Banged up Warriors rediscover their passing, defense, win Game 2 to even series

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For six quarters of these NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors halfcourt defense had boxed the Warriors in, slowed the game down, and gave the Raptors one win and a good shot at another.

Six minutes changed all that.

The Warriors looked like the Warriors again.

Golden State took charge of Game 2 with an 18-0 run to start the third, however, this was not an avalanche of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson threes, as we have come to expect. The Warriors got a lot of their buckets in the halfcourt with crisp passing and backcuts, layups, floaters or alley-oops off penetration. Curry and Thompson’s gravity pulled defenders to them and opened up lanes, Golden State finally started using that space as only they can. The Warriors assisted on every made basket they had in the second half, had 34 assists on 38 made buckets for the game, and assisted on 16 of their 17 layups/dunks. There was also an assist on the dagger three from Andre Iguodala that sealed the Warriors’ win.

The Warriors’ passing let them survive injuries to Thompson — a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, after he had 25 points and had been the best player on the floor — and Kevon Looney, who left with a collar bone injury after a fall. Both left the game not to return, their status for Game 3 is not yet known (Thompson said he will play in Game 3, but the Warriors were more cautious).

That and improved defense got the Warriors a 109-104 win on the road in Game 2, tying the NBA Finals up 1-1 as they head to Oakland for Game 3 Wednesday.

Toronto had their chances, particularly getting open looks with the game on the line late, but just could not hit them. After Thompson left the game with 7:59 remaining, the Raptors went to the seen-in-high-school-but-not-the-NBA diamond-and-one defense to keep Fred Van Vleet hassling Stephen Curry — and it worked. The Warriors went scoreless on seven straight possessions.

However, in the face of a more energized Warriors defense than they saw in Game 1, the Raptors just did not take advantage of the opportunities.

“I said yesterday and today that 109 points is plenty to win the game, which is what we had in Game 1, but we gave up 118,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So it was all about our defense and we held them to 37 percent and forced 15 turnovers and guarded the three-point line well. So it was championship defense and that’s what it’s going to take.”

The Warriors got huge games from Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, which went a long way toward the win. Green finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, and completely outplayed Pascal Siakam (unlike Game 1). Cousins — who got the start and played nearly 28 minutes — had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a gritty effort.

It was those assists from big men that the Raptors defense could not stop. The wings were cutting and guys were getting layups. Even Andrew Bogut had three alley-oops.

Toronto got 34 points from Kawhi Leonard on 8-of-20 shooting, and VanVleet had 17 points off the bench. But Toronto shot 11-of-38 from three, with a lot of those good looks, and that cost them.

The game started with a back-and-forth first quarter, with both teams struggling from three but Toronto still playing tremendous halfcourt defense and the Warriors still living at the three throw lines, just like Game 1.

However, the Raptors stretched the lead out to 12 in the second quarter going against a Warriors team that lacked offensive punch. The Raptors did a great job of taking away Curry’s penetration, leaving guys like Green and Andre Iguodala to create more (with no Kevin Durant for the Warriors to fall back on) and it wasn’t working.

But at halftime, it was just a five-point Toronto lead, 59-54, because of Klay Thompson.

Thompson had the first nine Warriors points while the rest of the team started 0-of-6 from the floor, and that trend continued through much of the first half. Toronto put Danny Green on Curry — who was battling an illness — and that left 6’1” Kyle Lowry on 6’7” Thompson and it let the Warriors sharpshooter get comfortable.

Thompson had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half – and that was with every one of his shots contested. Thompson and Green had 20 of the Warriors 26 in the first quarter.

Late in the second, Curry started to find his rhythm. After starting 0-of-6 shooting he went 4-of-4 late, got to the line seven times, and had 16 points.

Golden State took over in the third quarter, starting the third on an 18-0 run, which was really a 24-1 run going back to the end of the first half. The Warriors never fully pulled away because of Leonard (he had 12 points in the third alone), but they had the lead.

One of the keys to that run was an improved Golden State defense. The Raptors started 0-of-8 shooting with five turnovers to start the third, the kind of run of stops the Warriors could not get in Game 1. Kerr adjusted and put Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam and left Thompson on Leonard, and it worked because Green and Iguodala could help more.

One other missed opportunity by the Raptors came late. They were down two with 26.9 seconds left in the game after a Danny Green made three, but rather than foul they let the game play out. That led to the Iguodala three.

“We’re trying to foul,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We had a couple chances there on Draymond, I think Livingston and then back to Draymond and then Curry got it. And we didn’t want to foul [Curry] but we put a good blitz on him. We almost made him throw it away. And I think if they’re going to take a shot and give you a chance there, I’m going to probably live with the one that ended up being taken. I’m going to probably roll with that.

“Probably we should have fouled before that.”

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Warriors, but not every victory is a work of art. The Warriors got the split they needed and now the series heads to the Bay Area. The question is, who will be healthy enough to suit up Wednesday for the Warriors?

Victor Oladipo says Pacers “definitely” a playoff team, maybe more in wide-open East

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With a number of new faces — Malcolm Brogdon, Jeremy Lamb, T.J. McConnell, Justin Holiday, T.J. Warren — and star Victor Oladipo out until mid-season, predicting where the Indiana Pacers will land in the East next season is difficult.

Oladipo himself has a good idea where, as he told J. Michael of the Indy Star.

“Playoffs, for sure. Definitely.”

And maybe more.

After Milwaukee and Philadelphia at the top, the East is wide open. Last season the Pacers were an impressive defensive team — third-best in the NBA, anchored by Myles Turner — but a middle of the pack offense (before Oladipo tore the quad muscle near his knee and was out, after that they fell off to bottom 10). The challenge was that after Oladipo the Pacers did not have a lot of shot creation options on the roster (Bojan Bogdanovic did well picking up the slack, he’s good but not elite in that role).

Ths season Brogdon can create, Lamb can create for himself, both can play off the ball, and there are just more options, especially once Oladipo returns and everyone gets on the same page.

A team that had difficulty with execution because it had a dearth of ballhandlers should score more on offense and be able to switch more on defense…

“We have the ability now to play that way. We have the personnel to play that way,” he said. “We have a lot of guys who can do things with the ball. Not only me. I don’t think we’ve had that before. It’s going to be a lot of opportunities for guys to go out there and make things happen.”

That kind of team could be very dangerous in the East.

Before that, however, there are a lot of new pieces to fit together in Indiana. Then mid-season their best player in Oladipo returns and there will be another round of adjustments, with guys needing to accept changing roles.

If it all comes together for Nate McMillan and crew, the Pacers are a playoff threat, but there are a lot of “ifs” to get to where the Pacers want to ultimately be.

For now, get to the playoffs, get healthy, and then we will see just what this team is capable of.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should join the Lakers

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The Lakers have 14 guaranteed contracts on their roster and now need to go out and add another traditional center to the mix after DeMarcus Cousins tore his ACL. (Dwight Howard is in consideration for that slot.) The Lakers eventually can get a Disabled Player Exception for Cousins (saying he is not likely to play this season) to create another roster spot.

Gilbert Arenas thinks Carmelo Anthony should go to the Lakers as a 15th man.

Here is what Arenas told Landon Buford in a phone interview:

I remember the reports named Houston as a possible destination for him to land. I said ‘Hell no’ don’t go there it is going a disaster and it is not going to work. You just for the first time in your career played with two ball-dominant players and it made you the third option. So, to go right back to a team that is going to make you again the third option is a disaster.

Go to the Lakers where you might come off the bench, but you are going to be the first option in the fourth quarter because that is what they are going to need from Melo. They need a 6’9 guy that can open up the floor, play your iso basketball, and that helps the rest of the Lakers. LeBron passes to everyone else, and you play iso basketball it all works. He goes to Houston and after ten games he is gone. Melo needs to me in a position where the last five minutes of the game he is the go-to guy. If you are not the go-to guy what are you on the court for because don’t have any other skill to be used. You are a fourth-quarter last five-minute iso guy that is your skill.

A few things here:

On a team with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Arenas thinks ‘Melo would be the go-to guy in the last five minutes of a game? Um… no. Not exactly how that would work.

The reason Anthony is not on a roster is not a question of skills or if he can still get buckets — he can, no doubt — but if he could accept a role and do that on a team for 15 minutes a night coming off the bench? That’s where his game is now but is that where his head is? Would Anthony be happy in a Sixth Man role, or maybe a seventh or eighth man role? Anthony has said he can do whatever is needed to help a team, but that’s not what he showed in Houston last season. If teams believed Anthony could accept a bench role and not be disruptive he’d have an NBA contract by now.

Anthony will eventually get picked up. Somewhere. And if LeBron pushed for it that could happen in Los Angeles. A team will bet on him because he can still get buckets and at the end of the day putting the ball through the basket is the name of the game. But it’s just hard right now to see what team around the league is going to make that bet. Things will shift and some team will, but for now, Anthony will have to wait.

Lakers reportedly interested in Dwight Howard as possible Boogie Cousins replacement

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DeMarcus Cousins was a big part of the Lakers’ plans this season, but he is now out until next year with a torn ACL.

That leaves a big hole at center — the Lakers don’t want to play Anthony Davis extended minutes at the five — so the Lakers are looking at the free agent center market. Which is pretty slim.

One guy they want to talk to is former Laker Dwight Howard, currently on the Grizzlies roster (but expected to be bought out), reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The first question to think about here: Who benefits from this report being out there? I’m in no way questioning the validity of the report — Charania is one of the best-connected reporters around the NBA — but things are told/leaked to media members with perception and spin in mind. In this case, who benefits from this being out there? Draw your own conclusions, it’s just something to consider.

Howard’s last time in a Laker jersey did not exactly go well. In the same way the Titanic’s maiden voyage did not exactly go well. Howard rushed his return from back surgery to join a perceived superteam (with Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant) but never got healthy and right, and it showed on the court. Plus, Howard’s “I want to have fun, joke around, and eat Skittles” approach to the game at that time clashed with Kobe’s “I am Batman” approach. Howard became the scapegoat in Los Angeles for a disaster of a season.

Some Lakers fans will not want to hear this but… Howard is not a bad option to seriously consider. For the three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18 Howard was a solid, above-average NBA center, who efficiently averaged low 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, plus was a big body on defense. Most importantly, he played at least 71 games in all of those seasons, he was healthy and reliable. Not great, certainly nothing near the Defensive Player of the Year and perennial MVP candidate he was early in his career (the guy the Lakers thought they were getting the first time around), but a solid NBA big who could play 28-30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use right now.

However, Howard played just nine games for the Wizards last season following another back surgery and some hamstring issues. He was not healthy. The Lakers have to seriously assess Howard’s health because both LeBron James and Davis are going to get plenty of DNP-Rest nights and the Lakers need role players they can count on to absorb minutes. Can Howard be that guy? Do the Lakers want to bet he can be?

Joakim Noah, who has had his health issues but impressed a lot of people around the league with his solid 41 games for Memphis the second half of last season, also is mentioned in the report. Noah is a free agent, brings a defensive mindset, is a good passer, and will not demand touches on the offensive end.

Also on the free-agent market is Kenneth Faried, who played well for 25 games in Houston last season when Clint Capela was out. Faried hustles, can get buckets (he averaged 12 points a game with the Rockets) but is not much of a defender at this point in his career.

Joseph Tsai to buy rest of Nets, Barclays Arena for $3.4 billion

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NEW YORK — Joe Tsai has agreed to buy the remaining 51 percent of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center from Mikhail Prokhorov in deals that two people with knowledge of the details say are worth about $3.4 billion.

Terms were not disclosed Friday, but the people told The Associated Press that Tsai is paying about $2.35 billion for the Nets – a record for a U.S. pro sports franchise – and nearly $1 billion in a separate transaction for the arena. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the transactions have not yet been completed.

Tsai is the co-founder and executive vice president of the Alibaba Group, the Chinese e-commerce giant. He already had purchased a 49 percent stake in the team from Prokhorov in 2018, with the option to become controlling owner in four years.

Instead, he pushed up that timeline for full ownership of a team on the rise after signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in July.

Prokhorov, a Russian billionaire, became the NBA’s first non-North American owner in 2010 and oversaw the Nets’ move from New Jersey to Brooklyn two years later. He spent big in the first couple years after the move in a quest to chase a championship, but the team soon became one of the worst in the NBA before rallying to return to the playoffs last season.

“It has been an honor and a joy to open Barclays Center, bring the Nets to Brooklyn, and watch them grow strong roots in the community while cultivating global appeal,” Prokhorov said in a statement. “The team is in a better place today than ever before and I know that Joe will build on that success, while continuing to deliver the guest experience at Barclays Center that our fans, employees, and colleagues in the industry enjoy.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of September and is subject to approval by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

That would put Tsai, a native of Taiwan, in full control of the team by the time the Nets head to China to play two exhibition games against the Los Angeles Lakers in October. That comes at the start of a season of renewed excitement for the Nets, who just three seasons ago won an NBA-worst 20 games but are set to make a big move up the standings after landing two of the best players on the market when free agency opened.

“I’ve had the opportunity to witness up close the Brooklyn Nets rebuild that Mikhail started a few years ago. He hired a front office and coaching staff focused on player development, he supported the organization with all his resources, and he refused to tank,” Tsai said. “I will be the beneficiary of Mikhail’s vision, which put the Nets in a great position to compete, and for which I am incredibly grateful.”

Brett Yormark, the CEO of BSE Global, which manages the team and the arena, will oversee the transition before leaving for a new role.