Associated Press

Round 2: Raptors, Thunder meet in Toronto after wild one in OKC

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Toronto Raptors needed overtime to win at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night after squandering a 19-point lead.

Now they see what they can do at home when the teams meet again on Friday night.

The Raptors, who led by as many as 19 points during the third quarter, still led the Thunder by 11 with less than 2:30 to play in regulation on Wednesday. But the Thunder tied it at 110 on Russell Westbrook‘s driving layup with 4.8 seconds to play.

The Raptors, however, rebounded to dominate the overtime 13-4 as the Thunder’s Paul George watched from the bench after fouling out with 19.9 seconds left in regulation. Toronto won the game 123-114.

“You’ve got to finish regardless of the circumstances or whatever is going on,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the game. “You just have got to keep playing. A lot of times when you blow a big lead and go to OT that momentum has already gone to the team that got it to OT and you go flat. We didn’t. We came out and really played, especially on the defensive end and that’s a really good sign.”

The Thunder will be trying for a better start Friday night.

“We were playing from behind too much,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game Wednesday. “I mentioned about the adversity and the challenges. This is a really, really good team, and you just can’t really have lapses for a quarter or coming out of the locker room because you end up having to play from behind.”

The Thunder got 42 points and 11 rebounds from Westbrook. Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 33 points and 13 rebounds while Fred VanVleet scored 23 points starting at point guard for Kyle Lowry, who was out with a right ankle injury. Lowry has been declared out of the game Friday.

The Thunder have lost four games in a row.

“The start of the third we did not do a good enough job defensively,” Donovan said. “We had turnovers, possessions that were not great offensively. We made enough plays to get ourselves back in the game. I give our guys a lot of credit. We were out of the game with two minutes to go.”

The Raptors have won two in a row and are coming off a solid defensive effort Wednesday.

“Everyone talked, everyone was in the gaps, everyone was unselfish,” Raptors center Marc Gasol said. “They are going to make shots but we have got to finish it off. … It’s a learning lesson and later on in the playoffs that can cost you a game and you don’t want that happening in the playoffs.”

In the overtime, Gasol said “we picked it up a little more.”

“We had that lead late in regulation and then we didn’t make stand. They made some tough shots at the same time,” he added.

A key factor in the outcome was the poor free-throw shooting by the Thunder (15-for-29, 51.7 percent).

“We’ve got to shoot better than 51.7 percent from the free-throw line,” Donovan said. “I think we’re getting answers to things that we’re going to have to do at a high level.”

The Raptors had Serge Ibaka back in the lineup Wednesday after he served a three-game suspension for fighting. He had six points and nine rebounds in a reserve role with Gasol starting and scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds. The Raptors have yet to determine who will be the regular starting center.

 

James Harden came to Rico Hines run at UCLA and just destroyed people

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Elite NBA defenders, with a team and a game plan behind them, can’t slow down James Harden.

So imagine what happens when he shows up for an open run.

One spot a lot of NBA players head in the summer to get some games in is Rico Hines’ games at UCLA. Harden showed up and, well, you know what comes next. Via Ball is Life.

The man is so smooth, so under control, and just able to get buckets however he wants. It’s just fun to watch. Unless you’re an opposing coach.

Could Kevin Durant return from torn Achilles, play for Nets this season? Maybe…

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Every case is different, but many players return from a torn Achilles in about nine to 10 months. Kobe Bryant pushed and did it in eight. Other players will take a full year.

If Kevin Durant returned in nine months it would be March, enough time to get in game shape and be ready for the Nets’ playoff run.

There’s a growing sense from teams we could see just that scenario, and Spencer Dinwiddie talked about it with Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Though Nets GM Sean Marks refused to rule Durant out for the season, the feeling within the league is trending toward him potentially playing this season.

“I know KD is taking the rehab process ultra-serious. He wants to come back as soon as it’s appropriate, and healthy and the right decision for him, and then also subsequently that would also be the right decision for,” said Dinwiddie, who points out that even a slightly-diminished Durant could still be a superstar.

“The beautiful part about this is, the man is 7-foot and one of the best shooters of all time. At worst you get Dirk [Nowitzki], and Dirk was a monster. So we’re ready for him to come back whenever he wants to and whenever he’s ready to do so, and we know that he’s going to be a phenomenal major piece of our roster.”

Durant is an intense competitor who wants to get back on the court. He pushed to get back from a calf injury and play in the NBA Finals only to suffer the Achilles tear. He’s smart enough to be sure he’s all the way back before he steps on the court, if that means he sits out a full season so be it. However, he absolutely could return this season.

If he’s back, the Nets go from interesting team to potential threat to the Bucks and Sixers at the top of the conference. Durant was the best player in the world the past couple of years and he could return to that status quickly, and lift Brooklyn up with him.

Will Toronto give Pascal Siakam a max extension?

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In his third year in the league last season, Pascal Siakam made a leap. He averaged 16.9 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, shot 36.9 percent from three, became a shot creator, played quality wing defense, and he was a key part of the Raptors earning the right to have a parade and hoist a championship banner. He earned that Most Improved Player trophy.

Siakam is Toronto’s future after a summer where Kawhi Leonard left.

Siakam also is eligible for an extension right now.

Should the Raptors give him the max of five years, $170 million? A number of executives around the league told Frank Urbina of Hoopshype that Siakam may be worth that number.

A Western Conference coach agreed: “With Toronto in the situation that they’re in, no longer having Kawhi Leonard or Danny Green, Pascal Siakam may be a safe bet for them and they may want to give him a max extension to lock him up. I’ve been impressed with his development; he’s improved into a highly, highly serviceable player who’s very efficient and does a lot for that team. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’ll be able to continue his development too. He seems highly motivated and very grateful to be in the situation he’s in and he doesn’t take anything for granted.”

Is “highly serviceable” worth the max? The two players who got that money this summer were Ben Simmons in Philly and Jamal Murray in Denver. Most of the GMs spoken to for the article would try to extend him for less than the full max.

“I think they’re going to try to extend him,” one current Eastern Conference GM said. “I haven’t talked to Toronto, but he’s obviously a huge piece for them, helped them win a championship, he’s getting better, he’s young, he’s athletic and he can shoot. They’re going to try to extend him. Do I think he’s a max player? No. Do I think he’s a good player? Certainly. It’ll come down to what he thinks he’s worth, and I’m sure his agents have called around to see what kind of offers he could get if he enters restricted free agency.”

Another Western Conference executive agreed that he’s not worth the max, telling HoopsHype: “Out of Pascal Siakam, Jaylen Brown, Brandon Ingram and Buddy Hield, [the main candidates remaining for a rookie-scale extension], I don’t think any of them will get the max or deserve the max. If I was running each team, I would force them to play it out. In some situations, keeping their cap holds is so much more beneficial. You should only extend if you get a below-market-value deal or if it’s a no-brainer extension.”

If the Raptors come in at less than the max with an offer, Siakam may just want to play out this season and head into restricted free agency next summer. If he has another strong season, when he hits the market in a down year for free agents he may find a team willing to make a max or near max offer and Toronto will have to match or let him walk. Essentially, Siakam would bet on himself.

We’ll see if Toronto and Siakam’s people can find a number that works for both sides, the deadline is Oct. 21. The sides are talking, but its more likely this rolls into next summer.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.