Raptors defense plus Pascal Siakam proves too much for Warriors, Toronto wins Game 1

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The Warriors were determined not to let Kawhi Leonard beat them.

Philadelphia and Milwaukee had failed to do just that and they are now home watching these games on television like the rest of us. Leonard has been the best player these playoffs — making his case for “best player in the world” — but Golden State had a plan: trap him off screens, send double teams, and try to force the ball out of his hands. Make someone else beat you. It kind of worked, Leonard had 23 points but shot 35.7 percent and had five assists on the night. He did not dominate.

Except the other Raptors did beat them.

Those Raptors — the guys without a Finals MVP trophy at home — stepped up and shot 54 percent. That was led by Pascal Siakam, who finished with 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, and was the best player on the floor — on both ends.

As a team, the Raptors shot 39.4 percent from three. More importantly, they continued to play lockdown defense in the halfcourt.

That was enough for Toronto to lead almost from the opening tip and win an entertaining Game 1 at home, 118-109, in front of a raucous crowd.

Toronto now leads the series 1-0. Game 2 is Sunday in Toronto.

This was the kind of win that should boost Toronto’s confidence that they can take this series.

The Raptors did it without their best player needing to take over, because they moved the ball and played as a team.

“They were blitzing Kawhi on the pick-and-roll and allowing the middle of the floor open or they were switching early on the offense,” Marc Gasol said. “We did a good job of moving that ball and finding — I still think we can do a better job on it, but it was good enough.”

Gasol had 20 points on 10 shots and played spectacular defense, showing the Warriors were not just going to play him off the floor as they had done so many bigs before. The Raptors got guys like Danny Green hot again, he was 3-of-7 from three on his way to 11 points.

Most importantly, Toronto locked Golden State down in the halfcourt offense, allowing only 0.83 points per possession in that setting (the Warriors averaged more than a point per possession in the regular season). The Raptors carried over what they did against the Bucks — keeping the pace down, just 96 possessions — and owning the halfcourt defense to give themselves a chance.

Part of the Warriors halfcourt struggles were they turned the ball over, which gave Toronto some easy transition buckets.

“The biggest thing for me was our transition defense was just awful and that’s the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “That’s the No. 1 priority when you play Toronto, you have to take care of their transition and we gave up 24 fast-break points, we turned it over 17 times. So that’s the game, really.”

Coming off a nine-day layoff, the Warriors are rusty to start, scoring just 21 points in the first quarter on 7-of-23 shooting overall and 3-of-10 from beyond the arc. Shots the Warriors traditionally hit did not fall, and Toronto did a good job contesting Golden State’s actions. The Raptors, however, didn’t take advantage and only up by four after one quarter, 25-21.

That Toronto lead stretched out to 10 at the half — 59-49 — in large part because of Gasol, who had 14 points in the first 24 minutes, hit threes, set solid screens, plus played fantastic pick-and-roll defense showing out high and cutting off angles.

While Leonard and Lowry struggled in the first half (3-of-12 combined) the other starters were 12-of-19, and the Toronto bench shot 5-of-10.

Meanwhile, the Warriors struggled with the combination of impressive Raptors defense and rust. This was their first-half shot chart.

The Warriors never put together the kind of run we have come to expect from them, even in the third quarter, and the Raptors deserve credit for that.

“I think the big thing is you got to continue to play defense all throughout the game,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “Even though you’re trying really hard sometimes and they will come down and they will make you look silly sometimes…. We just said that some of those breakdowns will happen… You get a shot and you try to answer, and you try not to have any droughts on offense, because you know their ability to score quick.”

The Warriors defense also was not sharp at points, with slow closeouts to shooters or allowing cutters to go unguarded in the paint. Toronto was recognizing it and took advantage.

The Raptors were the sharp and better team all night. They earned a 1-0 series lead.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.