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Raptors try to keep level head after blown lead, missed opportunity to win title

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The city of Toronto… no, the nation of Canada was getting ready to party Monday night after Game 5.

The years of pent-up frustration. The raw emotion of being on the verge of winning the NBA title for the first time. It was all about to be released. The growing basketball nation north of our border was ready for its time in the spotlight.

After struggling for three quarters, Kawhi Leonard had taken over. He had gone a personal 10-0 run and eventually put the Raptors up six with 3:28 left. The Raptors were rolling, they could taste the victory…

Then came a Klay Thompson three.

Then a Stephen Curry three. Then another Thompson three — the Warriors hit 20 threes on the night — and quickly the Raptors were playing catch-up again, down three. Except they didn’t catch up. The Warriors did what they needed to and picked up the victory to force a Game 6 back in Oracle Arena on Thursday.

How will the Raptors respond to that punch to the gut?

“We don’t really have much choice,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said. “And I think that our team has reacted all year long great to bad losses, and I would say it takes a lot to beat this team, and that took a hell of a lot of blows and a heck of a lot of balls bouncing the wrong way in the last couple minutes for us to come out on the wrong side of it tonight.

“But I’m super proud of the guys. Man, they played their guts out, kept on fighting, and put themselves in position to win it.”

The Raptors did get in position to get the win and end the series, which makes the loss harder to take. For example, they blew that previously mentioned six-point lead.

“I think that in this day and age, up six with three minutes to go doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Nurse said. “You got to keep playing and getting good shots and keep guarding. We have been a really good close-game team this year, both ends of the floor. We really guarded in the second half; we held them to 22 each quarter, and I felt good at that point. Just needed to make a couple more plays.”

Even after the Raptors blew that play they had a chance on the final possession. After an over-and-back violation on DeMarcus Cousins, the Raptors inbounded the ball (no timeout is taken to set up a play) and tried to get Kawhi Leonard the ball and a little space.

“We tried to get to Kawhi to his right side, they doubled off him Leonard,” Kyle Lowry said. “He swung it to Freddie (VanVleet], and Freddie had a look and he threw it to me in the corner, and Draymond got a piece of it. He blocked it. I’m not going to miss it; he got a little piece of it.”

It was a tremendous defensive play by Draymond Green, recovering to get a fingertip on Lowry’s corner three. If you watch the play, Green is reacting, pumping his fists, before the flight of the ball is clear. Because he knew.

The Raptors postgame were not down, not crushed. They were frustrated at a blown opportunity, but this team has taken on Kawhi Leonard’s personality — not to high, not too low, just keep moving forward. Which means on to Game 6. The Raptors know they still lead 3-2 and they need just one more win.

The party in Canada has been delayed, but it could be back on Thursday night.

Report: Brad Stevens’ dedication to Gordon Hayward caused chemistry issues with Celtics

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Things are not all well in Boston. The Celtics are already in a free fall when it comes to free agency, and it’s not yet July. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford are reportedly poised not to return to TD Garden next year. Now, a team that was aiming for the NBA Finals next year could be in serious trouble.

Things have quickly fallen apart for Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens, who are left with a team that also has an apparent enemy in one of the biggest agencies in Klutch Sports. Boston reportedly backed out of serious offers in trade negotiations with the New Orleans Pelicans in part because they felt as though Klutch client Anthony Davis would not re-sign after one year.

Basketball is a game of chemistry, and the Celtics seemed to lose theirs over the course of the year. At least externally, it appeared Boston was disintegrating. Now, according to a report from Jackie MacMullan, we have some confirmation of this rift.

Via NBC Sports Boston:

“You hate to pick on Gordon Hayward because he was coming back from injury and he was doing the best he could, but I really think that’s where it started,” she said. “They were force feeding him on his teammates, Brad [Stevens] knew Gordon well, he wanted to get his confidence back.

“I would contend that Brad Stevens would have done that for any player on that roster that had a catastrophic injury, he would want to fill him with that same confidence, but that’s not what happened,” MacMullan continued. “He gave the benefit of the doubt over and over to a player that wasn’t ready, to a guy who had history with him, and it rankled that locker room, and it bothered that locker room.”

The Celtics have a roster on paper that should have been good enough to get them deep into the playoffs. But Hayward returned and never really looked like himself, and Stevens devoting his faith to his former Butler Bulldog was obviously misplaced.

Chemistry issues for Boston we’re not all to blame on Stevens and Hayward. Irving is perennially mercurial. Given a situation where he got his own team (whatever that means) he didn’t lead the way folks were expecting.

Unless something drastic can be done — and don’t put it past Danny Ainge to get wild — Boston could be taking a step back next season.

Their saving grace, ironically, could be a fully healthy Hayward who has more reign to do what he wants and an unrestricted role on offense. We’ll see how that goes.

Report: Kawhi Leonard focusing on Clippers in free agency

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Kawhi Leonard might not be with the Toronto Raptors next season. That much has been apparent ever since the Raptors traded for Leonard last year, but the team did just win the 2019 NBA Finals. You know what they say: winning fixes everything.

But we are now into the thick of the NBA offseason, and that means crazy rumors and a wild game of Free agency musical chairs. Leonard could end up in many places, including Toronto. But the talk all along has been how Leonard prefers to land in Los Angeles.

The only problem for fans in L.A. county? His landing spot is unlikely to be the Los Angeles Lakers.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Leonard’s focused on Los Angeles but only with the Clippers. In Wojnarowski’s opinion, Leonard is not interested in joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis as a third wheel on a superstar, big three type of Team. Instead, Leonard wants to have his own team match the way he does in Toronto. That could easily be the case with the Clippers.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are trying to open up enough cap space for a third max-level player, which Leonard obviously is. But if things stand how they are now, Rob Pelinka and the Lakers will need to go elsewhere to find a third star to play alongside LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Obviously the Lakers would be better suited by using their cap space to fill out their roster around their two superstars, but they probably won’t do that. In the end, Leonard focusing on the Clippers seems like the right choice.

Report: Lakers trying to open max salary slot with Anthony Davis trade

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The Los Angeles Lakers have Anthony Davis, but they aren’t done tweaking the details of the deal yet. Depending on when Davis’ trade gets completed, Los Angeles will open up myriad financial options for their free agency extravaganza this summer. Now it appears the Lakers might be trying to get a third team involved to help them grab max cap space.

We’ve explained the cap ramifications as the deal stood with the New Orleans Pelicans already. On one end, Los Angeles could wait until July 30. After renouncing some free agents, this would leave L.A. with $32 million in cap space. If they complete the deal on July 6, and if Davis waives his $4 million trade kicker, they end up with somewhere between $24 — $28 million.

Now it appears the Lakers will go for the full max slot space.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers are looking to ship out some of its younger players — turning the Davis trade with New Orleans into a 3-team deal — to satisfy some CBA rules that allow them to get to that mark. The Lakers have made Mo Wagner, Jemerrio Jones, and Isaac Bonga available.

Via Twitter:

Los Angeles is also reportedly looking to grab some second round picks, which allow for cheap contracts that they can use to fill out its roster while going over the salary cap.

This is a bold endeavor.

No doubt the front office in L.A. looked at the trade the Toronto Raptors made for Kawhi Leonard this past season feel as though adding more stars to its roster cannot possibly hurt. The only problem is that the Raptors already had a team good team unit in place when they traded for Leonard. Los Angeles won’t have any players of note when they head into this season, even if they are able to sign a third star to go with LeBron James and Davis.

It’s really going to be difficult to see how Davis, James, and a third star will carry this team if there is a steep drop-off between the bench rotation. Even considering veteran minimum signings — which always happen for championship-contending teams — this team needs more role players.

This is an extremely Los Angeles thing to do, and this thing just keeps getting more complicated the farther we get into the NBA offseason. It’s not even July yet, and it’s already wild in the Association.

Report: Al Horford not returning to Boston, will sign elsewhere this summer

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Boston’s disastrous season — and off-season — just keeps getting worse. Anthony Davis is a Laker, Kyrie Irving is out the door and now this.

Al Horford opted out of the $30.1 million the Celtics owed him this summer, but that was expected. A lot of people around the league also assumed he would begin negotiating with Boston to return for a longer contract, worth more money overall but a little less per year, that would give him some security.

He is going to get that security elsewhere, reports Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

The buzz from around the league is this is more about Boston not wanting to pay him and do a retooling of their roster around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown than it is Horford wanting out. Either way, it puts an outstanding player on the market.

Horford is 33 years old and teams may be concerned about the final year of a four-year contract, but he is kind of glue big man who can do everything well that could fit a lot of places and lift teams up to the next level. Horford can play in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good defender and role player, and just seems to have no holes in his game. That versatility makes him incredibly valuable.

Horford is going to get paid this summer — not max money, but close enough to it to make him happy — and some team is going to get a lot better when they do it.