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.

Rudy Gobert says France’s bronze medal ‘means everything’

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Some countries, like the United States, don’t really care about the World Cup. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China was perhaps evidence of that, with Team USA not even bothering to medal.

For countries like France and players like Rudy Gobert, the World Cup is a chance to show that their nation is one that is coming forth as a place to be reckoned with when it comes to basketball development.

France recently took home third place in the 2019 Cup, and for that the Utah Jazz center was grateful. Speaking to reporters after their win over Australia, Gobert said that grabbing the bronze “means everything” to him and to France.

Via Twitter:

That’s some pretty moving stuff from a guy in Gobert who we know is someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve.

Bernie Sanders says LeBron James is the GOAT over Michael Jordan (VIDEO)

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Everyone has an opinion about who is the greatest player of all time between Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Most folks still seem to pick Jordan, although it’s been hard to argue with the type of player that James is in a vacuum outside of measurements like championship rings.

In any case, we now have one more person who has tossed their opinion into the ring of public consciousness. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has now said that he believes that LeBron is the GOAT thanks to his public service.

Via Twitter:

“I think LeBron has been willing to do what a lot of athletes are not and get involved in the political process, put money into education, and I respect that.”

James has certainly done a lot politically, socially, and as an activist. He’s supported things like entire schools, and he’s been on the bleeding edge of NBA activism against things like police brutality.

Jordan has also done his part, including a recent pledge for $1 million in funds to aid Bahamanian hurricane relief. Folks like to bag on MJ for his purported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” comment, but it’s unclear whether he actually ever said or felt that.

In either case, it appears that we know who Sanders thinks is the GOAT. Next someone should ask Elizabeth Warren if she would have taken Kobe or Shaq in 2004.

Watch Zion Williamson snap the head off a golf club (VIDEO)

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As any good golfer can tell you, the key to getting a pure ball flight is figuring out the idea of compression. Instead of scooping the ball off the ground, the idea is to hit the ball first and use the ground to compress the dimpled object between the earth and the clubface.

And while New Orleans Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson probably isn’t concentrating on his golf game heading into his first NBA season, it looks like the idea of compression isn’t lost on him.

As the Pelicans held a golf event this week, Williamson was filmed snapping the head off of an iron while taking a shot off the tee box.

Via Twitter:

It’s hard to tell from this angle, but it looks like Williamson has a pretty solid swing. I’m extremely jealous of the amount of lag he has at the return parallel position on the downswing.

Someone get this guy a stiffer shaft or something. I can only imagine the kind of havoc Williamson is going to inflict on NBA rims this year if this is how the man golfs.

James Harden on Russell Westbrook pairing: ‘We’ll figure it out’

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There has been some doubt that James Harden and Russell Westbrook will be able to fit together with the Houston Rockets this season. Both players have matured quite a bit since their time together in Oklahoma City with the Thunder, and now there are real questions about Westbrook’s ability to fit next to just about anyone.

Like Westbrook, Harden is a ball-dominant guard, and we still don’t know the long-term plan for Coach Mike D’Antoni. Houston has real championship hopes, but they could also look much different in a year or two.

Still, Harden and Westbrook have known each other since they were 10 years old. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and are at least very good friends. To that end, Harden says that he believes they will be able to figure it out even if the first year together has bumps along the way.

Via GQ:

It’s like, yo, we’ll figure it out. Everything isn’t necessarily going to be smooth at first, there are going to be ups and downs, and that’s part of an 82-game season. Hopefully by the end of the season, we’ve caught a rhythm and everybody is on the same page going into the playoffs. That’s all you can ask for.

That’s a pretty reasonable outlook to have at this juncture. The NBA is constantly changing, and it’s possible that these two guys could have such a personal connection that their on-court conflicts end up being negligible.

It’s another new era in Houston as they try to capitalize on the Golden State Warriors’ injury issues.