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.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”