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Warriors win Game 2 by shutting down Raptors’ supporting cast

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The Toronto Raptors beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals thanks to a career game by Pascal Siakam and a team effort by seemingly everyone on the Toronto roster. Golden State took Game 2 in Ontario on Sunday, 109-104, largely because those two things were reversed.

Siakam scored just 12 points on 5-of-18 shooting, getting blocked three separate times inside of 10 feet. The paint was where Siakam thrived in Game 1, but eight of his 13 missed shots were inside the key on Sunday. Golden State appeared to have a plan for the rangy forward, staying put on his pump fakes and forcing him into bad floaters away from the rim.

As a team, the Warriors clamped down on defense. Kawhi Leonard had a game-high 34 points, and went to the free-throw line 16 times. However, Leonard struggled from the arc, shooting just 2-of-9 from 3-point range. The Raptors superstar did look a little hindered, coming up short on his long bombs, but Golden State’s effective rotations and continued high pick-and-roll traps forced the ball out of his hands away from the basket.

Essentially, everything the Raptors did right in Game 1, Golden State targeted in Game 2.

That included toning down the rest of the Toronto squad around Leonard. Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, and even Fred VanVleet all saw their contributions diminish in efficiency, even if only slightly, from Thursday.

Most noticeable was that of Marc Gasol, who looked to be a floor-stretching factor for the Raptors in Game 1. The veteran Spaniard scored 20 points in that matchup, going 2-of-4 from 3-point range. It was just enough to pull the Warriors defense out by half a step, allowing Toronto’s cutters to operate more freely.

But Gasol seemed reticent to pull the trigger on Sunday, even when he had wide open chances and his team needing to make up ground with under four minutes to go in the fourth quarter. As a result, he had less of an impact, scoring just six points on seven shots. He did not his a three.

Even worse was the effect that had on Toronto’s passing. Gasol was able to act as a hockey assist guy in Game 1, but without the threat of his 3-point shot in Game 2 things slowly started to trickle down. The Raptors ended with just 17 assists to Golden State’s 34.

Nick Nurse has been an innovator during these playoffs, and perhaps most surprising was just how many times we saw Toronto run Golden State’s split cuts (where a guard screens for another guard, then cuts diagonally toward the ball after defenders jump the shooter on the arc). The Warriors got wise to this strategy in Game 2, and were able to take away some of the passing lanes for Toronto. The Raptors’ turnovers went up by 50 percent from Game 1.

We knew that the Warriors were going to come out strong and with a game plan after Game 1. Golden State said that their main a disadvantage in the series was that they didn’t feel like they had a good read on this Raptors team. But their coaching staff is one of the best in the NBA, so the fact that the Warriors were able to respond on Sunday shouldn’t be a surprise.

The Warriors took the smart route. They know they can’t stop Kawhi Leonard, and there have been times during these playoffs that the Raptors have been denigrated for not having a roster worthy of a player of Leonard’s caliber. That was certainly the case in the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. Golden State decided to take that advice to heart, and executed a plan that allowed them to shut down the rest of the Raptors contributors en route to a tough, gutsy win.

The series now switches back to Oakland where we don’t know which players will play. Klay Thompson was injured in the fourth quarter, and his left hamstring might be a real concern. Kevon Looney fell hard on his shoulder, and didn’t return in the second half. And of course, we still don’t know if Kevin Durant will play.

For now, both teams have gathered significant tape on each other, and are heading back to the Bay all square, 1-1. We have a real series on our hands, and now that one team has stolen a win on the other’s home court, the fun can begin.

Nurse’s task now will be solving Golden State’s defense and figuring out how to get his supporting cast up and running yet again.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

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De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

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Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

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Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

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It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.