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Raptors dethrone Warriors to win Toronto’s first NBA title

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OAKLAND — In the end, the injuries were too much.

Too much for the emotion of the final night at Oracle Arena — and a deafening crowd — to overcome.

Too much for the greatness Stephen Curry to overcome — although he got a good look at the game-winning shot and just could not get it to fall.

Too much against an outstanding Toronto Raptors team that was resilient all season and came out on fire in Game 6, setting a tone that would lead them win all three games on the road at Oracle Arena in this series. The Raptors were too good, too deep, they had too much Kyle Lowry early, and too much Pascal Siakam and Kawhi Leonard when it mattered.

Toronto made the plays late against a shorthanded Warriors squad and hung on a 114-110 win — giving the Raptors the win and Toronto its first NBA title.

The Raptors accepted the Larry O’Brien trophy in front of hundreds of Toronto fans who had traveled south with the team to witness history. Those fans were loud and had the passion that a first-time champion can inspire.

Leonard — picked up last summer on a huge roll of the dice by GM Masai Ujiri, trading away the franchise’s greatest and most popular player in DeMar DeRozan — was named Finals MVP in a redemptive moment. Leonard has missed all but nine games the previous season with a quad tendon injury, one that had fans and people around the league wondering if he would ever be the same again.

In this series, he looked like the best player on the planet.

Still, a shadow hung over this game.

Warriors’ All-Star Klay Thompson went down in the third quarter with an ugly left knee injury when he was fouled on a dunk. Thompson landed awkwardly then laid on the ground in clear pain. He came back to a huge ovation to take a couple free throws.

However, the Warriors subbed Thompson out after that, and soon he would be ruled out for the night (later an MRI confirmed an ACL tear). It made Thompson a spectator at the end. Just like Kevin Durant (who was in New York recovering from surgery to repair a torn Achilles suffered in Game 5).

“I mean more than the what-ifs is just feeling bad for the players involved,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Injuries are always part of the NBA season — any professional sport, injuries play a huge role. It’s just the nature of these injuries, the severity of these injuries… But it’s just brutal. It’s just brutal of what these guys have had to deal with and what they’re dealing with right now.”

It wasn’t just Durant and Thompson. Kevon Looney was playing through a fractured collar bone. Andre Iguodala was hobbling with a calf injury. DeMarcus Cousins wasn’t moving well coming off a torn quad. It forced Steve Kerr to reach deep into his bench throw out lineups not ready for the NBA Finals… and yet it almost worked.

Not against these Raptors, however.

Lowry — the face of the Raptors organization now — set the tone early. He was aggressive and red-hot, scoring the game’s first eight points and he finished the first quarter with 15 on 5-of-6 shooting. The Raptors led for much of the first quarter, but eventually Game 6 Thompson showed up, scoring 10 in the frame, and by the end it was 33-32 Raptors in a game where both teams had offensive ratings north of 118.

The second quarter was back and forth, but a theme started to emerge — the Warriors could not slow this Raptors offense, the only way Golden State was going to win was with an offensive avalanche. It was a change because defense had been the Warriors’ calling card through this run of five straight trips to the Finals. Golden State had the best defense in the NBA when this core won its first title in 2014-15, and over the next two seasons they were sixth and second in the league. The D took a step back in the 2017-18 season to 11th in the league during the regular season, but the Warriors cranked it up and had the best defense in the playoffs last season on their way to another title.

This season the Warriors were not the same on that end.

And the Raptors had scorers. Lowry and Siakam each scored 26, while Leonard and Fred VanVleet each had 26. In Game 5 the Raptors thought a their loss at home was largely due to struggling from three, but they were 13-of-33 (39.4 percent) in Game 6.

The Raptors had a 116.5 offensive rating in Game 6, for some perspective that would have been tied for the best regular season average of any team (the Warriors). Toronto attacked the Golden State centers off the dribble and, with the injuries, Steve Kerr ran out of options to counter it.

He ran out of options in this series overall, and Toronto had all the answers. Toronto was the better team and it is the champion.

Kyrie Irving reportedly re-aggravates right shoulder, to see specialist

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Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season with shoulder bursitis, but rather than have surgery he got a cortisone shot eight weeks ago and was able to return to the court for nine games. Eventually, a knee issue sidelined him.

Now he has re-aggravated that shoulder and, once again, will see a specialist, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media on Tuesday.

There are no details on how the re-aggravation happened. Irving had been trying to avoid surgery, but that could be back on the table. The Nets may take a few weeks to make their decision on a next step.

Atkinson may not go there but the rest of us can — it would be a surprise to see Irving back this season. At this point, the smart play is to let Spencer Dinwiddie run the offense the rest of the way, play hard and see what happens in the playoffs, then return next season with a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving has played in just 20 games this season, but without him the Nets are still the seven seed in the East at 25-28.

 

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, and the Cavs’ players have clashed with Beilein and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat those players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. Those NBA players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

Hiring Beilein is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. That has happened, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout.

Once Jackson clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. On the regional level, the Sports Business Journal reports ratings are down by 13 percent. That is due to some big drops in certain markets (the Bay Area, for example), while the NBA says that ratings are up in 13 of the 28 markets that have reliable Neilson numbers (28 cities because Toronto and Denver are not included, the latter of which has a coverage/cable dispute that has much of the greater Denver region unable to view games at home).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.