Posts Tagged ‘Toronto Raptors’

Morning shootaround — Sept. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Jackson ready to lead PistonsPorzingis likes Noah’s intensity | Will Haslem reunite with Wade? | Dirk Speaks

No. 1: Jackson ready to lead Pistons The Detroit Pistons made several moves this summer in free agency, and will enter this new season with an even younger roster than they had last season. For point guard Reggie Jackson, who is 27, it’s an opportunity to take on a leadership role, as he tells Rod Beard

While backup center Aron Baynes is the oldest player on the team — he turns 30 in December — the leadership mantle will be spread around, with veterans taking charge for summer workouts.

“That’s kind of how it goes; we have to step up,” said point guard Reggie Jackson, 27, entering his sixth season. “The organization put that upon us and myself to step up this year and be an even more impactful leader and more of a voice of reason and direction for our guys.

“I know I have a little more burden on my shoulders but it’s something I asked for and something I wanted. We’ll figure it out collectively.”

Tolliver had been a mentor for Andre Drummond, and Steve Blake was a veteran voice for the point guards. Anthony Tolliver also was one of the most respected voices in the locker room, but signed as a free agent with the Kings this summer.

It was a unique dynamic having the most veteran and vocal players as reserves. But it worked.

“We did have steady rocks with Joel Anthony, Anthony Tolliver and Steve Blake, who really watched over us,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, they’ve moved on and we have to find a way to get it done.

“Hats off to those guys for everything they taught us. We’re definitely appreciative of it and we’ll definitely use it in the future. They’re a big part of building the culture here. Now it’s time for us to carry the torch.”

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Ujiri focuses on building African basketball | Holiday to miss time to care for wife and child | Riley says Shaq was most important Miami move | Curry watches Game 7 for fuel | Reasons to be excited about Love

No. 1: Ujiri focuses on building African basketball — Masai Ujiri earned Executive of the Year honors for the job he did in Denver and has guided the Toronto Raptors to three straight years of setting a new franchise record for wins. For that, he earned a contract extension this week. But Ujiri’s basketball work on the continent of Africa will ultimately be more impactful. And it’s the job of growing the game back where he came from that brings out the perfectionist in Ujiri, as Bruce Arthur writes in the Toronto Star

When the film was shown the first time, during that Arctic all-star weekend, it felt like the entire NBA was in town. Masai Ujiri was the headliner, glad-handing and chatting with the other luminaries of his professional world like the confident politician he can be but, underneath it all, his stomach was leaping and jittering. Afterwards, he shook hands and embraced friends and accepted compliments, seeming at ease. But he was still shaking inside.

“Honestly, I’m not nervous about anything I do with the Raptors,” Ujiri says from Angola, where he is the camp director for the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp, after nearly a month spent running his own camps for his charity, Giants of Africa.

“I’m nervous about everything I do with Africa. You almost want it to go good all the time, and you don’t want to disappoint.”

The general manager of the Toronto Raptors cares deeply about his day job. But he feels he has more control in the NBA. He has also spoken about how if he is the only African-born general manager in NBA history, then he will have failed in some way, and about how much responsibility he feels to the kids who remind him of himself. Ujiri has just finished his annual charity tour, which has been running for 13 years now. When the Hubert Davis-directed documentary was shot last year, Giants of Africa ran basketball camps in four countries. This year they started in Senegal, then went on to Ghana, his native Nigeria, Kenya, Rwanda, and Botswana. They helped build a court in Rwanda. It was a good trip.

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Morning shootaround — Aug. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Armstrong to LeBron: ‘Get rid of the comparisions’ | Turner has big goals in Indiana | DeRozan soaking up Team USA experience

No. 1: Former teammate of Jordan’s has words of caution for LeBron — In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, reigning NBA Finals MVP LeBron James revealed that his lone goal in the league — after winning a title for his Cleveland Cavaliers — is chasing “the ghost” of six-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer Michael Jordan. B.J. Armstrong, who was a teammate of Jordan’s during the Chicago Bulls’ first three-peat run from 1991-93, has words of caution for James regarding that pursuit, writes Chris Broussard of ESPN.com:

 

Armstrong, now a player agent who represents Derrick Rose, has some advice for James.

“Chasing a ghost is in make-believe land,” Armstrong told ESPN.com in a telephone conversation. “That’s far-out, that’s unattainable, that’s something you can’t achieve. This ain’t no ghost. If you want to do it, there’s a blueprint. It’s possible. There’s only one way to get there. It’s not possible for him to do what Jordan did because the circumstances are different, everything is different. What is possible for him is to be bigger than every situation that’s put in front of him, to dominate every situation that’s in front of him.”

“This is to LeBron James: If you want to be the best, get rid of the comparisons,” Armstrong said. “Get rid of all the comparisons that are out there. That’s what Michael Jordan did. Jordan realized that in order to be the best, you had to get rid of all the comparisons.

“When you compared Jordan to somebody else, it made him more and more upset. That was with guys who played before him, guys he was playing against and guys in the future. He got upset every time [the media] got on TV and started comparing him to other people. When you compared who is the best 2-guard — Jerry West or Michael Jordan — he was upset. When you talked about who was the best player in the NBA, he was upset. When you talked about who had the most championships, he was upset.

“I remember vividly him getting upset. He’s mad right now that somebody’s even thinking a guy can get to his level. Jordan tackled them all — Wilt [Chamberlain], everyone. Everyone from 1946 on, he went after them until there was no one left to compare him to. So my challenge to LeBron is: This ghost has a face to him. So get rid of all the comparisons because Jordan, unequivocally, did not want you to compare him to anyone.”

Jordan told ESPN.com on Tuesday that he had not read the Sports Illustrated article. When shown LeBron’s quotes, he said he would not comment because he had not seen the entire article.

When asked how James can eliminate the comparisons to other players, Armstrong said he has to be obsessed with dominating every moment he’s on the court, whether in practice, games or summer competition.

“Every time he steps on the floor, LeBron has to establish that he’s the best,” said Armstrong, who briefly worked in Chicago’s front office after retiring in 2000. “Every year is an opportunity for him to raise his level to the best of the best. When another player raises his level and has a great year, LeBron has to move his game to an even higher level. Jordan used every opportunity to establish who’s the best. He didn’t go to the Olympics to hang out. He went there to establish who was the best.

“I don’t know LeBron, but what I do know in watching today’s game is that Michael Jordan was a very unique character — not physically, but mentally. Jordan never stepped out on the court to have a good time. He stepped out there to establish that he was the best. Every great player he played against. he went after them — in practice, in games, in the 1984 Olympics, in summer league, in a workout, in the ’92 Olympics. He went after me every day in practice. He went after every player every day in practice. He went after every coach — until, when it was all said and done, there was no one left standing.'”

“I’m saying this because this next generation of young players, every time you step on the court, there needs to be a sense of urgency,” he said. “No joking around. Michael Jordan was the greatest practice player I’ve ever seen. He could go and play 40 minutes the night before and then go practice the next day like he was the rest of us — guys who didn’t play.

“I want these young kids to have that mentality. Jordan had phenomenal talent. He had phenomenal understanding. But he also had a mentality that I haven’t seen. He had a sense of urgency every time he stepped on the floor. These guys now need to take on that challenge. At the end, we’ll know whether LeBron did it or not when y’all stop comparing him to other players.”

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No. 2: Pacers’ Turner has big plans for next season — Pacers big Myles Turner was one of the surprises of the 2015 rookie class last season, averaging 10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 22.2 minutes for an Indiana team that regained its place in the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Turner also showed he could do more in the playoffs, upping his rebounding (6.4 rpg) and blocks (3.3 bpg) with an uptick in minutes (28.2 mpg). As Indiana readies for 2016-17 with its remodeled roster, Turner knows he can play a big role once again. BasketballInsiders.com’s Alex Kennedy caught up with Turner recently, who has several things he hopes to accomplish this season:

Kennedy: From your first NBA game to your final postseason game, how much did you improve as a player?

Turner: “Oh wow, drastically. Dramatically. It’s so crazy how the improvement process goes because you don’t really improve body-wise or things like that. The game just starts to slow down for you and once that happens, everything is so much easier. When I came back from my injury midseason, I was able to take a step back and really see everything for what it was. I definitely got a lot better in the post, making defensive rotations, seeing plays before they happen. I dramatically improved over the course of the season.”

Kennedy: How would you describe your first playoff experience? And how can you build off of that momentum because you played really, really well in that series.

Turner: “I appreciate that, man. It’s definitely a lot different. The game is fast in the regular season, but in the postseason the game is a lot faster. The crowd is more into it. Every possession matters and it’s a nail-biter every other play. Really, in our series, things didn’t get interesting until the last couple games because the early games were blowouts – either they blew us out or we blew them out. But overall, it was a lot different and I can’t even describe the atmosphere. In Toronto, the atmosphere was unbelievable because that whole country was behind them. It was an incredible experience, and I see why people crave it and are determined to get back there and get further. I really enjoyed my playoff experience. The first game, I definitely had some jitters, but after that I was fine.”

Kennedy: One question kept coming up from Pacers fans: Because you are just 20 years old, what do you think your ceiling is? When you reach your prime, what kind of player do you see yourself being?

Turner: “I can see myself being a very dominant player in this league one day – and one day soon. I mean, I don’t know what my ceiling is. With my work ethic and my drive, I feel like there is no ceiling. I can always improve and get better at all facets of the game. Like I was saying, guys like KD and Draymond and everyone on Team USA, they’re upper-echelon players but they’re constantly striving for more and striving for more. I want to put myself in that same category as far as that mindset.”

Kennedy: This has been a busy offseason for you guys. What do you think of the additions of Jeff Teague, Thaddeus Young and Al Jefferson, and how they fit with the current squad?

Turner: “I love those moves. I think Jeff is a very aggressive point guard and one that we need to make plays for us. With Big Al, his footwork is impeccable and I’ve watched him play over the years and he’s an incredible player. Thad brings a lot of energy. He’s that ‘do-the-dirty-work’ kind of player that we need, but he’s also more than that because he’s skilled at what he does. I’m curious to see how we’re going to fit together. I also like Jeremy Evans and Aaron Brooks too. Jeremy has always been a good athletic, energy guy. And Aaron, he was one of the toughest point guards I had to guard last year. He didn’t play a lot when we played them, but when he did, some of the plays he made were crazy. He’d finish around the rim and it’s just like, ‘Wait, how did he do that?’ I really love all of the moves.”

Kennedy: You and Big Al have different skill sets, but he’s obviously had a lot of success in this league. Have you guys talked at all yet and are you looking forward to picking his brain?

Turner: “I haven’t talked to him yet, but I love how poised he is. I can learn patience from him and I want to be able to read the game the way he does. And obviously I can learn a lot from him in the post and some of the things that he does with his touches. He’s a veteran who has been in the league for awhile too, so I’m sure he can teach me some off-the-court stuff as well. I think getting him is a great look for the organization and I’m excited to partner with him.”

Kennedy: What are your expectations for next season – as a team and then also individually?

Turner: “As a team, we want to finish top three in the East and I feel like we’re very capable of doing so. On paper, we’re very talented, but it’s about how we put stuff together. I do feel like the East will be a lot stronger next year with some of the moves that have been made in our conference, but I feel like we can go out there and get the job done and finish in the top three. That’s the goal, and then we want to go make a deep playoff run. And obviously, we’re all chasing rings and that’s a big goal of mine. I don’t see why we can’t do it next year. I know that ‘sounds good’ and anybody can just say that, but I’m a very confident player and with that confidence comes ambition. Individually, I feel like I can put up big numbers for this team and help in any way necessary. I’d like to see myself put up 15 to 20 points per game. That may seem like a long shot, but I feel like I’m very capable.”

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No. 3: DeRozan letting loose with Team USA — Toronto Raptors All-Star guard DeMar DeRozan has put in serious work over the last few seasons to become a more well-rounded scorer, and the numbers prove it has paid off. DeRozan, along with fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, has been the driving force behind Toronto’s ascent into the upper crust of the Eastern Conference over the past three seasons. As a free agent this summer, DeRozan didn’t leave Toronto after they rewarded his hard work with a five-year, $139 million deal. As a member of Team USA, DeRozan is more than enjoying himself and soaking up the moments with the team, writes Michael Lee of The Vertical:

On Team USA’s flight from Chicago to Houston, DeRozan captured the soulful stylings of Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving as they delivered a throaty rendition of Vanessa Carlton’s early 2000s hit single, “A Thousand Miles.” DeRozan then shifted his phone to find Kevin Durant admiring the sing-along while smothered, E.T. style, in a white comforter. And finally, fittingly, DeRozan ended the Facebook post by focusing on an unimpressed and disgusted Carmelo Anthony, looking as if he was prepared to kick the kids off his lawn.

Through the whole half-minute recording, DeRozan smiled into his phone, played a little air piano and spared viewers of his own “American Idol” audition.

“I don’t sing at all,” DeRozan told The Vertical this week with a laugh. “I knew it was going to go viral, but not like it did. When we’re not on the court, all we do is play, joke around, have fun. So, just to give people the insight of what we do, for 20 seconds, you know, that don’t add up to the amount of fun that we have during the rest of the day.”

The video was, in many ways, indicative of DeRozan’s career in that he had a prominent presence but was obscured by the other personalities.

Playing north of the border has contributed to DeRozan maintaining a low profile, though Vince Carter found a way tohurdle that obstacle as if it were Frederic Weis. DeRozan has also embraced being in the shadows with a low-key, no-nonsense approach that shunned publicity beyond what he did on the court.

“I think it just wasn’t in my personality at the time,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “I just always told myself, I wanted to establish myself as a basketball player, first. I want to be known as a helluva basketball player, before I jump out and try to do everything else. Now, at this point in my career, I’ve established enough to where I can show my personality a bit more. It’s going to be a lot more to come.”

Before this year, Toronto had a tradition of losing early in the postseason and losing its best players in their primes. Carter forced a trade that put him in the coveted New York media market. Chris Bosh bolted in free agency to form a super team with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, a one-man media circus, in Miami.

If DeRozan wanted a larger platform and more notoriety, his first dive into unrestricted free agency presented him with an incredible opportunity. DeRozan has worn Kobe Bryant’s signature sneakers for years and was rumored as the leading candidate to fill his retired idol’s shoes for the Compton, Calif., native’s hometown Los Angeles Lakers.

The speculation could’ve consumed him in a contract year but DeRozan always knew that a lucrative pay day was waiting for him, from Toronto or any other team, which is one of the reasons he told The Vertical last May that he had “nothing to worry about.” All along, DeRozan wanted to remain in his only basketball home, to see his name at or near the top of the most relevant Raptors franchise records. Raptors president and general manager Masai Ujuri didn’t let DeRozan test the market, nor did he have to.

“Knowing what you felt comfortable with, what made you happy, where you want to play, I just wanted to get it over with, in a sense, just get it out of the way,” DeRozan told The Vertical of how he handled the free-agency process. “Them wanting to get it done before anybody had a chance to talk to me says a lot.”

With his new contract and the Raptors coming off their most successful season in franchise history, DeRozan, along with friend and fellow Olympic team member Kyle Lowry will be expected to at least keep Toronto among the elites in a steadily improving Eastern Conference. But DeRozan won’t burden himself with any outside pressure.

“I really don’t pay no mind to it. Every year, I look at whatever we have to do as a big challenge and I just try to come back a better player than I was before, and do whatever I need for my team to win,” DeRozan said. “The beauty of playing basketball is being able to build yourself all the way up and then go back down and start all over again. It’s going to be a brand new challenge for us, with a couple of new guys and losing a couple of key players from last year. But starting the first day of training camp, it’s about laying that foundation of how great we can be, coming off the great season we had.”

Several stars skipped the festivities in Brazil but DeRozan recognized the benefits of training with and working with the best for an entire month. Along the way, DeRozan plans to bond with his teammates as they win and welcome fans in on the fun through social media. “A lot of guys don’t get this opportunity, to be around these talented guys, these talented coaches, to learn from, to mature, to become a better player to where you can carry on to your own team,” DeRozan told The Vertical. “It’s just something that you can look back on, 20, 30, 40 years from now, to say you were part of the 2016 Olympic team.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: According to a report, former NBA lottery pick Jimmer Fredette has reached a deal to play for Yao Ming’s team in ChinaNumbers and notes to know about Team USA’s various lineups from exhibition play … ICYMI, the Milwaukee Bucks officially re-signed Miles Plumlee yesterday … Rasheed Wallace and Stephen Jackson deliver water to residents in Flint, Mich., … Jordan Clarkson‘s 3-point shot is looking pretty good, folks … NBPA executive director Michele Roberts is ‘optimistic’ a lockout will be averted

This year, James’ jumper is less necessary than reliable

OAKLAND — The comings and goings of LeBron James‘ jump shot has been a fascinating study over the course of his career.

There have been times where James has been a competent shooter. And there have been big games that he’s won with his jumper. But more often than not, the greatness of James is about how much he’s done for his team’s offense despite an inconsistent jump shot.

In 2012, James won his first championship and was named Finals MVP, averaging 28.6 points, 10.2 rebounds and 7.4 assists over five games against the Oklahoma City Thunder. In that series, he made just seven (18 percent) of his 38 shots from outside the paint.

A year earlier, the Dallas Mavericks successfully employed a zone defense to keep James out of the paint. In ’13 and ’14, the San Antonio Spurs generally played James soft on the perimeter to force him into being a jump-shooter as much as possible. Last year, Andre Iguodala did the same, and James shot 24-for-90 (27 percent) from outside the paint in The Finals.

This year, for James to take 90 shots against the Warriors from outside the paint at the rate he’s been shooting them thus far in the playoffs (one for every 4:05 he’s on the floor), he’d have to average 66 minutes per game over a seven-game series. As cool as it would be to see seven games that went to four or more overtimes, that’s probably not going to happen.

There was a point this season where James was the worst high-volume jump-shooter in the league. He improved from the outside after that, but still finished with his worst field goal percentage from outside the paint in nine years.

But at the same time, James was less reliant on his jump shot than ever before. In the regular season, James took just 42 percent of his shots from outside the paint, the lowest rate in his career.

20160601_james_reg_season

That trend has continued in the playoffs, where James has taken only 41 percent of his shots from outside the paint. For the first time in his career, in either the regular season or playoffs, he has taken more than half of his shots from the restricted area, where he’s long been one of the league’s best finishers.

20160601_james_playoffs

Part of that is who James is on the floor with. The Cavs have only one non-shooting big — Tristan Thompson — in their rotation, so James has been playing with either three or four shooters around him.

The breakdown: James has played 65 percent of his minutes with Thompson or Timofey Mozgov (eight total minutes) on the floor and 35 percent with four shooters.

With how he’s being complemented these days, James is often the Cavs’ offensive “center.” According to Synergy Sports play type tracking, James’ post-up possessions are down from last postseason, but his possessions as the roll man on a pick-and-roll are way up.

Toronto Raptors coach Dwane Casey is probably still having nightmares about the play the Cavs ran several times in a row in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the conference finals. It featured James as a passer at the elbow and then as the roll man after a hand-off to Matthew Dellavedova.

James’ improved supporting cast makes the task of defending him even tougher. Not only are Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love healthy, but the lineup the Cavs put on the floor to start the second and fourth quarters — Dellavedova, Iman Shumpert, Richard Jefferson, James and Channing Frye — has been near impossible to guard, in part because of how it takes advantage of James’ ability to be some sort of point guard/center hybrid.

Casey was an assistant on that Mavs team that zoned up the Heat in 2011. But during the conference finals, there was no point in going back to the tape to see what worked five years earlier. James is a different player now, and he has a different supporting cast.

“This team has far more 3-point shooters than that 2011 team did,” Casey said.

“When you have shooters like he has, he’s like a quarterback,” Raptors forward DeMarre Carroll added. “I feel if you play soft on him, you just allow him to survey the floor.”

No player throws cross-court passes like James, who has 59 assists (to seven different teammates) on 3-pointers in these playoffs, 12 more than any other player. Give him space, and he won’t use it to shoot, but rather to pick your defense apart with his passing.

But if you play tight, you run the risk of getting beat off the dribble. And if James gets into the paint, he’s either finishing at the basket or drawing help and finding a guy who’s even more open than he was before the drive.

“When he’s attacking the basket,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said, “that opens up everything else for our 3-point shooters, for Tristan getting dunks, Kevin getting put-backs and layups. He’s just taking what the defense gives him.”

So, when The Finals tip off Thursday (9 p.m. ET, ABC), the Warriors will know that the task of defending James is much tougher than it was a year ago, no matter how well he shoots from the outside.

“We have to be ready to cover a lot of the floor and 3-point shooting bigs in Frye and Love, so we can’t lose sight of them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “But we’ve got to try to protect the rim as well, and that’s a big challenge. Just like teams that play us with our shooting and spacing, it’s hard to cover all that court.

“Last year we generally were playing against two bigs, Mozgov and Thompson, so we were able to help more around the paint and force more jump shots. And it will be much more difficult now with Frye and Love. So our tactics will have to change a little bit.”

“It’s hard to force a guy to one thing,” Iguodala said about defending James. “You try to take him out of his comfort zones more than anything. And then it’s five guys, defensively, being on the same page, knowing where the rotations are going to be. And then communicating is probably the biggest part.”

Defense is always about all five guys. But the Cavs’ ability to put four shooters around James means that Iguodala’s teammates can’t be in the same position to help as they were last year. They need to stay closer to Cleveland’s shooters, or James will have the ball in the shooter’s pocket before they have time to recover.

“I think that’s where he’s most dangerous,” Draymond Green said. “Obviously, he can score the basketball. But he’s most dangerous as a facilitator. So we always have to be aware of that. He’ll find guys anywhere.”

James’ jumper may come and go in the next 2 1/2 weeks. But the comings and goings of James’ jumper have never mattered less.

Morning shootaround — May 31

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Curry, Warriors finish off OKC | Buss says Jackson committed to Knicks | Biyombo wants to stick with Raptors

No. 1: Curry, Warriors complete their comeback story Just days ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder were one mere victory away from their first Finals trip in four seasons. But the Thunder never could get win No. 4 in the Western Conference finals and fell in Game 7 last night, allowing the Golden State Warriors to become the 10th team ever in NBA history to win a series after falling behind 3-1. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical has more on how Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors etched their name in NBA lore and reached a second straight NBA Finals:

For Curry to flourish in the middle of it all Monday night at Oracle Arena – to close out a 96-88 victory with 15 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter – had been because Curry never let Klay Thompson believe the Splash Brothers no longer existed. Curry could’ve transformed one of the great individual seasons seasons ever – a unanimous MVP performance – and separated himself into a singular entity.

“Steph does not care about getting all the attention,” Draymond Green told The Vertical late Monday night. “Without Klay, there’s not that much success here. He’s always made sure that people understood: It’s about us, it’s not about me. That’s why this team is successful, because that our guy, that’s how he sees things.”

Curry needed middle relief in this series, and Thompson delivered it for him. Golden State never would’ve gotten out of Oklahoma City, out of Game 6, without Thompson’s 41 points. He was the hero. “What Klay did was [put] us on his shoulders and allow us to have this opportunity at home,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.

When the Warriors’ backcourt started together five years ago, Curry and Thompson were a true partnership. On the night Golden State traded Monta Ellis to Milwaukee, Thompson remembers Curry telling him: It’s you and me now. The Splash Brothers were born.

And as these past two years unfolded, it appeared to matter far less that Thompson had become a two-time All-Star guard – only because Curry had become a two-time MVP. This year, the term Splash Brothers had never been heard so less. And yet if that was the narrative outside the Warriors, it never became the reality within them.

Three weeks ago, Curry made his comeback from an MCL knee sprain. He had missed games in the series against the Houston Rockets and Portland, and struggled for most of Game 4 against the Trail Blazers. As it turned out, his closing performance transcended the moment: 17 points in overtime, an NBA record. Everyone swooned over Curry, only to find him swooning over someone else.

Before Curry left the podium that night, he leaned into the microphone and answered a question that no one had posed to him: Hey, what a series Klay Thompson has had for us, he told everyone. Big shots, big makes and chasing Damian Lillard everywhere on defense.

“I called him later, and told him, ‘That’s great leadership,’ ” Warriors GM Bob Myers told The Vertical on Monday night.

When the Warriors were down 3-1, Myers delivered Curry a gentle reminder. “Your body language matters,” the GM told him. “People are watching you.”

This was some scene in Oracle on Monday night, a culmination of a conference finals comeback the NBA hadn’t seen since the Boston Celtics survived the Philadelphia 76ers in 1981. The Cleveland Cavaliers are on the way for an NBA Finals rematch on Thursday night, only this time LeBron James is bringing a healthy Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Curry will need everyone on these Warriors, need them all, and that includes the full force of the Splash Brothers.

“When you’re down, like we were, the fabric of the team is easier to see,” Myers told The Vertical. “You see it when you hit some adversity. When you could splinter, and you don’t, well, that’s where you see the connectedness of the team.”

For these Golden State Warriors, it still begins and ends with Steph Curry. The Warriors had his back in these Western finals, because he’s always had theirs. In the end, the MVP stood in the middle of Oracle Arena and let the love wash over him, pounding his chest, screaming into the Bay Area night. Together, they had done it. Together, the Warriors had survived. Still standing, still champs.

Love facing another referendum on his role, ‘fit,’ if Cavs pushed to Game 7?

Either Kevin Love has one of the most fragile psyches in the NBA, particularly among those with All-Star caliber gifts, or media coverage of his slump in the middle of the Eastern Conference finals is more about their timing than his.

Love played badly in Games 3 and 4 against the Raptors in Toronto Saturday and Monday, then fired back with an outstanding Game 5 in the Cavaliers’ home rout to take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 Friday night back at Air Canada Centre (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Love went from 13 total points on 5-for-23 shooting on the Raptors’ court to 25 points with 8-for-10 accuracy at Quicken Loans Arena Wednesday. He was the Cavs’ focal point early, as he routinely has been this season in their attempts to get him going early. And this time, as it had frequently during Cleveland’s 10-0 start to the playoffs, it worked.

Afterward, though, so much of the focus was put on Love’s personal ordeal and pep talks he got from teammates and from coach Tyronn Lue in the two days prior to Game 5. Fellow stretch-big man Channing Frye was helpful, Love mentioned to reporters. Lue, too, helped boost Love’s spirits and focus. Meanwhile LeBron James, the team’s leader, spoke from experience about the tough times a talented player endures when he feels he might be letting his crew down.

“It’s very difficult and you feel like you’re by yourself,” James said from the postgame podium. “I’ve been there before, when you’re a big part of a puzzle and things just don’t go the way you either dreamed about or the way you thought it was going to be. You feel like you’re by yourself for 24 or 48 hours or however long the case may be. To see him come out the way he did [in Game 5], just aggressive [in the low post] … we continued to go to him.”

But this is about Love, the same fellow who spoke frequently through the playoffs’ first month about a conversation he’d had with Lue in late March. The same fellow whose confidence and trust were buoyed when Lue was promoted to replace David Blatt as Cavs coach. Now he needed an intervention of sorts in the 48 hours between Game 4 and Game 5?

Draymond Green had two nightmarish games for Golden State in the West finals and created an outrageous distraction with his kick to Steven Adams‘ groin, yet none of the Warriors was questioning Green’s status in their pecking order. Love does the same – no groin kick, but forgettable performances – and it’s time for another referendum on his fit and long-term viability in Cleveland?

Maybe more that the networks and national media are just now paying attention.

Veteran Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, as reported by the Akron Beacon Journal, saw folks reaching for a storyline at Love’s expense.

“He doesn’t have anything to make up for. No disrespect to anybody here, but that all a bunch of media B.S., if you ask me,” Jefferson said in the hallway at Quicken Loans Arena. “The guy had a bad game. We’d won 10 straight. He can have a bad game. Was he the only one who didn’t shoot the ball well? No. Was he the only person that might have struggled a little bit defensively? It looked like [Raptors point guard] Kyle Lowry had 30-something points.

“As a group it was never him, it was never one individual. That was who was going to be the fall guy in the media’s eyes. We didn’t view it that way. Yes, we wanted him to play better, we all did. But he didn’t need to prove anything to us. He’d had eight double-doubles in the first 10 games. We were a little taken aback that everyone thought it was his fault.”

Love pitched in 12 points in the first quarter – going 4 for 4 from the field and 2 for 2 from 3-point range. His first shot was an 8-foot turnaround hook, his second a 26-foot 3-pointer. He added a 14-foot fade, two free throws and another 3, then finished the quarter with two blocks of Cory Joseph in the final two seconds.

“He’s an offensive force down low,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said. “We’ve done a good job on him the entire series. He gets it going, and we’ve got to meet his force with our force and do a better job of one-on-one defense with him in the low post and not just look at him out on the 3-point line.”

If Love performs poorly in Game 6 Friday and Cleveland loses, will it just be about a basketball failing? Or will the onus be on him again, to the point he’ll need a booster shot of motivational chatter for Game 7 Sunday?

A better question might be: How will the media folks get their psychotherapist couches through U.S./Canada customs in time to do their jobs?

Cavs could trap more in Game 5


VIDEO: Inside The NBA: Raptors-Cavaliers Game 5 Preview

HANG TIME, N.J. — The last time the Toronto Raptors’ offense had to worry about rim protection was early in the second quarter of Game 3 of the conference semifinals, right before the Miami Heat lost Hassan Whiteside to a knee injury.

After that, the Heat played the following players at “center”: Udonis Haslem (35 years old and ground-bound), Amar’e Stoudemire (one of the worst defensive big men of the last 10 years), Justise Winslow (a 6-foot-7 small forward), Luol Deng (another tweener forward) and Josh McRoberts (who blocked seven shots in the regular season).

The Raptors haven’t had to worry about rim protection in the conference finals, either. Their guards have taken the ball at Cleveland Cavaliers big men Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson and Channing Frye with little respect for their ability to block shots.

On the Raptors’ first possession of the third quarter of Game 4 on Monday, DeMar DeRozan drove right at Thompson and shot a 10-foot floater right in Thompson’s face, almost as if he wasn’t there at all. Love has been similarly invisible defensively.

But the key to the Raptors’ attacks has been the cushion that the Cleveland bigs have provided. It’s easier to put Love and Thompson on their heels when you have a running start.

So late in Game 4, the Cavs started defending pick-and-rolls differently, bringing their bigs out and trapping the Toronto guards in order to: 1. take the ball out of their hands and 2. keep them from attacking the basket with a running start.

The Raptors aren’t the Spurs or Warriors in regard to their ability to take advantage of traps and the ensuing 4-on-3 situations. And the Cavs’ first hard trap was a resounding success…

They trapped Kyle Lowry

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… putting the ball in the hands of Bismack Biyombo, with a 4-on-3…

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Biyombo hesitated before passing the ball to Patrick Patterson, who passed it back. Biyombo then tried to dribble his way to the basket, but the shot clock ran out before he got there.

Other Cleveland traps weren’t so successful. In fact, two of them (one and two) resulted in three-point plays from Lowry on the weak side of the floor, because the Cavs’ defense sprung leaks after the trap. And later, the Raptors started running guard/guard pick-and-rolls to get the one-on-one matchups they wanted.

Still, we can anticipate more trapping in Game 5 on Wednesday (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), which, at times, will put the ball in the hands of Biyombo — who’s not exactly Boris Diaw or Draymond Green when it comes to pick-and-roll playmaking — far from the basket.

The Raptors can adjust by using Patterson or James Johnson – guys who can put the ball on the floor – as screeners. Interestingly, when asked Tuesday about Jonas Valanciunas‘ possible return, Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that Valanciunas might be a key to how the Raptors handle the traps.

“He’s going to be valuable for us if they’re blitzing,” Casey said, “because he’s an excellent passer and can make plays from the top of the key.”

Though it seemed like Love forgot to pack his offense for the trip to Toronto after Game 2, the bigger difference between the Cavs’ two wins and the Raptors’ two wins has been on Toronto’s end of the floor, where the Raptors scored 118 points per 100 possessions in Games 3 and 4 after scoring only 91 in Games 1 and 2.

Game 5 may depend on the Cavs’ ability to get the ball out of the hands of Lowry and DeRozan without springing a leak elsewhere. The guards’ willingness to move the ball quickly will be a key for the Raptors, who could use their three-guard lineup for more minutes. That will ensure that there’s always another ball-handler on the weak side to take advantage of the post-trap, defensive rotations.

As always, it’s about adjustments and execution.

Morning shootaround — May 25

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Green on 3-1 series hole: ‘It’s stunning’ | Roberson comes through in Game 4 | Will Raptors be able to keep Biyombo? | Lue expects bigger role for Frye in Game 5

No. 1: Green: ‘This is not where we expected to be’ For all the wins the Golden State Warriors amassed in the regular season — 73 of them to be exact — what they wouldn’t give to have a win or two more this morning. After suffering another drubbing at the hands of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals, the Warriors are down 3-1 after last night’s 118-94 loss in Game 4. After the game, many of the Warriors were in many ways in a state of disbelief that their dream season is just one loss away from being over. The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has more on the scene in Golden State’s locker room and how this series has affected the team’s emotional center, forward Draymond Green:

These Golden State Warriors are a rollicking, rolling party bus, the loudest and surest sounds forever coming out this corner of the dressing room. For now, Draymond Green gathered himself in the stillness of the air, uncomfortable with the morose mood surrounding him. He sifted through text messages on his phone and confessed the truth over a sudden and spectacular failure in these Western Conference finals.

“It’s stunning,” Green told The Vertical. “This is not where we expected to be.”

Alone in the corner of the locker room – only the sound of showers in the distance – Green considered the circumstances of the Oklahoma City Thunder train running through these wobbly Warriors. The Warriors are down 3-1, the greatest regular season in NBA history slipping away on a lost trip to America’s dust bowl.

“Yeah, it’s pretty stunning,” Green said.

Green should’ve had Chesapeake Energy Arena livid that the NBA passed on suspending him, livid that he fed upon all the anger and channeled it into the destruction of the Thunder. All his life, Green found a way to validate his villainous basketball self, and he failed on Tuesday night.

“It’s who I am,” Green told The Vertical. “It’s what I’ve always done. It’s what I’ve thrived off. It’s frustrating, because I know that’s who I always am.

“And right now, I’m not myself. I’m thinking too much, and that’s leading to all the things that I’m not supposed to be doing.

“I just … I just have to be me.”

Stephen Curry has been a shell of himself – missing shots, throwing away passes, losing his dribble, and completely unable to prove that there’s Curry-esque agility in that knee. “He’s playing at 70 percent, at best,” a source close to Curry told The Vertical. Curry refuses to make excuses, but privately the Thunder see something – no explosion, no ability to make the bigs switching onto him pay a price. Twenty points on 19 shots Tuesday night bore no resemblance to the two-time NBA Most Valuable Player.

For months, the Warriors were playing for history. Seventy-three victories, the best team ever and out of nowhere, Golden State is suddenly playing for its survival.

“Right there, that’s what it is,” Green told The Vertical. “We’re the leaders of this team, and we’ve got to be better. Last year, when we were down 2-1 (to Memphis), we talked and we said, ‘Hey, you and me have got to be better.’ And right now, we both have got to be better.”

Better won’t be good enough against this Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook monolith. Better will get them run out of Oracle in Game 5, run out of the season. The Thunder have been hungrier, sharper and constructed to force the Warriors to adapt to them. The Warriors have to be historic again, have to be one of the great teams in history to fight themselves out of this trouble, out of a 3-1 hole.

Money Green nodded late Monday night in the bowels of Chesapeake Energy Arena, and agreed with it all. In the quiet of the losing locker room, in a private moment in the deep corner, he believed this too: “If anyone can do this,” Draymond Green of the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors told The Vertical, “we can.”

Morning shootaround — May 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors gear up for crucial Game 4 | Beal expects max deal this summer | Love (foot) should be OK for Game 5 | Valanciunas ready to help out in series

No. 1: Green drama least of Warriors’ concerns as Game 4 nears  The Golden State Warriors dodged a major bullet yesterday when they found out that All-Star forward Draymond Green would not be suspended for the kick he delivered to the groin of Oklahoma City Thunder Steven Adams in Game 3. All that remains now is simple — avoid their first two-game losing streak in 95 games (playoffs and regular season) in Game 4 tonight (9 ET, TNT). The San Jose Mercury News‘ Tim Kawakami has more on the vast challenge staring the Warriors in their collective faces:

Draymond Green will play Tuesday, get booed with an enthusiasm previously unknown to mankind, and somewhere in there the Warriors will try to save their season, too.

That is just about as much noise, emotion and drama as any two teams could bear, and it’s all packed into Game 4 at Chesapeake Arena.

Will somebody break under this titanic pressure? Can the Warriors use all this nervous energy to spin this series around?

Will Stephen Curry rise above everything and pluck the Warriors from danger precisely when it is most necessary?

How are they going to deal with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and an Oklahoma City group that keeps playing better and better?

“They’re a real good team,” Warriors guard Shaun Livingston said Monday of the Thunder.

“I think we’re facing a different animal as far as KD and Westbrook.”

What can the Warriors do? Well, in the Cleveland series, Kerr put super-sub Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup for center Andrew Bogut in Game 4 and the small-ball Warriors proceeded to run the Cavaliers off the court the next three games.

I would expect that Iguodala, at the very least, will play a larger and larger role (and Harrison Barnes possibly a smaller one) as the series moves along, and Kerr wouldn’t comment when I asked if he might start Iguodala again.

But the Warriors’ “Death Lineup” was demolished by various Thunder units in Game 3, so it will take more than just a lineup switch for the Warriors.

It will take Green bouncing back from his horrible Game 3; if anybody can absorb the rage of 18,000 fans and use it as fuel, it’s Green, but this is now at an emotional apex.

It will take Klay Thompson and Livingston feeling steadier with the ball and calmer on defense.

It will take Kerr and his staff coming up with a few tweaks that help the Warriors find their offensive rhythm and make it tougher on Durant and Westbrook — without anything backfiring on the Warriors.

But mostly, I think it will take Curry, the league’s first unanimous MVP, to play like he deserved every one of those votes and more.

On Monday, a day after looking particularly off-rhythm shooting in Game 3, Curry had that serene look I’ve seen a few times before, usually right before something large is about to happen.

Curry doesn’t want to try to do too much, which was part of the problem Sunday; but he also realizes that the entire team looks to him in the toughest moments.

“Somebody’s just got to take control of the situation,” Curry said of the Game 3 unraveling. “I think individually we’re so competitive in that moment that we wanted to do something about it, we didn’t allow ourselves to work together.

“We make tough shots all the time; we might be talking about this had a couple of them gone in.”

Valanciunas to return in Game 4

TORONTO — Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas is on the active list and will make his return from an ankle injury in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday. He will come off the bench for the Raptors, who are looking to tie the series at two games apiece.

Valanciunas originally injured his ankle in the third quarter of Game 3 of the conference semifinals. He has missed the last seven games, with Toronto using Bismack Biyombo in the starting lineup and different combinations on the frontline behind him.

Biyombo has been a bit of a revelation and was a huge factor in the Raptors’ Game 3 victory on Saturday, grabbing 26 rebounds, blocking four shots, and helping limit the Cleveland Cavaliers to just 20 points in the paint.

Valanciunas has averaged 15.0 points (on 55 percent shooting) and 12.1 rebounds in 10 playoff games. He gives Toronto a low-post presence through which to run its offense, but it’s unclear how mobile he’ll be or if he’ll be able to match up with Cleveland’s five-out second unit when Tristan Thompson goes to the bench.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said that Valanciunas’ role would be limited.

“He brings a post presence, gives them a chance to slow the game down,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “With his presence, it gives a different dynamic to their team outside of just a jump-shooting team and two guards attacking. So it’s a different look for us, but we’ll be ready for it.”