Kawhi Leonard scores 39, drills three in final minute to beat Sixers

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If you’ve ever swam in the ocean, you know it when you feel it. It’s a slow realization, as you paddle forward with no forward progress made. A thousand faint news stories flash across your mind, you try to quickly remember the best way to fight against a riptide. The only goal is to not get sucked even further into the abyss.

In large part, this has been the experience of the Toronto Raptors throughout much of their playoff history this decade. Toronto seems to be perennial losers, and not just because of former Eastern Conference foe LeBron James (although he hasn’t helped). The playoff performances of stars like Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Rudy Gay, and Terrence Ross have waxed and waned from year-to-year.

But now? Now the Raptors have Kawhi Leonard.

Sunday’s Game 4 matchup between the Raptors and the Philadelphia 76ers was a rough-and-tumble, drag-it-out fight between the second-round combatants. Toronto’s bench was better than it was in Game 3, and the Raptors avoided a third straight loss to even the series, 101-96.

Leonard scored 39 points to go with 14 rebounds and five assists. More important than that, Leonard gave Toronto a finish by a superstar who was not afraid of the continual pounding from Philadelphia. Jimmy Butler, who showed zero fear playing at home, could have easily been the victor of Sunday’s matchup. But Leonard was everywhere for his team.

The former San Antonio Spurs star scored or assisted on four of Toronto’s seven buckets in the fourth quarter, and added three additional points on free throws. His dominance culminated in a 3-pointer with 1:01 left in the fourth quarter with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons draped all over him.

At the end of the shot clock, Leonard poured in a 3-pointer to give Toronto a four-point lead.

Via Twitter:

The rest of the Raptors squad was solid in a way that Leonard needed to backup his performance. Marc Gasol and Lowry combined to shoot 13-of-26, scoring a cumulative 30 points with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Danny Green added 11 points, going 8-8 from the free-throw line.

Philadelphia was led by Butler, who scored 29 points to go with 11 rebounds and four assists. The entirety of the Sixers starting unit scored in double-figures, but no player on the bench matched that feat. Embiid scored 11 points — seven of which came from the charity stripe — and despite his near triple-double of eight rebounds and seven assists, the Cameroonian big man shot just 28.5 percent from the field. After the game, Embiid said he was battling an illness.

This series has been more interesting than many expected, but Leonard may just be the ultimate determining factor or Toronto. In years past, it wasn’t just Raptors fans who felt as though in a situation like Sunday, Toronto would fold. But Leonard changes the dynamic not just of the talent on this team, but its fortitude as well.

Kawhi Leonard has those big old claws, and allows him to pull even further against the current. Plus, his playoff experience tells him he knows he just needs to swim parallel to shore in order to get out of this current the Raptors are in. By evening the series on Thursday, 2-2, Leonard did just that.

Nets reportedly extend Caris LeVert on 3-year, $52.5 million deal

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The Brooklyn Nets have Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, and that’s going to be important for the next half-decade or so. Those two players will shoulder the bulk of Brooklyn’s championship hopes over that time frame.

But so too is it important for the Nets to keep a strong team around its superstars. Too many teams seem to end up top heavy as they try to chase championships year after year.

To that end, Brooklyn has reportedly signed their own budding star Caris LeVert to an extension that takes him through 2023.

Via ESPN and Twitter:

LeVert’s extension starts at $16.2 million in 2020-21 and escalates to $17.5 million and $18.8 million in the next two years, ESPN’s Bobby Marks reported.

The deal gives LeVert security and a chance to return to free agency or negotiate an extension before his 28th birthday.

LeVert’s extension is worth a reported $52.5 million, which makes him reasonably paid within the team context and should give him a chance to cash out yet again before he hits age 30.

This season will be an interesting look into how LeVert and Irving work together on the floor without Durant. They can get into some kind of rhythm and find an understanding between them, which is going to be vital for when Durant eventually returns in 2020.

Team USA sees betting odds in World Cup skew downward

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Team USA is 12 man roster is now set, and they are prepared to take on the rest of the world in the 2019 FIBA World Cup In China with summer.

The United States finally lost a game for the first time in 13 years on Saturday, falling to Patty Mills and Australia, 98-94.

But despite that loss, the United States is still the odds-on favorite to win the World Cup this year. Then again, their odds have started to slip since the start of the summer.

According to Westgate, the United States is favored at 4/7 to take home the gold. Team USA originally opened at 1/5. Now some other teams have moved up in oddsmakers’ minds.

Via Westgate and Action Network:

  • United States: 4/7
  • Serbia: 2-1
  • Greece: 10-1
  • Spain: 20-1
  • France: 25-1
  • Australia: 30-1
  • Lithuania: 60-1
  • Canada: 100-1

Serbia seems like a pretty good shot to usurp the throne for the United States. Nikola Jokic has said that he wants his team to medal, but no doubt he and his squad will be looking for a gold medal.

The United States is suffering from a lack of continuity and star power. That might not matter given that Gregg Popovich is still the head coach and USA Basketball far out matches other countries in terms of raw talent.

But as we saw in 2004, talent doesn’t trump all when it comes to Team USA. The door is open for other countries to grab the top spot for the time being, and oddsmakers think so as well.

Rui Hachimura pumped when friend Sumo wrestler Hakuho drains free throw

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Rui Hachimura, the Gonzaga star drafted ninth by the Washington Wizards, is having a blast this summer playing for his native Japan as their national team gears up for the World Cup in China starting in one week.

However, he may never have been more pumped than when his friend, legendary sumo wrestler Hakuho, came out in his robes and drained a free throw.

The Wizards have to get Hakuho to a game this season, let him take a few shots during a timeout. We all need to see this.

And Hakuho was nothing, another sumo wrestler walked out in robes and drained a straight-on three.

I need to see a sumo wrestler pickup game now more than I need anything else in my life. I want to see the battle for post position.

Hachimura has played well for Japan, he dropped 31 points on Germany in the final tuneup game for the World Cup, showing off a comfort level from the midrange that is impressive. He hit shots off the dribble and on the catch.

Hachimura and Japan are in the same group as Team USA in the World Cup, and the two teams face off Sept. 3 in Shanghai.

Enes Kanter says he might add ‘American’ name once he’s a U.S. citizen (VIDEO)

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Enes Kanter has been dealing with being a man without a country for some time. The Turkish-born Boston Celtics center has openly criticized Turkish president Recep Erdoğan, And as such he is no longer welcome back in his home country.

In fact, Kanter didn’t have a valid Turkish passport this past spring, so the question of whether he might be able to re-enter the United States if he went to Canada was raised by several Portland Trail Blazers fans, including Senator Ron Wyden.

Kanter has been in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen for some time, and he appears close to that goal. As such, Kanter mentioned this week that he might add an “American” name onto his name when that happens.

Speaking to TMZ, Kanter said that, “I’m actually becoming a U.S. citizen in two years: I’m actually thinking about adding an American name. I’m still thinking about it. I don’t know yet.”

One of the newest Celtics, Kanter appears to have a diplomatic way about him and the ability to network with folks higher up. Given amount of time, resources, and potential political power behind him as an NBA player, there is hope that he will become an U.S. citizen.

Whether Kanter really wants to add an ”American” name — whatever that’s supposed to mean — is anyone’s guess. One of the founding principles of this country is the concept of the melting pot, and so a great American name for Enes Kanter would be… Enes Kanter.