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LeBron James, Cavaliers clutch, while Raptors fold

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If Toronto loses this series, this is the game they will look back on with the most regret.

It was every Raptor nightmare about this series come to life — Toronto’s inability to beat LeBron James, the inability of their stars to close games after they had a lead, the inability of the Raptors to win the first game of a series, it all came true in the end Tuesday night, in just about the ugliest way possible. Toronto was in their own heads when it mattered most.

Toronto dominated early, led by double digits in the second half, but shot 5-of-24 in the fourth quarter and missed its last 11 shots in regulation. Then in overtime, they shot 3-of-7. Toronto missed every three they took in the final four minutes of regulation and in overtime. Then, at the end of regulation and overtime, when the Raptors needed a bucket, they turned to bench player Fred VanVleet to take the shot — not Kyle Lowry or DeMar DeRozan.

The Cavaliers, as they have all season, showed poise down the stretch — their passes and shots looked like those of a confident team while the Raptors looked tight — and Cleveland took Game 1 in overtime, 113-112. It was a game where Cleveland never led in regulation but did when the buzzer finally sounded.

The Cavaliers lead the series 1-0 having won one on the road. Game 2 is Thursday night in Toronto.

LeBron James was brilliant as expected, 26 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds (and Tyronn Lue even got some rest for him during the game). Toronto chose from the outset to single-cover LeBron most of the night, primarily with OG Anunoby — and the rookie did a good job, LeBron needed 30 shots to get his 26 points. Anunoby is strong and LeBron couldn’t just overpower him, settling for more fade-aways than the Cavs would prefer.

However, the point of single-covering LeBron is to stay home on the supporting cast and not let them beat you, and the Raptors failed at that — J.R. Smith had 20 points, Kyle Korver 19, Jeff Green 16 and Tristan Thompson 14.

“Guys stepped up tonight, everybody stepped up,” LeBron said. “We got timely stops. They killed us on the glass, but we stuck with it, made timely shots, it’s a huge win for us.”

Lowry and DeRozan started strong but combined to go 3-of-11 in the second half. The Raptors vaunted bench was outscored by the Cavaliers maligned one 37-35.

“We know the head of the snake is DeMar and Kyle, but those six or seven guys that come off that bench are very productive. We knew we had to take them away and take them out of the game for us to be successful, it’s a good start for us this series.”

The best Raptor for much of the game was Jonas Valanciunas, who punished the Cavaliers for starting small with Kevin Love at center. In the third quarter, Valanciunas had 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting plus five boards, dominating inside. However, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue adjusted and put Tristan Thompson in against JV and in the fourth quarter the Raptors’ center was 1-of-7, including a series of point-blank putback misses.

The night started with such promise for Toronto at home.

Toronto shot 62 percent in the first quarter and was up 33-19 after one. Toronto’s offense is far more diverse than Indiana’s, the Raptors have a variety of shot creators, and that exposed the Cavaliers’ defense that had been a mess all season.

However, the Raptors couldn’t hold on to that and the Cavaliers tightened the game up in the second quarter. That was the theme all night, Toronto’s inability to put LeBron and the Cavaliers away. When the pressure was on, the Cavaliers made plays and the Raptors fumbled their chances.

Looking at the body language of Raptors players leaving the court, it’s fair to wonder if they fumbled away their chance to win this series.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen left awkwardly waving to nobody after apparently offending Suns coach Igor Kokoskov (video)

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Jim Boylen is making friends within the Bulls.

Outside the organization? Not so much.

Boylen and Doc Rivers got ejected for yelling at each other during the Clippers’ win over Chicago on Friday. Rivers blamed Boylen for instigating.

Then, Boylen called timeout with the Bulls up 14 and 40 seconds left against the Suns last night. Phoenix coach Igor Kokoskov appeared to take exception.

The Suns intentionally fouled, stopping Chicago from running its after-timeout play. As the game ended, Boylen gave the customary wave to the opposing coach – and was clearly rebuffed.

Kellan Olson of 98.7 Arizona Sports:

Was Boylen trying to rub in the victory? He pulled his starters during the timeout, giving him plausible deniability. It’d also be reasonable to use the timeout as a teaching opportunity for running an after-timeout play.

But the Suns don’t have to like being used for practice. They’re in the midst of a trying season, especially Kokoskov. His bitterness is understandable.

I don’t think either coach was wrong here. Both were doing what was best for their teams. The Bulls should get experience running situational plays. The Suns should find motivation to no longer get treated like a pushover.

Boylen strayed further from the accepted norms, but I rarely support unwritten rules. If the Suns didn’t like it, they should have done something about it – which they did by fouling to stop Chicago’s play. It was petty, but it was well within their rights. Just like the Bulls were calling timeout.

LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Lakers-Bucks

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LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo are the NBA’s most popular players. They led the league in All-Star fan voting the last two years. Antetokounmpo is favored to win MVP this season, and LeBron is generally recognized as the best player in the world.

So, tonight’s Lakers-Bucks game is losing a lot of luster.

Lakers:

Bucks:

This is what happens when you get a game-winner blocked by Mario Hezonja. You must take a seat for at least one game.

The Lakers are apparently going through with a plan to rest LeBron James in one game of back-to-backs. This isn’t that. The Lakers were off yesterday then have tomorrow and Thursday off.

LeBron missed 18 games earlier this season with a groin injury. That’s the type of injury he could play through – while at risk of aggravating it. Maybe he came back before fully recovered in order to make a playoff push.

LeBron’s activated playoff mode went nowhere. The Lakers are almost certain to miss the postseason. At this point, it makes sense to be cautious with the 34-year-old LeBron.

The Bucks should also be cautious with their superstar – but for the opposite reason. Milwaukee is 2.5 games up on everyone else in the league.

Antetokounmpo injured his ankle against the 76ers on Sunday. He stayed in that game, scoring 52 points in a loss. Hopefully, this is minor. The Bucks also play the Cavaliers tomorrow, so maybe Antetokounmpo will play the other half of the back-to-back.

Damon Jones details J.R. Smith’s soup throw: ‘It was hot as hell’

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J.R. Smith got suspended for throwing soupchicken tortilla, to be precise – at Cavaliers assistant coach Damon Jones last season. Smith’s anger reportedly stemmed from him not sharing Jones’ joking mood that day.

Now, Jones – whom Cleveland fired with Tyronn Lue earlier this season – is revealing his side of the story.

Jalen & Jacoby:

Jones:

It was the bowl plus the soup.

It was the first bowl out of the pot, so it was hot as hell. Yes, it was hot, very hot.

It went everywhere.

I was standing up, and it hit me in the shoulder, arm, everywhere. It hit the wall. I mean, it was a mess.

We didn’t talk to each other for probably three months, not one word. And then, I remember it was a night after a back-to-back. We was in Philadelphia, and we had a conversation and said, “You know what? Brothers have quarrels. I’m sorry. I apologize. Let’s move on.”

Kudos to David Jacoby for asking the important questions. This interview revealed a lot – the soup temperature, where it went and whether the bowl got tossed. Unfortunately, Jones dodged Jacoby’s question about whether Smith threw overhand or underhand. Relatedly, we don’t know the distance of the throw. There’s still a lot to uncover.

Additional context: That game in Philadelphia was just over a month after the soup throw. So, the rift didn’t last quite as along as Jones described. It might have felt like three months, though. Even one month is a long time to ignore someone you see every day.

At least the Cavs had experience with a player not talking to anyone.

Players with five straight triple-doubles: Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan… Elfrid Payton

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Anthony Davis is a superstar with an expanding all-around game. Jrue Holiday plays like a star.

But Davis is getting only limited minutes, and Holiday is injured.

So, that leave a huge production void on the Pelicans.

Elfrid Payton has been filling it.

Payton’s 19 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in a win over the Mavericks last night gave him five straight triple-doubles. That streak puts him in elite company.

This is a nice accomplishment by Payton. Obviously, he’s not nearly as good as Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan. This is a statistical oddity. But Payton is still playing well enough to get included with only Hall of Famers and a future Hall of Fame. That counts for something.

Payton has a solid all-around game that lends itself to getting triple-doubles. He’s active on the glass for a point guard. He’s comfortable running an offense and handling the ball enough to get so many assists.

But he’s an inefficient scorer who doesn’t space the floor enough. His defense is disappointing. There are reasons New Orleans was 0-4 during the first four games of his streak and got outscored by 12, 27, 13 and 7 with him on the court during those games.

Take this streak for what it is – a very cool feat, but not something that elevates Payton into a higher class of players.