. The Raptors raced out to a 23-8 lead.

They led by double-digits most of the way, then held off a late Heat run thanks to a Lowry three (you can see the dagger above) and DeRozan getting to the free throw line. It wasn’t a thing of beauty, but it was a lot closer to that than anything else we have seen this series.

Toronto hung on to win 99-91 to take a 3-2 series lead heading back to Miami for Game 6 Friday.

The Raptors got a little tight at the end of this game (Lowry struggled again down the stretch until he hit that dagger three). With the chance to advance to the first conference finals round in franchise history, will the Raptors be tight in Game 6, or have they grown up?

There are a couple of injuries from Game 5 that could impact Game 6. For the Heat, Luol Deng suffered a wrist injury colliding with a cameraman in the first half, and while X-rays were “inconclusive” he did not return to the game and will undergo an MRI Thursday back in Miami. While Deng has struggled in this series, the Heat are already without Hassan Whiteside and can’t afford other injuries to good rebounding big men who can defend.

Then there was DeMarre Carroll‘s wrist injury for Toronto.

Carroll did not return, but X-rays were negative. His status for Game 6 is unknown.

There were a lot of things that went right for Toronto.

That starts with DeRozan, who has been looking for his shot all playoffs and found it from the midrange on Wednesday night — he was still just 3-of-6 inside eight feet (the Biyombo effect) but hit 7-of-15 from the midrange and knocked down the one corner three he took. More importantly, attacking DeRozan got to the line 11 times.

Lowry started hot, went cold, hit a key shot late, but finished with 25 points and hit 4-of-9 from three.

But the biggest game changer, particularly early, was Biyombo. It felt like it was his game early. He was in to protect the rim and take away driving lanes, which he did, but they got the bonus of offense from him at the rim. He had 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting on the night.

This was the best the Raptors defense has looked all series, and it was in part because they read the scouting report — they barely covered rookie Justise Winslow and veteran Udonis Haslem, two non-threats on offense that Erik Spoelstra has to play some due to all the injuries. Dwyane Wade had another strong game with 20 points on 14 shots, and rookie Josh Richardson chipped in 13 for Miami.

The Heat showed more poise late to make that run and make things tight at the end again. Toronto ran predictable stuff late, they just hit a few more big shots.

Miami is going to need that championship poise at home on Friday night. Or they will be golfing on Saturday.

Raptors’ Bismack Biyombo had it going early, including a couple blocks (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors raced out to a 23-8 lead against the Miami Heat in Game 5 Wednesday night (a lead that was still 10 at the half), and while there are a number of reasons for that — like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan hitting shots for a change — there was one fundamental difference from Game 4.

Bismack Biyombo.

For reasons only Dwane Casey knows, Biyombo sat during the final minutes of regulation and all of overtime in Game 4, but he started in Game 5 and had a huge impact. While he had 10 first half points, it was his defense in the paint that was the biggest difference. Check out his first quarter blocks.

Sixers to meet with Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield, others as NBA Draft Combine starts Thursday

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Thanks to Sam Hinkie — wherever he is now — the Philadelphia 76ers are going to be busy at the NBA Draft Combine starting Thursday. In the upcoming draft, new GM Bryan Colangelo and the Sixers brain trust will have decisions to make on their own pick (somewhere in the top four), the No. 24 pick (via Miami), the No. 26 pick (Oklahoma City), and if the Lakers’ pick falls to fourth or worse they get that one, too.

Which means a lot of player workouts and interviews. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer (and Daily News) laid it all out.

That is just the tip of the iceberg.

While the measurements matter in a few cases and the performance on things like the vertical leap will turn a few heads, what matters most are the interviews. The scouts and GMs have watched these players in person, seen hours of tape on them — there are not secrets of their game about to be unlocked by drills.

But how would this guy potentially fit in our locker room is a question on everyone’s mind. Talent will win out, but guys fall if there are concerns about their locker room presence. The combine interviews are a chance for players ease any concerns there.

Love’s Return: Cavs’ big man thriving in second postseason

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — When the so-far-perfect Cavaliers held on in Game 4 and finished their sweep of overmatched Atlanta, LeBron James threw both arms around Kevin Love and hugged his teammate tightly, appearing almost afraid to let him go.

James knows he can’t lose Love again.

One year after Love’s first playoff appearance ended with a dislocated left shoulder, an injury that wrecked Cleveland’s chances of winning an NBA title, the versatile big man is playing at an All-Star level and perhaps the biggest reason the Cavs are 8-0 in the postseason.

Through two rounds, Love is averaging 18.9 points, 12.5 rebounds and shooting 44 percent (28 of 63) on 3-pointers. The Cavs, who knocked down a league-record 25 3s in one game and 77 in their series against the Hawks, are outgunning everyone including trigger-happy Golden State in these playoffs.

“Kev is just being Kev,” explained James, whose on-court relationship with Love has been analyzed for two seasons. “He’s a workhorse, a guy who is giving us 19 and 12 in the postseason and has eight straight double-doubles. No, he’s not the Kev in Minnesota. He’s the Kev in Cleveland.”

For Love, now 12-0 in the playoffs, the comeback has been a year in the making.

After six sometimes-miserable seasons with the Timberwolves, Love finally got into the playoffs last spring only to have his debut end horribly when Celtics forward Kelly Olynyk yanked his shoulder from the socket. Love had surgery and spent the remainder of the playoffs in a sling, sitting helplessly on Cleveland’s bench, the pain of not playing as searing as his injury.

Looking back, Love feels the hurt helped him heal.

“There’s something to be said for being able to sit there and watch and be hungry,” he said Wednesday as the Cavs returned to practice while awaiting an opponent in the Eastern Conference finals. “I think last year kind of helped me, getting a little taste in the playoffs and then having it taken away from me.”

James, too, believes Love’s injury inspired him.

“He was starting to get his groove and that’s what (ticked) him off more than anything when he got injured,” said the four-time MVP. “He was finally starting to get a rhythm of what he needed to do to help our team win – and what I wanted out of him and what he wanted out of me. That’s why he took it to heart more than anyone.”

Love has become an invaluable weapon for the Cavs and coach Tyronn Lue, who has been waiting for the 27-year-old to bust out. Love’s size and athleticism give Cleveland numerous offensive options. He can post up, plant himself on the 3-point line to await passes from a driving James or Kyrie Irving or come to the top of the key and set screens, creating mismatches and headaches for defenses.

It’s taken some time, but Love is now playing the way the Cavs envisioned when they acquired him in a blockbuster trade shortly after James returned to Cleveland in the summer of 2014.

Lue’s pep talk to Love in March seemed to help. Following a loss to Brooklyn, Lue pulled Love aside, and using some choice words, demanded that he be more aggressive. Love has been a different player since, the one Cleveland signed to a five-year, $113 million contract in July, the guy the Cavs have needed.

“The one we all hoped we’d see,” Lue said. “Kevin is a great player, I believe a Top 10 player in this league and he knows it. When you have a team with three All-Stars, sometimes you don’t get to play the role you’re capable of playing. That’s what’s been hurting Kevin over this last year and a half, but now we’re using him the right way, he’s comfortable and things are great.”

All that talk about Love not being connected with James and others seems silly now, but it was real. His laid-back personality was out of step and there were times when Cleveland’s Big 3 experiment appeared doomed.

But as Love sat at the dais alongside James and Irving on Sunday in Atlanta, there was only harmony. The trio laughed and joked after Love was asked if he has broken out of his shell. Love then mentioned he wanted to get home so he could watch “Game of Thrones,” the wildly popular HBO series.

“Jon Snow is back,” he said, referring to a fictional character who rose from the dead.

Love can relate.

Gordon Hayward on Kobe’s final game: “a lot of us were in shock”

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It was one of the more amazing and surreal moments of the NBA season: In the final minutes of his 20-year NBA career Kobe Bryant transformed one more time into vintage Kobe, sparking a 14-0 run that led the Lakers to a 101-96 win against the Utah Jazz. Staples Center hadn’t been that electric since the 2010 NBA finals, it was unlike any regular season game I’ve ever been to.

Gordon Hayward admitted a lot of the Jazz were in shock.

The experience was unlike any game he had been a part of and he admitted as much on his personal blog.

And when the game started, the atmosphere was different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Everyone in the arena was excited whenever he touched the ball. And every time Kobe got it, they wanted him to shoot it, and they were booing us for even trying to defend him.

We were trying to win, and for a while there we were. But at the end of the game, in the closing minutes, everything that transpired kind of shocked us, to be honest. We were up double digits for most of the second half, and we led by 10 with about three minutes to go. So when Kobe started hitting shots and the game started to get close, a lot of us were in shock.

It was like being a part of a showcase, or being in a video game. There wasn’t really much normality about it. A guy scored 60 points and took 50 shots. There was something different as far as his aggressiveness. I think every time he touched it, you knew he was going to try to shoot it, or try to score, or try to get something going. He’s always an aggressive player, but that night, he was ultra-aggressive and tried to score on every single possession.

It wasn’t normal. It was amazing and now part of the Kobe legacy, but it wasn’t normal.

It’s also a story Gordon is going to tell his kids and grandkids. It was that kind of a night.