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.

 

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.