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Raptors blow great chance to win championship

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TORONTO – Kawhi Leonard drilled what Fred VanVleet would call an f-you 3-pointer, giving the Raptors their first lead since the first quarter. Toronto fans burst into a frenzy. Leonard drove for a basket. The arena erupted. Leonard pulled up for another 3-pointer. The crowd somehow got even louder. Leonard turned a drive into a short pull-up jumper. It was pandemonium.

Raptors 101, Warriors 97

Already up 3-1 in the NBA Finals, Toronto appeared to seize control of Game 5 with three minutes left. Leonard scored on four straight possessions to cap a 12-2 run. Kevin Durant had already exited with an injury. The Warriors looked like they were running out of gas.

The Raptors’ first championship appeared imminent.

But Golden State closed the game on a 9-2 run to steal a 106-105 victory. The reversal was quick and jarring. A stunned fan base fell quiet. Just like that, the celebration was dashed.

Toronto had a 94% chance of winning Game 5 when up six with 2:59 left, per inpredictable.

Teams have lost 13 potential championship-clinching games since 1997, as far back as the NBA has play-by-play data. Only the Spurs’ Game 6 loss to the Heat in 2013 had a more devastating blown lead. Up 3-2 in the series, San Antonio had a 99% chance of winning the title when leading by five with 23 seconds left, per inpredictable. But Ray Allen hit a huge 3-pointer, and Miami won in overtime then took the series in Game 7.

Here’s every lost potential championship-clinching game since 1997, sorted by inpredictable’s peak odds for the losing team:

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Situation Odds Final Series
2013 G6: SAS 94, MIA 89 (Q4: 0:23) 99% MIA 103, SAS 100 MIA 4, SAS 3
2019 G5: TOR 103, GSW 97 (Q4: 2:59) 94% GSW 106, TOR 105 TBD
2010 G7: BOS 49, LAL 36 (Q3: 8:24) 85% LAL 83, BOS 79 LAL 4, BOS 3
2005 G7: DET 48, SAS 39 (Q3: 7:44) 76% SAS 81, DET 74 SAS 4, DET 3
2016 G7: GSW 87, CLE 83 (Q4: 5:37) 72% CLE 93, GSW 89 CLE 4, GSW 3
1998 G5: CHI 36, UTA 28 (Q2: 0:04) 71% UTA 83, CHI 81 CHI 4, UTA 2
2013 G7: SAS 11, MIA 4 (Q1: 6:46) 63% MIA 95, SAS 88 MIA 4, SAS 3
2016 G5: GSW 18, CLE 13 (Q1: 5:33) 63% CLE 112, GSW 97 CLE 4, GSW 3
2005 G6: SAS 51, DET 48 (Q3: 9:38) 61% DET 95, SAS 86 SAS 4, DET 3
2008 G5: BOS 62, LAL 60 (Q3: 8:26) 55% LAL 103, BOS 98 BOS 4, LAL 2
2010 G6: BOS 6, LAL 4 (Q1: 9:55) 54% LAL 89, BOS 67 LAL 4, BOS 3
2000 G5: LAL 1, IND 0 (Q1: 11:42) 52% IND 120, LAL 87 LAL 4, IND 2
2016 G6: GSW 0, CLE 0 (Q1: 11:37) 51% CLE 115, GSW 101 CLE 4, GSW 3

The Raptors still have two chances to eliminate the Warriors – Game 6 Thursday in Oakland and, if necessary, Game 7 Sunday in Toronto. Most teams in the Raptors’ position have won the series. Golden State losing Durant tilts the odds even further in Toronto’s direction.

But if the Raptors don’t win one more, the end of Game 5 could haunt them for a long time.

Rumor: Stephen A. Smith is coming to ESPN’s NBA broadcasts

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National NBA broadcasts are about to get a little bit different this upcoming season.

We already got word that Michelle Beadle would not be on NBA Countdown on ESPN for the 2019-20 NBA calendar year. In her place will be Rachel Nichols, a favorite of most thanks to her work on The Jump, and Maria Taylor. And apparently ESPN’s studio show is about to get an analyst boost as well.

According to the big lead, Stephen A. Smith will be added to the analyst panel for ESPN studio show, likely on Wednesday nights. The bombastic First Take host will give his NBA takes either to the delight or dismay of fans nationwide.

Via The Big Lead:

Stephen A. Smith is in ESPN’s plans for NBA studio coverage this upcoming season, The Big Lead has learned from multiple people with knowledge of the situation. An ESPN spokesperson declined to comment on the news.

Our sources indicate that Wednesday night is the most likely time for him to be involved, but cautioned that plans are not yet set in stone.

People lost their collective minds on Twitter this summer when it was announced that ESPN had given another huge contract to Stephen A. to continue to do… whatever Stephen A. does. Namely, yell and act incredulous in a way so insincere it’s hard to believe anyone is entertained by it, much less could take it at face value.

No doubt Smith will fill the role, aesthetically, that Charles Barkley does for TNT. He’ll talk in big, wild soundbites that get Twitter all riled up, thereby allowing some VP at the network to pitch his superiors about “leverage” and “engagement” from Smith’s appearances.

Good luck to everyone watching the NBA on national TV this year. Maybe locate where the mute button is on your remote now so you know where it is come autumn.

Gordon Hayward says he’s feeling confident in his ankle for next season

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Gordon Hayward still wasn’t particularly good last season. He never really looked all that comfortable playing with the Boston Celtics, and Brad Stevens’ insistence on playing him led to some reported rifts in the Boston locker room.

But Hayward is expected to come back at full strength this year, and it could be just in time for him to shine in light of Kyrie Irving‘s departure to the Brooklyn Nets.

His severely dislocated left ankle is now long behind him, and it appears that Hayward has been putting in the work necessary this summer. Speaking to Mass Live, Hayward said that he is starting to get more confident in his game.

Via Mass Live:

“Reps is what gives you confidence, so being able to do things over and over and over and not worry about how my ankle’s feeling, or having to be cautious with it, has been really good, especially for my confidence,” Hayward said. “I think last year was a lot of hoping and not really knowing what was going to happen just because I didn’t have the reps… going into a summer training as hard as I want to, it’s a lot better for my confidence this year and expectations-wise as well.”

A healthy Hayward would really change the dynamic of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference this year. Losing Irving is huge, but Boston is going to have a real depth of talent on its hands if it can add Hayward to other wing talent Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Smart.

It seems cliche to point out at this point, but people have slept on how good Hayward was on both sides of the ball during his time with the Utah Jazz. He’s a complete player at the small forward position when healthy, and bringing back his superstar firepower could ease the pain of losing Irving to Brooklyn.

Royce White questions why Lakers have Jared Dudley not ‘Melo; Dudley, others defend move

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There are a lot of people surprised that this deep into the summer, with NBA rosters largely filled out, Carmelo Anthony isn’t playing somewhere. Whether on Team USA or training with new teammates for an upcoming NBA season.

Among those confused, former NBA draft pick Royce White, who was outspoken on the issue — and called out both LeBron James and Jared Dudley — in speaking with Fanatics View.

Dudley responded to this, not directly to White but to a retweet of this rant, and did so in Dudley’s calm, rational way. His Tweet has since been taken down, but it said:

“This isn’t Melo vs myself, That man is a 1st ballot HOFer… We all want to see him back in the league… Royce seems uninformed when he speaks and this situation in calling my name out. This league is not about who’s better then who it’s what’s players make for the best Team.”

Kendrick Perkins and Jameer Nelson had Dudley’s back.

Dudley/Perkins/Nelson are spot on here. The reason Dudley is on an NBA roster and Anthony is not is all about willingness to fit in and play a role. Dudley knows exactly how to do that, accepting limited minutes off the bench, staying ready, and when he comes in playing hard, being a pest, and knocking down threes. Anthony is unquestionably still a better scorer, but he was unwilling to accept a role in both Oklahoma City and Houston (and his game now is that of a role player/sixth man). Anthony says that’s different now, but GMs are risk averse in most situations. Teams that might have interest in ‘Melo are concerned about the possible distraction and disruption, and they wonder if that risk is worth what Anthony brings to the court right now. It was the same with Team USA.

Some team should — and one likely eventually will — give Anthony another shot. He deserves it. However, teams thinking about a deep playoff run tend to like their chemistry and are wary of disruptions, so nothing has come out yet. Even if Royce White and a lot of other people think it should have.

P.J. Tucker ‘optimistic’ about contract extension with Rockets

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As trade rumors swirled around the Rockets, P.J. Tucker instead focused on a contract extension.

Well, the dust has settled in Houston. The Rockets dealt Chris Paul to build around a James HardenRussell Westbrook backcourt.

Tucker still wants to stay.

Tucker, via Kelly Iko of The Athletic:

“It’s now,” he said of getting a new deal done. “It’s time for my extension right now, so we’ll see. We’ll see what happens. I’m optimistic, we’ll see.”

The most Tucker can earn in an extension is $30,985,560 over three years (or $19,891,964 over two years or $9,563,444 over one year). That’s a bargain based on how he has played lately.

Tucker’s versatile hard-nosed defense has been so important in Houston. He often holds the Rockets together on that side of the ball. Offensively, he fits well with his corner 3-point shooting.

But Tucker is also 34. Houston can’t depend on him remaining productive when on an extension that would begin at age 36.

There’s no urgency for the Rockets to extend him. He’s locked up two more seasons.

Practically, extending Tucker now would also mean guaranteeing his 2020-21 salary a year before necessary. Just $2,569,188 of his $7,969,537 salary that season is guaranteed. There’s a chance Houston might want to waive him in 2020.

Tucker is so good and so underpaid, even his largest-possible extension (which is based on his prior salary) could turn into a steal for Houston. That’s the only reason this conversation is happening. Because with most players so old and so far from free agency, an extension is a non-starter.