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.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant make top 10 of Forbes highest-paid athletes list

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LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant make more money off the court in endorsements than they do in salary from their teams. Which is not a surprise.

It’s enough money to vault them into the top 10 of FORBES Magazine’s list of highest-paid athletes for the last year.

LeBron is fifth at $88.2 million, of which $37.4 million is salary (although Forbes lists it as much less). Stephen Curry is sixth at $74.4 million, and Durant is seventh at $69.3 million.

Rounding out basketball players in the top 20 are Russell Westbrook at 12th ($56 million), James Harden at 17th $47.8 million, and Giannis Antetokounmpo at $47.6 million. Overall, 34 NBA players are in the top 100, including rookie Zion Williamson at 57th ($27.3 million).

Tennis legend Roger Federer topped the list at $106.3 million, and he was followed by soccer stars Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, before we got to LeBron.

Despite all the work that goes into them, these Forbes estimates have a reputation for being off the mark. That said, it makes for a fun debate and ranking, and we could all use that right now.