Norman Powell

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Raptors: Benign mass removed, Patrick McCaw to miss a month

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Patrick McCaw has had a blessed NBA experience, winning three championships in his first three NBA seasons.

But this sounds like a scary real-life situation.

Raptors release:

After a short period of experiencing discomfort in his left knee, Patrick McCaw underwent arthroscopic surgery Wednesday to determine and correct the issue. A benign mass on the back of the knee was removed. The procedure was performed by Dr. Riley Williams at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

A timetable for McCaw’s return has not been established. He will be reevaluated in four weeks and his condition will be updated as appropriate.

Thankfully, the mass was benign. McCaw also has some financial security, a $4 million salary this season and next.

The Raptors will continue to rely on Norman Powell as their main backup guard behind Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Terence Davis and Matt Thomas are also in the mix.

Agent: Kyle Lowry, Raptors agree to one-year, $31M contract extension

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The Raptors are in a weird spot: Still enjoying their 2019 NBA title with minimal chance of defending it despite returning so many key players.

These aren’t the 1999 Bulls, who were nearly completely different from the 1998 champion Bulls. Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell are all still in Toronto. But without Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors’ ceiling is far lower.

Is that where the franchise wants to be? Is that where the remaining players want to be?

In the case of Lowry, yes.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors have agreed on a one-year, $31 million contract extension that takes the five-time All-Star guard out of July’s free-agent market, agent Mark Bartelstein of Priority Sports told ESPN.

This deal gives Lowry financial security – not location security. The Raptors can still trade him. But he locks in another high salary, maybe his last big payday.

Taking this extension was an interesting choice for him. Lowry will now enter fee agency at age 35 rather than 34. His next contract will likely be worth less. But the extension provides guaranteed money now.

It’s also an interesting choice for the Raptors if they’re open to trading Lowry. Does an extra season on his deal make him more or less valuable? They definitely get more time to find a trade.

Of course, this extension could be designed just to keep Lowry in Toronto longer. He’s so revered there. It’d be a happy ending if he finishes his career with the Raptors, and this deal could get him one step closer.

Toronto now has more reason not to extend Pascal Siakam, which would cut into next summer’s cap space. When the Raptors’ cap room projected to be so high anyway – about $80 million – they could have more easily justified a Siakam extension. With that projected cap space down to about $50 million, Toronto should be more cost-conscious. Extending Siakam could still work, but this nudges the Raptors toward keeping him on his low cap hold then re-signing him in restricted free agency next summer.

Though Lowry wouldn’t have appealed to every team at his age, this also removes a quality free agent from an already-weak 2020 class.

Durant. Oracle. Warriors have a lot to play for in Game 6, but is it enough?

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OAKLAND — “We do it for Kevin.”

That was Klay Thompson’s assessment of Golden State’s motivation after the two-time Finals MVP went down with a torn Achilles.

Thursday night also will be the final Warriors game inside Oracle Arena. Ever. After 47 years in the gritty, loud building in the heart of Oakland, the team will pack up and move to a glitzy, expensive new arena in the middle of San Francisco next season. Thursday night is a chance to exit Oracle and Oakland in style.

“This has been just an incredible environment in which to coach, and play back in the day,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Even when the Warriors weren’t any good, to come in here as a visitor and feel the energy in this building, you could tell that the fans loved the game. This was a basketball hotbed. And just the atmosphere out there, the energy, the noise, over the last five years with our team’s rise, combined with that organic energy that this place has always had, it’s just been an incredible experience to coach here.”

Throw in the fact that the Warriors still have their backs up against the wall, down 3-2 in these NBA Finals, and it’s obvious Golden State has a lot to play for.

This is the Warriors’ last stand in Oakland.

Will that be enough?

It’s going to take more than motivation for Golden State to force a Game 7.

The simple fact is the Toronto Raptors have been the better team in this series — including taking the two Finals games played at Oracle already. Toronto has won 14 of the 20 quarters played this series, the Warriors four (two were tied). One of those Warriors quarters was the first quarter of Game 5, when Durant was playing.

This will have to be another Splash Brothers’ game. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot 12-of-27 from three in Game 5 — including three makes from beyond the arc in the final three minutes to secure the win. The pair combined 57 points. It was a game that added to their legacy and fueled a Warriors team that shot 20-of-42 from deep.

The Splash Brothers will have to do it again, this time against a Raptors team that knows it needs to be better dialed in on defense.

“We don’t want to give up that many to those guys…” Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said of Curry and Thompson’s 27 threes. “Still, we got to figure out a way to control those two. There’s transition. There are pin downs. They’re excellent at pushing off to create space. Their screens are long, wide and moving that they’re coming around a lot. So you got to work doubly, triply hard sometimes. You got to absorb contact at the start. You got to absorb contact coming off the screen. Sometimes you put two on the ball screens. There’s lots of stuff going on out there. But we do need to do better.”

Expect to see a lot of the Stephen Curry/Draymond Green pick-and-roll, because the Raptors (like pretty much the entire league) have not been able to slow that play down.

DeMarcus Cousins also is going to have to have another good game. Cousins had 14 points and six rebounds in Game 5, stepping up when Durant went down and providing an offensive spark. Cousins needs to score like that to balance things out because the Raptors are attacking him on defense — both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry had success in the second half going right at Cousins off switches and picks.

How much Cousins plays depends on what Kevon Looney can give, Looney is questionable but likely will again try to play through the pain of his fractured collarbone.

Green also has to have a huge impact on both ends of the court for the Warriors to win.

For Toronto, their bigs — Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka — need to have strong defensive games because they have become a place the Warriors have attacked.

One other thing to watch: How does Pascal Siakam respond to being benched the final nine minutes of Game 5? Norman Powell was getting some of those minutes, and that’s a tradeoff the Warriors will take.

It’s hard to imagine the Warriors dropping a closeout game — both for the series and the arena — at home on Thursday night… then again, it was hard to imagine the Warriors losing Games 3 and 4.

This is an elite Raptors defense that has smothered the Warriors in the halfcourt most of this series. The Warriors need transition buckets, and they need some breaks and baskets in the halfcourt.

If not, well, the story of Oracle may not have a fairytale ending.

Three things Raptors need to do to beat Warriors

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The Toronto Raptors are not just happy to be here.

From the moment they finally got over the hump and won the Eastern Conference Finals, the team has followed the lead of Kawhi Leonard and been focused and looking ahead. Nobody would blame them for celebrating making the Finals — their fans sure did — but the Raptors as a team have been focused.

Toronto has a shot at winning this series.

They are not the favorites (nor should they be against the two-time defending champs), but the Raptors have the pieces to push and maybe even beat the Warriors. They have little margin for error. They need Leonard to continue to be dominant on both ends, including keeping up his improved playmaking. They need the secondary players — Kyle Lowry, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol, etc. — to not be hesitant and knock down shots. The bench needs to play like it did the last two games against Milwaukee with Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell knocking down threes. And that halfcourt defense that was so good against Milwaukee has to be great again — and they need to keep playing that hard on defense even as Golden State scores in bunches. Because it will. Toronto can’t let up.

Here are three other, less obvious things the Rockets need to do to dethrone the Warriors.

• Attack Golden State’s centers on switches in the pick-and-roll.

The Warriors role out a group of long, switchable defenders with Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green (plus Kevin Durant if/when he returns). The Raptors need to create mismatches with the other guys on the court and attack. For example, have Stephen Curry’s man set the screen for Leonard and try to force that switch (and the help that would follow).

The other place to attack is the Warriors big men — if Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell, DeMarcus Cousins (when he returns), or Andrew Bogut get switched onto Lowry or Leonard, the Raptors need to attack that. Fast. The Warriors big men cannot match up.

Golden State will likely counter this with traps, particularly against Leonard to force the ball out of his hands. He has to be a playmaker there, then trust Gasol as a secondary playmaker in a 4-on-3, or get the ball to other shooters, and the Raptors need to make the Warriors pay for that trap.

Danny Green has to break out of his shooting slump and stay on the court.

Against the Bucks last round, as Danny Green struggled with his shot — he hit just one of his last 15 three-point attempts — Nick Nurse could turn to VanVleet and the bench. The final couple of games (after VanVleet’s wife had their son) he was lighting it up.

The problem is the Warriors will light him up. VanVleet is listed at 6’0” while Lowry is 6’1”. Curry and Thompson are 6’3” and 6’7” and will shoot right over the top of smaller defenders. Just ask Portland.

Green, at 6’6” is the kind of size and plays the type of defense the Raptors will need to have a shot in this series. If he is still slumping and not an offensive threat, the Warriors will be able to help off him and cause more trouble.

• Toronto cannot have another of its disastrous Game 1s.

Toronto came into these playoffs with a reputation of blowing Game 1s in ugly fashion — and it has lived up to that billing. The Raptors lost to the Magic in the first game of the first round. This past round, they led by as many as 13 but didn’t score on their final seven possessions and blew the chance to steal Game 1 on the road.

Toronto bounced back to beat Orlando and Milwaukee. It will be far tougher to dig out of that hole against Golden State.

Game 1 sets up for Toronto: At home, Golden State has been off for nine days and should be rusty, and no Kevin Durant. This is one Toronto needs to have confidence in this series. Lose this one and the Warriors will smell blood in the water.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

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There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starting lineup is -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — was -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

On Thursday night, it was the Raptors’ bench that sparked the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

In the first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, it was the Milwaukee bench led by Malcolm Brogdon and George Hill that played better and propelled their side to wins. That has flipped in the last three games, it’s been all Raptors after the starters.

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one — except Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.