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Raptors’ role players ‘let it rip’ in Game 3 victory

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OAKLAND — Three words were written on the whiteboard at the front of the Raptors’ locker room:

“Let it rip.”

“I think we all kind of followed that advice,” Danny Green said after his 18-point game.

Then he poked holes that narrative.

“But it’s just easier to look at that now and say it worked great for us, especially on a great shooting night,” Green said.

Forget narrative, it simply was a great shooting night for the Raptors, and that was one of the key reasons Toronto won Game 3 and is now up 2-1 in the NBA Finals. After struggling in Game 2, Toronto’s supporting cast took advantage of a shorthanded Warriors defense to get to their spots, make the extra pass, and knock down seemingly everything.

Kawhi Leonard had 30 points on 17 shots, but it was the other guys that were the difference.

Kyle Lowry had 23 points and was 5-of-9 from three. Pascal Siakam had 18 points, nine rebounds, and was a team best +22. Green’s 18 came on 6-of-10 shooting from three. Marc Gasol added 17 points. The Raptors shot 52.4 percent as a team, hit 17 threes, and racked up a ridiculous 126.8 offensive rating.

The offense won the Raptors Game 3.

“We haven’t really had a good team shooting night [in the Finals], and I knew eventually at some point we were due for one,” Green said. “So luckily we got one tonight, but we still have to do a better job defensively on that end of the floor to limit those guys better so we don’t have to rely on our offense or our shooting to win games for us.”

Lowry was the catalyst outside of Leonard that the Raptors have needed all series, pushing the ball in transition and playing downhill of the pick-and-roll. He thought his performance was more about mindset than anything else.

“For me, it was just coming off being aggressive and not so being passive and trying to get everybody else involved and more so get myself going and let everybody else feed off of that,” Lowry said.

Leonard was doing the same thing.

“Once I’m driving in the paint, kicking out to guys that are making shots, the defense doesn’t want to collapse as easy, and we just got to keep playing them in a flow, really,” Leonard said. “I feel like we just don’t need to worry about me scoring the basketball, we all can score with the offense that we have, just got to keep moving.”

Toronto’s offense was the most consistent part of their game, and it covered up some defensive lapses that let the Warriors hang around in the game.

“We just kept scoring,” said Fred Van Vleet, who had 11 points off the bench. “We knew that they were going to make a run. Just tried to keep continuing to put pressure on them and just work the game.”

Can the Raptors repeat this performance — getting and hitting those same shots — against a Warriors team that may have Klay Thompson and/or Kevin Durant back in Game 4? Every step in the Finals is harder, and the next one will be for Toronto, mostly because Golden State will be better. Combine the expected talent upgrade (on defense as well as offense) with a sense of desperation from the Warriors and it makes for a new challenge for the Raptors.

We’ll see if the Raptors can let it rip on Friday night.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.