Kawhi Leonard scores 37, Lowry has 22 as Raptors rout Magic (VIDEO)

1 Comment

TORONTO (AP) Kept off the scoreboard in a Game 1 defeat, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was “at his finest” in Game 2, at least in the eyes of coach Nick Nurse.

Fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard wasn’t too bad, either.

Leonard scored 37 points, Lowry bounced back with 22 and the Raptors routed the Orlando Magic 111-82 on Tuesday night, evening their Eastern Conference first-round series at one win apiece.

Pascal Siakam had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who never trailed and led by as many as 34.

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

Leonard said Lowry “led us in intensity,” helping the East’s No. 2 seed avoid a 2-0 hole.

“He did a great job of bouncing back,” Leonard said. “He’s a pro. That’s what pros do, they know it’s just one game and they come in the next game ready to play.”

Lowry, who missed all seven attempts in Game 1, shot 8 for 13 and led his team with seven assists.

“He was big time tonight,” Nurse said. “That’s him at his finest.”

Siakam said Lowry was visibly more tuned in Tuesday than he was Saturday.

“From the jump he had that fire in his eyes,” Siakam said. “That’s the Kyle we know.”

Despite playing in foul trouble for much of the night, Leonard finished with a career playoff-high 15 field goals. He made his first nine attempts from inside the arc before missing a layup.

Leonard shot 15 for 22 before leaving to a standing ovation with 4:46 remaining and Toronto ahead 104-73.

“Leonard was great,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “What are you going to do? He was great.”

Leonard’s career playoff high is 43, set with San Antonio against Memphis on April 22, 2017. He made 14 baskets in that game.

“Tonight he was just in a groove, getting downhill, getting to his spots,” Lowry said. “He’s a player who knows where he wants to be on the floor and when he gets to those spots, he’s pretty tough to guard.”

Aaron Gordon scored 20 points, Terrence Ross had 15 and Evan Fournier 10 for the Magic, who won the opener 104-101 on a tiebreaking 3 by D.J. Augustin with 4.2 seconds to go.

Nikola Vucevic, who shot 3 for 14 in Game 1, struggled again in Game 2, going 3 of 7 and scoring six points.

“They did a good job taking away a lot of my strengths,” Vucevic said. “I’ve just got to figure out a way to be more aggressive, be more efficient offensively.”

Augustin, who had 25 points Saturday, shot 1 for 6. Seven of his nine points came at the free throw line.

Orlando didn’t score for almost five minutes to start the game, missing its first six shots and four straight free throws. The drought ended when Gordon rebounded and scored on Vucevic’s miss from the line at 7:14 of the first, answering an 11-0 Toronto run.

Leonard scored 12 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors led 26-18 after one.

“Their defense set the tone for the game in the first quarter,” Clifford said.

Lowry scored 11 points in the second and Siakam added six, putting Toronto up 51-39 at halftime. Orlando shot 13 for 40 in the opening two quarters.

Leonard connected of seven of nine attempts in the third, scoring 17 points. The Raptors outscored the Magic 39-27 to take a 90-66 lead into the fourth.

“At halftime, I thought we had settled down,” Clifford said. “Then, at the beginning of the third quarter, they were good and, frankly, we were awful.”

TIP-INS

Magic: Orlando missed its first five free throw attempts before Ross made two of three at 2:11 of the first. The Magic shot 8 for 16 at the line in the first half and finished 13 for 24. … Ross had 15 of Orlando’s 17 bench points in the first half. … The Magic were outscored 52-36 in the paint. … Orlando has outrebounded Toronto in all six meetings this season.

Raptors: Lowry snapped his scoring slump by splitting a pair of free throws at 10:48 of the first, leading to thunderous applause. He was cheered again after hitting a 3 at 6:52. … Only four players scored in the first half. Leonard had 17, Lowry 15, Siakam 12 and Serge Ibaka 7. … Toronto has won nine straight playoff games in which it makes more 3-pointers than its opponent. Toronto shot 11 for 35 Tuesday, while Orlando was 9 for 34. … G Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was not available despite practicing the previous two days. … Toronto is 8-8 all time in Game 2s.

TURNED OVER

Orlando had just 11 turnovers in Game 1 but gave the ball away 27 times in Game 2, including on both of its opening two possessions.

“If we’re going to make this a long series, and hopefully we will, we’re going to need to be stronger with the ball,” Gordon said. “Simple as that.”

HOME SWEET HOME

Orlando has won nine straight at home and is unbeaten on its own court since a Feb. 22 loss to Chicago.

“We feed off the crowd, we like their energy,” Gordon said.

UP NEXT

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

The time Kendall Gill stayed out all night then led Hornets to early-afternoon win (video)

1 Comment

In the great history of NBA party-then-play stories, 15-year-pro Kendall Gill has a new tale from his rookie year with the Hornets in 1991.

Gill on Off The Dribble:

We pulled into D.C. My cousin took me out. I was out until 6 in the morning. He brings me back to the hotel. My coach, Gene Littles, is sitting in the lobby. And as I walked in the door, he’s like, “What the hell are you doing out here, rook? Don’t you know we’ve got a game at 12 o’clock in the afternoon?” Well, turns out, I go and I score 28 points that day, the high for my rookie season. I scored 28 points. He comes to me after the game and says, “You can go out and hang out any time you want to until 6 in the morning – if you play like that.”

A couple details are off. Gill scored 24 points to lead Charlotte over the Washington Bullets on March 31, 1991. But that wasn’t his season high. He scored 28 a few days earlier in Phoenix. The Washington game also had a listed start of 1 p.m., not noon.

Still, this comes close enough on the verifiable facts. Besides, I want the fun parts of this story to be true, so I’ll choose to believe them, anyway.

Birthday boy Karl-Anthony Towns giving Timberwolves even more reason to celebrate

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tom Thibodeau is gone. Jimmy Butler is gone. Karl-Anthony Towns has taken greater ownership with the Timberwolves.

Towns organizes team-building activities like Topgolf and a halloween party. Towns gives the pump-up speech before each game. Towns communicates more on the floor.

That’s why, Towns said, he didn’t even realize his birthday was approaching until his parents recently reminded him.

“I get caught up in work,” Towns said.

Whether or not Towns actually needed the reminder, let alone for such a flattering reason, his birthday – which is today – got him reflecting. He felt old.

So, Towns mentioned to Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders that his birthday was around the corner. Saunders had the opposite realization: Towns is turning 24 today. Just 24!

“He’s still young,” Saunders said. “As a coach, that gets me excited.”

Towns is one of the NBA’s special talents – a proven star with room to improve. Picking up the momentum he built last season, Towns appears to be really coming into his own this year.

The center is posting his usual impressive numbers (25.8 points and 12.0 rebounds per game), but his new attitude has stolen the show. He fought Joel Embiid and went face-to-face with Rudy Gay.

Don’t let the antics completely overshadow an impressive basketball story, though. Towns has led Minnesota to a surprising 7-4 start by revamping his game. Most of his shots are coming from beyond the arc, and his 4.2 assists per game are a career high.

By creating spacing and keeping the ball moving, Towns is contributing to a style that lifts all the Timberwolves. Perhaps, nobody has benefited more than Andrew Wiggins, who’s fitting right into this modern look.

The transformation is only the latest chapter for Towns, whose reputation has fluctuated significantly throughout his five-year career. This might explain why he already feels so old:

Minnesota drafted Towns No. 1 in 2015, and he won Rookie of the Year. In the 2016 and 2017 NBA general-manager survey, a plurality of voting executives picked Towns as the player they’d most like to start a team with. In the 2017 survey, Towns also received the most votes for league’s best center (even while getting a couple votes as league’s best power forward).

On paper, Towns delivered. He made his first All-Star and All-NBA teams the following season. He also reached the playoffs for the first time.

But Thibodeau and Butler butted heads with Towns, who never showed the hard edge those former Bulls tried to coax from him. After trading Butler, Minnesota went right back to losing.

In the 2018 and 2019 surveys, no general manager picked Towns to start a team with. Only a few picked him as best center.

Now, the landscape has shifted again. Anthony Davis spends a lot of time at power forward. Joel Embiid doesn’t stay as healthy. Nikola Jokic has fallen way off.

Towns is the early frontrunner for All-NBA first-team center.

“Everybody takes big steps in their growth at different times,” Saunders said, “and I think we’re seeing that from Karl.”

Towns can’t take anything for granted, and neither can the Timberwolves. But he at least has a good chance for vindication after his preseason playoff talk.

The way Towns has implemented more 3-point shooting into his game is particularly impressive. His 9.0 attempts per game lead NBA bigs, and he’s converting more than 40%. But floating on the perimeter was once a sign Towns was being too passive. Now, Towns is finding the right balance between spotting up beyond the arc and playing aggressively.

That’s in part his own mentality changing, in part his teammates’ mentality changing. Gone are the days when Towns could be an afterthought outside the paint.

“The ball is always going to find KAT,” Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie said. “He’s the center of our offense.”

Towns’ defensive intensity still comes and goes. He still must prove himself in the playoffs, and that usually requires trials and tribulations he hasn’t yet experienced.

But at age 24, Towns is finally/already showing something special.

DeAndre’ Bembry gets ejected for taunting Ricky Rubio, continued talking (video)

Leave a comment

The Hawks are rapidly changing. General manager Travis Schlenk took over just two years ago and has already turned over nearly the entire roster. Only DeAndre’ Bembry remains as an inherited player.

It’s not an easy situation for Bembry, who’s headed toward free agency next summer. He’s playing for a team with a lead executive who never chose him. Bembry can’t count on any team investing in him.

That’s the context in which Bembry got ejected from Atlanta’s loss to the Suns last night. He blocked Ricky Rubio‘s shot, taunted the Phoenix guard, got a technical foul, kept talking and got another technical foul.

The ejection seems pretty weak, but Bembry left himself vulnerable to the techs.

Hawks rookie Cameron Reddish also got ejected for multiple flagrant fouls.

Eric Bledsoe apparently bothered Bulls with post-buzzer dunk (video)

Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Eric Bledsoe doesn’t care about the rules – written or unwritten.

As the buzzer sounded in the Bucks’ 124-115 win over the Bulls yesterday, Bledsoe dunked then hung on the rim. The basket came after time expired and didn’t count.

Bulls forward Thaddeus Young and coach Jim Boylen confronted Bledsoe on the court:

Young, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“We all know what it is,” Young said. “They had the game won. There are some things you just don’t do at the end of games just out of common courtesy. We’ll move on. It is what it is. It happened. We just have to be ready when we play them in four or five days. We gotta be ready to get a win.”

“That’s with any team that cares about the morals and principles of the game,” Young said. “If we did that and the score was the opposite, they’d say the same thing. It is what it is. We just gotta be ready in four or five days. We gotta get a win. That’s the only way we can follow it back up now.”

Usually, I’d say: If you don’t like it, stop it. But that doesn’t really apply for a post-game dunk. There’s no defense after the buzzer.

Still, I’m not outraged by Bledsoe’s dunk. I bet, aside from Bulls partisans, most people aren’t (though plenty could work themselves into a tizzy if they desire). Some of Chicago’s bitterness probably stemmed from losing and allowing Bledsoe to score 31 points on 12-of-12 shooting inside the arc.

If the Bulls want to use this as motivation, more power to them. They should. Young, whose professionalism appears exemplary, is an ideal messenger.

But Boylen, who wouldn’t comment on this to the media, can’t claim the moral high ground.