How Raptors defense pounded Warriors in Game 1

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The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals, 118-109, on Thursday night in Canada. It was a monumental victory for the Raptors, and Pascal Siakam had the game of his life, scoring 32 points to go with eight rebounds and five assists.

One of Toronto’s most important players, Siakam led a defensive charge for the Raptors that wasn’t apparent just by looking at the box score. And while the story of Game 1 will probably be about Siakam’s offensive explosion for 32 points, it was the Raptors defense that led them to the first Finals win on Canadian soil.

More switchable and more athletically able to match up with Golden State than the Portland Trail Blazers did in the Western Conference Finals, the Raptors shut down just about everything be defending Champions did correctly in their last playoff series.

Split cuts? Gone.

The ability of the Raptors to simply stay home and not get overactive fighting around screens was crucial. Portland made the mistake of being too antsy to stop the Warriors shooters last round, and it led to Golden State getting easy assists as their screeners cut early toward the basket for open looks.

Nick Nurse and his staff clearly prepared his team on how to combat perhaps the most recognizable sequence in the Warriors’ offense. It helped that both Danny Green and Siakam were able to fight through screens while guarding Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Portland guards did a poor job of getting around Golden State’s picks, but with more length on their side, Toronto narrowed the space available and added over-the-top pressure on Warriors shooters.

Siakam played a critical role, both in defending Curry on-ball and against Draymond Green. The Golden State forward dismantled the Trail Blazers in Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals by taking defensive rebounds all the way to the other end of the floor as a one man fastbreak. The result was that Portland was often left with smaller players like CJ McCollum defending the larger Green, creating an imbalance that allowed the Warriors to score with ease.

Thanks to his 6-foot-8 stature and nearly nine-foot standing reach, Siakam was able to pose a larger threat to Green as well as act as a better vertical on-ball defender at the rim.

The net effect of Toronto’s strategy was significant. Golden State shot just 60 percent at the rim — a poor mark for this postseason — and just 27.8 percent on non-corner threes, according to CleaningTheGlass.com. The Raptors were also able to limit the amount of 3-pointers taken by the Warriors stars. While Golden State shot 37.8 percent from beyond the arc, Curry shot just nine times from deep and Thompson six.

The Raptors were able to easily turn turnovers into points, scoring 24 of their 118 in transition. Golden State turned the ball over 16 times, which Warriors head coach Steve Kerr pointed out as his team’s biggest issue.

“Our transition defense was just awful,” Kerr said after the loss. “That’s the game, really.”

Toronto was a team that was led by one man over the first round and parts of the second. Leonard appeared to be doing it all himself, and the team atmosphere around the Raptors was no longer the talk in Canada. But since this team’s Eastern Conference Finals win over the Milwaukee Bucks, that narrative has shifted. So too has the reason for Toronto’s playoff success, with Nurse cooking up a special solution against probable league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Just as it was in the ECF, the Raptors are a capital “T” Team once again, and defense was at the core of their first-ever NBA Finals win. It might be an impossible task to beat the Warriors over a seven-game series, but smart coaching and excellent execution from top to bottom has us thinking the Larry O’Brien landing outside the U.S. this June might not be so crazy after all.

Game 2 is on Sunday at 5:00 p.m. PST.

Spurs, Raptors open game with shot-clock violations to honor No. 24 Kobe Bryant (video)

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A simple number retirement wasn’t enough to honor Kobe Bryant’s monumental career. The Lakers found the perfect solution, retiring both his No. 8 and No. 24.

Likewise, commemorating Bryant’s tragically short life warranted far more than a standard moment of silence. The Spurs and Raptors found a perfect solution, each team taking a shot-clock violation to open their game today in memory of Bryant, No. 24.

What a beautifully fitting tribute to an all-time great player.

Kobe Bryant, daughter die in helicopter crash

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Kobe Bryant, the legendary Laker star who was saluted by LeBron James on Saturday night, has died in a helicopter crash in Southern California, sources have confirmed to NBC Sports.

The crash took place in Calabasas, an area about 30 miles northeast of the Staples Center, where Kobe starred as a player for more than a decade. It is not far from the Mamba Academy athletic training center where Kobe was both an owner and an active participant. It was a foggy day in Southern California, which could have contributed to the crash.

The crash killed five people, of which Kobe was one.

Kobe was 41. He and his wife Vanessa have four daughters. Kobe’s 13-year-old daughter Gianna was aboard the helicopter with Kobe (they were on their way to one of her basketball games, along with a fellow teammate of Gianna’s and her parent).

 

Kobe had a 20-year NBA career that will send him to the Hall of Fame (once he becomes eligible). He was a five-time NBA Champion, a 15-time All-NBA player, NBA MVP, two-time scoring champion, two-time Finals MVP, 18-time All-Star, a two-time Gold Medalist for Team USA, and a player who influenced a generation who came up after him. His work ethic was legendary and was part of what rubbed off on LeBron and many others.

Kobe became synonymous with the Lakers and their brand — the loyalty Kobe generated with his fans was unmatched in the modern NBA.

Kobe’s death came just a day after LeBron passed him for third All-Time in NBA scoring, which led LeBron to talk unscripted for more than five minutes about how he had grown up idolizing Kobe and the influence Kobe had on his life. Kobe’s last Tweet was about LeBron and, appropriately, the future of the game.

Love from former teammates, players pours in as LeBron James passes Kobe

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With a running layup across the lane Saturday night, LeBron James passed Kobe Bryant, moving up to third on the NBA’s All-Time scoring list.

After that, the love started to pour in for LeBron.

First it came from his teammates, then from the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, smart basketball fans who appreciate greatness when they see it.

Next Kobe Bryant Tweeted his congratulations.

Then the love flowed in from across the spectrum, including former teammates and other players. Here is just a taste.

LeBron trails only Karl Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the scoring list, with LeBron 4,733 points back of Kareem. The scoring champ was on SiriusXM NBA Radio this past week and he also showed his appreciation for LeBron — and added LeBron could pass him.

“I think it is up to LeBron. If he wants to do it, he’ll do it. He has the talent. He has the opportunity. So it’s just up to him as to how he wants to end his career. I certainly cannot be upset about it. The reason that they keep these records is so that we learn how we are improving. And we learn how to teach the game, taking note of the accomplishments of the great players. So, hey, it’s a natural progression. I don’t have any problem with it.”

Rumor: J.R. Smith to get workout with Los Angeles Lakers

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This is probably nothing.

The Lakers head into the trade deadline — where they have limited players and picks to make a move — and the buyout market looking for a secondary playmaker to come off the bench, plus some more shooting.

J.R. Smith doesn’t fit either of those needs at this point in his career, but he is going to get a workout with the Lakers, reports Brandon ‘Scoop B’ Robinson at Heavy.com.

According to a Lakers source close to the situation, Smith will get a workout with the Los Angeles Lakers next week.

“There are no guarantees,” said the source. “They want to see what he can do and if it is a fit, we’ll take it from there.”

Smith and LeBron James have a history together going back to AAU ball, and Smith was on LeBron’s 2016 title team in Cleveland. Smith also made the blunder in Game 1 of the 2018 Finals that cost the Cavaliers any hope in that series.

However, if the Lakers wanted Smith, they could have signed him at any point this summer. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

Smith evolved into a gunner off the bench, a high volume shooter and scorer who creates shots for himself, which won his Sixth Man of the Year back in 2013 but does not fit what the Lakers are looking for right now.

Also, Smith’s skills have been in decline. Last season, Smith, 34, played just 11 games for the Cavaliers — none after November — and struggled with his shot, hitting 30.8 percent from three and he had a dreadful true shooting percentage of 44.4 (he is a career 37.3 percent shooter from three). Smith did not want to be part of a rebuild in Cleveland and asked to be traded, but the team could not find a taker that wanted Smith’s contract and would send a pick back for him. Cleveland waived Smith in July and, while he met with the Bucks, he has been without a contract since.

Don’t read much into Smith getting a workout, there could be a lot of reasons for this. Maybe this gets him on another team’s radar, but it’s hard to see how he helps the Lakers take a step forward right now.