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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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo suspended, ramifications on Western Conference playoff race

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Giannis Antetokounmpo headbutted Moritz Wagner.

OF COURSE Antetokounmpo was getting suspended for that.

NBA release:

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has been suspended one game without pay for headbutting Washington Wizards center Moritz Wagner during a stoppage in play, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Antetokounmpo will serve his suspension Thursday when Milwaukee faces the Memphis Grizzlies

This is a huge game for the Grizzlies. If they win, they’ll make the play-in. Lose, and they’d need both the Suns (to the Mavericks) and Spurs (to the Jazz) to lose in order to advance.

Obviously, Antetokounmpo is a force. But Milwaukee has nice depth and has been quite good without him. On the other hand, Bucks have also already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and might take it easy tomorrow, regardless. On the other other hand, Milwaukee – with a chance to reach the NBA Finals – might be one of the teams trying to get the top-seeded Lakers the toughest-possible first-round matchup in the West.

That’s not Memphis, which has limped to the finish. The Grizzlies are just 1-6 in seeding games. Jaren Jackson Jr., Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow are all injured.

Memphis has a chance against the Bucks tomorrow. Antetokounmpo’s unavailability only increases it. But it’s not as if this suspension suddenly gives the Grizzlies a shoe-in victory.

As has been the case all along, they’ll have to earn their way into the playoffs.

Russell Westbrook suffers strained quadriceps, out Friday, could miss playoff games

Russell Westbrook injury
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The Houston Rockets are going to be a trendy pick to make a deep in the West playoffs, but that will be hard to envision if Russell Westbrook misses time.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey announced that an MRI revealed Westbrook has a strained quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He is not playing today (Wednesday) against the Pacers and will be out Friday against the 76ers as well. He will be re-evaluated before the playoff tip-off next week, but his status for those games is unclear.

Westbrook has been just a little off at the restart. He averaged 27.2 points per game during the regular season, but that has been down to 24.3 in the Orlando restart. His 53.6 true shooting percentage for the season (near the league average) fell to 50% in the bubble.

The Rockets have been a strong 4-2 in the bubble with their small-ball system and have held on to the four seed, but they haven’t completely found a rhythm yet (as we saw pre-shutdown. In a likely first-round matchup with Oklahoma City, Houston would need Westbrook and his explosive athleticism.

Without Westbrook expect more of Eric Gordon, who just returned to the rotation Wednesday from injury, plus Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, even maybe Jeff Green — with a switchable roster Mike D’Antoni has a lot of options to soak up those minutes.

He just doesn’t have anyone as good.

Celtics sign coach Brad Stevens to contract extension

Celtics coach Brad Stevens
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The Celtics shocked by hiring Brad Stevens from Butler in 2013. He was a mid-major college coach, and even big-time college coaches rarely translated to the NBA. In fact, Stevens was viewed as such a college coach, rumors of him returning to that level persisted for years.

But Stevens has turned into a quintessential NBA coach. Despite taking over amid a rebuild, Stevens has won 56% of his games with Boston. It’s difficult to see him anywhere else.

Especially now.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics have signed head coach Brad Stevens to a contract extension, the team announced today.

Stevens, who previously signed a contract extension in 2016, is one of the NBA’s top coaches. He implements crisp schemes on both ends of the floor and communicates roles clearly to his players. At just 43, he could rival some of the longest coaching tenures in NBA history.

There are still questions about Stevens’ ability to coach stars. They might become more pronounced as Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown ascend.

But that’s a first-world NBA problem – having a coach who raises his team’s level and premier talent young players who could lift it even higher.

Another week, still zero players test positive at NBA restart

NBA COVID-19
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It’s starting to sound routine, but it shouldn’t — that the NBA is pulling off an impressive feat keeping COVID-19 outside the bubble (just watch other sports try to come back).

The league announced that 342 players were tested for COVID-19 on the NBA campus in the past week and there were zero confirmed positive tests. The league has had no positive tests inside the NBA bubble since it started.

It’s a testament to the tone Commissioner Adam Silver set (working with Chris Paul and the players’ union) setting a tone of patience and — to use a coaching cliche — not skipping steps.

The NBA began testing players in their home markets before they arrived in Orlando (that’s where a number of players tested positive, and were quarantined/treated in those markets). Once teams arrived in Orlando, players were quarantined and tested again.

The idea was simple — to keep the virus outside of the bubble — but the execution was not. Nor was making sure there was buy-in from the players (and, for the most part, there has been).

At least so far. There are about two months of games remaining through the end of the finals, and when family members arrive next month there will be new ways the virus could penetrate the bubble.

It isn’t time for an NBA victory lap yet, but so far so good.