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New culture Raptors, same old result: Cleveland wins big to take 2-0 series lead


This was not the same ol’ Raptors.

Toronto’s vaunted “cultural reset” this season had two parts. One was the offense being more egalitarian and less isolation — and we saw that in Game 2 Thursday. The ball moved, they had 26 assists and put up 110 points, their shot selection was good, and overall they had an efficient night with a net rating of 119 (points per 100 possessions).

But does it matter if it’s old or new if the result is the same?

The second part of the “reset” was the defense — Toronto had the fifth-best defense in the NBA this season, allowing 103.4 points per 100 possessions. They have steadily climbed the NBA rankings on that side of the ball in recent years. This season the Raps were fifth in the league in halfcourt defense and didn’t allow a lot of transition opportunities (ninth fewest in the league). However, that had slipped after the All-Star break (11th best defense after that February date) and that slide continued into the playoffs.

Toronto’s defense took Thursday night off and it all but ended the series.

The Cleveland Cavaliers put up 128 points with an insane 138.9 offensive rating (points per 100), led by LeBron James’ 43 points and 14 assists, and Kevin Love’s 31 points. The result was a comfortable 128-110 Cleveland win where the game was never in doubt in the fourth.

“They got hot offensively and that drained us a little bit,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after the game.

Cleveland is now up 2-0 in the series and is heading home with Game 3 Saturday. The Raptors’ demons are all back and as a team they looked demoralized. Beaten. We may not have another game in the Air Canada Centre this season.

All-game long the Cavaliers seemed to get whatever shot they wanted — and what they wanted early was to get Kevin Love going.

“Kevin Love was phenomenal, gave us a double-double,” LeBron said. “The All-Star that we know and have grown to love, he was wonderful man.”

In the first game, Cleveland did a poor job of exploiting the Love’s quickness advantage when Jonas Valanciunas on him (which led to calls to start Tristan Thompson at the five, something Tyronn Lue ignored). In Game 2 the Cavaliers started attacking, running corner picks for love that got him across the lane for dunks. Then the Cavs started going at the Raptors’ weakest links in pick-and-rolls and forcing Valancinuas to cover a lot more ground (the Love/LeBron pick-and-rolls were particularly effective). All of this led to Love getting open — and this time he knocked the shots down.

“We were able to get some shots, we’re making some shots, playing with more pace, and I think our offense has just picked up,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

In the third quarter, LeBron took over and looked every bit the best player on the planet, leading an 18-5 surge to start the quarter. He had 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting plus six assists in the third alone, hitting tough shots all the while. Even when the Raptors defended them well it didn’t matter.

“That drains you mentally and physically,” Casey said of LeBron hitting tough fadeaway after tough fadeaway in the second half.

While that happened, the Cavaliers tightened their defense in the paint, taking away some of the easy buckets Toronto was getting in the first 24 minutes. While the Raptors still scored well, it wasn’t enough to keep up.

The Cavaliers won the third quarter 37-24, were up by 11 at the end and in control. You could feel the energy of the fans and the confidence of the Raptors players drain away. The fourth quarter felt like a lot of decided NBA regular season games where it might not formally be garbage time but the game was decided.

Toronto should look back at their first half as a blown opportunity.

It was a fairly close first half where the Raptors were the better team but the Cavaliers hung around. Cleveland was running Love off picks and attacking the rim on offense — the Cavaliers were 9-of-11 at the rim in the first quarter and didn’t have a bucket outside the paint. Toronto had a small lead most of the quarter, but could not extend it when LeBron sat at the end of the first.

That continued into the second — the Raptors were moving the ball, playing with pace, taking better shots and being efficient on offense. But they couldn’t get stops (Love had 18 in the first half, LeBron was attacking off the pick-and-roll) and it was a two-point game at the half, 63-61.

Then the third happened. And that might have been the series.

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday will play reduced minutes rest of season

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The Anthony Davis Saga with the New Orleans Pelicans has been one of the oddest, most missed managed trade request in recent NBA history. And that’s including whatever happened with Kawhi Leonard last season with the San Antonio Spurs.

Davis made himself one of the focal points of NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte after leaving at halftime of the final Pelicans game before the break. Davis has issued several statements since then, including a bit of a meltdown at Saturday practice availability in North Carolina.

Of course it’s just a matter of time before Davis plays for another team, but we will have to wait until summer for that to happen. In the meantime, both sides are at sort of an impasse with Davis clearly not wanting to play in New Orleans anymore. The Pelicans, naturally, don’t want their asset to become injured and therefore reduced in value.

But Davis is going to play, and according to the team and interim general manager Danny Ferry, both Davis and Jrue Holiday‘s minutes will be reduced from here on out.

Via Twitter:

This makes sense sort of no matter what. New Orleans is no longer a playoff bubble team, and so a reduction in minutes for their top stars this season makes sense anyway.

Hopefully we don’t have to hear much about this moving forward. If we can get through the rest of the year without dealing with more weird Anthony Davis talk, I think we will be better for it.

Meanwhile, let the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks try to gather up their best offers to snake him away from the Los Angeles Lakers. No doubt something crazy will happen this summer with Davis just given how it’s already gone so far.

Paul George says he talked to Nike about his shoes after Zion Williamson injury (VIDEO)

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The basketball community lost its collective mind on Wednesday night when Duke Blue Devils star Zion Williamson was injured after blowing out a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.

Williamson’s injury was such that shares of Nike actually fell come Thursday. Meanwhile, the debate about whether Williamson should continue to play for free in the NCAA raged on all day.

Of course Williamson was wearing Paul George‘s signature shoe when he experienced the blowout, which apparently prompted the Oklahoma City Thunder star to contact Nike about it.

Via Twitter:

George’s shoes are very popular across basketball, and he told reporters that this had never happened to his knowledge.

I do wonder if players will be more reticent to wear one of the more popular shoes in the NBA. Then again, Williamson is a freak of nature in of himself so it’s not likely that the forces created by his power would be exerted by a normal player in the league.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.


Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.