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Without Kyle Lowry Raptors fade in fourth, Cavaliers pull away for 115-94 win, 3-0 series lead

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For three quarters Friday night, Toronto was playing their best ball of the playoffs and hanging with the Cavaliers.

DeMar DeRozan was aggressive and getting buckets, Norman Powell was playing solid defense on LeBron James and forcing him into tough shots, Jonas Valanciunas was using his size to score, and as a team the Raptors were attacking the Cavaliers in smarter ways. It was a two-point game entering the fourth, even with Kyle Lowry sidelined.

Then Cleveland found another gear — specifically, LeBron found another gear, but as a team the Cavs shot 11-of-14 and 4-of-5 from three in the fourth.

“We got stops and Kyle (Korver) got hot,” was how LeBron explained the fourth quarter.

The Raptors started the fourth 1-of-12 from the field. For the quarter they were 0-4 from three, for the game they were 2-of-18 from deep. That was their fatal flaw.

The result was was Cleveland pulling away for a 115-94 victory.

The Cavaliers are now up 3-0 in the series and can close it out Sunday. They are 7-0 in these playoffs, 10-0 in the postseason dating back to the Finals last season.

“I liked our fight. I loved the way our guys competed,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “There was no back down. That stretch, right at the beginning of the fourth quarter, is what got us.”

DeRozan tried to carry the Raptors, he had 37 points for the game on 12-of-23 shooting. He did a fantastic job throughout the game of drawing out the trap and being more patient on offense. But he had just one in the fourth as he wore down.

“(DeRozan) having to play 40 minutes, go one-on-one, I thought he just got tired,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said of DeRozan.

“Production from our bench, (it) has to come in and give us a boost, and for whatever reason they couldn’t get started,” Casey said. “We had to give DeMar and Jonas some kind of blow.”

Cleveland got bench production — it was the LeBron plus the bench unit that helped Cleveland pull away at the start of the fourth. Kyle Korver had his best playoff game for Cleveland with 14 points shooting 4-of-6 from three, plus even getting a block. However, it was LeBron who dominated the start of the fourth, and this shot later in the quarter may have been the dagger.

The problem for the Raptors is that even when playing their best ball of the series for three quarters, they were basically even with the Cavs. Toronto needs to be at its peak for 48 minutes to have a chance, the Cavaliers only need to find a higher gear for a quarter or so.

Cory Joseph started in place of Lowry and was 2-of-12 shooting overall and 0-of-6 on uncontested looks (via NBA.com). Powell was 6-of-19 shooting and 1-of-9 on uncontested looks. The Raptors moved the ball well at times only to miss the shot.

Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving each had 16 points for the Cavs,

Rumor: Stephen A. Smith is coming to ESPN’s NBA broadcasts

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National NBA broadcasts are about to get a little bit different this upcoming season.

We already got word that Michelle Beadle would not be on NBA Countdown on ESPN for the 2019-20 NBA calendar year. In her place will be Rachel Nichols, a favorite of most thanks to her work on The Jump, and Maria Taylor. And apparently ESPN’s studio show is about to get an analyst boost as well.

According to the big lead, Stephen A. Smith will be added to the analyst panel for ESPN studio show, likely on Wednesday nights. The bombastic First Take host will give his NBA takes either to the delight or dismay of fans nationwide.

Via The Big Lead:

Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.

Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.

People lost their collective minds on Twitter this summer when it was announced that ESPN had given another huge contract to Stephen A. to continue to do… whatever Stephen A. does. Namely, yell and act incredulous in a way so insincere it’s hard to believe anyone is entertained by it, much less could take it at face value.

No doubt Smith will fill the role, aesthetically, that Charles Barkley does for TNT. He’ll talk in big, wild soundbites that get Twitter all riled up, thereby allowing some VP at the network to pitch his superiors about “leverage” and “engagement” from Smith’s appearances.

Good luck to everyone watching the NBA on national TV this year. Maybe locate where the mute button is on your remote now so you know where it is come autumn.

Gordon Hayward says he’s feeling confident in his ankle for next season

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Gordon Hayward still wasn’t particularly good last season. He never really looked all that comfortable playing with the Boston Celtics, and Brad Stevens’ insistence on playing him led to some reported rifts in the Boston locker room.

But Hayward is expected to come back at full strength this year, and it could be just in time for him to shine in light of Kyrie Irving‘s departure to the Brooklyn Nets.

His severely dislocated left ankle is now long behind him, and it appears that Hayward has been putting in the work necessary this summer. Speaking to Mass Live, Hayward said that he is starting to get more confident in his game.

Via Mass Live:

“Reps is what gives you confidence, so being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle’s feeling, or having to be cautious with it, has been really good, especially for my confidence,” Hayward said. “I think last year was a lot of hoping and not really knowing what was going to happen just because I didn’t have the reps… going into a summer training as hard as I want to, it’s a lot better for my confidence this year and expectations-wise as well.”

A healthy Hayward would really change the dynamic of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference this year. Losing Irving is huge, but Boston is going to have a real depth of talent on its hands if it can add Hayward to other wing talent Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart.

It seems cliche to point out at this point, but people have slept on how good Hayward was on both sides of the ball during his time with the Utah Jazz. He’s a complete player at the small forward position when healthy, and bringing back his superstar firepower could ease the pain of losing Irving to Brooklyn.

Royce White questions why Lakers have Jared Dudley not ‘Melo; Dudley, others defend move

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There are a lot of people surprised that this deep into the summer, with NBA rosters largely filled out, Carmelo Anthony isn’t playing somewhere. Whether on Team USA or training with new teammates for an upcoming NBA season.

Among those confused, former NBA draft pick Royce White, who was outspoken on the issue — and called out both LeBron James and Jared Dudley — in speaking with Fanatics View.

Dudley responded to this, not directly to White but to a retweet of this rant, and did so in Dudley’s calm, rational way. His Tweet has since been taken down, but it said:

“This isn’t Melo vs myself, That man is a 1st ballot HOFer… We all want to see him back in the league… Royce seems uninformed when he speaks and this situation in calling my name out. This league is not about who’s better then who it’s what’s players make for the best Team.”

Kendrick Perkins and Jameer Nelson had Dudley’s back.

Dudley/Perkins/Nelson are spot on here. The reason Dudley is on an NBA roster and Anthony is not is all about willingness to fit in and play a role. Dudley knows exactly how to do that, accepting limited minutes off the bench, staying ready, and when he comes in playing hard, being a pest, and knocking down threes. Anthony is unquestionably still a better scorer, but he was unwilling to accept a role in both Oklahoma City and Houston (and his game now is that of a role player/sixth man). Anthony says that’s different now, but GMs are risk averse in most situations. Teams that might have interest in ‘Melo are concerned about the possible distraction and disruption, and they wonder if that risk is worth what Anthony brings to the court right now. It was the same with Team USA.

Some team should — and one likely eventually will — give Anthony another shot. He deserves it. However, teams thinking about a deep playoff run tend to like their chemistry and are wary of disruptions, so nothing has come out yet. Even if Royce White and a lot of other people think it should have.

P.J. Tucker ‘optimistic’ about contract extension with Rockets

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As trade rumors swirled around the Rockets, P.J. Tucker instead focused on a contract extension.

Well, the dust has settled in Houston. The Rockets dealt Chris Paul to build around a James HardenRussell Westbrook backcourt.

Tucker still wants to stay.

Tucker, via Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

“It’s now,” he said of getting a new deal done. “It’s time for my extension right now, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. I’m optimistic, we’ll see.”

The most Tucker can earn in an extension is $30,985,560 over three years (or $19,891,964 over two years or $9,563,444 over one year). That’s a bargain based on how he has played lately.

Tucker’s versatile hard-nosed defense has been so important in Houston. He often holds the Rockets together on that side of the ball. Offensively, he fits well with his corner 3-point shooting.

But Tucker is also 34. Houston can’t depend on him remaining productive when on an extension that would begin at age 36.

There’s no urgency for the Rockets to extend him. He’s locked up two more seasons.

Practically, extending Tucker now would also mean guaranteeing his 2020-21 salary a year before necessary. Just $2,569,188 of his $7,969,537 salary that season is guaranteed. There’s a chance Houston might want to waive him in 2020.

Tucker is so good and so underpaid, even his largest-possible extension (which is based on his prior salary) could turn into a steal for Houston. That’s the only reason this conversation is happening. Because with most players so old and so far from free agency, an extension is a non-starter.