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.

Carmelo Anthony has 18, but Giannis Antetokounmpo’s triple-double leads Bucks to win

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo had his second triple-double of the season and the Milwaukee Bucks beat Carmelo Anthony and the short-handed Portland Trail Blazers 137-129 on Thursday night.

Antetokounmpo had 24 points, 19 rebounds and a career-high 15 assists to lead the Bucks to their sixth straight victory. Antetokounmpo, who also had a triple-double in the season opener, has 16 career triple-doubles. Milwaukee is 14-2 in those games.

Eric Bledsoe added 30 points and six assists in the Bucks’ highest-scoring game of the season.

After scoring 10 points on 4-of-14 shooting in 24 minutes in his season debut Tuesday night against the Pelicans, Anthony had 10 points in the first half Thursday. The 10-time All-Star finished with 18 points (6-of-15 shooting) and seven rebounds for the Blazers, who were without Hassan Whiteside (hip), Damian Lillard (back), Zach Collins (shoulder) and Jusuf Nurkic (leg).

CJ McCollum scored a game-high 37 points and Skal Labissiere added 22 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench for Portland. The Trail Blazers lost their third straight game and seventh of the last nine against the Bucks, including sixth straight in Milwaukee.

The Bucks made their first seven shots, including three 3s, and led 17-6. Milwaukee never trailed.

The Bucks also had their highest first-half total, leading 72-58.

Report: Knicks not looking to make early-season coaching change with David Fizdale

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It didn’t take a Kremlinologist to read into what Knicks president Steve Mills said at his forced by the owner impromptu press conference 10 games into the NBA season:

Coach David Fizdale was in trouble. Big trouble.

It may not just be immediate, reports Marc Berman at the New York Post.

Mills wanted to see “consistent effort” and he’s gotten it. Indications are the coach’s hot seat is cooler halfway through this 10-game trial. Their record is 2-3 since the James Dolan-inspired conference, but could easily be 4-1 (they blew big leads to Charlotte, losing on a last-second 3-pointer, and, of course, had Philly dead in the water)…

The Knicks had to really sink south for a coaching change to be made by Game 20. Indications are it was far-fetched for a change to be made this early anyway. Was owner James Dolan, who has given Fizdale private reassurances, really going to let president Mills hire a new coach from the outside on a long-term deal with Fizdale still having at least one season fully guaranteed on his pact for 2020-21? Sources indicated the major deterrent to making a change at Thanksgiving was the sketchy alternative of promoting one of the assistants – Jud Buechler, Keith Smart or Kaleb Canales.

Good luck finding anyone who thinks Fizdale is safe long term in New York (and for the record, Smart has been an NBA head coach before, there are worse choices).

However, making a mid-season coaching change should really only happen for a couple of reasons. One is that the situation is so bad, so toxic, that it could poison the team into future seasons. The other is that there is a coach available on the sidelines that the team sees as “the man” going forward and they want to snap him up before someone else does (the Kings hiring George Karl comes to mind, although he turned out not to be “the man” they needed).

Not sure either of those situations applies to the Knicks and Fizdale. A move is more likely in the offseason.

However, predict James Dolan’s moods at your own risk.

Cavaliers’ new jerseys feature a big ol’ feather

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The Cavaliers rank near the top of the NBA by taking 19% of their total shots outside the restricted area while still in the paint. But Cleveland has converted just a middling 41% of attempts in that floater/runner range.

Maybe these uniforms will help the Cavs find a more feathery touch.

Though not in so many words, the Cavaliers actually stuck a feather on their jerseys and called it macaroni.

Jarrett Allen denies Kyrie Irving rumors, “He acts like a normal teammate”

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It hasn’t taken long for the “Kyrie Irving isn’t a good leader in Brooklyn” rumor mill to start up. The Nets 6-8 start combined with a desire in some corners of the NBA (and NBA Twitter) to pile on Irving has started the talk. Whether those rumors are just smoke or there’s some fire there depends on who you ask.

It was ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith who brought the topic to the forefront again on First Take.

Just as a refresher, anything Smith says should be taken with a full box of Morton’s Kosher salt. His job is to stir things up. That doesn’t mean he has no connections.

Nets center Jarrett Allen did an AMA on Bleacher Report and shot down the idea Irving is a bad influence in the locker room.

He acts like a normal teammate. People say that he has mood swings, but that’s a complete lie. He wants to see us succeed and do well if anything.

Allen added this when asked to compare playing with Irving vs. D'Angelo Russell.

They’re kind of different. Kyrie can score from anywhere, even without me setting up the pick-and-roll. DLo…we worked well; if he didn’t score, he’d kick it to me to score.

The Nets are a franchise inhabiting a strange space this season. First, this ultimately is Kevin Durant‘s team, but he doesn’t really get the keys until he can play, which almost certainly means next season. That makes Irving an interim Alpha on that team, but that’s an unusual dynamic.

Second, this is a Nets team that has rebounded from as low as it can get in the NBA to being a place Irving and KD wanted to play by establishing a culture, an identity. This is a lunch pail group of players who were selfless and bought into the team’s ideas and concepts. Nobody was a superstar, it was team first. Except, in come two superstars who bring their own ways of doing things — and the Nets can’t mess with that. There are compromises that need to go on for both sides, with Irving/KD bending to the Nets some, but the Nets giving them superstar treatment.

All of that creates friction that is going to rub some people the wrong way. Plus, Irving is a unique personality who is going to do things his way, and that will bother others. Some of those people will talk to the media, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even a majority — feel the same way. It’s usually people who feel aggrieved who want to vent.

How all this plays out in Brooklyn is going to be something to watch. But the ultimate test is next season, not this one.