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Pascal Siakam scores 30, leads Raptors past Magic for 2-1 series lead

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Toronto Raptors think Pascal Siakam should be selected the NBA’s Most Improved Player.

He was their MVP on Friday night.

And the East’s No. 2 seed has the home-court edge back again.

Siakam had 30 points and 11 rebounds, hitting a floater with 1:33 left to help snuff out a big Orlando rally and the Raptors held off the Magic 98-93 to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series.

“He’s unbelievable,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “He’s the most improved basketball player in the NBA this year and he’s only going to get better.”

Siakam was 13 for 20 from the floor and the Raptors held Orlando to 36% shooting.

“It’s just taking what a defense gives us and going with it,” Siakam said.

Kawhi Leonard — battling illness this week — had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Danny Green had 13 points and Lowry finished with 12 points and 10 assists, plus ran down a huge offensive rebound with about 15 seconds left to extend a critical possession and spoil Orlando’s first home playoff game since 2012.

“It was really what I thought it was going to be tonight,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “I really thought this was going to be a tough atmosphere to play in.”

Terrence Ross led Orlando with 24 points, and Nikola Vucevic shook off a slow start to finish with 22 points and 14 rebounds.

Game 4 is Sunday night in Orlando.

“Our turnovers hurt us again,” Vucevic said, lamenting Orlando’s 16 giveaways. “We had too many of those. Empty possessions for us and against a team like that you can’t have that.”

The Raptors trailed 61-60 midway through the third after a brief Orlando spurt, then went on a 16-0 run over the next four minutes to take the lead for good. Siakam and Green were both 3 for 3 during the run, the Magic missed 10 consecutive shots over a span of 6 1/2 minutes and had to play uphill the rest of the way.

That being said, they went down swinging.

Lowry’s 3-pointer with 7:48 left gave Toronto its biggest lead at 86-69. The Magic came flying back, and Ross’ 3-pointer with 41 seconds left got Orlando to 96-93.

Leonard was short with a jumper on the next possession — but the Magic couldn’t control the rebound, Lowry ran it down and Leonard made a pair of free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

“Critical,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said.

Orlando, which finished the regular season by winning 13 of its final 14 home games, was 13 of 44 from 3-point range.

Toronto scored the first 10 points — the last five by Siakam, who was a problem from the outset for the Magic — and led by as many as 11 in the first half. The Magic got within 48-45 at the break after Ross beat the clock from midcourt at the buzzer.

The Magic got the lead twice in the second half, once by one point, the other by two points. And both leads lasted exactly 15 seconds, getting taken away on 3-pointers by Siakam and Green.

And now it’s up to Orlando to regroup, the same way Toronto did after dropping Game 1.

“It’s 2-1,” Clifford said. “It’s not like it’s 3-0. It’s 2-1…. Handling disappointment is a huge part of NBA basketball and it’s a bigger part of playoff basketball.”

Kawhi Leonard scores 37, Lowry has 22 as Raptors rout Magic (VIDEO)

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TORONTO (AP) Kept off the scoreboard in a Game 1 defeat, Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was “at his finest” in Game 2, at least in the eyes of coach Nick Nurse.

Fellow All-Star Kawhi Leonard wasn’t too bad, either.

Leonard scored 37 points, Lowry bounced back with 22 and the Raptors routed the Orlando Magic 111-82 on Tuesday night, evening their Eastern Conference first-round series at one win apiece.

Pascal Siakam had 19 points and 10 rebounds for the Raptors, who never trailed and led by as many as 34.

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

Leonard said Lowry “led us in intensity,” helping the East’s No. 2 seed avoid a 2-0 hole.

“He did a great job of bouncing back,” Leonard said. “He’s a pro. That’s what pros do, they know it’s just one game and they come in the next game ready to play.”

Lowry, who missed all seven attempts in Game 1, shot 8 for 13 and led his team with seven assists.

“He was big time tonight,” Nurse said. “That’s him at his finest.”

Siakam said Lowry was visibly more tuned in Tuesday than he was Saturday.

“From the jump he had that fire in his eyes,” Siakam said. “That’s the Kyle we know.”

Despite playing in foul trouble for much of the night, Leonard finished with a career playoff-high 15 field goals. He made his first nine attempts from inside the arc before missing a layup.

Leonard shot 15 for 22 before leaving to a standing ovation with 4:46 remaining and Toronto ahead 104-73.

“Leonard was great,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said. “What are you going to do? He was great.”

Leonard’s career playoff high is 43, set with San Antonio against Memphis on April 22, 2017. He made 14 baskets in that game.

“Tonight he was just in a groove, getting downhill, getting to his spots,” Lowry said. “He’s a player who knows where he wants to be on the floor and when he gets to those spots, he’s pretty tough to guard.”

Aaron Gordon scored 20 points, Terrence Ross had 15 and Evan Fournier 10 for the Magic, who won the opener 104-101 on a tiebreaking 3 by D.J. Augustin with 4.2 seconds to go.

Nikola Vucevic, who shot 3 for 14 in Game 1, struggled again in Game 2, going 3 of 7 and scoring six points.

“They did a good job taking away a lot of my strengths,” Vucevic said. “I’ve just got to figure out a way to be more aggressive, be more efficient offensively.”

Augustin, who had 25 points Saturday, shot 1 for 6. Seven of his nine points came at the free throw line.

Orlando didn’t score for almost five minutes to start the game, missing its first six shots and four straight free throws. The drought ended when Gordon rebounded and scored on Vucevic’s miss from the line at 7:14 of the first, answering an 11-0 Toronto run.

Leonard scored 12 points in the opening quarter as the Raptors led 26-18 after one.

“Their defense set the tone for the game in the first quarter,” Clifford said.

Lowry scored 11 points in the second and Siakam added six, putting Toronto up 51-39 at halftime. Orlando shot 13 for 40 in the opening two quarters.

Leonard connected of seven of nine attempts in the third, scoring 17 points. The Raptors outscored the Magic 39-27 to take a 90-66 lead into the fourth.

“At halftime, I thought we had settled down,” Clifford said. “Then, at the beginning of the third quarter, they were good and, frankly, we were awful.”

TIP-INS

Magic: Orlando missed its first five free throw attempts before Ross made two of three at 2:11 of the first. The Magic shot 8 for 16 at the line in the first half and finished 13 for 24. … Ross had 15 of Orlando’s 17 bench points in the first half. … The Magic were outscored 52-36 in the paint. … Orlando has outrebounded Toronto in all six meetings this season.

Raptors: Lowry snapped his scoring slump by splitting a pair of free throws at 10:48 of the first, leading to thunderous applause. He was cheered again after hitting a 3 at 6:52. … Only four players scored in the first half. Leonard had 17, Lowry 15, Siakam 12 and Serge Ibaka 7. … Toronto has won nine straight playoff games in which it makes more 3-pointers than its opponent. Toronto shot 11 for 35 Tuesday, while Orlando was 9 for 34. … G Patrick McCaw (sprained right thumb) was not available despite practicing the previous two days. … Toronto is 8-8 all time in Game 2s.

TURNED OVER

Orlando had just 11 turnovers in Game 1 but gave the ball away 27 times in Game 2, including on both of its opening two possessions.

“If we’re going to make this a long series, and hopefully we will, we’re going to need to be stronger with the ball,” Gordon said. “Simple as that.”

HOME SWEET HOME

Orlando has won nine straight at home and is unbeaten on its own court since a Feb. 22 loss to Chicago.

“We feed off the crowd, we like their energy,” Gordon said.

UP NEXT

Game 3 is Friday night in Orlando.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Playoff Edition Three Things to Know: Upset Saturday leaves Sixers, Raptors, Nuggets in hole

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The NBA playoffs are underway and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Maybe there is something to having to win down the stretch of the regular season — to basically have your playoffs start early — when it comes to being ready for Game 1.

1) Joel Embiid is not himself and Sixers earn boos from fans in a loss to Nets. Sixers fans suffered through the losing of “The Process” for this? They know good basketball when they see it, but Sixers fans didn’t see it on Saturday in Game 1… well, not true, they saw it from a scrappy Nets team that picked up a 111-102 Game 1 win on the road.

Philadelphia fans didn’t see it from their hometown Sixers, who looked tight. So the fans booed.

Ben Simmons did not appreciate that, saying “If you’re a Sixers fan and you’re going to boo, stay on that side.”

Simmons earned those boos, however, with his nine-point, seven-rebound, three-assist night where the Nets dared him to shoot jump shots and he passed on those invitations. Simmons was not the playmaker Philadelphia needed him to be.

Joel Embiid was not the player the Sixers needed him to be. The Sixers best player was a game-time decision with knee pain but decided to play through it and wasn’t himself, except in flashes. Embiid put up numbers — 22 points on 5-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds, and five blocks — but he wasn’t able to impact the game the way he was used to. He started the game shooting 1-of-9 and was not moving well at points.

In what seemed to symbolize the Sixers approach to the night, Amir Johnson and Embiid were caught checking texts on a phone during the loss. Johnson was fined by the team for that.

Brooklyn, a team of underdogs and cast-offs, played harder and with more passion than the star-studded Sixers. The Nets had a we-have-nothing-to-lose attitude that seemed to free them. D’Angelo Russell, in his playoff debut, was 3-of-15 shooting in the first half, but was 7-of-10 in the second half and finished with 26. Russell made sure there would be no comeback.

Philly did get 36 from Jimmy Butler.

One of the questions for Philadelphia this playoffs was how the team would handle adversity. We’re going to find out starting Monday night in Game 2.

2) The more things change, the more they stayed the same for Toronto in Game 1 loss. This was the year that was going to be different. They have Kawhi Leonard. They have a deeper roster. They have a coach who focused on preparing them for the playoffs along each step of the 82-game season. These Raptors were ready for the playoffs…

And they lost Game 1 at home 104-101 after D.J. Augustin did this.

Kyle Lowry had zero points. Raptors fans have seen this movie from him before in the playoffs, but check out this shot chart

Kawhi Leonard was up and down, and the Raptors went as he did. When he was 4-of-4 shooting for 11 points in the first quarter, Toronto was up five and seemed to be in control. When he was 0-of-5 and didn’t score in the second quarter the Raptors were outscored by 13. And so it went, right down to the final shot of the game, Leonard’s “answer” to Augustin’s shot.

The Magic have been in playoff mode for a while, they had to close the season 22-9 just to make the playoffs. Orlando was ready. Toronto, not so much.

This series is far from over, but now it falls to the Raptors to prove that this season will be different from the last few.

3) Nikola Jokic has a triple-double in playoff debut but it’s not enough as San Antonio wins. The last guy to get a triple-double in his playoff debut? You might not remember him because he’s not in the playoffs this season, but it was LeBron James back in 2006. Nikola Jokic did it on Saturday with 10 points, 14 rebounds, and 14 assists. He also played solid defense all game.

But in crunch time the Nuggets lacked a scorer who could take over. Denver and Jokic tried to play the team game they had all season, giving up good shots looking for great shots, when what they needed was someone to just take and make a few shots.

Nobody was making shots, the Nuggets shooting woes from the end of the regular season followed them into the playoffs. Maybe Mike Malone needs to put Rocky in the game.

The Spurs were poised under pressure. Shocking, I know. They played like a franchise that has been to the playoffs for 22 straight years. Derrick White was the best Spur on the floor, with 16 points on offense and defense that smothered Jamal Murray on the other end. The Spurs needed that on a night DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge combined to shoot 33.3 percent.

The Spurs were the trendy first-round upset pick and in Game 1 they showed why — they knew how to execute under pressure.

Now the pressure is ramped up on the Nuggets for Game 2, we’ll see how they respond.

Watch D.J. Augustin’s game-winning three, Magic upset Raptors 104-101

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TORONTO — For the Orlando Magic, the first game of the playoffs felt a lot like the final few weeks of the regular season: high stakes, small margins, and a big win at the end of the day.

D.J. Augustin scored 25 points, including the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3.5 seconds left, and the Magic beat the Toronto Raptors 104-101 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series on Saturday.

Kawhi Leonard got a final shot for Toronto, but missed the rim with his 3-pointer from the top.

Orlando went 22-9 over the final 31 games of the season to clinch its first playoff berth since 2012.

“I think it helps,” Magic coach Steve Clifford said of his team’s tough regular-season finish. “We’ve been playing games that we had to win and were meaningful games for a while.”

Nikola Vucevic, who scored 11 points, said Orlando’s stretch drive help the team’s mental preparation for the grind of the postseason.

“Throughout this last month, we were able to fight through a lot of different adversity and it has kind of prepared us for the playoffs,” Vucevic said.

And, when crunch time arrived in Game 1, Orlando was entirely unfazed.

“We made a bunch of big plays in the last three or four minutes,” Clifford said.

Aaron Gordon had 10 points and 10 rebounds, Evan Fournier scored 16 points and Jonathan Isaac had 11 as the No. 7-seeded Magic became the latest team to beat Toronto in the opening game of a playoff series. The Raptors are 2-14 in playoff openers.

“We know who we are and this is one game,” Toronto’s Kyle Lowry said. “We’ve got to make sure we know who we are and execute what we can do. When we do what we are supposed to do, we are really, really good.”

Leonard scored 25 points, Pascal Siakam had 24 and Fred VanVleet had 14 for the second-seeded Raptors, who reclaimed the lead after trailing by 16 points in the second quarter, but couldn’t hold on down the stretch.

Toronto got 13 points apiece from Danny Green and Marc Gasol, but Lowry finished scoreless, missing all seven of his attempts. Lowry did have eight assists and seven rebounds.

“He had some really good looks that he’s normally going to knock down,” coach Nick Nurse said. “I’m sure he’ll bounce back and play a little better in the next game.”

Leonard hit a tying 3 with 1:35 left, then put Toronto up 101-99 with a jumper at 1:02. Augustin made a layup to tie it again with 44 seconds left, then connected from long range for the fourth time to win the game.

Gasol said he and Leonard got their defensive assignments mixed up on Augustin’s decisive shot, leaving the guard wide open.

“It was a mistake made on that play,” Gasol said. “We miscommunicated and he made a good shot.”

Augustin’s 3 was the seventh lead change of the final quarter and the 13th of the game.

“When I saw the opening, I shot the ball with confidence and it went in,” he said.

Augustin made 9 of 13 attempts, going 4 of 5 from beyond the arc.

Leonard made all four of his attempts in the first and added a pair of free throws. He scored 11 points in the opening quarter as Toronto led 30-25.

Leading 42-41 with 3:46 remaining in the second, Orlando got 10 points from Augustin in a 15-0 run that put the Magic up 57-41 with 55 seconds left. Siakam stopped Toronto’s drought with a jump shot, and Gasol and Green added 3-pointers but the Raptors trailed 57-49 at halftime.

Leonard scored five points as Toronto used a 12-2 spurt at the start of the third, reclaiming the lead on Gasol’s 3 at 8:19. Siakam scored eight points in the third, while Leonard and Green each had seven, as the Raptors took a narrow 76-75 lead to the fourth.

 

Five teams that can knock off Golden State Warriors

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There’s going to be a parade this June in Oakland. It’s all but set, city officials quietly have started the planning already. The Golden State Warriors are going to win the NBA title and there is nothing anyone can do about it…

Or can they?

The Warriors are the favorites to with the NBA title. Again. As they should be. However, there are teams that can challenge the Warriors, this is not going to be a cake walk. And unlike the past couple of years, the Warriors biggest challenge will be in the Finals.

Here are the five teams that have a shot at beating the Warriors this season.

Raptors small icon1) The Toronto Raptors.

Don’t get stuck in the “the Raptors are not a playoff team” past, this is by design a very different Toronto roster heading into the playoffs. And it’s a team that matches up well with what Golden State — they are long and switchable on defense, they know how to get buckets, and they now have a clear closer.

Nobody is going to stop Kevin Durant, but Kawhi Leonard can slow him, make KD work, and be left on an island against him (relatively) allowing other defenders to stay home with their guys. While I don’t put much stock in regular season games as postseason predictors, way back in November Leonard and Durant had a back-and-forth showdown that was one of the more entertaining games of the year.

Danny Green is a strong defender who can be put on the hotter of Klay Thompson or Stephen Curry, then Kyle Lowry can do a solid job on the other. Pascal Siakam can get Draymond Green and help off him while daring Green to shoot jumpers, and Siakam can be the five when the Warriors go small with Green at center. Marc Gasol will likely start on DeMarcus Cousins, but Serge Ibaka can get time, too. Then the Rockets bring Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka, and Fred VanVleet as needed.

Toronto’s fifth-ranked offense this season is still going to score points against the Warriors. They can score inside and out. And when the game is on the line Leonard will get the chance to show why he was once Finals MVP.

The Warriors would and should still be favorites in this potential Finals matchup, but the Raptors are poised to make it work.

Bucks small icon2) The Milwaukee Bucks.

A team needs long, switchable defenders and an elite offense to beat the Warriors. The Bucks had the fourth best offense in the NBA this past season, led by MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo. So check that box. As for long, switchable defenders, the Bucks are built around the Greek Freak, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and the physical at the point Eric Bledsoe. Check.

The Bucks are one of the few teams that can take and make threes at the pace of the Warriors and they may be willing to play that way. If Warriors defenders have to slide out to arc to stop shooters — especially Cousins chasing Brook Lopez out of the paint — it opens up the lane for Antetokounmpo’s drives, and nobody is stopping those.

What the Bucks need is Brogdon back and healthy to put on Klay Thompson. Also, Milwaukee would need to find a way to keep playing their base defense, which has Lopez dropping off picks to clog the paint, without giving up too many threes to the Warriors. Finally, when the Warriors go small the Bucks can go with Antetokounmpo at center lineups.

It would be a big step for the Bucks to challenge the Warriors, but on paper they have the tools.

Rockets small icon3) The Houston Rockets.

This is the same team that was ahead at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals on their home court less than a year ago….

Well, they’re not the same team exactly. But they are playing closer to that level than they have all season — Chris Paul looks more like his old self, Clint Capela looks in shape, Danuel House Jr. and PJ Tucker have found a groove as role players, and since the All-Star break the Rockets have the second-best defense in the land and the best net rating (+10.7).

The Rockets still have James Harden and nobody — on the Warriors or on the planet — can stop him. If he has other guys knocking down some shots around him and the Rockets keep defending, they are the only team in the West with a chance. The Rockets do not have Trevor Ariza or the same depth that made them a genuine threat to the Warriors, a Rockets team that might have a ring if CP3 had stayed healthy. But the Rockets are still the second best team in the West and the only team with a shot at the Warriors.

If the Rockets and Warriors meet it will be in the second round — and that could be good for Houston. What has slowed the Rockets in recent seasons was Harden just running out of gas from the load he has to carry, or Paul getting injured. Does meeting in the second round make it less likely either of those things happen, meaning the Rockets have a better chance? Maybe. The Rockets will have to fight their way past a very good Jazz team to find out.

Celtics small icon 4) The Boston Celtics.

The preseason favorites in the East have shown flashes this year where you can’t help but think “that’s a contender, they can push the Warriors.” Boston just hasn’t been able to sustain it.

The matchup on paper is interesting. Kyrie Irving has battled Stephen Curry to a standstill in the Finals before. Al Horford can be effective against Golden State whether Cousins is in the paint (Horford is a better post defender than people think, and on offense he could pull Cousins out to the three-point line to defend his shot) or if the Warriors go small and Green is at the five. Horford blows up the mismatches Golden State banks on.

The Celtics would need Marcus Smart back and healthy. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier all need to play as well as they did last playoffs. A lot of things need to go right and the Celtics have not been able to sustain that this year.

But Boston has the pieces to be a potential threat to Golden State.

Sixers small icon 5) The Philadelphia 76ers.

Philly being on this list comes down to one thing: They have the second best starting five in the league. The one starting five that can challenge the Warriors best lineups.

Joel Embiid (who can outplay Cousins, but didn’t play well against the Warriors this season), Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris, and sharpshooting J.J. Redick have a ton of potential. When on the court together, the unit has been dominant on both ends.

The problem is they haven’t been on the court together that much and there are chemistry questions. Plus, behind this five there is little depth.

Philadelphia has a long way to go to really be a threat to the Warriors, but if they make it out of the East they may be that team by June.