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Golden State must answer questions about defense, halfcourt offense in Game 2

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The Toronto Raptors did more than just win Game 1 on Thursday night.

They laid out a roadmap for them to beat Golden State and win the NBA Finals.

That is what has Raptors fans so optimistic — the Raptors posed questions to the Warriors in Game 1 that will be difficult to answer in Game 2 (especially without Kevin Durant, who remains out). If Toronto can win Game 2, even if KD returns back in the Bay Area, you have to like Toronto’s chances.

The Warriors still have the confidence earned by champions, and they know what they need to do, they know the level of focus they need.

What the real confidence is is when you’ve been through everything and you’ve seen everything –you’ve won, you’ve lost, you’ve experienced every high, every low, then you know what this is about and you can dig into your reserve of experience to remember what’s necessary, which is really you just keep going back to the basics,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Saturday.

“It sounds boring, but transition defense, boxing out. Football coaches just say blocking and tackling. It’s the
same concept, but your ability to do that under pressure, when you’re in The Finals or in a big series, whatever, and everybody’s asking you a million questions, it’s can you focus on blocking and tackling? That’s what it comes down to.”

The Warriors need that focus in Game 2. Which means they need to do a couple of things much better, starting with improved halfcourt offense.

It seemed like Game 1 of the NBA Finals was played at a fast pace because both teams tried to push the ball up the court and get some easy transition buckets. The Raptors, in particular, went with some long passes up the court, and they exposed the Warriors’ transition defense to the tune of 24 fast break points.

More importantly, on the other end, Toronto also did a fantastic job of getting back, taking away those easy buckets from Golden State — there were only 97 possessions in this game. The Warriors want that into the triple digits at least, and Golden State had just 17 fast break points.

In the halfcourt, the Raptors defense locked the Warriors down — 0.84 points per possession (stats via Cleaning the Glass, which only counts the first shot toward that number). For comparison, in the regular season, the Warriors averaged over a point per possession in the halfcourt. What the Raptors did should not be a surprise, this is how they beat the Bucks in the last round.

With no Durant, it leads to one of the two big questions for the Warriors in Game 2 on Sunday night in Toronto:

Where are they going their points from?

Golden State got to the free throw line 31 times in Game 1, led by Stephen Curry going 14-of-14 from the stripe. Toronto will likely foul less in Game 2, which means the Warriors need to find a way to create mismatches, and come up with counters to plays the Raptors clearly were prepared for, to get cleaner looks. Klay Thompson had 21 points on 17 shots, he can do more, and Andre Iguodala hasn’t hit a three since the Houston series (literally) and they need him to get a few buckets. It can’t be just Curry and Thompson.

That said, the Warriors still had a 112.4 offensive rating for the game, slightly below their regular season average but still enough offense to win. Which leads to the bigger question for Golden State:

Can they get enough stops to win Game 2?

Golden State has to be flat-out better on that end of the court, starting with transition defense.

“The biggest thing for me was our transition defense was just awful and that’s the game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after Game 1. “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.”

For my money, an equally significant issue is the Warriors need better rim protection. The Raptors shot 20-of-28 within eight feet of the rim in Game 1 — they got inside and they scored. Those are the easy buckets the Warriors need to take away, both with Draymond Green and whoever is playing center (Jordan Bell, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevon Looney). Toronto can’t get that many good shots at the rim.

Expect Green to play a little more attention to Pascal Siakam, but the Raptors can get more offense out of Kawhi Leonard (who was happy to facilitate when trapped) and Kyle Lowry (who was just off). The Warriors need to do a better job of making the Raptors work for their buckets.

If not, Golden State is going to find itself in a place it has not in the Steve Kerr era — down 0-2 in the NBA Finals.

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.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder tells Donovan Mitchell to ‘be a sponge’ around Gregg Popovich

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While other players continue to pull out of the USA Basketball roster — De'Aaron Fox was the latest, and P.J. Tucker before him — Utah’s Donovan Mitchell has been outspoken in his commitment to the team.

“Me, I’m 22, some guys are older and got to rest their bodies and I understand that…” Mitchell said Friday night after Team USA’s exhibition game win over Spain. “For me, I’ve never been part of USA Basketball and I’m honored to be here, I’m honored to have this privilege to go out and compete.”

A lot of players have left — or just not put their names in the hat in the first place — saying they wanted to focus on preparing for the regular season, especially players in the Western Conference, which is deep with outstanding teams. The Utah Jazz, now with Mike Conley at the point, are one of those teams with high expectations.

Mitchell, however, has the full backing of his coach Quin Snyder to stay with Team USA and learn from Gregg Popovich, as Snyder told Marc Stein of the New York Times.

“Both Donovan and I have been excited for this opportunity, not just the chance to compete for his country but to play for Pop. I think he has an appreciation for the fact that he’s playing for the greatest coach that’s ever coached…

“Just try to throw yourself completely into it,” Snyder said he told Mitchell. “And try to communicate with Coach as much as you can. Be a sponge.”

Popovich has had an impact on the young players on the roster. For example, there’s more maturity to Kyle Kuzma‘s game, and Popovich recognized him on the court Friday night when Kuzma made a couple of smart plays against Spain.

Just having different coaching voices — not just Popovich but his assistants Steve Kerr, Lloyd Pierce, and Villanova’s Jay Wright — can help a young player. The message may be consistent, but said in a different way, one that better gets through to the player. Styles matter.

Mitchell led Team USA in scoring against Spain with 13, but Snyder and Jazz fans are hoping for more. Not just gold at the World Cup in China starting Sept. 1, but that Mitchell comes back energized and with a broadened game after having been a sponge next to Popovich.

Marcus Smart reportedly cleared to play for Team USA

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Through two weeks of training camp, first in Las Vegas then in Los Angeles, through one intrasquad scrimmage and one exhibition game, Marcus Smart has sat in street clothes.

The Celtics guard has a calf injury that has sidelined him. On Thursday in Los Angeles he took part in the shooting parts of practice during training camp, but not the full-contact scrimmages against the select team. All he could really do was this.

Friday night he never got out of his warmups and did not play against Spain, but he did say on the broadcast he would be back.

Turns out, he was cleared to be back the next day according to Mark Stein of the New York Times.

This takes away a little of the sting of De'Aaron Fox deciding to withdraw from the team just before it left on Saturday for Australia.

It also means four Celtics are on the USA roster: Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. USA assistant coach Steve Kerr jokingly said to me last week he asked Brad Stevens for a thank you gift for running Celtics mini-camp.

Smart is one of the 13 players headed down under for a series of tune-up games before the World Cup (against Australia and Canada). If he’s fully healthy enough to go, Smart is a lock to make the roster because of his physical perimeter defense and ability to shoot the three (36 percent last season in the NBA, and the international line is a little closer in). He likely would come off the bench at the two behind Donovan Mitchell.

Bill Walton broadcast White Sox vs. Angels game and was nothing short of brilliant

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Bill Walton is brilliant.

The Hall of Fame hippie and big man was in the broadcast booth Friday night — not for basketball, but for the White Sox vs. Angels MLB game. Walton loves baseball even if his understanding of the sport is… unconventional.

I want Bill Walton to narrate my life.

The world missed him while he battled serious back issues, it’s so good to have him out and around and being himself again.