Associated Press

Pistons stop 5-game skid, beat LeBron James, sloppy Cavaliers 96-88

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Pistons canceled a trade and then stopped LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Reggie Jackson scored 23 points, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 19 and Detroit withstood Cleveland’s late comeback for a 96-88 win Monday night to snap a five-game losing streak.

One day after allowing New Orleans center Anthony Davis to score 59 points with 20 rebounds, the Pistons beat the Eastern Conference’s top team for the second time this season and earned their first win since Feb. 4.

“It had been a long time since we got a win – coming up on three weeks – so we definitely needed it,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “You’ve seen it all year: We’re capable of beating anybody and we’re capable of losing to anybody. The guys felt good about themselves tonight, and I think everyone played well defensively the whole game.”

Andre Drummond added 15 rebounds for the Pistons, who let an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter dwindle to six before putting away the Cavs and ending their five-game winning streak.

Kyrie Irving scored 30 and Kevin Love 24 for Cleveland, which had an off night after looking so impressive in a win at Oklahoma City on Sunday. James scored just 12 points – 13 below his average – and went 5 of 18 from the floor, missing all four 3-point tries and committing six turnovers.

“I probably should have had about 12 of them,” said James, who acknowledged lacking energy on the back end of a back-to-back.

Following the game, Irving revealed he played only 9 minutes Sunday against the Thunder after being bitten by bed bugs in his Oklahoma City hotel.

“I was freaked out,” he said.

Tobias Harris, acquired from Orlando in a trade last week, scored 14 in his first start for the Pistons, who before the game rescinded their three-team trade last week with Houston and Philadelphia because not all the players involved were cleared medically.

Then, the Pistons went out and rejected the Cavs.

“It feels great to get the win,” Harris said. “The best thing was the effort, the energy level we showed against one of the very best teams. We didn’t get discouraged when they made some tough shots. We just kept telling each other, `Let’s keep our pace, let’s keep running.’ We just kept playing our pace.”

Detroit opened the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run to take an 18-point lead on Caldwell-Pope’s short jumper with 6:31 remaining.

After going through the motions most of the night, the Cavs finally awakened and reeled off 10 straight points to get to 88-82. But Jackson responded by dropping a floater in the lane, and Caldwell-Pope made the game’s biggest play, stripping a driving James and then taking the ball the length of the floor for a layup, a bucket that brought Pistons radio commentator Rick Mahorn – one of Detroit’s original Bad Boys – out of his seat.

Jackson credited the Pistons with digging deep to get the win.

“We’re desperate, man,” he said. “We’ve got to be hungry for every last win after dropping the last five. We’ve been trying to find a way to battle and be resilient, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys for stepping up with us so short-handed.”

LEBRON’S REST

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said he considered resting James on the second game of a back-to-back.

“I should have,” he said.

James has only missed one game this season, and Lue plans to sit his superstar if and when the Cavs lock up the conference title.

TURNOVER CITY

The Cavs were their own worst enemies in the first half, committing 12 turnovers that the Pistons converted into 16 points, enabling Detroit to open a 56-49 halftime lead. Cleveland finished with 18 turnovers.

ROOKIE INJURY

Detroit’s Stanley Johnson strained his right shoulder in the second half. Van Gundy said the forward will be re-evaluated on Tuesday. Reggie Bullock will take Johnson’s spot in the rotation.

TIP-INS

Pistons: F Anthony Tolliver (right knee) was diagnosed with a Grade 1 sprain and will miss two to four weeks. He was hurt Sunday against New Orleans. . Van Gundy said there are no immediate plans to fill the team’s one open roster spot. . Detroit came in holding ninth place in the Eastern Conference, 2 1/2 games behind Chicago for the final playoff spot.

Cavaliers: F Channing Frye scored two points in 9 minutes of his debut for Cleveland. … G Iman Shumpert missed his second straight game with a sprained left shoulder. It’s the same one he injured last season, when he missed six weeks. … G Mo Williams plans to have his sore left knee examined by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews in Florida on Tuesday. Williams has been bothered by the knee for two months. He hasn’t played since Feb. 10, when he missed all four shots in a win over the Lakers.

 

This story has been corrected to show that Irving played 9 minutes Sunday.

Report: Making 2020 NBA Finals could swing whether Giannis Antetokounmpo signs super-max extension with Bucks

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The honeymoon between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks is over.

Milwaukee’s superb season ended tonight with a Game 6 loss to the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals. Already, attention is turning to the 2020 offseason, when Antetokounmpo can sign a five-year super-max extension that projects to be worth $250 million. If he doesn’t, the pressure will turn way up as he approaches unrestricted free agency in 2021.

Antetokounmpo is already applying some.

Malika Andrews of ESPN:

a source close to Antetokounmpo said that getting to the NBA Finals is not just an ambition, it could tip the scales as he weighs his contractual future.

And if they can reach the NBA Finals next season, the Bucks can improve their chances of signing Antetokounmpo to the supermax in the summer of 2020.

Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon will be free agents this summer. It’s unclear how much luxury tax Milwaukee is willing to pay.

This leak could be Antetokounmpo trying to convince the Bucks to pay to keep this team intact.

Would he actually leave Milwaukee? At every turn, he has praised the city and organization. But the Bucks have also been on an upward trajectory for years. As they get closer to the top, it becomes more difficult to maintain that positive momentum. They’re now entering a crucial season with the clear goal of a conference title. That doesn’t leave much room for error.

The Lakers are rumored to be plotting to get Antetokounmpo. If there are signs he’ll actually become available, many other teams will line up just for a chance to sign him. Antetokounmpo is a special player, a superstar at age 24.

He also needed this loss. Having never advanced past the first round before this year, he didn’t fully grasp the high level of play and intensity this deep into playoffs. He hadn’t felt the heartache of coming so close and falling short, a highly effective motivator. Raptors like Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol had already faced these tests, and that had a lot to do with Toronto winning.

I have no doubt this experience will make Antetokounmpo even better.

Antetokounmpo wants to ensure the Bucks match his desire to win. If they do, he and Milwaukee will remain committed to each other. The honeymoon isn’t the end.

But this is when it gets real.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to Finals after Game 6 win over Bucks

Associated Press
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Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history DeMar DeRozan to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse mixed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays when he needed to.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments, and when he couldn’t get to the rim at will his lack of a jump shot he has confidence in showed. Those kinds of lessons come with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation — it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — and they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half, the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing in a run that got to 26-3 for Toronto, then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo, highlight of 26-3 Toronto run

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For most of the first three quarters of Game 6, the Milwaukee Bucks were in control of the game and looked to be on the way to forcing a Game 7.

But Kawhi Leonard sparked a 10-0 run for Toronto to end the third, scoring eight and assisting on a Serge Ibaka bucket.

That run carried over into the fourth and became a 26-3 run that was highlighted by this insane dunk by Leonard over Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Insane.

I’d say that’s Leonard’s best shot as a Raptor if not for the series winner against Philadelphia.

The Bucks responded with a 7-0 run and this game is going to go down to the wire.

Bucks play with desperation, lead by as many as 15 in first half

Associated Press
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If you think a 15-point lead is safe, go talk to a Portland Trail Blazers fan and get back to me.

The Bucks will still take it. Milwaukee has come out with a sense of desperation, but more importantly got to play with some pace and couldn’t miss early from three — they started 4-of-6 and were 7-of-13 from three as of this writing — and what we saw were play after play from the Bucks, the kinds of things we haven’t seen the last three games. They led by 13 after one, and the lead got as high as 15.

Can the Bucks sustain this, or will they cool down as the Raptors heat up? It’s going to be a wild rest of the game in Toronto.

The Raptors are up 3-2 in the series and playing for their first ever franchise trip to the Finals. The Bucks are playing to force a Game 7 Monday back in Milwaukee.