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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.

Report: Celtics could have traded Jaylen Brown to Spurs as centerpiece for Kawhi Leonard

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The Celtics reportedly offered the Spurs a strong collection of draft picks for Kawhi Leonard.

But San Antonio, prioritizing winning now, wanted capable veterans. So, the Spurs sent Leonard to the Raptors for DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl and a late first-round pick – a deal that worked for both sides. San Antonio continued its playoff streak. Leonard led Toronto to the NBA Finals.

Boston, on the other hand, was left in the cold. The Celtics endured a rocky season that ended in the second round. Kyrie Irving appears likely to leave.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

I do know that there’s some regret from some people within the Celtics organization about not pulling the trigger on a Kawhi Leonard deal last summer.

They could have made a deal for Kawhi Leonard – my understanding, from kind of both sides of this – involving Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. At least Jaylen Brown as the centerpiece of it all.

Smart was a free agent, so he would have had to agree to a sign-and-trade. That gets complicated. But Boston also signed him just after San Antonio the Leonard trade. So, maybe that was actually in play.

With Leonard thriving throughout the playoffs and Brown having an underwhelming year, Boston clearly missed a great opportunity. But hindsight is 20-20.

Leonard was coming off a lost year due to injury, and his health was a major question. He’ll also become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the flight risk was real (and still is for Toronto). The possibility of losing both Leonard and Irving in one summer would have have been daunting.

Brown had just helped lead the Celtics to Game 7 of the conference finals. He appeared to be part of a promising young core with Jayson Tatum.

So, it’s easy to say now that Boston erred. Making the call this summer would have been more difficult.

After years of anguish and accomplishment, Kyle Lowry finally in NBA Finals

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TORONTO – Each player’s press conference at NBA Finals media day began the same way. A player sat down. NBA communications director Jim LaBumbard immediately called on a reporter for a question.

Except Kyle Lowry‘s.

Lowry sat down smirking at LaBumbard, who previously worked for the Raptors.

“You ready?” LaBumbard asked.

“Sure, go ahead,” Lowry said.

Lowry has been preparing a long time for this moment.

He has spent most of his career just trying to prove himself as a full-time starter, getting bounced from the Grizzlies to the Rockets to the Raptors. He found a home in Toronto and developed into a star. But that just set him up to be tormented by LeBron James nearly annually in the playoffs.

Now, Lowry has finally reached the pinnacle of his sport, the NBA Finals.

“He’s been hit upside the head from every different angle and every different angle in the world – whether it’s personal, everything,” Raptors president Masai Ujiri said, “and he survives it.

“There’s something about that guy that I just believe in. It’s incredible. We have been through so much, and he’s a winner. There’s no other way to put it. He’s a winner.”

Lowry is a five-time All-Star in his 13th season. Just seven players have hit that honor-longevity combination then played in their first NBA Finals:

  • Tracy McGrady (2013 Spurs)
  • Mitch Richmond (2002 Lakers)
  • Kevin Garnett (2008 Celtics)
  • Alonzo Mourning (2006 Heat)
  • Reggie Miller (2000 Pacers)
  • Chris Mullin (2000 Pacers)
  • John Stockton (1997 Jazz)

Only Garnett, Miller and Stockton were still stars by their Finals debuts. Mourning was a role player. McGrady, Richmond and Mullin were deep reserves.

Lowry is still a star.

He’s an unconventional one who does so many little things to help his team. He takes charges, sets screens, tips loose balls, makes extra passes, directs teammates. Of course, he scores and assists plenty. But traditional box-score stats don’t fully capture his impact on the court.

They certainly don’t capture his impact off it. Lowry, who spent a while moping about his close friend DeMar DeRozan getting traded, has become an ally of Kawhi Leonard. Though not facing his own contract-year speculation, Lowry understands the pressure stars face. He also relates to younger teammates just tryin to establish themselves in the league, a predicament he faced early in his career.

“He’s a better teammate than he is a player,” Fred VanVleet said.

But for everything Lowry did right, postseason success eluded him.

His individual performances were up-and-down through the playoffs. He wasn’t as bad as his critics made him out to be, nor did he sustain the high level of play he demonstrated in the regular season. But Toronto consistently struggled.

So, when he finally won the East, Lowry – who’s often brooding publicly – became uncontrollably overjoyed:

Yet, as the NBA Finals approach, he’s locked back in.

“Getting here doesn’t do anything but getting here,” Lowry said. “We still want to try to win this.”

It’s the right approach and of course the won Lowry would take. He’s a true competitor. A championship would be so satisfying.

But, after all he’d been through, getting here did mean something to him. You could see it all over his face.

Raptors’ summer gamble pays off with trip to NBA Finals

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Toronto’s big gambles paid off.

Last summer, after five years of winning at least 48 games and looking impressive in the regular season only to stumble in the playoffs, Toronto’s team president Masai Ujiri went all in. He fired the NBA’s Coach of the Year in Dwane Casey to hire his assistant Nick Nurse with the hope of installing a more creative offense.

Then they traded fan favorite and (at least to that point) the greatest Toronto Raptor in franchise history DeMar DeRozan to get Kawhi Leonard, a guy coming off an injury that essentially sidelined him for a season. A guy who would be a free agent after one season. Leonard could bolt — like other stars had done north of the border — and leave the Raptors high and dry.

It was all a massive roll of the dice.

Toronto hit their number with that roll — the Raptors are headed to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Toronto stormed from 15 points down in the third behind another monster game from Leonard — 27 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists — and held on to win Game 6 in front of a raucous home crowd, 100-94.

Toronto will host Game 1 of the NBA Finals Thursday night against the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.

The Raptors may not be familiar with that stage, but Leonard knows both the Finals stage and that opponent (recall that the last time he faced them Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot on a jumper, spraining Leonard’s ankle and ending San Antonio’s playoff hopes that season). Thoughts about July 1 are banished for now in Toronto, the party is on.

“It means a lot,” long-time Raptor Kyle Lowry said about making the Finals. “It’s taken a long time to get here in my career, 13 years, seven years here [in Toronto]….

“But I’m not satisfied.”

This series changed in Game 3 when Nurse mixed things up and had Leonard as the primary defender on Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak still got his, but everything became harder, and as the Raptors slowed the pace their halfcourt defense locked in. On the offensive end, Leonard just made plays when he needed to.

“He’s a great player, he made some very special plays, give him a ton of credit,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said of Leonard.

For the Bucks, who had the best record in the NBA this season and a likely MVP in Antetokounmpo, this was a learning experience about their shortcomings — both his and the Milwaukee roster. He had 21 points and 11 rebounds, but he was not able to dominate the game like Leonard did in crucial moments, and when he couldn’t get to the rim at will his lack of a jump shot he has confidence in showed. Those kinds of lessons come with being just 24 and making a deep playoff run.

“In our minds, we feel he’s going to get a lot better,” Budenholzer said of the Greek Freak. “At 24 some guys are… I don’t want to say they are who they are, but at 24 some of the great ones were the same at 30 and 32 and so forth. Giannis we feel has a lot of room to grow.”

So does the roster around the Greek Freak. Antetokounmpo sat just 7:28 in this game, and that proved to be too much — the Bucks were -9 in those minutes. They lost by six.

Eric Bledsoe struggled again, with 8 points on 9 shots. Khris Middleton — who is a free agent this summer — had 14 points on 5-of-13 shooting.

Still, this is a good team on a learning curve. One with some tough decisions ahead for the front office, but a team on the rise.

They showed that early.

Milwaukee came out playing with a sense of desperation — it showed in their energy and second efforts on defense — and they raced out to a 15-point lead early in the second quarter mostly because they just hit shots. In the first half, the Bucks did not get the ball inside (only seven shots at the rim) but were 9-of-18 from three and hit 50 percent of their shots from the midrange. Antetokounmpo had 10 points and seven rebounds and Ersan Ilyasova surprised with nine points in the first 24.

That had the Bucks up 50-43 at the half, but it felt precarious. Then in the third, Milwaukee had an 8-0 run and the lead was pushed to 15 at one point. The Raptors were stumbling. Pascal Siakam hesitated on shots, not trusting himself. Danny Green trusted himself but couldn’t hit anything.

The tide turned thanks to Leonard. The Raptors finished third on 10-0 run — with Leonard scoring or assisting on every bucket — and the lead was down to 5 after three.

Early in the fourth was when Antetokounmpo sat again, and the Raptors went on a 7-2 run to tie the game at 78-78. That lead kept growing in a run that got to 26-3 for Toronto, then Leonard did this.

Milwaukee would not go away down the stretch, but Leonard kept making plays while Antetokounmpo and company got tight. Milwaukee could never get back in front.

For the Bucks, it’s a lesson.

For the Raptors, it’s the trip to the Finals they bet big on.

Kemba Walker gets super-max eligibility with All-NBA voting; Bradley Beal, Klay Thompson miss out

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Super-max contracts have made All-NBA teams incredibly important.

This year’s selections (first-team votes, second-team votes, third-team votes and voting points in parentheses):

First team

G: James Harden, HOU (100-0-0-500)

G: Stephen Curry, GSW (91-9-0-482)

F: Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL (100-0-0-500)

F: Paul George, OKC (71-25-3-433)

C: Nikola Jokic, DEN (59-38-2-411)

Second team

G: Damian Lillard, POR (8-87-5-306)

G: Kyrie Irving, BOS (0-52-39-195)

F: Kevin Durant, GSW (29-71-0-358)

F: Kawhi Leonard, TOR (0-73-23-242)

C: Joel Embiid, PHI (40-57-4-375)

Third team

G: Russell Westbrook, OKC (1-43-44-178)

G: Kemba Walker, CHA (0-4-39-51)

F: Blake Griffin, DET (0-13-76-115)

F: LeBron James, LAL (0-13-72-111)

C: Rudy Gobert, UTA (1-5-69-89)

Also receiving votes: Bradley Beal, WAS (0-1-31-34); Klay Thompson, GSW (0-3-18-27); Karl-Anthony Towns, MIN (0-0-20-20); LaMarcus Aldridge, SAS (0-2-11-17); Danilo Gallinari, LAC (0-1-4-7); Ben Simmons, PHI (0-0-7-7); Mike Conley, MEM (0-0-4-4); Donovan Mitchell, UTA (0-0-4-4); Pascal Siakam, TOR (0-0-4-4); Nikola Vucevic, ORL (0-0-4-4); Dwyane Wade, MIA (0-1-0-3); Luka Doncic, DAL (0-1-0-3); Andre Drummond, DET (0-1-0-3); DeMar DeRozan, SAS (0-0-3-3); D’Angelo Russell, BRK (0-0-3-3); Tobias Harris, PHI (0-0-2-2); Devin Booker, PHO (0-0-1-1); Eric Gordon, HOU (0-0-1-1); Jrue Holiday, NOP (0-0-1-1); Kyle Lowry, TOR (0-0-1-1); Lou Williams, LAC (0-0-1-1); Marvin Bagley III, SAC (0-0-1-1); Domantas Sabonis, IND (0-0-1-1); Anthony Davis, NOP (0-0-1-1); Myles Turner, IND (0-0-1-1)

The fallout:

  • Kemba Walker is now eligible for a five-year super-max contract projected to be worth $221 million over five years. Will the Hornets offer it? Would he accept it? Difficult decisions for both sides as he enters free agency this summer.
  • The Wizards dodged a bullet with Bradley Beal placing a fairly distant seventh among guards for three All-NBA spots. A super-max extension for him would have been too large a commitment right now, and not offering it threatened to alienate him. Forces would have been pushing toward a trade. Now, Washington’s options with Beal – who has two years left on his contract – are wide open. If he continues to play well and earns All-NBA in a future season, the Wizards could justify giving him the super-max then.
  • Likewise, the Warriors avoid their payroll skyrocketing as far into the stratosphere. Klay Thompson didn’t make All-NBA and therefore his max contract is capped at five years, projected $190 million. Considering he seems so happy in Golden State, the extra spending power of the super-max likely would have only cost the Warriors money without actually making Thompson more likely to stay.
  • Karl-Anthony Towns missed his last chance to trigger the super-max in his rookie scale extension, which will pay him a projected $158 million over the next five seasons. He would have earned about $32 million more with an All-NBA selection. The Timberwolves now have Towns secured at the lower amount. They surely hope the sense of urgency he showed late this season persists.
  • Damian Lillard has clinched eligibility to sign a super-max extension this offseason (four years, projected $193 million) or the 2020 offseason (five years, projected $250 million). He’ll reportedly ink the deal this summer with the Trail Blazers.
  • Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo will be eligible in the 2020 offseason for a super-max extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years. He’ll probably sign it. But until he does, all eyes will be on him.
  • Anthony Davis can this offseason sign a five-year, super-max extension projected to be worth $235 million with the Pelicans. He doesn’t want to. David Griffin has made noise about keeping Davis into 2020 free agency. But because he missed All-NBA this season, Davis isn’t guaranteed to be super-max-eligible then. He’d have to make All-NBA next season. So, New Orleans would have less of an upper hand in re-signing him – which makes a risky strategy even riskier.
  • The actual All-NBA teams look good to me. I would have picked Bradley Beal and Jrue Holiday over Russell Westbrook and Kemba Walker, but it was close. I have no significant complaints about the players chosen.
  • On the other hand, some of the stray votes: Dwyane Wade (second team!),  Eric Gordon, Domantas Sabonis, Marvin Bagley III. Wow.